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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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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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.

RiseUP

The Media Is Not Your Friend

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Photo by Trace Peterson

On Saturday, the event organizers of the 42nd annual Fantasia Fair invited me to deliver a keynote address on the subject of my choosing. Here is that address:

Lies, Sex and Journalism: Refocusing the Media’s Perspective of Trans Americans

Yes, I am THAT Dawn Ennis.

If you don’t know me by my name or reputation, let me explain. At the start of May of 2013, I became the first journalist to come out as trans in a network TV newsroom. That made headlines. One tabloid reporter in particular seized upon an very unusual aspect of my childhood that was stolen from a confidential book manuscript I had pitched to publishing houses. I learned the hard way what it was like to be the target of the news media.

Talk show hosts and shock jocks made me the butt of their jokes. Reporters hid in my bushes, and ambushed my wife and oldest child, visited the homes of my mother, my mother in law and sister. One went up and down my block, asking my neighbors what they thought of the “tranny next door.”

Despite this, life was good. I was accepted at work, by my children and had reached that rare thing married trans women long for with their spouses: peace, co-parenting, friendly coexistence.

In late July, I suffered a seizure that cost me everything: my successful transition, my good name, and a lot of support. This time I learned what it’s like to have your name dragged through the mud. I found out the price of being someone who detransitioned, even as briefly as I did, as deluded as I was that I could declare, “I’m not trans.”

The truth is, despite a 30 year career of digging for the truth, of reporting the facts, I realized: I was lying to myself. I had lied to myself before I transitioned, and I lied to myself after I detransitioned. I had lied to the love of my life, too. But just a month later, all became clear. I awoke from my delusion, resumed my transition in private, then public, without alerting the media. And just when I felt strong enough to be me, I made headlines one more time, by getting fired… hard as it may be to conceive, in this day of wide acceptance.

In the two years since, I have found a new career in the world of LGBTQ journalism, becoming the first trans staff editor at The Advocate. I’m the reporter who earlier this year asked Caitlyn Jenner if she wanted to be Ted Cruz’s “trans ambassador.”

But I gave up my life as an L.A. woman, walked away from the red carpets and Hollywood hunks, the day I became a widow. Now I’m a mom to three children, who call me “dad.” I’m a YouTuber and I hold down a half-dozen jobs which allow me to work from home. You can see my videos at The Advocate, I’m assistant editor at LGBTQ Nation and I also write for NBC OUT, BuzzFeed, OutSports and Logo’s website NewNowNext.

Unlike the career I led at ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN as well as a half-dozen local TV stations, I’m now an advocacy journalist. I report to our community and beyond from the LGBTQ perspective. I don’t hide it, and I’m proud to declare it. I believe I report fairly, but fairness requires that I do not ignore the fact that our civil rights are more threatened than ever before.

In August, a man on TV called the rights of transgender Americans a “boutique issue” that should be put aside until after the general election.

Here we are 16 days out.

And the outcome will surely determine our fight to be treated equally as Americans. Our fight is about more than just the right to use the appropriate bathroom, although that has been the focus of much of the media coverage this year.
Here are the facts the mainstream media ignores every time it reports on bathrooms and locker rooms. We transgender Americans face:

  • unprecedented levels of poverty
  • endure employment discrimination and get fired
  • are denied housing
  • are beaten
  • and are murdered, at a disproportionate rate, just for being who we are.

Who you are, is up to you. Some of you here may not consider yourselves transgender. That’s not for me or anyone to say, except yourselves.

Those of you who have struggled with gender identity and dysphoria, like I did, know exactly who we are.

We attempt suicide at a rate of 41 percent, and not because, as HBO’s Bill Maher joked, we are 6-foot-4 and cannot find pantyhose. It’s because we are different and instead of acceptance we find ourselves ostracized by our families, our coworkers and a large swath of society.

I am one of the statistics: when I lost my job I tried to end my life. I had gone from earning six figures at ABC to being ridiculed by the tabloids. I got a “pink slip to go with my pink slip.” One news manager said he “didn’t want my drama” in his newsroom.

But the tide is changing: Jen Christensen, the president of the NLGJA, the National Lesbian Gay Journalists Association, works at CNN’s Washington bureau. She told me she feels inspired by the transgender staffers working there. Staffers, plural. My heart leapt at the news.

In our ranks are sports journalism power hitter, Christina Kahrl of ESPN; Vincent Shields, a trans photojournalist in New York City; Eden Lane is a longtime TV host in Denver; Parker Molloy writes for Upworthy in Chicago; Janet Mock is on MSNBC and wrote a wonderful memoir, Redefining Realness.

Plus there’s Jillian Page of the Montreal Gazette; Meredith Talusan who is also writing her own memoir and recently left BuzzFeed; Zoey Tur who’s been on Inside Edition and has a radio show in L.A.; Jacob Tobia has contributed to MSNBC; writer and trans activist Hannah Simpson is one of the brightest young minds of her generation and has helped advance understanding of us through both words and video; my longtime friends Brynn Tannehill and Melody Maia Monet have written some of the post powerful and thoughtful pieces on our experience to date. And like Hannah, each has done some groundbreaking work in video, too.

Blogger Monica Roberts is a media powerhouse who has been honored by this conference in a prior year. And be sure to check out Amanda Kerri, a standup comic in Oklahoma City and an insightful op-ed writer for The Advocate.

Beyond those and many other trans journalists, we of course know the transgender media stars who have become household names Caitlyn Jenner, Chaz Bono, Jenny Boylan, Laverne Cox, Sarah McBride, Jazz Jennings, and Kristin Beck to name a few.

Kristin has launched a program in conjunction with the TSA to hold airport agents accountable when they misgender or otherwise harass travelers. Read more about that by clicking here.

On the verge of breaking out are poet Trace Peterson who’s right here with us and presented earlier this week, as is spoken word dramatist Lorelei Erisis; actors Trace Lysette, Scott Turner Schofield, Alexandra Grey, Jen Richards and Angelica Ross of HerStory; trans standup comics April Reed and Tammy Twotone; and singer/songwriter Summer Luk.

I find it interesting that the vast majority of people on that list and those here are predominantly female identified. It’s gotta be hard living as a woman who feels she is male, experiencing that second class existence only to face discrimination all over again as a transgender man, as so much attention and focus is heaped on trans women. About the only group that gets less media attention than trans men are trans people of color.

One reason the media, both the news and the entertainment branches, overlook us, trans men and especially trans people of color is because there are so few of us in their newsrooms. With 1.3 million trans people in America, I would hazard to guess we might have a few dozen transgender journalists in America. If those making the decisions about who to hire or who to cast had more first-hand experience with trans folks, it wouldn’t be such a rarity to have trans reporters and actors.

And when there is no job, some of us turn to the only thing we have to sell to survive: Our bodies. It’s the job that can kill you, just for being you. And in the news media, those who have been preyed upon as victims of crime are all too often robbed of the dignity the dead deserve. Why? Because they rely on a biased local law enforcement authority that insists the only identity that matters is not what name a transgender crime victim used but what’s printed on a license. We need more advocates to work with the police departments in our cities and towns and have them recognize our needs, not just when we’re living but for those we lose.

And I believe that the Perception of Deceit is what drives this discrimination. Be who you are, but if you are perceived to be dressing up by a cisgender person — meaning someone not trans — your life could be placed at risk. Lawyers tried cooking this up as the “trans panic” defense, as if murder and violence was justified given the shock of finding out the girl you took to bed was assigned male at birth and has had no surgeries to change that.

GLAAD and other advocacy groups have helpful guidelines for both our allies and the news media to help them avoid stereotypical mistakes and mischaracterizations.

But what I hope you will take away from my talk today is a mischaracterization of the profession I love: Journalism.

Friends, and I hope you’ll all follow me on social media, send me a friend request, so I can truly call you my friends… I need you to understand the most basic rule I’ve learned about being authentic. Here it is:

The Media Is Not Your Friend.

Are there friendly reporters? Sure! Will you be thrilled to meet that nice guy or sweet lady you see on TV? Yes, and they’re probably just as nice when the camera isn’t rolling.

But they’re not your friends. They have other stories to tell and their mission is to get this one done so they can either get to their next assignment or dinner or home.

The big interview you prepare for, get your hair and nails done for, that you DVR and tell all your friends to watch, is likely to be fewer than 2 minutes on TV or 500 words on a website. I won’t deny that it’s a thrill to see your name in print or broadcast on TV, just that you must recall that when it’s done, they move on. News is, by and large, a Profit Game. Reporters are not interviewing you to be altruistic. It’s not a priesthood. And if it’s a scandal, or controversy, don’t bet your pumps that the way it’s told will necessarily be how you see it, or even to your advantage.

Ask any lawyer on the planet: Hey, Lawyer Larry, before we go to trial I was thinking maybe I’d give an interview to NCF-TV… WhereNewsComesFirstFollowedbySportsandWeather27.

What do you think?

Lawyer Larry will in almost every case remind you that the risks outweigh the value. The exception, to me, is when you are fighting our government. This week, I helped an American trans girl who is stationed with her family in Germany win the right to use the girls bathroom. I did that by asking questions at the Pentagon and at Ramstein Air Force Base, which put officials on notice that they needed to avoid the appearance of discrimination. That’s a rare thing.

So how can you use the news media and avoid letting them use you?

Find an advocate. Who’s working in public relations at your local LGBTQ center? Start with someone already on our side, and then become their friend or follower on social media. Find out if there is an LGBTQ journalist in your area, and if not, seek out the ones who are at least allies. Google them and see what events they attend on their own time. Seek out mentors, and if you feel so inclined, offer to be one.

Remember – The Media is Not Your Friend. But don’t presume the media is your enemy, either. I know that most people have a negative view of the media, which is not altogether undeserving. But like us, members of the media are Americans, with families and friends and biases and perspectives.

Jenny Boylan who spoke here earlier this week often says what we need to remember:

No One Hates You Who Knows Your Story.

You are the best one at telling your story. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t offer character references to be interviewed when a journalist comes calling. My advice remains, talk to your lawyer first.

If you’re thinking of writing something to public about you, be smart. If it’s a memoir, recruit or hire someone to help you craft your story, like an editor or ghostwriter. Be prepared to wave at the start of every performance you do and take a curtain call. Telling your story comes with benefits as well as drawbacks. And the magical thing is, if it doesn’t sell — and some of my friends in the business have done this — you can always self-publish.

But even there, watch your back. Your reputation, your story, even your face can be at risk of being stolen or told in a way that does not represent your view.

I sincerely believe that with the exception of Breitbart, FOX News and the other right-wing nut sites, there is no plot against us. They just don’t recognize that we are fighting for our lives. Not special rights, equal rights.

Your mission, whether you decide to accept it or not, is to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your story.

Because in the end, you have only one person you can honestly rely upon when faced with an unknown journalist or media representative. YOU.

I believe our efforts now should be to stop playing into the hands of penis-focused opponents. I suggest we work to move the conversation away from phallus obsession and toward the brain.

Just as the same-sex marriage fight was won by changing hearts and minds and focusing on the value of love, instead of the physical manifestation of same-sex love, why cannot we redirect the argument away from our genitals and nudity, to the real issue of identity and equal rights.
Let’s stop trying to win a war over dicks with ignorant dickheads… and instead overwhelm our enemies with the uplifting stories of more than 1 million successfully transitioned, happily secure and sane trans women and men. Let’s dispel the predator myth by refusing to engage them when our enemies stoke fears without actual crimes or incidents to base them upon.
We can choose to lose at their game, or win at ours.
Below is a link to the trailer for the documentary about me and how my life has changed:

Trailer: “Before Dawn, After Don” from deana mitchell on Vimeo.

Three Years Later

On this date in 2013, my world, such as it was, fell apart. The New York Post published an article based on an ill-advised email I had sent to “friends,” following a medical catastrophe.

I had just been discharged from a hospital where I spent a week recovering my memories and trying to figure out so many things: what year this was, who I was, why did my driver’s license have a picture of me wearing a wig, a gender marker with an F, and this other name that people called me.

Dissociative amnesia, I am told, was the result of a seizure that struck one night at the dinner table in late July. On that same night, as my wife rushed me to a hospital, my mother’s second husband died at a hospital in Florida. It was a bizarre, hard to fathom experience that I still have trouble explaining.

And that’s the worst thing I could have done: tried to explain. It was diagnosed as “transient global amnesia” at first, which spawned endless puns, and the doctors advised me upon my release that I needed to be cautious and not make any hasty decisions.

So, of course the first thing I did was tell my job I was returning to work as the man I once was.

File this under, “Things You’ve Done You Wish You Could Take Back or Do Over.”

Reaction among most of my “friends” and supporters was just short of Salem, only instead of burning me at the stake, I was set ablaze on the internet. Thank God for those of you who stood by me, then and now. And those of you who returned as my friends, I cannot blame you for joining the witchhunt, or standing by as I twisted in a tornado of my mind’s own creation.

To this day, I cannot explain what happened to me other than that I was clearly not as ready as I thought I was to continue my transition. One doctor compared it to a circuit breaker snapping, or a fuse blowing, when too much energy was required than it could handle.

Through that date, I had come out to my wife, to my children, on the job and to the world. I wasn’t regretting a thing, except of course the end of my marriage. That was devastating, but understandable and anticipated. There was no going back, no putting the genie back in the bottle.

IMG_3136And yet, for all of August 2013, that was what happened. I lived as Don again. A man with a generous set of moobs. A man who peed sitting down as that was the only way. My identification, which I had been told had been quite easily switched to “Dawn” and “female,” was not so easily changed back, however, given I could not get a doctor to write a letter that I was undergoing a gender transition from female to male. I ran into roadblocks that I could not overcome and decided to just lump it and explain it as best as I could, should the subject come up, like when I had to present a driver’s license to a cashier.

Those kinds of quiet explanations are understandable. However, telling my “close friends” at work what had happened, in writing, was the height of stupidity. I had no idea at that time who my enemies were, and how or why anyone I called a friend would leak my email to gossipmongers and tabloids.

If only I had just kept it all to myself. But if you know me, you know that’s like asking a shaken soda bottle to please not explode when you open the cap, pretty please?

I was under enormous pressure to get back to work, and earn the money we counted on for survival. I felt obligated to prove I wasn’t this “transgender woman” the identification papers and newspapers and websites said I was, and I wanted more than anything to be with my wife and children, not living separately from them with a couple of gay guys an hour away.

And then, slowly, I started to realize, every time I looked in the mirror, the face staring back at me wasn’t the one I thought it would be. Where did she go? Who was I, truly?

My nights were plagued by dreams of being this other person, a woman. My days were filled with embarrassing moments such as walking into the ladies room while still presenting as a male.

And I wasn’t sure what to do with all those shoes, and clothes, and wigs… until I decided, actually I do want to go back to the lovely guys who took me in when my beloved kicked me out. I chose to move this time. And when that letter came, that fateful letter, it clicked.

To: Dawn Stacey Ennis

From: National Institutes for Health (NIH), Bethesda, Maryland

It said in part: “The patient is a successfully transitioned woman, born male, who…” I stopped reading. That’s ME, I thought.

What the hell happened? Memories flooded back. I realized what I had done in my deluded state and cried, and hugged my roommates, unsure what to do. I had killed and buried Dawn Stacey Ennis, and I had not the slightest clue how to bring her back to life. How to resume my authentic life.

I realized the delusion was not that I was trans; it was that I could be anything but.

By September, I would be back on HRT and by October of 2013, I resumed my presentation as my authentic self, in secret, away from work and family. I was further back in the closet than I had been when this all started.

It was not until May of 2014 that I finally came out, again, and have lived true.

I have tried to be a voice for those who do voluntarily detransition, to stand up against those who would shame them, for fear it taints all of us. What I learned was except for those very few who never were trans, that no one transgender ever really detransitions; they stop presenting, they can deny who they are, but they are always, endlessly transgender. And sadly, closeted.

Three years later, I cannot say I don’t have regrets, but I am a better person, a happier person, a more authentic person than I ever was when I pretended to be someone I wasn’t.

I like to think it took nothing short of a medical catastrophe to make me think I could be him again, and that when I got better, the truth came out. I am a successfully transitioned woman named Dawn Stacey Ennis, a woman born male.

And although the road to me has not been easy, there’s not a woman alive who can say that it ever is.

“One is not born a woman, but becomes one.” – Simone de Beauvoir

The Choice

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

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

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

“I’d be better off if you were dead.”

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

Because I didn’t love me, either.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so I prepared to face the network firing squad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What are you doing?” she asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I understand — Click!”

“Hello?!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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#TransIsBeautiful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“…Hear Me Roar.”

12821493_10208792403027558_5242682184660530926_nA conversation I recently had with a woman who is a prominent author and, to me, a mentor as well as friend, turned from politics to our families to what is widely referred to as “the transgender community.”

I revealed to her something I told her would cause the earth to stop spinning on its axis, something I’ve never said publicly or written about. It’s not a confession, and it’s not something I am ashamed to say. I am expecting, however, I will be excoriated for this. So why say it? Because it’s necessary, now more than ever.

Ultra conservative bigots and zealots have forced my hand. So, too, have the internet trolls who envy my meager accomplishments to the point where criticism crosses the line into jealous rage and unjustifiable attacks. Gays and lesbians who see our fight for transgender civil rights as expendable, as unworthy of their investment, as someone else’s fight, have led me to redefine something that took me years to say to myself, and then to the world.

And most of all, an Olympian who turned her transition into a television spectacle, then found her harshest critics to be people like her — once they learned she was nothing like them — inadvertently inspired me to shout this from the virtual mountaintop, following our headline-generating face to face meeting high above Xanadu, I mean, Malibu.

She told me what she was doing was what made her happy and what helped the transgender community. And she made it clear, she meant to say that it in that order.

So, here it is what I have to say:

I no longer consider myself transgender.

I am a woman.

I’m not a woman in the same way a woman who lived her whole life seen as female, who experienced all the physical ramifications of being raised and growing up and living and loving and everything else female. Instead, I’m a woman in the way that I am. And that’s good enough for me.

12193588_10207941190067766_7495211278931430460_nI live and have lived every day as the woman I am. I care for my children, I mourn my spouse, I do my job, I clean my house, I buy and wear my clothes and shop for things and pay my bills and walk and talk and eat and even use the bathroom as the woman I am.

I work out, shower and change in the ladies locker room. My legal documents and medical records all carry an F for female. Those records include a decade of mammograms and visits to a gynecologist. I’ve lactated and I’ve nursed. I’ve been intimate with a man.

I did not do any of those things as someone transgender; I’m a woman. Can’t you hear me roar?

My voice is actually one of my least favorite qualities, but what matters, truly, is not what’s physical but what’s mental. Our brain is where our gender is, not between our legs.

Of course, you have every right to call me trans, even to say, “she’s no woman!” I would prefer you respect my choice of feminine pronouns if you’re going to deliberately misidentify me, please. But even that is beyond my control. And as my friend Cristan Williams of Transadvocate.com reminded me, despite my preference, I can’t escape being part of the trans political class whether I like it or not.

The only control I have is over how I present to the world who I am. And I’ve come to the realization that calling myself “transgender” isn’t accurate in the same way I don’t refer to myself as “former college student” or “former child model.” Both are true, but seldom relevant to my everyday existence.

I do recognize that to many, maybe even you, I’m still transgender, and the word “formerly” just doesn’t fit. Well, I do recognize that thanks to Google and the tabloids, the word “transgender” will forever be linked to my name, as well as the name I was given at birth. Yes, I transitioned from presenting in the male gender to my authentic gender, female. That doesn’t mean I must carry some kind of Trans ID card. If I had such a thing, I’d turn it in.

11148749_10206741616079166_24414663650444194_nMy recent work for The Advocate, where I was the first transgender editor on staff, reinforced in my mind on a daily basis that I was trans. It wasn’t ordered, but I felt it was akin to a job requirement to represent the transgender voice in our work. Thankfully, I was hardly alone in providing that perspective. Yet it was impossible to separate myself as I have, ever since beginning life as a work-from-home mom whose kids call her “Dad.”

Now, I’m living a totally different reality. I am Mrs. Ennis, the woman of the house, a widow raising three children all alone. I earn next to nothing, but thanks to generous friends and neighbors, state assistance as well as a few odd jobs and part-time work from The Advocate, we aren’t starving. And I’ve made finding a new full-time job my new full-time job.

But every time I fill out a new job application, trust me when I say there’s no space to enter “transgender,” and I would not if there were. Because that’s not how I feel about me. And perhaps if more of us were to say to those who oppose our civil rights, “You can’t oppress me, I’m a woman!” Or conversely, “I’m a man!” it would then change the dialogue from “religious freedom” to discriminate to a matter of self-determination.

This is an argument rooted in our American history: our right to liberty, equality, and to self-determination.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

And all women, as guaranteed by the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Just as women like Susan B. Anthony and so many others fought for suffrage, I demand my equal rights. Not special rights, nor tolerance, is what I’m after. I expect nothing short of acceptance, and equality, in hiring, housing, and all matters of business and public accommodations. I don’t want separate bathrooms any more than Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King or Malcolm X favored rest rooms, drinking fountains and lunch counters for “colored people.” Don’t mistake my analogy as equating the civil rights battles for people of color with the oppressed members of the LGBT community; they are separate and while analogous, very different struggles that need to be respected on their own merits.

What I wish would happen, though, is that more Americans would see that discriminating against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender men and women and gender non-conforming individuals is just as wrong as that terrible time in which skin color determined destiny. Sad to say, we haven’t even truly escaped that time. Sadder still, women earn only a percentage of what a man makes in 2016 America. And statistics on domestic violence show one in three women are victims of some sort of physical violence: an American woman is assaulted or beaten every nine seconds.

With those kinds of stats, why would anyone want to be a woman? Well, I didn’t decide to become one; I decided to stop pretending I wasn’t one. And you’ll have to take my word that finally living as the woman I am is a superior existence to a lifetime pretending to be a man.

Today I stand proudly as a woman, even if I am one who was assigned male at birth, and I don’t ask that you recognize me as one.

Because I am, and that is enough.

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