Although the world is changing at a mind-blowing rate, we still crawl when it comes to the acceptance of those deemed “different.”

Back in high school, people used the word “freaks” to describe those who dressed in black, wore Gothic makeup and listened to really mechanical-sounding industrial pop. But they weren’t “freaks” in any true sense of the word. They were merely people searching for an avenue to express themselves; searching for a way.

I bring this up because, just a few hours ago, I learned of the passing of Mike Penner, the Los Angeles Times sports writer who apparently committed suicide. He was 52.

I didn’t know Mike. We probably shared a press box or two through the years, though if so I never noticed him. I first learned of him on April 26, 2007, when a friend forwarded me this column—Mike’s announcement that he was about to undergo hormone treatments, and was to officially be known as Christine Daniels. Forget the subject matter for a minute: The column was superbly written. Introspective. Gutsy. Heart-felt. That, I’ve been told, was Penner’s mojo. A great writer, name/sexuality/gender be damned.

Mike had the sex change, became Christine, but by 2008 returned to being “Mike Penner” again. I’m guessing this sort of back-and-forth conflict isn’t uncommon among transsexuals, most of whom must battle not merely ungodly internal conflict, but the societal pressure and ridicule that accompanies such an existence.

And yet … why should they battle any societal pressures at all? We live in an odd world, don’t we? One where the public deems whether an individual’s behavior is moral or immoral, right or wrong, admirable or freakish? Mike Penner being Christine Daniels … Christine Daniels being Mike Penner—how was that immoral? Wrong? How did that even make the person weird? Because he didn’t conform to the societal standards? Because he felt something inside that wouldn’t conform with Pat Robertson’s vision of America?

As we speak, millions of Americans are on a so-called moral crusade. They gather in large halls, professing to serve God in their outing of evil. They tar the gays, feather the transsexuals, condemn those who choose to undergo and abortion, etc … etc. They tell us that humanity needs guidance and order, yet what sort of guidance and order are they offering? We shall hate the sins and love the sinners. Or is it hate the sins and hate the sinners?

Why do the Mike Penners of the world feel like outcasts at all? Why are they so conflicted—so tortured—that they choose death over life?


Mike Penner is dead.

He was 52.

5 thoughts on “Freaks”

  1. Jeff,

    As a committed Christian, let me say that I understand what you are saying. In our self-righteousness, we have gotten it wrong. We have missed what our teacher was all about. Let me just say that the outcasts loved Jesus. They absolutely loved him. He was the hardest on the self-righteous Pharisees. Everyone loves to quote John 3:16, but John 3:17 is just as important: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” I know this is weak and feeble, but I am sorry that your experience with Christians has been so negative. Please know that despite our misguided attempts, we often mean well. Please also know that Jesus wasn’t like that.

    I love your blog, man. You’re the best.

  2. Great and important post, Jeff. A very sad story. I clicked back to Penner’s “coming out” story and it was beautiful writing. There is a good story in this week’s “New Yorker” about gender that you might want to read.

    Thanks again…
    Joe in Portland ME

  3. Great post!

    As someone who attended arts school and was taught tolerance as a child it drives me crazy when people are judged on their sexuality. There is so much more to understand about a person besides their sexual preference. And for all of the “religious” teachings of love and acceptance there seems to be very little to go around when it comes to folks who don’t fit the ideaology’s mold.

    Well done sir.
    Joe Pisapia NJ

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