26 November 2010

The Truth About The Real Black Friday

On Sunday, two days from today, a year will have passed since the suicide of Mike Penner, a.k.a. Christine Daniels.

I never knew her, but I feel her loss.  Autumn Sandeen has written a brief but moving remembrance of her on "Pam's House Blend."  What makes it so poignant is that Ms. Sandeen describes not only her loss of a friend, but of what too many of us lose simply for being the people we are.  The loss of family, friends and other communities of support can be enough, by themselves, to send plenty of people over the edge.  For someone who needs those supports even more than others, losing them can be nothing less than catastrophic.  I don't know which is worse: losing them or not having them in the first place.  Both scenarios are too common for gender-variant people.

Penner/Daniels lost her most important bond--that with the person to whom she was married--as a result of living as Christine. I know what it's like to lose the love of friends and family members, or at least to lose the illusion of love that some people offered.  But I can't imagine how desolate her being must have been after returning, for whatever reasons, to living as Mike without what she had when she previously lived as Mike.

I also cannot help but to think of Cori and Toni, two gender-variant friends of mine who committed suicide. Both of them described their feelings to me:  Cori was a woman's soul  in a man's body and Toni saw herself as a man in a female form.  While it could be argued that other factors played into Toni's overdose, I will not accept the idea that conflicts over gender identity had nothing to do with it.  And Cori, on the last night of her life (I will always remember her as female even if other people and the state do otherwise.), told me that being at her wits' end over her dilemma made her want to kill herself.

Any time a gender variant person kills him or her self--something we do, depending on which studies we believe, anywhere from four to twenty times as often as everyone else--his or her struggles with gender identity inevitably play a role, whatever the ostensible cause or method of self-destruction may be.  In a sense, it's rather like AIDS, which doesn't actually kill the patient, but leaves him or her vulnerable to other illnesses that kill and to sicknesses that wouldn't kill someone whose immune system wasn't ravaged by AIDS.  

Not being able to live as one truly is, or living with the ostracism and violence that too often follow those of us who are willing and fortunate enough to live by our souls rather than our mere bodies,  makes us more vulnerable to any and all kinds of despair.  And some, like Mike/Christine, lose everything they had in the journeys to themselves and find that there is no way back.

That, I now realize, is one of the real purposes of the Transgender Day of Remembrance.  We not only remember our dead, but also that we are here, that we--by whatever means--are surviving, at least for the time being.  That we are here and they are not and we cannot explain why can be, for some, a source of guilt and despair.  But the fact that we are alive, and can do something about our lives and those others who are still here, is something that we owe, in some way, to those who are gone.  

If, as Voltaire said, we owe the dead nothing but the truth, then we owe those who are gone the truth of our own lives, of our own selves.  And we owe them an even greater debt because, even if they administered themselves the doses, gunshots or whatever else killed them, they are still human beings who were murdered by hateful people.  I feel that way about anyone who feels driven to kill him or her self because it seems like the only alternative to living with the oppression they experience.  They succumbed to the notion of which too many of us are inculcated:  that we are somehow less worthy, and that our lives have less justification, than those of other people.  Those of us who are living know that the truth is something entirely different, and we owe it to those who aren't here to live it. 

That is all we have, and all they could ever have hoped to have.