Easter Rising

IMG_5891It’s been a few months since my last blogpost, and I felt today was a good day to count my blessings.

Tonight is the 3rd night of Passover, and the day that I used to mark as Easter Sunday. My conversion to Judaism is imminent, and it makes my heart soar to be on this journey.

I don’t see it as leaving anything behind as much as accepting a truth about myself and where my spirit and soul reside, and it is in the faith of my children, my beloved, and my in-laws. And perhaps also in the legacy of my great, great grandfather Moses Ennis, a tailor in Castlebar, County Mayo, Ireland.

So nu?

This week, Irish people the world over will mark the 103rd anniversary of the Easter Rising.

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Because I stumbled soon after my transition became public in 2013, I feel connected to the bloody rebellion against England. Like me, it at first failed, but ultimately led to the creation of the Irish Free State, a republic that is my ancestral home, and still home to both my mother and father’s families. Which makes them my family.

It was two years ago this summer that the children and I traveled to our ancestral homeland. I look forward to returning to Ireland, perhaps in 2020. Or sooner, if President Trump continues to oppress transgender Americans as he and his administration are doing. Some folks would go to Canada, but it’s Ireland for us.

Our extended family still needs your prayers and good thoughts, as one of our loved ones is ailing. I won’t get into details because they’re not mine to share.

But other than that, life is good. No, really!

In fact, we’re all doing well. Our oldest is in his last quarter of his first year of college. Our middle child is finishing her junior year and we’re starting to look at colleges, and the youngest is a boy scout in seventh grade and studying for his bar mitzvah this fall.

Together we are doing all the planning, and this being my first one without his mom to help us, I’ll admit it’s a challenge. But we have the hall, the cake, the deejay and a theme. Next up is invitations, seating charts and of course, the actual ceremony and celebration!

I’ve been teaching journalism, advertising and public relations at the University of Hartford since January, and I’ll be back in the fall. This week, my students in my Writing for the Media class are almost at the conclusion of viewing “All The President’s Men.”

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My News Reporting students are conducting interviews, asking people their thoughts on the redacted Mueller Report. Their assignment: find people on both sides of the Trump divide.

I’ve been managing editor of Outsports since February and it’s been going very well. This was my most favorite story to tell so far, and this one was an exclusive. 

And last week, I signed a contract to be a contributor to Forbes.com, starting soon. So, financially, we’re in the best shape we’ve been in since 2016. I still have huge debts, and even with three paychecks, we still struggle, but my head is at long last above water.

Yes, life is good. Our seder was fun and for the first time in the 22 years since I’ve been co-hosting seders, we had a guest, our housemate Kati. Dahlia was there but we missed having our oldest child at the table! In fact, it’s the first time in 20 years we didn’t have all three children sitting with us, and our third Seder since we lost the most important person in our lives. But life goes on.

As it must. And there will be people who will gossip and whisper about the fact that for the first time in a long time I shared photographs of our children here. Well, let them.

It’s proof we are happy, and together (sorta), and thriving. And that’s worth sharing.

Cancer is stalking me

It’s taken me all week to process this, and share this news. A few days ago, on my mother’s birthday, I got the results of a genetic test following my annual mammogram (#12) and I learned I inherited the BRCA1 gene, putting me at “high risk” for cancer. Most folks have a one percent chance; the odds for me are 50/50.

Given the fact I lost my beloved Wendy, my father and my father in law to this killer, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. And it’s not like I’ve been diagnosed, not at all. I am surrounded by fighters and survivors and relatives of those who fought… so I am, at the moment, still on the sidelines… or to use a baseball analogy, I am in the bullpen, warming up.

I’m not going to just sit here; I am heeding this wake up call. The road ahead will be marked by enhanced screenings, a better diet and more exercise. I will fight cancer before it gets its cold dead hands on me. I will survive this as I’ve survived every single challenge and overcome every obstacle in my path. My children and those who love me expect nothing less.

I feel as if cancer is a stalker, or worse: a serial killer. And the cops just knocked on my door to warn me I’m a potential target.

“Get out of town while you can!” they say. So I have bid farewell to the city of bad eating habits and sedentary living. I am running for my life.

If you’ll allow me one more metaphor, I will wage a war through my writing and my social media and my media platforms. And if you have a relative in your immediate family who is either a cancer survivor or was diagnosed, I strongly encourage you to check with your insurance about getting tested. Mine was covered 100% and I’m grateful that I have this knowledge to set the course ahead to healthier living.

Click here to learn more about BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations and genetic testing.

Stop Lying, Jeffrey Tambor

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Jeffrey Tambor (left) and Dawn Ennis, May 9, 2015 at the GLAAD Media Awards NYC. Photographer: Hannah Simpson

Although what I experienced pales in comparison to what other women endured… this week I finally broke my silence with a post on Facebook. It’s been a long time coming.

The news first broke last fall that award-winning actor Jeffrey Tambor was accused of inappropriate sexual behavior by my FB friends Van Barnes, his assistant on the TV show Transparent, and actress Trace Lysette.,who has appeared on that show among others.

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Trace Lysette (left) and Van Barnes

I was not among those who were stunned and surprised. Not just because this came amidst the #MeToo scandals rocking Hollywood and big business. Not just because I knew as a journalist that the accusations would need to be investigated before any action would be taken. But as a woman, I knew in my heart that there could be no mistake: the beloved, cherished and much-heralded actor who won Emmy awards, a Golden Globe, and more, had crossed the line.

Because Jeffrey Tambor had also fondled me.

He actually did it twice: Once at a star-studded gala at the Waldorf in New York City in May 2015, and a few months later at a Transparent publicity shoot in West Hollywood. I’ll share the details in a moment, but first let me address the bigger question: why didn’t I say anything? If not the first time, why not call him out the second time?

I admit, and I’m embarrassed to do so, that first time it did not even occur to me that I should. And when he touched me, even though this was in front of several other people in both instances, I remained silent, endured his touch, and just waited for it to be over.

I thought at the time, this is the shit that men do. I never said anything… because I thought this was what we did, as women. And thanks to Van, Trace, Tarana Burke, Ashley Judd, Rose McGowan, Alyssa Milano, and so many more women — and men like Anthony Rapp — I found the strength to detail my own #MeToo story here. No longer should any of us remain silent.

“Dawn Ennis!” shouted the actor with the distinct baritone voice, as he crossed the ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria the night of May 9, 2015. “There you are!” said Jeffrey Tambor, as he sidled up to me and took my hand. He was dressed in a men’s suit.

If my jaw hit the floor any harder, there would have been a crater. Here was one of Hollywood’s most well-known character actors, now the star of Amazon’s new streamed series… a straight, cisgender man who ‘friended’ me and several other transgender women on Facebook, presumably to be more “authentic” in his role of Maura Pfefferman… here was Jeffrey Tambor calling my name out in a crowd of celebrities and LGBT superstars.

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Dawn Ennis selfie, May 9 2015

I was there at the invitation of my friend and mentor, Jennifer Finney Boylan, then a member of the GLAAD board of directors and a featured speaker at that night’s GLAAD Media Awards. Decked out in a voluptuous violet gown, I was a victim of a Sephora stylist’s really poor taste in brow pencil, But I managed to find the words just as Tambor’s other hand wrapped around my torso.

I could feel everyone’s eyes upon us.

“I cannot believe you recognize me from Facebook,” I told him. Perhaps all those tabloid headlines helped, too. But either way, I stood in surprise, and not just at the recognition, but at the arm that now found its way around my waist. “Oh, I’m a big fan of yours! Your stories, all you’ve been through. Let’s take a selfie!” Tambor said to me, my mind racing. What was happening?

He had found me in one of those rare moments when my iPhone was not in my hand, so a friend snapped our photo as his grip held me tight and close to his body. The cheeks of my face turned bright red as I felt my left buttcheek squeezed, in that moment before the flash of the cameraphone blinded us.

And… then he was gone. I looked around, saw several others following him through the ballroom, my friends smiling at me, happy at the recognition bestowed upon me by a big name celebrity, and I thought, there was nothing I could say about what just happened. If anyone saw it, nobody said anything. I guessed I should just chalk up another first-time experience, being the woman I am. This is what happens, trans or cisgender. I didn’t feel good about the objectification, the fondle or the forced intimacy of his body pressed against mine. I took it as a price I had to pay to be who I am.

Fast-forward to August, and to a soundstage in West Hollywood, where after many, many, many requests, the producers of Transparent invited me — the new news editor at The Advocate Magazine, and its first out transgender editor — to visit a gathering of all the stars.

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Photographer’s master sheet of talent from Amazon’s Transparent, August 2015

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The soundstage

They gathered for publicity portraits, and to be interviewed by me about the much anticipated second season. It was the kind of exclusive I had hoped for, chatting up the stars behind the scenes, getting to know them and how their characters were about to evolve.

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Melora Hardin (left) and Gaby Hoffman

Although I only chatted briefly with Amy Landecker, Melora Hardin and literally bumped into Gaby Hoffman as I helped her wheel her baby stroller in the front door, Carrie Brownstein, Jay Duplass, Alexandra Billings and the incredible Judith Light spent about 15 to 20 minutes each, examining the work they were doing and how it relates to their LGBT audience, particularly transgender women like me. In addition,

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Jay Duplass (left) and Dawn Ennis

Carrie talked about how different this role was from her work on Portlandia; Jay and I laughed about his portrayal of a truly selfish and immature manchild, and the lessons to be learned from playing Josh. Judith and I discussed our love of Broadway, and fulfilling the part of mother figure even off-camera, my worries for my then-ailing wife. And Alexandra, who is trans, shared how being misgendered and being mistreated by cisgender men empowered her instead of debilitating her, and challenged her to persevere.

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Dawn Ennis (left) and Judith Light

That is when I got word that it was time to leave, and that I would not be seeing Mr. Tambor.

“Okay,” I said. “We’ve already met,” and besides, I had more than enough material for my readers.  I figured what Alexandra and Melora had to say about their characters and their own authentic identities would be of more interest than yet another interview with the star of the show, which had pretty much been done to death.

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Alexandra Billings (left) and Dawn Ennis

I was actually leaving the soundstage, when who should come around the bend but Tambor himself, leading an entourage of hair and makeup people. The biggest difference between May and August was he was wearing his wig, fake nails, makeup and a muumuu instead of the fancy man’s suit I’d seen him in before.

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Jeffrey Tambor as Maura on Amazon’s Transparent

Van, his “Girl Friday,” had exchanged emails with me, but I really didn’t get much of a chance to talk with her on this busy day.

Yet once again, without me needing to be introduced or get his attention, her boss called out my name. “Dawn Ennis!” he bellowed.

I’m someone who isn’t starstruck meeting leaders and presidents, nor actors and celebrities of all kinds, since I myself was a child actor and model beginning at the age of four. But there was no denying I was again flattered by the fact that Tambor acted as if he knew me — and acted is probably the most important word in that sentence. Given that he grabbed my butt at the GLAAD Awards, maybe he felt he did know me, in his own way.

The memory was fresh, so when he walked up to me, I used both hands to grasp his. And that worked, for a moment.

“Good to see you again, Jeffrey. Thank you for what you do to represent girls like me,” I told him, sincerely. He let go of my hands, clasped my face in both hands, and then used them to firmly grasp my shoulders and pull me in for a tighter than expected hug.

“No, thank you!” Tambor replied, effusively. “Thank you, for all that it is that you do. Thank you. It’s for you and for everyone like you that I do this,” he said.

All the stars had given me a hug of one kind or another. All were meeting me for the first time. Not Tambor. And I thought I was prepared.

As I started to pull my body back, away from his embrace, I could not help but feel his long arms slide down from my shoulders… and his hands find their way straight to my rear end.

And… squeeze.

“Okay, well, go break a leg,” I muttered as I abruptly took a step back. Not sure if anyone noticed the spring in my step from that double grab… but once again, as inappropriate as it was, I did not exclaim or confront him or ask if anyone saw what he did. If they did, I suspect it probably wouldn’t have been news to anyone who worked closely with him. Just another day, another buttocks.

I thanked my hosts and hightailed it off the soundstage, walking my New York walk of big fast strides to get to the safe harbor of my car.

I told one person, and only one person, and that was my wife, before she died. We had separated since my transition two years earlier, and stayed separated after I resumed my transition, She was intent on eventually divorcing me, and in spite of everything, I still loved her… but we had found a way forward as friends.

Hearing me tell her how a famous actor had treated me like any other woman surely couldn’t have been easy, and neither was hearing her tell me what so many cisgender women say when this kind of thing happens to trans women (and if I’m not being clear, we absolutely HATE hearing this):

“Welcome to womanhood.”

Except in my case, I didn’t feel particularly welcome. Being told this makes most trans women I know feel “othered,” as if we are mere pledges to the sorority and not yet really women. Now, the truth is, I had certainly pinched my wife’s butt more than once, but I was living as a male and we were married almost 20 years. I could not get my mind around the idea that a man felt comfortable groping a woman in that way, or worse.

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Trace Lysette

And then I read Van’s post. And Trace’s account. And all the other women whose stories had preceded theirs and followed them, especially Anthony Rapp’s. Eventually, I worked up the courage to tell my own #MeToo story of when I was sexually abused as a teen model, which I wrote about for The Huffington Post. 

But even then, I resisted revealing these particular events. Truth is, they were still too fresh, and the backlash against the movement was virulent. I’ve had more than my fair share of tabloid attention in the last five years, and I’m not seeking any more. I do this now because I can no longer deny it happened, and happened again, and because Jeffrey Tambor continues to deny the accusations against him, insisting he was treated unfairly and blames a “toxic politicized atmosphere.”

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Van Barnes

No, sir: as Van and Trace have said more eloquently than I ever can, you have no one to blame but yourself. I consider myself lucky to have escaped your clutches twice with minimal scarring. And I’ve told you so.

All this just makes me wonder who else has not yet told their Jeffrey Tambor story.

I wish it had not taken me so long. I wish this was something no woman ever had to do. But it is in the telling that we heal, we grow, and we show that we will not be silenced. Never again.

I send my eternal praise and gratitude to Van Barnes and Trace Lysette and Anthony Rapp for inspiring me with their bravery and courage. As Van said, may it be easier for the next one.

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Dawn Ennis is a journalist, a blogger at lifeafterdawn.comHuffPost and Medium, and the host of a talk show on YouTube: “RiseUP With Dawn Ennis.” 

She got her start in New York City working behind the scenes at CNN. Ennis wrote and produced for CBS, NBC, and ABC News, and has also worked as a manager at TV stations across the country. 

Ennis was America’s first transgender journalist in a TV network newsroom when she came out 4 and a half years ago, and started a new career as an online journalist and independent video producer.

She is a widow who does the job of mom for three children who call her “Dad.” They reside in Connecticut with their cat, Faith. 

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.

Be Kind

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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.

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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

Six months


Six months ago today our world changed. I woke up to a text from Wendy in the hospital:
“I think I’m going home today.” 
It’s also my late father in law’s birthday. My hope is they are together in paradise. 
Above, a photo from the last time she did come home from the hospital. Miss her today and everyday.
Part of my “to do” list today is to order her headstone. The inscription is something we worked together to compose; her mother, brother, and of course our children wrote the words, and I am as always the copy editor. I’ll share those words when the time comes for the unveiling this fall.
PS our struggle continues… and I’m not ashamed to ask for help for our kids to reach our goal of funding their education. As for day in, day out, we get by on my meager salary and federal and state benefits, which is enough to buy groceries and kids clothing and pay bills. I’m a regular at Goodwill and our town and temple’s food pantries, and I firmly believe there’s no shame in accepting help when it’s offered. To those who’ve already given so much, thank you. 
A trust has been established by Wendy’s brother, Robert Lachs. 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: https://www.gofundme.com/zc4q96x4

Thank you.

I’ll be their grandma

Hockey-Stick-and-Puck-Photographic-Print-C11950881You’d think today would be a day in which my youngest son would be riding a cloud after a successful first session of hockey camp. Instead, he just crawled into my bed (currently doubling as my “home office”), looking for hugs because, in his words, fighting back tears: “my children will grow up without a grandma.”

He’s nine, and he’s thinking about his future offspring. This is the child who feels with his heart, not his fingers or toes. Everything he does, he does with all of his heart.

Embracing him, holding him tight, we lay in the bed Wendy and I once shared, arm in arm, holding on tight.

“I’ll be their grandma,” I told him, trying to be reassuring, “although I recognize it won’t be the same. But I promise, I’m going to be the best grandma I can be. And I’m sure Grandma Debbie will stick around a long time so she can be a great grandmother to your kids, just like Grandma Sophie was. Don’t worry, buddy, it’s going to be okay.”

In two days it will be six months since he lost his mom.

This is what it is to teach a 9-year-old to live with the hole in his heart. We are all learning.