LA Times Looks at Life, Death of Mike Penner/Christine Daniels

The Los Angeles Times re-enters the story of former LA Times sports reporter Mike Penner/Christine Daniels with a piece by Christopher Goffard based on several months of reporting after Penner’s death.

Gone was quiet, circumspect Mike Penner, replaced by ebullient, outgoing — and instantly famous — Christine Daniels. Celebrity meant a megaphone, and Daniels vowed to use it as an advocate. She told her story at transsexual conferences across the country, becoming a symbol of courage to a transgender community inspired by the most visible coming-out in decades.

A year after the essay, the Daniels byline vanished from the newspaper, and within months Penner was back at work, living as a man and writing under his male name. Once so voluble about the reasons for becoming Christine, Penner was silent about the reasons for abandoning the identity.

This time, there was no essay, no explanation. But friends saw a person in torment. Last November, in the parking garage of the apartment complex where he lived alone, Penner killed himself. He was 52.

The duality that defined the sportswriter’s life divided the grieving. Mourners were split between two memorial services, one for Mike and one for Christine.

Goffard talks about the psychological and emotional trials of both Penner and Daniels. He says that Daniels was uncomfortable with her presentation as a woman, found herself alienated from other “transexuals” in Los Angeles, and her mental state continued to spiral downward as she began to shift from being Christine back to Mike.

She let weeks pass without updating Woman in Progress. In February 2008, Tony Pierce, The Times’ blogs editor, asked Daniels whether she wanted to stop the blog.

“She said she didn’t want to be the spokesperson for anything, but unfortunately that’s what she had become,” Pierce said. Posts remained infrequent, and Daniels eventually asked to have the blog discontinued.

One transgender friend, Sara Hayward, heard an eerie shifting in Daniels’ speech during a conversation in early March. Now and then, Daniels’ soft, steady voice would give way abruptly to Penner’s voice, deep and cracking. “It was two voices coming out of the same person,” Hayward said.

It’s a story where there will always be unanswered questions, but Goffard does fill in some of the blanks.

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