Mike Penner, longtime writer and columnist for the Los Angeles Times, has come out in the paper as a transsexual, Christine Daniels.
"Today I leave for a few weeks' vacation," Penner wrote in a column that ran on Page 2 of the Times sports section "and when I return, I will come back in yet another incarnation.
"I am a transsexual sportswriter. It has taken more than 40 years, a million tears and hundreds of hours of soul-wrenching therapy for me to work up the courage to type those words. I realize many readers and colleagues and friends will be shocked to read them."
In the column, Penner describes the mental anguish as he came to grips with what he had been fighting for more than 40 years: "As extensive therapy and testing have confirmed, my brain was wired female.
"A transgender friend provided the best and simplest explanation I have heard: We are born with this, we fight it as long as we can, and in the end it wins.
"I gave it as good a fight as I possibly could. I went more than 40 hard rounds with it. Eventually, though, you realize you are only fighting yourself and your happiness and your mental health -- a no-win situation any way you look at it."
While Penner was aware of his true nature for years, the actual transition to becoming a transsexual has occurred over the past year or so. Last year, the columnist was hospitalized with a heart condition and shortly after his recovery he started coming out to select friends. The first he told was Billy Witz, a sportswriter for the Los Angeles Daily News, who has known Penner for more than 12 years.
"In the last year or so, he had undergone heart surgery and he told me he was dealing with depression," Witz told Outsports. "Never in a million years did I think the depression was related" to his gender identity. Penner was too afraid to tell Witz in person, instead sending him a packet that contained a letter along with information on being a transsexual. Two months later Witz and sportswriter Chris Foster went to lunch together in Long Beach with the columnist, one of his first public appearances with friends as Christine.
"He described it as one of the happiest days of his life," Witz recalled. "She was just able to be herself in public with good friends of hers. ... At one point, the waitress came over to our table and told [Christine], 'My gosh, you have such beautiful blue eyes.' You could have knocked her over with a feather."
Witz says that Christine and Mike are like two different people.
"Mike has always been a very introspective, quiet person," Witz said. "Now I would say she's quite outgoing. [A few months ago] she performed a '60s soul routine with a group of friends, where she was really dressed up and lip-synching Diana Ross tunes. Never in a million years would Mike have done anything like that."
Penner, 49, is married to fellow Times sportswriter Lisa Dillman. The couple has no children. A huge soccer fan, he founded Scribes FC, a rec-league team with many local sportswriters as players. His weekly game recaps in the Scribes FC newsletter were big hits with his teammates and other writers.
In recent years, Penner has been a columnist dealing with the NFL and sports media. His Monday day-after NFL notes columns are must-reads, combining Penner's football insights with a sharp wit. After a brief hiatus, she will return as a columnist using the name Christine Daniels.
"All I can say at this point is that I am now happier, more focused and more energized when I sit behind a keyboard," Penner wrote. "The wicked writer's block that used to reach up and torture me at some of the worst possible times imaginable has disappeared. ... From here, it feels like a big improvement. I hope with time you will agree. This could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship."