19-Year-Old Trans Woman Sage Smith is Missing

Sage Smith, a trans* woman from Charlottesville, Virginia, has been missing for over 20 days; the 19-year-old’s disappearance has been largely ignored by the press and her case has been fumbled by the police.

Family members, eager to bring Smith home, have been speaking out about their desire to bring on FBI and other authoritative supports in the case; their own local community’s response has been disheartening and disappointing.  “I can’t brag on Charlottesville when my little 19-year-old cousin is missing,” one of Smith’s family members told reporters.

Smith’s disappearance was covered locally by only one outlet after she was last seen November 29 by her family. The coverage, which largely dismissed her gender identity, employed male pronouns and thus improperly identified her to the entire community served, did not unfold into any greater focus on her whereabouts. The police continued the spread of misinformation, rebutting when challenged by her family members for inaction that “it will continue to be a top priority [for the department] until we find this young man and, by the grace of God, bring him home.”

Smith was last seen almost three weeks ago, leaving to meet 21-year-old Eric McFadden at a local train station. Two days later she still hadn’t come home and her family notified police, who had by that time lost track of Erik McFadden after interviewing him initially. McFadden has now reportedly left the area.

Support has been provided in the form of community and religious groups focused on LGBT acceptance, though even those steps toward good come at the cost of incorrect pronoun usage and references to Sage as Dashad.

“I have fears that because of who Dashad is, because he is Sage, that maybe that is one of the reasons,” said Miller [a Pastor]. “Sage is made in the image of God, is loved. The community of faith supports the family…the LGBTQ community here in Charlottesville, we stand in solidarity with you, we love you, and we desperately want Dashad to be brought home safe.”

“We miss him and we just want to get to the bottom of it to know that he’s okay,” said Page.

“Return him home safely,” said Jackson.

On the Find Sage Smith facebook page, friends share heartwarming stories about how awesome she is:

Very few people have inspired me the way Sage has. Sage never once apologized for being who she was, always pushing through the hard times. If only we could all have that spirit of love and strength in the face of trials. In addition to her strength, Sage is always the first to show some love to those who need it most. Regardless of gender, sex, race, sexual orientation, or anything else, Sage’s heart shows love to any and all who will have it.

To bring Sage Smith home will involve a community rising: a stepping up of police to conquer their own discriminatory brains, a stepping up of her peers to raise awareness and start important conversation, and a stepping up of the mainstream media to make sure her story and her image remain visible for as long as we have hope she could come back. Until we find her:

Telling the stories of LGBTQ people of color is more than simply the right thing to do; it is a matter of journalistic integrity. When outlets make a choice not to tell certain stories, especially those that affect communities as deeply as Sage’s, they lose value and credence with audiences and communities. It also sends the message that certain stories and perspectives are more valuable than others. If Sage Smith has met the same fate as Mitrice Richardson, could more media attention early on have saved her life?

Sage Smith’s story, her family’s pain and her community’s concern are as valid as any other story, and these voices deserve to be heard. So again, I and the rest of the community ask: Where is Sage Smith?

If you have any information, please contact the Charlottesville, VA Police Department at 434-977-4000.

In my heart of hearts, I will stay hopeful for Sage’s return home. And for other queers in her neighborhood, I’ll keep my fingers crossed for progress.

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Carmen spent six years at Autostraddle, ultimately serving as Straddleverse Director, Feminism Editor and Social Media Co-Director. She is now the Consulting Digital Editor at Ms. and writes regularly for DAME, the Women’s Media Center, the National Women’s History Museum and other prominent feminist platforms; her work has also been published in print and online by outlets like BuzzFeed, Bitch, Bust, CityLab, ElixHER, Feministing, Feminist Formations, GirlBoss, GrokNation, MEL, Mic and SIGNS, and she is a co-founder of Argot Magazine. You can find Carmen on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr or in the drive-thru line at the nearest In-N-Out.

Carmen has written 919 articles for us.


    • Complimenting the hairstyle of a person of color when the focus of the article is how she has gone missing and is possibly dead is in bad taste, and slightly racist as well.

      I hope someone finds her. I think it’s a little suspicious that McFadden left the area so quickly. Not trying to draw any hasty conclusions here, but you’d think he’d stick around to help with the investigation instead of just leaving town.

      • What the smeg has an arbitrary comment on hair got to do with race? I think focusing on race when the focus of the comment is on hair is hairist.

        • Whether a comment about hair is racist or not is kind of irrelevant… there’s an extreme possibility that she’s either murdered or kidnapped and to even have any kind of discussion about her hair here is just plain offensive. This is about a young trans woman’s life and safety, not how she looks and if you can’t respect that I have to wonder why some people bother commenting on a serious thread like this? And it is worth asking if there were a story about a white, middle-class cis lesbian who was missing, whether the first comment out of someone’s mouth would be “nice hair.”

        • (1) Race and hair aren’t unrelated. To treat this is an “arbitrary comment” is to ignore the ways in which historical attitudes towards the hair of women of color are (a) rooted in racism and (b) participate in maintaining racism. (Examples: the characterization of natural hair as undesirable, the 1980s court case Rogers v. American Airlines, the fact that dreadlocks are prohibited in some workplace environments, the media shitstorm over Gabby Douglas’s hair this past summer).

          (2) Even if this were a story, as ginasf suggests, about a white middle-class cis lesbian and the (highly, highly unlikely) first comment out of someone’s mouth was “nice hair,” this would still mean something different than the comment “nice hair” does when applied to the hair of a woman of color. It is exoticizing and uncomfortably fetish-y in the latter case, but guess what? It isn’t when you’re talking about a white middle-class cis woman’s hair because her hair doesn’t have a history of being exoticized and fetishized by the dominant culture. (See, for example: http://racismschool.tumblr.com/post/27443952220/black-women-our-hair-your-hands, and this is just one webpage out of like a bajillion).

          (3) Intent isn’t magic. Even if you aren’t trying to act in a racist way, your actions can still be influenced by a racist society and perpetuate racism. (http://racismschool.tumblr.com/post/22807040831/i-didnt-mean-to-and-other-such-non-sense-ally)

    • oooofta. wowzers backlash. please let this be known: no disrespect was intended at all. while I unfortunately haven’t yet had the pleasure of meeting sage (being optimistic that these police and everyone helping will be able to locate her), i have had the opportunity to see a lovely picture. so while i can’t accurately comment on her lovely personality like others can (though i don’t doubt them for a second!), i felt that i can compliment something as simple and beautiful as her hair, as well as send thoughts and prayers from Montana for a speedy and safe return.

      • Brooke… heaven forbid some day you were sexually assaulted (which, btw, is not at all unlikely in this case with Sage) can you ask yourself if you’d want some ‘well-intentioned’ person coming up to you and saying ‘you look pretty’ after they’d heard you’d been raped? I suspect you’d wonder “why would this person even feel as if they need to compliment how I look when here I am telling them I was just attacked and raped?” That’s what I’m saying to you. And you don’t seem to even take that in but, instead, use your stated good intentions as a shield. I’m not saying you’re a bad person for doing this, nor am I saying you’re a racist, but is it so impossible to admit you made a wildly inappropriate statement given the likelihood that Sage has either been attacked or even murdered?

        But I am going to throw out another feeling I’m having about your statement (and you’re far from the only one who does it)… far too often cis women think they’re somehow being trans allies or “sisters” with trans women by saying a trans woman passes or looks pretty when, really, it says more about the person giving the compliment and how uncomfortable they are with the trans person’s gender.

        • So… a person can’t just compliment a trans* woman (or man) because they simply look good? That would be somehow ‘trying and failing to be an ally’? sheesh, a little harsh. When I compliment my friends and others who are trans, it’s because I actually think they look beautiful, not just that they “pull it off.” Also, maybe this story isn’t the exact right place for a compliment on the victim’s appearance, but I don’t think the commenter deserved all the backlash they got. I also think she looks beautiful in the picture, and I hope she is found soon and returned.

          • Sarah, context is everything. Let’s face it, most cis people, even those who self-ID as allies aren’t going to be 100% comfortable around trans people all the time… I know that from my experience and accept it as societal growing pains. Cis people OFTEN make inappropriate comments to trans people, the key is, hearing it and acknowledging and learning from it and moving on. No biggie. But at the same time, I see cis women often “compliment” trans women on their looks or passability because deep down that’s mostly all they think trans women care about. Again, put yourself in the position of being raped and having some person come up to you and saying, “yeah, it’s too bad you were raped, but you’re still really pretty” and how that would sound to you. If you wouldn’t say it to a cis woman… don’t say it to a trans woman.

          • Ugh,
            I think that YOU are not comfortable with your self to say the bullshit you just said. People always have to over-analyze shit.
            You don’t know Sage. Just because you are obviously not concerned with your looks,
            Doesn’t mean others aren’t. I know for a fact, that if Sage read the op’s comment about her hair, it would have made her smile.

            I see this thread last about a month after Sage was reported missing. Where are you now? You care so f’ing much, right?

  1. Pronouns are so important in a case like this! How dangerous, to misrepresent someone so grossly, and incredibly useless on the part of the police.

    Thank you for the reminder of how integral it is to respect the proper language.

    • The misgendering gas to stop it paints a bad picture and belittles the integrity of the person they are claiming to be trying to help
      Thank GOD my mother agreed to not not misgender me GOD FORBID anything were to happen to me, too often families misgender their loved ones we must educate for the dignity of the people in,question, i am not a “he” or a transvestite or “dressed as a woman” i am a transgender woman and so is she, GOD BLESS HER!

    • It is hard to use pronouns correctly when he didn’t exactly identify as female. He didn’t have gender reassignment surgery, and didn’t dress in female clothing all the time.

      It would be just as irresponsible to use only “she”. For identification purposes, the media should refer
      To sage as both.

  2. THANK YOU for posting this. I knew Sage a number of years ago, and can say that she is one of the most vibrant, charismatic, caring and forthright people I’ve ever known. It’s utterly nervewracking to not know what’s happened, and this whole thing is making it really apparent how the media flood the airwaves with information about young, cisgendered, white women who go missing, but that that’s not standard for everyone.

    The fact that some families can hire PR firms to keep their stories ‘fresh’ should not influence the attention that they get, particularly from the police, and the whole ‘we’d *like* to talk to Erik McFadden’ thing sounds so anemic. Hopefully there’s more going on behind the scenes, and I’m trying to stay optimistic, but it’s hard.

    For anyone in the area who can be on the look out, she dresses as both male and female, and was last seen in clothing that sounds like it could be read either way (black jacket + scarf, dark grey sweatpants and grey boots), so please do check out the facebook page for a few other images of how she may look.

  3. I hope Sage is okay and returns to her loved ones safely. I can’t imagine how scary that must be for everyone who loves her…

  4. I have been tweeting every celebrity n news station in VA. Only station that has done a small report on it was WDBJ7 in Roanoke VA. I have tweeted Ellen, Wendy Williams, Nene Leakes, RuPaul, Anderson Cooper n His show. Everyone tweet about this use this link and spread the word so it can go national and have bigger search.

  5. I do have to correct you that this case has been “ignored by the press.” It’s all over the covers of local papers starting shortly after the disappearance. It’s certainly worrying, but please don’t misrepresent the community’s investment in this.

    • Thank you! My sources said it had been an uphill battle at all levels, but that’s comforting to know.

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