I learned today that Cris Alvaro passed away this past week. They died by suicide. The news caught me completely by surprise. Cris and I were not close friends, but I admired their work in advocacy for trans issues and equality in STEM education, and I was always floored by the creativity they put into their drag costumes. I remember the first time I met them, at a wonderful dinner party hosted by a friend in the Oakland hills. I kept stealing glances across the outdoor patio because this person dressed in black with golden jewelry had a nice smile, and such impeccable style. That aesthetic sense definitely shone through in everything they did. In so many ways, really, Cris lived a life of beauty.
It seems incomprehensible that such a tragedy could happen to someone as gentle and loving. But that’s the reality: as important as mental health is, it is so extraordinarily easy to overlook. I knew, and most people in Cris’ circles knew, that they went through occasional rough patches. I reached out from time to time. We exchanged virtual hugs and encouraging notes, without ever going into the details.
I’m looking back right now at messages we exchanged over Facebook and Instagram. The latter is so sad because we commented on each other’s Instagram stories, but the stories themselves disappear soon after they’re posted. Last June, they posted something, and I wrote, “Oooh, awesome!”, and they wrote, “Thanks!”. In July, I wished them congratulations. I have no idea what I was congratulating them for; I can’t remember what was so awesome. Sometimes, the context gives a clue. We bonded over a shared love of Pokémon and long, extravagantly colored hair. A year ago, I posted a video of myself singing Demi Lovato’s “Stone Cold”, and they told me they loved that song and had lip synced to it for a drag performance, which made me so happy.
The last time I commented on their Instagram story was on January 19th, just two weeks ago. Recent enough that I remember what it was: a photo of a journaling exercise they’d done recently to challenge misconceptions about “interpersonal effectiveness”. I actually just went back to their Instagram and discovered that they’d posted the photo permanently on their account: a sheet of paper filled with neat writing in purple ink. I found the line that struck me when I had first seen it: “Myth: People are either victims or villains. Challenge: People are complicated. This false binary is neither true nor useful.”
Cris identified as trans and non-binary. They pushed hard in a field that was not yielding to change, going way above and beyond what most people expect from a PhD. They had a vision of doing more than just contributing to science, but improving the image and community of science itself, so that it would be more diverse and more welcoming to people like them. This is the kind of work that benefits everyone, whether they fall in the binary or not. Cris led a life that turned passion and creative energy into joy for all to see. The world has lost a brilliant light, and I want to remember how brightly and fabulously it sparkled.
Word of the Day: In drag culture, to be “dusted” means to look perfect or flawless while in drag. The opposite is to be “busted”. I’d say Dr. Aequorea Victoria (Cris’ drag persona) qualifies as dusted, especially in the photo above. Slay that feather boa, gurl!
P.S. Please consider donating to Cris’ family’s memorial fund. The money raised will go toward the social issues that Cris was devoted to. It’s such a blessing that their family was supportive of their gender identity; many trans, non-binary, and queer people face huge hurdles in life because they have very little in the way of support networks.
P.P.S. If you or someone you know if suffering from depression, know that help is available and that it is never a sign of weakness to seek it. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number is 1-800-273-8255, available 24/7, and you can also visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org.