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Pioneering Trans Sportswriter for Los Angeles Times Has Died

Christine DanielsSuch sad news today: veteran Los Angeles Times sportswriter Christine Daniels was found dead today in her home. Suicide is the suspected cause. She was 52 years old.

Daniels made national headlines when in 2007 she announced in that she was transitioning from male to female. Then under the byline of Mike Penner, she wrote her groundbreaking sports column:

During my 23 years with The Times' sports department, I have held a wide variety of roles and titles. Tennis writer. Angels beat reporter. Olympics writer. Essayist. Sports media critic. NFL columnist. Recent keeper of the Morning Briefing flame.

Today I leave for a few weeks' vacation, and when I return, I will come back in yet another incarnation.

As Christine.

I am a transsexual sportswriter. It has taken more than 40 years, a million tears and hundreds of hours of soul-wrenching therapy for me to work up the courage to type those words. I realize many readers and colleagues and friends will be shocked to read them.

That's OK. I understand that I am not the only one in transition as I move from Mike to Christine. Everyone who knows me and my work will be transitioning as well. That will take time. And that's all right. To borrow a piece of well-worn sports parlance, we will take it one day at a time. ...

... For more years than I care to count, I was scared to death over the prospect of writing a story such as this one. It was the most frightening of all the towering mountains of fear I somehow had to confront and struggle to scale.

How do you go about sharing your most important truth, one you spent a lifetime trying to keep deeply buried, to a world that has grown familiar and comfortable with your façade?

To a world whose knowledge of transsexuals usually begins and ends with Jerry Springer's exploitation circus?

Painfully and reluctantly, I began the coming-out process a few months ago. To my everlasting amazement, friends and colleagues almost universally have been supportive and encouraging, often breaking the tension with good-natured doses of humor.

When I told my boss Randy Harvey, he leaned back in his chair, looked through his office window to scan the newsroom and mused, "Well, no one can ever say we don't have diversity on this staff."

When I told Robert, the soccer-loving lad from Wales who cuts my hair, why I wanted to start growing my hair out, he had to take a seat, blink hard a few times and ask, "Does this mean you don't like football anymore, Mike?"

No, I had to assure him, I still love soccer. I will continue to watch it. I hope to continue to coach it.

My days of playing in men's over-30 rec leagues, however, could be numbered.

When I told Eric, who has played sweeper behind my plodding stopper for more than a decade, he brightly suggested, "Well, you're still good for co-ed!"

I broke the news to Tim by beginning, "Are you familiar with the movie 'Transamerica'?" Tim nodded. "Well, welcome to my life," I said.

Tim seemed more perplexed than most as I nervously launched into my story.

Finally, he had to explain, "I thought you said 'Trainspotting.' I thought you were going to tell me you're a heroin addict."

People have asked if transitioning will affect my writing. And if so, how?

All I can say at this point is that I am now happier, more focused and more energized when I sit behind a keyboard. The wicked writer's block that used to reach up and torture me at some of the worst possible times imaginable has disappeared.

My therapist says this is what happens when a transsexual finally "integrates" and the ever-present white noise in the background dissipates.

That should come as good news to my editors: far fewer blown deadlines.

So now we all will take a short break between bylines. "Mike Penner" is out, "Christine Daniels" soon will be taking its place.

From here, it feels like a big improvement. I hope with time you will agree.

This could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

This column was one of the Times' most viewed stories of the year. I remember feeling such awe at her courage when she wrote this--and I was similarly impressed that the LA Times, and Daniels' longtime readers, showed such support of her.

Of course there were skeptics and some truly cruel responses to her transition, but overall, the sports journalism community turned out to have Daniels' back. It might've been easy to lay off Daniels after announcing that she was transitioning--especially with so many budget cuts at the Times, it could've been easy to shrink away from Daniels as a trans woman, to make excuses, to not deal with it, to push it away.

But no. Alongside basic humanity, her talent and her experience in sportswriting won out. After some time off, she continued her beat coverage the National Football League and the 2007 Stanley Cup run of the Anaheim Ducks. She was given a platform by the paper to write about her transition at the Times in a blog called "Woman in Progress" (weirdly, however, blog entries were removed). She also continued writing for the paper's sports blog.

Said Mike James, the sports editor for the Times, after Daniels' death: "[She] was one of the most talented writers I've every worked with."

One thing that is troubling--and that perhaps foreshadows today's sad news: last year, Daniels started to use the "Mike Penner" byline again. This is presumably why the coverage of Daniels' death at the Times uses male pronouns to refer to her, and why James describes her as a "gentle man, a kind man," and why the "Woman in Progress" blog was removed.

Though her decision to revert to the name "Mike Penner" seems to cause many people confusion about how to refer to her, it is apparent in the comments on the Times piece announcing Daniels' death that her legacy both as a role model and a truly talented writer who loved sports are apparent has influenced so many of us.

Related:
* A writer's transformation makes the personal public
* NPR interviews Christine Daniels (audio)
* Old Mike, new Christine
* Recent sports stories by Daniels
* Archive of Daniels' Totally Random column

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Comments

4 comments have been made. Post a comment.

It's my understanding that

It's my understanding that he (yes, he) actually transitioned back to a male gender identity in addition to returning to the Mike Penner byline in 2008. The decision to transition back actually attracted a great deal of attention (and fail, and terms like "trans regret").

So sad.

Ze didn't really deserve this, but any identity instability can be hard to live with. I hope zir spirit finds true peace wherever ze is now.

So sad.

So sad.

Ina Fried

Ina Fried wrote a good article about Daniels/Penner's obituaries...

Excerpt:

Writing about transgender subjects, to me, necessarily means embracing complexity. The general style is to use the pronoun and name that the person prefers and the best way to know this is to ask that person. Unfortunately, still too often we write about transgender people, often for the first time, only after they have died through violence or by their own hand. This means writing about people who often lived in a world somewhere in between the gender they were born with and the one in which they saw themselves in an ideal world.

It means that they may be known differently to different people with whom they were close.

For me it is far easier to remember Christine Daniels, the woman who spoke so elequently at the 2007 National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association convention. For 40 minutes, she told her inspiring story to a hushed crowd of reporters at an outdoor cocktail reception. (She still holds the record for longest time keeping that group quiet–by a good 35 minutes.) It is the bravery and courage of declaring her truth to her readers that I will remember most.

But for others, it is easier to remember Mike Penner, the identity that the writer used for most of life, as a journalist, athlete and friend to many. It is that identity that was used publicly at the end of this person’s life and for most of the all-too-short 52 years this writer spent on Earth. As Autumn Sandeen eloquently states in the City Paper article, it is that identity that is best used when choosing names and pronouns. Whatever the reasons, Penner chose to use male pronouns most recently.

But, no matter what pronouns one uses, both personas deserve to be remembered.

____________
Kjerstin Johnson, editor-in-chief
Did someone say "Comments Policy"?