November 30, 2009

Transsexual Sportswriter Dead, Suicide Suspected

We've covered the story here of sportswriter Mike Penner, a successful columnist for one of the largest newspapers in the United States, the Los Angeles Times. He announced in a column in 2007 that he was transitioning to become a woman named Christian Daniels. He later went back to being known as Mike Penner in 2008.

Sadly, he is now dead, and officials believe it was a suicide.

We certainly don't know enough about the late Mr. Penner to make any assumptions about what drove him to take his own life, but given our experience with and knowledge of transgender people, it is hard not to think his sexuality was at least a part of the issues he felt unable to resolve. We share this story with you to close a loop in news coverage of Mr. Penner, but also to encourage anyone who is suffering with any type of uncertainty about their sexuality to seek help, and for those who know someone in that situation to offer help.

From the LA Times:

Mike Penner, a longtime Los Angeles Times sportswriter who made headlines in 2007 when he announced that he was transsexual, has died. He was 52.

Penner was pronounced dead Friday evening at Brotman Medical Center in Culver City, a Los Angeles County coroner's official said.

The cause of death has not been determined but was believed to be suicide.

"Mike was a first-rate journalist, a valued member of our staff for 25 years, and we will miss him," Times Editor Russ Stanton said. "He respected our readers a great deal, enough to share with them his very personal journey. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family."

A versatile member of The Times' sports staff, Penner covered the Olympics, the Angels, World Cup soccer, tennis, sports media and a variety of other assignments.

He also spent several years writing a sports column for the paper's Orange County Edition. Since 2008, he was the principal writer for the sports section's "Totally Random" feature.

"Mike was one of the most talented writers I've ever worked with, capable of reporting on any number of topics with great wit and style," sports editor Mike James said. "This is a tragic ending and a difficult time for all of us who knew him."

In April 2007, Penner surprised colleagues and readers with an essay in The Times' Sports section announcing that he was "a transsexual sportswriter."

"It has taken more than 40 years, a million tears and hundreds of hours of soul-searching therapy for me to work up the courage to type those words," he wrote.

Times Associate Editor Randy Harvey, who was the paper's sports editor at the time, said the essay allowed Penner to explain in his own way a decision that "we realized would be a human-interest story and a news story. We didn't want it to be filtered through someone else's lens."

In the essay, Penner said of his transgender decision:

"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."

Writing as Christine Daniels, Penner started a column for the paper's website in May 2007 called Day in L.A. and a blog about the transition, then in July began writing for the paper again.

He returned to using the Mike Penner byline in October 2008.

Penner is survived by his brother, John, a copy editor at The Times, and his former wife, Times staff writer Lisa Dillman.

Click here to read the rest of the Times' story.

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