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Christine Daniels with Autumn Sandeen
In November, transgender Los Angeles Timessportswriter Mike Penner was found dead of an apparent suicide. Penner, who wrote for the paper since 1983, made headlines himself in 2007 when he he came out as transgender, began living publicly as a woman, and changed his byline to Christine Daniels. In 2008, Daniels quietly detransitioned back to Mike, leaving mourners with an identity problem: Should they eulogize Mike Penner or Christine Daniels?
After Penner’s death, transgender activist Autumn Sandeen spoke to the importance of identifying Penner as Penner. “In my heart, I know her as Christine. In my job as a writer, I have to think of him as Mike,” she said. “I would love to remember him as Christine, but he didn’t give us that opportunity, and I’m going to be sad about that . . . How he identified was important. We can’t just pick and choose how we want to identify someone. I’m militant about that, but I’m frustrated at my own militance.”
Recently, Sandeen attended a memorial service for Daniels, where she heard some stories that changed her position on how to publicly refer to the deceased:
[S]ince I’m now going to refer to the Los Angeles Times sportswriter who wrote under the Mike Penner byline as Christine Daniels again, I thought I needed to explain why . . . And, the reason has to do with how Christine identified herself in conversations with her minister, and to one of her very close friends—-Susan Horn (who delivered the eulogy to Christine at the memorial service)—-after she detransitioned. To the both, she said words to the effect of: “I never stopped being Christine,” and . . . “Don’t you ever think I’m not Christine.”
So now, knowing how she identified, I can—-and will—-stop calling her by male pronouns, and stop calling her Mike Penner. She detransitioned to Mike not because she wasn’t Christine, but for whatever external pressures to which she succumbed because presenting as Christine became too hard to bear.
In death, how do we reconcile a person’s public and private lives? After he publicly detransitioned back to Mike, Penner indicated that he still wanted to be identified as Christine to his minister and a very close friend of his. That’s private. In his professional life, however, Penner was still writing columns as Mike and presenting outwardly as male. At the memorial service, the Reverend Dr. Neal Thomas made Penner’s private identity public by delivering a eulogy remembering Christine Daniels. In death, should we defer to Penner’s wishes in life by keeping his private identity private? Or should we pay tribute to the reality of her life by finally publicly eulogizing her as Christine?