Month Archives: December 2017

Remembering Mike Penner

by Peter Sprigg

December 4, 2017

On November 20, LGBT activists observed this year’s “Transgender Day of Remembrance.”

For the most part, they call upon people to remember those who identified as transgender who have been murdered in anti-transgender hate crimes. Such crimes deserve clear condemnation—like that offered in May by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who declared “the importance of holding individuals accountable when they commit violent acts against transgender individuals.”

More numerous than those murdered in hate crimes, however, are those who have identified as transgender but died by their own hand.

So on this Day of Remembrance, I was remembering Mike Penner.

Mike Penner was a well-respected sportswriter at the Los Angeles Times. On April 26, 2007, Penner became the story instead of the reporter, by announcing to readers in his column that after a vacation, he would return to his work as a woman. He adopted the name Christine Daniels.

In some ways, Penner’s “gender transition” went as smoothly as he could possibly have hoped. The Times—both management and his colleagues—were supportive. He was anxious the day his column (headlined “Old Mike, new Christine”) appeared, but his editor had urged him to write it in order to control the release of the news. In advance of the article, Penner’s editor reportedly shared the news individually with 45 other members of the staff, and “not one person expressed discomfort.” According to an account in the Times the next day, “by day’s end, Daniels said she had received only two negative responses out of 538 e-mails.” Nearly a thousand readers commented online, and the responses “were overwhelmingly positive.” Penner/Daniels told a staff writer that “a day I dreaded all my life has ended up being one of the best days I’ve ever had.”

It didn’t last. Penner’s last column under the name Christine Daniels was published on April 4, 2008, after which he went on disability leave. When he finally returned to work in October, it was as Mike Penner. Penner wanted every trace of his female alter ego erased from the Times’ website. He was told it couldn’t be done, that it violated their policy on archived material. But eventually, the material disappeared. Christine was gone.

A little over a year later, so was Mike. On the day after Thanksgiving in 2009, Mike Penner took his own life.

There have been at least three long feature articles on the tragic story of Mike Penner. Christopher Goffard wrote one for the Times, Nancy Hass for GQ, and Steve Friess for LA Weekly. This post is based primarily on information drawn from those three articles.

Of course, every person’s story is unique, so there are limits to how much you can generalize about a group of people from what happened to one individual. Nevertheless, Penner’s sad story should serve as a cautionary tale to those—whether transgender or not—who assume that a “gender transition” is automatically the best solution for someone experiencing “gender dysphoria” (an unhappiness with their biological sex at birth).

According to the Friess account (told mostly from the perspective of others who identify as transgender who knew Penner as “Christine”), Penner’s feelings of gender dysphoria began in childhood, when “[h]e would sneak into his mother’s closet in their Anaheim home to try on shoes and dabble with her makeup, then scrub it off shamefully before vowing never to do it again.” According to the Hass account, “Christine” told friends about “playing princess dress-up with her male cousins as a child.”

However, the transgender community in Los Angeles was unaware of Penner until 2004, when he first showed up at “Countessa’s Closet”—essentially a women’s clothing store that caters to men. In August of 2005 he made his first appearance in a public place as a woman, going out to a restaurant with Susan Horn, another male-to-female transgender friend whom Penner met at Countessa’s.

Between that time and Penner’s public “coming out” as transgender in April 2007, he apparently did not reveal his real (male) name to others who identified as transgender. Horn deduced that “Christine” was actually the sportswriter Mike Penner in June of 2006—but when confronted, Penner became frightened and angry.

By early 2007, however, it appears that Penner had begun dressing as Christine full-time, and had begun taking female hormones. He had also started attending the Metropolitan Community Church, which is actively affirming of LGBT lifestyles. In February, he spoke to his boss, the sports editor of the Times, Randy Harvey, about transitioning (Penner usually worked from home). It was Harvey—in a recommendation some later questioned—who urged Penner to explain the transition publicly in a column. It was bound to become a subject of comment, and Harvey said, “I think you need to write it. Don’t let anybody else write it first.”

After the column appeared, “Christine Daniels” was widely celebrated. While remaining in the sports department, Penner also began a blog for the Times about his transition, titled “A Woman in Progress.” In a June interview with an LGBT website, Penner was asked, “Money can buy hormones and a closet full of fabulous shoes, but does it buy happiness?” He responded, “Hormones + legal name change + setting the stage for a new life = happiness, no doubt about that.”

In July, Penner’s friend and noted sportswriter Rick Reilly wrote a supportive piece for Sports Illustrated. That same month, Penner made his own public debut as “Christine” when covering the Los Angeles debut of British soccer star David Beckham, who had been signed to play for the Los Angeles Galaxy. And on July 19, 2007, Penner’s name was legally changed from “Michael Daniel Penner” to “Christine Michelle Daniels.”

Christine received many invitations to speak and to attend fundraisers. Perhaps a high point was speaking at the convention of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association in the late summer. In September, Christine met Dr. Marci Bowers, a gender reassignment surgeon who had transitioned from male to female himself, and began making plans to have surgery, which was scheduled for July 2008.

Why did things go downhill? One related to something unique to Penner—his relative celebrity. Even before his coming-out column appeared, he told one friend, “I feel as if I am being used as a pawn by the trans community (and maybe the Times as well).” That feeling would increase as the months went on.

Two other factors, however, were ones that may often, if not always, be relevant to others who change their public gender identity as well.

One was the question of Christine’s appearance. The first to say publicly what many may have thought was Paul Oberjuerge, a writer for the San Bernardino County Sun. After the Beckham press conference, he commented on the paper’s website:

She looks like a guy in a dress, pretty much. Except anyone paying any attention isn’t going to be fooled — as some people are by veteran transvestites. Maybe this is cruel, but there were women in that room who were born women in body, as well as soul. And the difference between them and Christine was, in my mind, fairly stark. It seemed almost as [if] we’re all going along with someone’s dress-up role-playing.

More troubling to Christine was an October 2007 photo shoot for a planned article in Vanity Fair (recall that Olympic star Bruce Jenner first came out as “Caitlyn” in a 2015 cover story for Vanity Fair). According to Friess, “Accounts of what occurred there vary so starkly that they are hard to reconcile.”

But the photographer, Robert Maxwell, said later, “I was trying to say all the right things. How do you tell someone who looks like a man, ‘You’re a beautiful woman’? I don’t know.” Goffard’s piece for the Times noted:

The profile writer, Evan Wright, said that to write an honest article, he would have to observe that the sportswriter did not pass as a woman. “I thought, ‘Bottom line, she has a fantasy conception. She doesn’t accept who she is.’”

In an email to friends, Christine lamented:

It was a total debacle, probably the worst experience of my transition. [The] photographer apparently wanted to portray me as a man in a dress, my worst fear, as I expressed numerous times.

After Penner abandoned his female persona, but before he committed suicide, writer Steve Friess wrote about the phenomenon of “sex change regret” in an article in USA Today. He quoted Denise Leclair of the International Foundation for Gender Education, who acknowledged, “The average male-to-female transsexual is taller, has bigger hands and feet, has more facial hair than most women. There are a lot of physical attributes that are hard to hide …” One friend recalled of “Christine,” “She would say that she had spent forty-five minutes putting on her makeup and still she saw Mike staring back.”

The other crucial factor in the “failure” of Penner’s transition was the end of his marriage. When he made the announcement that he was becoming a woman, he had been married for twenty years to a woman who also wrote for the Times (I am choosing not to identify her here, out of respect for her privacy). She has never spoken publicly about Penner—neither after his transition, nor after his death. The published reports are somewhat unclear, but it appears that the two separated at the beginning of 2007, after Penner began hormone treatments and started dressing consistently as a woman. According to Friess, Penner’s wife filed for divorce on May 23, 2007—the same day that Penner first appeared in the Times’ offices as a woman.

Penner—naively—seemed not to accept that his gender transition would mean the end of his marriage. But his wife reportedly was blunt: “I don’t want to be associated with it. I don’t ever want to see you that way.”

And according to Friess, “Penner repeatedly told friends his return to a male lifestyle was a last-ditch effort to reunite with his wife in some way.” Hass says that after Penner returned to a male identity, his wife “was willing to see him again, to have lunch or a cup of coffee.” But even those contacts became less frequent—“She’s moved on,” he told one friend. “I had the perfect life with [my wife], and I threw it all away,” he lamented.

Finally, Penner’s mental health was clearly fragile for most of the last two years of his life. It is clear that after the euphoria of his first six months living openly as a “woman,” Penner’s mental state went downhill, and resuming his male identity did nothing to stabilize it. It appears that stress was manifesting in abdominal distress with no clear organic cause. Goffard reports that when Penner went on disability leave in April 2008, “close friends knew [he] was manic depressive.” Manic depression is an older term for what is now known as “bipolar disorder,” and it is unclear whether Penner was ever treated for that specific condition. Friess reports that in the summer of 2008, Penner “was diagnosed as severely depressed. Doctors prescribed a regimen of powerful psychotropic drugs that included the antipsychotic Zyprexa and the antidepressant Elavil.” He was also hospitalized at least once in 2009 in a psychiatric hospital, and friends reported “wild mood swings and suicidal chatter” well before he finally took his life.

Friess reported, “No studies have been conducted to determine whether withdrawal from the hormones can cause depression, but mental-health professionals who work with transgender people say patients who have stopped taking the drugs report feelings of distress.” Friess also reports that Bowers, the transgender surgeon, “believes Penner put one foot in the grave by abandoning the transition.” In a thoroughly self-serving statement, Bowers declared, “If we had done surgery, it probably would have saved her life. Now she died as an unhappy soul who never got a chance to align her body and soul.”

The opposite would seem to be the case. As Hass reports, Penner “had been convinced that becoming a woman would solve everything.” Even a transgender-identified friend had tried to warn him “that the act of becoming a woman itself wouldn’t make you happy.” Yet this fiction seems to be at the very heart of the transgender movement and the growing mania for self-defined “gender identity.”

I would suggest that the tragic story of Mike Penner holds three key lessons for those struggling with gender dysphoria and considering a “transition” away from identifying with their biological sex at birth:

  1. Completely erasing your inborn sex in the eyes of others may not be possible. Clothes, hormones, and even gender reassignment surgery do not make a woman. There are aspects of appearance—size, bone structure, muscle mass, etc.—that simply differ between the sexes and are not amenable to change.
  2. You may be forfeiting important relationships in your life. It is naïve to suppose that someone who has always known you as a son or brother will readily define you as a daughter or sister instead. And it is even more naïve to suppose that a beloved spouse who married someone of the opposite sex will suddenly be fine being in a “same-sex” marriage.
  3. Finally, mental health problems such as depression or bipolar disorder, which frequently accompany gender dysphoria, need to be treated in their own right before considering a “gender transition.” Even the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), in their “Standards of Care,” warns, “If significant medical or mental concerns are present, they must be reasonably well controlled.”

In his “coming out” column in 2007, Mike Penner said the decision followed “hundreds of hours of soul-wrenching therapy.” He had reportedly sought counseling at the Los Angeles Gender Center—yet it is possible that such overtly pro-transgender facilities place greater emphasis on facilitating a client’s desired gender transition than on “controlling” co-existing mental health problems.

Anyone who thinks that undergoing a “gender transition” is the only and obvious response to the presence of gender dysphoria should look closely at the tragic story of Mike Penner.

Social Conservative Review - December 1, 2017

by Daniel Hart

December 1, 2017

Dear Friends,

The great season of Advent, a time of waiting and preparation for Christians in anticipation of Christ’s birth, is about to begin.

One beautiful way of reflecting on this season is to think about the first Advent, when an expectant Mary and her husband Joseph awaited the birth of God’s Son. For expectant mothers and soon-to-be fathers, pregnancy is often a time when careful preparations are made around the house for the coming baby—the nursery is rearranged to accommodate cribs and changing tables, diapers and wipes are stockpiled, baby clothes are carefully organized in drawers, linens are freshly washed, etc.

In the same way, Christians should spend Advent carefully preparing their hearts and minds for the coming of the Savior. This can take on the form of a kind of spiritual reinforcement and house cleaning—spending a little extra time in prayer each morning to prepare ourselves to live for Christ in the day before us, and to make peace with anyone we may have ill will toward and repent of our sins. Just as soon-to-be parents desire to make their home as clean and comfortable as possible for their newborn, Christians should desire to prepare and cleanse their hearts to fully welcome the coming Christ child. This may require us to detach ourselves from worldly attachments to obtain the true freedom that God desires for us. Is a nightly TV-watching habit cutting in to our prayer and family time? Is a regular habit of eating out cutting in to our budget so that we have less for gift-giving and those in need?

Thinking about the first Advent is also to contemplate the Holy Family traveling from Galilee to Bethlehem, and the difficult journey that must have been for them. Imagine the exhaustion that Mary must have felt in her third trimester on such a long and arduous journey over rough roads on the back of a donkey, with Joseph enduring mile after mile of dust and rocks in leading her and the animal along. Amongst this shared suffering and journeying, the Holy Family must have grown ever closer to each other. In the same way, Advent is an opportunity for us to draw ever closer to our own families. Maybe this could take the form of creating hand-crafted gifts for loved ones, baking Christmas cookies, assembling care packages for those serving in the military, or perhaps joining a Christmas carol troupe that your church has organized—the point here is to spend quality time together as a family doing acts of service and growing in virtue.

The season of Advent points to the coming of our Lord. Let us make the most of this wonderful time and prepare our hearts to receive the perfect gift of Christ.

Thank you for your prayers and for your continued support of FRC and the family.

Sincerely,

Dan Hart
Managing Editor for Publications
Family Research Council

 

FRC Articles

LGBT advocates seek to scuttle a vital Constitutional right – Travis Weber

ACLU: Forcing Faith Out of Adoption – Travis Weber

Love to Give: An Adoption Story – Alison Contreras

Adoption: Multi-Racial, Multi-National, Heaven-Blessed – Rob Schwarzwalder

The Unexpected Blessing of Adoption – Harold Harper

10th Circuit Lets Police Officers Off the Hook After Telling Woman She Could Not Pray in Her Own Home – Travis Weber and Natalie Pugh

Why It Is Unnecessary to Force Jack Phillips to Bake a Wedding Cake – Travis Weber

 

Religious Liberty

Religious Liberty in the Public Square

2 Gay Men Explain Why They Support Baker’s Refusal to Make Same-Sex Wedding Cakes – Ian Snively and Peter Parisi, The Daily Signal

Stop Misrepresenting Masterpiece Cakeshop – David French, National Review

Designated haters – Juliana Chan Erikson, WORLD

UNL campus not ‘safe’ for conservatives, public records revealConservative Review

Why the Conscience Protection Act is critical – Jeff Pickering, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission

Little Sisters of the Poor Are Returning to Court – Rachel del Guidice, The Daily Signal

GOP senators defend military officer disciplined for refusing to sign same-sex certificate – Diana Stancy Correll, Washington Examiner

American Muslims, Lot’s Wife, and the Christian Baker – Ismail Royer, Public Discourse

International Religious Freedom

The UN doesn’t recognize the Christian genocide in Iraq. This new documentary does. – Miriam Diez Bosch, Aleteia

Canada rejects Christian couple for adoption – Kiley Crossland, WORLD

Africans Put Parental Rights Back in UN Sex Ed Policy – Stefano Gennarini, C-Fam

Repairing the Ravages of ISIS on Iraq’s Nineveh Plains – George J. Marlin, The Catholic Thing

Military Religious Freedom

Senators Cruz, Rubio demand justice for Air Force colonel fired for standing up for pro-family values – Fr. Mark Hodges, LifeSiteNews

 

Life

Abortion

World-famous supermodel gracefully obliterates every argument for abortion – Save the Storks

Abortion rates in US hit historic low, CDC report finds – Fox News

The push to force pro-life centers to provide free advertising for the abortion industry – Ken Connelly, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission

It’s Official: Arkansas Cuts Medicaid Funding for Planned Parenthood – Jerry Cox, Arkansas Family Council

Adoption

Let Foster Children Wait No MoreNational Review

10 Things You Should Know about Adoption – Russell D. Moore, Crossway

Do you believe these 5 myths about adoption? – Sophia Swinford, Aleteia

Open your heart’: Adoptive mom debunks three modern adoption myths – Natalie Brumfield, Live Action

Bioethics

Basic Bioethics: What Christians should know about surrogacy – Joe Carter, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission

The Overlooked Risks of Surrogacy for Women – Mary Rose Somarriba, Family Studies

From Darwin to Iceland: The Eugenic Solution to the ‘Undesirable’ – Roberto Rivera, The Stream

 

Family

Economics/Education

Undoing the Dis-Education of Millennials – Adam J. MacLeod, NewBostonPost

This may be one of the biggest benefits to marriage we’ve ever seen – Catey Hill, Moneyish

The state of marriage as an institutionThe Economist

Marriage

Over One-Quarter of Children Under Age 18 Live With One ParentU.S. Census Bureau

When Your Partner Is Down and Can’t Get Up – Glen Scrivener, The Gospel Coalition

Understanding Your Feelings to Stay Connected In Your Marriage – David and Jan Stoop, Focus on the Family

Can Marriage Help Prevent Dementia? – Carolyn Moynihan, Intellectual Takeout

Your Spouse Doesn’t Need Your Unconditional Support – Dorcas Cheng-Tozun, Christianity Today

Why I Stopped Comparing My Marriage to My Parents’ Marriage – Laura Triggs, Verily

Faith/Character/Culture

Netflix Thinks You’re Bored and Lonely – Trevin Wax, The Gospel Coalition

Do You Talk to Your Children About Race? – Trillia Newbell, Desiring God

This Is a More Important Goal Than Being Happy – Julia Hogan, Verily

3 Creative and impressive ways people are helping the homeless – Elizabeth Pardi, Aleteia

Politics is About More Than Winning – Rob Schwarzwalder, The Stream

Jesus: the Heart of Christian Morality – Fr. Timothy V. Vaverek, The Catholic Thing

4 things I want a new mom to know – Jill Waggoner, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission

Human Sexuality

You Can Protect Your Kids from Hyper-Sexualized Culture – Eliza Powell, National Center on Sexual Exploitation

How to talk to your kids about sexual assault and harassment scandals – Phillip Bethancourt, Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission

Seven Questions for Couples to Consider Before Moving In Together – Rhonda Kruse Nordin, Family Studies

Men, Stop Virtue-Signaling and Return to Rules – Ben Shapiro, National Review

Let’s rethink sex – Christine Emba, The Washington Post

Scam Artists and Sex Education – Carl R. Trueman, First Things

Consent is Not Enough: Harvey Weinstein, Sex, and Human Flourishing – Angela Franks, Public Discourse

The Pragmatic Benefits of God-Given Sexual Boundaries – Melinda Penner, The Stream

Human Trafficking

Tackling Modern-Day Slavery, Online Sex Trafficking – Lisa L. Thompson, National Center on Sexual Exploitation

Pornography

Porn Epidemic Hampers Fight Against Child Pornography – Stefano Gennarini, C-Fam

The Pathway from Porn to Adultery – Kent Butterfield, Desiring God

Porn is the Missing Piece in the Louis C.K. Story – Mary Rose Somarriba, Public Discourse

Behind the harassment scandals, another dirty little secret: pornography – Zac Crippen, Los Angeles Times

Louisiana is the 5th State to Formally Recognize Public Health Harms of Pornography – National Center on Sexual Exploitation

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