We may never know if Los Angeles Times sportswriter Mike Penner, who went by Christine Daniels after coming out as transgender, took his own life because of an identity struggle, or something else. But one thing is certain: The sports community will miss a respected colleague. Oh, and the LGBT community will mourn a loved one.
Glowing accounts of Penner are popping up all over the web. Less so is a frank discussion about whether Penner — declared dead on Friday from an apparent suicide — left this world identifying fully as man or a woman; and, thus, a precarious position to be writing about someone with the proper pronouns.
Back in 2007, we learned about Penner’s transition to Daniels, which she called “a day I dreamt about for years.” He would start living life as a woman, he told colleagues and readers. Support for his transitions was, by all accounts, immense.
But by October 2008, the 24-year veteran of the LAT appeared to be “withdrawing” from her transgender identity. The bylines under Christine Daniels disappeared; Penner’s name returned. And Daniels, after taking a leave from the paper to undergo sexual reassignment surgery, returned without having anything done. Thereafter, Daniels stayed mum on the decision not to go post-op. It appeared, then, that Daniels was no more, and Penner the man had returned — in byline form, and every other as well.
What becomes a matter of semantics when writing about Penner is likely more deeply routed in his struggle with a transgender identity. The Times, which arguably knows Penner’s wishes the best (Penner’s brother and ex-wife work at the newspaper), addresses him as a man. But we’ll address Penner the only way we know how: As a human being who never felt quite comfortable in his own skin. You’ll be missed, friend.