Ha, Me Boys

They are eight years apart and the best of friends.

They are roommates and clones in some ways, and nothing like each other in other ways.

One is strong, tall and burly — nothing like me — while his brother is short, skinny, and so strong in ways I only wished I was.

The big kid is a red head, with his mother’s eyes and wooly hair. He is 16, a math and science whiz who can both sing and play an instrument, and he is now learning to drive. And God help him, he’s learning from me (I will someday devote a blog to how I came by the nickname “Crash Ennis”). 

 The little one is getting bigger every day, his blond curls turned a light brown and straightened, an impish grin adorning an almost-always dirty face blessed with my father’s hazel eyes. He is 8, described by his third grade teacher at today’s parent-teacher conference as “the class clown,” and every bit as hyper and as intensely sensitive as I am told I was.

Make no mistake, the Brothers Ennis are very much my sons.

And I, a woman, am their father. 

Let’s allow that to sink in for a moment, while I reassure you: they saw it coming for years, they dealt with it each in their own way, and they, with their sister, have seen a therapist. They were fine with it before, they’re fine with it now… and, they are doing well in school and at home, apparently unaffected by my transition. They love having me back home, as I do.

Okay, so you’re wondering, how can a woman raise two boys to be men? Aren’t they at a disadvantage? Wouldn’t it be better for them to have a “real” father who is a man, who can teach them manly things? Who will be their male role model?

Step back — hold on: how many women in the world have had to raise sons all on their own, without a man? How many women in the history of civilization have carried the burden of bringing up a boy without the benefit of being one?

In truth, I see my transition as a bonus for them, in that my boys will benefit from my experience as a boy, as a man, as a woman, and as someone who can help them understand the difference in ways their mother might not.

I hope to show them the way to being a mensch, a path to manhood that helps them grow as decent, dependable, loving and loved individuals who respect women and understand that difference in a way their peers might never experience.

They would surely need a “real father” to raise them — and folks, that is who I am.

Transition didn’t erase my memories of seeing them enter this world nor my responsibility in helping them navigate it. I didn’t forget what it was like to grow up, to date, to live 40 years as a male. My transition, as their mother often says, is not merely mine, but theirs, too.

The extrovert who in his pre-teen years was bullied because his dad looked different is now much more introverted. Yet we still talk sports, we revel in our shared love for competitive reality television and he doesn’t hesitate to let me know he loves me, or to show it, even when he’s mortified that I exist. Is there a teenager on earth who isn’t embarrassed by his or her parents?

The singer/dancer/standup comic who cried when I came out and mercilessly mocked me for looking “weird” when I first appeared as my true gender now tells me I look pretty and holds the door for me, saying “After you, ma’am” and was the first one of the kids to declare to me on a car ride one day long ago: “Dad, you know what? I think you’re transgender.”

He also told his buddies, who insisted he now had two moms: “No, she’s my dad!”

I’m not saying this stuff doesn’t add a whole lot of extra topping on an already full plate: mom is Jewish, dad is Catholic, mom works in their school and knows all their teachers while dad works from home and always seems to be around, both grandfathers are dead and both grandmothers are out of sight in faraway Florida. Their house is tiny compared to most of their friends, they know we struggle to support them, and they are partners in our mission to live on a budget.

But underscoring all of the drama surrounding my transition was the fact all of my children never stopped loving me, and they accept me for who I am without judgment. There can be no greater gift for someone like me, and it is because their mother wants me in their lives that this is possible. I have no words to describe how grateful I am that this is the case, for it is not as common as it should be.

How will I raise two boys to be men? The same way I set out to: hopefully a little better than my dad raised me, to turn out hopefully a little better than I did. I think almost every father hopes for the same: to carry forward the good lessons and spare our children the things we wished were not part of our experience growing up.

Lest there be no doubt, I don’t wish my boys to be anything they don’t want to be, nor anything they are not. Everything seems to point toward them being healthy (thank you, God), smart, creative, heterosexual, cisgender males. That’s fine, and I’d say the same if they come to me someday and say, “Dad, I’m gay.” Or whatever. My only wish would be that someday they’d say, “Dad, I’m happy.”

My youngest often rallied to my side in the once-frequent arguments between (now) same-sex spouses, interjecting without any cue from me, “Dad can’t help being who she is. It’s not fair to treat her different, just because she’s transgender.”

And I would often reply, to him: “Life isn’t fair, buddy. But thank you.” And to she who was my wife: “Even he sees it. Please, stop.” Too often we broke that cardinal rule: never, ever fight in front of your kids.

I once asked my oldest boy, how could I have faced him, years from now, if he found out I had deferred or denied my truth to shield him from possible ramifications; how would he react if he learned I had not been true to him about who I was, as I counseled him to be true to himself? What kind of father would I be if I did not show him by example what it means to follow your dream and make it happen, even when that dream looks to others like a nightmare?

He got it. He confided in me that day how much he had concealed from me, how he hated what my transition had done to our family — meaning my marriage. He held me, hugging me, crying intensely, as he told me he loved me no matter what, and supported me as I am. And I told him I felt the same as he did about the consequences, but to not blame either his mother nor me for what was. “There is no fault in being who you are,” I told him; each of us, meaning his mother and I, finally accepted that, after a long time. And our family is better off because of that.

It remains my eternal hope that someday I can say, quoting the wise words of my friend and mentor, Jennifer Finney Boylan, “…having a father who became a woman has, in turn, helped my sons become better men.”

The title of this blog is from a lyric by our family’s favorite band. To learn more, watch and listen to this song by “Great Big Sea:” Lukey

Message Received: My Final Post (of July)

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“God works in mysterious ways.”

Yeah, and sometimes He beats us over the head to make sure we got the message.

Maybe it isn’t God at all, but a lost loved one or friend reaching out from heaven, or a guardian angel… Or just a coincidence.

I’m not going to tell you what you should believe, but I believe the dead and God (or whatever name you call our Creator) do speak to us, and we can learn things and avoid mistakes, if we pay heed.

The same lesson applies if we simply avoid repeating mistakes — a friend once posted a sign at work: “MAKE ONLY NEW MISTAKES” — but I’ll admit, I have been one of those “needs extra help” kinda people. And I think God noticed.

So, for example, when I was feeling bitter that a relative misgendered me as he told me whatever happens to me is my fault and the result of my “chosen lifestyle” — I started writing a reply in which the word “ignorant” featured prominently. And within a few seconds before I could either save or send my relative my terse reply, my laptop decided to reboot.. Just out of nowhere, no reason that I could understand. And the time it took to resume my work and retype my message was just enough to take a breath and compose not only myself, but a more gentle note of sadness and to genuinely express my hope for future reconciliation, instead of sending one that slammed the door shut.

There are dozens of similar instances, but none more powerful than those I experienced at today’s Sunday Mass. Oh, and before you go thinking I’m in Church every week, praying for my family and loved ones and for my own salvation, the truth is, this former altar boy can’t recall the last time I attended mass or received the sacraments. Even though I often think of going, I’m pretty sure that doesn’t count.

Yes, I know the Church isn’t exactly a big fan of trans people, but this pope has been very moderate and surprisingly far more tolerant than any of his predecessors. Maybe he’d even agree with my friend the rabbi that I, as a transwoman, am still created in God’s image. Either way, I’m not really as religious as I am someone who has faith. And so, for no particular reason, today was the day Dawn went back to Church.

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The beautiful Roman Catholic Church of St. John is right around the corner from my Bronx apartment, and its steeple can be seen from my window. After a short walk on a gorgeous, sunny day, I took my seat in a pew right off the center aisle of the church. Two older women were seated in front of me, an older man behind me, a young girl who reminded me of myself at that age sat all alone across the aisle; there were perhaps 50 of the faithful in all. It was hardly crowded.

The readings today all focused on a message of finding the good within ourselves and our neighbors, and what it would be like to go to heaven (as well as hell). Today’s Gospel in particular focused on parables about a farmer’s wheat crop and the weeds sown by an enemy, and the strength of a tiny mustard seed, and what a difference it makes where it is planted.

I wanted to stand up, look to the mighty cathedral ceiling and shout, “OKAY, OKAY! I GOT IT!”

But it would not have mattered because, apparently, God wasn’t done.

The hymn following the Liturgy of the Eucharist — played and sung during communion — was one that has always touched my heart and soul. Like “Be Not Afraid,” a childhood favorite played at one of my cousin’s funerals, this hymn always brings me to tears within the first few notes. I kneeled, sobbing, and could not stop even as I stood and joined the procession to receive the host.

I’m guessing people must have thought me mad, or just inconsolable. I didn’t care, as I thought how truly wretched my life was… how much I missed my daughter, today of all days, and all of my family… how much I truly grieved the loss of my best friends Rick Regan and Art Daley… and how alone I felt, now that I’ve chosen to cut myself off from friends and supporters who carried me through these dark days. But most of all, how despondent I was, to be abandoned by my own mother, sister and all those who have rejected me and turned their backs on me, simply because of who I am.

No, I was not wallowing in self-pity; I was acknowledging to God, yes, this hurts, having lost so much all at once. My tears faded as I confirmed my faith that this point in my life is not the end; that this grief is necessary to overcome my mistakes and to learn from them; and that my life will get better.

Eventually.

God had once again sent me a message, that I am blessed, that He Loves me… and that His Grace is indeed Amazing.

“Amazing Grace”
by John Newton (1725-1807)

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
And Grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me.
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

20140720-143515-52515204.jpg Click the link to see and hear a beautiful performance of “Amazing Grace,” by Celtic Woman