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Girl, interrupted
no more

Girl, interrupted
no more

Christine_daniels

Los Angeles Times sportswriter Christine Daniels (nee Mike Penner) announced in an April column that she is transitioning to life as a woman. Her story set a readership record--but it's only just beginning.

Sitting poolside at a Beverly Hills hotel's restaurant, sportswriter Christine Daniels catalogs a few moments in her childhood--as Mike Penner--when her inner female rose to the fore.

There was the day her boy cousins encouraged her to demonstrate how she would look and walk as a girl--and Mike eagerly did. And the time an effeminate neighbor boy invited Mike over to play with Barbie dolls--so Mike happily left G.I. Joe behind. And the Halloween night Mike pleaded to dress up as Batman, because the superhero's tights resembled those of the girl next door.

"I can remember being 4 or 5 and wishing I was a girl," says Daniels, dressed demurely in a patterned blue-and-white dress topped with a thin sweater. She's tall for a woman, and her handshake could crush walnuts, but otherwise she's a convincing femme. She's also the most famous new trans woman in the United States.

On April 26, in a prominently placed column in the Los Angeles Times's sports section, the woman formerly known as Mike Penner--a 23-year veteran of the paper--introduced readers to the person she has become. Within a day, the column ("Old Mike, New Christine") had gotten nearly half a million online hits--one of the most frequently viewed articles at www.latimes.com in the past year--and Daniels had received 538 personal e-mails. Only two were negative.

The revelation, Daniels says, wasn't her idea. "Once I told Randy Harvey, the sports editor, he decided it was news," she says. Harvey said word was bound to get out anyway, so Daniels should make the announcement herself. "Controlling the story made a lot of sense to me," she says. Expecting everything from hate mail to protests, instead she received notes such as "Welcome to the sisterhood," "You're a hero," or "You're a heroine." "I prefer the latter," Daniels says.

If she had known she'd be showered with such acceptance, perhaps Daniels would have come out sooner. But working in sports, she was understandably wary. "Could you have picked a worse profession to do this in?" one sportswriter friend asked her. "With all the narrow-minded, homophobic, bigoted assholes in our profession?"

Daniels, 49, was born in Inglewood, Calif., and spent nine years in Catholic schooling. She thought it was the strict school environment that had turned an effervescent, wisecracking kid into a shy young man, but looking back she now believes it was gender discomfort. Mike went into a shell, reluctant to trust his first instincts because they might betray his female nature.

Ironically, Mike's initial attraction to sports came from seeing images of football uniforms--not the game itself. But he proved to be a talented, opinionated writer, covering professional baseball, football, tennis, and the Olympics.

All the while, off the field and out of the newsroom, Mike occasionally dressed in women's clothes, letting no one but his wife know. "But in 2004 it started escalating from once a month to twice a month to once a week," says Daniels. Mike located cross-dressing makeover services in London and Sydney while on business trips and began to unveil a female self: "The first time I went out in public was in March 2005--in heels and a dress--and when I heard the heels clicking on the cement I thought, God, I should have been living like this my whole life!"

The nascent Christine had to keep returning to Mike's closet, though, and that led to an ever-deepening depression. "I could do Mike Penner for a day, then half a day," says Daniels. "Even going out for a couple of hours, I just wanted to rip my [male] clothes off."

After seeing a couple of therapists specializing in gender issues, Daniels finally went on hormones in December 2006--which almost immediately lifted her depression--and began transitioning to her new life.

Of course it hasn't been all "You go, girl!" Daniels won't speak about her family but does say she's separated from her wife and living in her own Los Angeles apartment. It's a subject that makes tears well in her eyes. But her prevalent emotion seems to be giddy relief and joy: Christine is shedding Mike's shell. Every small recognition of her womanhood, like when we're called "ladies" by a restaurant waiter, is a newfound delight.

Daniels--her first name was inspired by rocker Chrissie Hynde, tennis great Chris Evert, the Siouxsie and the Banshees song "Christine," and famed trans woman Christine Jorgensen; the surname is her former middle name--will continue at the Times, writing her seasonal NFL column and her blog Woman in Progress. She also plans to start a new blog for the Times called The Day in L.A., and she hopes to write a book.

"I feel there's a reason I'm here to do this," she says. "I'm a writer. I'm a transsexual. I have a forum at the Times." And thus a heroine is born.

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