If the Jets or Blue Bombers deserved skewering, Doyle was only too happy to provide the sharp sticks. With him, no windmill was too pretty to tip over, no cow too sacred to steer into the slaughterhouse.
Simply put, Doyle told it like it was.
But when it came to his own most personal truth — that he was a woman trapped inside a man’s body — he couldn’t.
“It was suffocating,” is how Patti Dawn described it. “Imagine yourself six feet under, in a casket, and knowing that you’re alive, but nobody else knows you’re alive. They think you’re dead.
“I knew there was a real, live, loving, vibrant person buried underneath the surface.”
Heaven forbid Doyle let that person out in public.
From the time he was eight years old and first tried on his sister’s dress, he knew he was a she.
“It’s not wanting to be a woman,” Patti Dawn explained. “It’s knowing you’re female. There’s a huge difference.”
From the look of hatred in an abusive father’s eyes when he was caught in that dress, he knew he could never tell.
So he hid it, at first skipping school so he could put on his mother’s clothes, later hiding garments under his mattress, praying every night he’d wake up a woman. Through three failed marriages and a successful career in the macho world of jocks, Doyle put on his act, rattling chains in his job, but unable to escape his own.
Like others suffering from gender identity disorder, he fought a daily, internal war.
“It was just an epic, epic struggle. It was torment,” Patti Dawn said. “Sometimes it was so bad, so suffocating, I just wanted to die. Most of us do at some point want to die. You were brainwashed that boys act a certain way. Never, ever could boys act like girls. My goodness, you’d be beat up every day, especially someone tiny like me.
“Because of society and because of the time I grew up, you had to fight this she-demon. You just couldn’t do what I’ve finally done.”
What she finally did was be true to herself.
Having resettled in Victoria a decade ago, Patti Dawn began the process of gender reassignment in early 2008, starting with hormone therapy and ending with surgery, one year ago this week.
With each small step of her high heels — getting the gender designation changed to ‘F’ on her drivers license, receiving a new Manitoba birth certificate, hearing people call her “her” and “she” — she strolled out of hell and into a happiness she’d never known.
Just thinking about the anniversary of her surgery brought her to tears.
Only now, they’re tears of joy.
“I’m finally living,” she said. “The transition was absolute joy. A beautiful, beautiful, beautiful thing.”
I’ll admit, it was weird talking to Patti Dawn for this story.
I mean, Pat Doyle got me my first job at the Sun. And while Patti Dawn’s voice was a little higher in pitch, she had much the same way of talking.
I listened to her story, the picture of Pat in my head, one of Patti Dawn on the computer screen in front of me.
“I’m not the same person,” she said. “Not even close. It’s hard to explain to somebody who hasn’t gone through the process. They simply can’t understand.”
One thing came through crystal clear: Patti Dawn still had the same spirit. Multiplied by about 50.
Laughing uproariously, often at herself, the sarcasm pouring from the phone, her sense of humour is obviously intact, if her original genitalia aren’t.
She’ll joke about her boobs: “They’re not big, but they’re real. And they’re mine.” About why she didn’t make the change sooner (she turns 60 on Saturday): “I didn’t have the balls to do it.” About how much she cries: “These freaking hormones.”
She’ll even joke about her one suicide attempt: “If you want to call it that. It was pathetic, really.” She fell asleep after ingesting only a couple of pills.
The tragic fact of gender identity disorder is many who suffer from it never conquer it.
A sportswriter for the Los Angeles Times, Mike Penner, went through a very public change around the same time as Patti Dawn, telling his readers in 2007 he was becoming Christine Daniels.
Exactly one year ago — two days after Patti Dawn’s surgery — Penner was found dead of an apparent suicide.
“It is scary,” Patti Dawn said. “That underscores how difficult it is for us to deal with.”
That’s why she’s written a book about her battle, an at-times hilarious, at-times sad and tragic, but always honest look at her journey from confused eight-year-old to ballsy sportswriter to fully-flowered female.
“I know it already has helped people,” Patti Dawn said. “That really is the main reason I’m doing this.”
It’s also why she finally agreed to tell her story to the guy she helped become a sportswriter.
As for how people, generally, will react — she’s way beyond caring.
Working a couple of part-time jobs, she’s enjoying a nice, quiet life on Vancouver Island, where she loves to go out dressed to the nines.
She still dabbles in sports writing, her razor-sharp wit in full bloom at bleacherreport.com.
And, yeah, she often wonders what people would have said, had they only known.
People like Fergie, former Jets GM John Ferguson, whom Patti Dawn described as “tough as a tire iron but soft as a kitten,” someone who’d scowl down that “gun barrel of a nose” at you and tell you exactly what he thought.
“I’d like to think he’d accept me as Patti Dawn Swansson,” she said. “He’d say, ‘Just don’t wear your skirts too short when you come into the dressing room.’ ”