Mike Penner: A cautionary tale of 'Transgender Regret'
Los Angeles Times sportswriter, Mike Penner, who announced to the world in 2007 that he was a transsexual sportswriter, then began working under the byline "Christine Daniels, was found dead at his Los Angeles home yesterday as first reported at NowPublic by Staff Editor Jon Azpiri. Colleagues said suicide was the suspected cause of death.
Insofar as this NowPublic article, Transgender Sportswriter committed suicide after long conflict, it seems apparent that in light of Mike Penner's death there is need to "keep the conversation going" where it concerns the notion of, nature, and lives of transsexuals.
Transsexualism is a condition in which an individual identifes with a physical sex that is different from the one which they were born with. A medical diagnosis can be made if a person experiences discomfort as a result of a desire to be a member of the opposite sex and sexual reassignment surgery (SRS) is available after an extensive psychiatric evaluation.
In the case of Penner's transition and death, a little-known phenomena: 'Transgender Regret' reported in this February 2009 article by Steve Friess, special for USA TODAY: For some, shadow of regret cast over gender switch, Transgender Regret may explain why Penner's transition from male to female did not last. It may also explain Penner's alleged suicide.
Except that the transition didn't last. In mid-October 2008, after a lengthy leave of absence, Penner, 51, returned to the sports pages and the Times newsroom as a man.
And just as suddenly, Penner's story, heralded in its early days as a triumphant example of transgender progress, has instead become a cautionary tale of the lesser-known phenomenon: transgender regret.
"It's unfortunate and it's relatively uncommon but certainly not unheard of," says Denise Leclair, executive director of the International Foundation for Gender Education, a Waltham, Mass.-based transgender advocacy group. "The simplest way to think about it is being trans is something that never goes away. ... There's just a fairly constant social pressure to just go back. You don't have to be a genius to understand that society doesn't really accept this."
Though there's no data available on how many transgender people abandon their new gender, psychologist Ron Lawrence of the Community Counseling Center in Las Vegas says about 5% of his transgender patients revert. Leclair echoes that estimate.
Paul McHugh, director of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at John Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, is a leading proponent of the notion that transgender people have 'chosen this path', that it is not biological.
"No one has demonstrated any physical mechanism or physical problem that causes this. The burden of proof is on them to prove that."
Such comments are anathema to the transgender advocates, who insist the decades-old study McHugh cites was debunked. Like most transsexuals, Daniels told Sports Illustrated in 2007 that her urges to be female began as a child, and she wrote in the Times that same year: "We are born with this. We fight it as long as we can, and in the end it wins."
Claire Winter, a transsexual from Seattle who mentored Penner and spoke to him late last year, doubts the sportswriter's reversal will further confuse the general public about transsexualism.
"I think people are so bloody confused, I don't know if this has a significant effect," Winter says. "But maybe this will help people to understand that this is a very complex, highly difficult situation. This indicates the fundamental problem of trying to shove people into either end of the gender pole. It serves to point out the fact that it isn't as simple as flipping a coin.
"I would say give (Penner) some time," Winter says. "We have to wait for him to let us know when he figures it out."
In his own way, did Penner let us know that he 'figured it out'? He apparently experienced both discomfort and distress as a result of his desire to be female. Although the option of sexual reassignment surgery (SRS) is available, he did not have sexual reassignment surgery.
Previously on NowPublic:
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