AUGUSTA, Ga. — A Georgia woman who made headlines last year in her quest to have her middle name changed from female to male has died of sepsis after having a hysterectomy reportedly as part of a sex change operation.
Rebeccah Feldhaus, 25, who goes by the name “Rowan,” had the surgery to remove her uterus earlier this month, but was readmitted to the hospital with complications a short time later.
“[There were] complications post surgery … and it started snowballing from there,” Austin Atkins, a friend of Feldhaus, told WRDW/WAGT-TV. “Rowan knew the risks going into all of this and [she] was willing to accept the risks to do what [she] knew [she] wanted to do.”
Feldhaus went into septic shock and then lost oxygen to her brain. She was an Augusta University student, Army reservist and board member of the homosexual and transgender advocacy group Georgia Equality.
A report from the Augusta Chronicle states that Feldhaus also had the surgery to treat polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a condition that occurs in women due to elevated levels of male hormones. PCOS is often marked by infertility and excess facial and bodily hair.
As previously reported, Feldhaus first made headlines in March 2016 when Superior Court Judge J. David Roper denied her request to change her middle name from Elizabeth to Elijah.
“I don’t know anybody named Elijah who’s female,” Roper said, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I’m not going to do that. I’ve never heard of that. And I know who Elijah was—one of the greatest men that ever lived.”
He also told Feldhaus that he felt the first name Rowan was gender-neutral enough, and that changing Feldhaus’ middle name might confuse those emergency personnel and others who need to know the woman’s actual gender.
Feldhaus supplied the court with confirmation from her therapist that she had been diagnosed with gender dysphoria and that the name change was needed as a part of her treatment. She also advised that she was receiving testosterone shots as hormone therapy.
Roper advised that if Feldhaus chose a more gender-neutral name, it might be considered, but he “do[es] not approve of changing names from male to female—male names to obvious female names, and vice versa.” Feldhaus refused.
“I felt insulted and objectified to be told by the court that I would not be able to have the name that my family, my friends, and my co-workers all call me, based on sexist opinions about ‘appropriate’ names,” Feldhaus said in a statement released by Lambda Legal.
Feldhaus appealed the ruling to the Georgia Court of Appeals, which unanimously overturned Roper’s ruling in January.
A Harry Potter-themed “wand” ceremony is scheduled for Feldhaus on Monday at Augusta University’s Summerville campus. The event will be marked by the holding of “magical” wands and the donning of Harry Potter apparel.
Feldhaus had registered to be an organ donor prior to her death.