Tragedy, Again

Posted by – August 21, 2010

If you can bear to read it, there’s a long story about Christine Daniels / Mike Penner in The LA Times. The whole thing is so fucking tragic, a huge waste. There are times I get so pissed off about how euphoric people get about transition that I want to spit nails.

Toward the end there’s this soulless quote by Marci Bowers:


Bowers believes Penner put one foot in the grave by abandoning the transition. “If we had done surgery, it probably would have saved her life. Now she died as an unhappy soul who never got a chance to align her body and soul, and that’s the greatest tragedy about her.”

I’m not sure that doesn’t win an award for most self-serving pile of crap I’ve ever seen.

Her whole story, I’m going to say, makes me want to scream. PEOPLE CAN AND DO CHOOSE TO TRANSITION. People can and do choose not to when what they might lose is a too much to lose. It is not “transition or die.” Sometimes it’s “transition and die.” That does not mean I’m saying people shouldn’t transition, or that late transitioners shouldn’t transition. What I’m saying is that the larger trans community – and especially the gender therapists who “serve” this community – have got to get it through their heads that someone who has lived a long time in one gender & who has had something like a good life, career, and marriage, might want to think long & hard before deciding to transition.

Or, as we were told, DO AS LITTLE AS YOU CAN to relieve the gender dyphoria.

16 Comments on Tragedy, Again

  1. Stephanie Stevens says:

    Truly very tragic.

    Well said, Helen, and, personally, I could not agree more.

    ~~S~~

  2. michael munson says:

    That quote is stunningly painful — seeing the world as a nail with the only tool being a hammer. The level of a simplicity implied in that quote, too, almost stops me dead in my tracks (no pun intended). The complexity of depression (up to and including suicidal thoughts, feelings and actions) cannot be condensed to one cause (loss of relationship, shift in public perception, lack of surgery). Depression, is frequently multi-dimensional and is rarely alleviated by something as simple as (gender reassignment/confirming) surgery.

    Far too many in our community have died from suicide. Most, not due to lack of surgery, or loss of spouse, or change in life structure, or anything else that many people commonly point to as the cause. Most all suicides result from long-term depression or other mental health conditions that MIGHT be exacerbated by transition steps.

  3. helenboyd says:

    thank you, Michael.

  4. SusanK says:

    The truth is the only person who knew how Christine Daniels felt was Christine Daniels, everything else is opinion at best and guessing at worst. I wish people would just leave it and her alone, and let it be. Michael is right, depression is so complex within oneself as to be unfathomable by anyone else and suicide is often when it becomes unfathomable by themselves and the darkness reduces the choices to two.

    And to borrow from Taoism, if you’ve been at that moment you can’t explain it and if you can explain it, then you weren’t at that moment. The darkness swallows you as you swallow it and disappear into each other. Only innate instincts can and may save you, but it’s not a solution or an answer, but only a momentary reprieve from the present.

    Thank for your words about “transistion or die” mentality. I’ve never liked it as we are all thinking human beings who make choices, some more dominating in our minds to shroud the other options and choices, and even reality. And the reality of a transistion is often lost in the hope, which far more often than not, dies in the face of the reality of the world.

    It should never be about your transistion as much as about your life in, through and after your transistion. Don’t think of it as much as you think through it and beyond. Then the transistion will more or less take care of itself, even with the issues and problems everyone encountes in one, because you know where you’re going in life than just down a block of time.

  5. divadarya says:

    Thank you, Helen.
    Nail on the head for the Bowers statement; I was thinking it, and you said it.

    I’m as old as Christine was, roughly and grew up when she did. I always find it ironic that the last thing to die in any male-identified person who chooses to live as a more or less female-identified person is a sense of hierarchy. TS vs. CD, New TS’s vs old TS’s, passable vs less passable, *true*TS’s vs. anyone who isn’t them. Bullshit. A little humanity, people.

    I’ll leave it at that.

  6. EricaCD says:

    It was a horribly painful piece to read… with the horror punctuated briefly by a surge of revulsion at the Bowers quote.

    I couldn’t agree more with your thoughts around the decision to transition. Personally, I cannot overstate my relief that my own gender identity issues are easily remedied. I’ll cheerfully accept a lower trans “status” (in the idiotic hierarchy that Darya correctly describes) in exchange for not having to seriously consider the awful question of transition.

  7. Mercedes says:

    I’m certainly not one to promote a “one true way” for transition. Personally, I believe that the decision to have GRS should reside more on whether someone is personally distressed by their existing body parts than the pressures usually put on them and identification issues, and not having GRS doesn’t make anyone any less valid.

    However, I do want to think that Dr. Bowers’ comments were well-intentioned if very badly phrased, and probably unconsciously biased by the fact that she tends to see only one type of trans person: those who opt for surgery.

  8. tinasim02 says:

    I followed Christine’s/Mike’s story with great interest, and I was an avid reader of her blog. My heart sank a lot when I heard that she had died. Her suicide was so close to the suicide of a transwoman friend of mine who also had lost her family support system, so reading that part did not surprise me in the least.

    The part I found hard was the authoritative way that the author wrote about de-transitioning. I’m sure it’s something that is not all that well understood and something that is incredibly hard to go through – probably harder than choosing to transition because the support needs for a de-transitioner are non-existant. I mean, just pulling yourself off hormones has to really affect someone, and if that person has some form of depression it could be a ticket to hell. And I don’t know what training there is for psychologists/psychiatrists to help here.

    Such a shame.

  9. [...] everyone, but I don’t think it’s presumptuous to say that.  But a mistake was made in thinking that what we (that collective “we” again, which might not reflect everyone) nee… too, and that she had to be a champion of that.  In the end, we sometimes push people into a [...]

  10. Rosemary says:

    I will admit that when I first read Helen’s comment I thought her tone was a little shrill and determined to hitch my journalistic skirt to do battle. However having read the article in full I am not so determined to cross swords with someone I view from afar as my friend.

    I do think the death Of Christine/Mike was shocking and media worthy. It is a point of honour for those of us working the area that our suicide rates should be minimised (0.95% or 2/211 of my patients at the time of writing). When I started in the field some 20 years ago, it was part of the TS urban mythology that the suicide rate was of the order of 10% at least. Some of these deaths were predictable and inevitable and that would lead one on to consider most carefully how best to protect the individual from her/himself.

    What is most painfully apparent in some of these accounts is the superficiality of approach that is being related; as if glam clothes and big boobies are going to convince anyone of your essential “femaleness” when in truth it rests entirely between the ears. Where in 9 pages were the psychiatrists battling for Christine’s survival? Where were the compromises of partial reassignment being suggested. Could she have not found some such compromise with her wife if indeed love had survived the media frenzy.

    Here in Australia we have rigorous testing and supervision of the transitions such that our critics complain that we are being gatekeepers but we are partners with our patients in their battle for female survival and that is a metamorphosis enjoining restraints. It’s sad to think of this tormented individual having so much resource and yet having to rely it seems on a handful of friends.

    The quote about surgery from Marcia Bowers is so superficial that it is difficult to believe that it dripped off the pen of a noted medical specialist. It is so important that a realistic view of the limitations of surgery should prevail and that surgery and it’s contemplation is not always safe; the preservation of really good balanced judgment is of critical importance to the point where to back away should not be regarded as a defeat but more in militaristic terms “a strategic withdrawal”.

    It’s all so sad and yet this turn of events must teach us all a little extra and that extra wisdom may be the most fitting memorial to Christine/Mike.

    Dr Rosie Jones
    Adelaide
    South Australia

  11. I think this is being a little harsh on Marci Bowers.

    Reading her quote in the context of the full article, it seems likely that Marci might feel like asking Christine to reschedule her originally scheduled gender reassignment surgery pushed her over an emotional edge. I see hints in Marci’s quote about the unintentional role she may have played in Christine’s rapid emotional decline even before her decision to de-transition. Like if only she could go back and NOT ask her to reschedule things would have turned out much better.

    It’s very possible she overstates the importance of gender reassignment in the mental health of transitioners. On the other hand there’s not much in the story which indicates that choosing not to transition would have relieved Christine/Mike’s gender dysphoria either.

  12. [...] and relationship struggles would have ensued. “It is not transition or die,” one prominent commentator insisted. “Sometimes it’s transition and [...]

  13. julia09 says:

    I read the article a few days ago. It’s a sad and tragic story for sure. . .

    I guess what puzzles me is this reaction. . . er, or. . . what “stood out” in some people’s minds here. It almost seems like the blame is placed on the women themselves via:

    “euphoria,” = a woman makes bad decisions during her transition. i.e. we loose our minds in a false and warped sense of feminine happiness.
    +
    “transition or die” (or transition AND die, it doesn’t matter) meme = We use (the threat of) suicide to justify why we HAD to transition, or it’s the transition that can cause suicide. It doesn’t matter. The mistake is on the woman. She transitioned, and it caused so much shit to happen around her she shouldn’t of.
    +
    If she had an honest gatekeeper = i.e. Women need to be watched or can’t be trusted to make sure no one with a good job and spouse makes others suffer by having to deal with transition. . . when good ‘ol fashioned repression mixed with some CD’in or gender queerin’ will suffice.
    +
    A woman Dr. serving the community is only “self serving.” ’cause of one, albeit strange and off-key, comment. ‘comon. really?

    = This kind of tone smells a little of blame the victim and / or blame the community, imo.

    um. . . where’s the focus on the shitty social forces that can keep some women in the closet, ostracize an out woman from their partner and family, drive them back to repression, depression and in this case, suicide? What about the shitty OP ed piece written about Christine’s presentation? What about the shitty vanity faire photo shoot? What about the professional sports world in the US that doesn’t even seem to be cool with anyone being gay? What about those?

    I will say “the community” should lay-off their deep and impatient desire for another poster child. And some women may serve themselves well for checking their craving for validation through any media coverage of “their story.” It’s not gonna happen.

    IME, You may find in a short time that you *own* the ability to maintain your privacy after the dust settles. And you may find life is just easier as whatever flavor of female you are.

  14. open says:

    When Helen put her thoughts to words on this website I never thought her words or thoughts would rent so much space on my mind and that is exactly what has happened. I just happen to be one of those people who came to my own personal understanding later in life and after spending all of one life as a male my only desire now is to live as my trueself and that is as a woman, and what has rented so much space in my mind is what she said about living so much of your life as one gender and finding all of the good things that do come with it. For myself I found financial success, a wife and more than anything else I brought a child into this wordl who I adore, and yet through all of this I never thought about my own needs.

    What she said is so true, about transitioning later in life, and maby risking all that I have to become the woman I always knew I was inside. Her thoughts continue to occupy my mind and just speaking for myself in my later 40s is that when I was younger I never wanted to know the truth and when I was finally old enough and mature enough to accept the truth I wish I had known it earlier in life.

    No answer and not much of a reply other than what she posted has left its mark with me.

    OPEN

  15. [...] for everyone, but I don’t think it’s presumptuous to say that.  But a mistake was made in thinking that what we… needed was always exactly what she needed too, and that she had to be a champion of that.  In the end, we sometimes push people into a [...]

  16. [...] for everyone, but I don’t think it’s presumptuous to say that.  But a mistake was made in thinking that what we… needed was always exactly what she needed too, and that she had to be a champion of that.  In the end, we sometimes push people into a [...]

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