The Choice

IMG_5605.jpg
Today I am 52 years — and one day — old.

But I’ve achieved this milestone despite a choice I made in 2014. And because I lived to make another one.

I stepped into traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike. And I did it because I could not bear the burden of being unloved, unworthy and distrusted by the woman I still loved. I was devastated by a few words she said, words she refused to take back, that cut through me like a knife:

“I’d be better off if you were dead.”

IMG_0511I held the cellphone to my ear as I begged her to recant, as I stood in the fast lane with my back to oncoming traffic. It was not the busiest day ever, but there were still cars, tractor trailers and buses that swerved to avoid striking me. Some blared their horns, but I didn’t budge. I didn’t consider how my suicide might take someone else’s life; I didn’t consider how my wife and kids would feel about me killing myself. I didn’t care. I didn’t care about anyone else. And at one point, I hung up the phone, when I realized I didn’t care if Wendy loved me or not.

Because I didn’t love me, either.

I snapped one last picture, and no, it wasn’t a selfie. And it slowly dawned on me, that this was a mistake. I actually laughed at myself, standing in the middle of a highway and unable to end my life without someone else delivering the fatal blow.

“Can’t even succeed at killing myself,” I muttered. “I am a total failure.”

That was the exact opposite of how I felt just a day or two before. I had been well-received by longtime friends, at a reunion in sunny Florida. I had also met my mother as my authentic self, and made every effort to reconcile our differences. I hugged her goodbye, never to see or speak to her again. I left Florida feeling hopeful for the future, and at peace.

On the way home to Connecticut, I had stopped for lunch in my old Jacksonville neighborhood when I received word from my job: I was getting fired, and a young colleague who I had trained had been promoted — to management. Isn’t that a coincidence, I thought.

Just the month before, I had resumed my transition, and my employer had built a bullshit case of “performance issues” based on what this one person reported, in order to curry favor and advance their own career; the kind of transgressions overlooked in a favorite employee and used to blackball someone whose file included the worrisome notation, “business unit growing concerned about headlines” that my transition had generated in the tabloids. Almost all of that coverage was negative.

I was summoned to appear before a meeting of my boss, the head of human resources, and the VP in charge of HR and legal affairs. She was the woman who shepherded me through my transition and all the troubles that followed. My only hope of avoiding — more likely, postponing — my fate, was to take a medical leave of absence.

In a panic, I phoned my therapist and asked for a letter citing just such a need. I told her I was desperate. And to my surprise, my therapist said, “no.”

“I’m thinking you want me to give you this just to avoid being fired,” she said.

Well, duh. I mean, what was happening was clearly unfair. And I wasn’t just looking to avert the inevitable. I was rightfully frightened about my future.

It was the start of summer, when Wendy stopped getting paychecks from her job as a school teacher. My wife and kids were dependent on me until late September. How would I support my family? And I had just moved into my own apartment, my first in my true name, at considerable expense. How would I support myself?

“I’m at the end of my rope,” I told my therapist. “I can’t live if this happens.” She cast aside my pleas and my feelings of desperation, and told me I should go to an emergency room or call 911 if I “really” wanted help. Really? At that exact moment, I fired her, although it felt like she had already fired me.

And so I prepared to face the network firing squad.

It didn’t help boost my spirits that my wife blamed my situation on my transition, as if this path of self-destruction was the only possible outcome, and she let me know she still felt I was worth more to her dead than alive. I felt utterly and completely without value.

We had dinner as a family one last time. She then dropped me off at Union Station in Hartford for the train to New York.

It was raining, which covered up the tears streaming down my cheeks. I stepped up to the platform and dialed the number of a close friend and confidante who I had dubbed my Trans Jiminy Cricket for helping me throughout my tumultuous transition.

Getting no answer, I left a cryptic voicemail, saying goodbye, and stepped in front of the oncoming Amtrak train in an attempt to kill myself, once and forever.

I looked into the eyes of the motorman. The raindrops pelted my face. I closed my eyes and listened to the blaring train horn. It blotted out almost every sound, except one: that of my iPhone ringtone.

The shrill classic phone ring penetrated my contemplation of imminent death, the end to all suffering, and like a child tugging on the hem of my skirt, demanded I heed its call, to life.

10410235_10205381333592954_1886322810314400017_nIt was Maia, my Trans Jiminy Cricket, calling her Trans Pinnochio.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“I’m standing on the tracks, waiting for the train to kill me. It’s coming.”

She didn’t mince words. “Get out of there,” Maia said.

She didn’t raise her sweet, sultry voice or beg or plead. She just told me matter of factly what to do, and waited on the line until I told her I did.

“Good. Now get on the train and I’ll call you right back in a few minutes. Okay?”

“Okay,” I said. Her calm demeanor made me feel calm; her unemotional but strong way of speaking settled me down.

Maia, like many of us, once considered ending it all. She lost her marriage and left their only child with her ex-wife, so she should live authentically. Maia told me God once spoke to her, and to her that was affirmation enough that this was the life she was meant to lead.

I was still waiting to hear from God, but in a few minutes time, I received a message from author and mentor Jenny Boylan on the train to New Haven. She had heard what I had attempted from Maia.

10245350_10203643378425161_4162073435877127621_n“Don’t do something stupid,” wrote Jenny, in that professorial parental tone millions of people have seen her use on the world’s most famous (and perhaps most politically stubborn) woman, Caitlyn Jenner.

She urged me to call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. And so I did. I told the young woman on the other end of the line my story and what was driving me to end my life, and how I was basing my own value on how my wife perceived me.

“Well, you really can’t blame her,” said the woman who was trying to convince me my life was worth living. “She’s been through a lot and she’s being honest with you about her feelings.”

“Yes,” I said, “but I’d like to talk to you about my feelings, okay? Not hers.”

“I understand — Click!”

“Hello?!”

Yes, the Suicide Hotline hung up on me. No, not on purpose; a few minutes later my phone rang and I let it go to voicemail. When I checked it later I heard the young woman apologize for inadvertently hanging up on me.

“Please do call back, if you’re, um, still there.”

I was still there even though I decided to not call back. IMG_0569But I did dial 911, when I got to Times Square, because I found myself unable to leave the subway platform.

IMG_0570Train after train came and left. I watched as men and women of all ages and races and faces and places boarded and disembarked the number 1 local uptown and to The Bronx.

But all I could think was that train would take me to my apartment to spend the night awaiting my doom, and take me back here to Manhattan where my career would be pulverized into dust, my name disgraced and my professional life ended. If I left this platform that step would set in motion the events that would end my role as provider for my family.

I was, to put it mildly, distraught. My call brought the police, and the paramedics, who took me from the subway station… to Bellevue.

The official police terminology for my case is EDP: “emotionally disturbed person.” All those years hearing “EDP” on the police scanners in the newsroom, and in my dad’s home office, and now, I was the EDP.

It was the right call, even if Bellevue was the worst possible place to go. I wasn’t crazy, or insane. I was distraught and needed to get my head straight. But Bellevue? Imagine a holding place chock full of depressed, suicidal and unhinged men and women, stripped of their belongings and with no ability to reach the outside world, or even see it. No windows, no media, no phones, no nothing except beds, chairs and some very disturbed people.

1850_2014_06_09

IMG_1328

#TransIsBeautiful

The only thing they let me keep was a certain copy of Time magazine, with Laverne Cox on the cover. This was my own personal Transgender Tipping Point.

I wasn’t medicated or treated, just allowed to sleep (with the lights on) and to contemplate what had led me here and what might await me when… if… I were released.

After brief interviews with a psychologist and a psychiatrist and some calls to my doctors, wife and therapist, I was determined to be no danger to myself or others, and let go.

And I had been let go from my job, too, without a hearing. It had been a day: I missed the big meeting, I didn’t produce a letter requesting medical leave, and so I was terminated.

I responded to the official email with a proposal that we not bash each other in the media, and they agreed. And after they bashed me in the media — the Daily News quoted “an insider” — we entered into negotiations which, let’s just say, ended to my satisfaction.

All this taught me survival skills, and lessons you can put to use: first among them is that nothing is more important than my children. Had I gone through with suicide, my kids would be orphans now. As one of the 41 percent of trans people and gender non-conforming adults who consider or attempt suicide, I am aware many people are not as lucky as I am to have lived, or to have access to their children.

Second: it’s important is to not let others’ perceptions define who you are. I needed to learn to respect Wendy’s perspective and to determine my own. After a time, she did recant, and agreed the words — although they were just words — were not true. I regained her trust; Wendy came to see me as the woman I am, and even said she loved me, as the father of her children and her co-parent. Time healed the bitter wounds that had broken her heart.

Third was to reach out for help. Thanks to Chloe Schwenke, the late Rick Regan, Maia and Jenny, Susan and even Wendy, I survived these attempts, and got help to get past my acute depression. It took time. It got worse. But ultimately it did get better. And mental health counseling was part of that solution. It’s not something we should stigmatize, it’s something we as a society ought to look at as part of being healthy. I am grateful to those who helped me be the healthy person I am today.

And last was to not take myself so seriously. I found other jobs. We survived the summer from hell. I laughed at my own inability to end my life, and thanked God for such incompetence.

And despite the turmoil and media trashing, thanks to the hard work of attorney Jillian Weiss, I left on good terms with my former employer, and I’d recommend working for them if you’re given the opportunity. Better days hopefully lay ahead.

I wrote this not just in reflection of my birthday, or the fact that Easter is upon us with its message of renewal and resurrection from death, but with the recent suicide of a friend’s transgender son in mind. It is hard to contemplate how anyone can take their life, unless you’ve been there, until life is so unbearable that even death, and the thought of causing pain unto others, doesn’t matter to you. I pray you never experience it. And if you do, that you find someone to help you see that holding on just one more day is worthwhile.

A friend once told me, you don’t need to win the fight. Just remember when you’re knocked down to get back up, one more time… and to do that every time you are knocked down. Because you will be, and the only way to finish the fight is to keep getting up.

I pray for those who couldn’t, and for those left wondering… why.

If you are a trans or gender-nonconforming person considering suicide, Trans Lifeline can be reached at 877-565-8860. LGBT youth (ages 24 and younger) can reach the Trevor Project Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386.The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 can also be reached 24 hours a day by people of all ages and identities.

A trust has been established by Wendy’s brother, Robert Lachs, to assist with furthering the education of the Ennis children. Anyone wishing to donate to the fund may send a check, payable to “Ennis Family Scholarship Fund Trust” to Robert Lachs, 1729 E Prairie Ave., Wheaton, IL 60137, or click here to donate via GoFundMe. 

The Word Is Transgender… Not Trans-Jenner

11178376_10206498349237647_6212748240193972348_nRelax: this is not yet another analysis of what Bruce Jenner said, and like most everyone else, I am using male pronouns because that appears to be what he and his family want, and I respect that. If that changes, I’ll follow suit.

What this is, will likely take you by surprise. Buckle up, buttercup.

Earlier this year I wrote a plea that we needed to let Jenner tell us what if anything he was doing, even though it seemed pretty damn clear he was undergoing a gender transition. Now that he has spoken and confirmed that, it’s time for a follow-up.

And as I did before, I am going to devote more words to me and my experience rather than to his, because even if you didn’t watch all two hours — which I did, my spouse did, even my kids did (most of it, at least; they fled as soon as Diane Sawyer started talking about the Kardashians) — even if you avoided all the articles, you probably have an idea that Bruce Jenner confirmed he is trans. He actually said: “I am a woman.”

But am I?

Whoa — what? Is this another bout of amnesia? Am I going “back and forth” again?!? Perhaps I am a Time Lord as one of my friends calls me, or I’m “waffling” again as another friend ribbed me to no end?

No, I’m just being honest, which is what I’ve always been, and by the way: you cannot tell me I am wrong, because this is about how I feel. And how I feel is how I feel. If you still think I’m wrong after reading the rest, well, that’s why we have horse races, as my grandfather liked to say.

So back to my question: am I a woman?

I’m not denying I am trans, and no, really: I am not detransitioning. I am not denying my mind and my soul are female and that I feel very much in sync with the female gender. I enjoy my femininity and I’m not ashamed to say so, just as I never despised being a male or any part of my former male identity. I was assigned male at birth. And 40 years later, there came a time in which, after a long struggle, I stopped fighting, I stopped pretending and embraced that my true gender is female and that although I could present as male, it didn’t feel natural. It no longer fit me.

But if I’m not a man, does that make me a woman? Well, if someone else assigned male at birth lays claim to being a woman, I’ll take them at their word. I’m only asking about me. And please note: I am not using the adjective “real” here, as if to differentiate between a woman and a “real woman.” That’s offensive, in my book. We are all of us real… some more than others!

11150410_10206435085336089_2894930514843387634_nMy body has undergone very distinct and gender appropriate changes (without the benefit of surgery). I’ve got a face that appears feminine enough, wide hips, a healthy butt and generous boobs. I’ve lactated; I could have nursed if I chose to. Sitting down (or squatting) to pee is my only option without making a mess; no more writing my name in the snow for me!

And my instincts are distinctly, if not stereotypically, feminine: I prefer collaboration to confrontation; I’m a gatherer and a listener; I find shopping therapeutic; I’m in control of my emotions but it doesn’t take much for me to feel empathy or to cry; I have close female friends who I treasure, and I enjoy our ability to share our misadventures without judgment; I am strong, but I can be my own worst enemy, and my maternal drive is fine tuned. I watch over my kids like a hawk, anticipating their needs and reveling in how I can provide for them, from sustenance to spirit-building. I am not their mom; they have a wonderful mother who loves them and cares for them equally if not more. But it’s clear to my kids, who still call me “dad,” that I’m a lot more than just their dad.

Perhaps given all these facts you need to consider me as something separate, something like… “transgender woman.”

It does fit; to every woman who grew up as a girl, to every girl who aspires to be a woman, and to every mother and grandmother and wife and daughter, I can sense what you feel and I can understand what that feeling means to you… but I cannot feel as you do.

I don’t know what a period feels like, even though I’ve had stomach cramps and PMS-like hormone-driven mood swings and cravings. I’ll never know what it’s like to feel life growing within me, to carry a child inside me or to bring a baby into the world. I have only a small sense of the incredible humongous exaltation that intercourse and orgasm must be like for a woman; that is something I hope to be able to fully experience someday.

And then? Well, then, certainly I should be entitled to declare, “I am woman.”

I will not say, “hear me roar.”

Let me be clear: I am not claiming someone needs to be a mother to be a woman, nor that a vagina is what defines a human being as a woman. It’s what’s between our ears not our legs that defines our gender. Me included. I just think the difference between “woman” and “transgender woman” is one worth noting, when appropriate. 

Just as you might say bald white guy, or red-headed woman or Asian child, it’s rarely necessary to point out the difference, and downright wrong to discriminate based on those differences. 

But treating everyone fairly as fellow human beings doesn’t erase our differences, and shouldn’t! I’m Irish. I am right-handed and have blue eyes. Does that matter? Not particularly. 

But when and if it does, I’ll gladly say, that’s me. The same applies to my womanhood.

So, If someone calls me a woman or picks up on the obvious visual cues, and sees me as a woman, I won’t correct them. But I also won’t deny I am a transgender woman. In some circumstances, I do sometimes out myself as trans because it’s relevant or necessary. I’m lucky that in most cases, it’s not, and I don’t feel compelled to share my personal life with acquaintances or strangers.

So, stranger… why am I sharing this with you?

Because I felt it necessary to underscore what Jenner and the awesome team at ABC News made clear: that being trans is just another way to be. We bleed, we sing, we feel heartbreak, we feel joy. We want to be loved, and when love is not possible, or offered, many of us would be happy to settle for being accepted and understood. We know what it feels like to have love withdrawn, to have a phone conversation end abruptly. We share the pain of feeling a door slammed in our face or a punch landing on our jaw. Some of us have been raped, beaten, stabbed, shot, burned, tortured, mutilated and murdered.

Because we’re trans.

Jenner is among us now, and I for one welcome him, and embrace the struggle that in some ways, perhaps many ways, matched my own.

Bruce-Jenner-interview-x400But we are not Bruce Jenner, folks. He’s not us. He said very clearly he is not our spokesperson and wants to do good, and all that is very welcome.

No one is asking him to be our icon, our standard bearer, our hero. And the hope is that the media publicity machine won’t try to do that, despite Kardashian evidence to the contrary.

I encourage Jenner to listen, and not talk, so he can learn about others’ experiences, about trans women of color, about trans men, about the children whose parents can’t accept them as trans, and the supportive moms and dads who worry their child will never really be happy because of transphobia and prejudice. I hope he keeps praying, as I have, knowing God loves us. Even us.

And he will make mistakes. God knows I have, and I am blessed to know His forgiveness. As Jenner said, I have apologized for my life, to everybody, and I will keep doing so as each day adds to another in a string of days living true. April 29th will mark two years since I chose my name and made it my own, forever.

I won’t deny Jenner his right to call himself a woman, or anyone else. I don’t think of myself as “less than” because I prefer to use the term “transgender woman.”  As a journalist whose job is to parse those kinds of differences, I feel better having done so.

But given that my job is to tell stories, let us now find those whose stories must be told, in addition to Bruce’s. My dear friend Jennell Jaquays offered a laundry list of transgender men and transgender women whose lives matter and merit a spotlight twice as big as the one in Malibu. A trans woman writer I’ve known longer than almost any other, Ina Fried, compared this moment Jenner has created to the one Ellen brought about, when at last it was okay to be gay; the hope is the same could happen to those like Ina and me who are transgender.

Let’s remember that after Ellen came out, we moved on, and learned our gay neighbor is just another neighbor, that the lesbian who works in the cubicle across the way isn’t anything more or less than another co-worker.

And me? I’m on my way to being just another woman. But today, I am a transgender woman, and have been for awhile now.

Still, I would be grateful to you for thinking of me as… just another woman.

11046378_10206428533692302_2786928928095290804_oLove,

Dawn

XOXO