Yesterday I wrote about the apparent suicide of Mike Penner, the longtime Los Angeles Times scribe whose struggles with his transsexual identity almost certainly led to his death.
Well, today I received a message from someone who knew Penner well; who praised him as a kind, giving man and spoke of a human who “probably died of 1,000 cuts.” He told me of one cut in particularâ€”a 2007 piece written Paul Oberjuerge, at the time a sports columnist for the San Bernardino Sun.
Here is some of what Oberjuerge wrote:
Penner is the guy who announced in, what, April? that he would henceforth be living as a woman, name of Christine Daniels. He/she was born a man, lived as a man for about 50 years, was married, etc. … but always wanted to be a woman, and told the world so in a column the L.A. Times ran.
Quite a drama, that is. But none of us had actually seen Mike … uh, Christine … since the announcement. Aside from her friends in the biz.
We were at the Beckham introductory thing at Home Depot Center … and were heading upstairs for the small-scale interviews in the suites … when I spotted a very large woman ahead of me … and it struck me, “Whoa. That’s Mike Penner. Christine.”
Anyway, I feel bad for the guy/girl. From what little I’ve seen of the blog he/she is doing, she (I’m gonna try to stick with the female thing now) seems quite happy. Buoyant, even. Massively relieved to be living as a woman. And that’s fine.
I hate to be judgmental about these things, but Christine is not an attractive woman. Which probably isn’t a surprise when you’re 50 and have spent your in-the-world life as a fairly drab guy. Who has a fairly prominent Adam’s apple (not all of us do) … Who also isn’t exactly petite. Maybe 6-1, 200?
So … she looks like a guy in a dress, pretty much. Except anyone paying any attention isn’t going to be fooled — as some people are by veteran transvestites.
The thing is, and maybe this is cruel, but there were women in that room who were born women in body as well as soul. And the difference between them and Christine was, in my mind, fairly stark.
It seemed almost as we’re all going along with someone’s dress-up role playing … and I assume it’s far more important than that inside this person’s head. But it’s going to take a while for the Average Joes among us to get our minds around this. And I’ve got to assume Christine understands that.
When one chooses to write as a career, he/she inevitably exercises jarring lapses in judgment. Hell, I sure haveâ€”over and over and over again. That said, there’s an enormous difference between screwing up … and being mercilessly vindictive. I am genuinely curious: What was Paul Oberjuerge trying to accomplish, writing things like, “she looks like a guy in a dress, pretty much. Except anyone paying any attention isn’t going to be fooledâ€”as some people are by veteran transvestites” and “… maybe this is cruel, but there were women in that room who were born women in body as well as soul. And the difference between them and Christine was, in my mind, fairly stark”? What was he trying to say? Clearly, Oberjuerge wasn’t simply describing a scene; wasn’t reporting a moment; wasn’t providing a valued social commentary.
No, he was being cruel. Devastatingly so. To a person who surely felt scared and alone and, to some degree, uncertain. Paul Oberjuerge was gifted with a platform, and he used it to be a punk-ass bully at the absolute most pointed time. When someone was vulnerable. When someone was an easy target. When someone was there for the taunting.
Classic bullâ€¢â€¢â€¢. Classic.
According to LA Observed, Oberjuerge was eventually let go by his newspaper, and now works in, of all places, Abu Dhabi. I found his blog … read it … skimmed around. I never, ever, ever criticize the talents of other writers, because I recognize how difficult this can be, and how many of my peers possess talent I’ll never touch.
That said, after perusing Oberjuerge’s so-so work, I can say one thing with 100-percent certainty.
He’s no Mike Penner.
Not even close.