Christine Daniels: A Love Story New piece on CD in the LA Weekly

christine_danielsHere’s another very thoughtful, and lengthy, story published in the L.A. Times Weekly on the sad fate of Christine Daniels. (Christine, nee Mike Penner, was a sportswriter for the L.A. Times who transitioned very publicly at the paper, with the general support of that paper and its readers;  in time, however, she went back to being Mike.  She took her own life last year.)

This one sees her story as a “tragic love story,” the love story being Christine’s marriage to her wife Lisa.  Thesis here is that the loss of that marriage was too hard for Christine to bear, and that she de-transitioned back to Mike in hopes of salvaging the relationship.  This article would have a lot more teeth, if you ask me, if the author had managed to interview Lisa, the wife in question, although it’s clear enough that she wanted her privacy and wasn’t in the mood to muddy the waters at this late date by speaking publicly.  I respect that decision– living all of this in the bright light of the public eye is pretty hard; it’s one reason Deirdre/Grace has generally not had much interest in speaking publicly about matters that are, almost by definition, private.

It is clear, though, that a good rule of thumb for trans folks is to know that the changes in your romantic relationships are often the hardest to bear, and that the aches and pains from those changes can outlast transition itself.   I’ve seen this again and again– the euphoria of transition gives way to melancholy of what’s lost–often, the love from the people that we our own selves love most.

And another good rule of thumb:  all of this, which is hard enough for tough characters, let alone the vulnerable souls that trans folks usually are–is about eight million times harder to deal with in the harsh light of celebrity.   For so many of us,  ”get yourself on a talk show”  is such a mandatory element of transition that it feels like one of the standards of care.  But more often than not, that’s exactly the wrong place to be, unless you happen to have nerves of steel, and/or your relationship itself feels safe and protected.

In short, trans people are well advised to consider the sign that used to hang outside the house of the meanest lady in my home town:  CAVE CANEM.  Beware of Dog.

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15 Comments

  1. Margie
    Posted August 21, 2010 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

    I read the article and it was very sad. My thoughts are that maybe if Christine had focused more on herself and getting through the complex path of transition so that her feet were planted firmly on the ground first before attempting the other things. I think she went too fast and, given the work environment and all, most people would be hard pressed to cope with what she dealt with. Even life’s subtle changes require going slow, let alone dealing with a transition. Loosing a wife, for whatever reason, is in the top five of stressful events and Christine likely only crossed that bridge after being swept up in all the euphoria. Zyprexia can be one potent and serious drug for certain people and sometimes is given out as the “drug of the day”. Mixed with others is another story in itself.
    I tend to disagree with Dr. Bowers about going through with it. I sense there already were issues that needed to be dealt with first and she wasn’t really ready. Any one else agree?

    Margie

  2. Sara
    Posted August 22, 2010 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

    It boggles the mind that anyone can think their relationship/marriage can survive, or, even, *should* survive transition. The moral thing to do is to cast your SO free and let him/her have the life they signed up for. Anything else is abject selfishness.

    That being said, I do have compassion for anyone in that situation, but how about some reality-based thinking? And, how can anyone have a FULL transition if you stay with a person you are with prior to transition? Can’t happen. You can protest from here to there, but nope.

    Sara …

  3. Posted August 22, 2010 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

    Hm. Well, Sara, I respect your opinion here, but like– you DO know you’re posting on the blog of a person who has rather famously stayed with her spouse, and whose spouse has chosen to stay with her? I agree that this choice is not for everyone, and that plenty–probably most–couples are indeed right to separate. But Deedie/Grace and I have stayed together, and in many ways our marriage is stronger now than ever. So when you say “can’t happen,” I beg to differ. It has.

  4. Margie
    Posted August 23, 2010 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    I believe most transitions involve a selfish person, the one doing the transition. That being said, that doesn’t mean all transitions involve selfishness Sara. The successful ones don’t have it, what they do have is give and take. When a SO decides to stay during a transition, and both persons have a very good relationship, along with discussing the pros and cons as to what can/could happen, that isn’t being selfish, on anyone’s part. Being open, honest and knowing what each person’s limits, willingness and ability to adapt will determine if that path is the right path and if it’s something worth doing. Relationships should bring on growth and change and adapting to those are what make up the good relationships. My other thoughts are on how much in the “limelight” the transition-er and SO decide to go which requires a very strong SO for support and I would venture to say that most don’t want that and the successful relationships are flying under the radar because either one doesn’t want it or anything close to it. Just trying to live what’s called the everyday life. A good relationship can and does overcome all kinds of obstacles but it can’t with either being selfish. Unfortunately as of yet there are no good facts as to how many are/are not successful.

    Margie

  5. Posted August 23, 2010 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

    If I understand it right, I think your comment about one’s transistion is really good, go and stay quiet and stealth as much as you can, and if you can’t, due to some circumstancs outside your choosing, then don’t get involved other than to say, “I’m sorry but my transistion is personal and private, and not open for public discussion.”

    The transcommunity seems to advocate informing or educating people when asked. Why? Why not just say, “Go google it.” It seems to me the transcommunity, either by intention or ignorance, forgets the vast majority of people who transistion do so in quiet and stealth, and just get on with their life, solving the problems, equally traumic as the public transistions, as they go, or at least those I know.

    Some of the happiest post-transistion women are those who the world outside family and friends and the media don’t know transistioned. It’s often the transcommunity themselves who creates or exacerbates the problems for these women when they get recognition as women, claiming them as transgender when the women didn’t need or want it.

    Anyway, just a view from here.

  6. Sara
    Posted August 24, 2010 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

    Well Margie, Jennifer didn’t publish my last comment, so I don’t think she will publish this one. Interestingly enough it’s tone was much less strident than the original comment. Perhaps the tone of my original comment was too strong. But I stand by what I said. Yes, agreed Margie, there is a selfishness associated with any life-changing process. And I am amazed and wonder at the type of person(s) that undertake such a process together. Perhaps I just don’t have what it takes to form that kind of bond.

    But I have looked after myself for many years now. And if the man I was seeing or married to said one word about transition I’d boot his butt out the door pretty quickly … didn’t say I’d hate him and might even try to help but I would go on my merry way and find a guy, a straight guy to be with.

    Like I said in my second comment (not posted) perhaps I’m just too jaded.

    Sara …

  7. rebecca
    Posted August 25, 2010 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    Adding my voice against the tone that settling over this comment page — for the sake of anyone reading who’s personally put on the defense, hurt or confused or shamed by reading these comments from strangers. I’m sorry they’re on your page, JFB.

    Over the course of years, I’ve “transitioned” from being argumentative, critical, suspicious, doubting, and almost offended by the idea of transexuality/gender reassignment/choose-the-term-that-is-most-appropriate, to realizing that life is varied and complex. All that resistance I had was a denial of that most basic truth.

    I couched my original discomfort in the form of “thoughtful critique,” an attempt to figure out something that seemed implausible and inexplicable (even unjustifiable) to me…
    eventually, over years, somehow my understanding shifted. [due in large part to contemplating JFB's journey -- so thank you for that.] I found myself, when the topic arose, countering others’ “thoughtful arguments,” the same ones I used to make…countering their confusion and refusal.

    Life is varied and complex.
    There are things that are too personal, too real, too sacred to be “figured out” — you can only sense them out, feel them out. Only the individuals involved know the truth. To apply “figuring out” and argument and debate and critique and blanket statements to things like this is an insult to what the individuals involved know to be true.

  8. Posted August 25, 2010 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    You all are free to comment as you please– and Sara, I should have let your second one go through, but I was feeling kind of tender that night. My comments are so simple and straightforward it surprises me that they have engendered any reactions at all; my point is that 1) it’s hard to be vulnerable in the public eye, and that 2) in my experience the hardest part of transition has to do with our relationships with the people we love.

    I bristle at the idea of any firm and fast rules for anyones transition, so when I read things like “your transition is never complete until you’re divorced,” it pisses me off, not only because I am most surely not divorced, but because I know plenty of other trans people who have managed to keep their relationships going strong. Some of these relationships are stronger than before the transition. (And sure, many of them are not.) I think Deedie/Grace and I have become, at times, a source of hope for people who want to keep their own relationships together, and I am glad if that is true. I do believe that lots of couples are better off apart, but not all. So let’s avoid sweeping generalizations about what is right for trans people. All we know is what works for our own good selves and our loved ones, period.

    Likewise, I get grumpy at the use of the word “selfish” to describe trans people. I am aware that I was the main beneficiary of my transition, but when I think of people who are selfish, I don’t know, I think of someone who, say, has a billion dollars and doesn’t give any money to charity. Or someone who parks his car in two parking spaces. Or who butts ahead in a line. That kind of thing. I think of selfishness as a matter of ethics, morals, behavior. My transition wasn’t about any of that, any more than it is “selfish”, say for a person with kidney disease to get dialysis.

    I’d also like to say that there is a lot of space between the extremes “stealth” and “getting yourself on a bunch of television shows.” Personally, I like the idea of people living their truth in the open. Quite frankly, I am about as out as I can be, and the idea that my womanhood is compromised somehow as a result just doesn’t make any sense to me. anyway, if you’re stealth, it feels like to me, you’re trading one big secret for another. My second memoir, I’M LOOKING THROUGH YOU, is kind of about this topic (and about which there is much more on this web site.) But I understand why some folks want to live in stealth, that’s fine. My thoughts are less about being totally stealth than simply avoiding the big microphone until you are most of the way out of the woods. Ironically, of course, it’s when we are at our most vulnerable (mid transition, mid-life-change, etc) that we are most likely to get that mike shoved in our faces. That’s a good moment for folks to say, I Don’t Want to Talk About This Right Now.

    Anyway, you can all have at this if you like, but my original intent was rather modest– to encourage care where the media is concerned, as a matter of common sense. Would Christine have survived, if she’d not been so public? Who knows? What was really going on in her marriage? We don’t know. But other folks considering their own transitions, and the changes that may evolve in their most important relationships, are wise to think about all of this as they set out upon the road.

  9. Margie
    Posted August 25, 2010 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

    I admire you Jen for your opinions and how your marriage has flourished and I took your post as you put it.

    As Rebecca said, life can be very complex and that’s so true. I started to write something but kept deleting it. I’m so tired of the transition topic. I wish people would just live their lives, as they see fit, as best they can, whether in a relationship or not. If in a relationship each has to think as two. Sara, you and everyone are entitled to opinions. I think yours is fine for you but questionable for others, that’s mine. Everyone is different with different circumstances. For me I wish everyone could prosper as best they can.

    Jen, I hope you have more appearances, it’s been awhile since I caught one! Oh, Labor Day is almost upon us …. time to get ready for the white stuff? I shudder at the thought grrrrrr.

    Margie

  10. Posted August 25, 2010 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    I actually have a very rigorous speaking and travelling schedule this fall, with two appearances in Atlanta, one in DC , and another (my first) in Chicago. Will post details soon, promise.

  11. Posted August 29, 2010 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    I think we all need a pint and a smoke. Then I’m going to engage the Imagination Drive and go for a spin. Who’s in?

  12. Posted August 30, 2010 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    As for, “I think we all need a pint and a smoke. Then I’m going to engage the Imagination Drive and go for a spin. Who’s in?”, if it’s to the nearest pub for a pint of Murphy’s, rousing conversation and a good celtic band playing, I’m in. By evening’s end we won’t solve the world’s problem but we’ll sure think we did.

  13. Posted September 2, 2010 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    First rounds on you then Scotty :)

    Sure would it be so bad for us to have a go at the world’s problems? I think we’d be grand at it.

  14. KimF
    Posted September 6, 2010 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    Jenny,
    You are an amazing woman, and I can promise you that in fact your marriage and your whole life story has given people strength and hope.  I just finished She’s Not There about a week back.

    Your life has mirrored mine in such a way that when I read your book, it took me about 5 tries to get past your SRS without breaking down.  I kept having to put the book down and walk away for a few hours.  Even now over a week later, just fills me with this sense of happiness for you and hope for myself that I start bawling.

    I agree with you 100% on selfishness.  The guilt I feel towards my wife is almost crippling at times.  And yet on a cellular level I know this wasn’t my choice.  I lived the past 40 years how people wanted or expected me to live.  My choice was to live like that and be happy.  I kept trying hour after hour, day after day…decade after decade.  It didn’t take.

    So now I’m selfish when for the first time in my life I am being honest with myself and those around me?  I’m not buying it.  

    As for the idea of living your truth out in the open, I’m thrilled that there are people like you doing that.  It wasn’t like that 25 years ago when I was a teen.  I know this alone will give some people the strength to fight another day and then maybe another.

    Maybe I’ll find that strength some day.  But right now I’m just so tired.  I never dreamed when I was little that some day I’d get to be a transsexual.  I don’t want to live ashamed of who I am.  I just want to live a normal life in what time I have left.  The idea of being like your wife and keeping private things private and just going about the business of living is just so appealing to me right now.  

    I’ll never deny who I am, but that’s not the same as advertising it.  And if anyone asks I’d hope that I can tell them about this life so that maybe in some small way I can make it a little easier on those who come after us.  But like you even said there’s a lot of space between stealth and the TV circuit.

    I really hope that I get a chance to see you when you come to Chicago but I’m not sure ordering tix now is the best thing for my marriage  and I’m trying to do this as slow as I can for my wife.  I know that’s selfish of me.

    Kim

  15. Sara
    Posted September 10, 2010 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Well this thread still has some life in it. You all seem to think I am disparaging Jenny while actually I am not. I have a lot of respect for her. She has an articulate and sensitive voice. I am glad things have worked out for her.

    However, I still believe what I said originally. It is selfish for one *to expect a spouse to stay with you through transition*. I have done and still do some selfish things occasionally. That doesn’t make me a bad person. Sometimes one needs to be selfish in order to obtain what one wants. But to ask a spouse to stay in a relationship as a gay person when they are in fact heterosexual? Hm. That does not compute. However, *if it works for the couple* then fine. But I still see it as selfish act.

    It is also truth that one cannot transition as completely when one is surrounded by the people and places associated with one’s former sex. It is NOT the same as leaving everything and everyone behind. There are NO pronoun issues. There are NO name issues. There are no *looks* of recognition by oh, I don’t know, Bob and Martha or any whispers as you pass by. None. Even if someone knows my history they neither know my birth name nor what I looked like. These things are gold, and I cherish them. Not only that, what about personal challenge? Can you ever say you are successful in your target sex unless you are never seen as anything other than your target sex? These are important questions that should be looked at by any serious transitioner.

    Kim, did you transition *to be a transexual*. What about being a female? Trans-nothing? Think about that and see if it resonates.

    My words do not constitute a personal attack on anyone. Nor is my way the only solution. But, at the end of the day, don’t complain about pronouns or insensitive people who mix up pronouns and/or names, even years after transition, if you stay in one place and around the same people.

    Sara …

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