By Cyd Zeigler jr.
Those words began the eulogy for Christine Daniels last Saturday at the Metropolitan Community Church in Hollywood. They’ve echoed in my head since Suzy Horn, a close friend of Christine, uttered them.
It’s been over six weeks since Mike Penner ended his own life, and over a year since he ended the life of Christine Daniels, the woman he became before becoming Mike again. The family had held a private memorial service in December, to which none of the members of Christine’s church were invited. Some in the media criticized Metropolitan Community Church for having a memorial service for Christine when the family had had a service for Mike, and since last we’d all heard she had transitioned back to Mike.
“Reality is they are the same person,” Rev. Neil Thomas said at the outset of the service, in response to the internet attacks. “And the truth of the matter is, when [we] shared on many occasions, Christine and Mike would say to me, ‘I never stopped being Christine.’ And so for us, in this church, it’s important that we celebrate Christine’s life today.”
Columnist Rick Reilly knew both Mike and Christine well. He wrote about the differences between those two people more clearly than I ever could:
Mike was a little quiet, a little reclusive, a lot brilliant. He hated going to locker rooms. He preferred staying home, making mix tapes and writing sentences that were chunks of perfection. He once described then-Angels GM Mike Port's fractured syntax as "Port-uguese."I’ve heard from various people, even in Christine’s own writing, about the quiet, shy Mike. Saturday’s service was most definitely not in memory that person. Stories abounded of a friendly blonde who was the life of the party. A photo montage showed Christine dancing on a stage, dancing in a club, dancing in a bar. We saw ear-to-ear smiles and glowing eyes. Fabulous gowns and lovely tasteful outfits. One photo even showed Christine in a pirate costume: A high-heeled pirate, of course.
Christine was the opposite: gregarious, 100 mph talker, always looking to cover an event, to be seen, the Funmeter pegged, the curls bouncing. She was flirty, always lightly grabbing your arm when she talked, covering her mouth when she laughed, which seemed like all the time.
What became evident to me, listening to all of the shared stories and memories of Christine, was that this wasn’t some passing fad in the life of this person; It was who this person was. While America didn’t meet Christine Daniels until the spring of 2007, Suzy Horn, herself transgender, met her in early 2005. They became fast friends before either of them transitioned and Christine was still Christina, the first name she was drawn to.
Suzy told the story of how she discovered that the lovely woman she had befriended was also sportswriter Mike Penner. Christine had been careful to only divulge that her birth name was Mike and that she was a writer. But in the summer of 2006, Suzy was reading a Penner article about the World Cup. Penner had watched a game in Munich in hi-def, something new they were trying out, and reported on the experience.
“The pores on [England] coach Sven-Goran Ericksson’s nose looked as big as moon craters,” Penner wrote. “Not quite a technological advancement for the betterment of mankind.”
Suzy knew then that Christine was Mike Penner: “Because no male sportswriter would even know what a pore was.”
Suzy remembered going to a nail salon with Christine. They were approached by a man who asked them to talk to his young daughter because he wanted her to understand that there were transgender people in the world.
Christine turned to the little girl and said, “I’m a girl on the inside, but I’m a boy on the outside.”
Suzy said it was that simple eloquence and elegance that made Christine so special.
People also spoke eloquently at the memorial about the reality and societal confusion that Christine Daniels faced. Many of the people who spoke at the service are transgender. Having lived as an openly gay man for 14 years, I haven’t experienced half of the struggle these people face every year. Despite the societal pressure, many of them resounded the response Christine gave Reilly when he asked her why she was transitioning at the age of 49:
"I had to do it. It was this or die."
I still don’t fully understand what it is to be transgender. I have written on the issue for six years, and I still struggle to fully understand what it all means. But my failure to fully understand does not mean a failure to offer my full compassion.
Mike, Christine. Man, woman. To some people, being born with a penis or a vagina determines whether you wear pants or a skirt; whether you are the quiet family man or the gregarious party girl; whether you keep your emotions bottled up or let them shine. It sounds like an archaic belief-system buried in a time capsule from the 1950s, but it’s the society Christine and Mike lived in today.
And no matter how caring, kind, sweet, giving and talented she was, life in that society was sadly too much for a Christine Daniels who happened to be named Mike Penner.