As I write this, it’s Saturday of Thanksgiving Day weekend — the so-called beginning of the holiday season. People are out and about, spending money— online too, not really giving thanks, but more or less perpetuating the myth or reality of the unholy dollar. For some, however, this time of year is a reminder of what has become so oppressive a burden to carry that their wills flag and they succumb to utter despair and hopelessness. They’re ready to give up. The pain they would have to endure to go on without unburdening themselves of that oppressive weight is unbearable. I know. Last year, about this time, I was as close to going through that door as a person can be without actually going through.
Sad news broke on Nov. 28 — Los Angeles Times sportswriter Mike Penner, erstwhile Christine Daniels, was found dead. The Los Angeles Times article suggested apparent suicide. I had corresponded briefly with Ms. Daniels, shortly after her announcement in spring 2007.
She wrote: “I am a transsexual sportswriter. It has taken more than 40 years, a million tears and hundreds of hours of soul-wrenching therapy for me to work up the courage to type those words. I realize many readers and colleagues and friends will be shocked to read them.”
Thanksgiving weekend…beginning of the holiday season…and…a week and a day after the Transgender Day of Remembrance…and now she is gone.
Subsequent to her announcement, Christine volunteered herself and her privacy for the sake of her brothers and sisters. I was so taken by Ms. Daniels words that I wrote her and expressed my support. Subsequently, we corresponded back and forth several times. I was impressed not only by the depth of Christine’s sense of herself, but with what appeared to be her commitment to trans causes. She was well spoken and passionate, and I thought perhaps charismatic enough to help effect changes toward better lives for trans people.
I was so happy for her. In one email to me, she wrote “I never knew it was possible to feel this good! No, good doesn’t do it half-justice. I feel great, fantastic, whole for the first time in my life, skipping and dancing on the clouds you mention. I went through an extremely agonizing path to get here — the birth of Christine nearly killed me — but the dividends once you survive and push through to the other side? Oh my!”
Being a sportswriter for a major American newspaper is high profile and all indications were that Ms. Daniels could handle the exposure. Lives tend to be all-consuming, however, and I’m sure that was the case with Christine. We lost touch, but from time to time, I’d read an interesting post in her blog, or her Times column, “Totally Random.” She was living her life, working and writing, and apparently dealing with the changes transition can bring.
Appearances can be deceptive. Late in 2008, news came out that Christine had decided to de-transition back to Mike Penner. There was no statement, no story, not a word. I waited — still nothing. I thought about writing, but was concerned about intruding into his private life. There could have been any one of many reasons for this decision and I refuse to fix blame. I am certain others will, rightly or wrongly. Ultimately, it was Mike’s decision. I am of the opinion that being trans is not something which can be submitted to a “cure.” I know more than one trans person who has embarked upon transition, only to abandon their efforts for whatever reason. In each case, everyone who had de-transitioned, re-transitioned. To my knowledge, there is no hard evidence that this is always the case, but I suspect it is most of the time.
Whatever happened in Mike Penner’s world is unknowable to most of us. We may or may not hear from friends, family and associates about his state of mind during this past year, but I think it is safe to say that he was severely troubled. It would be wrong to assume that all trans suicides have been committed because the individuals were trans. Many of us have issues which exist independent of our gender diversity. (Personally, I consider being trans to intrinsically be neither a liability nor a disability). Often, however, other problems are exacerbated by being trans, or vice versa. Often our issues are conflated, one upon another. And, often our individual and perhaps interior worlds are populated by a host of unknowns. The matter of psyches and how they manifest and interact in the world is extremely complex. Again, we can only speculate about why Christine de-transitioned and what was so burdensome to Mike that caused him to take his life, if that proves to be the case.
I have a profound sadness and empathy for what Mike Penner was feeling and suffering. Too many of us been in the exact same situation. Our psychic distress seems limitless when we see no light to help guide us out of the depths of despair. Often we are looking for that light, for something which can illuminate our darkness and cast off that despair. Often there are persons around who can help to shine that light. It is all too tragic when a person is reaching out, yet no one hears their call. I hope that in Mike’s case there is no cause for self recrimination, although I wish I had composed that email.
More than anything, I hope that each of us will make great efforts to hear one another.
During this holiday season, reach out to your brothers and sisters. Please do not assume that everything is okay. Do not patronize them…just be there for them. It is critical that we support each other, love each other and talk with each other. This community can ill afford to lose even one person to despair and hopelessness.
— Comments and corrections can be sent to email@example.com. To contact Robbi Cohn, email firstname.lastname@example.org.