A Fair Amount of Transgender Awareness

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Tonight I will speak of death, and mourn those who lost their lives to hate in 2017. At this annual gathering in Hartford, not far from my home, we will read the names of each transgender individual killed because of who they were, and light a candle in their memory, an action that will be repeated around the world.

But as the transgender community and our allies take time to honor those taken from us on this Transgender Day of Remembrance (more about this below), I am proud to share with you a very special episode of RiseUP With Dawn Ennis which is timed to coincide with this solemn occasion as well as #TransAwarenessWeek. Scroll down for the link to the YouTube video.

This month’s episode is special for a number of reasons.

First, we shot it entirely on location in the beautiful Cape Cod community of Provincetown, Massachusetts.

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We traveled there for last month’s Fantasia Fair, now in its 43rd year.

Fantasia-FairThe weeklong event celebrated gender diversity feature speakers, singers, comedians, fashion shows and provided attendees a chance to make new friends, to shop and be social, and to be the genuine person some people feel they cannot be at home, at work, and/or with their family. And some people bring their spouses so they can show them this side of themselves. You can get answers to the frequently asked questions about the fair by clicking here. 

Among the speakers this year featured in our program is Mara Keisling, the founder and executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) in Washington, D.C.

IMG_8381For the first time in the eight months of doing this show, I worked with a collaborator for this episode: Chardonnay Merlot served as videographer, editor, interviewee, as well as interviewer in my absence, once I left P-Town to attend to my children. Last year, the kiddos accompanied me, but given the timing I opted to run up and back from CT.

My many thanks to Chardonnay for doing such great work, and my sincere congrats on the fair scholarship she received to perform the videography duties at which she excels.

gwenAmong the others featured in this episode is my friend and venerable community leader Gwen Smith, who was one of two trans women chosen to receive the Virginia Prince Transgender Pioneer Award.

She’s the subject of a book, Trans/Active, which you can buy by clicking here

Among her many accomplishments as a writer and activist, Gwen founded the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

IMG_8902IMG_8359According to Gwen’s Facebook post, TDoR’s mission statement is:

“Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR) is a vehicle for the Gender Spectrum to unify against the violence, oppressive and discriminatory behavior against Transgender, Intersex, Gender Non-Conforming and Non-Binary, Gender Fluid, Two Spirit people and unconventional Gender Spectrum people. This event is a vehicle for all to provide education and awareness. We use this event to connect to this community to help them live authentic and free from violence, addressing oppressive disparities within the health care field, HIV infection and prevention, financial independence and economic prosperity, homelessness, youth, suicide, policy reform, violence and other aspects in life that obstruct authentic living.”

You can read about the other Virginia Prince Pioneer Award winner, Martine Rothblatt, in my one-on-one exclusive interview and video, which I produced for The Advocate earlier this year, by clicking here. 

IMG_8382.jpgAnd be sure to not miss my interview with Lorelei Erisis, standup comic, improv, actor, activist and extrovert who is among the loveliest and kindest human beings I know. [Lorelei, please remember to send the check to my home, not the TV station].

Don’t believe me? As she suggests, just Google her name and you’ll see for yourself.

You can find out more about Lorelei’s gig with the world famous standup comic Tammy Twotone by following Tammy’s Twitter page.

As promised, here’s the link to this month’s episode on YouTube. You can also check it out at 9pm on WHC-TV Channel 5 beginning Wednesday, November 22nd. WHC-TV is a community public access station available only in West Hartford, Connecticut. Scroll down for more links and information!

IMG_8366The list of speakers at this year’s Fantasia Fair was greater than we could show in a single episode, including retired fire captain and GLAAD board member Lana Moore, Lambda Legal’s transgender rights project director M. Dru Levasseur, transgender youth advocate and author Tony Ferraiolo, activist Monica Perez, Nick Adams of GLAAD, and so many more!

During our time in P-Town, we spoke to so many folks, trans men as well as women, spouses, allies and locals who welcomed the attendees with open arms. Thank you to everyone who took a moment to share their stories!

One of them was Heather Leigh, who runs a support group that’s more like a party in New Haven, Connecticut.

It’s called Diva Social and it’s billed as a monthly, friendly, safe and welcoming event for the transgender, crossdressing and queer segments of the LGBTQ community. Contact Heather for more information about the next event in mid-December by clicking here. 

What’s the difference between a trans woman and a crossdresser? There are two famous responses, each aimed at eliciting laughter: the first is that a crossdresser arrives home from work and cannot wait to put on a bra… and a trans woman cannot wait to take hers off. The second answer to the question, “what’s the difference between a crossdresser and a trans woman,” is… about three years.

For a more serious answer, check out GLAAD’s excellent reference guide to understanding the difference, and why it’s important to know the difference:

“While anyone may wear clothes associated with a different sex, the term cross-dresser is typically used to refer to men who occasionally wear clothes, makeup, and accessories culturally associated with women. Those men typically identify as heterosexual. This activity is a form of gender expression and not done for entertainment purposes. Cross-dressers do not wish to permanently change their sex or live full-time as women. Replaces the term ‘transvestite’.”

provincetown-27596358If you’re interested in a great time in Provincetown, consider staying, dining or booking your next event at the Crown and Anchor, where many of the fair events were held, and The Boatslip Resort where many of my friends stayed; even without being their guest, I myself received a warm welcome and generous help from the staff.

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As for me, I had a fantastic room right on the water at Dyer’s Beach House and Motel by the Sea.

Come nightfall, don’t miss a chance to enjoy cocktails, food and a piano bar at Tin Pan Alley, featuring the fabulous Jon Richardson. Follow him on Facebook and Instagram. 

mon night sky cleanOur thanks to the fine folks at the Pilgrim Monument for welcoming the RiseUP team and all the fairgoers and providing us with an incredible space to conduct some of our interviews.

The historic landmark tower and museum is a real treat for all ages, staffed by knowledgeable guides, featuring fascinating exhibits and an amazing view from atop the tower that is well worth the hike!

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Or so Chardonnay told me!

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Our many thanks to Jamie Dailey, Karen Jandro, Temperance DufWitt and the entire FanFair team. For more information about Fantasia Fair, check out the contact page or send an email to info@fantasiafair.org

That’s all for this month. I’ll be back next month with a new episode of RiseUp and I certainly hope to update the blog well before then! Send me your comments here or via Facebook, Instagram or Twitter @riseupwithdawn

Thanks for watching, sharing, subscribing and of course, reading! Happy Thanksgiving!

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Anthony Rapp, Wilson Cruz on ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Coupledom

The sci-fi franchise goes where no gays have gone before.

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This is in part a repost of my article first published on the LGBT silo of nbcnews.com on October 13, 2017.

This blogpost includes original content not included with the article on NBC Out, and here appears in bold. 

The fact that for the first time in the 51-year history of “Star Trek,” out gay actors are playing gay characters in love, is not something CBS, its stars or its creators are either hiding or promoting. But it is something they’re celebrating.

“I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of ‘Star Trek’ TV’s first gay couple,” actor Anthony Rapp of “Rent” fame told NBC News. “I can’t say how much that means to me personally as a fan of the series and as a member of the LGBT community.”

Rapp plays the prickly, grumpy genius anastromycologist Lt. Paul Stamets, which basically means he’s the foremost expert on fungus. And fungus gets far more screen-time than his same-sex relationship on the CBS All Access streaming show, which is just fine with Rapp.

“I’m proud of the fact that none of that really matters in the show,” Rapp said, describing the portrayal of their relationship as “alive, truthful and human.”

IMG_8186His on-screen partner and costar, Wilson Cruz, who plays Dr. Hugh Culber, called Rapp his “space boo” on stage at New York Comic Con. They’ve been friends since they starred together on Broadway two decades ago. “We’ve worked together for 20 years, so it was so easy to create this together, because we have so much back history.”

Cruz won applause during the evening event at the Paley Center for Media in midtown Manhattan, when he spoke up for transgender rights, called out violence based on gender identity and called for more LGBTQ representation in entertainment. “These stories we tell are really important, so that people understand who we are, what our lives are like, and perhaps they will understand us and not hate us.”

Cruz was quick to denounce the actions of the Trump administration to rollback LGBT rights and attempts to erase protections against discrimination.

“I’m livid,” Cruz told me before Saturday night’s panel at the Paley Center. “We have a president who cares very little for LGBT people,” he said. “His words mean nothing and his actions mean everything, and he’s saying everything he really believes in his actions.”

“It saddens me that this continues to be the case,” Rapp told me, saying despite the government’s actions, he remains encouraged. “The backlash that comes is only possible because of the progress. So it is in direct opposition to progress. It’s like the last gasp.”

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The “Star Trek” franchise, said actor Jason Isaacs, is inclusive of “all genders, all sexualities, all flavors, not just of humans, but in our show of [other] species as well. The point being, things we are told should separate us, actually unite us.”

“The original series was borne out of troubled times, “ Isaacs continued, ”the birth of the civil rights movement and feminism, and I think there’s never been a time where a story like this, with a positive view of the future — even though we’re at war in the show — has been more necessary, than when division is being sown by some really toxic elements.”

President Trump and his Justice Department’s newly announced policies threatening LGBT rights, and the administration’s continued efforts to curtail reproductive rights and threats to immigrants, were as talked about on the red carpet as were the Discovery’s groundbreaking spore drive, Vulcans and Klingons.

IMG_8187“Star Trek: Discovery” Executive Producer Akiva Goldsman said the franchise has “always been about inclusion.”

“We’re not value-neutral when it comes to the issues of people being isolated, separated, not understood, ostracized,” Goldsman explained.

Citing proof of the show’s inclusivity, Alex Kurtzman, also an executive producer on the series, said the team behind the scenes is an even mix of men and women. He also revealed the show’s producers decided a refocus was necessary following President Trump’s unexpected election victory. That included a not-accidental nod to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan, by giving the show’s antagonists, the Klingons, a new rallying cry: “Remain Klingon.”

PaleyFest: Star Trek Discovery

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Cruz was swift to point out that from sexual harassment of women to racial inclusion, Hollywood has a lot more work to do, especially from his perspective as an industry trailblazer. He was the first out Latino actor on network television, playing the first openly gay teenager on TV: the character of Rickie Vasquez on “My So-Called Life” in the mid-1990s. Times have changed, Cruz said.

“But the fact of the matter is,” he told fans, “most of the LGBTQ characters now on TV are still gay white men. The work that needs to be done now is to diversify the picture of LGBTQ people, so that people can see that we come from all races, different genders, we have trans people.” Cruz’s character on the U.S.S. Discovery is only the second regular “Star Trek” character of Latinix heritage, following the half-Klingon, half-human B’elanna Torres played by Rosario Dawson on “Star Trek: Voyager.”

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As gay actors, Cruz and Rapp have tremendous allies both on the screen and in front of it, largely thanks to social media. “Star Trek: Discovery” is the first installment of the franchise since the creation of Twitter and Facebook.

“The ‘Trek’ community is so profoundly engaged,” Rapp said. “We’re all in this together. Yes, I’m the one in the show, and you’re the one consuming the show. But we all care about it, and we get to share in that.”

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Although CBS boasts the show has boosted subscriptions to its streaming service, a lot of the online chatter is centered on criticism of the network’s decision to hide it behind a paywall. Isaacs, who plays Discovery’s sexy, mysterious and mercurial Captain Gabriel Lorca, told Comic Con fans that controversy is not something the cast wants to address, and directed the question to “the other end of the panel.”

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Executive producer Kurtzman took the bull by the horns, and didn’t mince words. He told fans paid content is where television is going, following in the footsteps of Netflix, Hulu, now Disney, and of course the pay TV granddaddy, HBO.

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Another topic of internet speculation concerns Mary Wiseman’s character, Cadet Sylvia Tilly. Is she more than just a talkative space rookie, perhaps someone on the autism spectrum?

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“In terms of the script, no one’s put a label on it,” Wiseman told NBC. “I think the idea that someone would see Tilly and recognize part of themselves in that performance, or that they would feel represented, is deeply moving to me, and gratifying.”

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Series star, the stunning Sonequa Martin-Green who rose to fame in The Walking Dead, told us her favorite part of playing mutineer Michael Burnham is her character’s desire to better understand other people.

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“I’m on a journey of self-discovery and I have an issue of arrested development because of what I’ve gone through,” she said, alluding to the challenges no woman in the franchise’s history has ever tackled: Burnham is an orphan raised on Vulcan as an adopted member of Spock’s family. Her actions set in motion the war between the Federation and the Klingons.

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Speaking of Klingons, Mary Chieffo plays the imposing L’Rell, a character she describes as more than just intimidating; the six-foot-tall beauty revealed L’Rell has a quality Star Trek fans have never before seen in a Klingon: vulnerability.

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“I really hope,” she said, “whether it be LGBTQ, or anyone who sees themselves as ‘other,’ is able to relate to the Klingons, to L’Rell. I think there’s a lot there that I relate to, as someone who’s never felt quite in the vein of what other people wanted me to be.”

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Just as Rapp and Cruz hope to convey their humanity in their performances, Chieffo said she, Martin-Green and Wiseman aim to be strong female role models for girls.

“You don’t have to be fully-armored,” she said, “to be badass.”

 

 

Want more? Watch the videos from my Facebook Live stream by clicking these links!

Thanks to CBS, startrek.com and justjared.com for the photos appearing here. 

Special thanks to New York Comic Con and the Paley Center for Media for welcoming me to cover these two events for my readers here and at NBC News! 

“I Am A Leaf On The Wind…”

IMG_7720 (1)“…Watch how I soar!”

I love that line.

“I am a leaf on the wind. Watch how I soar,” is a quote from Serenitythe 2009 film based on the TV series, Firefly. And I drew great inspiration from it this month as I prepared to record the latest episode of my talk show.

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For those who are unfamiliar, the movie reunited the cast of Joss Whedon’s much-beloved but short-lived Fox scifi western, which ran for only 14 episodes in 2002.

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Hoban “Wash” Washburne was the pilot of the Firefly-class spaceship, Serenity. I found a post by blogger MyGeekWisdom that deciphered the meaning of Washburne’s inspiring words, as he summoned the courage to fly against seemingly impossible odds.

“It’s incredibly easy to psyche ourselves out when under pressure. It’s easy to talk ourselves out of doing, of even attempting to perform complicated tasks. In order to actually do them, confidence is key. We have to believe in ourselves whenever we do anything. Whether it be relatively mundane activities or extremely complex processes, we have to believe in ourselves that we can actually do it.”

And this month on RiseUP With Dawn Ennis, I summoned my courage to do something I’d never before attempted: I flew solo, recording an entire 30-minute show without a guest, without a script, covering the tragic news of the past week and addressing some of the most challenging times of my life. It’s a packed half-hour, and I relished the challenge.

Scroll down, and you’ll find all the links I mentioned in this episode, as well as links to some prior blogposts, addressing important issues raised in our program this month. Let me know your thoughts in the comments, including criticism if you feel it’s warranted. I went out on a limb this time, and I’m more than willing to learn from my mistakes.

It’s painful, but I’ve learned more from those, than from my successes. Here’s the show:

 

And now, the links, along with other helpful information:

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To help victims of Hurricane Harvey, click here, and click here to help victims of Hurricane Irma. Those links will connect you with Public Good, which will direct you to vetted charities that are IRS-verified nonprofit organizations. You can donate money, time and show your support online.

Public Good

Blood donation agencies are urging people living outside of Texas, Louisiana, Florida and Georgia to visit their local blood center and donate blood as soon as possible. All blood types are needed, but there is an urgent need for platelet donations, as well as O negative blood.

21storm3-superJumboThe Hispanic Federation is organizing support for the victims in Puerto Rico online at its Unidos portal, where 100% of your gift goes to the Puerto Rico Hurricane Relief Fund.

Click here to make an online donation. And here are several other ways you can help:

Donate Via Text – Compose a new text message for number 41444. Type UNIDOS (space) YOUR AMOUNT (space) and YOUR NAME. (For example: Unidos 100 John Doe) Then press “send” and click on the link to complete your donation.

Donate In Person – Visit any Popular Community Bank branch. Account name: Hurricane Relief Effort. Checking account number: 6810893500.

Donate By Check – Make your check payable to: Hispanic Federation, in the memo line, write Hurricane Relief Fund and mail to: Unidos Disaster Relief Fund, c/o Hispanic Federation, 55 Exchange Place, 5th Floor, New York, NY 10005

Donate Goods and Your Time – You can also support the Puerto Rican relief efforts by donating essential goods and volunteer through efforts coordinated by the New York City and State governments:

  • New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has launched an effort to collect critically-needed items, such as diapers, baby food, and first aid supplies. To find locations, click here.
  • New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has also launched the Empire State Relief and Recovery Effort for Puerto Rico to collect donations and volunteer. To find locations, click here.

170926081134-01-hurricane-maria-puerto-rico-0924-super-169Nearly 85 percent of the island is still without power, which means millions of people remain without electricity weeks after the storm, says José H. Román Morales, president of Puerto Rico’s Energy Commission, which regulates the island’s electric power authority. And clean water remains a precious commodity, available to only one-third of the island; another factor that has doctors and health experts fearful of an epidemic outbreak spread by mosquitos.

It would be nice if I could share with you FEMA data on the situation, but as the Washington Post reported, the government has taken that information off its website. 

Public Good also provides a portal if you want to help victims of the latest earthquake to strike Mexico. Click here for more information and to donate money.

Mandalay-Bay-shooter.jpgThe victims of the massacre in Las Vegas will benefit from a GoFundMe account set up by Steve Sisolak, Chair of the Clark County Commission, to raise money for those shot and their families. In the first three days, it raised more than $9 million and as this is published the victims fund stands five million dollars short of its goal. Click here for more information and to donate.

GunDebate

I’ve invited you to tweet your solution to the epidemic of gun violence in the U.S. But before you do, read this compelling article from Forbes — by a Republican — titled Ten Lies That Distort the Gun Control Debate.

Then tweet me @riseupwithdawn.

160916164535-05-nfl-players-protest-super-169As for the National Anthem protests, there are new developments: the NFL reportedly changed the rulebook, now requiring all players to be on the field and standing for the Star Spangled Banner. Team owners plan to meet to discuss this and an empty threat from President Trump to take away tax breaks to the NFL… which the league already gave up in 2015.

Interestingly, the NAACP called a pledge by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, to bench players who take a knee during the national anthem, “a public commitment by an NFL owner to violate his players’ Constitutional right to free speech.” A prominent Texas politician of color, Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, went a step further in denouncing Jones, calling his order to players an ultimatum “that says, ‘Slaves, obey your master.'”

A different view on this issue comes from Michael Caputo, a longtime Republican who served as a senior adviser to President Trump’s 2016 campaign and the presidential campaigns of Ronald Reagan, Jack Kemp and George H.W. Bush. I hope you’ll consider his perspective, in support of his beloved Buffalo Bills and his fellow veterans and their families, which you can read via CNN by clicking here.

As you may have noticed, I heard from a number of guys named “John.” Let me know your thoughts by tweeting me @riseupwithdawn.

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I talked a little about detransition in this episode, and my personal experience. My good friend Brynn Tannehill wrote one of the most forceful arguments to attack the myths surrounding this controversial topic a year after my experience, and it holds up well. Click here to read the article in HuffPost, and here to find more of Brynn’s amazing writing.

And you can read more about my personal experience here on lifefterdawn, in this blogpost from last year.

If you have questions about trans people, there are three excellent resources to consider. Click here for a quick, handy guide from Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and click here for an in-depth Q&A from the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE). GLAAD put together a list of FAQs as well, which you’ll find here.

What does gender confirmation surgery involve? Click here to read WebMD’s very simple explanation about the various operations that some transgender people undergo as part of their transition. About one-third of transgender Americans do have GCS, but most never take this step; it is fraught with potential complications, it’s expensive if your insurance doesn’t cover it, or your provider won’t accept your insurance, and the surgery requires an intense amount of recovery time and aftercare. In my personal opinion, all that is worth it, but I respect those who either choose to live without it or cannot have it for financial, health or other personal reasons. As for the corrective work I’m looking forward to having done, that’s nobody’s business but mine.

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To find out more about WPATH, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, click here for that organization’s website. You can click here to read about the Standards of Care every respected surgeon and health care professional is expected to follow, and you can find out if your provider is a member by clicking here.

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Why is it important that your surgeon be a member of WPATH? Let’s take a more mundane example than what some consider the most important operation of their life.

Let’s say your car desperately needs new brakes. Brakes make the difference between you and your loved ones traveling at a high rate of speed, and all of you crashing into something at a high rate of speed. Bobby’s Brakes wants $900 to replace yours, and that’s more than you have. So, you approach Mike the Mechanic on his lunch break, and slip him $450 cash to do it after work. After all, Mike knows how to install brakes, and for him, it’s quick, easy money.

But what happens if Mike makes a mistake? Or if he cuts corners to get home in time to watch the latest streaming episode of Star Trek: Discovery? Mike doesn’t give you a warranty, there is no money-back guarantee, no nothing. So, instead, you shell out the $900 for peace of mind, knowing Bobby stands behind every set of brakes he installs.

Car SurgeonIf something goes wrong, there are consumer resources you can use to make sure Bobby fixes it. Mike, meanwhile, took your $450 in cash and is on his way to the casino.

And who would want to cut corners on the surgery that’s going to change their life? My advice: choose wisely, and don’t ever accept less than the best for your health care needs.

Click here for the official link to the website of Dr. Stanton Honig of Yale New Haven Hospital, the urologist who is, at the moment, the only surgeon Connecticut’s state-run health care system has authorized to perform surgeries on transgender patients. Be sure to read the reviews his patients left on RateMDs.com, Vitals.com, and Healthgrades.com

Or, if you’re interested in my personal opinion: don’t bother.

You can find links to hundreds of other qualified surgeons here. A warning: this list contains doctors I would never, ever recommend, not even to my worst enemy. As in all things, do your homework, ask around. And avoid any doctor who offers a surgical consultation over the phone. I mean, really? Again, would you expect your mechanic to accurately diagnose what your car needs over the phone, sight unseen? No, you would not.

You can read an article I wrote about the potential complications that can arise during gender confirmation surgery, which is also known as sex reassignment surgery, by clicking here. 

If you’re looking for more information about your right to health care, click here.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has gutted healthcare.gov since the new administration took office, but you can see what’s left by clicking here. And HRC has an online resource about health care protections for LGBT folks that you can visit by clicking here.

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How about those melons? This photo and a few others are from a promotional shoot for Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, to show off their center for transgender patients. The shoot was in March, when I was a redhead, before my recent breast surgery, and dozens of pounds ago.

If you find yourself the victim of bullying online, don’t allow anyone to victimize you that way. Report them, block them, or send them a strong message if you feel you can resolve whatever issue stands between you. But don’t allow anyone to treat you as “less than.” You have every right to not be bothered. Sometimes, switching off, logging out, walking away is the best solution rather than engaging.

sd-2017-poster-thumbRemember: what a bully wants most of all, whether it’s online or face to face, is to see you hurting. I’ve learned that “hurt people hurt people,” and the best way to stop a bully with their own issues is to not give them any ammunition or fuel to continue their assault on you. I know it stings. But resist fighting a fool, lest anyone not be able to tell the difference. In the meantime, click here for resources to combat bullying from the fine folks at GLAAD.

Spirit Day on October 19th is a great opportunity to show you’re willing to stand up against bullying, by wearing purple and spreading the message on social media. For details, click here.

You can read the latest on Kylie Perez, the 14-year-old trans girl assaulted in her New Jersey school here.

The mom of Missouri trans teen Ally Steinfeld spoke out following the gruesome murder of her 17-year-old daughter. Click here for that story, and read why Missouri law prevents prosecutors from pursuing hate crime charges by clicking here.

You can read more about the gender non-conforming student from Illinois who took his life, Elijah DePue, by reading his obituary here.

And if you wish, you can reach out to his mom and to his dad to send your thoughts through Facebook. Lacy DePue is here, Zachary DePue is here.

I’ve written here about the two times I tried to take my life. I called that post “The Choice” because I faced a decision that appeared to leave me only one option: to die. Thankfully, other options presented themselves, namely, to live. My children and I are so happy that’s how it worked out.

I invite you to read about that in greater detail by clicking here.

Find out more about my BFF Maia Monet, who was there for me when I needed her most, by visiting her YouTube channel. Like, share and subscribe by clicking here! And learn what a gift it is to read the works of my dear friend and mentor, Jennifer Finney Boylan, by visiting her website, which you’ll find here. I’m who I am today, and alive, thanks to these women, and because of the love of my children.

If you are a trans or gender-nonconforming person considering suicide, Trans Lifeline can be reached at 1-877-565-8860. In Canada, dial 1-877-330-6366Click here for other information about this organization, and click here to make a donation.

LGBT youth (ages 24 and younger) can reach the Trevor Project Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386. Don’t feel like calling? The Trevor Project also offers online chat and text. Find out more by clicking here. You can help save lives by clicking here to donate.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 is available 24 hours a day to people of all ages and identities. The Nacional de Prevención del Suicidio es 1-888-628-9454. A line is also set up for the deaf and hard of hearing at 1-800-799-4889. Veterans can call 1-800-273-8255 to speak to someone who understands their particular needs. And for those dealing with the aftermath of any disaster, call 1-800-985-5990.

If you’re still not confident any of these fine organizations can help you, reach out to me. I’ve been there, and I’ll do my best to guide you. Email me at dawn@dawnennis.com or in the comments below, or send me a tweet at @riseupwithdawn.

img_8110.jpgPlease note: I’m sorry, but I do not accept unsolicited phone calls, or video calls via Facebook, FaceTime or any other means. Thanks in advance for respecting my privacy. 

Thank you so much for reading my blog and for watching the latest episode of RiseUP. Leave me a comment here or on Facebook or on Twitter. And in just a few weeks, I’ll be back with a new episode recorded on location in Provincetown, Mass. at the annual Fantasia Fair. Until then, remember the words of Bruce Springsteen: “C’mon, Rise Up!”

Room 16

HH_FB_COVER_2016Today, I traveled back in time.

No, this is not a lost “Twilight Zone” episode. Instead of crossing a hypothetical barrier of space and dimension, I took a step on an unexpected journey across a well-worn barrier I call “The No Zone.”

The focal point of my adventure of heart, mind and soul is Hartford Hospital, where my youngest child was born more than a decade ago, where one year ago his mother died, and where I spent time this week recovering from a nasty viral infection that knocked me harder than any blow I’ve ever suffered.

That was Sunday night.

Short of breath, having chest pains, I saw the fire engine lights flashing and heard the police car sirens blasting even before I hung up with the 911 dispatcher. Truth be told, I was more upset that they’d wake the neighborhood and upset my children than I was about not being able to inhale. I knew it wasn’t a heart attack, or so I told myself, because my heart was beating a million miles a second and I wasn’t in pain, just feeling uncomfortable with two elephants sitting on my chest.

Having just had surgery on my breasts three weeks prior, I think I qualify as an expert on the subject of what it feels like to have something heavy resting on my chest.

As the youngest slept, I had already reassured my oldest two children that, as far as I knew, I was going to be okay, and I had talked them through what was about to happen, before I even picked up the phone to call for help. Within minutes, the paramedics whisked me away in an ambulance, an inauspicious means of beginning a travel across time.

Nurses poked, pricked and pumped to perform the tests that would explain the beeps, boops and ding-ding-dings coming from machines all around, patients screamed for nurses, the air hung thick like a South Florida August afternoon and I lost my lunch more times than I can count. If I had been given the opportunity to time travel a second time, I’d have lept forward, right past this part, in a heartbeat.

And my heart, as I had myself concluded even without the benefit of either WebMD or Google, was fine; racing like Secretariat, but healthy.

21686210_10214264090976337_4910136497092883376_nTalk of white blood cells (no, “all blood cells” do not matter in this case), more unpleasantness in the lavatory and finally the eventual admitting, and move up to a room followed, with an eventual diagnosis of a viral infection.

Eureka! I needed fluids. I needed to rest. I needed to heal.

And so I did. But as it happens, I did more than just watch the TV and chat up my roomie Rita, who is the most wonderful mom of two boys and loving wife to a charming, joyful electrician named Bob. When we weren’t laughing, swapping stories and keeping each other company through the long lonely slumber party in Room 625, I hatched my secret plan.

It was not even something I had thought about, until quite by accident, I stumbled upon an old email to a former TV news colleague, now the head of marketing at the hospital. My mind raced as I reread my last communication with her, about the darkest day of my life. And in the darkness of our room one night, I shared my sad story with Rita.

Rewind to January 20th, 2016. Same hospital. Different floor, different building, and much more drastic circumstances. An indeterminate room in intensive care, where a family stood huddled with friends and the rabbi around a single individual. No machines beeping. No nurses poking. No doctors with answers, or questions, or anything. Just bad news.

This was Room 16. What I know of these events I have culled from the memories of my children and the rabbi at our synagogue.

My wife, my beloved, my best friend and the mother of my children lay dying in the center of that gathering. And I wasn’t there. She was dying from cancer. I had offered to fly home days earlier, when she took a sudden turn for the worse; her answer was, “no.”

Earlier that morning she sent me a text from her hospital bed:

“Think I’m going home today”

And that was the last.

We had separated, our marriage was ending, but we had made peace as coparents and even rekindled our friendship. Just days earlier, we had found it within ourselves to forgive each other… as impossible as that is for some people to believe, even to this day. But it is true.

I was at LAX, trying through sheer force of will to convince a deadset, lock-jawed immutable force known as a Delta Airlines ticket agent to let me board a plane that would get me to Hartford, hopefully in time to say goodbye. It was not to be. The agent’s answer was, “no.”

That turned out to be a blessing.

By not making that flight home, our oldest child was able to hold a phone to his mother’s ear, and let me say goodbye along with everyone else in Room 16, who had had their chance in person.

By missing that plane, I was able to take the call from my children after their mom had passed, and offer them what little comfort I could from 3,000 miles’ away. It was better, I thought, to be a disconnected voice, than to have been totally absent from their earth-shattering grief.

It should have comforted me to know I had helped them in some small way, but instead my disconnectedness haunted me for days, then months. My “not being there” was a cross I insisted I carry. I knew I needed closure.

And as my thoughts returned to Room 625, I realized in telling Rita that my path to closure was a trip across time to Room 16, directly through “The No Zone.”

I emailed my friend in marketing; she couldn’t help me. I phoned the chaplain, who came right up to my room to talk and started by asking if I were “Mister Ennis.”

I also spoke to a nurse making rounds who had the misfortune of asking me if there was anything I needed.

Yes: I needed to see Room 16.

“Why?”

“What will you do there?”

“What are your intentions?”

Those were logical questions.

“Because I need to,” was the lamest, most honest thing I could say.

“Just look,” I told them. “I just need to see what that place looks like,” trying to explain with words what my heart was saying inadequately through tears. “I don’t want to invade anyone’s privacy,” I said. “I’m not looking for special treatment or displace anyone or to ask anyone any questions or anything other than just take a moment — ten seconds, tops — to see what is there.”

My mentor, Bill Carey, once told me, “never accept the first ‘no.'”

I typically don’t even begin considering surrender until I’ve heard it three times. And this time, I did not hear, “no.”

I told the friend, the chaplain, the nurse, and my doctor, who must have been wondering if the virus had impacted my brain function: “I’ve actually asked for this before, twice now, and never received any answer. Even if you will just please tell me ‘no,’ I can then go home knowing I tried.”

But I did not hear, “no.”

Instead, the chaplain and nurse made a plan. I was discharged this morning, hours in advance of when I expected I’d be released, and waited in the room with Rita and Bob for the chaplain to come get me.

“It’s time,” she said, appearing in our room and beckoning me to follow her; I hadn’t counted on the chaplain being this dramatic, as we set off on our mission. After she escorted me through the hospital’s labyrinth to the ICU wing where Wendy died, we walked down the corridor where my children were led, not knowing what they were about to witness, expecting to see their mom ready to go home, and finding instead only her unconscious body.

I stood frozen directly outside Room 16, where a privacy curtain shielded someone else who desperately needed the excellent care of this amazing team of healthcare professionals.

For a few seconds… I stood there and just took in what it must have been like to be there. Where the kids sat. Where my mother in law and her sister and Wendy’s cousins stood. Where the rabbi led them in song.

Where she took her last breath.

Feeling whole, I took in my own, long, deep breath. I thanked the chaplain and we quietly made our exit.

A few steps later I encountered an unanticipated side effect of this form of time travel: I broke down in tears. At least I was able to hold it in until we were far from the wing where such important work is still being done to save the living.

And upon my return to present day, I realized that this is where my focus must remain. On a new day. A New Year.

Coming as this does on Rosh Hashanah, the day Jews mark the beginning of their new year, I feel blessed to have taken this journey to another time and place and no longer feel it is alien to me, and unknown. I have in my mind’s eye what I have longed for: a place where I, too, belonged.

Instead of the blank canvas I’ve carried around inside my mind, now I can celebrate the life and death of this incredible woman with a concrete memory, and the thought that if she could send me a message from beyond time, it would likely be:

“Okay, you got your wish! Move on, already. There’s work to be done. And don’t tell me ‘no!'”

That thought came to me as the Uber driver taking me home from the hospital stunned me by driving directly to the cemetery where her remains now rest, on our way to my home. So ends my journey across time, across the uncharted wilderness of…

“The No Zone.”

l’Shana Tovah to my Jewish family and friends.

The Angernet — Don’t Get Sucked In

wrong

To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, “Oh, the places you’ll go… mad… on the internet.” If you’re like me, you know Social Media can be not so social, whether it’s because of the knock-down, drag-out debates over politics, religion, civil rights, race, heritage, privilege or identity, or all of these divisive issues. It’s a no-win scenario, where everyone believes the other guy is the troll.

So aside from blocking those who enrage us, or abandoning the online world altogether, what can you do?

Meet David Ryan Polgar, a “tech ethicist” — he says that means he explores the “ethical legal, and emotional impact of social media and tech” — and he is my guest on this month’s episode of RiseUP With Dawn Ennis. Polgar joined me in the studio earlier this summer to talk about online solutions, best practices and offer insight into why the internet can so quickly turn into the angernet.

IMG_7775.jpg

In addition to television appearances, Polgar writes for BigThink. One column focused on something called Cunningham’s Law, which holds that “the best way to find the right answer online is to post something wrong and then get corrected.”

You can follow Polgar on Twitter and network with him on LinkedIn, or catch him on stage in New York City doing improv with comedian Joe Leonardo in a series of shows called Funny as Tech. Their act is aimed at unpacking “our absurd present and uncertain future.”

Here’s your link to this episode of RiseUP (and what’s got me angry is that someone not me misspelled the word “not” in the title “Not So Social Media,” and I can’t do anything about it! But I will survive). Please scroll down to learn about my latest special correspondent, Kristen Browde.

Kristen, who also goes by Chrissie, is a transgender woman living in Chappaqua, N.Y., a neighbor of Hillary and Bill Clinton, a powerhouse attorney and a former television journalist who is now running for political office. She and I go way back. I mean, waaaay back.

Our paths first crossed in the 1990s, at Fox5, WNYW-TV in New York City. That was the first TV station where I worked as a writer and learned how to be a copy editor and producer. Later that decade and into the new millennium, we worked more closely across town (literally) at CBS, where she was a network correspondent for TV and radio and I worked at “The Deuce,” Channel 2, WCBS-TV, which was at times called 2News, CBS2, CBS2NY, The CBS2 Information Center and my favorite, News2… as in, “If it’s News2 you, it’s news to us!” That name, umm, didn’t last very long.

The reason I mention all those names is because neither Browde nor myself stuck by our original birth names either. Neither one of us knew the other was hiding a secret two decades ago. We laugh sometimes thinking what it might have been like if either one of us had confided in the other, or if we had come out all those years ago.

14124509_1935484373345256_9084377132463387433_oI don’t mind posting pre-transition photos of myself but I’ve opted to not share them of Chrissie here, because to me, that would be the same as me posting a bare-butt picture of her as a baby. Sure, it’s still her, but it’s hardly representative of who she is today.

My favorite story about our friendship is that we connected online in October 2015, two and a half years after I came out, and seven months before she did. And until the day she came out, I somehow did not catch on that Chrissie Browde had been that “guy” I worked with at Fox5 and CBS! Duh.

To say I was floored would be an understatement. And we had a great laugh about it when we finally met face to face as our authentic selves one year ago this month.

Browde 2

Thanks to Efrain Gonzalez for snapping this photo of Chrissie BrowdeMia SerrainoKim McKinstry, Elaine, and me.

My only defense in not recognizing that this Browde was that Browde is that I don’t waste my energy trying to find out who trans people were “before” they found themselves. It’s of no value to me, and I didn’t even give it a thought, even when she told me we had worked at the same places. That, or I am just dumb. But the lesson here is, there is absolutely no reason to ever ask a trans person their “real name.” Because Kristen Browde is her real name.

And she is running for town supervisor in New Castle, N.Y., a northern suburb of New York City. She and two other candidates are running under the banner Stronger New Castle, and have the backing of three political parties including the Democratic majority.

Browde isn’t the first transgender political candidate in New York — that honor goes to our friend and living legend Melissa Sklarz, who was the first out trans candidate elected in the state. But Browde is the first to have the backing of the state Democratic party for a townwide office, and if she wins, will be New York State’s first-ever transgender Town Supervisor.

Connect with Chrissie via her law firmher Facebook page, or her other Facebook page, or on Twitter. And if you’re in New Castle, N.Y., remember to vote on November 7 for the Stronger New Castle team!

Thanks for watching this month’s episode and for liking and sharing the video either through my blog or YouTube!

I Am An American 


We Will Not Yield: A Prayer After Charlottesville

BY ALDEN SOLOVY 

Today, I am neither Democrat nor Republican,

Neither left nor right nor center.

I am an American,

Born to a legacy of truth and justice,

Born to a legacy of freedom and equality.
Today, I am a patriot

Who will not yield this nation to hate.

Not to neo-Nazis.

Not to thugs self-styled as militia.

Not to slogans or chants.

Not to gestures or flags.

Not to threats and not to violence.
Hate is hate,

Ugly and brutal,

And we will not yield.
Today,

I am Christian, Muslim and Jew,

Catholic, Buddist, Hindu and Sikh,

Atheist and agnostic.

I am Asian, Latino, Hispanic, African American,

White, Native American and multi-racial.

I am an immigrant, a child of the American Revolution,

A veteran and a soldier.

I work in the dark depth of the mines

And the high towers of Wall Street,

In the factories and the farms,

In our hospitals and strip malls.

I am gay, lesbian, straight, bi, trans,

Man, woman and gender-neutral.

I am young, old, blind and deaf,

Hearing and sighted,

Disabled,

Powerful and unafraid.
Truth is truth,

That all are created equal,

And we will not yield.
Today, I am an American,

A citizen of the United States,

A child of this great democracy,

A child of this wise republic,

Dedicated to liberty,

Dedicated to action.
We will not yield.

© 2017 Alden Solovy and tobendlight.com. All rights reserved.

http://reformjudaism.org/blog/2017/08/14/we-will-not-yield#post-count

Top Image by Stacey Lee 

Be Kind

be-kind-necklace

My daughter is home from a lovely two nights with her cousins, and their moms. They visited a lake, went hiking, did girl stuff and visited a local art studio where they volunteered their time to craft beautiful handmade clay pendants, like the one above.

Each one says, “Be Kind.” That is the motto of Ben’s Bells, whose mission as stated on its website is “to inspire, educate, and motivate people to realize the impact of intentional kindness, and to empower individuals to act according to that awareness, thereby strengthening ourselves, our relationships and our communities.”

“Recent research demonstrates that kindness benefits our physical and mental health, and that recognizing kindness in others increases a person’s happiness and satisfaction. But just as solving a calculus problem requires advanced math skills, the challenges of daily life require advanced kindness skills. By focusing on kindness and being intentional in our personal interactions, we can improve our ability to connect. The mission of Ben’s Bells is to inspire individuals and communities to engage in kindness education and practice.”  — from the Ben’s Bells website.

We have a windchime from Ben’s Bells on our front door, which was a Hanukkah gift from one of my late wife’s cousins, to my children. I’m grateful for this gift, and for how much my wife’s family loves my children.

bensbells

These chimes and jewelry and other items are a great idea, and you can find out more about Ben’s Bells by clicking here. 

I’ve decided I’m going to order one of the “Be Kind” pendants for myself, since the cousins didn’t invite me to take part in their girls-only adventure, something they surely would have done for my beloved.

I won’t lay guilt on my daughter for not thinking to get me one, as this was a gift from her mom’s cousins, and it would have been inappropriate for her to ask. Instead, she did bring home a second one to give to anyone she comes across who acts with kindness. I love this idea!

We discussed who might be worthy candidates, and although I was flattered that she asked me if I’d like this one, I insisted that she give her spare pendant to someone else, perhaps her girlfriend.

To me, the message here is ultimately ironic. “Be kind.” Wow.

I was told earlier this year by my former in laws that they now consider me “divorced” from them, given that one year had passed since the death of my wife, and thus they were done pretending to be kind to me. They did so with the explanation that, since she had planned to divorce me, but her lawyer postponed the proceeding, and so it was not finalized before her death, that they considered us “divorced in every way — except for legally.” Um, yeah, that’s sorta the most important part of that sentence.

Soon after, I learned from my mother-in-law that she and “Wendy’s family” had taken steps to take custody of my children away from me in those early days following her passing (but they stopped, because — in her words — “it’s really hard to take children away from a custodial parent, and it’s very expensive.” Also, I said, it was against what Wendy herself wanted and had put in writing to avoid exactly that from happening).

“Be kind” indeed. They say “of course this is not about you being transgender.” They defend their rejection of me as being about how I “treated Wendy.”

  1. Do they mean how I treated her when she called me “the bitch who killed her husband,” and told me the very sight of my feminized body filled her with disgust?
  2. I moved out at her demand, rather than put out the mother of my children. I guess that’s how I mistreated her?
  3. Maybe when I took a job across the country to help support her and our kids? Or when I quit that job and moved back the day she died, instead of uprooting them to Los Angeles?
  4. Or when I badgered her to see a doctor about her stomach pains in November 2014, and for long after, until eight months later, she finally did and was diagnosed with stage four cancer?
  5. Or when, upon learning that diagnosis and repeatedly after, I offered to quit my job in L.A. and move home?
  6. Do they mean when I called her doctor behind her back on a Friday night so he would urge her to go to the ER? She had refused and she said she’d call him after the three-day weekend, then, a few days later, wound up in shock and died in intensive care? Had I treated her the way she wanted to be treated, she’d no doubt have died at home before the weekend ended.
  7. How about when she screamed “There’s a man in the ladies room!” at our town pool because I was passing through, fully-clothed?
  8. When she tore my wig from my head in anger one night before I left for work, and left a permanent scar down the side of my face that I still see every single day?
  9. When she unexpectedly withdrew all the money from our joint bank account, leaving me with nothing, and “took over responsibility” for the utilities and mortgage — and then for the first time in the dozen years we lived in our house, the lights went out, the cable got turned off and the mortgage company filed for foreclosure?
  10. Maybe it was when I paid-up all those utility bills and reached an agreement with the mortgage company to save our home?
  11. It must be my fault that the house was infested with mice and sorely lacking in everyday maintenance, while I was 3,000 miles away. Was that my fault, too?
  12. And when she borrowed money from family, it’s of course my fault that I did not repay those loans (which were at the time considered gifts, but magically turned into loans after her passing).
  13. Lastly, was it the day I agreed to bind my breasts and present as “Don” one more day for our daughter’s bat mitzvah, so she could have the illusion of me as her husband once more? It broke my heart to keep my word, but it made her happy, and so I did. Two days later, the police were at my house because I went back to living authentically and she was furious.

I mean, I get it: she needed someone to hate for wrecking our marriage, for dashing our dreams of growing old together and for the cancer that ravaged her body. And no, I wasn’t perfect or blameless. I wish I had done more to help her, if she’d have let me. Instead, she put all that anger on me, and told her family everything was my fault.

So, I’m the villain. But of course, it’s not because I’m trans.

My children’s response to me being excluded from the family Passover Seder, and disinvited from a cousin’s daughter’s Bat Mitzvah, was to send a message, one that their mother had said to her cousins, after I transitioned: “We are a family and wherever one of us is not welcome, none of us will attend.” I love my kids. They are the very best of their mother and father, and I am doing my damndest to be a loving, supportive although single parent. I am a dad who does the job of mom. It’s not easy. It’s without doubt the toughest job I’ve ever loved.

Despite this standoff between us and “Wendy’s family”  — I’ve told them, we are the ones who really are Wendy’s family — I firmly believe it’s important for the children to keep in touch with their cousins and their mom’s relatives. Although I set all their cell phone numbers in my contacts to “Do Not Disturb,” I encouraged the kids to call their grandmother often and to text with the cousins. I’m not the one trying to keep them from seeing their relatives; that’s on them, for not respecting their mother’s wishes, and mine.

I encourage them daily to “be kind.”

So after I suggested this sleepover, and they accepted, imagine my discouragement when one of the cousins asked if instead of having me drive my daughter down to meet them, that I would instead send my oldest, who is 18 and a licensed driver. He also works two jobs and doesn’t really need to add a road trip of at least one hour each way to his day. In addition, he’s still very angry over my exclusion and decided on his own to stop communicating with them. I told him I understood his reasoning but strongly urged him to reach out to them when he feels comfortable doing so. Thus far, he hasn’t. So I’m not going to give them the excuse not to face me and in doing so impose an extra burden on my firstborn.

We agreed on a date and time to meet, which was not only generous of them but allowed them to keep me from entering their house. But then, the cousin tried once more to do an end run around my kids’ firm insistence that where I was not welcome, we would not go. It’s all of us or none of us, with the exception being a sleepover. I felt that was different from a family gathering.

I was stunned when the cousin emailed again, asking once again to turn the sleepover into a family gathering after all, ignoring what I had already made clear, that my oldest had to work and had no desire to see them or even text with them.

“I will text and see if he would like to (if he is not working) come with his little brother on Friday to pick up his sister and hang by the pool for a little.”

Really? What part of “my children don’t want me excluded” is hard to comprehend?

When does the urge to “be kind” kick in?

The cousin concluded her email with a response to my plea, promising to not bring up the issue of my exclusion with my daughter, given this is a matter for adults.  I asked that we at least be civil to one another if they cannot see fit to treat me as a member of the family. She agreed and then added one, clear-cut, unkind comment:

“That said, our position has not changed.”

The “position” she speaks of is one in which they treat me, not as the widow of their cousin, or the single parent of our children, but as a divorcée to be kept at a distance; a facilitator to provide them with access to “Wendy’s children.”

What surprises me about that is that even if they want to label me as such, that does not remove me from my role as the kids’ parent! I’m still their dad, even as a woman, and because of the gender roles our society places on us, I have learned to embrace being a mom. I don’t dare claim to be their “mom,” a title we hold dear out of respect for their mother. But my kids have seen how I have grown into this role and how much I enjoy it. And, probably to the in laws’ chagrin, I am good at it, too.

I am proud to boast that my children are resilient, strong, score at the top of their class, have friendships with good, upstanding children and are loving to just about everyone. Even people who are mean to me. And most of all, these kids have learned from the example their parents have set: my children are kind.

I think the same of my in laws’ children. But I wonder what lesson my wife’s cousins are teaching them when they treat me this way? Someday, my children will tell their children about these times, and I am certain that the shame their parents should feel will instead be inherited by these innocent kids.

All I can do is continue to do as I say and as I do, to be kind, even to those who are not. And I pray for their hearts to be turned. Which reminds me of the Irish proverb:

Irish Proverb