The Sexist

A Eulogy For Christine Daniels (And Not Mike Penner)

Christine Daniels with Autumn Sandeen

In November, transgender Los Angeles Times sportswriter Mike Penner was found dead of an apparent suicide. Penner, who wrote for the paper since 1983, made headlines himself in 2007 when he he came out as transgender, began living publicly as a woman, and changed his byline to Christine Daniels. In 2008, Daniels quietly detransitioned back to Mike, leaving mourners with an identity problem: Should they eulogize Mike Penner or Christine Daniels?

After Penner's death, transgender activist Autumn Sandeen spoke to the importance of identifying Penner as Penner. "In my heart, I know her as Christine. In my job as a writer, I have to think of him as Mike,” she said. "I would love to remember him as Christine, but he didn’t give us that opportunity, and I’m going to be sad about that . . . How he identified was important. We can’t just pick and choose how we want to identify someone. I’m militant about that, but I’m frustrated at my own militance."

Recently, Sandeen attended a memorial service for Daniels, where she heard some stories that changed her position on how to publicly refer to the deceased:

[S]ince I'm now going to refer to the Los Angeles Times sportswriter who wrote under the Mike Penner byline as Christine Daniels again, I thought I needed to explain why . . . And, the reason has to do with how Christine identified herself in conversations with her minister, and to one of her very close friends—Susan Horn (who delivered the eulogy to Christine at the memorial service)—after she detransitioned. To the both, she said words to the effect of: "I never stopped being Christine," and . . . "Don't you ever think I'm not Christine."

So now, knowing how she identified, I can—and will—stop calling her by male pronouns, and stop calling her Mike Penner. She detransitioned to Mike not because she wasn't Christine, but for whatever external pressures to which she succumbed because presenting as Christine became too hard to bear.

In death, how do we reconcile a person's public and private lives? After he publicly detransitioned back to Mike, Penner indicated that he still wanted to be identified as Christine to his minister and a very close friend of his. That's private. In his professional life, however, Penner was still writing columns as Mike and presenting outwardly as male. At the memorial service, the Reverend Dr. Neal Thomas made Penner's private identity public by delivering a eulogy remembering Christine Daniels. In death, should we defer to Penner's wishes in life by keeping his private identity private? Or should we pay tribute to the reality of her life by finally publicly eulogizing her as Christine?

  • Zoe Brain

    The Family already had a private service for Mike - to which none of Christine's friends or church congregation were invited.

    They just wanted to put this whole embarassing incident behind them.

    Fair enough.

    But that leaves us free to give Christine a memorial.

  • Esme

    If the person in question is identifying personally as Christine, and in the context of journalism as Mike, I would consider the use of "Mike" as a pen-name. It would hardly be the first time a woman writer identified on paper under a male (or simply not-female) name to be accepted by a primarily male readership. When referencing the person's history, it would probably be most appropriate to refer to them by the name and gender they identified with at that point in time, as one does when referring to a woman by her maiden name (Mary Shelley née Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin)

  • Tina

    I am not surprised. As someone who has retransitioned (after SRS) due to pressures related to employment and finances (with a healthy dose of family pressure from my father), I can understand Christine's decision. I am in the process of returning to being the woman I have always been, but it takes a great deal of strength and support.

    I hope those who may put pressure on transsexuals, or use this as a hammer to beat them will always understand that their words and actions of disapproval can lead individuals to feelings of hopelessness.

    I am lucky that I have a core of family members and friends who are supportive as I make my way through this maze. I will always remember Christine...and mourn HER passing.

  • Ben Hur

    Turns out, Mike/Christine cut off all contact with Susan Horn two years ago, and now she's running around saying she was her/his best friend? Something is really wrong with that. Sounds like an oppotunist to me.

  • sherry

    Amen! You are so right! Horn dropped her/him like a hot potato the minute Chritine/Mike didn't want to be a Poster Child...just a person. Now, Horn is trying to get some attention for himself by becomming a self-proclaimed expert and "BFF" to Penner.What a phony! Does anyone have a barf bag handy? I am going to need it!The above statement is so right on.....especially the "something is really wrong with that, followed by opportunist". Thanks for letting me vent.