Friday, August 27, 2010

Life and Love and Death

No long bloviating post tonight, but I just wanted to do my small part to put this out there.

If you are not involved in some way with the transgender community, you probably don't know who Christine Daniels is. She was once Mike Penner, a longtime sportswriter for the LA Times. In 2007 she came out to her bosses and the world as transsexual (her wife, who also worked for the Times, had apparently had some idea for some time before).

Christine enjoyed widespread support at the Times and across the industry and became a mild celebrity in the trans community which was and is always looking for positive high-profile examples to counter the "drag queen" stigmas. Everywhere, that is, but at home. Her wife flatly rejected her transition and soon filed for divorce, which, after the initial rush of support susided, left Christine increasingly depressed and lonely. In late November 2009, 19 months after her first column in her new identity - and one year to the day after her wife divorced her (and several months after de-transitioning back to "Mike" in an effort to reconcile the marriage), Christine Daniels sat in her car and breathed exhaust until she was dead.

Last week the LA Weekly ran a lengthy story about the rise and fall of Christine Daniels. obviously her story has more complexity than the average persons. Few of us transition in a fishbowl as she did, not all of us face rejection by our soul-mate for who we are (though most do), many of us do not get the support of our employers.

But the take-away in that story for me, no matter the circumstances, is how those who profess to love us seem to not realize the depth of damage that can be caused by flat out rejecting and withdrawing from their transitioning loved ones. I've heard it said (actually read a transcript of one e-mail that said this) that some have actually said "it would be better that you had died than done this" but I have to assume that's the tiny minority. How many parents who disown their trans kid REALLY consider the possibility their beloved child will eat a bullet within a year because of that rejection? How many brothers, sisters, spouse, children, best may of them are really aware that it might be THEY who drive their loved one to the place Christine ended up?

Is it REALLY worth it to take your moral stand if that is the result?

Please understand, I'm not suggesting one compromises what they believe, I'm talking about the WAY you interact with your transgender loved one. You don't HAVE to build a wall and be hateful and cruel (even while claiming you do what you do out of love). You can be gentle in spirit while still saying "I don't agree."

But the reality is, a higher percentage of trans people kill themselves than any other demographic group. This happens for a wide variety of reasons (though too be clear, it's practically non-existent, statistically, that a post-transition person is depressed because they fell they got the gender identity wrong - where there is depression it's because of other circumstances which are "collateral damage" to the transition) but very very often it's because a spouse, a child, a parent, a friend chose to show contempt instead of love. It may be harsh to say, and surely she didn't know at the time, but Christine is dead today SPECIFICALLY because of how her then-wife chose to react to her transition. I wonder, sometimes, does she realize that?

Do you? or will you simply comfort yourself by rationalizing that "he was obviously nuts anyway" and pretend she didn't die of a broken heart.

(to be clear, YES Lisa (her wife) was surely heartbroken too - but she's alive, isn't she? If you read the article, the cruelty is not in divorcing Mike/Christine - the cruelty is in the WAY she avoided her, shut her out, disrespected what she was going through. there is a good way and a bad way to part, a good way and a bad way to treat your ex. whether it be a spouse or a parent or a sibling or a child - This is not an appeal to you to just "roll over" and accept them - though that would be the ACTUAL loving thing to do - it's just an appeal for gentlness and compassion and understanding, even crazy people deserve that, right?)

1 comment:

  1. I grew up reading Mike Penner, but did not know any of this recent history. Quite a tragedy, definitely a result for Christine that should not have happened and was likely avoidable. I guess the take away, speaking more broadly than your blog subject matter, is that we should seek to treat all with kindness.