Saturday, October 25, 2008

You Knew the Job Was Dangerous When You Took It, Chris

It's not like I've got a lot of room to talk. I'm not officially "out" to most people I know. I'm not going to transition or even go full time. But I've got to do a bit of grumbling.

I've received about half a dozen articles from Transgendered News regarding LA Times Sportswriter Christine Daniels' re-transition back to Mike Penner. About a year and a half ago Christine came out to her readers and began a transition blog on the LA Times website. There was a lot of support and a lot of derision, but the Times supported her. Now Christine is Mike again and is quietly back at the Times, and Christine's blog has been taken down without comment.

Preparing to come out and then actually doing it has got to be one of the most harrowing times in a transgendered person's life. For someone in my position, coming out selectively to people I know I can trust is bad enough, but to bare one's soul to the world takes guts, plain and simple. And that's just coming out; actually presenting as the woman or man one truly is - that is a public action. A lesbian or gay man can, if they choose, keep their sexuality private. A transsexual, by definition cannot. If I commit to being a woman, I will present as one. And it's belaboring the obvious to say that this will effect a radical change in my appearance and behavior. (Given my readership, I've been belaboring the obvious from the beginning of this paragraph, but keep with me.) For the average person, this public change, as I said, takes, perhaps, more courage than facing the surgery which will confirm the change. (Heck, I've read the words of women who looked forward to SRS as if it were a debutante ball. I've had a bilateral hernia surgery and gall bladder surgery. Surgery is sugery and post-op pain is post-op pain.)

So when a man who is in the public eye, and one who (unlike, say, Alexis Arquette) is not someone you'd expect, comes out, takes a new name, and begins to present as a woman, notice will be taken. That woman will be under public scrutiny.

However...

If that person commits to a blog which is sponsored by a major newspaper and implicitly promises to share with the public the vicissitudes of this transition, that person has taken on a responsibility to her readership.

I read Christine Daniels' blog from the beginning and, along with many others, sent her my best wishes and admiration. I continued to read her blog for a few weeks until two things happened.

1. Sports started creeping in. Yeah, I know this is a sportswriter we're talking about, but I can safely say that, being a person who would rather watch paint dry than sit through the Superbowl, I would never even have paid attention had she not been a tranny.

2. I began to get the impression that her transition was somewhat superficial. I can't go back and check this because the blog entries have all been quietly taken down, but I remember that after several postings about shopping, social events, and being accepted by other trannies, I started to get bored. I do remember some about being accepted by coworkers, which were good to see.

The capper for me, though, was this: twice, after Christine had written in rapt wonderment about how well things were going, I had posted comments asking about how her family was accepting the transition. My comments were never posted, much less acknowledged. I really wanted to know. One of the major factors that has and does keep me from transitioning is family. (Of course, the very fact that ANYTHING keeps me from transitioning tells me that transitioning is most likely not in my cards.) A major part of transitioning deals with how we interact with others: how we are treated, how we react. And our family or lack or loss thereof is part of the definition of who we are. By not acknowledging my questions regarding family (and, as I understand it, the questions of others, because at least one columnist complained that such questions were taboo in interviews) Christine robbed her blog postings of a major part of their meaning and usefulness. I got tired of the sweetness and light and stopped reading.

Now, without a word of explanation, she has transitioned back to Mike, and I want to know why. Part of me says that it's none of my business, but that's the sweet, understanding part that recognizes that Mike Penner let the cat out of the bag and is now having to stuff it back in. Apparently Christine flunked her Real-Life Test. But another part of me is loudly quoting Super Chicken: "You knew the job was dangerous when you took it, Fred." When Christine started her blog, she took the responsibility I've already described. She made a deal with me as a reader. Part of that deal was to honestly report her progress and, as part of that, the lack thereof. Mike Penner owes it to his readers to let us know what happened.

I read a blog the other day complaining about the Real-Life Test, how it was so unfair and cruel or some such rot. From what I can see, the Real-Life Test is a vital component of a transexual's transition. It lets that individual know firsthand whether or not a whole life transition is feasible or advisable. And the fact that it encompasses a year is of vital importance. A few years ago, I spent a week in another town as Gillian 24/7, as a guest speaker in a friend's psychology classes. The feeling of euphoria was overwhelming. It took the wise words of my friend Ally, who had been through it all, to bring me back to reality: I had been in a rarified atmosphere. "If you have any doubts at all," she said, "DON'T." This is not to say that the thought of transitioning still doesn't come to me, I often find that I get a lot more satisfaction as Gillian that otherwise, but that is also because most of the more mundane and distateful tasks are left to my male alter-ego. (I'd make an analogy to marriage, but the ghost of my mother, a 1950's and 60's housewife and stay-at-home mom is shouting, "Don't you dare!" in my ear.)

The point is, by starting her blog and making it as public as it was, Christine Daniels made a contract with the rest of us that she would let us know how things went. Apparently things went south. That does not give Mike Penner permission to breach the contract. This person has a responsibility to the rest of us to let us know what went wrong. It was part of the job. The fact that this information might help the transitioning person know what might be ahead is very, very important, but of more importance is honoring the debt owed to one's readership. I know it's snide to say it, but the fact that Christine was never totally open with us (and since, as I said, I stopped reading the blog after a while, I hope I'm wrong and she did open up a little more) I'm not surprised that Mike is keeping quiet about what went wrong.

I feel compelled, then, to make this deal with my readership: I'll keep this bolg up as long as I have ideas that are worth writing about. I'll be as informative and entertaining as I can be. I will honor all comments and questions. But if I ever feel it incumbent upon myself to take this blog down, I will let you know exactly why. Of course, I'd already made that deal with you when I wrote my first posting.

13 comments:

Lori D said...

Gillian, there is much to agree with or disagree with from this post. I remember the big news when it first came out about Mike becoming Christine. I, like you, was eager to read the running blog in the L.A. Times about this new "Woman in Progress," but it became apparent early on that Christine would share the more intimate moments of her transition, especially regarding her family.

My interest in reading the blog quickly waned simply because I believed my own situation was playing out quite a story, and I felt compelled to share it with others. So I began to blog quite frequently on my original Yahoo 360 page, to the point where I began to connect with so many readers from that blog I developed a new host of support and friendship from my online presence.

There were moments during my first year of this new puberty where because of my circumstances, I almost dropped off the face of the the internet. Family pressures, marital issues, job challenges, and trying to figure it all out brought me to a new low. I was tempted to pull the plug on my blogging and disappear without offering an excuse. But I knew that would have been wrong, so I held on.

After moving here to blogspot and beginning again so to speak, I still feel it necessary to share my story with those who are willing to read about it. And to this day, I'm still amazed how people connect in an emotional and almost spiritual way through it. Never before have I had the ability to connect to so many people who were very much like me in my struggles.

Friendships created on the internet might not be as powerful as a friend who holds your hand in person, but they are just as important to me because of the level of support and the knowledge I've received.

It's about the value we place on friends like that that I keep blogging.

As for Christine becoming Mike without excuse, I have to argue that Mike did not FAIL the Real Life Test, but that he indeed PASSED it. The success in the RLT is not about facilitating people into their new gender, it's about making sure they are certain what gender they think is best to live in.

Choosing to live again as Mike was obviously a difficult decision, no doubt lots of pressure to make it to the "finish line" for Christine. However, it must take an equal amount of bravery and humility to admit that Christine is not who he is, and so a return to being Mike shouldn't be scorned.

I fear that when we tell others things like "that's what you get," or "You knew it was dangerous," we're only standing in agreement to those who stood against the person deciding on transition to begin with.

The real issue seems to revolve around the choice to detransition. For some reason, I am filled with compassion when I read stories like Christine's, or of Josef's story in MSNBC's "A Change of Heart" (see http://transcendgender.com/2008/08/30/msnbcs-born-in-the-wrong-body-a-change-of-heart/ )

I'm sorry, I got slightly off track with some of my comments. My whole point is that I do believe that while Mike owes NO one a reason why he decided to turn back, I do see just how cutting all ties and not doing so impacts other people who were supportive of them to begin with.

It hurts when we're not given an explanation for detransitioning, or when people we care for leave the blogosphere without reason.

But they must obviously be hurting more for having to live that truly difficult life. We owe them our best wishes and vow to always be there with a broom and mop in hand waiting to again offer our love and support should they choose this path again.

(Thank you for posting this. It was the best blog I've read in quite some time. I hope others are challenged to share their thoughts as well.)

Kathryn said...

I, like Lori, must disagree with some points, just as I may agree with others. Though I never read Christine's blogs, never heard of them until this "controversy," I can relate to the experience of sharing information about my transition through a blog. It is quite possible that the issues surrounding family acceptance were far too painful for Christine to share in a public forum. I, myself, have not yet hit any painful moments in my transition. The friends and fmaily to whom I have come out to have been accepting. Because everything is rosy so far does not mean that my transition is any less legitimate or real than those who share stories of despair and rejection. I may or may not face those, afterall, this world is changing, and some of us do transition with little or no resistance. On the other hand, there are parts of my transition that I may or may not be willing to share publicly. I do not oew it to anyone to air my entire life and its ups and downs on the internet. Why I enjoy the support and encouragement of my readers, my blog is not for them. My blog is for me. It is my outlet. There are private matters that I will write about in my private journal but not share online. That is my choice.
I agree with Lori that Mike passed the RLT. He tried it, and, in the end, found in preferable to return to being Mike. Does this mean the earlier steps of transition were contrived or some kind of publicity stunt? Not at all. I am sure there are plenty of people who have tried and gone back to their old gender presentation. I find this story to actually be refreshing. This is less dramatic of a story than those about people who have gone through surgery and then detransitioned. There is a lot less for the media to attack here. In fact, I feel that it strengthens the process that we all go through.

I feel for Mike. He will still face doubt from other people who know him. He will forever carry the burden of people knowing that he once transitioned and some may view him very different because of that. He may find it just as hard to find acceptance now as he did during the time he lived as Christine. I feel that the transgender community should be sending a message of support, not dissapointment. He may find that he still needs the friends he made. Maybe not now, but maybe in the near future. If we write him off because he detransitioned, then we are no better then those who write us off because we transition. His choice is no less valid than yours, than mine, or anyone elses. Some cannot continue without transitioning, some can, and others find that they must go back to their old presentation.

I do appreciate your comments and feelings. Some feel betrayed by Mike's actions and lack of explination, but remember this he is the one who has to live with this decision.

Kathryn

Gillian said...

Lori,
Dang you're good! You are absolutely right about passing or failing the Real-Life Test. As a matter of fact, I've seen the term "Real-Life Experience," which is far more accurate.

And I do not mean to judge Mike or Christine as an individual who has made some mind-bogglingly tough life decisions. And I can respect the personal reasons for having taken down the blog.

If Christine's blog had been on the same media level as yours or mine, my posting would not have even been written. However, Christine's blog was posted on the website and under the auspices of a major newspaper. Christine, was at that point, no longer a private person but a journalist and her blog, though written from a personal perspective, was a piece of investigative reporting. That, and not the act of transitioning was the "job she knew was dangerous."

I'm sorry if my posting sounded like I was saying, "That's what you get." It was certainly my intent.

Compared to other media, the blogsphere is still in its infancy. All we have to do is put up a page and make a few connections and, if what we say is worth reading, we get a readership. It would be even better if it paid.

But, as I said, Christine was more than a blogger, she was, and Mike is a journalist.

If Christine had, from the beginning, set and published such parameters as "I'm leaving my family out of this" then, again, I might not be so critical. But I feel that, given the automatic readership she received with all the publicity, she owed a little more to her readers than the average blogger.

As for re-transitioning, I can do nothing but respect that. And my sympathy and compassion goes to anyone who has gone through a complete overhaul of family, friends, life and general acceptance only to find that this was not the right path.

But given the many factors behind Christine's celebrity, I still think (though perhaps not as stridently so)that Mike owes the readership some kind of explanation.

(Thanks for your kind words. I hope I don't get crucified.)

Gillian said...

Dear Kathryn,

Though it may appear otherwise, I also feel for Mike. Since I am a public school teacher and not out to most of my students and colleagues I go a bit icy at the thought of being in a similar position.

I was awestruck at Christine's decision to document her transition. Very few people who are already in the public eye have transitioned, and I can't think of a single one who undertook to record it.

You make a very strong point: "I feel that the transgender community should be sending a message of support, not dissapointment. He may find that he still needs the friends he made. Maybe not now, but maybe in the near future. If we write him off because he detransitioned, then we are no better then those who write us off because we transition. His choice is no less valid than yours, than mine, or anyone elses."

And I agree absolutely. And the blogs that I have read from others in the transgendered community have all been very supportive. I applaud that. I have written off neither Mike nor Christine. I do not question the validity of his decision. But I do feel that Mike should be writing this and not me.

Another phrase comes to me: "...if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meannes to the world; or if it be sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion." Of course, Thoreau is writing about his life at Walden Pond, but I was hoping for a similar attitude in reportage from Christine.

Perhaps I have been unfair. Perhaps we are any time we put expectations on others.

Thank you so much for your sensitive and insightful comment. I never cease to be amazed at the empathy and kindness that is exemplified by our community. Both you and Lori have done some very important teaching today.

Abby said...

Lori and Kathryn have already covered most of my thoughts about this post, so I won't go over that ground again. I do have a couple of other comments, however. (Actually, as you'll see, it turned out to be more than a "couple" comments, but you already knew that about me, didn't you? :-) )

First, regarding the RLE, this post by Autumn Sandeen, provides a good explanation of its purpose and why Mike Penner's decision to return to living in a male role was a successful outcome of the "real life experience" portion of the SOC, not a failure, since it served exactly the purpose for which it was designed.

Second, Gillian, I disagree with your premise that, because Mike Penner worked for the LA Times and chose to blog about his experiences transitioning to life as Christine Daniels, he somehow owed more to his readers than any of the rest of us who blog on this, or any other, subject.

I read his blog from the beginning and have returned to it periodically looking for updates. I recall no commitment to reveal everything about his experience or to do anything other than to write about his experience when and if he felt like it. The fact that, because of his job and the widespread publicity regarding his transition, he had thousands, if not millions, more readers than any of the rest of us can ever hope to have, changes nothing about the basic rule that we all write about what we want when we want. Furthermore, even if he had said at the beginning that he was going to document every detail of his experience, he, just like the rest of us, always retains the freedom to change our minds, to say "no thanks, I don't want to do that any more."

I understand fully the desire for an explanation, the desire to understand his experience so we can consider the implications it may have for our own, but we have no claim on him, no right to demand of him any more than he is willing to give. Am I disappointed? Yes. Would I like to know why he has made this momentously difficult decision? Yes, again. But I also have to acknowledge that my desire for that information derives from my own fears about what his experience means for me: the questions it raises about the validity and permanence of my own decision to transition, and how the reaction of family, friends and the general public to my own transition may be affected by the publicity at both ends of Mike's experience. Once again, I see that my desire that Mike act differently than he has is all about me and my own fears, and has nothing to do with him.

In the end, I come down at the same place as Kathryn: our obligation as human beings is to provide our sisters and brothers, trans and cis, with the unconditional love and support that we all need to live a life of peace, joy and harmony, regardless of the decisions they make and our opinions about the wisdom of those decisions. We each need understanding, not judgment, and I hope that is what Mike feels from the trans community as he continues on his journey.

Gillian said...

My Dear Friends (new ones and even newer ones)

Maybe I've spent too much time teaching Hemingway and Fitzgerald whose novels were full of the unvarnished truth of their lives. Maybe the fact that I'm trying to get my own chops back up as a writer has effected me thus. I believe that a writer does owe a debt to his or her readership. When I have told a story to a class and it's been interrupted by the bell, I hear no end of pestering until I finish it. And as horrendously stressful as Christine's situation might have been, to just simply disappear from those thousands or millions of readers is not fair to them.

Come to think of it (another epiphany) it may be even more incumbent upon those of us who keep a blog to be more up front with our readerships than other writers. In the past couple of days I've seen my followers list double. (Now let's see what happens after this debacle.) I owe these folks something for that link. I owe you, Abby, and you, Lori and you, Katheryn. You either check in or you've linked or whatever. I owe you. And if I get lazy simply "phone in" a post like that Doonesbury one, if I don't write from the heart, I'm doing you a disservice.

Actually, I'm thinking more about Leith's recent accident. She was under no obligation to let us know that it had even happened, and yet she told us and then calmed us by giving us the details as if we were family. A readership, whether it be online or print or whatever other medium, becomes like a family. If we expose a bit of ourselves to that readership, we have created a bond, it becomes incumbent upon us to honor that bond. Leith has exposed more (in one way or another) than the average blogger might, and so we've followed her love life, her cake fetish, etc. Some of it, as my daughters would say, is TMI (Too Much Information), but Leith, being the extrovert that she is, can handle the attention.

I'm not saying now, nor have I said, that Christine should have given us ALL the details of her transition. But I believe that she did owe those people who read her regularly and invested emotion and care an explanation. That I felt I wasn't getting enough insight from her blog, well Abby, you're right: that's more in the realm of what I wanted that what Christine was prepared to give.

Even if Christine had indeed said, "No thanks, I don't want to do that any more," I would have honored that. At least it would have been an acknowledgement to thousands who had read her words.

My prayers are with Mike Penner, now, a good thirteen hours after I wrote that post, more than ever. Now I drop any criticism. We all are bonded by what I consider a mystical state. He has my prayers, my meditations and my support.

But I've also had today, though dealing with the comments both here and at Lori's site, a vital lesson in the responsibility we all share to be mindful of our words and of those who read them.

Abby said...

Gillian, what Leith did, what you and I, Lori and Kathryn do, we do because that is who we are and because that is what friends and family do ... we share who we are and at least some of what we experience. We don't, or at least *I* don't, do it out of a sense of obligation. Nor do I have any expectations, nor, IMO, the right to have any expectations, that you or anyone else will keep doing so. Would I be disappointed if you stopped blogging? Yes, just as I have felt sad, scared and disappointed when others in our community whose voices I value have slowed or stopped sharing of themselves. But those are my feelings and only I am responsible for them. You have no obligation to change what you need to do to take care of yourself to accommodate my fears or other feelings, nor did Mike Penner have any such duty.

Instead, I view each post and comment from you, Leith, Lori, Liz, Kathryn, Radha, and many others as gifts to be savored and treasured for the precious things that they are. I have no right to demand or expect them, but I will be forever grateful for receiving them.

Gillian said...

I concur one hundred per cent.

Except...

I have committed to you. When I started this blog, I committed to anyone who would read my words. Now, as I am getting to know you and Lori and Denise and Shauna and Cloe and Stephanie and my dear "other" Gillian -- and Kathryn whom I have just met today. I have taken on a loving commitment.

Every act of creation is a gift. Just as every act of teaching is a gift. It is not my occupation, it is my calling.

This coming Friday is Halloween. For the past decade my alter ego has told stories all day long. My friend True Thomas has called him "The hardest working [man] in storytelling." By the end of period six I will be crawing off campus. It's become a tradition. The librarian booked the library back in September and then asked me just to verify. At least two other teachers have asked if their classes can join mine. The same thing will happen on St. Patrick's day. It's my gift to them. But I've committed to that gift. Nobody has any right to demand it of me. And if it suddenly became mandatory, I'd tell the administration where to stick it. But since I have committed to the gift, the students, the libarian, the other teachers, and any administrator or anyone else who steps in to hear me has a right to expect it.

I love you and I give you the gift of my words and silliness and occasional wisdom. You have every right to expect it because it is coming to you.

To demand it makes it toxic. To expect it is your right, Dear Heart.

Shauna Baggtt said...

OMG, I have finally found a blog where I am speechless well somewhat but I am lol.

Oh Oh I found words that need to be said.

I agree with everyone for a change. As Gillian put it with Leith being so bold and forward I once thought I would be that way, and I did when I went on to explain who I am in detail. I know my readers would be upset if I never returned which I would tell each of them why I was leaving not like Christine or Mike. How do I know this wasn't for a journalist to just try it out and then return like nothing happened? She was being paid right for her blog? So how do I and everyone out here know this wasn't a publicist dare? He could have had a problem with his job and asked if he could do this story, make money and make himself famous on top of it all? Too many questions and no answers.

I will leave this one alone.

Hi, my name is Michelle. Welcome! said...

Hi Gillian,
Very thought provoking post (By the way, first one I've read from your blog, thanks Lori for the link), and thank you for writing it.

When I first started to blog a little over a year ago I debated if I should go public or just keep a personal journal of my life. After much soul searching, I decided to go public. My reasoning was that maybe someone like myself, down the road would read my blog and may find inspiration from my blog or my friends blogs. I also decided to write on topics that were personal and some that were not so personal. Well that first year it seemed like I couldn't stop writing. After opening my soul to the world, I found myself in a place that was not very comfortable. Things at work got pretty saucy with people there reading my blog (someone I trusted at work outed me to the rest of the company) and they took many of the things I said WAY out of context and began to spread rumors. It got to the point of threats to my life. My second wife also took some of the things I wrote out of context and caused a lot of riff within the relationship. Because of these things, I took down the public blog. Did I do a disservice to my friends and others that read my blog. I don't think so, I did what I felt I had to do at the time.

Although I did not re-transition, I can still feel for Mike. At this point we don't know what happened. But I feel that for whatever reason Mike choose to take down the blog (Heck, it could have been the LA Times decision to do this and not Mike's, I'm not sure), he is within his right to do so. I personally will not judge his decision to go back. Like Abby, I would like to know why because it may shed light on something I may be facing now or in the future, but I will not demand to know this information from him or any other trans person that may turn back. I will respect their decision.

I never got a chance to read any of his blogs (like you, I'm not much into any sport). I remember thinking when the LA Times first announced the news, I was happy to see someone would have the courage in such a public potion coming out believing that by doing so, it can show the public a positive light on our condition. Lord knows we have not had much of it in the past. I STRONGLY believe we have to support our family or we all just may as well go home and stay in the closet. Without that key support, many of our brothers and sisters may never make it to whatever decision they find they can live with (to transition or not). I for one don't think I would be where I'm at today without that key support I got from friends like Lori, Abby and many others. Part of me is sad that he changed his mind, but I’m hoping it is a decision that he can live with, only he knows the answer to that question. And who knows, maybe down the road he will write on why he changed his mind. But until then I will respect his decision and will be there to support him in whatever he chooses to do with his life.

Thanks for posting your thoughts on this subject, I enjoyed reading it and look forward to following your blog. Good luck to you and your family. BTW, I’m not fulltime yet, but I’m working my way toward that goal, albeit slowly, but each day I find a challenge and look forward to my chance to go fulltime. Will I turn back, I have no idea but I know what my heart tells me and it’s to live my life as who I am and quit using the mask I’ve hidden behind all my life. I also hope that if I were to decide to turn back, that the friends I have made through my blogs would not turn their backs on me.

A quick note: I have decided to go public again and I’m in the process of moving my Yahoo blog here to Blogger. I’ve decided that whatever happens in the future (good or bad) I’ll take one day at a time and do my best to deal with the jerks at work and elsewhere. 5 months ago I was not ready for this, but I’m tired of hiding.

Hugs Michelle Lee

Gillian said...

Hi Michelle and welcome.

I've gotta say that it's a very interesting experience for a comparitively new blogger to have written a post that created the flurry it did within this corner of the web.

I realized what truly loving and compassionate friends I have, and I'm afraid that I may have alienated a few potential friends over at Lori's site. I'm sad for that.

I'm afraid that I've not completely reformed in my opinion that with celebrity comes a modicum of responsibility. But Lori, Kathryn, and Abby at least took a bit of the ginger out of me - in the most nurturing possible way, of course. I think that if the rest of society understood and accepted us, there would be a tide of surrogate mothers and aunties unleashed upon the world.

I look forward to reading your writings and I know that you will have nothing but support from me and these wonderful women who are our friends.

All love,
Jill

Michelle said...

Hi Gillian,
I'm not mad at you at all. I'm just happy that I found your blog and look forward to reading more in the future. I hope they are not getting nasty toward you. Keep it up girl.
Hugs Michelle

Gillian said...

Oh, Michelle,

I think maybe one or two people might have been a little miffed, and that was over on Lori's blog. And that was not about me personally but what was perceived as an unwarrented attack upon someone who had most likely gone through a a lot of heartache and trial before making a very difficult decision. Not a single person has ever been nasty with me, especially the wonderful women who have commented here.