By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
While covering the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York in 1984, Penner met fellow sportswriter Lisa Dillman, then with the Detroit News. He helped her get her job at the L.A. Times and they wed in 1986.
Dillman has never spoken on the record about her husband's transition, and Penner never answered the media's questions about their relationship. Daniels also never wrote of it in her blog on transgenderism, according to those who read it when it was available online.
The L.A. Times, in its March story about Penner, indicated that it was unclear when Dillman learned about her husband's interest in cross-dressing. This much is known: In May 2005, when Penner traveled to Port Angeles, Washington, to a transgender retreat known as Esprit, he told new friends that Lisa was aware of where he was.
Reilly, in an ESPN column in January eulogizing his friend, wrote that Daniels told him she used to keep a dress, wig and pearls in a toolbox behind the couple's bed board.
Claire Winter, a transgender friend and mentor who lives in Seattle, says Daniels "had struck an arrangement with Lisa that she'd explore these things. I'm pretty sure Lisa knew what she was doing."
Other friends of Daniels' have similar understandings. "Lisa was not kept in the dark about this," says Susan Horn, who had met Daniels at an L.A. clothing store for transgender women. "Christine would talk about how Lisa insisted Christine park her car in the alley and go out the back gate and into the car if she dressed at home before going out."
The first known sighting of Christine Daniels by the transgender group that became her clique was in 2004 at Countessa's Closet, a small shop of roughly 1,000 square feet nestled in a dumpy Studio City strip mall that is routinely cited by male-to-female transgender Angelenos as their first major step in experimenting with a public transition.
The proprietor, Countessa (she goes by one name), is a woman who has developed a niche providing a refuge where those exploring their gender identity may try on clothes, take makeup-application lessons from the owner and meet one another.
Countessa recalls a shy, gawky blond man with bright blue eyes, browsing in slacks and a work shirt one afternoon.
"This is like a real ladies' shop," Penner said to Countessa.
"Of course it is," she replied. "Do you know what you're looking for?"
"No, not exactly."
"Is it for you or is it somebody else?"
"It's for me."
With that verbal admission, the journalist who dwelled in the macho universe of a major metro sports department and pro-sports locker rooms began a process of explicitly moving toward the identity he always felt buried within. Like many transgender people who later became friends, Penner would slip over to the shop after work or on weekends and shuck "male mode" garb for wigs, dresses, jewelry and shoes. Within those confines, Daniels became legendary for taking so much time in the bathroom to fix herself up — so much so that a friend made a framed sign and hung it on the door, mocking her by warning others that if the potty was unavailable for long periods, Daniels was the culprit.
"Countessa's retreat has been called a sanctuary," Daniels wrote in a November 2005 card that the proprietor framed for display. "You need to know why. Once inside, you have the feeling that nothing bad can happen to you. ... Christina has never felt better or looked better." (Among certain friends, Daniels called herself Christina.)
Such stores, which exist in most major cities, not only spare a man the embarrassment of trying on women's clothes in mainstream stores but also are a source of garments in the larger sizes that transgender women usually require.
This is where Daniels met Horn, and "Diana," who asked the Weekly not to use her real name because she's not openly transgender at work. The duo later took Daniels to Metropolitan Community Church, which became Daniels' spiritual home. Daniels also learned at Countessa's about a support group for transitioning people at the L.A. Gender Center, which is where she met LaCoe.
In August 2005, Horn and Daniels shared a milestone moment for any transgender person: the first time Daniels went out in public in her transgender persona. They met at Countessa's to get dressed and then headed to Sisley, an Italian restaurant in Encino.
"We drove over to this mall and I kept telling her, 'Nobody's gonna bother us, even if they recognize us as being transsexual,' " says Horn, an L.A. paralegal who lost her family and her career as a lawyer when she transitioned.
"We sat down at the restaurant. A very cute waiter came over and said, 'Can I help you, ladies?' As soon as those words left his mouth, you could feel Christine relax. She was just ecstatic." After dinner, Daniels used a women's public restroom for the first time — at a movie theater where they saw The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
The friendship with Horn was rocky, though. For a long time, Daniels did not let on to her friends that she was a noted sports columnist. Horn figured it out in June 2006 when she read a piece by Penner about the World Cup in Germany in which he had noted that someone's "pores were as big as a garage." That seemed an odd observation for a typical male sportswriter to make, Horn said, so she pieced together a few other clues and perkily confronted Daniels.
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