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.

“Does your husband know you’re doing this?”

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“Does your husband know you’re doing this?” That was one of the questions Democrat Jillian Gilchrest faced when she went door-to-door across West Hartford, Conn., in her first political campaign ever. “Yes, he does, and he supports me 100-percent,” Gilchrest told the skeptical man.

Skeptics were decidedly outnumbered in the August primary in which Gilchrest defeated a 23-year incumbent for his seat in the Connecticut State Legislature, representing her hometown in the 18th Assembly district. Andy Fleischmann’s 12-terms as a strong advocate for West Hartford and most recently as chairman of the education committee were not enough to overcome the wave of momentum Gilchrest had built both online and in person.

Watch my interview with Jillian Gilchrest by clicking the link below, and you’ll find more links and information about this month’s episode by scrolling down.

Gilchrest faces Republican Town Councilor Mary Fay in the November election.

Here’s the link to Gilchrest’s campaign and you can follow her on Twitter by clicking here.

You can read about outgoing Assemblyman Fleischmann here.

If you haven’t registered to vote, or you want to check or change your affiliation, click here if you live in Connecticut and click here for any other state. 

If you’re interested in learning more about the NLGJA — The Association of LGBTQ Journalists, click here for their website. 

The incident involving former member Marshall McPeek was first reported in a tweet by them’s Mary Emily O’Hara: 

Marshall McPeek, shown on the left in the photo of the emcees. apologized and resigned his membership in the NLGJA. 

There has been a firestorm of reaction since the incident.

I added my own comments in response to Mr. McPeek’s tweeted apology:

However, another NLGJA member, Steve Freiss, offered a different opinion, declaring “Everybody’s wrong,” and I share it here in an attempt to show there is more than one side to this story.

Your comments are welcome.

Send me a message if you’re interested in being our next special correspondent!

And stay tuned for details about BEFORE THE WAR, the upcoming podcast I’m launching soon with Chardonnay Merlot!

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“Am I Next?”

Processed with VSCO with oak3 presetMy daughter and I took part in last month’s March For Our Lives on the grounds of Connecticut’s capitol. We left our “pussy hats” from the 2017 protest behind, but she did bring along a homemade sign, replete with handrawn blood-drips and the question, “Am I Next?”

There we met teachers, students, mothers and fathers and many, many little children among the thousands who marched and rallied. Also in attendance, this week’s guest on RiseUP With Dawn Ennis: Kevin Sullivan, a legend in Connecticut politics and currently the commissioner of revenue services.

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Yes, he’s the Tax Man. And in this episode, he has important advice for everyone still working on your taxes (the IRS extended its deadline until midnight tonight).

Sullivan is also the former mayor of my hometown, West Hartford, a former member of the town council, a former state senator and president of the state senate. And Commissioner Sullivan also served as Connecticut’s lieutenant governor. In addition to safeguarding the state’s revenue coffers, he also serves our town as a leader in the Democratic Party. With his help and sponsorship, I am honored to serve as an alternate representative for my district on the town council. That’s one way I’m rising up.

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Also this month, my special correspondent is a mom of six children in Alexandria, Virginia: Amanda Brewer, a military wife who never expected she’d become an advocate for transgender rights. That all changed when her daughter, came out as trans at age 11.

I profiled the Brewers as well as another military family they helped fight bureaucracy at the Pentagon.

Amanda bravely accepted my invitation to share how she became an activist for trans rights, and I’m so grateful to her for telling her story.

You’ll find helpful links and more information below the link to this month’s show.

Wow, how about that thumbnail of me? Ouch!

Thank you in advance for watching, liking, sharing, and subscribing!

You can support families like Amanda Brewer’s by supporting the American Military Partners Association, which is actively fighting both the Pentagon and the Trump administration on behalf of trans military troops and their families.

To find out more about the March For Our Lives movement, click here. 

If you’re interested in learning more about Commissioner Kevin Sullivan or the department of revenue services, click here. And you’ll find information about state tax refunds here.

The IRS website is here for federal tax filing information.

Click here to register to vote in Connecticut.  The League of Women Voters Education Fund has a website to learn about voting in other states. Click here to access that page.

Read about West Hartford’s Jonathan Harris and his bid to be Connecticut’s next governor here. 

To read about my decision to convert from Roman Catholicism to Judaism, click here. 

The story about the man who decided to stop dating me after learning I’m trans is here.

And my personal #MeToo story about getting groped by actor Jeffrey Tambor is here on lifeafterdawn.com

If you are interested in becoming a RiseUP special correspondent, please contact me via the comments section! All you need is a camera phone and a story to tell about how you’ve taken action in your community. No experience required!

Dawn at First Event

My Fingers Are Weeping

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My Fingers Are Weeping: A poem by Sophie Ennis

my palms are sweaty, i know.

and yes, it’s kind of hard to grow

when people tell me that i am gross,

and make fun of my anxiety.

 

but does anyone recognize the irony,

of telling me that i am faking,

when it’s difficult for me to hold the hand of the person i am dating.

 

my hands are thorns. i wish roses came with them.

i can’t hug, i can’t hold,

i can’t let anyone touch me when it is cold.

i feel the need to explain the constant personal thorns on my hands,

because personal is publicized when no one understands.

 

my fingers are weeping from the insults and names.

my thorns learned how to self sustain.

there are more every day. i don’t know how to stop them.

 

they keep coming and coming, someone please tell me how to stop them.

but then you put your hand in mine one day, and our fingers intertwined.

you were the first person to say that you didn’t mind.

the color red escaped from our hands. had my thorns made you bleed?

 

no.

 

you brought me a rose when i couldn’t make my own. please don’t ever leave,

or take your hand out of mine.

hold tightly, because for once, i wasn’t lying when i said i’m fine.

 

13301446_526487294218018_5159949099113956741_o.jpgHearing my daughter read this aloud just now moved me to tears, and I felt I must share it (with her permission).

Thank you, Soph. “I love I.”

I wish that whoever you are, wherever you go, no matter how sweaty your palms are, that you find someone who loves your thorns as well as your roses, someone who is always happy to hold your hand.

No matter what.

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RiseUP with Gov. Malloy and Sarah McBride

A new episode of my talk show RiseUP With Dawn Ennis is live on YouTube in advance of tonight’s premiere on WHC-TV at 9:30pm.

My guests are Gov. Dannel Malloy of Connecticut, and Sarah McBride of HRC, who is out with a stunning memoir, Tomorrow Will Be Different.

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Gov. Malloy talked with me one on one about his accomplishments over his two terms in office, responded to his critics and answered questions from viewers, one of which is: why don’t you just resign now? His answer? “Walk in my shoes” before he’ll consider that viewer’s advice. Malloy told another viewer inquiring about taxes, “Wake up!”

We’ll also look at the newest candidate to enter the competitive race to replace Malloy, former West Hartford mayor Jonathan Harris.

Also in this episode, Sarah McBride explains what motivated her to work in activism and told me what she hopes readers who aren’t LGBTQ will learn from her book, now on sale.

You’ll find links to help you learn more about the people and topics we cover in this episode by scrolling down below the video link! If you enjoy what you see, please like. share and subscribe:

If you’re looking to contact Gov. Dannel Malloy, here’s the link to send him (or, more accurately, his staff) an email. They are very responsive! And if you have a specific problem or issue you want the governor and his staff to address, click here to contact the Constituent Services Office.

Watch the governor’s final state of the state address here and read the transcript here. 

You can read up on Connecticut politics by clicking here for the Hartford Courant’s section devoted to political news coverage.

Find out more about Jonathan Harris’s campaign for governor of Connecticut by clicking here. 

Harris, of course, faces some stiff competition later this year in the state primary:

DEMOCRATS RUNNING FOR GOVERNOR OF CONNECTICUT

MARK STEWART GREENSTEIN

REPUBLICANS CANDIDATES FOR GOVERNOR SO FAR

This episode’s special correspondent is Sarah McBride, the national press secretary for Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the first out transgender person to ever address a national political convention. Sarah is the author of Tomorrow Will Be Different, her memoir which the cover explains is about love, loss, and the fight for trans equality.

Read about Sarah and find out how you can get a copy of her book by clicking here

Sarah’s page at HRC can be found here. She’s on Twitter, and Instagram, too. And she’s written powerful stories at medium.com as well. Click here to read what else she’s written.

Click here to watch a short excerpt from Jennifer Finney Boylan’s powerful interview with Sarah at The Strand bookstore in New York City, on March 6th.

You can also order Sarah’s book on Amazon.com by clicking here. For information about Sarah’s book tour, you’ll find a list of cities and dates here. 

If you would like more information about Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford, reform Judaism or about the celebration of Purim and other Jewish holidays, visit CBI’s new and improved website for everything you ever wanted to know, but didn’t know who to ask! And expect to hear more in upcoming episodes about CBI’s 175th anniversary celebration!

If you like what you see, please like, share and subscribe, to both WHC-TV’s YouTube channel and to my own, as well as to this blog. Thank you!

 

 

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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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.