Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Identity crisis

It was sad to read about the awful tragedy of Los Angeles sportswriter Mike Penner, who started living as a woman, then regretted it and went back to being a man, and finally killed himself (or so it seems).

He was found dead at the age of 52, but left no note or warning of his intentions. Why he committed suicide is a mystery that will probably never be solved.

About 5% of transsexuals regret changing their gender and change back (as far as they're able to after genital surgery). The rest say they are happy to have made the change.

Mike lived as a woman for around 18 months, but it seems that he had not yet had any surgery.

Regrets can set in for a number of reasons. Aspiring women are daunted by the time and effort required to maintain a perfect female appearance. Or they get disheartened by constant discrimination and harassment. Or they never quite feel like a real woman even if they're accepted as one.

It's known that Mike went through a "very painful" divorce from his wife, and he may have wondered whether it was worth that trauma to become Christine. He may have decided he could never really shed almost 50 years of masculine history. Who knows?

But it's tragic when someone who has taken the dramatic step of changing his gender and all that goes with it then decides he has made a big mistake and wants to turn the clock back. And even when he tries to do that, he's still unhappy and confused.

Certainly the process of turning yourself into a convincing and confident woman without the intensive conditioning that girls normally go through must be incredibly difficult.

It seems that Mike found it impossible and from then on he could no longer make sense of his life. So he ended it.

Pic: Mike's female self, Christine Daniels

11 comments:

conortje said...

very sad indeed - some people have such a hard life it's hard too imagine how they cope. And I guess some people just can't.

Thriftcriminal said...

Poor chap. Could it have anything to do with an entirely different underlying issue? I mean, often people who are depressed become convinced that they would be happy if only they lived in a different place, or changed some other significant aspect of their lives, only to find after achieving this goal that they are just as depressed about their lives, but now have no external "blessed isle" to believe in for redemption.

Rummuser said...

On an earlier post of your, I forget which exactly was that, I had mentioned that I am against playing with nature in any form. This is a clear case of my stand being vindicated. The sorry mess could have perbaps been avoided by some counseling.

Nick said...

Conor - I guess he had put enormous faith in this being the answer to his problems, and then when it wasn't he was all at sea.

Thrifty - That's a very shrewd comment, it sounds entirely plausible. I think a lot of people are sustained by some dream they never actually try to realise. If they do try, as you say, it doesn't always work out the way they thought.

Ramana - Well, humanity has a long history of playing with nature, I think it all depends on what you're doing and what you hope to get out of it. In this case playing with his identity went badly wrong. But as I say, other transsexuals are very pleased with what they've achieved.

Baino said...

Actually any gender reassignment is accompanied by a whole stack of counselling and a 'cooling off' period in most places. I think probably the issue wasn't gender but a deeper depression, maybe the divorce, maybe realising that it isn't easy being a woman on any level.I guess we'll never know.

Nick said...

Baino - That's right, that's exactly what happens in the UK and the States as well. Major surgery is not allowed until the person has lived as the opposite gender for a while and shown they are comfortable with it.

Yes, so many possible reasons but he never gave a hint of them to anyone else.

Suburbia said...

Very sad. Makes you wonder if he was just the sort destined to always be unhappy? The photo of him shows that visually he made a great woman, you could hardly tell. Shame that no one was there for him.

Megan said...

It is sad. I can't imagine what it must be like to have such a fundamental difference with your own self - life is hard enough as it is.

Nick said...

Suburbia - Yes, it might be that simple, he was just perennially unhappy. What a shame he was never willing to explain his thoughts and feelings towards the end. Firstly others would have understood a lot more about the transsexual dilemma and second, he might have got the help he needed before it was too late.

Megan - As you say, such a fundamental, deep-rooted difference is very hard for others to comprehend. Most people take their gender identity almost totally for granted.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I hadn't heard about this particular case, but how very sad to have tried both genders and found them lacking.

While I understand intellectually that some people feel they were born in the wrong body and sympathize, I can't relate to it because while I suffer from convenience envy in a male-run world, I have never wanted to be a man.

It's very sad that this person was unable to find the help he needed.

Nick said...

Heart - That's the thing, if you're perfectly happy with your given gender, the transsexual dilemma is pretty incomprehensible. Very sad that he simply couldn't find a satisfactory way of dealing with it.