My Love Letter to Bill, or Everything You Need to Know About Bathrooms and Trans People

CORRECTION Mens Room Tourism

This isn’t a mushy romance story or a sexy rendezvous story or even an unrequited love story. I should think the alternate title (and the picture above) would have made that clear.

The love I refer to in the title of this post is something I feel for my friend Bill which transcends all those kinds of love. We formed a bond that began as one between brothers  (although unrelated) and is now one between friends. The love is not the physical sort, but the kind that allows me to connect with the fantastic mind of this great guy, whose brain is bursting with ideas and energy, richly refined, deep in useful knowledge as well as insightful and quite incredible in almost every way.

Almost.

The one way Bill’s brain is not at all in sync with the world I inhabit is in the difference of opinion on the debate raging in some quarters about who should use which bathroom. Former ace pitcher and, until this week, ESPN Baseball Analyst Curt Schilling, lost his job after sharing a particularly awful meme which you can see here but I’m not going to taint my blog with it. Here’s the comment he posted to accompany a truly transphobic image:

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Despite this difference of opinion between Bill and myself, our friendship remains fully intact, because the way in which our love is deepest is in how we respect each other even when we disagree most forcefully. That’s a rare feat in this “take no prisoners,” “compromise is for losers” world in which Republicans hate Democrats, liberals hate conservatives, and the South hates the North.

Well, let’s put that last one aside for now since we’re talking hundreds of years of animosity passed from generation to generation and not without just cause in some cases and totally reprehensibly in cases of racism. But the South is where this guy named Bill lives, and I am from the North. And yet we are friends.

Friends who love each other… in a mutual admiration and respect kind of way.

Hey! Goodness, get your mind out of the gutter! Pulleeeze?

Tonight, I awoke to use the private bathroom in my home, utilized by both males and females, and upon returning to bed I noticed that my lovely friend posted something on Facebook about public bathrooms. After reading his thoughts, I felt he was honest, kind and authentic to his feelings, and that is not at all surprising.

I’m not going to post his words, as that would be presumptuous. But in sum, he offered his opinion of this political hot potato of the week: he said he favored the idea that transgender people use the public single use bathrooms that we used to refer to as the handicap or disabled or family bathroom, and that he championed privacy over everything else. He did not hesitate to voice his respect for LGBT folks and wrote that he expected to be hammered for his view.

That is not what I did, nor would I ever. I wrote a reply which follows, and in re-reading it I realize I did leave out one important point: too few public facilities offer single-stall bathrooms as an alternative, and they are not always safe as a trans woman learned last month, when she was raped at, of all places, The Stonewall Inn. All that needs to be taken into consideration.

But here, without further preamble, is my love letter to my friend Bill, as it relates to bathrooms.

“Sigh. I know you too long and too well to be offended by anything you say, think or feel, let alone post on Facebook. But if you will allow me, here are the major points in why the law as written in North Carolina is, in my humble opinion, wrongheaded and discriminatory.

YouWereFine“First: you’ve already shared a men’s room with someone transgender. If this law is to be enforced, which a respected sheriff says it cannot be, then trans men will be kicked out of men’s rooms and forced to use the ladies rooms.

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How does that make any sense, that a person who was assigned female at birth but identifies as male must continue to use a ladies restroom even though he is burly, bearded, and — since as you say, no one is inspecting any other person’s genitals — doing his business behind a locked stall door? Above and at right are some of the memes posted to Twitter by my friend Michael Hughes and (below) by another friend, James Sheffield.

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CruzAd“Second: I don’t think there’s been a lot of research done by folks who put much of the emphasis, as Ted Cruz has, on the idea that grown men should not be using the same rest room as little girls. Always men and girls. Never men and women, because that wouldn’t be scary enough. The implication is, trans women are men who are sexual deviants pretending or dressing up as women so that they can prey upon innocent children.

So, here’s what is missing: trans women aren’t men. Many (not that you would know) have the anatomy of a female, and thus cannot use a urinal. If they do have that kind of “plumbing,” as you cleverly described it, the hormones legally prescribed to help someone achieve a gender transition render that plumbing ineffective for anything other than urination. In trying to avoid crude terms, the drawbridge no longer raises, for anyone or anything.

“Third: the reason this kind of person, or me, just for example, even attempts a gender transition is because we don’t identify with the gender we were assigned at birth. gender-is-between-your-ears-Hoodies---SweatshirtsGender is not what is between our legs, it’s what is between our ears. That’s a scientific fact. I have been prescribed female hormones since 2011, after five years of taking male hormones because the last thing in the world I wanted to be was transgender. I thought I could cure this. I thought, I’ll take testosterone and be a man. But it didn’t do anything for me except turn me into a very angry, unhappy woman who walked around looking like a bald guy. In fact, my body did something even worse: after some initial success, the T I was taking luteinized and my body converted that male hormone into estrogen, which was not helpful to someone who was trying to prove she was a man.

17000753-mmmain“Lastly, and to your final point: you are not wrong. There ought to be privacy. Women and girls should use the ladies room, men and boys should use the men’s room, and those single stall family or disabled bathrooms should be available everywhere for people who don’t feel comfortable in public restrooms, whether they fear trans people or are shy or they are transgender and worry that, if I were to walk into a men’s room, even if I were to use a stall since I don’t have the plumbing for a urinal, I risk my life because that has happened over and over again: trans women attacked in public bathrooms. What has never happened in the U.S., not once, is that someone trans has attacked a woman or child in a ladies room. There was one case in 2014 in Canada. One.

“Bill, I love you, too. And if you can find it in your heart to accept what my late spouse and my children and mother in law and lots of other folks believe, even though I myself was in denial the longest: I am a woman. That’s why I use the ladies room.

“You see, #wejustneedtopee (and maybe touch up my makeup, since I am a woman).

“Thanks for allowing me the space to explain. I won’t feel bad if those who support your view attack me or call me names. I’m a big girl, and as you well know, I can handle anything after what I’ve been through the last three years. God bless and good night!”

Your comments are welcome. And tell me: what do you think would happen if I wore this into the men’s room?

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“…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. 

To My Friend Who Thinks It’s Okay For People to Mock Me This Halloween

caitlyn-jenner-costume-aug-25-2015-927b71e3fb3213c1There’s a new controversy making the rounds on social media and in online journalism about a new Halloween costume. It seems to me every year there’s at least one boundary-pushing, “edgy” get-up that makes headlines, and no surprise, this year it’s Caitlyn Jenner.

Made for either male or female adults, this costume is “tricked” out to resemble Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover photo.
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And one of my real-life and social media friends posted that he’s sick of folks whining about it. Being mocked is the price of acceptance, he feels. Catholics don’t whine about nun costumes, he wrote.
Of course, last time I checked, we didn’t have a list of 18 nuns killed because of hate, as we do a very sad list of transgender women, most of them women of color.
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Yes, we all can indeed stand being made fun of. On that we agree. But having a thick skin is not what this is about. And it’s not about pandering, or whining, or demands. It is in point of fact about the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I know, you think I’m overstepping.
Burning-Rainbow-Flag-x400So let me explain: I started posting this hours ago but I got distracted by a tip about a man and his family — four kids and a wife who is not LGBT. They were targeted by people who torched his car because they put up an LGBT rainbow Pride flag. They burned that, too. My guess is whoever did this probably wore costumes, but not just on Halloween.
White robes with pointy caps, most likely.
My question to you and everyone else who thinks a Caitlyn Jenner Halloween costume is no different than dressing-up as a nun or as a hippie: why would you defend a costume that debases a representative of an oppressed minority like trans people?
ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 12: Demonstrators protest the killing of teenager Michael Brown outside Greater St. Marks Family Church while Browns family along with civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton and a capacity crowd of guests met inside to discuss the killing on August 12, 2014 in St Louis, Missouri. Brown was shot and killed by a police officer on Saturday in the nearby suburb of Ferguson. Ferguson has experienced two days of violent protests since the killing but, tonight the town remained mostly peaceful. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Would you say the same about a Ferguson Protester costume? Maybe with a sign that says “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” Funny, right?
My point is, it’s not just a Caitlyn costume, it’s a costume for people to dress up as a famous man who revealed he is a woman, and all the people like her.
Like me. Not people choosing a lifestyle. Not dressing up. Living true. Pursuing our happiness and our right to life and liberty.
Recognizing equality doesn’t erase the need for decency. Accepting that everyone in America has the right to marry who they love doesn’t deny anyone the right to be treated with respect, on both sides. And you seem to forget, trans people still don’t have rights in 39 states.
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No, I’m not talking “special rights,” I mean equal rights: to be who we are without being fired, losing our home or being denied service. You think society has bent over backwards to meet our demands? I must have missed a meeting because I never saw any demand other than one to be respected and society so far still fucks me over because I am still seen as “other.”
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And I’m one of the lucky ones who doesn’t stand out, even though I choose to not hide that I am in fact trans.
Here are three more points I shared with you on social media that bear repeating here:
1) Her whole life, Jenner hid who she really is, secretly presenting as female, and is now out and about. A costume in which people dress up as her — a pretend-you’re-transgender costume — is seen not as “being made fun of like everyone else” but as being mocked for “dressing in women’s clothes,” as if that’s all it means to be trans. It’s not. And I trust you know that. photo

Halloween, like it or not, is also a day in which a lot of closeted trans people reveal themselves. I did, once, long before we met. The irony was, nobody realized it was a costume.

2) I love you but your request that I and others “stop trying to get everyone else to validate (my) life choices” is ignorant and insulting. You crossed a line there, because being female is not a “life choice,” not a “lifestyle.” It’s my identity. You didn’t make a choice to be a heterosexual male, and my life is no different. The only “choice” is to live, or not.

I’ve shared this with you before but maybe you missed it. Every time you use the word “lifestyle” you take your support and you water it down to being meaningless. Conservative has nothing to do with it. PLEASE UNDERSTAND: “Lifestyle” is the same as “faggot,” as “The N Word.” It’s a slur. Can you stop using it, or better: try to understand why I keep asking you to stop using it? I happen to be straight, not gay, but the meaning is the same. Here is the paragraph from GLAAD: “Offensive: ‘gay lifestyle’ or ‘homosexual lifestyle.’ Preferred: ‘gay lives,’ ‘gay and lesbian lives.’ There is no single lesbian, gay or bisexual lifestyle. Lesbians, gay men and bisexuals are diverse in the ways they lead their lives. The phrase ‘gay lifestyle’ is used to denigrate lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals suggesting that their orientation is a choice and therefore can and should be ‘cured.'”

3) LGBT people aren’t treated the way Catholics, nuns, priests and hippies are treated. We have been bullied, ridiculed, beaten, mocked and discriminated against all our lives, and a costume mocking us just repeats the cycle all over again.

So in sum, yes, costumes are fun, people need to be thicker skinned. But I hope in explaining why some people aren’t happy about this particular costume you realize being an ally isn’t about giving LGBT people acceptance — it’s about standing up in support of us even when you think we are “whining,” without us having to ask.

While I can respect anyone’s right to wear whatever costume they want, and I support their right to have any point of view, even if we disagree, I cannot in good conscience stand by as people like yourself who claim to be supportive as you dismiss my view as “whining” because you believe being mocked is the price of acceptance.
I’ll let you know — when I actually am accepted. Not just tolerated; there is a difference.
Until then, my friend and I remain friends who disagree.