Mike Penner cut his teeth at the Anaheim Bulletin before jumping over to the Orange County edition of the Los Angeles Times as a sportswriter, garnering more fame as a sports columnist for the mothership in LA, even more fame as transsexual sports columnist Christine Daniels for a year–and more fame still when he took his own life.
The 52-year-old's tragic end was covered fairly extensively by the Times' Christopher Goffard this past March in “Public Triumph, Private Torment.”
But there's something about a rich, sordid, heartbreaking story: it seems to reappear again and again, like a horror-movie villain.
So, no, it's not surprising that GQ would eventually present the Mike Penner story to its readers. But it is surprising Nancy Haas' piece has arrived so soon after Goffard's fairly widely read piece.
Penner had been a Times' staffer for more than 25 years when he
announced in an April 26, 2007, column that he was in the process of becoming
a woman and that his byline would now be Christine Daniels.
Much to the
surprise of Penner/Daniels, he/she was embraced not only by his/her
employer but his/her readers, closest friends and, especially, the
In the interest of full disclosure I knew Penner about as well as someone could who spent a dinner and Elvis Costello concert with him (and two of our mutual friends) not that long before he became Christine.
One mutual friend later told me he hated the Times' piece–and claimed many others working at the daily did also. They felt the paper exploited their pal's death.
They probably won't like “New Mike, Old Christine” either, which I'd link you to if I could. You must subscribe to GQ online or pick up a June issue. A summation of the article is here.
It begins like so:
Christine had the eyes all the girls wanted, translucent turquoise
marbles fringed by strawberry blond lashes. And the smile. Wide and
natural, but somehow coy and elusive, too. You could work for years and
not get that right. Her peach-colored blouse draped just so on her
six-foot-one frame, the silky skirt skimming her calves. She had let
her sunstreaked blond hair grow to chin length, and she helped it along
by pinning on a little hairpiece that grazed her broad shoulders.
As GQ puts it, “the bliss didn't last.” His marriage to fellow Times' sportswriter Lisa Dillman blew up–seemingly taking Daniels by surprise.
That giddy, golden summer of 2007 faded as the reality of being a midlife transwoman, single and lonely, set in: the stares as you pass on the street, the department-store salesgirls who whispered to one another as though you were deaf, the jarring site of a stubbornly rugged jaw in the rearview mirror.
About a year after becoming Christine Daniels, he returned to once again living and writing as Mike Penner. A little over a year after that, around Thanksgiving 2009, he took his life.
Hass “spent weeks in Los Angeles reporting the answers” to why Penner transgendered back and eventually killed himself, according to GQ, which claims, “many of them may surprise you.”
I would have been surprised if Haas landed the one interview that would have made her story so definitive that no one would ever dare write it again.