RIP, Mike Penner

Beloved Los Angeles Times sportswriter Mike Penner has committed suicide.

Penner announced two years ago he was a transsexual, and wrote a gut-wrenching and brave column about it that made it clear what he was doing and why — and did so with so much grace that the kind of public comment you might expect was mostly quelled. He returned to his Mike Penner byline later. He was 52.

And thanks, Huffington Post, for the link.


28 responses to “RIP, Mike Penner

  1. I suppose this person is now at peace. It must have been an agonizing life to feel trapped in the wrong body. I can only begin to imagine it.

    • Same here. Cannot imagine what that’s like and don’t want to ever have to live it. Mike Penner was such a graceful, talented writer.

      • I know it’s different, but I wonder if being trapped in the wrong body that way is in anyway similar to being trapped in a body that is paralyzed or being trapped in a body in another way. I wonder if that trapped feeling is similar no matter what the reason. Maybe more people could imagine the feeling of being powerless to be who you want to be that way as a way of trying to understand something that looks foreign but may not be to some. Just wondering…”out loud”….as usual.

        • That’s a good question. Like you want to do certain things but given your body…

          • Right. I think that there are a lot of people that could imagine (and accept) that horrible trapped feeling if it related to someone who is paralyzed. Maybe by starting there, some could be more accepting of what a transgendered person might feel. Just wondering and probably making a lot of assumptions…hoping to find a way that would make people understand.
            (Is transgendered the same as transsexual?)

            • My sense is that transgender can mean a lot of different things, and transsexual is quite specific. This is from the American Psychological Association, and if someone knows more, please wade in:

              “Transsexuals are transgender people who live or wish to live full time as members of the gender opposite to their birth sex. Biological females who wish to live and be recognized as men are called female-to-male (FTM) transsexuals or transsexual men. Biological males who wish to live and be recognized as women are called male-to-female (MTF) transsexuals or transsexual women. Transsexuals usually seek medical interventions, such as hormones and surgery, to make their bodies as congruent as possible with their preferred gender. The process of transitioning from one gender to the other is called sex reassignment or gender reassignment.

              “Cross-dressers or transvestites comprise the most numerous transgender group. Cross-dressers wear the clothing of the other sex. They vary in how completely they dress (from one article of clothing to fully cross-dressing) as well as in their motives for doing so. Some cross-dress to express cross-gender feelings or identities; others crossdress for fun, for emotional comfort, or for sexual arousal. The great majority of cross-dressers are biological males, most of whom are sexually attracted to women.

              “Drag queens and drag kings are, respectively, biological males and females who present part-time as members of the other sex primarily to perform or entertain. Their performances may include singing, lip-syncing, or dancing. Drag performers may or may not identify as transgender. Many drag queens and kings identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual.

              “Other categories of transgender people include androgynous, bigendered, and gender queer people. Exact definitions of these terms vary from person to person, but often include a sense of blending or alternating genders. Some people who use these terms to describe themselves see traditional concepts of gender as restrictive.”

  2. This brought tears to my eyes. :( I can’t imagine – I can’t.

  3. Puzzling that he reverted to his birth-name (thus I use “he”).

  4. I had no idea. Thanks for the clarification.
    I recently heard that Chaz Bono (was Chastity Bono) is well on his way to becoming male.
    I think it’s great that this can be done for people who want the outside to resemble what’s inside (and can afford it). I would imagine that it’s very expensive and probably not covered by any insurance plans.

  5. “The great majority of cross-dressers are biological males, most of whom are sexually attracted to women.”

    …Which got me to thinking — I’d venture to say that many women in our culture have taken at least a good chunk of their casual wear either directly from or copied from men’s clothing, and unless a woman cuts her hair really short, say, she’s not regarded with any … suspicion.

    And I guess that’s because of at least 2 things: men are considered (to use DJ’s words) the “medical standard” so it’s not considered odd if women wear men’s clothes; and a corollary might be that any MAN who wears women’s clothes is definitely weird / odd / suspicious / gay.

    • I think you’re on to something, Cynical.

      I was also thinking that straight men seem to be more fearful of appearing gay whereas, straight women have more freedom of expression in dressing and behavior. Holy cow! Am I saying that women may have more freedom than men in this area?

      • I’ve thought that for a while now. In fact, just this weekend, I went to get my hair cut and the lady was exuberant and it’s WAY shorter than I’d want it, but you know what? I’m not going to suffer from it, not going to hear many snotty comments and I don’t feel compelled to try to hide it because as a woman, I can dress mannish and wear short hair and pretty much pass through the world freely.

        But I’m really hoping it grows out kind of fast right about now.

    • Imagine back when “tomboy” was still used as a descriptive. Girls could be athletic and assertive and be “tomboys.” What was the alternative for boys who wanted to do more traditionally-girl-type activities?

      • Oh, they were maligned — they were sissy-boys or girlie-men. NOT acceptable for males to be in any way similar to females because that meant they were lesser. “He throws like a girl” is pejorative, “she drives like a man” is a compliment.

        • I’d rather be me. I’d rather have the leeway to be a lil’ mannish — if that suits my current haircut at the time — and get by with it.

      • So women have more freedom to be more male-like because it’s better to be a man? And men have less freedom to be female-like because it’s “wrong” to choose the “lesser” female persona over the male. As if it’s some sort of admission that a female may be a better choice and that’s not acceptable by men????

        • I wonder if that doesn’t play into the double-standard, just a bit. I mean, I was complimented as a girl by being called a tomboy. It was always said with some degree of approval. I don’t remember a male friend of mine getting the same approval for being slightly girlish.

          • So does it boil down to: Boy = good, Girl= bad?
            I’d rather believe that having more leeway is a good thing and that’s all there is to it, but….

            • I would rather believe that, too, but…

            • I think that’s clearly the case in most contemporary culture, at least the larger culture. There are groups and families where everyone is equally valued, but pay-scales, violence, three-children families when the first two are girls, we’ve talked about a lot of these things.

      • “So women have more freedom to be more male-like because it’s better to be a man?”

        I think that’s the common belief, yes. Coaches calling their male athletes “girls” to get them to push harder so they won’t be “playing like girls” (Ex: “The White Shadow” on TV a few decades ago); considering it a compliment to tell a woman she “thinks / throws / drives like a man”…..

  6. Cross-posted from Pam’s House Blend, as it might explain a few things.

    I better explain: in order to transition, one must be treated according to the WPATH Standards of Care.

    This involves an initial psych assessment lasting at least 3 months, then a course of hormones, then a “Real Life Experience” lasting at least a year, living fulltime in the target gender role, before surgery can be authorised. Not all complete this successfully, and treatment is denied them until they do.


    From the Standards of care:

    “Change of gender role and presentation can be an important factor in employment discrimination, divorce, marital problems, and the restriction or loss of visitation rights with children. These represent external reality issues that must be confronted for success in the new gender presentation.

    Some begin the real-life experience and decide that this often imagined life direction is not in their best interest. Professionals sometimes construe the real-life experience as the real-life test of the ultimate diagnosis. If patients prosper in the preferred gender, they are confirmed as “transsexual,” but if they decided against continuing, they “must not have been.” This reasoning is a confusion of the forces that enable successful adaptation with the presence of a gender identity disorder. The real-life experience tests the person’s resolve, the capacity to function in the preferred gender, and the adequacy of social, economic, and psychological supports.”

    A test of resolve. A test of support networks. A test that shows, not whether someone has got gender dysphoria or not, but whether they have the ability to take the only cure known for it: the trial by fire known as Transition.

    Could you lose everything, and I do mean everything that you hold dear? To be disowned by parents, to be forbidden from any future contact with your children? To have a happy marriage decades long destroyed? To lose your livelihood, become permanently unemployed and unemployable, living on your wits and sheer indomitability? To face the hatred, the assaults, the rapes, to become a pariah not just to society at large, but to many in the GLB(t) community too? To be the subject of ridicule and abuse, to be completely misunderstood and misconstrued even by those making their best attempts to understand?

    Can you as a woman deal with the body hair, and the facial hair, and the relics of “testosterone poisoning” that mean that, if you’re lucky, you’ll merely look plain, and if not, a Freak and a Pervert to all around you?

    To have deeply religious parents crying in anguish, “Why couldn’t you just have been Gay?”. Think about that, all you GLB people who have had similar heart-rending experiences of parental rejection. That Trans is to Gay what Gay is to Straight when it comes to persecution.

    You may not have to endure all of that – though perhaps half do. Some are luckier than others. But everyone has to be psychologically prepared for it.

    Some manage to lose almost nothing, to keep their jobs, to at least have access to their children even if there is a divorce…. but it can only take one rape, one assault, even one rejection by someone you love to cause your world to collapse.

    And if it is too hard, if the price is one you can’t endure… where do you go from there?

    You can never return to your position of cis-privilege, not completely. You can try, severing all contacts with anything to do with gender dysphoria, trying to “put this all behind you”, consigning both communications of support and condemnation to the bit-bucket. Knowing that it never works, that the only therapy that has ever succeeded is closed to you. To go it alone.

    Or you can regroup, re-think, and either try again after more years of preparation, or try to find another way, living androgenously, some kind of compromise.

    Not everyone who doesn’t complete the RLE is like this. Some genuinely find out that they’re equally gender dysphoric in either male or female roles. Or more so in the new one than the old. Usually though that’s determined when HRT commences, before the RLE.

    All of the above is from my own observation of those around me, rather than personal experience. My transition was as anomalous as my metabolism, but no matter, this isn’t about me. I know some who only succeeded on their third attempt. I know some whose RLE is now into its 5th year, who can function adequately even if they never get surgery. It’s not absolutely necessary for everyone, and not only is it costly, it’s not risk-free. Some die on the table, but far more end up never walking again, having permanent colostomies, or just a dysfunctional and insensate genital mess due to inexperienced surgeons. They account for the majority of cases of “transsexual regret”.

    In the meantime, we’ve lost a friend. And we search for lessons to be learnt so we don’t lose another one under the same circumstances. I’m not sure there are any here: if someone cuts off all contact with those who can understand where they’re coming from, if an attempt at complete denial is made… there’s not a lot we can do. Just prepare ourselves for the worst, and hope our fears are groundless.

    • Wow. I really appreciate this, Zoe Brain. Thank you. The whole idea of being prepared to lose everything just to be who you are is heartbreaking. Again: Thank you. I so admired Mike Penner’s writing, and so admired his courage.

      • As Christine wrote:
        “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

        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.”

        Mike tried to transition, in a very public way. But without the support of family, Christine found it impossible to continue to be herself. So she tried to become Mike again, with as little fuss as possible. That didn’t work either. It never does for any trans woman.

        There are limits to human endurance: to try again, with all the prurient publicity and in the public spotlight was just beyond Mike’s capabilities.

        By cutting himself off from those who have been there, done that, something he felt he had to do when he de-transitioned, he cut his safety line.

        I thought I’d cried it out, but it seems not. This one hurts more than most, Christine was a friend. And she could have made it. Others who have had things worse have.

        Deleting the e-mail addresses that will never be used again is hard, you know? But one in three of us don’t make it, so it’s something you have to do, again and again.

        Now I just have to pick myself up, and go out *again* to help those who can still be helped.

        You know, if I hadn’t transitioned myself, I never would have had a millionth of the strength I need to do this kind of thing. I’m not saying it’s easy, nor that it doesn’t hurt, but it is at least possible.

        And unlike Mike, I didn’t have the courage to transition even once. I have a rare Intersex condition, my body normalised naturally, making transition inevitable and de-transition impossible, not something I had control over. If I had, I wouldn’t have done it – too scared of losing everything.

        • Zoe, I only knew Mike Penner from his writing, and I admired him a great deal from afar. I read his gut-wrenching column about his transition, but didn’t know he tried to transition back. I have no idea how hard that is. I can only imagine it. And I am so very sorry for your loss of Christinas as a friend. We lost a really wonderful person. I emailed Mike when he wrote his column. I’m a column-writer, too, though not a sports one, and I am aware of what it costs and the risk it is to share something personal like that — not that exact thing, but something personal. I admired his guts and wrote him and told him and got the nicest email back. I imagine I’m not the only stranger who wrote him, but I got the sense he would have taken the time to answer everyone. We all lost someone special, but I am especially sorry for those who knew him well.

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