A post-mortem profile of Mike Penner/Christine Daniels. April 13, 2010 8:04 AM   Subscribe

A followup of sorts to this FPP.
posted by availablelight to MetaFilter-Related at 8:04 AM (25 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

Paul Oberjuerge, then a sports columnist for the San Bernardino Sun, was in the crowd. "I hate to be judgmental about these things, but Christine is not an attractive woman," he wrote on his blog, noting that Daniels had a prominent Adam's apple and stood more than 6 feet tall in wobbly heels. "It seemed almost as if we're all going along with someone's dress-up role playing. . . . "

Christ, what an asshole.
posted by graventy at 8:18 AM on April 13, 2010



Christ, what an asshole.

Yeah, the article seemed to suggest that the detransition happened not because Penner decided he was actual cisgendered, but because transitioning in late middle age was so lonely and stressful (the lost marriage, the reality that it was difficult for him to "pass," and perhaps the shock of also transitioning from the privileged social position of "well-regarded white guy at the top of his game writing about sports" to "not so attractive older woman" at best, and "target of cruel comments about transgendered people" at worst).
posted by availablelight at 8:26 AM on April 13, 2010


The article also briefly mentions that he was manic-depressive which would be difficult to manage in a spotlight under any circumstances and these in particular.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:30 AM on April 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


Christ, what an asshole.

That's a crappy comment, but it's something leveled at cis-women all the time. Women aren't supposed to be tall and large. People make fun of fat women, women who are hairy, etc. Tall women often have troubles getting dates. What struck me was that he was kind of going through what a lot of older women go through when their bodies age with the added complication of being in the public spotlight as the face of the transgendered community. I found the part about the Vanity Fair photoshoot to be so sad.
posted by bluefly at 8:37 AM on April 13, 2010 [10 favorites]


What struck me was that he was kind of going through what a lot of older women go through when their bodies age with the added complication of being in the public spotlight as the face of the transgendered community. I found the part about the Vanity Fair photoshoot to be so sad.

Exactly. I know plenty of ciswomen (particularly those who based an unhealthy percentage of their self-worth and identity on being "the pretty one") who struggle with becoming invisible, or even ridiculed, as age and gravity take their toll. Penner was not only dealing with with not having the social privilege of a younger, more attractive woman (as he may have imagined himself, just as my mother still imagines herself as she was at 25 or 30), but also the fact that he wasn't even being viewed as a woman at all in some cases, after sacrificing so much, and felt himself to be a very feminine woman.

Back in the nasty, brutish jungle of public school, "ugly" was a pretty harsh insult to throw at girls; "ugly dyke" or "looks like a man" was considered far nastier by the playground gender police.
posted by availablelight at 8:54 AM on April 13, 2010




Christ, what an asshole.

That quote is from the last paragraph of Oberjuerge's blog post on the event and here it is in its entirety:
It seemed almost as we're all going along with someone's dress-up role playing ... and I assume it's far more important than that inside this person's head. But it's going to take a while for the Average Joes among us to get our minds around this. And I've got to assume Christine understands that.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:58 AM on April 13, 2010 [2 favorites]




Oh my bad, we're not doing nusanced views or thoughts, just a two minute or two hundred comment hate. Gotcha.

availablelight, that link seems borked.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:15 AM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah I don't really know how being jerks about other people's appearances really helps forward the "hey this was tragic what happened to this person" discussion. If you start getting to the "well he is a total asshole, so it's totally okay to savage him for how he looks" you can extend to "well she was bad at passing, so it's okay to say that" So let's have another round of "it's not okay to savagely mock other people even if you happen to think they deserve it" chorus on MeFi.

I mean, people can say what they want, obviously and the fuller read on that guy's blog post seems to just make him seem more clueless [the "he... I mean she" is a sort of classic thing that all transfolk hear constantly, annoying as it may be] and insensitive. Unless he's really a totally horrible person, I'm sure Christine/Mike's suicide has hit him hard, especially because of the attention focused on the crappy things he said.

Not like you have to always be tolerant of intolerance, but I think it's useful to save the GRARGRAR they deserve our hate acting out for

1. people who were actively acting in hateful ways
2. somewhere other than MetaFilter
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:21 AM on April 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


You left out the rest of the content of that post, which is hateful enough it makes the part you added in your post sound less like, "god bless her, but social change takes time" than, "she can't expect anyone to believe she's a woman with looks like that, amirite":

Anyway, Christine had been mostly a rumor. Out of men's clothes ... but not out on the job.

That changed over the past 10 days. We were at the Beckham introductory thing at Home Depot Center ... and were heading upstairs for the small-scale interviews in the suites ... when I spotted a very large woman ahead of me ... and it struck me, "Whoa. That's Mike Penner. Christine."

Anyway, I feel bad for the guy/girl. From what little I've seen of the blog he/she is doing, she (I'm gonna try to stick with the female thing now) seems quite happy. Buoyant, even. Massively relieved to be living as a woman. And that's fine.

But ...

I hate to be judgmental about these things, but Christine is not an attractive woman. Which probably isn't a surprise when you're 50 and have spent your in-the-world life as a fairly drab guy. Who has a fairly prominent Adam's apple (not all of us do) ... Who also isn't exactly petite. Maybe 6-1, 200?

So ... 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.

Another guy in the business was sitting near me when "Chris" wobbled by on her mid-size heels, and she demurely said hello to this other guy, who is about the same age as the two of us. And this guy said, "Hey, Mike ... uh, Christine." He was embarrassed because he wanted to get it right, but he didn't. Christine said something like, "Some habits are hard to break." She was kind about it.

The thing is, and 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 we're all going along with someone's dress-up role playing ... and I assume it's far more important than that inside this person's head. But it's going to take a while for the Average Joes among us to get our minds around this. And I've got to assume Christine understands that.

posted by availablelight at 9:26 AM on April 13, 2010


God, people are so hateful. And about things that are none of their damn business.

It seems like a particularly difficult aspect of being a transgender woman (I project). After going through everything you've gone through to realize that transition is the right choice for you, after dealing with all the logistical details and interpersonal difficulties that pop up, after finally (one hopes) starting to feel comfortable that you can pass well enough that hostile yahoos won't harass you in public — after all that, you get smacked with society's attitudes about aging women.

And, not that it should matter, but when I saw the photo of Christine, I didn't think "ugly woman", I thought "middle-aged, somewhat plain woman". But not being gorgeous is considered falling down on one's responsibilities as a woman.
posted by Lexica at 9:30 AM on April 13, 2010 [3 favorites]



And, not that it should matter, but when I saw the photo of Christine, I didn't think "ugly woman", I thought "middle-aged, somewhat plain woman". But not being gorgeous is considered falling down on one's responsibilities as a woman.


From the comments
section of the story:

Its kind of sad to see the comments that were constantly made about how she wasn't a beautiful woman. She was 61, well past the prime of even the most attractive men and women. And its not like she went from being a super handsome man to being an ugly troll of a woman. She may have not been a vision of beauty as a woman, but I would say she was still more attractive as a woman than she was as a man.

The standard of beauty she was being compared to was completely unrealistic, as is always the case for transwomen. Instead of being compared to average women of their age/background, they are automatically compared to models and actresses that no woman can match.


And my link was to sportscaster Tony Kornheiser, who gleefully made comments on a coworker's age and wardrobe that would be considered obvious sexual harassment in most workplaces (to their credit, ESPN eventually gave him a two week suspension). The sports world seems like an especially cruel place to try transitioning MTF.
posted by availablelight at 9:37 AM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


You left out the rest of the content of that post, which is hateful enough...

I didn't consider it hateful, so much as ignorant and confused when handed a big ol'slab of 'this doesn't conform to my expectations'. Doesn't make him right or excuse his actions or words, just noting that I don't think it was hateful.

...it makes the part you added in your post sound less like, "god bless her, but social change takes time" than, "she can't expect anyone to believe she's a woman with looks like that, amirite"

I thought that last paragraph was interesting for its recognition of Christine's troubles and a sort of plea to have patience with those who don't understand. It seemed like a good starting point for further conversation, too bad it didn't happen.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:52 AM on April 13, 2010


Not to derail, but did Sova leave us?
posted by hydatius at 9:57 AM on April 13, 2010


I didn't consider it hateful, so much as ignorant and confused

I'll grant there's a fine line between the two.
posted by availablelight at 10:13 AM on April 13, 2010


Not to derail, but did Sova leave us?

Well we didn't ban her. I think she closed her account after the frustrating MeTa thread about US privilege.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:16 AM on April 13, 2010


Ah, shit. Okay, thanks for clearing that up jessamyn.
posted by hydatius at 10:27 AM on April 13, 2010


Oh crap. I didn't notice Sova closed her account. That makes me quite sad.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:25 AM on April 13, 2010


Ugh. It's always nice to be reminded that the only acceptable way to be female is to be an attractive one. I would have thought the pressure to be beautiful would be lower in this situation than for women born female, but clearly I was wrong.

I wonder what Penner (or at that time, Daniels') female colleagues had to say about her appearance- I don't think any non-trans women were quoted in the article. When I look at pictures of her, I see a not particularly attractive, but not overly masculine looking middle aged woman. Was it only men devaluing her transition because she wasn't beautiful?
posted by MadamM at 11:41 AM on April 13, 2010


I appreciate the links and quotes from the full blog post, but it doesn't really change my opinion on the guy. I think perhaps a good metric for him would be "Would I say this about a new 61-year-old female staffmember?" Or man, for that matter? I understand that he's going through his thoughts and emotions on a difficult topic. That doesn't excuse his callous disregard for the feelings involved, here.
posted by graventy at 11:46 AM on April 13, 2010


Not to derail this thread or to focus on other people here, but going back and rereading that US privilege thread...yikes. It is much uglier now than what I felt at the time. I made a few jokey comments in there too...I think I was trying to lighten the atmosphere. But I see now that doing that in threads where participants are passionate about the topics at hand, well, these types of comments just read as dismissive and insensitive. I feel bad about that and I hope it's not the sort of thing that contributes to people's negative impression of the site or their desire to stick around.

I think that applies in this thread too. What we say, here and out in the world, well...we want this to be a place that people would like to stick around and enjoy their time in as well. I feel a deep loss when I hear about Mike/Christine. We failed and there's no way to fix that. But we can look back, take responsibility for what we can, and move forward with those things in mind. It's wisdom to carry into the future; I'm grateful for the opportunity and will make the most of it.

.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:23 PM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have to say, having had transgender friends and journalist friends who wrote about the transgender friends, that this article is very well written and deals sensitively with writing about someone who has lived as two different genders. They do not teach you how to do this in J-school, and as the Vanity Fair anecdote tells, what some journalists think of as appropriate behavior when writing about a transperson is pretty nauseating.

In my experience, journalists' need to document what they see as all the relevant facts of a story butts up against the desire of people who have transitioned to leave their pre-transition identity behind. I remember a specific situation where my college's newspaper was covering a transgender student leader, and was firm about mentioning the person's old name in the article. The person in question and other queer student activists found it really offensive, but from an editorial perspective there was a concern that it was clear they were talking about the same person they had previously written about under another name.

One tactic when you don't like what a newspaper is doing is to protest the newspaper. At my school, this was the standard strategy when the paper printed something people didn't like for some reason. During this situation, I actually met with the editor in chief of the paper, and we talked about their style guide, and what it means when you talk about transgender people in certain ways. I certainly didn't convince him to start using gender neutral pronouns, but, I know for a fact that I earned this guy's respect. I like to think I did my part to make a difference.

There is a culture of journalism, and jrns have norms of behavior and common ways of thinking about the people they cover. They are learned. Another lingering effect of Christine's life is that she was both a member of their community and a person they had, and still have to, figure out how to talk about in the best way possible. I think this moment in journalism will continue to influence how trans individuals are portrayed in news media, in a good way.

And. It's fucking sad that so many lessons to the world about transgender people come from their tragic deaths. Fuck that shit. I'd like the transpeople in my life to teach the world a lesson by living to a ripe old age and dying happy. We'll see how that works out.
posted by Tesseractive at 12:24 PM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's hard for me to feel too angry at people who just don't get transsexuals in transition (though one might wish they didn't have a national public soap box to work through their thoughts and feelings about it). When my partner transitioned, one of my best friends told me that her feelings about it were that it was as if he had murdered somebody but I had chosen to stay with him. I feel a little guilty every time I tell that story because she changed so much in the couple of years after that and is really not a bad person and never was, and in fact she is now a professor of psychology who teaches a class that includes a unit on transsexualism and gender issues that students repeatedly tell her is "life changing" for them--but it was really painful for her that he was becoming a man and I was staying with him and we weren't going to be lesbians anymore. I think her comment comparing him to a murderer was a sign of how confusing and strange and incomprehensible it all seemed to her at the time.

We've been through several gender transitions in my close circle (two of my ex-lovers have also transitioned, including one who has remained our close friend, and that's just a partial list) and there's always this period we call the mail-forwarding period where your brain says the old name and then there's a tiny tiny pause you can just barely perceive and then it brings up the new one. And then eventually the mail forwarding stops and the new name is just the name and if you come across the old name somewhere it seems completely unfamiliar.

I'm so sorry Mike/Christine wasn't able to find a place that felt right and peaceful.
posted by not that girl at 12:30 PM on April 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


The thing that annoys me about the coverage of this is the handling of Daniels' divorce:

Two weeks later, Dillman signed papers petitioning for divorce, citing "irreconcilable differences."

This is one of the only two legit grounds for divorce in California. The other one is "incurable insanity." Pretty much every single divorce in CA is filed under "irreconcilable differences." It has nothing to do with Daniels being trans and everything to do with the CA divorce laws.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 7:33 PM on April 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


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