Life and death of Mike/Christine

LA Weekly recently published what is, in many ways, a stunning account of the life and death of Mike Penner/Christine Daniels. It's an extraordinary, heartbreaking story of the Los Angeles Times sportswriter who killed himself in 2009 after a highly public transition from Mike to Christine and, finally, back to Mike.

As LA Weekly portrays it, it's a tragic love story:

The L.A. Times sports journalist lived most of his life wanting to be a woman. He discovered too late that he wanted his wife even more.

The writer sets the scene up high:

The death of 52-year-old Penner would become as big a news story as her coming out as transgender in the pages of a major American newspaper, and as disturbing and perplexing as Daniels' decision in the fall of 2008 to return to life as a male.

What drove Penner's decision to take his life? News organizations and bloggers noted sadly that Daniels' gender confusion had had a tragic end, and the L.A. Times itself would write a lengthy story months after her death that also suggested it was Daniels' sense of being torn between two worlds that contributed to her decision to commit suicide.

But it wasn't like that.

The parts of the Penner saga that the public knows -- from Christine Daniels' dramatic public coming out to Mike Penner's desperately sad suicide -- spanned 31 months. But the story actually began much earlier.

In many ways, Penner's path was standard-issue for those born male who have an inexplicable yet ultimately undeniable desire to be female. He 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. Then, of course, he would do it again, a new helping of guilt raining down on his Catholic soul.

Ding ding ding ding ding.

There you have it: His Catholic soul. The first hint at a religion angle in this sad tale. Unfortunately, it's a religion ghost left unexplored.

Keep reading. As Mike becomes Christine, two transgendered friends take her to Metropolitan Community Church, which, readers are told, "became Daniels' spiritual home." The story makes several more vague references to the Los Angeles church, whose website describes it as a place where gay and straight Christians worship together:

After a couple of years of socializing at Countessa's, praying at Metropolitan Community Church, undergoing individual and group therapy and attending conferences around the country, Daniels was emerging fast and furiously. Presenting as Mike, in fact, had become tormenting. When the time came for Daniels to revert to male mode toward the end of outings or visits at Countessa's, Diana recalls, a devastating mood swing would occur. "He'd be lying on the floor crying," she says.

Mike was reserved, even shy. As Christine, he transformed into an extroverted, emotional person. LeCoe recalls that at church, Daniels would sob on cue when the Rev. Neil Thomas would declare, "God loves you the way you are, he accepts you the way you are, your status has nothing to do with your salvations."

Ding ding ding ding ding. Again, there's a religion angle screaming for attention. Alas, the 6,500-plus-word story treats the faith of Mike/Christine only in passing, never stopping to give serious attention to questions of an ultimate nature.

That's a major flaw in an otherwise enlightening, albeit disconcerting, story. Read the whole thing and tell me if you agree. Please, as always, keep comments focused on the journalistic issues.

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