Stop Lying, Jeffrey Tambor

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Jeffrey Tambor (left) and Dawn Ennis, May 9, 2015 at the GLAAD Media Awards NYC. Photographer: Hannah Simpson

Although what I experienced pales in comparison to what other women endured… this week I finally broke my silence with a post on Facebook. It’s been a long time coming.

The news first broke last fall that award-winning actor Jeffrey Tambor was accused of inappropriate sexual behavior by my FB friends Van Barnes, his assistant on the TV show Transparent, and actress Trace Lysette.,who has appeared on that show among others.

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Trace Lysette (left) and Van Barnes

I was not among those who were stunned and surprised. Not just because this came amidst the #MeToo scandals rocking Hollywood and big business. Not just because I knew as a journalist that the accusations would need to be investigated before any action would be taken. But as a woman, I knew in my heart that there could be no mistake: the beloved, cherished and much-heralded actor who won Emmy awards, a Golden Globe, and more, had crossed the line.

Because Jeffrey Tambor had also fondled me.

He actually did it twice: Once at a star-studded gala at the Waldorf in New York City in May 2015, and a few months later at a Transparent publicity shoot in West Hollywood. I’ll share the details in a moment, but first let me address the bigger question: why didn’t I say anything? If not the first time, why not call him out the second time?

I admit, and I’m embarrassed to do so, that first time it did not even occur to me that I should. And when he touched me, even though this was in front of several other people in both instances, I remained silent, endured his touch, and just waited for it to be over.

I thought at the time, this is the shit that men do. I never said anything… because I thought this was what we did, as women. And thanks to Van, Trace, Tarana Burke, Ashley Judd, Rose McGowan, Alyssa Milano, and so many more women — and men like Anthony Rapp — I found the strength to detail my own #MeToo story here. No longer should any of us remain silent.

“Dawn Ennis!” shouted the actor with the distinct baritone voice, as he crossed the ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria the night of May 9, 2015. “There you are!” said Jeffrey Tambor, as he sidled up to me and took my hand. He was dressed in a men’s suit.

If my jaw hit the floor any harder, there would have been a crater. Here was one of Hollywood’s most well-known character actors, now the star of Amazon’s new streamed series… a straight, cisgender man who ‘friended’ me and several other transgender women on Facebook, presumably to be more “authentic” in his role of Maura Pfefferman… here was Jeffrey Tambor calling my name out in a crowd of celebrities and LGBT superstars.

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Dawn Ennis selfie, May 9 2015

I was there at the invitation of my friend and mentor, Jennifer Finney Boylan, then a member of the GLAAD board of directors and a featured speaker at that night’s GLAAD Media Awards. Decked out in a voluptuous violet gown, I was a victim of a Sephora stylist’s really poor taste in brow pencil, But I managed to find the words just as Tambor’s other hand wrapped around my torso.

I could feel everyone’s eyes upon us.

“I cannot believe you recognize me from Facebook,” I told him. Perhaps all those tabloid headlines helped, too. But either way, I stood in surprise, and not just at the recognition, but at the arm that now found its way around my waist. “Oh, I’m a big fan of yours! Your stories, all you’ve been through. Let’s take a selfie!” Tambor said to me, my mind racing. What was happening?

He had found me in one of those rare moments when my iPhone was not in my hand, so a friend snapped our photo as his grip held me tight and close to his body. The cheeks of my face turned bright red as I felt my left buttcheek squeezed, in that moment before the flash of the cameraphone blinded us.

And… then he was gone. I looked around, saw several others following him through the ballroom, my friends smiling at me, happy at the recognition bestowed upon me by a big name celebrity, and I thought, there was nothing I could say about what just happened. If anyone saw it, nobody said anything. I guessed I should just chalk up another first-time experience, being the woman I am. This is what happens, trans or cisgender. I didn’t feel good about the objectification, the fondle or the forced intimacy of his body pressed against mine. I took it as a price I had to pay to be who I am.

Fast-forward to August, and to a soundstage in West Hollywood, where after many, many, many requests, the producers of Transparent invited me — the new news editor at The Advocate Magazine, and its first out transgender editor — to visit a gathering of all the stars.

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Photographer’s master sheet of talent from Amazon’s Transparent, August 2015

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The soundstage

They gathered for publicity portraits, and to be interviewed by me about the much anticipated second season. It was the kind of exclusive I had hoped for, chatting up the stars behind the scenes, getting to know them and how their characters were about to evolve.

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Melora Hardin (left) and Gaby Hoffman

Although I only chatted briefly with Amy Landecker, Melora Hardin and literally bumped into Gaby Hoffman as I helped her wheel her baby stroller in the front door, Carrie Brownstein, Jay Duplass, Alexandra Billings and the incredible Judith Light spent about 15 to 20 minutes each, examining the work they were doing and how it relates to their LGBT audience, particularly transgender women like me. In addition,

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Jay Duplass (left) and Dawn Ennis

Carrie talked about how different this role was from her work on Portlandia; Jay and I laughed about his portrayal of a truly selfish and immature manchild, and the lessons to be learned from playing Josh. Judith and I discussed our love of Broadway, and fulfilling the part of mother figure even off-camera, my worries for my then-ailing wife. And Alexandra, who is trans, shared how being misgendered and being mistreated by cisgender men empowered her instead of debilitating her, and challenged her to persevere.

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Dawn Ennis (left) and Judith Light

That is when I got word that it was time to leave, and that I would not be seeing Mr. Tambor.

“Okay,” I said. “We’ve already met,” and besides, I had more than enough material for my readers.  I figured what Alexandra and Melora had to say about their characters and their own authentic identities would be of more interest than yet another interview with the star of the show, which had pretty much been done to death.

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Alexandra Billings (left) and Dawn Ennis

I was actually leaving the soundstage, when who should come around the bend but Tambor himself, leading an entourage of hair and makeup people. The biggest difference between May and August was he was wearing his wig, fake nails, makeup and a muumuu instead of the fancy man’s suit I’d seen him in before.

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Jeffrey Tambor as Maura on Amazon’s Transparent

Van, his “Girl Friday,” had exchanged emails with me, but I really didn’t get much of a chance to talk with her on this busy day.

Yet once again, without me needing to be introduced or get his attention, her boss called out my name. “Dawn Ennis!” he bellowed.

I’m someone who isn’t starstruck meeting leaders and presidents, nor actors and celebrities of all kinds, since I myself was a child actor and model beginning at the age of four. But there was no denying I was again flattered by the fact that Tambor acted as if he knew me — and acted is probably the most important word in that sentence. Given that he grabbed my butt at the GLAAD Awards, maybe he felt he did know me, in his own way.

The memory was fresh, so when he walked up to me, I used both hands to grasp his. And that worked, for a moment.

“Good to see you again, Jeffrey. Thank you for what you do to represent girls like me,” I told him, sincerely. He let go of my hands, clasped my face in both hands, and then used them to firmly grasp my shoulders and pull me in for a tighter than expected hug.

“No, thank you!” Tambor replied, effusively. “Thank you, for all that it is that you do. Thank you. It’s for you and for everyone like you that I do this,” he said.

All the stars had given me a hug of one kind or another. All were meeting me for the first time. Not Tambor. And I thought I was prepared.

As I started to pull my body back, away from his embrace, I could not help but feel his long arms slide down from my shoulders… and his hands find their way straight to my rear end.

And… squeeze.

“Okay, well, go break a leg,” I muttered as I abruptly took a step back. Not sure if anyone noticed the spring in my step from that double grab… but once again, as inappropriate as it was, I did not exclaim or confront him or ask if anyone saw what he did. If they did, I suspect it probably wouldn’t have been news to anyone who worked closely with him. Just another day, another buttocks.

I thanked my hosts and hightailed it off the soundstage, walking my New York walk of big fast strides to get to the safe harbor of my car.

I told one person, and only one person, and that was my wife, before she died. We had separated since my transition two years earlier, and stayed separated after I resumed my transition, She was intent on eventually divorcing me, and in spite of everything, I still loved her… but we had found a way forward as friends.

Hearing me tell her how a famous actor had treated me like any other woman surely couldn’t have been easy, and neither was hearing her tell me what so many cisgender women say when this kind of thing happens to trans women (and if I’m not being clear, we absolutely HATE hearing this):

“Welcome to womanhood.”

Except in my case, I didn’t feel particularly welcome. Being told this makes most trans women I know feel “othered,” as if we are mere pledges to the sorority and not yet really women. Now, the truth is, I had certainly pinched my wife’s butt more than once, but I was living as a male and we were married almost 20 years. I could not get my mind around the idea that a man felt comfortable groping a woman in that way, or worse.

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Trace Lysette

And then I read Van’s post. And Trace’s account. And all the other women whose stories had preceded theirs and followed them, especially Anthony Rapp’s. Eventually, I worked up the courage to tell my own #MeToo story of when I was sexually abused as a teen model, which I wrote about for The Huffington Post. 

But even then, I resisted revealing these particular events. Truth is, they were still too fresh, and the backlash against the movement was virulent. I’ve had more than my fair share of tabloid attention in the last five years, and I’m not seeking any more. I do this now because I can no longer deny it happened, and happened again, and because Jeffrey Tambor continues to deny the accusations against him, insisting he was treated unfairly and blames a “toxic politicized atmosphere.”

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Van Barnes

No, sir: as Van and Trace have said more eloquently than I ever can, you have no one to blame but yourself. I consider myself lucky to have escaped your clutches twice with minimal scarring. And I’ve told you so.

All this just makes me wonder who else has not yet told their Jeffrey Tambor story.

I wish it had not taken me so long. I wish this was something no woman ever had to do. But it is in the telling that we heal, we grow, and we show that we will not be silenced. Never again.

I send my eternal praise and gratitude to Van Barnes and Trace Lysette and Anthony Rapp for inspiring me with their bravery and courage. As Van said, may it be easier for the next one.

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Dawn Ennis is a journalist, a blogger at lifeafterdawn.comHuffPost and Medium, and the host of a talk show on YouTube: “RiseUP With Dawn Ennis.” 

She got her start in New York City working behind the scenes at CNN. Ennis wrote and produced for CBS, NBC, and ABC News, and has also worked as a manager at TV stations across the country. 

Ennis was America’s first transgender journalist in a TV network newsroom when she came out 4 and a half years ago, and started a new career as an online journalist and independent video producer.

She is a widow who does the job of mom for three children who call her “Dad.” They reside in Connecticut with their cat, Faith. 

“I Am A Leaf On The Wind…”

IMG_7720 (1)“…Watch how I soar!”

I love that line.

“I am a leaf on the wind. Watch how I soar,” is a quote from Serenitythe 2009 film based on the TV series, Firefly. And I drew great inspiration from it this month as I prepared to record the latest episode of my talk show.

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For those who are unfamiliar, the movie reunited the cast of Joss Whedon’s much-beloved but short-lived Fox scifi western, which ran for only 14 episodes in 2002.

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Hoban “Wash” Washburne was the pilot of the Firefly-class spaceship, Serenity. I found a post by blogger MyGeekWisdom that deciphered the meaning of Washburne’s inspiring words, as he summoned the courage to fly against seemingly impossible odds.

“It’s incredibly easy to psyche ourselves out when under pressure. It’s easy to talk ourselves out of doing, of even attempting to perform complicated tasks. In order to actually do them, confidence is key. We have to believe in ourselves whenever we do anything. Whether it be relatively mundane activities or extremely complex processes, we have to believe in ourselves that we can actually do it.”

And this month on RiseUP With Dawn Ennis, I summoned my courage to do something I’d never before attempted: I flew solo, recording an entire 30-minute show without a guest, without a script, covering the tragic news of the past week and addressing some of the most challenging times of my life. It’s a packed half-hour, and I relished the challenge.

Scroll down, and you’ll find all the links I mentioned in this episode, as well as links to some prior blogposts, addressing important issues raised in our program this month. Let me know your thoughts in the comments, including criticism if you feel it’s warranted. I went out on a limb this time, and I’m more than willing to learn from my mistakes.

It’s painful, but I’ve learned more from those, than from my successes. Here’s the show:

 

And now, the links, along with other helpful information:

Houston

To help victims of Hurricane Harvey, click here, and click here to help victims of Hurricane Irma. Those links will connect you with Public Good, which will direct you to vetted charities that are IRS-verified nonprofit organizations. You can donate money, time and show your support online.

Public Good

Blood donation agencies are urging people living outside of Texas, Louisiana, Florida and Georgia to visit their local blood center and donate blood as soon as possible. All blood types are needed, but there is an urgent need for platelet donations, as well as O negative blood.

21storm3-superJumboThe Hispanic Federation is organizing support for the victims in Puerto Rico online at its Unidos portal, where 100% of your gift goes to the Puerto Rico Hurricane Relief Fund.

Click here to make an online donation. And here are several other ways you can help:

Donate Via Text – Compose a new text message for number 41444. Type UNIDOS (space) YOUR AMOUNT (space) and YOUR NAME. (For example: Unidos 100 John Doe) Then press “send” and click on the link to complete your donation.

Donate In Person – Visit any Popular Community Bank branch. Account name: Hurricane Relief Effort. Checking account number: 6810893500.

Donate By Check – Make your check payable to: Hispanic Federation, in the memo line, write Hurricane Relief Fund and mail to: Unidos Disaster Relief Fund, c/o Hispanic Federation, 55 Exchange Place, 5th Floor, New York, NY 10005

Donate Goods and Your Time – You can also support the Puerto Rican relief efforts by donating essential goods and volunteer through efforts coordinated by the New York City and State governments:

  • New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has launched an effort to collect critically-needed items, such as diapers, baby food, and first aid supplies. To find locations, click here.
  • New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has also launched the Empire State Relief and Recovery Effort for Puerto Rico to collect donations and volunteer. To find locations, click here.

170926081134-01-hurricane-maria-puerto-rico-0924-super-169Nearly 85 percent of the island is still without power, which means millions of people remain without electricity weeks after the storm, says José H. Román Morales, president of Puerto Rico’s Energy Commission, which regulates the island’s electric power authority. And clean water remains a precious commodity, available to only one-third of the island; another factor that has doctors and health experts fearful of an epidemic outbreak spread by mosquitos.

It would be nice if I could share with you FEMA data on the situation, but as the Washington Post reported, the government has taken that information off its website. 

Public Good also provides a portal if you want to help victims of the latest earthquake to strike Mexico. Click here for more information and to donate money.

Mandalay-Bay-shooter.jpgThe victims of the massacre in Las Vegas will benefit from a GoFundMe account set up by Steve Sisolak, Chair of the Clark County Commission, to raise money for those shot and their families. In the first three days, it raised more than $9 million and as this is published the victims fund stands five million dollars short of its goal. Click here for more information and to donate.

GunDebate

I’ve invited you to tweet your solution to the epidemic of gun violence in the U.S. But before you do, read this compelling article from Forbes — by a Republican — titled Ten Lies That Distort the Gun Control Debate.

Then tweet me @riseupwithdawn.

160916164535-05-nfl-players-protest-super-169As for the National Anthem protests, there are new developments: the NFL reportedly changed the rulebook, now requiring all players to be on the field and standing for the Star Spangled Banner. Team owners plan to meet to discuss this and an empty threat from President Trump to take away tax breaks to the NFL… which the league already gave up in 2015.

Interestingly, the NAACP called a pledge by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, to bench players who take a knee during the national anthem, “a public commitment by an NFL owner to violate his players’ Constitutional right to free speech.” A prominent Texas politician of color, Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, went a step further in denouncing Jones, calling his order to players an ultimatum “that says, ‘Slaves, obey your master.'”

A different view on this issue comes from Michael Caputo, a longtime Republican who served as a senior adviser to President Trump’s 2016 campaign and the presidential campaigns of Ronald Reagan, Jack Kemp and George H.W. Bush. I hope you’ll consider his perspective, in support of his beloved Buffalo Bills and his fellow veterans and their families, which you can read via CNN by clicking here.

As you may have noticed, I heard from a number of guys named “John.” Let me know your thoughts by tweeting me @riseupwithdawn.

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I talked a little about detransition in this episode, and my personal experience. My good friend Brynn Tannehill wrote one of the most forceful arguments to attack the myths surrounding this controversial topic a year after my experience, and it holds up well. Click here to read the article in HuffPost, and here to find more of Brynn’s amazing writing.

And you can read more about my personal experience here on lifefterdawn, in this blogpost from last year.

If you have questions about trans people, there are three excellent resources to consider. Click here for a quick, handy guide from Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and click here for an in-depth Q&A from the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE). GLAAD put together a list of FAQs as well, which you’ll find here.

What does gender confirmation surgery involve? Click here to read WebMD’s very simple explanation about the various operations that some transgender people undergo as part of their transition. About one-third of transgender Americans do have GCS, but most never take this step; it is fraught with potential complications, it’s expensive if your insurance doesn’t cover it, or your provider won’t accept your insurance, and the surgery requires an intense amount of recovery time and aftercare. In my personal opinion, all that is worth it, but I respect those who either choose to live without it or cannot have it for financial, health or other personal reasons. As for the corrective work I’m looking forward to having done, that’s nobody’s business but mine.

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To find out more about WPATH, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, click here for that organization’s website. You can click here to read about the Standards of Care every respected surgeon and health care professional is expected to follow, and you can find out if your provider is a member by clicking here.

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Why is it important that your surgeon be a member of WPATH? Let’s take a more mundane example than what some consider the most important operation of their life.

Let’s say your car desperately needs new brakes. Brakes make the difference between you and your loved ones traveling at a high rate of speed, and all of you crashing into something at a high rate of speed. Bobby’s Brakes wants $900 to replace yours, and that’s more than you have. So, you approach Mike the Mechanic on his lunch break, and slip him $450 cash to do it after work. After all, Mike knows how to install brakes, and for him, it’s quick, easy money.

But what happens if Mike makes a mistake? Or if he cuts corners to get home in time to watch the latest streaming episode of Star Trek: Discovery? Mike doesn’t give you a warranty, there is no money-back guarantee, no nothing. So, instead, you shell out the $900 for peace of mind, knowing Bobby stands behind every set of brakes he installs.

Car SurgeonIf something goes wrong, there are consumer resources you can use to make sure Bobby fixes it. Mike, meanwhile, took your $450 in cash and is on his way to the casino.

And who would want to cut corners on the surgery that’s going to change their life? My advice: choose wisely, and don’t ever accept less than the best for your health care needs.

Click here for the official link to the website of Dr. Stanton Honig of Yale New Haven Hospital, the urologist who is, at the moment, the only surgeon Connecticut’s state-run health care system has authorized to perform surgeries on transgender patients. Be sure to read the reviews his patients left on RateMDs.com, Vitals.com, and Healthgrades.com

Or, if you’re interested in my personal opinion: don’t bother.

You can find links to hundreds of other qualified surgeons here. A warning: this list contains doctors I would never, ever recommend, not even to my worst enemy. As in all things, do your homework, ask around. And avoid any doctor who offers a surgical consultation over the phone. I mean, really? Again, would you expect your mechanic to accurately diagnose what your car needs over the phone, sight unseen? No, you would not.

You can read an article I wrote about the potential complications that can arise during gender confirmation surgery, which is also known as sex reassignment surgery, by clicking here. 

If you’re looking for more information about your right to health care, click here.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has gutted healthcare.gov since the new administration took office, but you can see what’s left by clicking here. And HRC has an online resource about health care protections for LGBT folks that you can visit by clicking here.

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How about those melons? This photo and a few others are from a promotional shoot for Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, to show off their center for transgender patients. The shoot was in March, when I was a redhead, before my recent breast surgery, and dozens of pounds ago.

If you find yourself the victim of bullying online, don’t allow anyone to victimize you that way. Report them, block them, or send them a strong message if you feel you can resolve whatever issue stands between you. But don’t allow anyone to treat you as “less than.” You have every right to not be bothered. Sometimes, switching off, logging out, walking away is the best solution rather than engaging.

sd-2017-poster-thumbRemember: what a bully wants most of all, whether it’s online or face to face, is to see you hurting. I’ve learned that “hurt people hurt people,” and the best way to stop a bully with their own issues is to not give them any ammunition or fuel to continue their assault on you. I know it stings. But resist fighting a fool, lest anyone not be able to tell the difference. In the meantime, click here for resources to combat bullying from the fine folks at GLAAD.

Spirit Day on October 19th is a great opportunity to show you’re willing to stand up against bullying, by wearing purple and spreading the message on social media. For details, click here.

You can read the latest on Kylie Perez, the 14-year-old trans girl assaulted in her New Jersey school here.

The mom of Missouri trans teen Ally Steinfeld spoke out following the gruesome murder of her 17-year-old daughter. Click here for that story, and read why Missouri law prevents prosecutors from pursuing hate crime charges by clicking here.

You can read more about the gender non-conforming student from Illinois who took his life, Elijah DePue, by reading his obituary here.

And if you wish, you can reach out to his mom and to his dad to send your thoughts through Facebook. Lacy DePue is here, Zachary DePue is here.

I’ve written here about the two times I tried to take my life. I called that post “The Choice” because I faced a decision that appeared to leave me only one option: to die. Thankfully, other options presented themselves, namely, to live. My children and I are so happy that’s how it worked out.

I invite you to read about that in greater detail by clicking here.

Find out more about my BFF Maia Monet, who was there for me when I needed her most, by visiting her YouTube channel. Like, share and subscribe by clicking here! And learn what a gift it is to read the works of my dear friend and mentor, Jennifer Finney Boylan, by visiting her website, which you’ll find here. I’m who I am today, and alive, thanks to these women, and because of the love of my children.

If you are a trans or gender-nonconforming person considering suicide, Trans Lifeline can be reached at 1-877-565-8860. In Canada, dial 1-877-330-6366Click here for other information about this organization, and click here to make a donation.

LGBT youth (ages 24 and younger) can reach the Trevor Project Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386. Don’t feel like calling? The Trevor Project also offers online chat and text. Find out more by clicking here. You can help save lives by clicking here to donate.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 is available 24 hours a day to people of all ages and identities. The Nacional de Prevención del Suicidio es 1-888-628-9454. A line is also set up for the deaf and hard of hearing at 1-800-799-4889. Veterans can call 1-800-273-8255 to speak to someone who understands their particular needs. And for those dealing with the aftermath of any disaster, call 1-800-985-5990.

If you’re still not confident any of these fine organizations can help you, reach out to me. I’ve been there, and I’ll do my best to guide you. Email me at dawn@dawnennis.com or in the comments below, or send me a tweet at @riseupwithdawn.

img_8110.jpgPlease note: I’m sorry, but I do not accept unsolicited phone calls, or video calls via Facebook, FaceTime or any other means. Thanks in advance for respecting my privacy. 

Thank you so much for reading my blog and for watching the latest episode of RiseUP. Leave me a comment here or on Facebook or on Twitter. And in just a few weeks, I’ll be back with a new episode recorded on location in Provincetown, Mass. at the annual Fantasia Fair. Until then, remember the words of Bruce Springsteen: “C’mon, Rise Up!”

The Media Is Not Your Friend

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Photo by Trace Peterson

On Saturday, the event organizers of the 42nd annual Fantasia Fair invited me to deliver a keynote address on the subject of my choosing. Here is that address:

Lies, Sex and Journalism: Refocusing the Media’s Perspective of Trans Americans

Yes, I am THAT Dawn Ennis.

If you don’t know me by my name or reputation, let me explain. At the start of May of 2013, I became the first journalist to come out as trans in a network TV newsroom. That made headlines. One tabloid reporter in particular seized upon an very unusual aspect of my childhood that was stolen from a confidential book manuscript I had pitched to publishing houses. I learned the hard way what it was like to be the target of the news media.

Talk show hosts and shock jocks made me the butt of their jokes. Reporters hid in my bushes, and ambushed my wife and oldest child, visited the homes of my mother, my mother in law and sister. One went up and down my block, asking my neighbors what they thought of the “tranny next door.”

Despite this, life was good. I was accepted at work, by my children and had reached that rare thing married trans women long for with their spouses: peace, co-parenting, friendly coexistence.

In late July, I suffered a seizure that cost me everything: my successful transition, my good name, and a lot of support. This time I learned what it’s like to have your name dragged through the mud. I found out the price of being someone who detransitioned, even as briefly as I did, as deluded as I was that I could declare, “I’m not trans.”

The truth is, despite a 30 year career of digging for the truth, of reporting the facts, I realized: I was lying to myself. I had lied to myself before I transitioned, and I lied to myself after I detransitioned. I had lied to the love of my life, too. But just a month later, all became clear. I awoke from my delusion, resumed my transition in private, then public, without alerting the media. And just when I felt strong enough to be me, I made headlines one more time, by getting fired… hard as it may be to conceive, in this day of wide acceptance.

In the two years since, I have found a new career in the world of LGBTQ journalism, becoming the first trans staff editor at The Advocate. I’m the reporter who earlier this year asked Caitlyn Jenner if she wanted to be Ted Cruz’s “trans ambassador.”

But I gave up my life as an L.A. woman, walked away from the red carpets and Hollywood hunks, the day I became a widow. Now I’m a mom to three children, who call me “dad.” I’m a YouTuber and I hold down a half-dozen jobs which allow me to work from home. You can see my videos at The Advocate, I’m assistant editor at LGBTQ Nation and I also write for NBC OUT, BuzzFeed, OutSports and Logo’s website NewNowNext.

Unlike the career I led at ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN as well as a half-dozen local TV stations, I’m now an advocacy journalist. I report to our community and beyond from the LGBTQ perspective. I don’t hide it, and I’m proud to declare it. I believe I report fairly, but fairness requires that I do not ignore the fact that our civil rights are more threatened than ever before.

In August, a man on TV called the rights of transgender Americans a “boutique issue” that should be put aside until after the general election.

Here we are 16 days out.

And the outcome will surely determine our fight to be treated equally as Americans. Our fight is about more than just the right to use the appropriate bathroom, although that has been the focus of much of the media coverage this year.
Here are the facts the mainstream media ignores every time it reports on bathrooms and locker rooms. We transgender Americans face:

  • unprecedented levels of poverty
  • endure employment discrimination and get fired
  • are denied housing
  • are beaten
  • and are murdered, at a disproportionate rate, just for being who we are.

Who you are, is up to you. Some of you here may not consider yourselves transgender. That’s not for me or anyone to say, except yourselves.

Those of you who have struggled with gender identity and dysphoria, like I did, know exactly who we are.

We attempt suicide at a rate of 41 percent, and not because, as HBO’s Bill Maher joked, we are 6-foot-4 and cannot find pantyhose. It’s because we are different and instead of acceptance we find ourselves ostracized by our families, our coworkers and a large swath of society.

I am one of the statistics: when I lost my job I tried to end my life. I had gone from earning six figures at ABC to being ridiculed by the tabloids. I got a “pink slip to go with my pink slip.” One news manager said he “didn’t want my drama” in his newsroom.

But the tide is changing: Jen Christensen, the president of the NLGJA, the National Lesbian Gay Journalists Association, works at CNN’s Washington bureau. She told me she feels inspired by the transgender staffers working there. Staffers, plural. My heart leapt at the news.

In our ranks are sports journalism power hitter, Christina Kahrl of ESPN; Vincent Shields, a trans photojournalist in New York City; Eden Lane is a longtime TV host in Denver; Parker Molloy writes for Upworthy in Chicago; Janet Mock is on MSNBC and wrote a wonderful memoir, Redefining Realness.

Plus there’s Jillian Page of the Montreal Gazette; Meredith Talusan who is also writing her own memoir and recently left BuzzFeed; Zoey Tur who’s been on Inside Edition and has a radio show in L.A.; Jacob Tobia has contributed to MSNBC; writer and trans activist Hannah Simpson is one of the brightest young minds of her generation and has helped advance understanding of us through both words and video; my longtime friends Brynn Tannehill and Melody Maia Monet have written some of the post powerful and thoughtful pieces on our experience to date. And like Hannah, each has done some groundbreaking work in video, too.

Blogger Monica Roberts is a media powerhouse who has been honored by this conference in a prior year. And be sure to check out Amanda Kerri, a standup comic in Oklahoma City and an insightful op-ed writer for The Advocate.

Beyond those and many other trans journalists, we of course know the transgender media stars who have become household names Caitlyn Jenner, Chaz Bono, Jenny Boylan, Laverne Cox, Sarah McBride, Jazz Jennings, and Kristin Beck to name a few.

Kristin has launched a program in conjunction with the TSA to hold airport agents accountable when they misgender or otherwise harass travelers. Read more about that by clicking here.

On the verge of breaking out are poet Trace Peterson who’s right here with us and presented earlier this week, as is spoken word dramatist Lorelei Erisis; actors Trace Lysette, Scott Turner Schofield, Alexandra Grey, Jen Richards and Angelica Ross of HerStory; trans standup comics April Reed and Tammy Twotone; and singer/songwriter Summer Luk.

I find it interesting that the vast majority of people on that list and those here are predominantly female identified. It’s gotta be hard living as a woman who feels she is male, experiencing that second class existence only to face discrimination all over again as a transgender man, as so much attention and focus is heaped on trans women. About the only group that gets less media attention than trans men are trans people of color.

One reason the media, both the news and the entertainment branches, overlook us, trans men and especially trans people of color is because there are so few of us in their newsrooms. With 1.3 million trans people in America, I would hazard to guess we might have a few dozen transgender journalists in America. If those making the decisions about who to hire or who to cast had more first-hand experience with trans folks, it wouldn’t be such a rarity to have trans reporters and actors.

And when there is no job, some of us turn to the only thing we have to sell to survive: Our bodies. It’s the job that can kill you, just for being you. And in the news media, those who have been preyed upon as victims of crime are all too often robbed of the dignity the dead deserve. Why? Because they rely on a biased local law enforcement authority that insists the only identity that matters is not what name a transgender crime victim used but what’s printed on a license. We need more advocates to work with the police departments in our cities and towns and have them recognize our needs, not just when we’re living but for those we lose.

And I believe that the Perception of Deceit is what drives this discrimination. Be who you are, but if you are perceived to be dressing up by a cisgender person — meaning someone not trans — your life could be placed at risk. Lawyers tried cooking this up as the “trans panic” defense, as if murder and violence was justified given the shock of finding out the girl you took to bed was assigned male at birth and has had no surgeries to change that.

GLAAD and other advocacy groups have helpful guidelines for both our allies and the news media to help them avoid stereotypical mistakes and mischaracterizations.

But what I hope you will take away from my talk today is a mischaracterization of the profession I love: Journalism.

Friends, and I hope you’ll all follow me on social media, send me a friend request, so I can truly call you my friends… I need you to understand the most basic rule I’ve learned about being authentic. Here it is:

The Media Is Not Your Friend.

Are there friendly reporters? Sure! Will you be thrilled to meet that nice guy or sweet lady you see on TV? Yes, and they’re probably just as nice when the camera isn’t rolling.

But they’re not your friends. They have other stories to tell and their mission is to get this one done so they can either get to their next assignment or dinner or home.

The big interview you prepare for, get your hair and nails done for, that you DVR and tell all your friends to watch, is likely to be fewer than 2 minutes on TV or 500 words on a website. I won’t deny that it’s a thrill to see your name in print or broadcast on TV, just that you must recall that when it’s done, they move on. News is, by and large, a Profit Game. Reporters are not interviewing you to be altruistic. It’s not a priesthood. And if it’s a scandal, or controversy, don’t bet your pumps that the way it’s told will necessarily be how you see it, or even to your advantage.

Ask any lawyer on the planet: Hey, Lawyer Larry, before we go to trial I was thinking maybe I’d give an interview to NCF-TV… WhereNewsComesFirstFollowedbySportsandWeather27.

What do you think?

Lawyer Larry will in almost every case remind you that the risks outweigh the value. The exception, to me, is when you are fighting our government. This week, I helped an American trans girl who is stationed with her family in Germany win the right to use the girls bathroom. I did that by asking questions at the Pentagon and at Ramstein Air Force Base, which put officials on notice that they needed to avoid the appearance of discrimination. That’s a rare thing.

So how can you use the news media and avoid letting them use you?

Find an advocate. Who’s working in public relations at your local LGBTQ center? Start with someone already on our side, and then become their friend or follower on social media. Find out if there is an LGBTQ journalist in your area, and if not, seek out the ones who are at least allies. Google them and see what events they attend on their own time. Seek out mentors, and if you feel so inclined, offer to be one.

Remember – The Media is Not Your Friend. But don’t presume the media is your enemy, either. I know that most people have a negative view of the media, which is not altogether undeserving. But like us, members of the media are Americans, with families and friends and biases and perspectives.

Jenny Boylan who spoke here earlier this week often says what we need to remember:

No One Hates You Who Knows Your Story.

You are the best one at telling your story. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t offer character references to be interviewed when a journalist comes calling. My advice remains, talk to your lawyer first.

If you’re thinking of writing something to public about you, be smart. If it’s a memoir, recruit or hire someone to help you craft your story, like an editor or ghostwriter. Be prepared to wave at the start of every performance you do and take a curtain call. Telling your story comes with benefits as well as drawbacks. And the magical thing is, if it doesn’t sell — and some of my friends in the business have done this — you can always self-publish.

But even there, watch your back. Your reputation, your story, even your face can be at risk of being stolen or told in a way that does not represent your view.

I sincerely believe that with the exception of Breitbart, FOX News and the other right-wing nut sites, there is no plot against us. They just don’t recognize that we are fighting for our lives. Not special rights, equal rights.

Your mission, whether you decide to accept it or not, is to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your story.

Because in the end, you have only one person you can honestly rely upon when faced with an unknown journalist or media representative. YOU.

I believe our efforts now should be to stop playing into the hands of penis-focused opponents. I suggest we work to move the conversation away from phallus obsession and toward the brain.

Just as the same-sex marriage fight was won by changing hearts and minds and focusing on the value of love, instead of the physical manifestation of same-sex love, why cannot we redirect the argument away from our genitals and nudity, to the real issue of identity and equal rights.
Let’s stop trying to win a war over dicks with ignorant dickheads… and instead overwhelm our enemies with the uplifting stories of more than 1 million successfully transitioned, happily secure and sane trans women and men. Let’s dispel the predator myth by refusing to engage them when our enemies stoke fears without actual crimes or incidents to base them upon.
We can choose to lose at their game, or win at ours.
Below is a link to the trailer for the documentary about me and how my life has changed:

Trailer: “Before Dawn, After Don” from deana mitchell on Vimeo.

“…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. 

“Don’t Be A Stupid One”

Are you talkin’ to ME? Well, I’m the only one here, so… You might as well have been, Jenny Boylan.

4fcb6032749bf4821ea70181edf8317dafaba3b0When you said,“You are a normal woman — right now, today.”

When you said, “You don’t need a man to make you a woman. A woman can make you a woman. I think it’s a thing that women do: we look to men to give us self-worth.”

When you said, “Now that you’re in the sisterhood, you have gone to such trouble to be a woman: Don’t be a stupid one — be a smart one.”

In point of fact, the esteemed Colby and Barnard professor, author, mentor and GLAAD co-chair — and my good friend — was speaking to another woman, the one on the TV.

i-am-caitCait somebody or other. Doesn’t matter, really.

I heard Jenny Boylan talking to me, too. When she challenged her friend, frankly, directly, honestly — the way only a true friend can — she didn’t cushion her words to spare Caitlyn Jenner’s feelings. And despite being more prepared than most viewers about what was going down in this clash of the titan trans women, I was on edge. Tears were close, but at bay.

jennifer-boylan-1024When Cait claimed to be too focused on education to worry about love and sex and dating, Jenny accused Cait of “throwing herself into her work” as a way of avoiding her own truth, and the issues that stand in the way. Like she did when she pursued the Olympics, when she focused on her families. “You’re running away,” said Jenny.

“Am I?” I asked. I imagined my face looked about as shocked as Cait’s at this very brazen but insightful statement of fact.

And Jenny reminded us, “Who you love is different from who you are.”

Truth. And right now, I don’t feel particularly loved by anybody. Sure: my kids, my friends, even some members of my extended family, they love me. My dog back in Connecticut loves me. But not by those who’ve known me longest, and who have no desire to know me now. The women who once were my entire life.

“We all deserve love. I worry that you’re not letting yourself be loved.”

IMG_0050Shut up, Jenny.

Of course, she’s right. I’ve sealed myself off from love because the only woman I’ve ever loved can’t love me back now that my truth is revealed. Her love faded as I stepped from the shadows as the woman I am. Her love died as surely as the name that once identified me to the world and to my Church. And I don’t have a prayer of winning back her love, because she’s got more important things to do than deal with my drama, my life, my unrequited love.

This woman who made me a father — who is now living authentically as a woman –has a far greater battle to wage than to deal with me, or to expend precious energy trying to love me, or not. She is fighting for her life in a struggle to survive cancer, and I have to put my own selfish needs aside, slip them into my back pocket, bury them in my suitcase, toss it down the basement stairs, bolt the door and switch off the light.

What I need to do is not cause her further anguish, pain, or distraction. I’m not her sole source of support anymore, and I have to accept that supporting her now means just staying the hell out of her way and taking on whatever is too much for her to burden.

I’ve hired housecleaners so that order can be restored before her mother drops in and shakes her head at the mess caused by three children, a dog and a kitten. It’s a mess that a woman fighting cancer tries valiantly to contain, but truth be told, what little energy she has must be saved for work, for ferrying kids around, for cooking, making lunches, and for chemo.

200_sThe poison that heals… the hurt that helps.The Pac-Man gobbling up those little, white, round cancer cells inside her body.

She’s so incredibly strong, this woman I loved and lost, having witnessed her give birth to our three children, a miracle if ever there was one given who I am, what’s inside me and the secrets of my real gender identity.

She’s fighting to win, to live, to show our children what real bravery, courage and strength is. What I did in coming out as trans is the equivalent of walking on a hot sandy beach barefoot, compared to the giant leaps she is taking to beat those dirty Russian cancer cells to the moon, and make it back alive.

I’ve done all I can to support her and our kids from afar. In 72 hours, we’ll be together again, and celebrating a once in a lifetime milestone for our one and only daughter.

I’m so proud of my girl, and her resilience in the face of parental strife, transition, separation, and now sickness. My daughter is the woman I look up to these days, and I have no doubt where she gets such incredible drive and stamina, as I watch her mother refuse to succumb, and resist rest. It’s my hope that just as the fabulous Jenny Boylan has helped me cross frightening intersections in my transition, that perhaps I can channel some of her wisdom and lend this woman a hand across her own crossroads. I will share every ounce of my strength, and a shoulder to lean on when hers grows weak.

11954688_10207524441049301_494445892356120049_nBut first, I must find within myself the ability to forgive her and all those who find my identity to be a selfish act, an abandonment of my wedding vows and my commitment to my bride. Let them chatter, whisper, be phony, or look upon me with judgment in their eyes. It’s all the same to me. I am who I am.

No, this is not the life I wanted, or want. But it is the life I must lead, and I’ve learned the hard way that living true is far better than dying while pretending to be someone I am not.