Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Mike to Christine to Mike

The Re-Transition of Mike Penner

Word is spreading today that Los Angeles Times Sports Columnist Christine Daniels is transitioning back to her former life as Mike Penner. Mike/Christine made a huge public splash with an "outing" column published in the Times back on April 26th of last year. Everything written then spoke directly to the common journey experienced by so many others over so many years. There was nothing hinting of something amiss. But clearly, something is amiss. Just what that "something" is will be the subject of speculation until Mike/Christine (and I feel absolutely frustrated that I must list the name is such fashion) speaks directly.

Magnanimous me. Charitably I will suggest, as I do underscore in seminars I present, that this is Mike's journey, not mine, nor that of the trans community at large. Our gender identity struggles have no one-size-fits-all destiny. For some like me, full transition with surgery is where my journey has led to my peace. Others transition, but have no surgery - for them that is not that important. Some continue to fashion their own personal peace by living a dual life. The journey is the individual's. For that, I will offer my best to Mike.

Clinical me. I know little of Mike/Christine's early journey. Who was the therapist involved? I won't necessarily criticize the therapeutic skill or care of the counselor (was there one at all?) for they must proceed as the patient presents their story. This isn't an exact science, it is possible that appropriate care was provided, that there was something within Mike/Christine that wasn't brought out or kept hidden. We are very good about hiding ourselves. But in looking at others who have expressed severe regrets or "gone back", most of the time there was either incompetant therapeutic service or none at all. Still, it is reported that there is about a four percent "regret rate" among Mike/Christine in that slim demographic?

Economic me. Perhaps these challenging economic days are bringing an emotional stress all its own. The Times has endured many layoffs over the past few years. A new spartan ownership, a dwindling readership and advertising base and the current crisis may have initiated a controlling fear that he might be better served in his employment if he "returned". Employment is a major hurdle for many of us. If laid off, who would hire a transgender sports columnist? My guess would be that if his position is on the chopping block, this move won't stave off the pink slip.

Cynical me. Was this all a ruse? Nora Vincent wrote a somewhat successful book, "Self Made Man", about her living as a man for a year or so - although it's interesting that the paperback version listed on Amazon subtitles the book "One Woman's Year Disguised as a Man" and the hardcover edition says "One Woman's Journey into Manhood and Back". Is it possible that Mike is going to write some kind of similar "autobiography"? The trans community adoringly absorbed Christine into the sisterhood and provided access to the top transgender leaders in the country. And we are talking about a very gifted writer.

Angry me. Mike/Christine has had every advantage that so many of us never enjoyed. Just yesterday I completed preparing the list of names for our local Transgender Day of Remembrance memorial next month. With a month remaining, there are 23 names. And so many were involved in sex work - so marginalized in their lives that this was likely their only legitimate option to economically survive. Dear Mike/Christine, this isn't a "whim". You were so darned certain with that initial column - were your doubts present then?

Jaded me. Christine became the "celebrity du jour" in the trans community. Without so much as a blink of a mascara-ed eyelash, we fawned all over her. Same thing happened with Susan Stanton. Susan, it turned out, harbored some of her own transphobic sentiments. After making hay with the Human Rights Campaign (she was introduced at the HRC's presidential "debate"), Stanton's star faded rapidly thereafter with her comments. She's argued that she was misunderstood, but the egg on HRC's face - if not hers - was most evident. Did we, the trans community, adopt another "star" much too quickly? Some of us, myself included, get our so-called fifteen minutes of fame - but does that make us any "better" than those transpeople whose transitions were in the margins or the shadows?

In the end, I'll return to the first point. This is not about me, but about Mike/Christine. But I worry not only about what lies ahead for Mike, but also for the transgender community at large.

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