Today he is sixteen.
My young man debuted on planet Earth the morning of January 12, 1999.
Considering that our firstborn has a mother and father who met studying journalism, it’s no surprise that bringing him into this world was as rough and tumble as an all-night edit session. When at long last, he did show up, it was time for traffic and weather together, on the 8’s. New snow fell outside the hospital window, across the New York City suburbs of Westchester County, covering his world in a pure blanket of white.
We planned to name our son in keeping with my in laws’ Jewish tradition of naming newborns after the deceased. He would honor my Uncle Mickey, my late godfather, whose birthday also would have been today.
Mick was a hearty and robust Irish Catholic, a strong, happy man with a broad smile and even broader shoulders. He left this world too soon, buckled by lung cancer after a long battle, just days before we were engaged to be married. Giving this first boy to be born in the Ennis family since his death the name Michael seemed the right thing to do.
But the shock of that red hair of his changed our minds, simultaneously, within seconds of his arrival. The name no longer fit. Instead my middle name just sounded so much more… fitting.
And the swap was in keeping with another of my in laws’ traditions: we gave our son a first name that was my middle name. I say “was” because my name is no longer Donald Sean, but Dawn Stacey. I am still his father, but I am trans.
He was the first boy, but not the first of his generation. That honor was bequeathed five years earlier, when Mick was still with us. The first grandchild of the next generation of the Ennis clan arrived on a snowy night 21 years ago tonight: my godchild and first niece, was born.
Now a junior in college, she is a beauty to behold in her photographs… which is all I have seen of her since June 2012. Following the publication of this blogpost, she reached out to me via text for the first time in 2 and a half years… to ask that I remove her picture. Of course, I complied. I only wish she would want more from me than that.
I watched this young woman grow up from almost the moment of her birth. I drove four hours from New Jersey to Connecticut through a raging snowstorm to be at her mother’s side, only to walk into my sister’s delivery room mere minutes after she gave birth. Timing is everything, they say.
And that was a phrase that I should have kept in mind at her high school graduation. It was a 98-degree day in June 2012 when I lost my cool and could no longer hold my tongue, as my mother harangued me for the perceived insults inflicted upon her my ghastly children, including: how dare my five year old declare he didn’t know her! After all, she’d seen him twice in the past year, each time for at least a few hours! “The nerve!” she exclaimed.
That was the worst of the many grievances she aired in a litany that boiled me over on one of the hottest days of the summer as I sweltered in a compression shirt that held my boobs at bay. I’m sure wearing that constricting clothing didn’t help my mood one bit on that hot and humid graduation day, as I bit my tongue bloody, and let her narcissistic negativity roll off my back along with all the sweat. I wore this binding garment under a tee shirt, giving my chest a more masculine appearance and hiding my generous feminine assets. This was at a time in my life when I presented as a male, despite growing evidence and feelings that my gender was, in fact, female.
Not wearing it had resulted in taunts by hiss schoolmates, to the point he was bullied and we needed to involve the police. So I didn’t go out without it, no matter what the weather or what I had to endure.
And somehow I was able to withstand both the heat and her oral onslaught, up until she slammed my youngest. Hearing that made me think back to all the times I had bit back on my anger and did what she asked, no matter how preposterous, how quirky, how very strange it seemed. I didn’t talk back, I didn’t question, I did what I was told. I kept my mouth shut.
Not that day.
I let her have it, everything I had buried deep inside. I unloaded, ignoring the families looking on, wondering why this middle aged man was shouting at his mother, each time ever louder: Fuck you! Fuck you! FUCK YOU!
Just then, my sister and her children reappeared and we all posed for photographs, smiling as if nothing had happened. My sister and I were, after all, child models, trained to smile on command.
But following the smiles came the tears; the connection between mother and child was broken that day. As was the one between my niece and my sister and me, as well as the connection between them and my wife and our children. That was June 2012.
My transition less than a year later didn’t help heal that rift, nor did publicity about my child modeling career. Despite many attempts by me to account for my mistake and to sincerely apologize, the division between us only deepened, and the negative press also separated me from my uncle’s family. His widow and his children let me know they couldn’t maintain a connection through social media, because of the harassment my cousin had received on the job on account of me being trans.
On the bright side, he did send me a Christmas text, telling me “I love you, cuz.” That meant more to me than all the “likes” on facebook.
So here it is, January 12th, 2015. My oldest son is 16, his cousin is 21 and my uncle is spending his 19th birthday in heaven. What I wouldn’t give for all of us who are still here on earth to gather together to celebrate this special day, in his honor.
I’ll settle for showing my son how special he is to me.