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. 

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.