Suicide: Christine Penner’s and Others

I’ve always had mixed feelings about the Day of Remembrance.  On one hand it seems important to remember those who were victims of often horrendous violence and yet it often seems that in death these victims become tools to be used for political gain.  Especially true when so many were sex workers living outside middle class support systems.

But then again over the years I have lost more friends to suicide than to violence.  So many that I often wonder if we shouldn’t have a Day of Rememberance for those who kill themselves

But there is something else.  I’ve been out and known people associated with various trans-prefixed words for well over 40 years. Many of the sisters I knew in the 1960s and 70s are dead now, way too many committed suicide either quickly or slowly.

At first I didn’t recognize that a sister who repeatedly overdoses on downers doesn’t really have a drug problem but really is, to quote the title of a Rolling Stones song, “Dancing with Mister D”.

Depression, drugs and death.  Suicide quick and suicide slow.

In 1973 I met a sister in LA, probably transgender although we did not use that term yet.  I fell in love with her.  She was so vunerable, so hurting.  Her name was Stephanie Johnson.  She was Cuban, brought to the states in the first mass immigration of Cubans leaving after the revolution.

I met her at the Speak 39, a dive Hollywood Drag Bar for trannie hookers that didn’t bother to pretend to be anything else.  Quaaludes were popular then as was mad indiscriminate sex.  She asked me what I was doing there (I was being paid by a writer to show him around the scene) and didn’t I know that the Speak was a drag bar.  I told her I was a sex change and she waned to see.  We wound up having sex in the rest room.

Over the next year I was constantly trying to keep her out of trouble, keep her alive.  Like me she had been raised in a Catholic family.  Her’s far harsher than mine.

She over dosed and died on Valentine’s Day 1974.

This year I lost another friend, she was from Europe.  A brilliant professor, perhaps the top person in the world in her field. Post-SRS with seemingly everything going for her.

About 15 years ago Riki Wilchins had a list of some 20 things you shouldn’t say to a T to F transsexual.  One of them was:

“You must have had a lot of courage to face surgery.”

To have the actual surgery, I just had to be able to breathe deeply, count at least partway backwards from 100, and fall asleep with some semblance of dignity. In all of these tasks I was reliably aided by enough I.V. anesthetic to subdue a small water buffalo. It would also have helped, had I $10-20,000 in spare change (See #1 above) about my person. Unfortunately, while I was thus drifting majestically off to sleep, I found I also had to be able to watch my friends, most of my lovers, all of my family, and any lesbian who used the term “politically correct” in any context other than a Lily Tomlin joke, fade out of my existence forever. Also, I found that I woke up to endless refrains of DON’Ts #1 – 7, above. That is the hard part; the surgery I could probably do again before breakfast.

Even those of us who are the most envied because we came out young and pretty have to face unbearably harsh lives.  Being transsexual or transgender is not for sissies and takes unreal levels of courage.

Most of us endured years of physical and emotional abuse as children.

We grew up in isolation, thinking we were the only one. Parents protecting us from the knowledge that there were others like us and that we were every bit as entitled to decent lives as anyone else.  John Rechy says that LGBT/T people are the only minority born into the families of their oppressor.

So many of us have childhoods that are considered extenuating circumstances in criminal sentencing procedures.

So many of us commit suicide as children because we are told we are hated abominations so often by so many that death seems a better alternative.  We pray to an imaginary god to make us whole without realizing the version of the Epicurean Dilemma we are participating in.  The version that goes like this.  Would a loving caring god tolerate having children born something that is an abomination by the very rule laid down by that god?  If so would such a god not be cruel and capricious?  Would a god not hear the pitiful prayers of the child wanting to be whole and not an abomination?

My answer was.  No god.  The contradictions destroyed the whole idea.  But then I’m a rebel and a fighter.  How many of us let that harsh label of abomination put on us by a misogynistic system of superstition be a major source of pain?  Even if one becomes an atheist the way I did, convincing the rest of our family and friends that there is no god and that their foolish book of taboos has a whole lot of forbidden things that they ignore while picking on us for a particular passage, is near impossible.

We have people like Bailey and Blanchard spewing all sorts of garbage. Perversifying our lives with “theories” regarding why some of us come out young and others in middle age.  All of which seem to ignore the reality of relationships.  Love, marriage, children.

About ten years back I did an internet performance piece called “If”.  I rewrote an APA announcement regarding homosexuality that said even suggesting that homosexuality might be a mental illness creates stress that can lead to psychological issues.

At the same time we have to live with an APA dictum that says we have GID.  And not have issues.

So now we are psychically disordered abominations.  Shit, writing this is enough to make me depressed.

At this point I should point you to Donna Rose’s book, Wrapped in Blue: A Journey of Discovery.

Let’s look at coming out a little older, after having become a parent.  One is very fortunate if one is able to stay partnered and a parent.  All too often the pattern is a disastrous divorce and no contact with your children.

One of the most hateful things my parents told me as an obvious transkid, who had been busted for both dressing up and being too obvious was, “No on will ever love you. Not a man, not a woman, not even queer men or women.  You will have no one and will be all alone.”  Pretty harsh?  Yet almost all of us grew up being the only one with our problem.

Disowning is so common.  My family disowned me.  I’ve known sisters who didn’t get SRS because they feared being disowned.  Others wait until their parents are dead and their children grown

Unlovable, disordered abominations…  Do the answers start coming out yet?

Subject to job and housing discrimination.  Loss of career.  Steep medical costs.  All these factors.

I’m going to add one more.  When I started this blog I declared a moratorium on gratuitous name calling.  Not because I think transsexual and transgender are the same thing but because I started seeing I was part of the problem and not part of the solution.  I was adding internalized transphobia  by trashing transgender people when in the 3D world some of the people I cared about the most were transgender.

Why should I add to the problem?  Of course several people who seem to troll the internet denounced me and that strengthened my resolve because I really am not like them.

I actually care about those who are living and struggling with the weight of all the bullshit laid upon us.  I think that caring is the best way I can remember those friends who killed themselves.

In the dissecting of Christine Penner’s suicide I see all sorts of avoidance of the real issues that drive people to kill themselves.  Better to dismiss her as a CD who got carried away as though that will keep the demons of despair brought on by bigotry and transphobia away from our door, as though that will quiet our own inner demons that tell us we are abominations, mentally ill, unloved and unlovable.

Maybe we should try being a little kinder to each other and show more concern when one of our own seems to be showing signs of being in trouble.

Tina did that for me some 9 years ago and I am here to write this.  Friends kept me alive through some pretty dark periods of despair.

If my words can convince others to act kinder towards each other then I have done my part to create change.

The real revolution is within each of us.  If we start seeing transsexual and transgender as just something we are and not a competition that only a few of the prettiest and most supported can win perhaps we will lose fewer to both suicide and violence.