Christine Daniels Follow-Up

The LA Times has a new story about Christine Daniels which says much of what many of us expected:

Daniels, who had been writing a sports-media column called Sound and Vision, had her last byline in The Times on April 4, 2008, then went on extended disability leave. She was despondent — close friends knew she was manic depressive — failing to eat and stricken with esophageal pain.

Daniels told Amy LaCoe, her transsexual friend, that she had ruined her marriage and made a mess of her life. LaCoe insisted that Daniels stay with her for a couple months. “She stared at my bedroom ceiling for a long time,” LaCoe said. “She had stopped caring about herself.”

Daniels stopped taking hormones and began getting rid of the physical trappings of Christine, LaCoe said, giving the jewelry and shoe collection to friends, donating the wigs, carting the clothes to Goodwill. In a matter of months, the whole identity had been banished . . . . When the sportswriter returned to work as Mike Penner in late October 2008, co-workers noticed that his manner was remote, his handshake unsteady. His face was changed, the jaw line permanently smooth from electrolysis. He did not want to talk about his experience, much less write about it.

When a transsexual friend asked what had happened, Penner responded, “Well, that’s why there’s a real-life test.” Friends said he held out hopes of saving his marriage, but by year’s end, his divorce was finalized.

Such a sad story.

One Reply to “Christine Daniels Follow-Up”

  1. A sad story to be sure, but in it’s essence, an all-too-common one.

    The most recent statistics compiled by various organizations such as AFSP (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention) indicate that those who identify somewhere along the LGBT spectrum are at the greatest risk for suicidal behavior.

    Taking a closer look at these disturbing stats reveals that, with all other demographics (gender, race, age, economic status, etc.) being presumably “equal”, the number of actual “completed” suicides (the “incompletes” and “considerers” are legion, but virtually impossible to track) among those with “gender-variant” issues far outnumber their lesbian and gay counterparts.

    Granted, Mike/Christine’s situation was atypical due to his/her position as a widely read and successful journalist in a field that is primarily male-dominated. This unique juxtaposition of circumstances was a “double-edged sword” that definitely “cut both ways”.

    Although we did briefly exchange e-mails, I never had the pleasure (I’m sure) to meet her. Even so, it was obvious that Mike/Christine was clearly an intelligent, articulate and accomplished individual.

    At a time when the collective TG/TS community was recoiling from the disingenuous words and deeds of a certain high-profile ex-city manager from FL., there were many among us seeking an equally high-profile “anti-Susan” to restore some much-needed balance to the ongoing narrative about trans-equality.

    With that said, there was still much to be learned on the part of our genuinely reluctant “heroine” about life in the “shark tank” that represents the reality of a substantial number of trans-folk.

    To continue with the metaphor, it soon became apparent that Mike/Christine was in some seriously “troubled waters” and was in WAY over his/her head, even with the benefit of a supportive employer and the vocal support of many well-intentioned trans-activists out here in the “blogosphere”.

    At this point, it is worth noting that Christine Daniels was not a completely unattractive human being, even in her early transitional stages, despite a few snarky comments to the contrary. Clearly a certain degree of “passability” can be a great advantage when navigating the often perilous “journey” we all seem to traverse, can it not?

    A few solid friends, a steady paycheck, and the good will of the community.

    Things could be (and for many: ARE) much, much worse.

    We should all be so fortunate

    Nevertheless, what followed was a scenario that is common to an overwhelming majority of trans-people. For many of those people, “treading water” is necessarily the only choice if one is to survive and hopefully thrive in such an unecessarily hostile environment, particularly if one is actively living as their “true selves”, as prescribed by the Benjamin standard.

    So many of us have nobody willing and/or able to “throw out a lifeline” in our own similarly “troubled waters”. Once we lose sight of any possible hope on the horizon, we just stop struggling and let the waters envelope us, gradually becoming “comfortably numb” as the pain that has dominated our so-called “lives” begins to mercifully recede.

    What follows is just another “sad story”, albeit one that very few, if any, will read about here in the “blogosphere”.

    Was Mike/Christine’s life of any greater value than the lives of the THOUSANDS of trans-folk who annually make the choice to leave this mortal coil by their own hand?

    Among our own individual social circles, it’s a safe bet that we won’t have to look very hard to find a kindred spirit in the agonizing death-grip of hopelessness, much like the torment that Amy LaCoe observed in her good friend just prior to that fateful moment.

    There are MANY in desparate pain amongst the relatively cloistered trans-community.

    Here in the mostly trans-friendly city of Chicago, I made the special and somewhat controversial “executive decision” to include those who took their own lives in our 2009 Day of Remembrance vigil. Some folks were not happy with this choice, but many DOR participants gratefully embraced this long-overdue inclusion of people THEY knew and/or loved with tears in their eyes.

    After all, not ALL victims of anti-trans discrimination die quickly and violently at the hands of xenophobic attackers. Far too many die slowly and painfully, trapped in the lonely seclusion of poverty and desperation inflicted on them by an uniformed society that neither “knows” nor cares.

    I would argue that those who are driven by hopelessness to kill themselves are every bit as much a victim of fatal trans-phobia as those unfortunate souls who were murdered in the streets. The insidious difference lies in the fact that murder victims typically die quickly, whereas those who take their own lives die the slow, agonizing proverbial “death of 1000 cuts”.

    The full-voiced public insults, the cruel stares, the mocking laughter, the overdue bills due to lack of honest work, the anxiety produced when trying to find health-care from a provider that really does “get it”, every unreturned phone call and e-mail from former “friends” and family, these are significantly torturous events in the lives of trans-folk that less sensitive people don’t seem to recognize.

    Who among us is sentient enough to notice that pain, and compassionate enough to actually reach out and “toss a line” to the “drowning souls” that no longer have the will to carry on?

    Most “completed” suicidesare lonely, depressed people who didn’t really WANT to die, they just ran out of viable options for stopping that unimaginable emotional and physical pain. I speak from bitter experience when I say that in those darkest of hours, often all that is required is the gentle light of one TRUE friend to reveal the way out of the seemingly endless ” gloom and doom”, literally speaking.

    Think about those around you who may no longer have a ready smile and a glint in their eye. Is it really too much to ask to just take a minute from your busy day and say “hello in there”, and then REALLY LISTEN to the reply?

    If WE don’t help each other, who will?

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