Passions Fly

This month on RiseUP with Dawn Ennis, meet a longtime lawmaker who is an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ causes and her constituents here in Connecticut, as well as a new Air Force recruit,  a country music lover, a man who races sailboats and a gay journalist who is helping raise awareness of long-hidden racism in his hometown.


Activism, advocacy, service, song, and sailing: they’re very different experiences, for sure. 

But what each of these folks have in common is their passion. 


My passion for 34 years has been storytelling. I’m at a crossroads right now as I post this, but I can honestly say that even if I were to never ever publish another word, I’ll still pour most of my passion into the most important work I’ve ever done: doing the job of mom and being a dad to my three motherless children. 

One of them makes a cameo in this episode: singing is her passion. I hope you’ll watch and share! 

Links mentioned in the show are below the link. 

If you’re interested in getting involved in civic government, reach out to the League of Women Voters. In Connecticut their website is here. 

For more info on Philadelphia’s  inclusive flag and efforts toward greater equality in Philly, check out the More Color More Pride campaign. 

You can also read more about Ernest Owens and his work at G Philly magazine where he is the editor. 

Thanks especially to Meredith West who left WHC-TV last month for Atlanta. I wish her the very best!

What gives you Pride?

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It’s June, which in the U.S. and countries around the world, is the month lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender and queer-identifying individuals celebrate our love, our authenticity, our existence and our right to be who we really are.

To work as we really are.

To live where we wish.

To love who we love.

To be. 

I asked my neighbors in West Hartford, Connecticut what gives them Pride. The answers were uplifting, and I had to shake my head at the relative few who decided to not respond when asked the question. Thankfully, I found many people were happy to participate, including another mom I haven’t seen in a decade. My best wishes to her family, who like mine is celebrating a rite of passage this Spring: High School Graduation!

Sunday is Father’s Day, and yes I do celebrate that day with my kiddos. I may do the job of mom, but I’ll always be their dad. 

Also this month, we mark a more solemn occasion as we remember 49 people who lost their lives because of hate.

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I ask that each of us direct our energy to the cause of ending this kind of violence, unspeakable tragedy and outright hatred.

For decades, hate has been directed at an organization that provides essential healthcare services to millions of Americans, mostly women but not just women. This group, through its chapters nationwide, provides abortions — but not just abortions.

As organizing and training specialist Patrick Comerford explains in this month’s episode of RiseUP with Dawn Ennis, Planned Parenthood’s doctors, nurses and counselors devote about 3 percent of their time, energy and effort to the legal and safe practice of abortion.

Three percent.

The other 97 percent of Planned Parenthood’s mission is to provide comprehensive healthcare, counseling and medical services to patients. In fact, Planned Parenthood is the number one provider of healthcare to transgender men and women and gender nonconforming individuals.

But many of our leaders in Washington and our friends in the conservative movement want nothing less than to choke the life out of Planned Parenthood, to slash its funding and leave those who rely on its essential services no choice in their healthcare but Christian-run facilities. 

Comerford, the first gay man I’ve welcomed to my show, talked about how he sought out Planned Parenthood as a young man, determined to be sexually active before coming out to his parents. 

His mission on behalf of this institution is to raise awareness of our political process and how people can get involved in their communities, in their governments and, as I like to say, RiseUP. You’ll find links below to help you do just that.

18491717_318355435264194_9066016241487354522_oThis month’s special correspondent is award-winning blogger and Houston native Monica Roberts. A pioneer and living legend in the transgender community, she is a firebrand, a force to be reckoned with in the state legislature, as well as a proud Texan.

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Her blog, Transgriot, reminds us that June 12th marked not only one year since the massacre at Pulse in Orlando, FL,  but also the 50th anniversary of the Loving v. Virginia decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which outlawed bans against interracial marriage.

In a few days we will be remembering the two-year anniversary of the high court’s ruling on marriage equality. And Roberts is in the midst of what is shaping up to be a real dogfight, a legal battle over trans rights on her home turf: Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has called a special session of the Legislature to decide where transgender students can go to the bathroom.

Read more about that fight and you’ll find other items Roberts and Comerford mentioned, below the link to the show via YouTube. West Hartford viewers can watch RiseUP on WHC-TV Channel 5 beginning Friday June 16 at 9 p.m..

Here are some of the links Pat Comerford mentioned in the show to help you get involved in local politics here in Connecticut:

EqualityCT.org is the site for Connecticut Equality.

PlannedParenthoodVotes.org is the site for Planned Parenthood of Southern New England

CGACt.gov is the site for the Connecticut General Assembly.

And you’ll find the national Planned Parenthood organization is here. 

Monica Roberts outlined what’s at stake in the Texas special session here on her blog.

My colleague Jeff Taylor who covers state legislative actions at LGBTQ Nation has this report on the special session in Austin that I think you’ll find very informative. 

And you can read about the 12 transgender victims of murder in 2017, a sad list which Roberts referred to, here, written with sensitivity and thoroughness by my LGBTQ Nation colleague Erin Rook, a transgender man.

Next month, we’ll be joined by Connecticut State Senator Terry Gerratana and my next special correspondent, Ernest Owens of Philadelphia, the award-winning out gay journalist.

Thank you for watching and please keep sharing and sending me your comments!

A special shoutout to one of the wonderful young women who helps me bring RiseUP to you every month: director Meredith West (left) is leaving Diana Chin and WHC-TV — and me — and moving to Atlanta for a new challenge. She will be missed! We wish her well.

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Ya gotta have faith

It’s here: episode 3 of RiseUP With Dawn Ennis!

This month, yes, the TV show Transparent does figure in our various discussions, but given that season four is still several months away, that’s not all we’re talking about.

We begin this episode of RiseUP with a look at faith — not necessarily the religious kind, but if that works for you, then yes, that’s one kind of faith that we address. And I will confess to having my own crises of faith, and not just in my religion, but in my extended family, now distant friends, even strangers who judge me without knowing who I am or where I’ve been. And I feel many of us believe our elected leaders have let us down, or are not giving us a reason to have faith that our world will be better.

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As Episode 3 debuts, the president of the United States has given clergy of all faiths a free pass to politicize their sermons and what they see as their holy work. No longer threatened by the tax man who warned them they might lose their tax-exempt status, every priest, reverend, minister, bishop, clergyman, rabbi, imam, shaman, and nun can now tell you that a vote for candidate A will save your soul, while a vote for candidate B will send you to eternal damnation. Political speech is to be protected, even if it’s anti-LGBTQ, says President Trump, because he believes the shepherds will say “only good things” and “what is in your heart.”

A lot of those hearts have no use for someone like me, and consider me evil, an abomination, and someone “delusional” or mentally ill who needs to be “cured.” Or told to go to hell. And they have free reign to say these things because of this executive order.

God help us all.

To fight oppression, especially faith-based oppression, we need faith in ourselves, and in our cause. Likewise to stop inequality on the job, inequity in housing, homelessness, and racial injustice. Learn more about the guests in this month’s episode, below.

First up is scholar and author Stephen Fuchs, rabbi emeritus of Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford, Connecticut, someone I’ve known for more than a dozen years.

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He’s an LGBTQ ally, a husband and grandfather, and an amazing individual who is an inspiration to many in my hometown. He has traveled the globe to educate about scripture and bring people together in love and understanding,

You can read more about Stephen on his website, rabbifuchs.com and if you’re interested in the books he discusses on the show, you can find them at that website as well as at amazon.com.

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To see and purchase a copy of ToraHighlights, featuring photographs by Lena Stein, check out Amazon’s German site. 

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The other incredible person we meet on RiseUp this month is Gillian Cameron, an actress, artist and educator as well as an accomplished storyteller in Southern California.

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For five years, Gillian has been sharing the tales of a knight from the time of King Arthur, but no ordinary knight is he. Calogrenant is the story of a man magically transformed into a maiden, and despite the steep learning curve and oppression of the era, as well as her own human foibles, she blazes a trail for #girlslikeus long before our modern era.

Banner copyYou can find her web comic each and every Sunday night at calogrenant.com and her first two books collecting all the work she’s done so far are for sale at the Calogrenant Shoppe on her website.

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Gillian also can be found on television, on the movie screen and on stage, depending on where you look.

She’s appeared on TV’s I Am Cait and Amazon’s Transparent, and is featured in The ‘Carol’ Support Group — about fans of the Oscar-winning movie Carol who love it just a little too much.

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Plus you can catch her on stage with her friend Alexa Hunter in The Alexian Chronicles. That will be staged May 19th and 20th at the Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica, California.

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11401337_10206873940867203_6109822987238053550_nContact Gillian via Twitter, or find her on Facebook. 

We’ve been friends for a long time now and remains my West Coast BFF. Even 3,000 miles apart, we find new ways to support one another and offer guidance, laughs, tears and support.

I’m so grateful that she is in my life, and I wish I could be the friend to her that she is to me.

I’m honored to share her with you this month and hope you adore her as much as I do.

If you’re someone who needs a friend, or is having a crisis of faith, or identity, or just feel like at you’re at the end of your rope, you’re in the right place.

There are resources here for you, and they won’t cost you a dime.

I know what it’s like to feel depressed, like giving up, and that no one in the world understands how much pain you are in. So many of us experience this, and it’s not uncommon that we feel that there is no fix, or solution, none that doesn’t end in death. I’m here to tell you as a survivor that it won’t necessarily get better soon, maybe not for awhile. But it will not always suck. There will be a hill after the valley, and you can take it from me that you are not alone.

If you are a transgender 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. Please take a moment to talk to one of these fine people, who will listen without judgment, and offer an ear without telling you “what you need to do.”

And I’m here, too. Find me via the comments section here, or on Facebook or Twitter.

Lastly, a small glitch caused the audio in this month’s episode to be somewhat fuzzy, or to use a technical term, overmodulated. It cannot be corrected until Monday, and so I thank you very much for your patience and understanding.

Thank you for watching RiseUp and for reading about my lifeafterdawn. See you next time!

They Watch the Watchers

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In the new episode of RiseUP, my new talk show on West Hartford Community Television and YouTube, I’m fortunate to give you a look behind the scenes of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The national organization has started an effort called People Power to challenge the Trump Administration’s efforts to ban Muslims from entering the U.S., and other attacks on Americans’ civil rights. Learn more about how to get involved here. 

Among the issues the Connecticut chapter is fighting for:

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Communications Director Meghan Smith filled in for executive director David J. McGuire, who was at the time of our taping testifying at the Capitol on the issue of drones.

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Watch the episode below, and scroll down for more information on this month’s episode.

Also appearing in this month’s program is my latest special correspondent: Maia Monet of Orlando, Florida. She’s a writer, photographer, singer and a burgeoning YouTube celebrity. She appears with the help of our friend and ally, Dev Michaels of the band Mad Transit. 

I’m also grateful to my friend, filmmaker Deana Mitchell, who shared with me a trailer of her film, Before Dawn/After Dawn, which appears in this episode to help tell my story. You’ll see clips from my YouTube series, DadMom, and a speech I gave to the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization, BBYO, following which I was inducted into the B’nai B’rith Girls organization. Thanks to budding videographer Liam Ennis for doing his best to capture this first

If you would like to know more about me, you can find the links here on lifeafterdawn.com including this overview of the key events of my transition and moment of fame, or infamy, depending on how you look at it.

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Forward March

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Tonight, the first episode of my debut talk show airs on WHC-TV, West Hartford Community Television, as well as on YouTube. I’m so excited to share this with you!

The show is called Rise UP with Dawn Ennis and our first episode is “Forward March.” My goal is to focus on politics and culture, guiding viewers to stand up for ourselves, for our beliefs. I, myself, am a progressive, but I hope viewers of all backgrounds will find information of interest.

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This blog that I have been writing for eight years now will serve as a resource for viewers, until I start a webpage dedicated solely to the program.

Below, you’ll find links to the events and groups I mention in the show, and to prior blog entries that expand upon my own story as I introduce viewers to my “Life After (becoming) Dawn.” Scroll down for these and other important links!

Here it is: episode one, shared with permission from WHC-TV’s YouTube Channel.

Due to time limitations and to keep from boring our viewers, I introduced you to part of my story — my child acting career — which was the subject of a lot of tabloid headlines in 2013 when I came out, because for almost five of the 12 years I worked as a model I worked as a girl. I was earning $100 a day when I “retired” from modeling in 1980, at the age of 16.

Here and here are two blog entries that expand upon that experience. And I’ll share more about my life in future episodes.

If you’re looking for information about the West Hartford Board of Education 2017-2018 Budget, click here for the town site and here for details on proposed spending and cuts that could decimate the education our town provides our children.

And below are the dates of upcoming meetings, and note that at some of these, you can not just listen but also be heard.

  • Budget Workshop #1 – March 15, Town Hall, 7 PM

  • Budget Workshop #2 – March 21, Town Hall, 7 PM

  • Council and Board of Education Forum – March 23, Charter Oak, 6 PM

  • Board Public Hearing – March 29, Town Hall, 7 PM

  • Budget Workshop #3 – March 29, After Public Hearing

  • Board Budget Adoption – April 4, Town Hall, 7 PM

  • Town Council Adoption – April 25, Town Hall, 7 PM

The BOE has also set up an email box for questions, suggestions and complaints related to the budget proposal and process. Send your sentiments to budget@whps.org

If you’re interested in Swing Left, the non-profit group working to take back the House of Representatives from Republican party control, then click here. Interested residents of West Hartford are being asked to focus on New York’s 19th Congressional District, stretching from the area east of Binghamton to just outside Albany and Schenectady. Information about that effort is here.

But as you can see from the map below, there are many, many other districts being targeted, more than 50, and if you’re invested in wresting control from the GOP, enter your zip code here and you’ll be linked to a district near you.

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If you’re looking for a non-partisan organization that welcomes both Republicans and conservatives as well as Democrats and liberals (and Libertarians and Working Party members and LGBTQ Americans, and so on), then check out the League of Women Voters.

And no, you don’t have to be a woman.

West Hartford residents should click here for information about the Greater Hartford chapter, and here if you’d like more information about how to join. The membership application is here. And if you’re looking for one where you live, here’s a link to the national organization which will direct you to the chapter in your area.

Dues are nominal (just $45 for new members), and one of the issues the league is working hard to support is to change our process of electing a president and eliminate the electoral college.

Tonight’s guest, Sarah Hambrick, spoke about an issue she is personally invested in: the Aid in Dying movement. Six states currently have legalized this way of ending life when the quality of life is no longer viable: Washington, Oregon, California, Montana, Colorado and Vermont. You can learn more about those states here. If you’d like more information about this, click here for an overview from the University of Washington, and Connecticut residents should click here for a January article from the Hartford Courant that reported it’s unlikely to be presented for action by the state legislature this year.

And you can learn more about my special correspondent Hannah Simpson by checking out her website, her Facebook page and following her on Twitter: @hannsimp

Please “like” our page on Facebook and follow our Twitter account, @RiseUPwithDawn. Send questions for Sarah or future guests by tweeting them to us or adding a comment here or on Facebook, and we promise to answer each and every one.

Next episode: the head of the Connecticut chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union joins us to discuss what they are doing here in the Constitution state and across the nation to advance its cause, and give us some info on how you can become more involved.

Thank you for watching and sharing!

Dawn

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Her eyes told me everything: The massacre in Sandy Hook

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Four years ago this morning, after working all night gathering news for a major TV network, I was headed home to my family in Connecticut when I got a call asking me to divert to Newtown. 

There were reports of multiple gunshots there.

 

My boss was candid: “You’re going to be our first eyes and ears on the ground. We are hearing, and it’s unconfirmed, there are a lot of people dead, and the worst part: many of them are children. Just get us some solid info. Be safe,” she said.

 
I drove into town before all the barriers and roadblocks were set, to keep curious onlookers and predatory media away from the crime scene.
 
I found myself on a street outside a firehouse, where eventually a couple emerged, and before I could ask the woman what had happened, her eyes locked with mine.
 
It was clear to me in an instant what had happened.
 
I saw in those grieving eyes the worst nightmare any mother could imagine. The look of someone whose entire world just ended.
 
I didn’t ask her a thing, not her name, not the circumstances of the tragedy still unfolding. I knew why I was there, what I was supposed to do, and what I was told to do: find out what happened and report back.
 
My instructions did not include making this family’s day worse. I mouthed the words, “I’m so sorry” to this mom whose eyes met mine, and let her pass.
 
I would work until late that night, walking all over town with a camera, interviewing witnesses, doctors, police spokesmen, and securing a live location for both the evening news and a special report, from which to broadcast live: a church that was holding a prayer service for the victims’ families and first responders.
My memory of that day is a bit like swiss cheese, with lots of holes, but I recall that I wasn’t out to everyone yet, and I remember how much I cried later that night, released from the burden of holding in the tears for so many hours.
And that wasn’t the only thing I had to hold in. Another woman working for a competitor and I went knocking on the door of a family down the road from the gunman, not to ask questions but to use their bathroom.
 “At least you could pee behind a tree,” she whispered to me, as we waited for a response.
“That’s the privilege of men,” I said to her, “and that’s not who I am.” She mistook my meaning, but her message was clear when she responded.
“Well, yeah, this is more civilized and practical, and who knows, maybe they’ll even talk to us.”
Actually, no, and they wouldn’t let us use their bathroom, either. Another neighbor did, but they claimed they had no idea about the gunman, his mother, or the families of those murdered.

We thanked them for their kindness and agreed to not tell anyone else about it, for fear their bathroom would become, in their words, “Grand Central Station.”

Every TV news truck within a hundred miles converged on sleepy little Newtown that day. Reporters and field producers and network correspondents and anchors and guest bookers and camera people and truck engineers and black car drivers, dozens and dozens of them.

And several hours after the sun had set and the world had seen what we had learned, I finally got to go home and hug my own first grader, tighter than I ever had before. 

I did so for every one of the parents in Sandy Hook who could not do that, and I thought of the mom I had encountered… as well as all 20 moms and 20 dads, and the families of the Sandy Hook school employees, whose world ended that day in a hail of senseless gunfire.

“There’s something different about her”

 

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As big, burly, ex-marine Max took me in his tattooed arms and pulled me close, nearly off my barstool and toward his liquored lips, I felt… something.

Not his hand, moving slowly, up my skirt, although that did distract me for a moment.

It was time. It didn’t slow down, as time does in the movies and the romance novels. Instead, it rewound, pulling my concentration away from my corner barstool in the little Irish pub where we nine widows met regularly for wine, cocktails, and conversation.

And more wine.

I could sense the presence of Jackie, the only one left after many, many rounds, turning her eyes, her whole body, away from Max and me, this hunk of a man who sidled up to two moms at the bar, to chat us up and maybe have a little fun. And as my mind rode a tilt-a-whirl of memories, I accepted that’s why I was after, too: an escape, a thrill ride, a temporary diversion from grief.

My thoughts got lost in the spinning sensation sparked by my lips making contact with other lips, the process of thinking slowing to a stop until I was living in the moment. Excitement got my juices flowing and ignited a warm fire that started down below, the flames reaching up and rekindling my heart, gone cold.

Ten months. It’s been that long since my life changed, losing the love of my life, my spouse of almost 20 years, to cancer. And not long after that loss, I found something I’d never had in all my years: genuine, goodhearted, girlfriends.

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Jackie, Sam, Karen, Cait, Erynn, Michele, Debbie, Laura, Dani and me: the ten of us had met every other week at a local grief support group, some of us for months, some had been going for years. But it wasn’t long after I joined that we soon branched out, having emptied the tank of all our stories of struggle, crying through the many milestones together and lamenting why this was our cross to bear.

We felt as if we had graduated, and needed to find a venue that better fit our needs. Most but not all of us were weary of having to repeatedly reintroduce ourselves and retrigger our grief as new widows joined the group. Don’t get me wrong; I do think it is helpful to have those who’ve been around the block, so to speak, share their experience and guide those — like me — as they take their first steps into our horrible world.

Horrible because sooner or later, friends and family step back, unsure what to say or how to help, uncomfortable when we tell them, “yes, it’s still hard.” Hard because we are so used to having our other half to share the load, to make the memories and to hug away the hurt. And hurt, because there are holes in our hearts that will never, ever, be filled. Our job as single moms is to be everything to our kids, and show them how to learn to live with a hole in their hearts.

Not one widow’s story is like another’s, especially mine, I guess. We are each survivors of deadly accidents, fatal illnesses, suicides, overdoses and hearts that fail. But as much as wish to give back, there comes a time each of us has decided we need to practice self-care, and that includes going out.

It was in June at a noisy restaurant in Manchester, Connecticut, at my first-ever GNO — girls night out — that my cisgender (non-transgender) widow sisters finally felt comfortable to ask me about being transgender. And it was fine, we laughed, and they didn’t once make me uncomfortable. I hadn’t mentioned being trans that very first time I attended the widows group, for fear of being rejected.

“Sam had said to me, ‘there’s something different about her,’” Karen confessed. We laughed, but I made a confession, too: I had worried about how they might react.

Before I joined, one of the grief counseling leaders warned me that there might be resistance to me joining the group. And when I asked why, I was sure to look this woman in the eyes, so there’d be no mistaking how blown away I was, to suggest my grief might not hold the same value as other widows. “It’s just that, well, you said you two were separated, and that may not go over so well.”

Whew. Well at least it wasn’t “the trans thing.”

I paused, continuing to lock eyes with this usually kind, smiling soul who was going to stand between this group and I. Feeling determined, I decided a softer, quieter tone was what was required, even if I did want to scream.

“I am grieving. I loved as much as any one person can, and now I’m alone. No matter what else we are to one another, won’t that be something we can all relate to?”

My words resonated in just the way I had hoped, and so I began attending the group. We took turns telling our stories and truth be told we laughed more than we cried, but there were still plenty of tears. We bared our souls and found in our shared experience new friendships that evolved into GNO trips to comedy clubs, concerts, psychics and energy healers and drinking and dancing (and drinking) at our Irish pub in Plainville, Connecticut.

“Wowww,” said Max, pulling his face from mine, his stubble rubbing my smooth cheek in a way I’ve rarely felt before. The sensation knocked me back into reality. Meeting his eyes with mine, I whispered back. “Wow? Is that all you have to say?”

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“Well, yeahhh,” said Max, quietly, looking at me with his beer goggles firmly affixed. “I guess it’s just that I’ve never kissed someone transgender before.”

“Oh? Really?” I said, straightening my back in my seat, using my body language to speak volumes that I dared not utter with my mouth. I restrained myself from making a scene but glared at Jackie to my left.

“So, uhhh,” Max leans back in from the right, to deliver his second stupid statement of the evening, er, morning. “You’ve had the surgery?”

And just like on that old episode of Grey’s Anatomy, when McDreamy died? I’m done.

“Baby,” I cooed, as I put both my hands on his unshaven cheeks. “Your hands already know the answer to that question. Besides, you didn’t hear me ask about your prostate exam, hmmm?”

Jackie laughed, and it slowly dawned on Max he should join in the laughter.

That’s when I stepped gently but deliberately from my stool, and I extricated my body from his hands and made some excuse about needing to use the ladies room.

In the film version, I imagine Jackie jumping off her seat, too, and huffing off as we make our way to the bathroom, our heads held high, widow sisters forever! Woot!

But this is reality, and Jackie was glued to her seat. Before I left for the ladies room I whispered in her ear, out of Max’s earshot, that I wanted to leave, and why. That question, oof! Couldn’t he have pretended a little longer that he hadn’t clocked me?

Whatever. I just wanted to pee and go, and to my surprise, Jackie wasn’t budging. We are widows after all, and my disentanglement presented an opportunity. “It’ll be fine,” she told me. “I could use a good fuck! I can handle him.”

“Okaaaay.” I had never had a wing woman before — nor lost one. So, I broke formation, took care of my business and made my exit, but not before asking the bartender to keep an eye on Mr. Grabby Hands as he made the moves on my friend.

As I sat in my car, I reflected on the night: I’d kissed a boy, made-out in public and in front of a friend, and had one too many drinks, but not too many that I couldn’t drive. I’d laughed, a lot. And I’d been clocked, in the worst way possible. I was about to drive off when I decided instead to wait for Jackie, just in case.

After all, that’s what a widow sister does.

This is a different version of an essay that first appeared in NewNowNext.  Some names have been changed to protect privacy.