Easter Rising

IMG_5891It’s been a few months since my last blogpost, and I felt today was a good day to count my blessings.

Tonight is the 3rd night of Passover, and the day that I used to mark as Easter Sunday. My conversion to Judaism is imminent, and it makes my heart soar to be on this journey.

I don’t see it as leaving anything behind as much as accepting a truth about myself and where my spirit and soul reside, and it is in the faith of my children, my beloved, and my in-laws. And perhaps also in the legacy of my great, great grandfather Moses Ennis, a tailor in Castlebar, County Mayo, Ireland.

So nu?

This week, Irish people the world over will mark the 103rd anniversary of the Easter Rising.

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Because I stumbled soon after my transition became public in 2013, I feel connected to the bloody rebellion against England. Like me, it at first failed, but ultimately led to the creation of the Irish Free State, a republic that is my ancestral home, and still home to both my mother and father’s families. Which makes them my family.

It was two years ago this summer that the children and I traveled to our ancestral homeland. I look forward to returning to Ireland, perhaps in 2020. Or sooner, if President Trump continues to oppress transgender Americans as he and his administration are doing. Some folks would go to Canada, but it’s Ireland for us.

Our extended family still needs your prayers and good thoughts, as one of our loved ones is ailing. I won’t get into details because they’re not mine to share.

But other than that, life is good. No, really!

In fact, we’re all doing well. Our oldest is in his last quarter of his first year of college. Our middle child is finishing her junior year and we’re starting to look at colleges, and the youngest is a boy scout in seventh grade and studying for his bar mitzvah this fall.

Together we are doing all the planning, and this being my first one without his mom to help us, I’ll admit it’s a challenge. But we have the hall, the cake, the deejay and a theme. Next up is invitations, seating charts and of course, the actual ceremony and celebration!

I’ve been teaching journalism, advertising and public relations at the University of Hartford since January, and I’ll be back in the fall. This week, my students in my Writing for the Media class are almost at the conclusion of viewing “All The President’s Men.”

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My News Reporting students are conducting interviews, asking people their thoughts on the redacted Mueller Report. Their assignment: find people on both sides of the Trump divide.

I’ve been managing editor of Outsports since February and it’s been going very well. This was my most favorite story to tell so far, and this one was an exclusive. 

And last week, I signed a contract to be a contributor to Forbes.com, starting soon. So, financially, we’re in the best shape we’ve been in since 2016. I still have huge debts, and even with three paychecks, we still struggle, but my head is at long last above water.

Yes, life is good. Our seder was fun and for the first time in the 22 years since I’ve been co-hosting seders, we had a guest, our housemate Kati. Dahlia was there but we missed having our oldest child at the table! In fact, it’s the first time in 20 years we didn’t have all three children sitting with us, and our third Seder since we lost the most important person in our lives. But life goes on.

As it must. And there will be people who will gossip and whisper about the fact that for the first time in a long time I shared photographs of our children here. Well, let them.

It’s proof we are happy, and together (sorta), and thriving. And that’s worth sharing.

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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Room 16

HH_FB_COVER_2016Today, I traveled back in time.

No, this is not a lost “Twilight Zone” episode. Instead of crossing a hypothetical barrier of space and dimension, I took a step on an unexpected journey across a well-worn barrier I call “The No Zone.”

The focal point of my adventure of heart, mind and soul is Hartford Hospital, where my youngest child was born more than a decade ago, where one year ago his mother died, and where I spent time this week recovering from a nasty viral infection that knocked me harder than any blow I’ve ever suffered.

That was Sunday night.

Short of breath, having chest pains, I saw the fire engine lights flashing and heard the police car sirens blasting even before I hung up with the 911 dispatcher. Truth be told, I was more upset that they’d wake the neighborhood and upset my children than I was about not being able to inhale. I knew it wasn’t a heart attack, or so I told myself, because my heart was beating a million miles a second and I wasn’t in pain, just feeling uncomfortable with two elephants sitting on my chest.

Having just had surgery on my breasts three weeks prior, I think I qualify as an expert on the subject of what it feels like to have something heavy resting on my chest.

As the youngest slept, I had already reassured my oldest two children that, as far as I knew, I was going to be okay, and I had talked them through what was about to happen, before I even picked up the phone to call for help. Within minutes, the paramedics whisked me away in an ambulance, an inauspicious means of beginning a travel across time.

Nurses poked, pricked and pumped to perform the tests that would explain the beeps, boops and ding-ding-dings coming from machines all around, patients screamed for nurses, the air hung thick like a South Florida August afternoon and I lost my lunch more times than I can count. If I had been given the opportunity to time travel a second time, I’d have lept forward, right past this part, in a heartbeat.

And my heart, as I had myself concluded even without the benefit of either WebMD or Google, was fine; racing like Secretariat, but healthy.

21686210_10214264090976337_4910136497092883376_nTalk of white blood cells (no, “all blood cells” do not matter in this case), more unpleasantness in the lavatory and finally the eventual admitting, and move up to a room followed, with an eventual diagnosis of a viral infection.

Eureka! I needed fluids. I needed to rest. I needed to heal.

And so I did. But as it happens, I did more than just watch the TV and chat up my roomie Rita, who is the most wonderful mom of two boys and loving wife to a charming, joyful electrician named Bob. When we weren’t laughing, swapping stories and keeping each other company through the long lonely slumber party in Room 625, I hatched my secret plan.

It was not even something I had thought about, until quite by accident, I stumbled upon an old email to a former TV news colleague, now the head of marketing at the hospital. My mind raced as I reread my last communication with her, about the darkest day of my life. And in the darkness of our room one night, I shared my sad story with Rita.

Rewind to January 20th, 2016. Same hospital. Different floor, different building, and much more drastic circumstances. An indeterminate room in intensive care, where a family stood huddled with friends and the rabbi around a single individual. No machines beeping. No nurses poking. No doctors with answers, or questions, or anything. Just bad news.

This was Room 16. What I know of these events I have culled from the memories of my children and the rabbi at our synagogue.

My wife, my beloved, my best friend and the mother of my children lay dying in the center of that gathering. And I wasn’t there. She was dying from cancer. I had offered to fly home days earlier, when she took a sudden turn for the worse; her answer was, “no.”

Earlier that morning she sent me a text from her hospital bed:

“Think I’m going home today”

And that was the last.

We had separated, our marriage was ending, but we had made peace as coparents and even rekindled our friendship. Just days earlier, we had found it within ourselves to forgive each other… as impossible as that is for some people to believe, even to this day. But it is true.

I was at LAX, trying through sheer force of will to convince a deadset, lock-jawed immutable force known as a Delta Airlines ticket agent to let me board a plane that would get me to Hartford, hopefully in time to say goodbye. It was not to be. The agent’s answer was, “no.”

That turned out to be a blessing.

By not making that flight home, our oldest child was able to hold a phone to his mother’s ear, and let me say goodbye along with everyone else in Room 16, who had had their chance in person.

By missing that plane, I was able to take the call from my children after their mom had passed, and offer them what little comfort I could from 3,000 miles’ away. It was better, I thought, to be a disconnected voice, than to have been totally absent from their earth-shattering grief.

It should have comforted me to know I had helped them in some small way, but instead my disconnectedness haunted me for days, then months. My “not being there” was a cross I insisted I carry. I knew I needed closure.

And as my thoughts returned to Room 625, I realized in telling Rita that my path to closure was a trip across time to Room 16, directly through “The No Zone.”

I emailed my friend in marketing; she couldn’t help me. I phoned the chaplain, who came right up to my room to talk and started by asking if I were “Mister Ennis.”

I also spoke to a nurse making rounds who had the misfortune of asking me if there was anything I needed.

Yes: I needed to see Room 16.

“Why?”

“What will you do there?”

“What are your intentions?”

Those were logical questions.

“Because I need to,” was the lamest, most honest thing I could say.

“Just look,” I told them. “I just need to see what that place looks like,” trying to explain with words what my heart was saying inadequately through tears. “I don’t want to invade anyone’s privacy,” I said. “I’m not looking for special treatment or displace anyone or to ask anyone any questions or anything other than just take a moment — ten seconds, tops — to see what is there.”

My mentor, Bill Carey, once told me, “never accept the first ‘no.'”

I typically don’t even begin considering surrender until I’ve heard it three times. And this time, I did not hear, “no.”

I told the friend, the chaplain, the nurse, and my doctor, who must have been wondering if the virus had impacted my brain function: “I’ve actually asked for this before, twice now, and never received any answer. Even if you will just please tell me ‘no,’ I can then go home knowing I tried.”

But I did not hear, “no.”

Instead, the chaplain and nurse made a plan. I was discharged this morning, hours in advance of when I expected I’d be released, and waited in the room with Rita and Bob for the chaplain to come get me.

“It’s time,” she said, appearing in our room and beckoning me to follow her; I hadn’t counted on the chaplain being this dramatic, as we set off on our mission. After she escorted me through the hospital’s labyrinth to the ICU wing where Wendy died, we walked down the corridor where my children were led, not knowing what they were about to witness, expecting to see their mom ready to go home, and finding instead only her unconscious body.

I stood frozen directly outside Room 16, where a privacy curtain shielded someone else who desperately needed the excellent care of this amazing team of healthcare professionals.

For a few seconds… I stood there and just took in what it must have been like to be there. Where the kids sat. Where my mother in law and her sister and Wendy’s cousins stood. Where the rabbi led them in song.

Where she took her last breath.

Feeling whole, I took in my own, long, deep breath. I thanked the chaplain and we quietly made our exit.

A few steps later I encountered an unanticipated side effect of this form of time travel: I broke down in tears. At least I was able to hold it in until we were far from the wing where such important work is still being done to save the living.

And upon my return to present day, I realized that this is where my focus must remain. On a new day. A New Year.

Coming as this does on Rosh Hashanah, the day Jews mark the beginning of their new year, I feel blessed to have taken this journey to another time and place and no longer feel it is alien to me, and unknown. I have in my mind’s eye what I have longed for: a place where I, too, belonged.

Instead of the blank canvas I’ve carried around inside my mind, now I can celebrate the life and death of this incredible woman with a concrete memory, and the thought that if she could send me a message from beyond time, it would likely be:

“Okay, you got your wish! Move on, already. There’s work to be done. And don’t tell me ‘no!'”

That thought came to me as the Uber driver taking me home from the hospital stunned me by driving directly to the cemetery where her remains now rest, on our way to my home. So ends my journey across time, across the uncharted wilderness of…

“The No Zone.”

l’Shana Tovah to my Jewish family and friends.

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:

Irish Proverb

This side of heaven, where tears fall like rain


I thought about it all day… today was ten months.

I tried to avoid thinking about it. I wanted to not make a big deal of it. I pretended you weren’t in my mind at every minute of every hour.

Instead…I focused on our children. I focused on their grief. I focused on our home, cleaning it and stocking its cabinets. I put my time and energy into our kids’ needs, wants, desires.

They in turn helped me mark the Transgender Day of Remembrance and honored me by participating.

I spent time with each of them today, by their side, showing them my pride, my love, my devotion. Honoring my promise, fulfilling their dreams, putting wind in their sails. They are so like you, so strong, so beautiful and so very wise. And loving.
 
And after making their dessert, as I turned to close the door of the fridge, my eyes caught a glimpse of one of your pictures that I placed there, and everywhere, in your kitchen.
 
And… I lost it. I miss you so!
 
“Always and everywhere,” we always wrote on every card for twenty years, and even ten months later I am no less heartbroken, no less despondent and still grieving, as we prepare to mark Thanksgiving, one more holiday with an empty chair at our table.

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That was supposed to be mine; it’s so wrong. That should be my empty chair. You should be here, having cast me out of our home and your heart. But like so many things, including a cure, long life, secure finances and a man for a spouse, you didn’t get what you wished for, counted on nor deserved.
 
The thing is, even after our rough times, in the end there was forgiveness, friendship, and we forged a strong connection bound by our children. Yes, even though we parted “before death do us part,” I didn’t let you return that part of my heart that I gave to you.
 
And so today, I lived another day with that hole in my heart. Tears are the accessory I’ve worn most often this year, accompanied by a fresh packet of tissues wherever I go. But whenever the healthy release of bottled-up emotions ends, I try to focus on this quote from ever optimist Zig Ziglar:
“We hear tears loudly on this side of Heaven. What we don’t take time to contemplate are the even louder cheers on the other side of death’s valley.”
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Over, and Out

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Tell me, dear
What can I do?
What do you fear?
It’s all so new.
 
I’m not the same
As I was before:
A different name.
Same old score.
 
Endures, love does
Finds new ways.
Forgets what was,
Starts new days.
 
You’ve already won
This place in my heart.
Yesterday’s done
Can’t we just start
 
Over?
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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.  

The Worst Father of All Time

NO, the title of today’s entry does not refer to me or anyone I know. Except maybe in the “biblical sense” of the word.

Today I’m using my blog to share with you an excerpt from a book written by a friend, “What’s In It For Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives.” Now, before you roll your eyes or start thinking I now believe I’m on a mission from God, or that this is an advertisement for Christianity, bear with me: no, I’m no missionary and this is the farthest thing from an ad for the Church.

It could be construed as an ad for my rabbi.

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As you may know, I’m not Jewish except for that part of me that I share with every New York native in which I know just enough Yiddish to have a conversation with my bubbe, and my license to use the word, “Oy” is still valid. I am married to a Jewish woman, 18 years next month, which is a very lucky number in Judaism. “Chai” it’s called, and that’s pronounced “ZSCHZCH-hi” as if you mean to spit, not in my direction if you don’t mind. And we are raising three beautiful children as observant Jews in the Reform tradition.

Okay, except for my daughter (whose name is of Greek origin), the boys’ names are not so much Jewish. BUT there are Irish Jews, even in Ireland, and before we had children my bride and I visited just such a synagogue and were warmly received.

I call him “my rabbi” even though I have no plans and never did to convert. I am Roman Catholic and continue to practice my faith, even if Church doctrine doesn’t recognize me as a Catholic in good faith — since I am transgender. I figure if Pope Francis can be so non-judgmental on gays and divorced Catholics, he might come around some day. Until then, my family is very active in our synagogue and have been since joining Congregation Beth Israel a decade ago.

Rabbi Stephen Fuchs officiated at our youngest son’s brit, and has taught our two oldest in Hebrew School. He’s aware of both our interfaith marriage and that I am trans, and is one of my strongest allies and supporters. Our only disagreement in a decade was over an OpEd in which he opined that Hanukkah is a minor holiday “just like St. Patrick’s Day,” which triggered a blustery letter to the editor from me defending this significant day on the calendar of my Irish heritage (and our love of Hanukkah). Out of respect for each other’s views and in keeping with the tradition of reconciliation, we have allowed this gaping wound to heal.

Now, on the Hebrew calendar we are approaching a time known to Jews as The High Holy Days, their most important and most solemn days of the year. First up is Rosh Hashanah, next week, followed by Yom Kippur, and the beginning of a New Year. It is a time of reflection for Jewish people, and since Jesus and his mom and dad here on earth were Jews, I figure it’s worth understanding even for Christians and others who revere Jesus.

Rabbi Fuchs has been blogging excerpts from his book, now on sale on Amazon, and today’s entry is about what I have called The Worst Father of All Time. That is being heavy handed, admittedly, since Abraham did not in fact murder his son, he only planned to do so, and God knows a lot of parents have muttered something like “I want to kill that kid” at one time or another. But if not Abraham, who is the Worst Father of All Time? Here’s a guy who agrees to sacrifice his only son — a boy that he and his wife struggled mightily to conceive and bring into the world. I’ve been very strict with my kids but I can’t recall ever considering human sacrifice as an appropriate punishment.

Close. But I am nothing if not a typical Irish hothead who blows her top and then cools just as quickly.

So take a few minutes as Rabbi Fuchs takes us through the Torah or Old Testament story of Abraham and Isaac, and think about why something like this is even in the bible. It sounds about as relevant as the legalization of polygamy in the time of Moses. But you might see things differently after reading this excerpt which also includes the tragic story of a young British singer who fell from the height of stardom to poverty, self abuse and ultimately, death.

The rabbi begins with an introduction from Europe, where he and his lovely wife are spending ten weeks as he gives talks and tours Germany. Thanks!

As I sit here in Germany, site of the horrific human sacrifices that forever changed the course of our people’s and all of human history during the Shoah, I think of the story of the Binding of Isaac (Genesis 22) that we read in a few days from the Torah on Rosh Hashanah. I feel many people completely misunderstand the story’s vital message. I hope this excerpt from my just released book, What’s in It for Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives enables the story to speak directly to us.

Perhaps Scripture’s most puzzling and profound stories is the near sacrifice of Isaac. How, we wonder, could God ask such a thing? How could Abraham agree? Why does Abraham, who stood up to God and protested mightily on behalf of the strangers in Sodom and Gomorrah, not object when God instructs him: “Take your son…whom you love, Isaac, and offer him as a sacrifice on one of the heights that I will point out to you” (Genesis 22:3).

The answer is that after his argument with God over Sodom and Gomorrah Abraham knew God was just and knew that he could trust the Almighty even when God asked him to do something seemingly unthinkable: Sacrifice his own son. Some interpreters assert that by taking Isaac to Mount Moriah, Abraham failed God’s test. Others opine that while he might have been a great religious leader, he was a failure as a father to Isaac and a husband to Sarah. How else, they ask, could a good man be willing to sacrifice his own son? I contend, respectfully, they miss the point.

Human sacrifice was the principal scourge of the pagan world to which the new covenantal religion objected. The new religion that evolved into Judaism completely rejected human sacrifice. It is that horrific practice, which, I submit, the story of the Binding of Isaac decries. In beckoning Abraham to Mount Moriah to slay his son, but staying his hand, God sends a message that humanity still struggles with today. No civilized religion can accept human sacrifice in its name. From the ancient world out of which the covenant emerged, to the Spartans of ancient Greece, the Incas, Aztecs, Mayan, and Hawaiian civilizations of other hemispheres, pagan religion has always involved human sacrifice.

Indeed, a serious student of the Bible understands that the perceived efficacy of this horrific form of human behavior was difficult to uproot from the mindset of the ancient Hebrews as well. No fewer than fifteen times does the Hebrew Bible protest human sacrifice or cast it in a shameful light. Does a parent ever tell a child not to do something fifteen times when the parent has no worry whatsoever that the child will do that thing in the first place? Of course, not!

No biblical story illustrates how difficult it was to convince our ancestors that human sacrifice was an abomination better than the story of Mesha, King of Moab (ca. 850 BCE). Mesha had paid tribute to King Ahab of Israel, but rebelled after Ahab’s death. In the ensuing battle, the Israelites were routing the Moabite forces until (in the words of the Israelite biblical author), “Seeing that the battle was going against him, the King of Moab…took his firstborn son and offered him up on the wall as a burnt offering. A great wrath came upon Israel, so they withdrew from him and went back to their own land” (2 Kings 3:25-27). The point of this amazing story is that the biblical author clearly believed that Mesha’s act of human sacrifice is what turned the tide of battle in his favor.

When we evaluate the revolution in human thought that the God of the Hebrew Bible represents, I contend that the absolute rejection of human sacrifice is even more significant than the insistence on one God as opposed to many gods and the rejection of idol worship!

Critics of Abraham’s behavior in the story of the Binding of Isaac point out that God never again addressed Abraham directly after the incident. So what? This does not change the reality that Abraham remained God’s active covenantal partner until the end of his days. His acts of covenantal responsibility at the end of hislife were every bit as significant as those earlier in his covenantal career.

Why did God ask such a thing of Abraham? And why was Abraham willing to do it? God and Abraham had a unique relationship, which illustrated a brand new way of experiencing God to the world. Unlike the pagan gods, God in the Torah is not simply a force to appease. Rather, God is the source of moral and ethical values that brought a much higher level of civil thinking to the world. One of the vilest aspects of the pagan world was human sacrifice. It is befitting, then, that God and God’s unique covenantal partner, Abraham, should present a dramatic demonstration to the world that human sacrifice should never occur. That is why God could ask Abraham to do the unthinkable. That is why Abraham, who protested so forcefully for the sake of strangers in Sodom and Gomorrah, so willingly complied with God’s request.

Suppose for a moment a parent called me and said, “Rabbi, you will not be seeing Petunia in religious school anymore because this morning, God told me to take her to the mountains and offer her as a sacrifice.” Naturally, I would do everything possible to convince the parent that the voice he or she heard was not that of God. Moreover, I would do everything, including notifying the police, to stop him or her from doing this.

Of course, the scenario I just proposed is absurd. Nevertheless, we have yet to learn not to sacrifice our children. It happens all the time. It happens each time we send our children to fight wars over conflicts that could better be settled by negotiation. It happens each time we force our children into pursuits or professions to satisfy our own ego’s needs. It happens every time we overwhelm our children with pressure to succeed, never letting them feel that they are good enough.

The great British entertainer Lena Zavaroni (1963-1999) is a case in point. Born on the tiny Scottish Isle of Bute, Lena Zavaroni was an amazing musical talent with a magnificent voice and boundless charisma and charm. As a little girl, her aunt whisked her off to London to pursue fame and fortune. She achieved both in spades. By the time she was ten years old, she had appeared on The Johnny Carson Show, toured Japan, and sung for Queen Elizabeth and President Gerald Ford. By the end of her teenage years, she had starred in three successful British TV variety series. She was the highest-paid entertainer in the United Kingdom. View her YouTube video clips. She was amazing.

Ah, but when she was still a young girl, people began to tell her that she looked a bit pudgy. To make a long, sad story short, Lena Zavaroni⎯once the richest teenager in the world, adored by millions⎯died broke and penniless from complications of anorexia at age thirty-five.

Beautiful, precious Lena Zavaroni was every bit as much a human sacrifice as Jephtha’s daughter (and the rabbis of the Midrash condemn Jephtha as a fool) in Chapter 11 of the book of Judges. Every time I watch her sing, I want to reach into the computer screen, hug her and promise, “I won’t let anyone hurt you!” But it is a promise I could never make, let alone keep. And Lena Zavaroni, who appeared thinner and thinner with each passing year of her young life, is just one of millions of examples of horrific human sacrifice we have offered throughout the centuries and continue to offer today.

Yet many contemporary rabbis and others bemoan the fact that God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son. They just don’t get it! They just don’t get that God and Abraham tried to teach the world a vital lesson⎯a lesson we still have not learned.
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