Farewell, My Beloved

image1.JPGToday we said farewell to the woman I married 19 years and three months ago, the mother of my children and my first love, Wendy Robin Lachs Ennis​. Many times here on facebook I have referred to Wendy as my ex, but in truth, we only separated, and because of a variety of reasons our divorce was postponed again and again and ultimately never legally finalized. And it’s fair to say that for most of that time, Wendy didn’t waffle nearly as much as I had in wanting to move on.
Her battle to beat a rare form of cancer ended Wednesday, just shy of 30 weeks. She survived extensive surgery by one of the top cancer doctors in the United States, seven excruciating rounds of chemo, disabling vertigo, nearly constant nausea and had lost a tremendous amount of weight and energy. Last Sunday at a doctor’s urging, her mother rushed her to the emergency room at Hartford Hospital. She wanted to avoid that, despite having always been well treated at hospitals but she was always resistant to going and preferred a bowl of chicken soup and her own bed to being hooked up to an IV and having beeping monitors by her bedside.
On Wednesday morning, I woke up in Los Angeles to a text response to a question I had asked her, about when she might be well enough to be discharged. She told me she was hoping today was the day.
But by noon she had taken a very sudden and terrible turn for the worse. A doctor from the ICU called me and said I need to come right away.
I was 3,000 miles away. Being still married meant all decisions regarding her care now fell to me, as she had fallen into unconsciousness and was not responding to anyone. That means I had to answer “the big question:” should the doctors and nurses try to keep her alive, or let her slip away? Factors ran through my head: is she suffering, what can be done to diminish her pain, what are they doing to treat her symptoms and will keeping her alive until the children can see her, and perhaps me, too — will that hurt her?
I also spoke to her mother, who has been living with Wendy and the kids about ten days, and we agreed on a course of action. The kids had been left in the dark as to the seriousness of Wendy’s diagnosis. They didn’t know that she had learned just before Christmas that some of the cancer the surgeon had said he removed had spread, first to two lymph nodes and then to her liver.
New scans showed it was now running rampant in her stomach lining and that the end was certainly near. She had skipped her last chemo session last week, on account of being too weak to handle the horrendous ordeal that is chemotherapy. And these killer cells took full advantage of that window of opportunity, and deprive her of the rest of her life. Once diagnosed with duodenal cancer, she never ever wavered in her fight to beat the disease, to see her children marry and hold her grandchildren, perhaps to even dance at their weddings someday.
The children were stunned to find their mother in her final hours, and we spoke by phone several times. They decided they would not leave her side, as the rabbi, cousins, friends all rushed to the hospital and I raced to the airport. Arcane rules about needing to purchase a ticket 45 minutes before departure prevented me from boarding the last afternoon flight, but that turned out to be for the best.
In addition to getting a $100 airline credit from American Airlines because of how a rude woman at LAX turned me away when I pleaded for help, I was able to make and take those calls that kept me in constant contact with the children.
Sean at one point offered to hold the phone up to his mom’s ear, so that if she could hear the sound of my voice from within her unconscious mind, I would have the opportunity to say goodbye. Such a blessing he is, our first-born.
My burden for the remainder of my days will be the shame I feel for not being by their side as they watched their mother die. I know it’s irrational but it’s real. And I am more proud of my children for how they navigated this crisis than for any of the other dozen obstacles thrown in their path over the last three years: transition, separation, distance, cancer… and now the death of their mom. I am very close to my kids but they connected with their mom on a level that only a mother can, and I have always envied her for that. But the fact is, I have loved being their dad. As I have said over and over again: the kids have a mother, and I’ve never intended or desired to replace Wendy as the kids’ mom. I can, however, see that as a single dad who’s trans there are aspects of motherhood I am eager to embrace, a delicate dance that I’m beginning cautiously as we try to recover from what the rabbi correctly described as the earthquake that is Wendy’s death.
At this hour, I am supposed to be in Chicago participating in a panel discussion about LGBT journalism at Creating Change 2016. To say I had been looking forward to it would be a gross understatement. But instead of speaking there, I stood on the bimah, the Hebrew word for altar, and delivered what follows, the eulogy to my spouse, before hundreds of our friends, relatives, coworkers and neighbors. My children each delivered one as well, and I could not be more proud of them.
When Wendy’s father, Joel, passed away 9 years ago, I sat in awe of her mother as she delivered his eulogy. Later, I told Wendy I was amazed at her mother’s strength in summoning the courage to stand before everyone and share her grief for the man she loved.
“I’ll never be that strong,” I told her.
I’m not.  But like her mother, Wendy was the kind of woman who made you feel you could do anything, even the impossible.
10398880_1127844273901_809057_nMost of you know that Wendy and I had a storybook romance that started in college, with a less than perfect ending. I’m here to tell you that although neither of us were perfect, she was a lot closer to perfect than I can ever hope to be.
She was the love of my life.
Wendy gave up a lot in the name of love, and I do feel tremendous guilt and sorrow that I was not worthy, that I could not be the person she deserved, the person who made all her dreams come true.
Was it enough that she made mine come true? She brought these beautiful children of ours into the world, her greatest gift to me, to whom I will dedicate myself the rest of my life.
She made my dreams come true by encouraging me to live my truth, knowing that anything less would bring us both misery.
Wendy made our family’s dreams come true by being flexible, thrifty, creative and steadfast in the face of poverty, desperation and despair.
This woman who we mourn put her needs and wants after everyone else’s, and now I pray to G-d that He or She rewards her eternally.
I’ve told my children their mother always found the silver lining in everything — and here it is. Wendy is right here with us, right now, in our hearts and minds, never to be parted.
She is my beloved, and once upon a time, I was hers. I wish only that I will someday be as good a parent, a person, a woman as wonderful as Wendy. Not likely, but I will try to be more like her, and I encourage everyone who mourns with us to find it in yourself to be more like Wendy: forgiving, loving, selfless and strong against impossible odds.
Farewell, my beloved. I love you always and everywhere. I conclude with the three  songs that meant the most to us:  “Have I told you lately that I love you,” my “brown eyed girl?” You were “the wind beneath our wings.” To her family, I say: thank you for sharing her with me, and honoring her memory today, and always.

New Year, Old Luck

apple-4

PLUNK!

The sound was unmistakable. Despite it being a relatively quiet noise, this New Year’s Day event some 14 hours after we watched the ball drop on TV jarred me awake from my afternoon nap faster than any alarm could.

I grabbed my earbuds that now draped over the edge of the bed and pulled, quickly, hoping I was not too late.

iphone-5-water-damage-repairAnd then there it was, the earbuds plug still attached to my dripping wet iPhone.

Turns out I had taken the device out of its OtterBox just before I fell asleep, and of course I left a nice, cool cup of water in perfect position for my personal disaster. If I had for some reason decided to toss the phone and aim for the cup, I probably would never have hit the mark in 1,000 tries.

The next steps are no doubt familiar to those who’ve learned the hard way that modern mobile devices enjoy a bath about as much as the Wicked Witches of the West: the bowl of rice, the waiting, the joy of seeing it light up once again only to learn the damage to the screen prevented me from unlocking the phone and saving what had not yet been backed-up.

This experience made me wonder if maybe New Year’s is something like an automatic data backup: we collect all our memories of the year just ended, and we save them in the hard drives of our minds… then move on.

And my friends, it is time for me to move on, too.

I am on the cusp of a huge upheaval in my personal life.

NO, I AM NOT DETRANSITIONING.

Sheesh. Really?

For the first time since moving to Los Angeles in 2015, I’m stepping forward into the spotlight in a new way:

i-am-cait-caitlyn-jennerThis week, I’m covering the premiere of a major project in the realm of LGBT entertainment, and next week (fingers crossed) I’ll be putting questions to the most famous transgender woman in the world.
1313519_1411496282.2664_wlAnd in less than three weeks, I’ll be in Chicago for a huge conference that will mark my debut as a panelist and a speaker on the subject of LGBT journalism.

On top of all that, for the first time since 1981, I’ve been presented with an opportunity to revisit my past experience as an actor, something I swore I’d never do again. Lastly, somehow, I’ve attracted the attention of two filmmakers who think people might want to spend their valuable time watching me on their screens. And I’ve said yes to both, with the stipulation that their projects will benefit all transgender folks, and maybe me, too.

For the first time since 1998, I have a new cell phone number, with a 310 area code. My longtime 914 number, like the phone, is dead and gone.
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For the first time since 1996, I am single.

For the first time in my life, there is a man with whom I am spending time, and yeah, before you ask: yes, he knows. The rest is private, and let’s just say we’re only starting to get to know each other.

While that brings me joy, what is topmost of mind is my family back home. My children still hold the center of my heart. Their mother is struggling, and she’s made it clear it’s no longer my place to ease her burden, as much as I have tried. You know me, though: I’m not done trying, not by a long shot.

11139391_10206632403108910_573995921212964492_nBut in my mind I’ve shifted my efforts from being Wendy’s main support, to supporting our children, as it should be. They come first.

The film, the guy, the woman on the Malibu mountaintop, even my work… they all come after my obligation to my three lovelies, just as my own needs must take a backseat to the kids who make my life worth living.

Luckily, thus far, they’ve survived multiple dunkings of water and emerged no worse for wear. 12065753_10207861302070616_1674899529860460314_n

Buckle-up, friends. No doubt the road ahead will be bumpy.

And, uh, you’ve seen how I drive.

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Over, and Out

irisReticulata
Tell me, dear
What can I do?
What do you fear?
It’s all so new.
 
I’m not the same
As I was before:
A different name.
Same old score.
 
Endures, love does
Finds new ways.
Forgets what was,
Starts new days.
 
You’ve already won
This place in my heart.
Yesterday’s done
Can’t we just start
 
Over?
10462938_10208258021068343_8785876305023078034_n
 
 
 
 
 
 

I’ll Be Back

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I’ve been a California girl for 168 days — that’s almost six months — longer than I’ve ever lived here before (the summers of 1991 and ’92, respectively).

12191654_10207911761092060_7522814988500179113_nBut right now, I’m needed someplace else: the place I’ve called home since 2004.

My children need me. Their mom needs me. And I need to be with them.

And it looks like I need to rake a lot of leaves.

Once more, I’ll be flying back to the east coast this weekend. Starting Monday, I’ll once again work remotely for The Advocate for a few weeks, so I can support the kids and their mom as she resumes chemotherapy. I’m so grateful to my bosses and colleagues who have made it possible for me to be with my family so often during this crucial time, and keep my job.

I love being the News Editor. I consider myself lucky to not only be working again as a journalist — a storyteller — but to be working at all, let alone in my chosen field. And I’m committed to doing the best job I can, despite the circumstances. It’s a temporary solution, and not ideal by any means.

And I must admit I’ve grown weary of the extra back and forth travel from coast to coast. It was always my plan to fly back to see the kids, or fly them here, at least once a month, but it’s been necessary for me to travel more often, spend more time away from the office, to be where I’m needed most: with my family. I could never be one of those divorcées who tells the ex: “So sorry, that sucks for you, but you didn’t want to stay married to me, so this is what you get.” How could I do that to the mother of my children?

IMG_2002That’s not who I am. I’m a woman, yes, but more importantly I am a caring human being, one who does not turn her back on someone in need. I choose to honor my vow to support my wife in sickness and in health, even though I’m technically no longer her husband. She calls me her spouse, her soon to be ex-spouse.

And she rightly calls me the kids’ dad, although she has a tendency to prefer the word “parent,” for those who can’t get their head around me being a dad and a woman. No, I’m not their “other” mom. I get it, this is not for everybody; it works for us.

IMG_3385I realized tonight that what’s even worse than the confusion about what people call me, worse even than the frequent cross country flights, is how I’ve been stuck in a cycle for the last two and a half years (no, not THAT cycle. Okay, yes, I do, in fact, hormonally cycle, but not in the traditional way other women do… and that’s another story for another time).

The cycle I’m talking about started in May 2013, when I was given no choice but to leave my home, my children, to live authentically, Since then, I have moved every six months.

I moved from our hometown in Connecticut to another city an hour away, and then to another, then to the Bronx, to Marietta, Georgia, then back home with my family and now I am in Los Angeles.

IMG_3455Each move lasted only six months, like clockwork. Given how I’ve been able to provide my family with one stable home for almost 12 years, which is a rarity in the television news business, I regret that I have yet to settle down, and make a home for myself.

L.A. is by no means ideal. Gas is crazy expensive as is the cost of living. It’s 3,000 miles from my loved ones. But it’s where my all-important paycheck comes from… even if it’s only 25% of what I earned.

Before my downfall.

Slowly, I am rebuilding my life, making small inroads toward success and feeling better about myself than I ever have before.

12193849_10207951077034934_8302306643159774935_nThis is a life I enjoy, as I treat each day as a gift, and I look forward to one day after another, adding fewer and fewer milestones as we complete another trip around the sun. The “transition” part of my life has mostly ended and now I’m simply, “living my life.”

And almost every day here is beautiful and sunny. I do enjoy living in L.A…. dude.

I love my friends, most of all, my California bestie, Gillian. We’re quite a pair! She’s like a sister to me, only better.

Well, no matter what happens next, no matter what pitfalls await me in the journey of my life, I can at least say: I am happy. And I’m thrilled to know that in a few days I will be back in the loving arms of my children, and have them to hug and kiss and together we will prepare for a truly special Thanksgiving feast.

This year, we have much to be grateful for, not the least of which is the health of their mother as she fights cancer, and the help provided by all our friends, neighbors and relatives, our online acquaintances and the members of our congregation. These kind generous folks have done so much to help us through these trying times.

I’ve already survived car crashes, health issues, gender transition, termination and L.A. traffic. But I’m not done, city of angels! I’ll be back!

Whatever comes next, I’m ready.

Bring it!

I Am Dawn

  
I am a woman who was assigned male at birth, March 25, 1964. 

I was told there had been a problem: undescended testes. Not totally uncommon, but my parents also mentioned that I needed to have two circumcisions, which of course is impossible. 

What was the real story? I’m not sure I’ll ever know. 

I got my first job at age 4. 

My mom and dad had learned from a neighborhood friend that extra money could be made by having your kids pose for modeling and TV commercials. My sister and I were naturals, the all-American kids next door. 

I secretly started working as a girl when I was 12, voicing the part of a pre-teenage girl in a radio commercial. 

From 1976 until 1981, I modeled girl’s clothing. I remember the first time I saw the girl I was staring back at me from the makeup mirror: instead of feeling as if I had been dressed-up and made-up and coiffed from a boy into a girl, it was as if the girl within had been chiseled out like a sculpture. I had been revealed.

I took vitamins which undeniably helped me be a more convincing girl. My skin, my voice, my lack of usual male secondary sex characteristics — and my budding breasts — they all worked in tandem with my Dorothy Hamill hairstyle and long nails. 

When my dad caught me being fitted for a bra to model at age 16, the jig was up. No more modeling as a girl, no more vitamins. 

I got a haircut, new headshots and changed my stage name to “Don.”

It would be more than 30 years before I learned those vitamins that came in a clamshell case were birth control pills. 

I went back to living a boy’s life. Puberty hit around 19. 

I looked back at my years playing a girl opposite Sarah Jessica Parker and modeling on fashion runways with Brooks Shields as nothing more than acting. 

And less than 15 years later I chose to be a woman for Halloween. 

My then-girlfriend was taken aback. More than a few people asked me what my costume was. I saw me for the first time in more than a decade; the first time as an adult. 

In 2006, I had redeveloped breasts. My body hair flaked off in clumps. My hips splayed, I lactated (three times) and I shrunk three inches in four years.

I started gender therapy in 2008. 

I started using male hormones first then finally conceded that wasn’t what I needed. 

First time I saw “me” staring back in the mirror I cried, seeing both my resemblance to my sister and recovering my own lost self/esteem. I switched HRT from testosterone to estradiol on March 3, 2011.

I realized I was on the right path on April 1, 2011. I’ve not seen or had a penis all this time. 

But I wasn’t ready to live full-time in my appropriate gender — female — until April 3, 2013. 

I legally changed my name April 29, and came out at work and to my Facebook friends May 2. 

Not three months later, I involuntarily detransitioned after a seizure. The doctors told me I was suffering from a form of amnesia.

I returned to living pretending I was male, only to recover the memories of my transition and my happiness within a few weeks. 

I came out a second time May 2, 2014. Despite losing my career and marriage, there is no looking back. 

I choose to celebrate being me, by living my truth.

I Am Dawn. And I’m happy.  

“Don’t Be A Stupid One”

Are you talkin’ to ME? Well, I’m the only one here, so… You might as well have been, Jenny Boylan.

4fcb6032749bf4821ea70181edf8317dafaba3b0When you said,“You are a normal woman — right now, today.”

When you said, “You don’t need a man to make you a woman. A woman can make you a woman. I think it’s a thing that women do: we look to men to give us self-worth.”

When you said, “Now that you’re in the sisterhood, you have gone to such trouble to be a woman: Don’t be a stupid one — be a smart one.”

In point of fact, the esteemed Colby and Barnard professor, author, mentor and GLAAD co-chair — and my good friend — was speaking to another woman, the one on the TV.

i-am-caitCait somebody or other. Doesn’t matter, really.

I heard Jenny Boylan talking to me, too. When she challenged her friend, frankly, directly, honestly — the way only a true friend can — she didn’t cushion her words to spare Caitlyn Jenner’s feelings. And despite being more prepared than most viewers about what was going down in this clash of the titan trans women, I was on edge. Tears were close, but at bay.

jennifer-boylan-1024When Cait claimed to be too focused on education to worry about love and sex and dating, Jenny accused Cait of “throwing herself into her work” as a way of avoiding her own truth, and the issues that stand in the way. Like she did when she pursued the Olympics, when she focused on her families. “You’re running away,” said Jenny.

“Am I?” I asked. I imagined my face looked about as shocked as Cait’s at this very brazen but insightful statement of fact.

And Jenny reminded us, “Who you love is different from who you are.”

Truth. And right now, I don’t feel particularly loved by anybody. Sure: my kids, my friends, even some members of my extended family, they love me. My dog back in Connecticut loves me. But not by those who’ve known me longest, and who have no desire to know me now. The women who once were my entire life.

“We all deserve love. I worry that you’re not letting yourself be loved.”

IMG_0050Shut up, Jenny.

Of course, she’s right. I’ve sealed myself off from love because the only woman I’ve ever loved can’t love me back now that my truth is revealed. Her love faded as I stepped from the shadows as the woman I am. Her love died as surely as the name that once identified me to the world and to my Church. And I don’t have a prayer of winning back her love, because she’s got more important things to do than deal with my drama, my life, my unrequited love.

This woman who made me a father — who is now living authentically as a woman –has a far greater battle to wage than to deal with me, or to expend precious energy trying to love me, or not. She is fighting for her life in a struggle to survive cancer, and I have to put my own selfish needs aside, slip them into my back pocket, bury them in my suitcase, toss it down the basement stairs, bolt the door and switch off the light.

What I need to do is not cause her further anguish, pain, or distraction. I’m not her sole source of support anymore, and I have to accept that supporting her now means just staying the hell out of her way and taking on whatever is too much for her to burden.

I’ve hired housecleaners so that order can be restored before her mother drops in and shakes her head at the mess caused by three children, a dog and a kitten. It’s a mess that a woman fighting cancer tries valiantly to contain, but truth be told, what little energy she has must be saved for work, for ferrying kids around, for cooking, making lunches, and for chemo.

200_sThe poison that heals… the hurt that helps.The Pac-Man gobbling up those little, white, round cancer cells inside her body.

She’s so incredibly strong, this woman I loved and lost, having witnessed her give birth to our three children, a miracle if ever there was one given who I am, what’s inside me and the secrets of my real gender identity.

She’s fighting to win, to live, to show our children what real bravery, courage and strength is. What I did in coming out as trans is the equivalent of walking on a hot sandy beach barefoot, compared to the giant leaps she is taking to beat those dirty Russian cancer cells to the moon, and make it back alive.

I’ve done all I can to support her and our kids from afar. In 72 hours, we’ll be together again, and celebrating a once in a lifetime milestone for our one and only daughter.

I’m so proud of my girl, and her resilience in the face of parental strife, transition, separation, and now sickness. My daughter is the woman I look up to these days, and I have no doubt where she gets such incredible drive and stamina, as I watch her mother refuse to succumb, and resist rest. It’s my hope that just as the fabulous Jenny Boylan has helped me cross frightening intersections in my transition, that perhaps I can channel some of her wisdom and lend this woman a hand across her own crossroads. I will share every ounce of my strength, and a shoulder to lean on when hers grows weak.

11954688_10207524441049301_494445892356120049_nBut first, I must find within myself the ability to forgive her and all those who find my identity to be a selfish act, an abandonment of my wedding vows and my commitment to my bride. Let them chatter, whisper, be phony, or look upon me with judgment in their eyes. It’s all the same to me. I am who I am.

No, this is not the life I wanted, or want. But it is the life I must lead, and I’ve learned the hard way that living true is far better than dying while pretending to be someone I am not.