Mercedes Allen

A High-Profile De-transition

Filed By Mercedes Allen | October 24, 2008 8:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Christine Daniels, Jillian Page, jobs, Mike Penner, patent pending, transgender, transitioning, workplace protections

Some time ago, news came out at the Los Angeles Times that sportswriter Mike Penner would be taking a hiatus and returning as Christine Daniels. This was followed by a short transition diary, and then silence for awhile. Now, it has been revealed that he will indeed be returning... as Mike Penner.

Certainly, a person is entitled to change their mind. I don't mean to question that. Penner has to do what is best and right for Penner, and no one can fault him for that. That said, the news can be jarring to some....

Mike Penner, meet Jillian Page. When Jill was preparing to come out at work at a major Canadian newspaper, the news of Christine had provided her with additional optimism, and a little courage. And early reports of her transition have been positive, albeit not without a few bumps in the road.

Jill started an online weblog to continue her coming out as someone who has newly embraced her womanhood and is now discovering what that means. This follows in the wake of "Patent Pending," which chronicled things at her newspaper. Upon reading the news, she wrote: "Christine was a big influence for many transfolks, including me. She inspired many people to be themselves, including me -- and I thank her for that."

While wanting to respect Mike's decision, people are nevertheless puzzled and concerned. Of course, we don't know the whole story and can't presume on it, but I can't help but remember when one of my possible job options to return to work was as a sales representative, who would often be going out to jobsites, sometimes in new neighborhood developments, to meet with contractors who I knew could be homophobic and certainly would know about my transition, after 19 years with the company as the old me. In some respects, that pales to the possibility of palling around in a testosterone-pumped locker room, and the news of Daniels' transition at the time seemed to me to be that of courage beyond the pale.

It's not fair to speculate, and I don't mean to do so -- I only mean to show those few who might get upset at the news that there are certainly many understandable reasons for Penner to change his mind -- the most basic of which could be that transition simply might not have been right for him. In the end, that is what we hope, that this decision is the right decision for Penner, not something borne out of pressure, shame or fear. In the end, Penner has to be who he is, whether that is Mike Penner, Christine Daniels or even somewhere in between. And if he wishes to let the issue disappear, then I think it is our place to now honour that. And if at a later date he needs a confidential ear to listen, there are more than a few in the community willing to be that.

We just hope that he realizes that just because it may not be the right decision for him, that doesn't make it the wrong decision for everybody. As Jill says, "I won't be changing my mind.... Never in my life have I been more sure of what I want, especially now as the HRT is taking hold."

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Mercedes thanks for this post. When I first read of Christine's de-transition I was a bit taken aback. However after thinking about it a bit the importance of the Harry Benjamin Standards set in. There are those who for various reasons find that transition is not for them. Or,is not possible at the time. The real-life test I believe is an essential step for those wishing to transition. It gives time to test the waters. My real-life test was six years. At times I wondered if I had made the right decision. Now post-op I look back and am at peace with my decision to move forward in transition. I wish Christine/Mike the very best.

"The real-life test I believe is an essential step for those wishing to transition. It gives time to test the waters."

I feel the need to quibble, here. We, too often, use the term "transition" to mean surgery. The Real Life Test is only a test in so far as a requirement for surgery. But it is transition.

If anyone has come out to everyone in their lives, legally changed their name on all their legal documents, their gender on their driver's license, undergone hormone and other transition related treatment, presents full time in their true gender, that's as transitioned as it gets.

Not having surgery doesn't negate all of those other aspects of living in your true gender. Conversely, having surgery, but not doing any of the other things, won't connotate transition.

So while your genitals would remain intact, there is *plenty* of work to be done to untransition, and there would be a considerable toll.

Angela Brightfeather | October 24, 2008 11:32 PM

Mercedes, thank you for that report and observation. I find myself connecting on that n several ways. One with Mike Penner and on another level with you.

I prefer to think that Mike is going bak to his previous gender expression for many reasons. It takes many reasons to change the course of your life like that. Decisions like his come along very few times in your life, when you realize that you have come to a fork in the road and the decision you make will stay with you forever. Certainly and at the very least, he has become very educated about a few things that could provide a bit more enlightenment for people in our community, but that is only talked about in closed circles and the dim light of a bar at a Trans convention. I’ve been around a long time and seen and heard my share of “stories”, but I have never been in a conversation with anyone who headed so enthusiastically in one direction, and then reversed.

I mean I have a few hundred questions that I would love to ask him and I hope I get the chance to someday.
Is he planning to reverse all the way?
Or is he reversing his decision and coming back part of the way?
What series of probably 100 reasons occurred, that contribute to his decision? I’m willing to listen to them all.
Were there signs and sighs of relief that were noticeable from his family and friends and co-workers when he announced his decision?
Is anyone complimenting him on his decision and saying, “Thank God! Your coming back to your senses?
How does he really feel while reversing and is he going to write a diary of his experiences and observations?
I am sure he could write a book about it.
I would definitely attend a seminar if he gave one near where I live.

The other connection that I had to what you mentioned, was of having to go out on the jobsite after working many years in your field and being well known. We will have to sit down some time and talk about that. I would appreciate your observations regarding that challenge.

But I wish Mike the very best. I know that this may be an educational point for some readers, but the complexities of Transgender lives and the courage it takes to live them, one pressing decision after another, for years, while in the process of learning, adapting and changing is not usually something that many people even consider. It is one of those things that makes being Transgender a bit different, but also very human.

But I would still like to ask Mike if it was the 4” heels that made him change his mind or the electrolysis. Good luck Mike and keep us posted please.

I wish Mike all the luck in the world. He will always be welcome in our world, as either Mike or Christine. He's still "family," and he will always have a home to hang his hat and and talk for awhile by the fire.

I have no idea as to Penner's motivations. However, people should be entitled to choose which path they wish to walk. Regardless of what Michael Bailey or Dr. Zucker might want to think, only the individual T person can judge how far they have to go towards transition.

I know of a number of people who began transition, some to the point where they fully transitioned, changed name, SRS, etc - then turned back. Most de-transitioned because of economics and passability - they didn't pass sufficiently well, and/or couldn't find suitable employment, and resorted to weekend/time off crossdressing to deal with their gender conflicts. I chose not to transition some years ago, based on an adverse reaction to hormones, added to the fact that I'm 6'1" and 300 or so. I know I'd have serious job issues if I tried, particularly without hormonal help.

My hope for Mike Penner is for a feeling of peace and self-acceptance, whatever the choices may be. I draw the line at rooting for the Lakers or Clippers, however.

Almost every transition takes place in a goldfish bowl of family and friends, how much more pressure is there to have done so at Seaworld? None of us will know the reasons Mike decided to stop being Christine absent a public statement and even then, the heartache will still not be on full display.

Yes, the public transitions can serve a greater good, I would have made my own transition much much earlier in my life had I known but a single actual, non-celebrity transwoman in my youth. That said, this story has already been used as a battleground by some with "issues" with women of transsexual history within the trans communities. I cannot stress this strongly enough.......for classic transexuals there eventually is no choice. I lost much of my family, my entire circle of friends I'd had from college on and still never regretted my decision. My experience in this is far from unique.

I think that anyone who's done it knows just how difficult transitioning can be.

You spend so much of your time wondering if you're being laughed at behind your back, you put up with frankly transphobic policies from the medical community and your career becomes doubly difficult: Not only do you have to do what every woman has to do, prove yourself at every step, you also have to prove to your company that you're not an 'embarrassment' to them.

I so nearly detransitioned earlier this year: Life was becoming tougher and tougher, I was facing some transphobic management and my confidence was so shaken that I couldn't believe I was actually managing things.

In my case, I worked out that detransitioning was a dead-end (almost literally) after thinking long and hard about it and had to sort myself out as a woman.

In Mike's case, maybe that path back to living as a man was less painful than fighting through the challenged a transsexual person faces. I don't think it matters either way as long as one finds happiness.

I'm happy as who I am and I hope that Mike's happy as who he is. One can't ask for more than that!

One of my best friends de-transitioned. She was doing well and coming along great, and worked for a semi-supportive company. Then, 9/11. Her small company closed its doors shortly after that, and she had the problem of finding work in Georgia. She applied to hundreds of companies, even after jobs came back, but nothing. She became a truck driver, one of the most "good 'ol boy" industries in the country and to be safe, she de-transitioned. That's six years ago. Truck driving has not been good to her. If you think about it, being a sports writer is also a good 'ol boy kind of job. But, I don't think that was what affected Mike. Just a guess.

I can't presume to know why she/he made the decision to re-transistion; that's personal and if not shared, then it will stay so. But I can't imagine the soul searching that must have taken place and the difficulty of the decision.

Well, shit. Yes I know, everyone needs to do what is best for themselves, and if what is best is to transition back, so be it. But, shit.

This will make it harder for other people to transition, give ammunition to right-wingers who don't think we're legitimate, and give excuses to mental health professionals to keep GID listed as an illness.

Whoever signed off on this transition is going to rethink their requirements for others, or possibly not want to participate in treating trans people. Friends, family, and employers who were supportive may feel like they were 'had', and not terribly trusting in the second place.

In the political realm, the argument will be if you can change back, then it wasn't necessary to transition in the first place. Therefore, there shouldn't be non-discrimination laws based on gender identity/expression.

And for good measure, the future of GID is being debated right now for the next edition if the DSM. The PR of this de-transition will likely be cited as a reason to maintain gatekeepers.

Since it is such a big deal to transition, theoretically nobody undertakes it without a great deal thought, research, and soul-searching. It's hard to believe anyone would do it without being pretty damned sure. So the suspicion is that if someone does transition back, it's due to external factors rather than a change of heart. The ramifications of transitioning back under those circumstances can be dire.

Leaving the psychological effects aside, I don't think anyone in your life is going to just forget your transition. So you'll still likely face many of the discriminatory aspects of being trans anyway.

Since none of us know the reasoning for this de-transitioning, it doesn't necessarily mean that Penner isn't some stripe of trans. But this should definitely be a cautionary tale.

Joni Christian | October 27, 2008 10:39 AM

Peace, my friend

Joni said "Peace, my friend"

I think that's the most important wish we could send. I hope that Mike gets to read that.

Thanks for your excellent article Mercedes! As someone who transitioned, spent over a year living in her gender of choice, and then re-transitioned, I know all to well what it's like to come to this decision.

I'm truly glad to see our community talking about this issue openly. I think that often after a person re-transitions, everyone expects them to just sweep it all under the rug and not bring it up anymore. I certainly experienced this, both from within the trans community and especially outside of it.

I wish Christine/Mike all the best regardless of what gender sie might or might not be.

let's just hope he doesn't go the route of the ex-gays, advocating against trans people and transitioning in the future.