Candles, Candidates and Canines

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The 20th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance was observed on Tuesday, and my friend Kati Ennis and I attended the commemoration in Hartford, Connecticut. You can see some of the very moving program in the new episode of RiseUP With Dawn Ennis.

I was invited by Rev. Aaron Miller to deliver the Interfaith Prayer, which was a poem by Rabbi Rami Shapiro, What To Do. I was humbled by the amazing stories and reflections of the speakers: Regina Dyson, Brianna Johnston, Mia Lozada, Aeryn Grady (audio problems prevented me from including Aeryn in my show), Maeve Martinez and the incredible author, life coach and public speaker, Tony Ferraiolo.

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Also in this new episode, what was supposed to be a sit down interview with Republican West Hartford Town Councilor Mary Fay — who ran and lost in the local election for state legislator to newcomer Jillian Gilchrest — turned out quite differently than I had anticipated. Fay, an out lesbian who also won the endorsement of the Independent Party in Connecticut, had agreed to an interview during the campaign, then reneged.

I caught up with her on Election Day as she greeted voters, and she promised to appear on my show. But when it came time to record the episode, Fay again sent her regrets, complaining of a bout with a stomach bug. She’s offered to appear on a future episode. The chair remains empty, so we’ll see. Fay was set to be the very first Republican to appear on my program; instead, she is the very first “no show” in 16 episodes since March 2017.

What you will see instead of Mary is Maggie, or as we now call her, Dahlia. She’s a rescue adoption dog who became part of our family thanks to Scott Turner Schofield and GLAAD, and the team at Litton Entertainment, a Hearst company, that produces a new reality series: Ready Set Pet on The CW.

You can see clips in this new episode of RiseUP With Dawn Ennis: 

Watch the entire episode of Ready Set Pet here:

Check out the Connecticut Humane Society for more pets available for adoption!

If you’re interested in West Hartford Town politics, learn more by clicking here. 

Find out more about Tony Ferraiolo at this link.

And thanks to journalist, writer and author Gwen Smith for continuing the very difficult task of compiling the names for TDoR. That link is here. 

Check out the new blogsite for our companion podcast, Before The War. 

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

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

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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!

 

 

Be Kind

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My daughter is home from a lovely two nights with her cousins, and their moms. They visited a lake, went hiking, did girl stuff and visited a local art studio where they volunteered their time to craft beautiful handmade clay pendants, like the one above.

Each one says, “Be Kind.” That is the motto of Ben’s Bells, whose mission as stated on its website is “to inspire, educate, and motivate people to realize the impact of intentional kindness, and to empower individuals to act according to that awareness, thereby strengthening ourselves, our relationships and our communities.”

“Recent research demonstrates that kindness benefits our physical and mental health, and that recognizing kindness in others increases a person’s happiness and satisfaction. But just as solving a calculus problem requires advanced math skills, the challenges of daily life require advanced kindness skills. By focusing on kindness and being intentional in our personal interactions, we can improve our ability to connect. The mission of Ben’s Bells is to inspire individuals and communities to engage in kindness education and practice.”  — from the Ben’s Bells website.

We have a windchime from Ben’s Bells on our front door, which was a Hanukkah gift from one of my late wife’s cousins, to my children. I’m grateful for this gift, and for how much my wife’s family loves my children.

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These chimes and jewelry and other items are a great idea, and you can find out more about Ben’s Bells by clicking here. 

I’ve decided I’m going to order one of the “Be Kind” pendants for myself, since the cousins didn’t invite me to take part in their girls-only adventure, something they surely would have done for my beloved.

I won’t lay guilt on my daughter for not thinking to get me one, as this was a gift from her mom’s cousins, and it would have been inappropriate for her to ask. Instead, she did bring home a second one to give to anyone she comes across who acts with kindness. I love this idea!

We discussed who might be worthy candidates, and although I was flattered that she asked me if I’d like this one, I insisted that she give her spare pendant to someone else, perhaps her girlfriend.

To me, the message here is ultimately ironic. “Be kind.” Wow.

I was told earlier this year by my former in laws that they now consider me “divorced” from them, given that one year had passed since the death of my wife, and thus they were done pretending to be kind to me. They did so with the explanation that, since she had planned to divorce me, but her lawyer postponed the proceeding, and so it was not finalized before her death, that they considered us “divorced in every way — except for legally.” Um, yeah, that’s sorta the most important part of that sentence.

Soon after, I learned from my mother-in-law that she and “Wendy’s family” had taken steps to take custody of my children away from me in those early days following her passing (but they stopped, because — in her words — “it’s really hard to take children away from a custodial parent, and it’s very expensive.” Also, I said, it was against what Wendy herself wanted and had put in writing to avoid exactly that from happening).

“Be kind” indeed. They say “of course this is not about you being transgender.” They defend their rejection of me as being about how I “treated Wendy.”

  1. Do they mean how I treated her when she called me “the bitch who killed her husband,” and told me the very sight of my feminized body filled her with disgust?
  2. I moved out at her demand, rather than put out the mother of my children. I guess that’s how I mistreated her?
  3. Maybe when I took a job across the country to help support her and our kids? Or when I quit that job and moved back the day she died, instead of uprooting them to Los Angeles?
  4. Or when I badgered her to see a doctor about her stomach pains in November 2014, and for long after, until eight months later, she finally did and was diagnosed with stage four cancer?
  5. Or when, upon learning that diagnosis and repeatedly after, I offered to quit my job in L.A. and move home?
  6. Do they mean when I called her doctor behind her back on a Friday night so he would urge her to go to the ER? She had refused and she said she’d call him after the three-day weekend, then, a few days later, wound up in shock and died in intensive care? Had I treated her the way she wanted to be treated, she’d no doubt have died at home before the weekend ended.
  7. How about when she screamed “There’s a man in the ladies room!” at our town pool because I was passing through, fully-clothed?
  8. When she tore my wig from my head in anger one night before I left for work, and left a permanent scar down the side of my face that I still see every single day?
  9. When she unexpectedly withdrew all the money from our joint bank account, leaving me with nothing, and “took over responsibility” for the utilities and mortgage — and then for the first time in the dozen years we lived in our house, the lights went out, the cable got turned off and the mortgage company filed for foreclosure?
  10. Maybe it was when I paid-up all those utility bills and reached an agreement with the mortgage company to save our home?
  11. It must be my fault that the house was infested with mice and sorely lacking in everyday maintenance, while I was 3,000 miles away. Was that my fault, too?
  12. And when she borrowed money from family, it’s of course my fault that I did not repay those loans (which were at the time considered gifts, but magically turned into loans after her passing).
  13. Lastly, was it the day I agreed to bind my breasts and present as “Don” one more day for our daughter’s bat mitzvah, so she could have the illusion of me as her husband once more? It broke my heart to keep my word, but it made her happy, and so I did. Two days later, the police were at my house because I went back to living authentically and she was furious.

I mean, I get it: she needed someone to hate for wrecking our marriage, for dashing our dreams of growing old together and for the cancer that ravaged her body. And no, I wasn’t perfect or blameless. I wish I had done more to help her, if she’d have let me. Instead, she put all that anger on me, and told her family everything was my fault.

So, I’m the villain. But of course, it’s not because I’m trans.

My children’s response to me being excluded from the family Passover Seder, and disinvited from a cousin’s daughter’s Bat Mitzvah, was to send a message, one that their mother had said to her cousins, after I transitioned: “We are a family and wherever one of us is not welcome, none of us will attend.” I love my kids. They are the very best of their mother and father, and I am doing my damndest to be a loving, supportive although single parent. I am a dad who does the job of mom. It’s not easy. It’s without doubt the toughest job I’ve ever loved.

Despite this standoff between us and “Wendy’s family”  — I’ve told them, we are the ones who really are Wendy’s family — I firmly believe it’s important for the children to keep in touch with their cousins and their mom’s relatives. Although I set all their cell phone numbers in my contacts to “Do Not Disturb,” I encouraged the kids to call their grandmother often and to text with the cousins. I’m not the one trying to keep them from seeing their relatives; that’s on them, for not respecting their mother’s wishes, and mine.

I encourage them daily to “be kind.”

So after I suggested this sleepover, and they accepted, imagine my discouragement when one of the cousins asked if instead of having me drive my daughter down to meet them, that I would instead send my oldest, who is 18 and a licensed driver. He also works two jobs and doesn’t really need to add a road trip of at least one hour each way to his day. In addition, he’s still very angry over my exclusion and decided on his own to stop communicating with them. I told him I understood his reasoning but strongly urged him to reach out to them when he feels comfortable doing so. Thus far, he hasn’t. So I’m not going to give them the excuse not to face me and in doing so impose an extra burden on my firstborn.

We agreed on a date and time to meet, which was not only generous of them but allowed them to keep me from entering their house. But then, the cousin tried once more to do an end run around my kids’ firm insistence that where I was not welcome, we would not go. It’s all of us or none of us, with the exception being a sleepover. I felt that was different from a family gathering.

I was stunned when the cousin emailed again, asking once again to turn the sleepover into a family gathering after all, ignoring what I had already made clear, that my oldest had to work and had no desire to see them or even text with them.

“I will text and see if he would like to (if he is not working) come with his little brother on Friday to pick up his sister and hang by the pool for a little.”

Really? What part of “my children don’t want me excluded” is hard to comprehend?

When does the urge to “be kind” kick in?

The cousin concluded her email with a response to my plea, promising to not bring up the issue of my exclusion with my daughter, given this is a matter for adults.  I asked that we at least be civil to one another if they cannot see fit to treat me as a member of the family. She agreed and then added one, clear-cut, unkind comment:

“That said, our position has not changed.”

The “position” she speaks of is one in which they treat me, not as the widow of their cousin, or the single parent of our children, but as a divorcée to be kept at a distance; a facilitator to provide them with access to “Wendy’s children.”

What surprises me about that is that even if they want to label me as such, that does not remove me from my role as the kids’ parent! I’m still their dad, even as a woman, and because of the gender roles our society places on us, I have learned to embrace being a mom. I don’t dare claim to be their “mom,” a title we hold dear out of respect for their mother. But my kids have seen how I have grown into this role and how much I enjoy it. And, probably to the in laws’ chagrin, I am good at it, too.

I am proud to boast that my children are resilient, strong, score at the top of their class, have friendships with good, upstanding children and are loving to just about everyone. Even people who are mean to me. And most of all, these kids have learned from the example their parents have set: my children are kind.

I think the same of my in laws’ children. But I wonder what lesson my wife’s cousins are teaching them when they treat me this way? Someday, my children will tell their children about these times, and I am certain that the shame their parents should feel will instead be inherited by these innocent kids.

All I can do is continue to do as I say and as I do, to be kind, even to those who are not. And I pray for their hearts to be turned. Which reminds me of the Irish proverb:

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