While Microsoft was getting ready to ship Windows XP, they issued a list of computer components which they had tested with the new operating system, which was dubbed the "Hardware Compatibility List." If this video card or that modem was on it, you could use it with XP, and if it was not, well, you were pretty much on your own. The HCL had nothing to do with things like quality, you understand: some perfectly fine components were left off the list because they could not be, or at least had not been, persuaded to work in the XP environment. I have a very nice legal-size scanner that doesn't work on XP at all, and no XP drivers have been developed for it, which is why I haven't scrapped my old Windows 98 (Second Edition) box yet. Needless to say, it's not going to work under Vista either.

Oddly, this was what went through my mind when I read about Los Angeles Times sportswriter Christine Daniels, who until the last week of April had been Los Angeles Times sportswriter Mike Penner. Inasmuch as there are quantifiable, if not necessarily job-related, differences between "male" and "female" brain chemistry, I took Daniels' announcement as simply a statement that Penner's, um, hardware at some fundamental level was incompatible with Daniels' operating system, if you will, and that she was therefore making changes to improve functionality. This, at least, is consistent with every transsexualism story I've ever read.

Reaction from the rest of the world could be reasonably characterized as "mixed," though Daniels' own email was overwhelmingly favorable, once she was able to retrieve it. (Someone at latimes.com had to make the appropriate software changes, after all.) I had two immediate questions: how old was Daniels, and had Penner been married? (She's forty-nine; Penner, says Wikipedia, is wed to Lisa Dillman, also a Times staffer. There is a rumor, at this writing unconfirmed, that a separation is in the works.)

I have to sympathize with Dillman to some extent, inasmuch as it's hard to imagine she was enthusiastic about the matter. Four years ago, I read She's Not There: A Life in Two Genders by Jennifer (formerly James) Finney Boylan, and this scene came flashing back to me:

"Do you believe," I asked her slowly, "that all of this is necessary for me?"

She wiped her eyes.

"Yes, I suppose so," she said. "But you can't expect me to feel the way you do about this. I can't imagine what it's like for you, even now. I'm not the one who's trapped in the wrong body, in the wrong life, in the wrong place. At least I didn't used to be. No matter what happens from here on out, I lose."

Tragic in its own way, but every marriage that falls apart is tragic in its own way, and the burden is rarely distributed evenly.

And Dr. Renee Richards, whose Been-There-Done-That credentials are impeccable, argues that at this stage of life it's too late to be making changes like this:

I get a lot of letters from people in their 40s who are considering having this kind of operation. And I discourage all of them. It's not something for somebody in their 40s to do, someone who's had a life as a man. If you're 18 or 20 and have never had the kind of advantages I had, and you're oriented in that direction, sure, go ahead.... But if you're a forty-five-year-old man and you're an airline pilot and you have an ex-wife and three adolescent kids, you better get on Thorazine or Zoloft or Prozac or get locked up or do whatever it takes to keep you from being allowed to do something like this.

The only answer to this is "If not now, when?" And can you really tell someone suffering from gender dysphoria, which I have to assume is a lot more serious than mere anxiety, to shut up and get back to work?

In a radio interview, Daniels says she was planning to undergo a stealth transition and break the news at the last possible minute, but the Times urged her to go public. The cynical (and I include myself therein) might assume that the leftish Times might be trying to make some political hay out of the situation, but I'm inclined to think that it was more of an attempt to open this can of worms on their own terms, to preempt whatever backlash might have been coming. I suspect there wouldn't have been that much anyway, and Christina Kahrl, who's also been there and done that, says so too:

In my talking with her about her transition in the weeks leading up to [Daniels'] announcement, I counseled her that my experience was that the sports world didn't go off the rails when I transitioned in 2003. Why? Because sports is the ultimate American social bridge, and what I've found is that it serves as a topic that transcends lines of race, gender, class, and culture. Americans love to talk about sports, and if they find a writer or commentator with something interesting to say on the subject, they're going to listen, or maybe argue but most of all, they'll engage. I learned happily that the readers of my column and the books that I've worked on couldn't care less whether or not I'm a transsexual. Better still, I found that my colleagues still value my insights, analysis, and opinions I could not ask for a better collection of teammates. And I've learned that my fellow figures in the media still make a place for me in the Fourth Estate. So, in the same way that Mike Penner's columns have been a must-read for the Times' audience for years, so too will Christine Daniels'.

And Daniels has one more advantage: she lives in Los Angeles, where they enforce beauty standards. She's gonna be hot.

The Vent

  7 May 2007

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 Copyright © 2007 by Charles G. Hill