Update – Please scroll down for english translation and to view the trailer for the documentary about Nathan by filmmaker Roel Nollet of @Redhorsetv. Thank you Roel for providing the translation to me. The film on Nathan has been completed and @Redhorsetv will be a good place to follow along to find out when it will screened in your area. (Roel will be travelling the world with film in the very near future.)
Nathan Verlhelst wanted to share this video with you. In the final moments of his life he briefly spoke with a documentary film crew and then, after hugging a loved one goodbye, laid down in a hospital bed to receive the chemicals that would end his life. The video is at the end of this post. You very well may not want to watch it. It is ok if you don’t. (I need to credit user ibleedpurple who posted the link on gendertrender, which I have to admit has been doing an excellent job picking up some important stories that others are missing.)
This video is not in english. I hope it will be translated by someone out there later today. I will update this post if a translation becomes available and I will also provide a link if there is one. If there isn’t something available by day’s end I will hire someone to do it for me – I am desperate to hear what is being said (as if that could really provide some “answer” or justification to what I have just seen.)
Sometimes stories can be told without words. That is the case here. The sounds and images in this video will haunt me forever. I can draw some analogy to the images of people falling out of the Trade Center towers in that I will never have to watch this again. This has now been burned permanently into my consciousness.
First and foremost I see a beautiful human being. There has been some controversy over what gender Nathan would have liked us to refer him as in death. My suspicion is that Verhelst had gone far beyond the point where formalities like gendered pronouns mattered any more. They were most likely of no use to him other than for legal purposes in executing his will, disposal of his body etc. In the end “gender” was probably just a matter of paperwork and nothing more.
When Nathan speaks to the camera he laughs a few times. It is a gentle laugh but I can also hear the sadness within it. It is a laugh that concedes defeat on every level. It resonates with an underlying belief in the absurdity of one’s own attempt at existence. I am confident that I would hear this even if I didn’t know the horrible context behind it. I know that laugh well – I laugh that way too.
In the clip we see old family photographs of Verhelst as a child. I am sure we can all relate to these, the frozen slices of the ordinary moments that together make up a life. I have been going through my family’s photos over the past few weeks, so these pictures are especially poignant. I want to ask the girl in Verhelst’s photos the same questions I have been asking the little boy in mine. What are you thinking? What are you dreaming about and where do you want to go? When you are a kid it always seems you are waiting around. That is ok though because you know you are waiting for the wonderful things that will eventually happen for you in life. Eventually it will come – the arrival of your “happily ever after”. That waiting is called “innocence”.
As the video begins to wind down we see Nathan is now on the move. He is packing up his things for his final journey – his wait is almost over. His speech now sounds tenser. He is movements are jerky. It takes him a few tries to make sure his pants are folded as he stuffs them into the garbage bag where they now belong. He is mindful in his work and in not letting his emotions slow him down from the task at hand. He is powering through whatever torment lies within him and getting the job done. It looks like he has gotten good at this.
Verlherst is now in his efficiently small hospital room. A news source says that the final person with him was an MTF named Dora who has now begun the process of being approved for euthanasia herself. She states that she is “tired of being rejected” and now sees a pathway to end her suffering through this procedure.
There is one moment in this video that has to be one of the most unimaginably saddest things I have ever seen. Nathan is shirtless, showing his “botched” chest. His teeth appear clenched and his body is stiff – his shame at revealing himself to the camera (to us) this way radiates from within him. On his body, stretching across his chest towards his left shoulder is a tattoo. There are two white birds and a rainbow. And for the first time there is english that I can understand. His tattoo reads “Free As A Bird”.
Of course that was Nancy’s dream for herself all along – to finally live life free from whatever torments were holding her down. Nancy was an optimist after all. Despite all of her obstacles she was waiting for her own “happily ever after”. Nathan came to believe that the only way to achieve that freedom was by giving up on life itself. He might have even felt slightly prepared. In the end this was just one last transition.
English Translation of News Report
Be sure you follow the light.
Send my regards to Philippe.
Tell him I love him very much.
I will tell him
I love you
I love you too.
– Bye Nathan.
Surrounded with friends, Nathan Verhelst walked out of his own life yesterday (Monday) in the afternoon, guided by medical care. After a failed gender operation, he didn’t see any ways to continue anymore. Professor Wim Distelmans of the VUB (Vrije Universiteit Brussel = Free University Brussels) was one of three doctors that gave him the permission to execute the euthanasia.
QUOTE Wim Distelmans – Professor palliative care VUB
In this case we deal with both psychic and fysical suffering, as a result of an incurable disease, that is beyond repair. We surely did not decide this lightly. We have followed him for months, with a decent team. We have seriously discussed this and we have concluded that we need to respect the demand of the patient, and that we were willing to agree with this demand.
Nathan was born as Nancy. At home, in Hamme, Nathan had never experienced much love. When he finally decided to have a gender operation, he had never been happier.
QUOTE NATHAN VERHELST
Nothing can break this. Noone can break this. This is who I am.This is my life.
When he received a new – male – identity card, it felt for him like being born again.
I am, let’s say, a bit euphoric. It’s a good feeling. I would like to cherish this.
But the transition failed. Especially the penisreconstruction didn’t go as planned. That was too much for Nathan. He started the euthanasia procedure.
Suffering every day. Having pain every day. Dying from grief. Well, I don’t think anyone can live like that. I know that, according to a lot of people, I’m not sick on the outside, but I am sick on the inside. And I just can’t live with the consequences. Period.
Nathan said goodbye to all his friends. And although they tried to convince him to stay at first, Nathan stuck with his decision. He is the first Belgian that has euthanasia after a gender operation.
QUOTE WIM DISTELMANS
It is incomprehensible that there are only three countries in the world that have legalised these regulations: the Benelux countries, Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxemburg. From experience I know that inhabitants of other democratic countries in Europe and the US, are jealous of our legislation. More and more, people find their way through the internet to come to Belgium and have it here.
Nathan was born as a woman, but died as a man. There will be no grave. He donates his body to science.