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probably not the easiest place to come out as trans

April 26, 2007

LA Times sportswriter Mike Penner has come out publicly as transsexual and announced that her new name is Christine. Bravo. H/T to Snugget.

I’m interested in this story particularly because the world of sports and sports journalism in this country is so male-gendered. For those of you who don’t read sports blogs, (myself included) Snugget has provided me/us with a few important links to check out. The first one I clicked on was over at Deadspin, Gawker’s sports blog, where readers, presumably mostly boys, mull over this recent news and its strange imposition on their daily sports fill.

Some of the comments are blatantly transphobic; others are simply uninformed. Others reference what seemed to be the first pop culture reference to transpeople that came to mind (Ace Ventura, South Park). Some just seem irritated that Penner’s article was about personal issues and not sports. Some are just unabashed misogyny. The overwhelming majority of the comments are fairly harmless jokes revolving around The Penis. Which makes me wonder, what are these sports fans really focusing on? Do they take this sports writer’s announcement of gender transition as a kind of personal assault on their own manliness? The jokes are mostly harmless, though, and the comments seem to reflect more of an immediate reaction than any sort of lasting hateful bigotry.

There were a couple of gems in here, which I’d like to quote. These questions seem to be bits of feminist ideology cleverly disguised as manly jokes:

Upon return to the newsroom, Ms. Daniels salary will be cut by 25 percent (link).

A female sportswriter? Now I’ve seen everything (link).

And here’s the substantive question:

Seriously though, that’s gotta be a tough thing to go through and I could never even begin to comprehend the situation. I do wonder how it will affect his (soon to be her) ability to get information and interviews in the sports world (link).

The freak factor rears its ugly head in very clear terms here. Snugget pointed out that this won’t make big news until journalists ask 100 professional sports players what they think; the first 99 will say they don’t care and that Penner should just leave her personal life outside of her columns (a sentiment shared by many of the commenters at Deadspin). Then there will be one bigot who will say something stupid and transphobic and suddenly she will be all over the news. Kind of like when former NBA player John Amaechi came out as gay and Tim Hardaway went all homophobic.

Meanwhile, we have a lot of sports fans who thought that perhaps “this sort of thing” did not touch their world – a common reaction in any community, let alone one so male-gendered, to a transperson coming out. Ultimately, if the writing is good, the fans will stick around, no matter your gender. Says (Orioles diehard) Snugget, via gchat:

Really passionate fans are going to care more about what you say than who you are. If you are trans and super cool, and you write a column talking shit about the Orioles, I will hate you. And maybe if I’m a dumb boy, I’ll call you a stupid tranny. And if I’m Snugget, I’ll call you just stupid. But there were a lot of comments on the LA times [forum] that were like, who cares and not out of fear or hate I think, but purely that it was not about sports.

Sports journalism is an interesting place to be – on the one hand, sports, and sports journalism, by extension, is male-dominated. But one could also argue that sports writing is more passive than other journalisms. Theoretically, one could be a fantastic sports critic and never talk to a player or another fan. Snugget also pointed out that sports fans tend to stick with specific sports commentators. In this case, then, Penner might have shared this news with fans simply to inform them that the name on her column would change and that they should stick around. In the end, it’s about the sports. Hopefully, we will not see transphobic backlash.

Definitely check out Snugget’s writing at the Bleacher Report and her blog, the Sports Section.

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