Tuesday, December 01, 2009

It Was A Matter Of Time

I figured sooner or later someone from the right wing would start commenting about Mike Penner (fka Christine Daniels) suicide.

Sure enough, someone over at "Opine Editorials" took up the cause.

Even if we were to all agree that "gender reassignment" was generally a good and legitimate thing, could it ever be possible... possible... that every so often, a person who seeks such a change could be doing so out of some problem that could be addressed in some way other than gender reassignment?

What an opening argument. It starts off with a bad assumption and goes downhill from there.

What's the bad assumption here? That people who pursue gender transition do so on a whim, and the treatment professionals involved just say "yeah sure, go ahead". Even the tiniest smidgen of research would have turned up this Wikipedia overview Sex Reassignment Therapy, and Standards of Care for Gender Identity Disorders which links to an online PDF copy of the WPATH SOC which most North American practitioners follow.

In other words, the treatment community is already aware that only a small fraction of transsexuals need to transition. This why steps like Real Life Experience (RLE) are an essential part of the process. I'll come back to this in a few moments, after I address the next bit of flawed logic in the argument.

I'll choose a less politicized situation as an analogy. A guy goes to a doctor and says, "I have back pain. I need pain pills." But maybe that specific patient doesn't need pain pills. Maybe the patient just needs a massage, or a chiropractic treatment. Maybe the patient is sleeping in a chair and should be sleeping in a certain kind of bed, instead. Even though the pain pills may dull the pain, would it be good to the doctor to continually write the patient prescriptions for the pain pills and not address the other things?

Providing treatment for Gender Identity issues is a little more complex than treating back pain. Among the myriad issues is the difficulty in confirming someone's stated gender identity in an objective sense. This is why it is very important that the treatment team and the client work very closely together as each step is taken.

Then the logic train comes completely off the rails:

... If any of them took Penner aside and implied that perhaps his identity as a male or female wasn't the heart of what was ailing him, and reassignment wasn't the way to go and that he should get some other help, that could have easily been the end of their career.

The fact is that very few people would know what was going on in Mike Penner's head. I would imagine that Mike/Christine had a lot going on, and it would have been difficult if not impossible for anyone except for a trained professional to pick up on some of the themes in his mind. Certainly, if any of my peers tried to play "armchair psychologist" with me, I can imagine I might be tempted to tell them exactly where to go and what to do when they got there.

Gender transition is no trifling matter, and certainly not something that should be taken lightly.

Clearly, Penner wasn't happy. Happy people do not kill themselves. I didn't know the guy, but perhaps that unhappiness has been there a long time, and Penner thought he'd be happier as "Christine". Apparently, he wasn't happy as Christine, since he reverted back to Mike. The gender confusion activists will want to deny that the "gender reassignment" trial was a symptom of something that was wrong with Penner.

There are so many things that this paragraph misses about this story that it more or less negates its own meaningfulness. Among the questions that it fails to ask - was Mike Penner socially isolated after transitioning from being Christine? What kind of support was his treatment team providing him? What other comorbid symptoms did Mike/Christine exhibit in therapy? Was he receiving treatment for those conditions?

The reality is that from several perspectives, Mike's decisions to transition not once but twice represent a key reason why the RLE aspect of the SOC are in place. Not everybody who experiences cross-gender identity needs to transition fully, and not everybody who explores the idea of transition stays there. Mike walked a long distance down the path of transition, and for reasons I don't know, decided that he was in the wrong place living as Christine.

It is a shame he didn't get whatever help he really needed. This could very well have been a death by political correctness.

Around about this point, I find myself getting quite angry with the false inference here that Mike's suicide is the fault of his attempt to transition and the support that he received as Christine.

Identity is a tricky thing to pin down. Many transsexuals spend decades of their lives trying to understand themselves - a fortunate few seek help . Transition itself is a path fraught with peril - both external and internal. It is critical at every step of the way that the client be as aware of their circumstances as possible, and that their treatment team be working with them every step of the way - precisely to avoid the unfortunate outcome that Mike Penner arrived at.

The author of the column over at "Opine Editorials" has really demonstrated much of the misinformation and ignorance that embody much of the public understanding of transsexualism and how it is treated.

Mike Penner's death is a tragedy, and every transsexual who has heard about it must feel the loss all the more poignantly for having walked through their own dark places to get to where they need to be. To infer that Mike's suicide has anything at all to do with the support of those around him when he transitioned to living as Christine and back to Mike is disingenuous, and ultimately disrespectful to both Mike and those around him.

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