Home News and Features Fern Feather: Magic, Light, Magnetic

Fern Feather: Magic, Light, Magnetic

Fern Feather, a trans woman, holding a bird, wearing a green jacket.
Fern Feather was known by her friends as a gentle soul, who loved animals. Courtesy photo from Nina Shoenthal.
Friends mourn murdered transgender woman in central Vermont.

So many say the same thing about her: she felt like an old friend from the second you met her. They use the same words. “Magic.” “Light.” “Magnetic.” At 29 years old, Fern Feather of Hinesburg was a beloved member of her central Vermont community. Feather’s murder in Morristown on Tuesday morning left her loved ones shocked, shaken, and grief-stricken.

Meredith Muse, owner of Shady Lady Tattoo Parlor, treasured Feather’s friendship as the two bonded in Muse’s Montpelier shop. “I was gifted Fern into my life by a mutual friend, and our relationship evolved over time from just kind of hanging out as friends, and then I came to know her more intimately as will happen when you tattoo someone — and that’s my business, and you share stories and intimacies and vulnerabilities in that space, and we found that we had a great deal in common and came to love one another as dear friends do.”

It’s Time to Tell the World

Feather was a transgender woman, and her Facebook page, which remained up at press time, included a post from March 24 announcing, “It’s time to tell the world I’m a Hot Trans Woman in a currently male Hot Body Suit !! dang sure took long enough eh ?! Please share this to liberate our other beautiful ones!” 

The Vermont State Police press release carrying news of her murder, and the initial media coverage, misgendered Feather and included her deadname. (Subsequent State Police press releases and media stories carried Feather’s name and pronouns.) An outcry ensued on social media as allies and LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations spoke about the real harm that misgendering and deadnaming cause to transgender individuals and the transgender community, which can include damage to mental health, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

Feather’s friends shared their horror at learning that their friend had allegedly been murdered, stabbed to death and left on the side of Duhamel Road in Morristown — and that the story in the press release detailed the suspect, 43-year-old Seth Brunell, stating he acted in self-defense following a “sexual advance” and attack by Feather. The release noted that no sign of such an assault was seen on Brunell, who is transient.

“I feel like every single trans person who has ever been murdered, that’s always the excuse, isn’t it?” said one of Feather’s friends, Heather Moonfeather, whose son is transgender. “It’s always the same thing. It’s always that they came onto them; there was a sexual aggression. And then because of that they get murdered. That’s what really upset me. I was like, no … that didn’t happen.”

Moonfeather added, “It just hit me extra hard, because it’s like my worst nightmare — like literally my worst nightmare — that my kid will be murdered because he’s trans.” 

 “I will say that my gut reaction was that it came from a hateful place against the trans community,” said Cassidy Sargent of Burlington, a close friend.

Fern Feather. Courtesy photo from Nina Shoenthal.
“The queer and trans community here, which I’m a part of, has been really, really shaken to see this violence in our home, and we really kind of didn’t think it could happen here,” Robinson noted. “We felt very safe from this kind of hate that happens so frequently in the rest of the country.” They added, “It’s shaken a lot of people’s sense of safety, even just walking down the street, or using a dating app, or greeting a stranger, and I hope that the response of the community can really, really stand by Fern in a way that can restore some of that sense of trust.”

Moonfeather, too, noted, “I just can’t believe this is happening in a small town in Vermont.”

Moonfeather’s son is soon headed off to cosmetology school in another state, and it’s hard to let him go, she said. But Feather’s wisdom is helping her even now. “I can imagine, if Fern was here, what would Fern say about it, and Fern would tell me to let him go. Fern would tell me that’s what love is, is to let go. Her wisdom was … way, way beyond her years. She was really just an extraordinary person. Being.” 

Feather’s friends who spoke for this article offered the thought that Feather might have chosen to focus elsewhere than on the misgendering in the first news stories about her murder. 

Said Muse, “… she spoke a language of love, not of judgment. If she was misgendered or someone slipped on pronouns, I can’t imagine her being anything other than gracious about it.” 

“Fern really didn’t care about pronouns as much as … the soul,” said Moonfeather.

“There’s been a lot of sort-of debate and corrections in the media about her gender identity and pronouns, and one thing that I think was very, very true for her was that she wasn’t really that concerned about language and words used,” Robinson said. “She did identify as a trans woman and used she/her pronouns at the time of her death, but she also had people in her life who called her they, and had people in her life who called her he, and she was really at peace with that because her priority was connecting with people and sharing a sense of mutual affection.”

Friends Share Their Fern Stories

Everyone who knew her seems to have a story about Feather. 

Worcester’s Murphy Robinson met her in 2010, when Feather worked at the Hunger Mountain Co-op in Montpelier. “She was an incredibly wonderful and magnetic person … everyone wanted to be in her cash register line because she gave them such beautiful smiles and chatted with them in such a friendly way,” Robinson recalled. “It brightened everyone’s day.” 

One story about Feather, the details of which remained hazy of necessity, came from Muse. “It was just a tortoise that was being kept in a way that was not good for it, and Fern rescued it,” Muse shared. Evidently, there were some “large men” involved at some point, but Feather remained undeterred, and “at her own peril she rescued this tortoise.” Although Muse did not share particulars, she suspected this might in fact be the origin story of the name by which she knew Feather at the start of their friendship: Terrapin.

“Fern loved creatures of all kinds. Animals, plants, and people,” said Muse. “And unconditionally. I think Fern just gathered everyone to her heart.”

This love of animals was a common thread among Feather’s friends’ memories. 

“I do remember one time she invited me over to her friend’s house, and she was most excited to introduce me to her friend’s dog,” Robinson said. “Like, it was incidental to meet the humans, but meeting the dog was very important — which is totally my priority, too.”

“Fern was like a living Dr. Doolittle,” noted friend Nina Shoenthal of Berlin. Shoenthal called Feather “… a caregiver of life in all its forms.” 

Feather had “a unique and special personality” that “drew people like a magnet,” Shoenthal said.

Indeed, Feather’s friends saw in her something almost enchanted. 

“It was really magical,” Moonfeather said of their time in Mexico. “Fern was a very magical being — soul — and very open-heart person.”

Muse saw it, too. “Fern was a magical being, and a shape-shifter, and a little bit from the land of fairy, I think.”

Feather’s travels took her to Oregon, where, said Shoenthal, she worked on a farm, accumulating “a houseful of exotic tropical plants.” Shoenthal described Feather’s constant habit of collecting plants during her travels, with the dream of having the “biggest botanical center possible.”

Yet Feather found her way back to Montpelier, said Robinson, noting, “she still would travel a lot, but she had roots here, and really deep friendships and relationships that always drew her back here.” 

And her community welcomed her. Feather “was just a real part of the fabric of this place for so many people,” Robinson said. 

“She was such a beautiful, beautiful light in my life,” said Muse.

Cassidy Sargent of Burlington had a similar experience. “Within seconds of meeting Fern I was completely drawn into her energy and really hit it off immediately, in a very balanced way, which carried through our entire friendship,” Sargent recalled. “Our times together were somewhat sporadic, and each time that we saw one another, it was as if we had been friends our entire lives, so I really feel that that energy is something that she carried with her throughout all of her interactions with people.”

A portrait of Fern Feather painted 11 years ago by Agathe McQueston.