Last week news became public that Christine Daniel's very public transition as a sportswriter at the Los Angeles Times had come to an end. She quietly returned to work as Michael Penner. The pressures and high visibility of her transition put her in a very awkward position and those of us who have known her over the past year or so have recognized the difficulty she has been having in recent months. To be honest, I'm not surprised by this news. In some ways, I'm relieved by it.
I have found the reactions to this news very interesting. Some respect it. Some find ways to justify it. Some seem to find ways to apply her decisions to their own lives, or feel somehow threatened by it. Some seem to feel that he's confused or has somehow been forced to "turn back". Some seem almost hostile as though she was one of us but turned out to be a double-agent or something. I have my own thoughts on this entire topic of "Transition Regret".
To start, I fully support the Standards of Care as guidelines. They were developed to help ensure that people made the best decisions possible before undergoing permanent procedures that could not be undone. I believe far too many perceive them as simply unnecessary barriers and as a result find ways to circumvent them. These people are making a serious mistake, as the key element in these Guidelines may not be anything specific to the Standards so much as the passage of time that they require.
As far as I'm concerned the true destination of this journey we call "Transition" isn't just to cross the gender line to get from one side to the other. That's far too simplistic and only touches the surface of the profound nature of the trip. It's to find personal happiness and fulfillment. That's the goal that somehow seems to elude so many. Changing genders is simply the pathway that some of us need to take to find our happiness. I call it the road less taken....
I approached my transition as my opportunity to finally make decisions about my life based upon personal experience, and not upon fantasy or fear. Until you start living the day-to-day reality that is transition you have no basis upon which to make good decisions. You find yourself hoping, wanting, dreaming, fantasizing - but none of that really provides the information you need to make intelligent decisions about your life. That last sentence implies that this is somehow a rational decision - and in part it is. But a key ingredient in all of this isn't rational - it's emotional. Often, emotion trumps logic.
To be transgender is a difficult life. Those of us who get to the point of publicly proclaiming the fact that we'll be transitioning need to be comfortable with that decision because it's one we can't un-make. Sure, we can go back to being a woman or a man if we decide that transition isn't what we thought it was but the life that we had before our revelation is gone. Our relationships are forever altered. Our sense of ourselves is forever changed. The decision to transition is in and of itself profound. Where it leads us doesn't diminish that.
There is no one "right" way to transition just as their is no "easy" transition or any one "correct" way to be transgender. Those who approach it like that are asking for problems from the outset. Surgery doesn't magically solve problems. It's not the Nirvana that so many people want to believe it to be. For some it makes a difference - for others it doesn't. The key is to make your journey your own and to follow it, not to go through the motions to arrive at some pre-determined destination only to find that you were simply a spectator to your own life. The spectrum of outcomes is as broad as the number of people who travel the path.
I sometimes half-joke that any transition where you can emerge feeling some semblance of "happy" at the other end, and can truly feel as though you're proceeding with your life without regret, has been a successful one. It's not a test. It's not something where turning back is some sort of "failure". To turn back or to stop along the way is not a measure of character, courage, need, desire, dedication, or passion and those who somehow judge it as such are sadly misguided. Any transition, regardless of the outcome, is a deeply personal journey.
Some people seem to feel that there is one path to happiness in their lives and it's their job to find it. I don't believe that at all. For most people there are infinite pathways to happiness just as there are infinite pathways to whatever the opposite of happiness is. At the same time, I'd argue that for some people there are no pathways to happiness - they'll be unhappy and unfulfilled no matter what they do because that's just how they approach life. The key isn't what happens or what doesn't happen - it's how you approach it.
I know what it's like to abort a transition - to make decisions to turn back. I did it, too. That didn't mean that I was any less transgender at the end than I was at the beginning, or that my needs were any less compelling. It simply meant that the pressures of my transition reached a point where I felt cornered and needed to make decisions based on simply existing for another day. Thankfully, the right things eventually happened the right way.
Would I have transitioned if my ex-wife had been more accepting and had allowed opportunities to express the part of me that is Donna? Would I have transitioned if my entire family had rejected me, if I'd lost my job, and if I had no opportunity to get another one? Would I have transitioned if my body would never have allowed me to live the kind of life I envisioned for myself? Those are all hypothetical questions that I can't answer. If my life had unfolded differently I may have made different decisions. But those are the kinds of questions that we all find ourselves facing as we move through this. The key is to avoid feeling paralyzed by them. We need to feel comfortable with them.
Typically, as a community, we don't like to provide much publicity to these "de-transitions". Many of us want to perpetuate the notion that our transitions are not choices or decisions that we make - that we're somehow forced to do this. This approach removes any notion of personal accountability from the equation but that aspect is almost always present in anything we do whether we choose to recognize it or not. Our transition pathways don't happen by themselves. Someone needs to be driving otherwise the eventual destination won't be happiness. It will be a brick wall.
I'll tell anyone who asks - in my own life transition was the last choice. If I could have found another pathway to happiness I would have taken it. I truly believe that's one of the reasons I'm as comfortable as I am today. I see so many people - trans and not trans - constantly looking over their shoulders and second-guessing decisions that they made (or didn't make) about their lives. It's easy to doubt, and there are times when all of us need to question. But there's also a time when we need to make decisions, to be comfortable with them, and to move on.
As I mentioned at the outset, the goal of all of this has got to be personal happiness. Is it worth trading the relationships in our lives, our careers, everything we own, and any number of possible futures in order to live the balance of our lives as we felt we were meant to? For some, the answer is no and it's better to realize that before you get to a place of no return.
Christine Daniels seemed to have it all. She was attractive. She had a high profile job, and a very supportive employer. She kept a level head and did her best to keep a low profile. She seemed to have everything so many of us wish we had, and a transition road paved with gold. Perhaps that's why some seem so confused by what has happened.
In the end none of that apparently mattered. Mike Penner made decisions about his life for his own reasons. His decision needs to be respected and appreciated, not second-guessed or judged. Bravo to him for that. It may not be that he "de-transitioned" so much as his transition led him to where he was meant to be all along. We can only hope that he's made the decisions about his life for reasons that will allow him to find his own happiness. There are far worse things that could happen.