Transition, as you may have heard, is really hard.

There is the actual physical nature of it: the hormones, the changes to your body, the surgeries (if you want them), the hair removal (if you want or need that too), the way you look in the mirror, the way people look at you. There is the long period when you may look like you could be either gender, or neither, when passing as your birth gender is as hard or harder than passing as your new gender.

Then there's the psychological nature: the way that your emotions change, the way that you feel about yourself--alternately elated by how things are beginning to change, and depressed at how long they are taking, or that you even have to go through all this instead of just being born the right way, damnit. Sometimes you despair of ever fitting in as your new gender, sometimes you despair that you still fit in your old gender. There are days when being the new you is too painful to endure, and days when being forced to present to the world as your old self is unbearable.

Then there is the social nature: the ways friendships change, or break, or blossom in unexpected ways. The unease of relatives, even the "accepting" ones. The way that every pronoun becomes a judgment on who you are as a person, a single two- or three-letter word suddenly the summation of your life. And then there are all the things to learn and unlearn--not surprisingly, being raised a girl or a boy generally makes a lousy preparation for being a man or a woman. Trans men sometimes painfully learn how quickly male-male confrontations can escalate into violence, and trans women often learn painful lessons about how pervasive misogyny is in our society. And sometimes, people hurt or even kill you, just because of who you are.

And sometimes you save them the trouble. Like Mike Penner seems to have done. Two years ago, he came out as transsexual in a remarkable column, introducing the world to Christine Daniels, as she wished to be known. For a whirlwind time, Ms. Daniels worked hard as a public trans advocate, bringing the subject of transsexuality into that most macho of bastions, glossy sports magazines.

Then last October she quietly reverted to her Mike Penner byline and detransitioned, returning to the Times newsroom as a man.

A year later he killed himself.

We may never know the reasons why Penner stopped his transition, why he felt the need to return to his birth gender--he never publicly spoke about it. And in truth, there can be many reasons why somebody decides to detransition--like I said, transition is hard. It may be that he found that being a woman fulltime wasn't what he wanted, or that he was more uncomfortable as a woman than a man. It may be too that he couldn't deal with the social costs, the damage to his reputation and his relationships. We don't know.

It seems unlikely, however, that his gender dysphoria had nothing to do with his suicide, sadly. That whatever the costs of his transition or his detransition or both were, they were unbearable in the end.

Mike Penner won't be honored at the next Trans Day of Remembrance. He wasn't a victim, in the strictest sense, of transphobia: nobody beat him to death because he was a transsexual, or had been. But that doesn't mean that transphobia didn't have a hand in his death: that so long as society continues to punish trans people for simply trying to find out who they are, as long as trans people are the Other, the freaks, the refused, the refuse--so long as people hate us for who we are, and who we become, then there will be more deaths, more tragedies like Mike Penner.

(Author's note: I referred to Penner/Daniels as Mike Penner because that was the last public identity known for him. This should not be seen as a dismissal or erasing of Christine Daniels--please see Amanda Hess' very sensitive piece on how to eulogize Christine Daniels.)

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