The Curious Case of Mike Penner: The Man Who Wanted to Be a Woman Is Staying a Man


Mike Penner has been working at the Los Angeles Times for 24 years. He’s a well-known sportswriter there, and back in April 2007, he became much more well known when he announced he would be leaving the paper for a brief time — to become a woman. He would return, he told his bosses, as Christine Daniels (pictured here). But as Queerty‘s big brother Jossip first reported, a funny thing happened on the way to the operating room, and Penner returned to the Times with his bits and pieces in tact. There was no sex reassignment surgery. And now, a look at what happened.

Actually, nobody knows quite what happened, or at least they aren’t telling reporters about it. Penner didn’t respond to USA Today‘s request for comment, and his bylines listed as “Christine” have been removed from the paper, signaling his decision to stay a man is final. But it’s not unheard of that MTF and FTM hopefuls change their decision before going under. “Though there’s no data available on how many transgender people abandon their new gender, psychologist Ron Lawrence of the Community Counseling Center in Las Vegas says about 5% of his transgender patients revert. [International Foundation for Gender Education executive director Denise] Leclair echoes that estimate.”

Some in the trans community might view Penner’s decision not to have the surgery as a loss. Here was a relatively high-profile and celebrated guy who really did want to become a woman, who came out to his entire workplace and the world, and then backtracked on the decision.

Or, we can view this another way: As evidence that the system work. Sex change docs generally require potential surgery patients to live life as the opposite gender for a year while undergoing therapy before they’ll ever pick up a scalpel. It’s a safety net to ensure men and women who believe they want to live forever as somebody else really, truly mean it — and understand there’s almost no going back.

[Photo: Today]

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  • Alan down in Florida

    I congratulate Mike Penner for doing what he feels is best for him despite the pressures he must have received from all sides professionally and personally and wish him nothing but the best.

  • Sebbe

    When he says “revert”, does he mean his patients pre or post surgery? Pre I assume?

    Does anyone know if the picture is Penner?

  • burger king

    when medical science intervenes to permanently and irrevocably change a persons life and the lives of people around them they should be required to have psychiatric evaluations, sex changes and in vitro fertilization come to mind as important times to know if a person has a rational psyche or if they’re an octomom looking for a handout.

  • ptrfortune

    I heard he watched SOUTHPARK Season 9 Mr. Garrisons Fancy New Vagina

  • Qjersey

    As Japhy pointed out, maybe after his experience in the “life test” Christine decided she could live as Mike.

    And to complicate matters… maybe Mike realized that he could express his gender however he likes without transitioning.

    Or maybe he realized he is just a transvestite and not a transgender.

    Anyway, it is a very white middle class notion that all trans people need and want surgery. Yes some are obsessed with changing their genitals, but many many many others are just fine with their genitals as along as they can express their gender however they want.

    As one T-girl of color once said to me. “I ain’t never getting rid of it, the trade likes it too much and I love giving it to them.”

  • blake

    @burger king:

    I think both medical ethics and the law require that patients receive some kind of therapy.

    As for Penner, it’s his life and his choice.

    In-vitro fertilization is a different story. Not everyone requires psychological screening. Do parents who have children through sexual intercourse require psychological testing? What about couples receiving other forms of reproductive health treatment?

    The red flag for Ms. Suleman were pretty obvious: her parents pleas to her doctor; her desire for implanting all 6 embryos; the fact that she had a large number of other children; or medical history of depression.

    From all that’s been said about Ms. Suleman’s doctor, it seems that he might have taken advantage of her. She paid him over $100K for services.

    Finally, can we stop calling her “octomom”? It’s a terribly sexist phrase. And, frankly, the woman does not deserve the demonization she’s received. She’s apparently mentally ill and unable to make good decisions. The woman deserves sympathy. What horrible crime has she committed? She didn’t kill anyone or cause the financial meltdown.

  • Whup-Ass Master

    Look at how Mr. Penner holds the microphone. That dude’s a lady from where I sit.

    @ BLAKE: I’ll call the bitch octoperson if you prefer, but her actions are not victimless. There are eight premature babies struggling to breathe in incubators now, thanks to her and the mad doctor. And nutty or not, she’s (at least partly) accountable.

  • Jason Smith

    @Sebbe: Yes, that is Christine Daniels/Mike Penner in the photo.

  • Chloe

    My Father is post-op MTF and I cannot express how proud I am her today, it was a life changing decision that isn’t to be made light of.

    Mike Penner has made the decision that is right and true for him, and he deserves our kudos and respect.

  • Sebbe

    Jason Smith – Thanks. I wanted to make sure it just wasn’t a random pix.

  • HenryHall

    Jason Smith writes: “There was no sex reassignment surgery. And now, a look at what happened”.

    That is speculation. Mike Penner reportedly “did not go through with the sex change”. That means he did not complete the legal formalities associated with birth certificate and California legal change of gender for purposes of marriage. It does not mean he did not go through with the surgery, not at all.

    It is distinctly possible, given the timing, that Mike de-transitioned immediately after surgery in which case it is a fair bet that the so-called RLE was performed merely to qualify for surgery under medical protocols prevailing and not for a wish for the female social role.

    And if that were the case (it’s more common than you may think) then that would be a very good reason for refusing to talk about it. De-transition does not always involve regrets as is too often assumed.

  • Jason Smith

    I didn’t write that. Why does the comment above say that? I’m confused.

  • Sebbe

    I don’t know a lot about this, but I do have a question that came to mind. Don’t they have to take a lot of hormones, estrogen or testosterone? I would imagine going on or off those is a somewhat lengthy process as well and you probably don’t just stop taking them one day. Just wondering?

  • Sebbe

    @Jason Smith – he meant to quote the original post, I think? I’m not sure why your name is their either.

  • HenryHall

    @Jason Smith – my apologies, it was not you who wrote “”There was no sex reassignment surgery. And now, a look at what happened”, rather it appears to have been David Hauslaib. My mistake, sorry.

  • fjy

    The sneering tone of this article and some of the comments are disappointing but not surprising. Many gay people don’t understand trans identities any better than most straight people do.

    How would you like your life to be written about in the news as a “curious case”? I’m sure s/he’s had a hard enough time with all this. It’s really none of our business why s/he decided to return to living as Mike.

    And drop the fascination with genitalia — is it what’s in your pants that defines who you are? Also, while some transwomen are ok with being called “T-girls”, many are not, any more than most women don’t usually want to be referred to as “girls.”

    It isn’t about living as “somebody else”, it’s about deciding to live your own life rather than the life that some other people think you should live.

  • Sebbe

    @fjy – I understand you point, but in this case it is a little different. Penner has obviously made the story public and is a quasi public figure.

    Second, if there are not articles about it in the media how are we supposed to gain any understanding?

  • Jan

    If Mike spent the required time attempting to adjust to life as a full time woman, living, interacting and behaving as a female perhaps he discovered the grass was not greener on the other side after all.

    Most transvestites and crossdressers fantasize of living as a woman full time with all that goes with it. They love the pretty dresses, makeup, high heels and girly hairdos but once the novelty wears off the cons kick in and the daily grind of being a woman without ‘the male privileges’ she once enjoyed are gone she may find she is in a worse place than before. After all most genetic women don’t wear the full on girly gear and trappings of femininity unless under duress.

    If Mike was indeed a transvestite and not transexual it would explain his reversion to his male status some what.
    Mike, be Christine on the weekends, wear your pretty dresses frilly petticoats and high heels, flirt with guys and wear your lipstick with pride. But come Monday be a man and act like one. It is easier.

  • DarlieB

    She is dead now. They won and they killed her.

  • Rica

    @Jan – First of all, it’s spelled ‘transsexual’. Second, if you knew anything about transition, you’d know that one of the first things that happens when you start taking estrogen is your sex drive and ability to get an erection goes away. 99% of transvestites and cross-dressers would be HORRIFIED if this happened, which is why they DON’T transition.

    Christine stated quite clearly that she had felt female since early childhood – long before the makeup and high heels are even a consideration. Most transsexual people know from a very early age that something is wrong. Before hormones are even prescribed, a gender therapist must write a letter of recommendation. One of the jobs of the therapist is to ensure that the person isn’t seeking to transition for recreational purposes, or to fulfill a fantasy. Unless she lied her way through therapy, your theory is ridiculous.

    This isn’t a case of “the grass being greener.” This is a case of a person who was in incredible pain, who unfortunately did not get the help he needed. Suicide is all too common within the transsexual community, and most transsexual people have either thought about it, or attempted it at some point in their lives. Suicide is a cry for help, and part of the reason transsexual people don’t get help is because the public won’t let go of ridiculous stereotypes like the ones you’re spreading.

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