Living Cis in a Trans World

Dawn Stacey Ennis:

My friend Rachel Regalado posted this one year, and I must agree: I would wonder at times why no one could see “the guy in a dress” that everyone expects when they hear the word “transgender.” The truth is, I don’t wear women’s clothes; I wear MY clothes, which just so happen to be designed and manufactured for women… and then bought by a woman. This woman.

So a day late for “Transgender Day of Visibility,” and without further adieu, Rachel has the floor:

The following is a reblog from thefrugalcd:

My new life as a transexual

I thought in honor of the Transgender Day of Visibility, I would post this.

I had to go to the local urgent care facility the other night. The attending doctor brought up my medical record and started asking questions. First off she remarked about my age, “you are almost 50? Wow, you look so young.” I blushed. “I see you are on progesterone; do you still have your uterus?” This confused me and I said no. “When was your hysterectomy?” I had to stop her at this point to mention I was a male to female trans person. I was never born with female reproductive organs.

This made her pause and stare. That’s when I realized she never paid attention to my gender marker which clearly says ‘M’. “You look amazing, very pretty”, said the doctor. “I’ve had transexual patients before, but you, I would never had guessed.” She finished her exam and concluded I had a UTI. After entering my prescription for antibiotics, she stared at me again. “You haven’t had any surgeries?” I shook my head no. She said “you are a very lucky woman”.

“You are a very lucky woman,” I started thinking about that. I don’t feel lucky. I was born with a defect that caused my mind to be misaligned with my body. During my childhood I was raised to live as the gender that was counter to my internal sense of gender. I even grew up believing that I was male. I tailored my life to fit that assumption until it became impossible for me to continue. I don’t call that luck. More like a curse.

“Lucky woman”. If I take a look at how my transition has gone I guess others (especially trans folk) would consider me lucky. My body is slight of build and my features soft compared to most males. I am short for a man but average height for a woman. In grade school and even beyond, people remarked at how feminine my hands were. I do not suffer from male pattern baldness. My Adam’s apple is not prominent. I wear a woman’s size 8 shoe. I am wholly unremarkable.

I live a life one would consider semi-stealth. I don’t advertise I am trans. However, I do not deny it if asked. But I’m not asked often. Even when I have to present my ID which hasn’t been changed I get people telling me  I have my husband’s ID. A few have expressed bewilderment that I am still forced to use that documentation. All the while I am still gendered in their eyes as female. They rarely use the wrong pronouns.

Why then would I consider all this as my doing an injustice to the trans community. For the very reason that I am not visible. I am not an example for trans people because the public doesn’t consider me trans. People expect masculine features, a heavy voice, prominent Adam’s apple or big hands. They almost expect a ‘man in a dress’ which trans people (MTF) definitely are not. I do not willfully out myself to make a point or to educate others. I don’t march in pride parades or do any public speaking. There are members of my own community who look at me with envy or jealousy. I feel unwelcome at times because of this. Also my trans narrative doesn’t fit the ones we come to regard as commonplace for MTF trans people. As such I don’t share what would be considered common experiences many transgender people have. No one has cast trans slurs at me. I have not been openly discriminated against because of my appearance or manner.  I have never been denied medical treatment because I am trans. I am not divorced or have estranged children or family members.

There are times I laugh to myself. A horrible, cynical laugh. I look at the people who call me ma’am and miss and wonder if they are blind. I want to know why they can’t see the obvious masculine traits I see in the mirror every morning. I can’t believe they just gloss over the light stubble on my jaw and upper lip. How can they possibly hear my obviously non female voice and still gender me female?

What it all comes down to is they see a woman, plain and simple. They don’t pick up on a masculine vibe that isn’t there. They don’t see hard edges and strong features that never really existed. They hear a voice that has the right intonation if not the right pitch. The world believes me to be another cisgender woman. In my heart and soul I know myself as trans. I am invisible in my visibility.

Originally posted on thefrugalcd:

I thought in honor of the Transgender Day of Visibility, I would post this.

I had to go to the local urgent care facility the other night. The attending doctor brought up my medical record and started asking questions. First off she remarked about my age, “you are almost 50? Wow, you look so young.” I blushed. “I see you are on progesterone; do you still have your uterus?” This confused me and I said no. “When was your hysterectomy?” I had to stop her at this point to mention I was a male to female trans person. I was never born with female reproductive organs.

This made her pause and stare. That’s when I realized she never paid attention to my gender marker which clearly says ‘M’. “You look amazing, very pretty”, said the doctor. “I’ve had transexual patients before, but you, I would never had guessed.” She finished…

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The Specter of Death

Dawn Stacey Ennis:

I have no words sufficient to capture all that Lisa was, and what she meant to me. I was blessed to be her colleague and her friend. My friend Nika Beamon wrote a beautiful tribute to Lisa that I share with you today. Rest in peace, Lisa, and may God watch over your husband and your boys.

Originally posted on Filter, Please!:

The specter of death always looms in a news room. We chase down leads and updates all day on other people’s misery; terror attacks, car accidents, murders, fires, even divorces, arrests and natural disasters. We sprinkle in births, marriages, consumer advice and trend to mix things up but depravity and despair lead. We make our way in during state of emergencies, on holidays, and in spite of our better judgment. We bond through common experiences and a drive to shed light on issues, places, things and people. More importantly, we connect over our battle not to lose our humanity, compassion and integrity. Certainly, this is not an easy task given the things we’ve all seen. Yet, year after year, we face this challenge, and for the most part, we find a reason to smile every day. The biggest obstacle wasn’t the horror 9/11, the deadly Tsunami, Hurricane Sandy, or the…

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Mind = Blown

Today is my last day in Philadelphia for #LGBTMedia15, the convening of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender journalists and media folks from 23 states, and one from Nigeria!
Today the gang enjoyed a private tour of the Free Library of Pennsylvania after one last brunch. My flight home is in four hours and I’m packing up, not just my clothes… but my memories and what I have learned that I did not know. Here are ten:

  1. The struggle of bisexuals for acceptance. That 70% of bi folks are women. That they are too often lumped-in with gays and lesbians because people don’t “get” them or judge them or don’t want to know what it is that makes them happy.
  2. The fear of HIV hasn’t truly gone away and how modern medicine has made advances that in the 1980s would be the equivalent to the discovery of penicillin but because of fear and association with “the gay disease” the mainstream media and famous names keep their distance from hailing this breakthrough. It is keeping people alive who would have died, like my uncle did. Like my cousin did.
  3. That LGB journalists are as interested and motivated to fight for transgender civil rights as my trans brothers and sisters are. They understand — or want to understand better — our struggle, that we need their support and that we need it now.
  4. I was able to meet, hug and get to know many of the wonderful people whose names I’ve seen online, and for them to get to know me a little, too.
  5. That a transgender woman with an incredible platform to educate our society has given aid and comfort to those who would want trans kids excluded from sports activities and deny every trans man and trans woman the right to use the bathroom of their true gender. It’s abominable what she has done and an apology is not sufficient; she simply needs to stop talking about things she doesn’t understand.
  6. How awesome my friend Brynn Tannehill truly is. I’ve admired her for years and got to see her in action in person at this event. She’s the whole package, folks: smart, sassy, cute, well-spoken and passionate about civil liberties, the trans community, her family and her comrades who serve and have served our nation. And she’s a scholar of all things Hogwarts, Game of Thrones and the dwellers of Middle Earth.
  7. The generosity of people like Bil Browning, Jen Christiansen and Adam Pawlus, and their amazing ability to listen, to help, to encourage and facilitate our work.
  8. Diversity is not the right word to describe our assemblage: a salmagundi of smart, sensitive downright sexy people. We have had divergent experiences but share a single goal. I think instead of diversity I will start to use the word multiversity.
  9. I learned a lot about Philly’s history of LGBT advocacy and met some of the most treasured members of our community: our elders, who we need to not only salute but save from poverty and homelessness.
  10. And I also heard some very sad stories from those I was blessed to meet here, about work, love, life and their struggles to survive in a world that rejects them.Edit

I leave Philadelphia energized to make a difference.

I am empowered. I am strengthened. I am motivated.

I’m also hungry, and just got an invite to lunch, so bye for now!

Oh — before I go: please do me one favor, dear readers: be nice to someone today, even if they don’t deserve it.

“All Things Considered, I’d Rather Be In Philadelphia”

hqdefaultGood morning from Philadelphia, the birthplace of both democracy and W.C. Fields, who famously joked about Philly.

You know, W.C. Fields? The movie actor. Yes, from a long time ago. Hence the black and white picture.

8b41e8920339ae641aa2cc42f951ad33Here’s a color one. This guy ———————————————————–>

Go ahead, google him; I’ll wait. Notice the look on his face? That’s the same look I make when I make a pop culture reference and I realize my idea of pop culture is not the same as someone born in 1988 or later. And there’s a lot of you people.

Okay, are you with me now? Because it’s really late and I’m beat, so I will make this entry brief and to the point.

Stop that. Stop laughing while I’m trying to blog, it’s rude.

Harrumph.

I am blogging from the City of Brotherly (and Sisterly) Love because I am attending the 2015 LGBT Media Convening (hashtag #LGBTMedia15) sponsored by the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr., Fund and organized by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA). This is the sixth diversity conference, and my first of any kind. What’s interesting to note is that this event is not open to all media; it’s invitation only, and I am both humbled and honored to be here as one of the many representatives of the LGBT blogging community.

IMG_6350Andrea Dulanto of South Florida Gay News reported: “This year’s host committee includes Sarah Blazucki of NLGJA, Trish Bendix of AfterEllen, Mark King of My Fabulous Disease, Erin Rook of Source Weekly, Faith Cheltenham of BiNet, and Bil Browning of The Bilerico Project.

In an email with SFGN, Browning reflected on the significance and goals of the Convening: ‘For journalists focused on the LGBT beat, an invitation has become quite the status symbol for being recognized as a valuable community reporter. We specifically aim to bring in not only the LGBT state/local newspapers and large audience bloggers, but we also search for up-and-coming voices and try to lift up the voices of people of color, trans folk, and women.’

Browning elaborated on the importance of diversity: ‘Many of the larger outlets are still run by cisgender white men so we try to also reflect the diversity that is our community — especially in online journalism. Often these journalists are the only ones reporting in any depth on issues like race, class, and gender. The intersectionality of our community and how we can translate LGBT-specific needs into broader issues is the focus of this year’s Convening.’

In 2015, presenters and attendees will explore issues related to the topic ‘So Now What?’

“As Browning noted, these are ‘issues that have been relegated to the back burner during the marriage battles’ and the Convening will offer ‘sessions on religious liberty bills, intersectionality, self-determination, the role of government in promoting diversity, bisexuality, race and gender-specific topics, as well as how to better report on HIV/AIDS stories.'”

IMG_6346A truly amazing perk of this three-day event is that it is all-expenses paid. My crib (see what I did there?) is the swanky Radisson Blu Warwick Hotel, and everything has been first class.

I flew in this morning from Hartford, took a shuttle van where I met-up with some fellow attendees including Colin Murphy of Boom Magazine in St. Louis, Steve Rothaus of the Miami Herald, and my longtime facebook friend and fellow writer, Trans Military activist Brynn Tannehill, whom I finally had the pleasure of meeting in person today.

It was a long trip given the many stops our van had to make — in fact it took twice as long to get from the airport to the hotel as it did to fly here from Connecticut! But that afforded us time to have a fascinating conversation about issues of the day, from bathroom bills to marriage equality and religious backlash. One woman who was riding along with us but not attending the conference told me she was very interested in our conversation and I think that is an important takeaway from this event: that we remember to reach out to those who are not knee-deep in LGBT topics. They can and should be included so we can better arm our allies, to help them help us.

IMG_6345Upon check-in, each of us received a very nice goodie bag from the City of Philadelphia. The contents included a tee shirt, notepads, a pen, some press releases, a “Gay Philadelphia” button which I attached to my purse and a Century21 store giftcard about which I am very excited!

This evening we gathered in the hotel lobby and I met sooo many folks! Too many to name but I’m looking forward to trying to get to know each one. Then we as a group walked the four blocks to the beautiful Comcast Center, where we were wined and dined and then met Nellie Helen Fitzpatrick, IMG_6355 the city’s newly-minted Director of LGBT Affairs, who read a letter from Mayor Nutter. In June, this city’s Pride Parade will celebrate its 25th anniversary, and Philadelphia itself is marking 50 years of LGBT activism

I met many more of my colleagues, including The Advocate Magazine’s Mitch Kellaway, who covers the Trans* beat, and our boss, Here Media Editorial Director Lucas Grindley, who has grown advocate.com from an afterthought to an invaluable online resource with a powerful presence in the LGBT community and the world at large.

One interesting footnote about the location of our first event: the Comcast Center tower lobby has the most incredible HDTV screen I’ve ever seen. Pictures and video don’t do it justice, and I was enthralled.

IMG_6357Then came time to meet tonight’s keynote speaker. Given that this is a conference on LGBT diversity and civil rights and the media, I was not sure what to make of the fact that the keynote address was to be delivered by a southern preacher. After all, right now the very existence of the transgender community is under attack by religious conservatives who believe laws should be enacted to deny me and people like me our civil rights, to block us from protection from unlawful discrimination, and to prevent us from using the restroom.

But this man who spoke was not just a minister. Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II is the President of the North Carolina NAACP, one of the leaders of the Moral Mondays protests in N.C., and a man who recognizes, in his own words, that “the stones rejected will become the cornerstone,” equating a parable from the New Testament to the struggle for equality.

He regaled us with stories and educated us with history, how he and others are helping North Carolinians “vote for the future and not out of fear.” And Rev. Barber encouraged us to visit his home state and cover the issues that have sown division in our society. He frequently explained he does not refer to conservative politicians as “the right,” because he doesn’t want to convey the idea he thinks they are correct.

IMG_6367We spoke one on one following his speech and a brief Q&A, about the epidemic of violence against trans women, particularly women of color. And he told me how he as a minister counsels those with conservative views to put aside hate and judgment of those women who feel they have no other choice but to turn to sex work, a potentially profitable but entirely dangerous and violent existence, that society at large dismisses as not worthy of consideration. “These are still people,” he told me. “Every life is precious.”

I wish the “pro-life” folks would consider that view the next time someone trans is murdered because a “john” figured nobody would care about a prostitute. I’m not advocating that as a viable line of work; I’m standing up for those who believe there is no other way to survive.

IMG_6388And that is where this blog ends tonight. My colleagues Rebecca Juro, Gwen Smith and Monica Roberts and I had a wonderful evening walking and talking and trading war stories. Tomorrow starts very early.

Oh. Right. It already is tomorrow.

Good morning from Philadelphia!

P.S. Sorry. I forgot to be brief.

Why, Butterfly? Why?

Blue_Butterfly_by_Sorana_chan

I said to my old friend with the fancy new suit,

“Well, don’t you look sharp now! And so cute!

New wings festooned like blueberry fruit

Antennae accessorizing that ensemble, to boot.

So why the long face? What’s with the snoot?”

 

Goliath-Butterfly-butterflies-13005828-1024-768

 “Admit it now, say it’s true,

Now that you have the broader view:

Life is better, since you flew?

You smile more, and giggle, too. 

Those wings! So new! So blue! So you!”

images (1)

“If you’ll pardon me, please; I must pry, 

I cannot help but wonder why

You weep and you do not fly?

What is here that makes you cry?

Wouldn’t you be happier up in the sky?

images

“Your life’s not here down on the ground!

Your wings, worthless, dragging around

Behind you like an abandoned hound.

Why, Butterfly? Why not make that sound

Of fluttering, flapping — lose the frown!”

butterfly_full

But my friend ignored my pleas to smile and take flight

And trundled along, wings and all; what a sight!

I watched her wander, slowly, left and right;

As if her wings cloaked a darkness blocking all light

A broken heart perhaps? This kid was not alright.

blue_butterfly_by_rana_rocks-d4grdbo

I decided then to act, to stop this morose tour.

“Why, Butterfly? Why? Why don’t you soar?

Tell me what saddens you to your core?”

My friend spoke, not a whisper, but a roar:

“Because I am what I am, a caterpillar no more.”

blues-on-blue-ii-blue-butterfly-diamonds-flowers-glitter-persona-sparkles-stars-1024x1280

“My family won’t accept me, saying ‘Those wings must be fake!’

And, ‘You’re not one of us! You’re a freak! A fruitcake!'”

“No, Butterfly. No,” I consoled her. “They made a mistake.”

She sighed, wishing they could be happy for her own sake.

“If only they would accept me. Perhaps my life I should take…”

blue_butterfly_tattoo_by_3mMmMmA

“NO, Butterfly! No!” I pleaded. “That won’t make it better.

The only thing death does is make you deader.

Your problems aren’t fixed, they multiply together

And anyone who rejects you won’t become a regretter.

‘A permanent solution to a temporary problem,’ says this letter.”

blue-butterfly-yorkshire-rose-wallpapers

“What letter?” asked the Butterfly, sad as can be.

“The one a friend shared when I changed into ME.

And now it is yours.” “Who, me?” said she.

“Yes, Butterfly! Yes! I transitioned, too, you see.

I survived thanks to friends. They’re my chosen family.”

blue_butterfly_by_crazthonfry_wallpaper-1440x900

The Butterfly absorbed all this new info fast

Picked up her wings and in a blue blast

Flew over for a hug, not her first, not her last.

She mourned and accepted what’s past is past

And took flight to explore her new world, so vast.

Fly, Butterfly! Fly!

If you or someone you know is thinking about or threatening suicide, don’t hesitate to use one of these great resources!

Trans Lifeline

(877) 565-8860

National Suicide Prevention Hotline:

(800) 273-8255

“Back and Forth”

images (1)

STOP. Just for a moment, before scrolling ahead, think of the word or phrase that irritates you most. Got it? Okay, let me guess. Was yours…

“Taxes”?

“Breaking News”?

“Obama” (or “Bush” or “Clinton”)?

“Sweetheart” (or “Hon”)?

“Tranny?”

“Religious Freedom”

“Mommm!”

“Dental Floss?”

Perhaps none of those words offends you, or gets your Irish up, as my grandmother from County Leitrim used to say.

Before I tell you mine, I must admit: I’m tired of being audited, I detest the ubiquitous overuse of “breaking news,” I won’t discuss politics here (at this time), I am not a fan of the “T” word and I am careful to avoid using “sweetheart” or “hon” with anyone unless I know them well enough — or they do so first, I thought we enacted religious freedom in 1789 and as much as I know I should, I hate flossing. Lastly, my spouse has a love/hate relationship with the moniker “Mom;” she had threatened to change her name to “Fred,” until a) her mother married a man named “Fred” and b) I changed my name to “Dawn” and she didn’t want people to think she, also, had gender dysphoria.

Which brings me to my most hated, despised and just all around annoying string of words:

” 

If you don’t know me or my story, I encourage you to read earlier entries of this, my blog, so as not to put the rest of our friends to sleep from having to hear it yet again.

But there has never been ONE TIME that someone hasn’t used the phrase “back and forth” to describe my transition when it is being discussed. For a time, I thought I should print up tee shirts with the words “Dawn is Back” on the front, “And Forth” on the back, just to make some money off the damn spectacle of it all.

Some have suggested that instead of “Life After Dawn” I should call my story “Back and Forth,” since it seems so top of mind. “And why isn’t it ‘Life After Don,’ anyway?’ they ask.

“Oh, shuddup!” I sometimes say… in my head.

Sigh. “Back and forth” bugs the hell out of me (I think I’ve made that point sufficiently clear, no?) because it focuses attention on my so-called “failure,” my confusion and perplexing inability to maintain my gender transition in one direction.

“Newsman Changed Gender Three Times” screamed the headlines, back in the day.

No.

No, I did not.

Before you say, “Now, wait a minute! Yes, you did…I remember! You even blogged about it. And besides, it’s on Google!” please allow me to explain.

I know just as well as you do what was reported, and yes, some of it was based on an ill-advised email I sent to “trusted” colleagues.

Fuggedaboudit. That’s old news.

Here is the message that matters, and why I’m writing this:

I was assigned male at birth in 1964… circumcised (twice)… given a male name… raised as a boy and loved by my parents and sister, who — for the first two years of her life, could not say my name and so she called me what she knew I was:

“Boy.” 384812_2645244207582_866694186_n

Yes, my one and only sister referred to me as “Boy,” as in “Boy’s home!” and “Boy, give me back my dolly!”

To me at age five and six, being called “Boy” was just about as awkward (but cute) as my kids calling me, their transgender parent, “Dad” as I exit the ladies room (not cute, potentially dangerous and if some people get their way, likely to get me incarcerated).

We’ll need to chat about that, I think, although I am on record as supporting their decision to continue to call me “Dad.”

But “Boy?” I spent a lot of time trying to get this little cherub to call me my proper name. And here we are, 45 years later, and guess what? I still can’t get her to call me by my proper name!

My sister, like so many others, cannot understand why I transitioned, why I did it so publicly — announcing it on facebook! The nerve! Why, people will SEE IT, and — they’ll know! 

Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of transgender people post stuff on facebook about their transitions. The difference is, they don’t work at a major TV network and have a book publisher with an agenda to ruin them and their plans for the future.

And maybe a few hundred of those possible tens of thousands may encounter difficulty in their transition; I don’t have reliable numbers, sadly. Nobody really knows how many people are trans, or how many people detransition. We are told very few, mainly because psychological and pharmaceutical guidance keeps people from going too far if they’re not prepared. Some chafe at the gatekeepers’ rules, others complain they don’t do enough.

Mine did their job well, and only one therapist failed me, just when I needed her most, when my career and livelihood were on the line.

She’s now working at Xerox. Good move!

She and a lot of people have said that phrase, “back and forth,” and I do understand why.

To them, I was “Don,” then I was “Dawn,” then “Don” again, then “Dawn” again.

I’m thinking maybe I’ll change it to “Shlomo” for the next go-round, just for laughs.

STOP. There is no next go-round. And what brings me to write about this is, I don’t see the back and forth everyone else does.

I’ve been doing a lot of meditating lately, thanks to the help of my dearest friend, Susan, and it’s helped me unlock some memories which I think connect the dots, from my early childhood to now, to help me better understand my gender transition.

That child raised and even called “Boy” — that’s me, remember? I do. I was hyperactive, imaginative, friendly, adventurous, uncoordinated, artistic and all-American looking — enough to be cast in commercials and print advertisements, starting at age four.

Slender, expressive, sensitive, emotional, intensely loyal and more interested in playing house with Marilyn Ciaccio across the street than cops and robbers with my best friend Tommy McCoy and the Quinlans. I recall wanting to be an astronaut race car driver who gave it all up to get married and have five children. I remember being saddened to catwomanlearn only women could be mommies and that priests were not allowed to marry.

I loved watching “Batman” on TV, but my favorite character was Catwoman, played by Lee Meriwether.

And a month before I was to turn six, I remember my parents and I watched one of our favorite TV shows together: “Mission Impossible.” 1393082889-0It was February of 1970, and Barry Williams of “The Brady Bunch” was the guest star. He played an Eastern European King who had to go into hiding to escape assassination… and Jim Phelps and his tireless IMF team disguised the boy king… as a girl.

I was transfixed.

Also in the 1970’s, Scooby Doo and Shaggy were running from the usual monsters, and — plot twist — they disguised themselves as women to try to escape.

In my teens, I was haunted by nightmares that my parents had left the department store without me — again, this was the 1970’s, when kids roamed wild without “helicopter parents.” My mom and dad could be rightly called “zeppelin” parents: they were always far away, moved slowly, and I have vivid memories of them exploding all over my sister and me when things went wrong.

In this recurring nightmare, the department store was locked up; I could not get out, there was no way for me to phone home, and when the workmen started coming around, I hid among the mannequins.1

The workmen are so convinced by my mannequin-like acting that they bring me into… the back room, where mannequins are disassembled and reassembled and set back out on the sales floor.

As you have no doubt guessed, my nightmare was that I was put on display… as a girl.

Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 3.13.51 AMIf you aren’t already aware that this stems from an actual experience in my acting and modeling career, I’ll ask you to catch up to the rest of the class.

And if you know that my summer job in college was to work at a department store, let me reveal to you how nervous I was that very first time I stepped into “the back room.”

I met a girl there, a cashier who came to mind today as the theme from “Flashdance” played on an 80’s radio station. That was our first date, and our last. I wanted to hold hands and watch the movie, she wanted to make out… and she was getting a vibe from me that she later described as feeling that I was “a… friend.” The reason for her pause eluded me for years, but I heard it again, and again.

I was a late bloomer. I didn’t have sex until I was a senior in college. And before that, I was frustrated at why every girl wanted me to be her friend and nothing more.

One woman was so bold as to ask me, more than once, “are you sure you’re not gay? Perhaps you were abused and you’re not ready to talk about it?”

What?

She later went around telling friends her theories. Gee, thanks. Buhbye.

Yet another said, no doubt in her mind: “I’ve figured you out: you want to be the woman!” Karen was aggressive, assertive, and never for a moment let me doubt she was in charge of our relationship. She told another female friend of mine what she thought of me, and when asked if this was true — there was no word for transgender in 1994 — I denied it. I realize now that I did that because I didn’t want to be what I was.

photoThat was the year I dressed up as a woman for Halloween, a little too convincingly, I was told. At age 30, fifteen years after modeling as a girl, I still had that uncanny ability to appear to be female.

It bothered me and intrigued me, and yet I wrote off the experience as a one-off; been there, done that. Moving on!

And now more than two decades later, I am living a life that is not a disguise or a Halloween get-up. It is my every day experience. I don’t have any “confusion” about my gender, or my expression of it.

Even in the months when I resumed a male presentation for the world to see, I maintained my legal name and gender as “Dawn”, and kept the F on my drivers license. I never even changed the picture. And within a few weeks of once again presenting as a male, I felt compelled to resume HRT, to rebalance my hormones and resume — at least part-time — living according to the gender I had somehow forgotten I truly was.

I did that until I felt strong enough to do it right, all the time.

The love of my life is one of those people who used to say “back and forth, more than anyone, and yet today this woman I married said something else, which is why I wrote this.

“You didn’t change genders three times,” she told me, her beautiful brown eyes like chocolate melting in the quiet afternoon sunlight that filled what was our bedroom.

“You changed once — no, even that’s not right. I realize now you were never really a male. Maybe physically, for awhile. But never,” pointing to her head, “up here. Where it counts.”

I think she’s right.

I’ll admit, my transition is hardly the traditional path. It’s nothing like anyone else’s that I’ve found. And being unique is both cool and lonely. But the one thing so many of us Male-to-Female transgender people have in common: being who we are means no longer being loved by those who learn we’re not who we were.

On this point, there is no “going back.”

So we go forth, into the unknown.

Ha, Me Boys

They are eight years apart and the best of friends.

They are roommates and clones in some ways, and nothing like each other in other ways.

One is strong, tall and burly — nothing like me — while his brother is short, skinny, and so strong in ways I only wished I was.

The big kid is a red head, with his mother’s eyes and wooly hair. He is 16, a math and science whiz who can both sing and play an instrument, and he is now learning to drive. And God help him, he’s learning from me (I will someday devote a blog to how I came by the nickname “Crash Ennis”). 

 The little one is getting bigger every day, his blond curls turned a light brown and straightened, an impish grin adorning an almost-always dirty face blessed with my father’s hazel eyes. He is 8, described by his third grade teacher at today’s parent-teacher conference as “the class clown,” and every bit as hyper and as intensely sensitive as I am told I was.

Make no mistake, the Brothers Ennis are very much my sons.

And I, a woman, am their father. 

Let’s allow that to sink in for a moment, while I reassure you: they saw it coming for years, they dealt with it each in their own way, and they, with their sister, have seen a therapist. They were fine with it before, they’re fine with it now… and, they are doing well in school and at home, apparently unaffected by my transition. They love having me back home, as I do.

Okay, so you’re wondering, how can a woman raise two boys to be men? Aren’t they at a disadvantage? Wouldn’t it be better for them to have a “real” father who is a man, who can teach them manly things? Who will be their male role model?

Step back — hold on: how many women in the world have had to raise sons all on their own, without a man? How many women in the history of civilization have carried the burden of bringing up a boy without the benefit of being one?

In truth, I see my transition as a bonus for them, in that my boys will benefit from my experience as a boy, as a man, as a woman, and as someone who can help them understand the difference in ways their mother might not.

I hope to show them the way to being a mensch, a path to manhood that helps them grow as decent, dependable, loving and loved individuals who respect women and understand that difference in a way their peers might never experience.

They would surely need a “real father” to raise them — and folks, that is who I am.

Transition didn’t erase my memories of seeing them enter this world nor my responsibility in helping them navigate it. I didn’t forget what it was like to grow up, to date, to live 40 years as a male. My transition, as their mother often says, is not merely mine, but theirs, too.

The extrovert who in his pre-teen years was bullied because his dad looked different is now much more introverted. Yet we still talk sports, we revel in our shared love for competitive reality television and he doesn’t hesitate to let me know he loves me, or to show it, even when he’s mortified that I exist. Is there a teenager on earth who isn’t embarrassed by his or her parents?

The singer/dancer/standup comic who cried when I came out and mercilessly mocked me for looking “weird” when I first appeared as my true gender now tells me I look pretty and holds the door for me, saying “After you, ma’am” and was the first one of the kids to declare to me on a car ride one day long ago: “Dad, you know what? I think you’re transgender.”

He also told his buddies, who insisted he now had two moms: “No, she’s my dad!”

I’m not saying this stuff doesn’t add a whole lot of extra topping on an already full plate: mom is Jewish, dad is Catholic, mom works in their school and knows all their teachers while dad works from home and always seems to be around, both grandfathers are dead and both grandmothers are out of sight in faraway Florida. Their house is tiny compared to most of their friends, they know we struggle to support them, and they are partners in our mission to live on a budget.

But underscoring all of the drama surrounding my transition was the fact all of my children never stopped loving me, and they accept me for who I am without judgment. There can be no greater gift for someone like me, and it is because their mother wants me in their lives that this is possible. I have no words to describe how grateful I am that this is the case, for it is not as common as it should be.

How will I raise two boys to be men? The same way I set out to: hopefully a little better than my dad raised me, to turn out hopefully a little better than I did. I think almost every father hopes for the same: to carry forward the good lessons and spare our children the things we wished were not part of our experience growing up.

Lest there be no doubt, I don’t wish my boys to be anything they don’t want to be, nor anything they are not. Everything seems to point toward them being healthy (thank you, God), smart, creative, heterosexual, cisgender males. That’s fine, and I’d say the same if they come to me someday and say, “Dad, I’m gay.” Or whatever. My only wish would be that someday they’d say, “Dad, I’m happy.”

My youngest often rallied to my side in the once-frequent arguments between (now) same-sex spouses, interjecting without any cue from me, “Dad can’t help being who she is. It’s not fair to treat her different, just because she’s transgender.”

And I would often reply, to him: “Life isn’t fair, buddy. But thank you.” And to she who was my wife: “Even he sees it. Please, stop.” Too often we broke that cardinal rule: never, ever fight in front of your kids.

I once asked my oldest boy, how could I have faced him, years from now, if he found out I had deferred or denied my truth to shield him from possible ramifications; how would he react if he learned I had not been true to him about who I was, as I counseled him to be true to himself? What kind of father would I be if I did not show him by example what it means to follow your dream and make it happen, even when that dream looks to others like a nightmare?

He got it. He confided in me that day how much he had concealed from me, how he hated what my transition had done to our family — meaning my marriage. He held me, hugging me, crying intensely, as he told me he loved me no matter what, and supported me as I am. And I told him I felt the same as he did about the consequences, but to not blame either his mother nor me for what was. “There is no fault in being who you are,” I told him; each of us, meaning his mother and I, finally accepted that, after a long time. And our family is better off because of that.

It remains my eternal hope that someday I can say, quoting the wise words of my friend and mentor, Jennifer Finney Boylan, “…having a father who became a woman has, in turn, helped my sons become better men.”

The title of this blog is from a lyric by our family’s favorite band. To learn more, watch and listen to this song by “Great Big Sea:” Lukey