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The Need for Post Transition Support (Part 2)

A follow up to the Mike Penner/Christine Daniels saga.

The LA Times posted a long follow up article on the suicide of Mike Penner/Christine Daniels, the late LA Times sportswriter who transitioned on the job (and which I wrote about in a previous post)

A few things stand out as contributing to the suicide:

  • A very painful separation and divorce from her wife.  Complicating matters was the fact that they worked in the same office and wife expressed her wish to avoid all contact with Christine. (I’m certainly not blaming the wife for contributing to the suicide; I’m just saying that the separation and circumstances were painful for Christine.)  There was also the loss of the wife’s family, who Penner was close to.
  • Being a public figure, she got some harsh (and ignorant) public criticism of her ability to “pass”, which was hard on Christine.
  • Christine being thrust into and accepting the role of spokesperson for transgender issues when she probably wasn’t ready or personally strong enough to deal with the media scrutiny.  Then having disagreements with trans activists who objected to Daniel’s emphasis on appearance in her blog.
  • Daniels withdrew from friends, church and public appearances.
  • Daniels’s mother died.
  • Daniel’s focused on her transitioning as the root of all her problems and tried to de-transition in hopes of reuniting with his wife.

What are the lessons that can be gleaned from this?

  • There is a great need for support during and after transition.  Don’t underestimate the need for supportive people and institutions.  Including friends, family, support groups, therapy, religious institutions, knitting circles, etc…  Its like drinking water in the desert – you have to do it even if you’re not feeling thirsty – if you feel thirsty its too late – you’re already dehydrated.
  • Withdrawing is not the answer.  It will only make things worse.
  • Very often when people find themselves a part of a new group they feel they have to be a spokesperson/activist/possess complete knowledge of said group.   That’s great if you want to do that, but it should be a conscious choice and not an obligation.

Find out about Psychotherapy when dealing with Gender variance in yourself or someone close to you.

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Tom #

    While I understand your reasons for using Mike Penner’s female name, the fact is that he changed it back before his death. Just as we in the trans community wish to be respected when we choose names with gender associations different from those given to us, it is also our right to change them again, despite what any well-meaning person thinks is behind that, or how complex the situation. It is also possible that you employ an idiosyncratic name and pronoun convention of your own, as in this sentence, “Daniel’s focused on her transitioning as the root of all her problems and tried to de-transition in hopes of reuniting with his wife.” But that still shows a lack of respect for someone’s choice.

    November 20, 2010
    • Thanx, I of course meant no disrespect and you are right in suggesting that I use an idiosyncratic name and pronoun scheme. Usually I try and fit the name/pronoun to how the person is presenting at the time I am talking about – which makes for awkward sentences at times.

      November 20, 2010
  2. Jazlyn #

    Also, I think a significant contributing factor was that Mike Penner was completely “in the closet”,except for some friends in the transgender community, when he decided to transition. This fact would have made it much more difficult for others to immediately accept him as Christine. He may have had better success if he had revealed some of his transgender feelings and identity years before he transitioned. Why didn’t he ever reveal himself? It was shameful. Shame is a big contributing factor for all of us who are transgender. Another contributing factor was that he had much to lose, probably more than most transgender people who transitioned. The more one loses, the more likely one will become depressed and not be able to cope with the losses. And probably the greatest contributing factor. Mike Penner did not pass particularly well and was not accepted by many of his old and new acquaintances.

    truisms about transsexual tourism:
    The further you are “in the closet”; the more difficult will be your transition.
    The more you can lose; the more difficult will be your transition.
    The higher your social status before transition; the greater the social status fall after transition.
    The less well you “pass”; the more difficult will be your transition.
    The more shame you have; the more difficult will be your transition.

    November 27, 2010
  3. Kristin Klapthor #

    Thanks for this article. It is a great read and it’s dead on in the fact that we all need help in some form to help us through transition and beyond.

    January 26, 2011
  4. Marissa #

    Thank you for your article and for your many insightful and helpful perspectives. I find your posts thought provoking and helpful.

    I couldn’t agree more with the importance and need for Post-Transition Support. I can only use my own perspective here, but following a path that many of us have taken I am fortunate to have come out the “tunnel of transition” in a positive and happy position for the most part. As you also point out, as with most, I focused so hard on the physical parts of my transition, but also on the mental and emotional parts, and hope I was able to change and heal into the woman I am today on many levels.

    Today I am successful in my professional life, I’m a good parent, sibling and daughter. I have met a partner who is everything to me, and I have many friends but I still find myself struggling to cope and know I am still undergoing transition and integration even 3 years post my last surgery.

    Where I struggle is finding balance with my stealth. I spent 30 years denying who I was, to finally break down and admit my truth. I this admission I lost a lot as we all do, but I also found a community and friends who helped pick me up and support me on my journey. I know I also helped those in return.

    Now post-transition though I find myself drifting far from that community. I want to live as me, and be accepted and integrated as a woman in my work, home and community… all the things I work so hard and gave up so much for. But the kicker is that means going back into other closets and self-denial… I’m stealth at work and in other social groups, and it pains me to feel like I’m hiding or deceiving again. I wish I could be more open, and would welcome input from others out there, but my personal experience on many occasions has been the disclosure of my past frees me, but also totally undermines my relationship and ability to be seen as a whole woman by the other person. Logically I know this should not make a difference and I should be proud of my history and who I now am, but I feel constantly haunted by the fact I am now back in another place of hiding and shame.

    Just writing this confirms it is time for me to make an appointment with my wonderful therapist and I should maybe get myself to a conference or meeting to see some old friends and reconnect/recharge.

    Are there any post-transition forums or groups out there? I wish there was. I have looked but not really found any yet.

    March 27, 2011
    • Thanx for your comment Marissa.
      and you have really highlighted the problems associated with the issues of stealth and being out, (which I want to open a thread on soon). Of course, one day when societal stigma has become considerably less there will be no more issue or need to be stealth.

      on post transition forums – there’s some on ‘laura’s playground’, I don’t know of others specifically for post-transitioned folks, maybe somebody will post.

      March 28, 2011

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