Popular sportswriter Mike Penner was found dead in his home on November 27 and is believed to have committed suicide.
In 2007, Penner, who wrote for the Los Angeles Times, announced that he was transitioning to female and would write and live as Christine Daniels. He began a transition, detailed it on a blog, and continued as a sportswriter, apparently supported by his employers and his fans. About a year or so later, Daniels stopped her transition and began living and writing as Mike Penner again. Now he is dead.
Although I didn’t know Mike Penner at all, and I certainly have no idea of what caused him to take his life, being trans myself, I can make some educated guesses. I could be way off base. But Penner’s situation could, in fact, illustrate the “stuck factor” of being trans.
For most transsexual people, being able to transition makes all the difference. This is not a choice, but something that is absolutely necessary for their health, well-being, and, often, survival. However, while transition solves one problem, it can lead to a host of others, such as:
> Not being able to assimilate into new gender roles and expectations.
> Not being accepted as the man or woman that you have always been, but have now physically “become.”
> Experiencing constant discrimination or mistreatment, or watching others like you experience this and knowing that it could be your turn at any time.
> Living with the feeling that you are not “real” somehow or that you are living a lie.
Not all transsexual people experience these things, but some do. And some find, after transition, that the things they thought would happen, or the way they thought they would look, or the way they thought they would be treated, or the way they thought they would fit in did not become reality.
I don’t know why Mike Penner retransitioned or “went back,” but I do know other people who have done so. That’s the where the “stuck factor” comes in. You go back, but you’re still trans. Living in your assigned birth sex and gender may actually be easier because you know it so well, but you’re still trans. You still have the mind/body mismatch that caused you to transition in the first place. The pain does not go away.
The “stuck factor” means that, no matter which way you go, you’re kind of stuck. Even if you are able to fully assimilate physically, you still may not be completely comfortable in your new roles. Many of us have to “learn” these new roles, behaviors, and expectations, and some of us are better at adapting them than others. Some don’t care whether they fit in with the binary gender system’s expectations or not, but many do. And not being able to fit in when you want to can contribute to the “stuck factor.”
And if you are not able to fully assimilate physically, you must constantly live with the rude stares, the pronoun “slips,” the harassment on the street, and so on, while still having to adapt to new roles and expectations. So you must steel yourself to live in this way. Or you can consider “going back.” Either way, the “stuck factor” rears its ugly head.
And if you are a public figure like Mike Penner, no matter how you look or how well you are accepted in your “new” gender, you will always be out as trans.
While, for the majority of transsexual people, transition “works” — it alleviates the gender incongruity, it reduces or eliminates any depression or suicidal ideation, and it allows for a happier, healthier, more comfortable, and much more satisfactory life (and, in many cases, it allows life to continue) — it is certainly not the perfect solution.
The only “perfect” solution is to be born in a body and a gender that “match.” And, for trans people, that is an impossible solution. Transition is the closest thing to it. And that is part of the “stuck factor.” You are trans. This is the reality of the situation, no matter what you do about it.
Certainly, there are many people who transition and do not identify as trans anymore. They have made the medical corrections that were necessary and they have eliminated that problem.
But for many of us, the “stuck factor” will always be there. It’s simply a matter of how we decide to deal with it. I decided to deal with it by being openly trans and establishing a trans identity for myself. It has, for the most part, worked for me, but it certainly wouldn’t work for everyone.
If you have ever experienced the “stuck factor,” how have you dealt with it?