I Got A Lesbian Republican for Christmas

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Merry Christmas to all who celebrate!

This time on RiseUP With Dawn Ennis, I’m delighted to have Mary Fay in the studio. We discuss the recent election and its result, being a Republican in a progressive community, Connecticut politics and how she can be both an out lesbian and a Republican.

IMG_4380You might recall that last month, I interviewed her empty chair. She was a no-show!

Well, she showed up this time! And we had a great conversation, even if we didn’t agree on much. She was the first Republican to be my guest, and hopefully not the last.

Watch here, and scroll down for links mentioned in this month’s episode!

To know more about Mary Fay, you can go to her campaign’s Facebook page here.

And you can find out more about our representative government here in West Hartford, Connecticut, by clicking here.I myself  am an alternate representative to the town Democratic committee, representing District 1. Find out about us here, and please join us! If you’re interested in the Republican committee, they have a website, too. 

One of the issues we discussed were tolls coming to Connecticut, and although Ms. Fay told me I was wrong, you can read for yourself that a study shows they will bring $1B to our financially-strapped state. Here’s the report in the Hartford Courant.

And if you’d like to communicate with the woman who beat Ms. Fay for the 18th Legislative district seat, you’ll find Jillian Gilchrest on Twitter.  Incidentally, I’ve learned Jillian still has not received a promised call from Ms. Fay conceding the election.

Here’s the link I promised you about Connecticut Voice Magazine! Launch is set for March 2019!

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That’s all for our January episode of RiseUP, and I invite you to like, share and subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Also listen to the podcast I’m now doing with Chardonnay Merlot, Before The War. We discuss politics, transgender issues and news of the week.

IMG_4873We took some time off recently because of the holidays, the death of Chardonnay’s grandfather and my own recovery from surgery at Mount Sinai’s NY Eye and Ear Infirmary.

Despite the name of the facility, my surgeon is now performing vaginoplasty surgeries there. I suffered a complication in June from the operation he performed in May, and so my recent surgery was aimed at correcting that. All is well!

More good news: I will be teaching courses in journalism in the new year at the University of Hartford and you can also find my work at my portfolio page. Just click on the “articles” tab.

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Since this is the Christmas season, I thought I’d leave you with three “gifts.” First, two articles just published by The Advocate Magazine, profiling some amazing people I met at the NYC Pride march… Kaia Naadira and Ty Defoe! Click on their names to read!

Then, some politically-inspired carols… (SCROLL DOWN)

And last, the latest video from my BFF Maia Monet in which she wrangled Santa Claus (Dev Zebra) into listening to the Christmas wishes of transgender people! (KEEP SCROLLING)

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I don’t want a lot for Christmas
There’s just one change we need.
I don’t care about Jared or Junior
Let them spend this Christmas free.
I just want 
#Trump‘s mobile phone
Then let him go to Mar-A-Lago
We’ll end the shutdown, too.
All I want for Christmas
Is a COUP.

Silent night, Shutdown night
Everyone’s gone, turn out the lights
‘Round the world, allies gone wild
Holy shit, Trump is out of his mind
Sleep with porn stars, grab pussy
Sleep with porn stars, grab pussy!

We wish you a Mueller Christmas
We wish you a Mueller Christmas
We wish you a Mueller Christmas and a Happy Indictment
Fake Newscasts we bring to you and your kin
We wish you a Mueller Christmas and a Happy Indictment!

Closing bells ring, are you listening
On Wall Street, stocks are slipping
A terrible fright
We’re crying tonight
Watching our markets crashland.
Gone away are our investments
Here to stay is a depressment
#Trump was so wrong
To boast all along
While our markets crashland.

Donald the Conman
Was a lying racist clown 
With combover hair and tiny hands
And pouting lips in a permanent frown
Donald the President
Lied ’bout the wall: Mexico won’t pay
And his base was surprised when
Before their eyes
All those promised jobs went away.

You know Flynn and Manafort and Gates and Cohen
Kellyanne and Sarah and Jared and Stephen
But do you recall
The most famous Trumpster of all?
Ivanka the President’s Daughter
Plays a very shady role
And if you ever saw her
You would even say she knows
More than the other reindeer!

Mueller baby, slip your report under the tree for me
Been an awful good girl
Mueller baby, and hurry up with your Trump indictment 
Mueller baby, more indictments, too, for Mike Pence, too
I’ll wait up for you, Robert
Mueller baby, so hurry to the White House tonight

I really can’t wait (Baby Mueller’s outside)
I gotta go to Mar-A-Lago (Baby Mueller’s outside)
This term has been (Been hoping that it would end)
So very sad (I’ve noticed your hands really are tiny like a toy)
Mike Pence will start to worry (Not as much as we worry!)

Just hear breaking news alerts jingling, ring tingle tingling, too 
Come on, it drives me crazy my phone blows up ‘cuz of you 
Feels like the sky is falling and friends are crying “boo hoo!” 
Come on, it’s time for Mueller to finish so we can get rid of you!

‘Twas the Sunday before Christmas, when all thro’ the House, Not a congressman was stirring, not even The shutdown begun by the POTUS who dared Hoping his base soon would not care; The children nestled in cages of dread Forget freedom, just don’t let them be dead.

Well,
I have a little witness
I made him talk today
And when the indictment’s ready
Then, a video I shall play
Oh, Jared, Jared, Jared
What you told me I can’t say
But when the indictment’s ready
Then, #Trump will say, OY VEY.

Happy Holidays and here’s wishing to a fabulous 2019!

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Candles, Candidates and Canines

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The 20th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance was observed on Tuesday, and my friend Kati Ennis and I attended the commemoration in Hartford, Connecticut. You can see some of the very moving program in the new episode of RiseUP With Dawn Ennis.

I was invited by Rev. Aaron Miller to deliver the Interfaith Prayer, which was a poem by Rabbi Rami Shapiro, What To Do. I was humbled by the amazing stories and reflections of the speakers: Regina Dyson, Brianna Johnston, Mia Lozada, Aeryn Grady (audio problems prevented me from including Aeryn in my show), Maeve Martinez and the incredible author, life coach and public speaker, Tony Ferraiolo.

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Also in this new episode, what was supposed to be a sit down interview with Republican West Hartford Town Councilor Mary Fay — who ran and lost in the local election for state legislator to newcomer Jillian Gilchrest — turned out quite differently than I had anticipated. Fay, an out lesbian who also won the endorsement of the Independent Party in Connecticut, had agreed to an interview during the campaign, then reneged.

I caught up with her on Election Day as she greeted voters, and she promised to appear on my show. But when it came time to record the episode, Fay again sent her regrets, complaining of a bout with a stomach bug. She’s offered to appear on a future episode. The chair remains empty, so we’ll see. Fay was set to be the very first Republican to appear on my program; instead, she is the very first “no show” in 16 episodes since March 2017.

What you will see instead of Mary is Maggie, or as we now call her, Dahlia. She’s a rescue adoption dog who became part of our family thanks to Scott Turner Schofield and GLAAD, and the team at Litton Entertainment, a Hearst company, that produces a new reality series: Ready Set Pet on The CW.

You can see clips in this new episode of RiseUP With Dawn Ennis: 

Watch the entire episode of Ready Set Pet here:

Check out the Connecticut Humane Society for more pets available for adoption!

If you’re interested in West Hartford Town politics, learn more by clicking here. 

Find out more about Tony Ferraiolo at this link.

And thanks to journalist, writer and author Gwen Smith for continuing the very difficult task of compiling the names for TDoR. That link is here. 

Check out the new blogsite for our companion podcast, Before The War. 

“Am I Next?”

Processed with VSCO with oak3 presetMy daughter and I took part in last month’s March For Our Lives on the grounds of Connecticut’s capitol. We left our “pussy hats” from the 2017 protest behind, but she did bring along a homemade sign, replete with handrawn blood-drips and the question, “Am I Next?”

There we met teachers, students, mothers and fathers and many, many little children among the thousands who marched and rallied. Also in attendance, this week’s guest on RiseUP With Dawn Ennis: Kevin Sullivan, a legend in Connecticut politics and currently the commissioner of revenue services.

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Yes, he’s the Tax Man. And in this episode, he has important advice for everyone still working on your taxes (the IRS extended its deadline until midnight tonight).

Sullivan is also the former mayor of my hometown, West Hartford, a former member of the town council, a former state senator and president of the state senate. And Commissioner Sullivan also served as Connecticut’s lieutenant governor. In addition to safeguarding the state’s revenue coffers, he also serves our town as a leader in the Democratic Party. With his help and sponsorship, I am honored to serve as an alternate representative for my district on the town council. That’s one way I’m rising up.

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Jacquelyn Martin / AP

Also this month, my special correspondent is a mom of six children in Alexandria, Virginia: Amanda Brewer, a military wife who never expected she’d become an advocate for transgender rights. That all changed when her daughter, came out as trans at age 11.

I profiled the Brewers as well as another military family they helped fight bureaucracy at the Pentagon.

Amanda bravely accepted my invitation to share how she became an activist for trans rights, and I’m so grateful to her for telling her story.

You’ll find helpful links and more information below the link to this month’s show.

Wow, how about that thumbnail of me? Ouch!

Thank you in advance for watching, liking, sharing, and subscribing!

You can support families like Amanda Brewer’s by supporting the American Military Partners Association, which is actively fighting both the Pentagon and the Trump administration on behalf of trans military troops and their families.

To find out more about the March For Our Lives movement, click here. 

If you’re interested in learning more about Commissioner Kevin Sullivan or the department of revenue services, click here. And you’ll find information about state tax refunds here.

The IRS website is here for federal tax filing information.

Click here to register to vote in Connecticut.  The League of Women Voters Education Fund has a website to learn about voting in other states. Click here to access that page.

Read about West Hartford’s Jonathan Harris and his bid to be Connecticut’s next governor here. 

To read about my decision to convert from Roman Catholicism to Judaism, click here. 

The story about the man who decided to stop dating me after learning I’m trans is here.

And my personal #MeToo story about getting groped by actor Jeffrey Tambor is here on lifeafterdawn.com

If you are interested in becoming a RiseUP special correspondent, please contact me via the comments section! All you need is a camera phone and a story to tell about how you’ve taken action in your community. No experience required!

Dawn at First Event

RiseUP with Gov. Malloy and Sarah McBride

A new episode of my talk show RiseUP With Dawn Ennis is live on YouTube in advance of tonight’s premiere on WHC-TV at 9:30pm.

My guests are Gov. Dannel Malloy of Connecticut, and Sarah McBride of HRC, who is out with a stunning memoir, Tomorrow Will Be Different.

RiseUP Malloy

Gov. Malloy talked with me one on one about his accomplishments over his two terms in office, responded to his critics and answered questions from viewers, one of which is: why don’t you just resign now? His answer? “Walk in my shoes” before he’ll consider that viewer’s advice. Malloy told another viewer inquiring about taxes, “Wake up!”

We’ll also look at the newest candidate to enter the competitive race to replace Malloy, former West Hartford mayor Jonathan Harris.

Also in this episode, Sarah McBride explains what motivated her to work in activism and told me what she hopes readers who aren’t LGBTQ will learn from her book, now on sale.

You’ll find links to help you learn more about the people and topics we cover in this episode by scrolling down below the video link! If you enjoy what you see, please like. share and subscribe:

If you’re looking to contact Gov. Dannel Malloy, here’s the link to send him (or, more accurately, his staff) an email. They are very responsive! And if you have a specific problem or issue you want the governor and his staff to address, click here to contact the Constituent Services Office.

Watch the governor’s final state of the state address here and read the transcript here. 

You can read up on Connecticut politics by clicking here for the Hartford Courant’s section devoted to political news coverage.

Find out more about Jonathan Harris’s campaign for governor of Connecticut by clicking here. 

Harris, of course, faces some stiff competition later this year in the state primary:

DEMOCRATS RUNNING FOR GOVERNOR OF CONNECTICUT

MARK STEWART GREENSTEIN

REPUBLICANS CANDIDATES FOR GOVERNOR SO FAR

This episode’s special correspondent is Sarah McBride, the national press secretary for Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the first out transgender person to ever address a national political convention. Sarah is the author of Tomorrow Will Be Different, her memoir which the cover explains is about love, loss, and the fight for trans equality.

Read about Sarah and find out how you can get a copy of her book by clicking here

Sarah’s page at HRC can be found here. She’s on Twitter, and Instagram, too. And she’s written powerful stories at medium.com as well. Click here to read what else she’s written.

Click here to watch a short excerpt from Jennifer Finney Boylan’s powerful interview with Sarah at The Strand bookstore in New York City, on March 6th.

You can also order Sarah’s book on Amazon.com by clicking here. For information about Sarah’s book tour, you’ll find a list of cities and dates here. 

If you would like more information about Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford, reform Judaism or about the celebration of Purim and other Jewish holidays, visit CBI’s new and improved website for everything you ever wanted to know, but didn’t know who to ask! And expect to hear more in upcoming episodes about CBI’s 175th anniversary celebration!

If you like what you see, please like, share and subscribe, to both WHC-TV’s YouTube channel and to my own, as well as to this blog. Thank you!

 

 

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.

The Angernet — Don’t Get Sucked In

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To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, “Oh, the places you’ll go… mad… on the internet.” If you’re like me, you know Social Media can be not so social, whether it’s because of the knock-down, drag-out debates over politics, religion, civil rights, race, heritage, privilege or identity, or all of these divisive issues. It’s a no-win scenario, where everyone believes the other guy is the troll.

So aside from blocking those who enrage us, or abandoning the online world altogether, what can you do?

Meet David Ryan Polgar, a “tech ethicist” — he says that means he explores the “ethical legal, and emotional impact of social media and tech” — and he is my guest on this month’s episode of RiseUP With Dawn Ennis. Polgar joined me in the studio earlier this summer to talk about online solutions, best practices and offer insight into why the internet can so quickly turn into the angernet.

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In addition to television appearances, Polgar writes for BigThink. One column focused on something called Cunningham’s Law, which holds that “the best way to find the right answer online is to post something wrong and then get corrected.”

You can follow Polgar on Twitter and network with him on LinkedIn, or catch him on stage in New York City doing improv with comedian Joe Leonardo in a series of shows called Funny as Tech. Their act is aimed at unpacking “our absurd present and uncertain future.”

Here’s your link to this episode of RiseUP (and what’s got me angry is that someone not me misspelled the word “not” in the title “Not So Social Media,” and I can’t do anything about it! But I will survive). Please scroll down to learn about my latest special correspondent, Kristen Browde.

Kristen, who also goes by Chrissie, is a transgender woman living in Chappaqua, N.Y., a neighbor of Hillary and Bill Clinton, a powerhouse attorney and a former television journalist who is now running for political office. She and I go way back. I mean, waaaay back.

Our paths first crossed in the 1990s, at Fox5, WNYW-TV in New York City. That was the first TV station where I worked as a writer and learned how to be a copy editor and producer. Later that decade and into the new millennium, we worked more closely across town (literally) at CBS, where she was a network correspondent for TV and radio and I worked at “The Deuce,” Channel 2, WCBS-TV, which was at times called 2News, CBS2, CBS2NY, The CBS2 Information Center and my favorite, News2… as in, “If it’s News2 you, it’s news to us!” That name, umm, didn’t last very long.

The reason I mention all those names is because neither Browde nor myself stuck by our original birth names either. Neither one of us knew the other was hiding a secret two decades ago. We laugh sometimes thinking what it might have been like if either one of us had confided in the other, or if we had come out all those years ago.

14124509_1935484373345256_9084377132463387433_oI don’t mind posting pre-transition photos of myself but I’ve opted to not share them of Chrissie here, because to me, that would be the same as me posting a bare-butt picture of her as a baby. Sure, it’s still her, but it’s hardly representative of who she is today.

My favorite story about our friendship is that we connected online in October 2015, two and a half years after I came out, and seven months before she did. And until the day she came out, I somehow did not catch on that Chrissie Browde had been that “guy” I worked with at Fox5 and CBS! Duh.

To say I was floored would be an understatement. And we had a great laugh about it when we finally met face to face as our authentic selves one year ago this month.

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Thanks to Efrain Gonzalez for snapping this photo of Chrissie BrowdeMia SerrainoKim McKinstry, Elaine, and me.

My only defense in not recognizing that this Browde was that Browde is that I don’t waste my energy trying to find out who trans people were “before” they found themselves. It’s of no value to me, and I didn’t even give it a thought, even when she told me we had worked at the same places. That, or I am just dumb. But the lesson here is, there is absolutely no reason to ever ask a trans person their “real name.” Because Kristen Browde is her real name.

And she is running for town supervisor in New Castle, N.Y., a northern suburb of New York City. She and two other candidates are running under the banner Stronger New Castle, and have the backing of three political parties including the Democratic majority.

Browde isn’t the first transgender political candidate in New York — that honor goes to our friend and living legend Melissa Sklarz, who was the first out trans candidate elected in the state. But Browde is the first to have the backing of the state Democratic party for a townwide office, and if she wins, will be New York State’s first-ever transgender Town Supervisor.

Connect with Chrissie via her law firmher Facebook page, or her other Facebook page, or on Twitter. And if you’re in New Castle, N.Y., remember to vote on November 7 for the Stronger New Castle team!

Thanks for watching this month’s episode and for liking and sharing the video either through my blog or YouTube!

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