29 March 2010

Public Triumph, Private Torment

That is the title of a Los Angeles Times article, dating from March 27th, 2010, dealing with the story of the paper's star sports writer, the late Mike Penner.

What is already well known is that Penner's true inner identity was female, and that identity was manifested as Christine Daniels in 2007. However, hurtful comments by other sports writers, as well as a transgender community that wanted to idolize Daniels and take advantage of her stature, without truly catering to her needs, took a toll. One part of the article, in particular, describes Daniels' photo shoot in late 2007, which, to her, seemed to feel more like an attempt to portray her as an ugly man in a dress. Combined with a divorce filing by her wife, Daniels, after suffering from months of disability, returned to work as Penner, and eventually committed suicide.

Some of the older women in the Los Angeles trans community, especially those at Metropolitan Community Church where Daniels had attended, are prominently named in the article. A good number of them are close friends of mine as well, though what they had done in order to try to help Daniels out - for example, Amy LaCoe housing Daniels at her place for a few months - are well above and beyond what I had previously known. Just as noteworthy in the article is the mention that while a presentation that's neither strictly male nor strictly female is finding acceptance among younger people, for older people like Daniels and her friends, that's not as well accepted due to having grown up in an era of more defined gender roles; this is something I strongly agree with.

Though honestly I don't know where that deal about Daniels being ugly and unpassable even comes in. Based on the photos I have seen, Daniels looked lovely and very passable.

The saddest part of it all is that the factors that drove Christine Daniels to revert to Mike Penner, and eventually commit suicide, are still clear and present dangers. Southern California remains a very transphobic place, made even worse by theocratic immigration, and even the trans community itself is trying to determine who is a rightful transperson and who's not, rather than collectively work together to end the gender binary and other social constructs that serve to oppress the trans community. And when it comes to the trans community's own internal discrimination, I had thought it was simply a relic of the older generation with stricter gender roles, but I was wrong; a very young "activist," Ashley Love Sousa, is pushing this very same mentality herself. (And her constant search for fame and self-promotion, penchant for freeloading, and very incendiary rhetoric that is actually very empty in substance, have actually left many of my friends wondering if Ashley is indeed trans, or is a mere impostor pretending to be a trans activist simply to further her career.)

I simply want to say that I am getting sick of all this infighting among transpeople myself. The death of Christine Daniels is a tragedy that is bound to repeat over and over again, though I want to do everything I can to help end the sad trend of trans suicides. And I need to keep my activities in perspective; while I will gladly work with the trans community to further its broad causes (and I will tell Sarah's story to help in that regard), I myself need to cultivate friendships and networks in the broader community, be it lesbians, straight women, or anyone else.

I do want to thank Christine Daniels, in the meantime, for spreading some insights on the trans experience - her writings have allowed her BFF Susan Horn to reconnect with her teenage daughter, who had disowned her upon coming out as trans, but later turned around upon reading a Daniels column.

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