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.

Three Years Later

On this date in 2013, my world, such as it was, fell apart. The New York Post published an article based on an ill-advised email I had sent to “friends,” following a medical catastrophe.

I had just been discharged from a hospital where I spent a week recovering my memories and trying to figure out so many things: what year this was, who I was, why did my driver’s license have a picture of me wearing a wig, a gender marker with an F, and this other name that people called me.

Dissociative amnesia, I am told, was the result of a seizure that struck one night at the dinner table in late July. On that same night, as my wife rushed me to a hospital, my mother’s second husband died at a hospital in Florida. It was a bizarre, hard to fathom experience that I still have trouble explaining.

And that’s the worst thing I could have done: tried to explain. It was diagnosed as “transient global amnesia” at first, which spawned endless puns, and the doctors advised me upon my release that I needed to be cautious and not make any hasty decisions.

So, of course the first thing I did was tell my job I was returning to work as the man I once was.

File this under, “Things You’ve Done You Wish You Could Take Back or Do Over.”

Reaction among most of my “friends” and supporters was just short of Salem, only instead of burning me at the stake, I was set ablaze on the internet. Thank God for those of you who stood by me, then and now. And those of you who returned as my friends, I cannot blame you for joining the witchhunt, or standing by as I twisted in a tornado of my mind’s own creation.

To this day, I cannot explain what happened to me other than that I was clearly not as ready as I thought I was to continue my transition. One doctor compared it to a circuit breaker snapping, or a fuse blowing, when too much energy was required than it could handle.

Through that date, I had come out to my wife, to my children, on the job and to the world. I wasn’t regretting a thing, except of course the end of my marriage. That was devastating, but understandable and anticipated. There was no going back, no putting the genie back in the bottle.

IMG_3136And yet, for all of August 2013, that was what happened. I lived as Don again. A man with a generous set of moobs. A man who peed sitting down as that was the only way. My identification, which I had been told had been quite easily switched to “Dawn” and “female,” was not so easily changed back, however, given I could not get a doctor to write a letter that I was undergoing a gender transition from female to male. I ran into roadblocks that I could not overcome and decided to just lump it and explain it as best as I could, should the subject come up, like when I had to present a driver’s license to a cashier.

Those kinds of quiet explanations are understandable. However, telling my “close friends” at work what had happened, in writing, was the height of stupidity. I had no idea at that time who my enemies were, and how or why anyone I called a friend would leak my email to gossipmongers and tabloids.

If only I had just kept it all to myself. But if you know me, you know that’s like asking a shaken soda bottle to please not explode when you open the cap, pretty please?

I was under enormous pressure to get back to work, and earn the money we counted on for survival. I felt obligated to prove I wasn’t this “transgender woman” the identification papers and newspapers and websites said I was, and I wanted more than anything to be with my wife and children, not living separately from them with a couple of gay guys an hour away.

And then, slowly, I started to realize, every time I looked in the mirror, the face staring back at me wasn’t the one I thought it would be. Where did she go? Who was I, truly?

My nights were plagued by dreams of being this other person, a woman. My days were filled with embarrassing moments such as walking into the ladies room while still presenting as a male.

And I wasn’t sure what to do with all those shoes, and clothes, and wigs… until I decided, actually I do want to go back to the lovely guys who took me in when my beloved kicked me out. I chose to move this time. And when that letter came, that fateful letter, it clicked.

To: Dawn Stacey Ennis

From: National Institutes for Health (NIH), Bethesda, Maryland

It said in part: “The patient is a successfully transitioned woman, born male, who…” I stopped reading. That’s ME, I thought.

What the hell happened? Memories flooded back. I realized what I had done in my deluded state and cried, and hugged my roommates, unsure what to do. I had killed and buried Dawn Stacey Ennis, and I had not the slightest clue how to bring her back to life. How to resume my authentic life.

I realized the delusion was not that I was trans; it was that I could be anything but.

By September, I would be back on HRT and by October of 2013, I resumed my presentation as my authentic self, in secret, away from work and family. I was further back in the closet than I had been when this all started.

It was not until May of 2014 that I finally came out, again, and have lived true.

I have tried to be a voice for those who do voluntarily detransition, to stand up against those who would shame them, for fear it taints all of us. What I learned was except for those very few who never were trans, that no one transgender ever really detransitions; they stop presenting, they can deny who they are, but they are always, endlessly transgender. And sadly, closeted.

Three years later, I cannot say I don’t have regrets, but I am a better person, a happier person, a more authentic person than I ever was when I pretended to be someone I wasn’t.

I like to think it took nothing short of a medical catastrophe to make me think I could be him again, and that when I got better, the truth came out. I am a successfully transitioned woman named Dawn Stacey Ennis, a woman born male.

And although the road to me has not been easy, there’s not a woman alive who can say that it ever is.

“One is not born a woman, but becomes one.” – Simone de Beauvoir

The War of 2016

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We are at war.

Don’t believe me? Post anything involving politics, race, religion or criminal justice on social media… and count to ten.

Let me state at the start, I’m no psychologist (not yet, but that is most definitely my next career, after my kids finish college). That said, I consider myself intelligent, insightful and well-educated, and willing to put forth my own analysis with the full knowledge it is informed opinion, and not fact; I stand ready to receive criticism, commentary and challenges to my thinking.

And my thoughts of late are WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?!?

In just seven months, I count 14 incidents: mass shootings, murders of police officers, police-involved deadly shootings and mass killings by terrorists and military clashes around the world. Here’s the toll since January:

  • 6 murdered in Chesapeake, VA.
  • 5 murdered in Glendale, AZ.
  • 5 murdered in Pittsburgh, PA.
  • 5 murdered in Kansas City, KS.
  • 8 murdered in Piketon, OH.
  • 5 murdered in Moultrie, GA.
  • 49 murdered in Orlando, FL.
  • 290 murdered by bombers in Baghdad, Iraq.
  • Alton Sterling killed by police in Baton Rouge, LA.
  • Philandro Castile killed by police in Falcon Heights, MN.
  • 5 police officers murdered in Dallas, TX.
  • 84 murdered in Nice, France.
  • 265 killed in failed military coup in Turkey.
  • And today, at least 3 police officers murdered in Baton Rouge, LA.

That’s at least 93 dead here in the U.S., 462 overseas, a total of 555 lives lost. The last seven of those incidents above happened all in the space of the last two weeks, and the massacre in Orlando was just a little over one month ago.

Amid all that bloodshed, we live in a world that is more divided than ever before. Isolationism is catching fire around the globe. The U.K. voted to quit the European Union, the leading Republican candidate for president in the U.S. wants to build a wall on our border with Mexico and put a halt to legal immigration by those of the Muslim faith, the Black Lives Matter movement is marching for social justice, police officers nationwide are under fire, literally, and those opposed to transgender rights have encouraged followers to oppress, restrict and even shoot to kill anyone who dares to use a bathroom matching their gender identity.

Social media right now is a cesspool of opposing views, anti-Hillary Clinton, anti-Donald Trump, antigay, anti-LGBT, anti-BLM, anti-police, anti-Obama, anti-foreigners, anti-Democrat, anti-Republican, anti-establishment, anti-Wall Street, anti-politics, anti-government, anti-white, anti-Mexican American, anti-Muslim, antisemitism, anti-Christian, anti-Catholic, anti-religion, anti-feminist, anti-men, anti-Ghostbusters… anti-anybody who doesn’t think the way I do.

Posting an opinion online is equivalent to lighting a firecracker in your hand: no matter how great an idea you think it is to do it, be aware: you’re likely to wind up hurt.

And the question I see most often asked is, “why?” Why are we like this? What is behind this spate of rudeness, disrespect, hatred, divisiveness, violence, murder?

We humans have had differences of opinion since Adam and Eve, since the first Cro Magnon man beat the shit out of the second Cro Magnon man, since Ren fought Stimpy.

The late Rodney King, the man whose beating by police was caught on video, said it best:

So it’s not new:  we don’t get along. Too many of us don’t play well together.

I believe there is no one cause, or one person to blame, but in the background of all of this divisiveness is the rising empowerment via technology of fringe or alternate opinions, outside the mainstream, which has fueled a new, unrestricted mindset. We are connected in a way with the rest of the planet that gives everyone with access to the internet an opportunity to speak our mind, no matter how arcane or antiestablishment our views are.

troll 2I see the seed in this development in the evolution of the internet troll. He or she is afforded total anonymity with which they can speak from a virtual soapbox. They are attracted to cultural icons who boast, berate and bellow via reality television, who win kudos for being rude and “speaking their mind.” I think a significant segment of our society has decided it’s okay, even better, to be divisive. Perhaps, they consider finding compromise a sign of weakness: better to “stand your ground” against “others” unlike “us.”

The “others” are not just strange or different, they are dangerous. They must be stopped. They must be defriended, denounced, denied rights, and ultimately, denied life. The world is not big enough for “others.” Their existence threatens my own, goes the thinking.

It’s reminiscent to me of survivalist mentality, as if an entire population of our nation has decided we are at war. And so we are.

The Nice, Baghdad and Turkey incidents may seem unrelated to this mindset, but to my mind, there is a connection: terrorists commit mass murder to advance a cause against “others,” military juntas overthrow governments because they see their leaders as representing views other than their own.

And Brexit was a democratic, non-violent reaction to that same principle. How far will we, as Americans, go?

clinton-trump1Will our next leader pull us out of the United Nations? Will our economy suffer because of whom we elected? Will we shutter our borders to certain foreigners who are deemed “too foreign?” Will we become the Earth’s policeman and go to war in Syria, with Korea, or China? Will a new record for low turnout be set, tainting our next presidential election, given the negative opinions we have of our leading candidates? How will whoever wins govern a country that stays home on Election Day out of disgust for the choices available?

How can any man or woman heal the rift that is now wider than at any point since our civil war? My friend Jennifer Finney Boylan — professor, writer, author, mentor and oh, she happens to be a transgender woman like me — has long advocated love as the proper response to these times. I don’t disagree, we need more love. But I believe we need something more.

I looked to the words of Abraham Lincoln, and those of John F. Kennedy, two beloved presidents separated by a century, unpopular in office but revered and hallowed following their assassinations.

Abraham Lincoln “won the presidency in 1860 with just 39.8% of the vote and was considered so offensive by half of the polity that the country split in two because of him,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

“A house divided against itself cannot stand,” said Lincoln.

“Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future,” declared Kennedy, who also said:  “If we cannot now end our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.”

Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon in 1960 with a 0.17% margin of victory, the narrowest of the 20th century, according to the L.A. Times. And his popularity plummeted each year he was in office. But he is now revered, in part because of the stand he took for civil rights:

“Those who do nothing are inviting shame as well as violence… those who act boldly are recognizing right as well as reality… A great change is at hand, and our task, our obligation, is to make that revolution, that change, peaceful and constructive for all.”

I close with Lincoln, whose words are as timely today as when he first delivered his Lyceum address, in 1838. He’s commonly quoted as having said, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” But the actual quote, far darker, is below:

“If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen we must live through all time or die by suicide.”

I am taking up Jenny Boylan’s challenge to love more, and to raise my voice to call for a better way forward, for my children and yours. My hope is that we “live through all time,” even this time, and together find a way to heal the rift, and end The War of 2016.

 

 

Hey, Pride. Gimme a raincheck.

Pride

Greetings from Connecticut, and Happy Pride!

One year ago, I marched in my first ever Pride parade. My friend and everyday inspiration, Diane Anderson-Minshall, her husband Jacob and other colleagues at our company, Here Media, were joined by more friends in and around a smoking hot, cherry red Mustang convertible.
Pride 2015We waved flags, waved our hands, and walked for miles on a blistering hot day along Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. Although I’d come out two years before, had my face on TV, in newspapers and online, and even spoken on the radio, this was by far the most public attention I’ve ever received, before or since.

And perhaps most important of all: a new friend who had up to that day identified as gay came out to me as trans. I am so proud of her and happy for all she’s done to find her true path.

My own path led me to Southern California in the spring of 2015, where I began a new life. Sad to be separated from my children, but knowing my first priority was to provide financial support for them and their mom, I moved away thinking this was it. I had never wanted to leave home, but that wasn’t my choice.

IMG_1295I had spent two years living in exile from my loved ones, bouncing around every six months, from May 2013 until February 2015. I had moved from our home to Danbury to East Haven, from The Bronx to Marietta, Georgia, and back home again.

We lived again as a family of five, under the same roof, although my wife and I no longer shared a bedroom. And it was working out; we took vacations together, worshipped together, shopped and dined together. And yes, we planned a divorce together, something that normally would have been accomplished but her lawyer postponed again and again, through no fault of my own.

After two years of starts, stops and stalls, Wendy was intent on divorcing me for having transitioned. While I wasn’t excited or encouraged by that prospect, I recognized it was fair, it was what she wanted, and I did my best to not fight the inevitable, given the circumstances.

As that proceeded, this time it was me who made the decision to move out, given the fact I was unemployed and we needed someone to be earning money over the summer. The fact was, my wife’s job as a public school teacher only paid her a salary during the school year, with a lump payment to start the summer that wasn’t enough to last us through September. In March, I had been offered a job as news editor at The Advocate, where I had freelanced for several months, and I leaped at the chance to both provide for my family and restart my journalism career. I started by working remotely, in Connecticut, and then in May, joined the team in L.A.

12311291_10208138290035142_8590740602085746907_n.jpgThe challenges were new, the people friendly, the location awesome. Having lived there before, for two summers in the early 1990s, I adapted easily to SoCal, although as an intense, no-nonsense native New Yorker, I had a long way to go to find my chill.

But that intensity came in handy on the biggest news day of my new career: first thing that morning on June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court announced its ruling in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, approving marriage equality in all 50 states by a narrow majority of 5 to 4. It was exciting, exhilarating, incredibly moving — and we were balls to the walls busy.

So when my iPhone rang, I was tempted to ignore it, but I knew that Wendy was facing her own challenge that day. Eight months after first complaining of unending stomach discomfort, pain and irritation, she finally got tired of me nagging her to see a specialist and was that morning getting a CT scan of her abdomen.

10493013_10206743312321571_506699379394948999_o“I need to talk to you,” she said. “It’s urgent.” I stopped what I was doing, got up from my cubicle in the penthouse overlooking West Los Angeles, Santa Monica and the Pacific Ocean, and headed to the unoccupied conference room. Given our lack of private space, the conference room was a phone booth of sorts, with a helluva view. I stared at the cars backed up on the 405 as I dialed Wendy’s cell, my eyes moving to the horizon and to Catalina Island.

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I was prepared by Wendy’s tone that this might be bad news, and braced myself as I redialed and she answered on the first ring. I asked, forgoing the usual greeting, what the test showed. She didn’t mince words.

“I have cancer.” 

Wendy was in tears, and I had to stifle my own exclamation by putting my hand over my mouth. The details were horrific: her cancer was rare, stage four, and her only hope was a risky surgery that might not save her life.

Here it was the most important day in modern LGBTQ history, and it was nothing compared to the news I had just learned. The love of my life was dying.

Not a week went by that I didn’t offer to move back home, and each time she refused; thanks to my bosses, I was permitted to spend weeks at a time, working remotely in Connecticut, from September through November.

Thirty weeks, seven rounds of chemotherapy and a complex operation later, my wife went into shock and died on January 20, 2016.

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That day Wendy died, a Wednesday, I was at work in California when I got the call from the hospital that I needed to come right away to the intensive care unit. “Hello, I’m in Los Angeles?” But I already had a flight home booked for Sunday, and so I fled to LAX after arranging to get my children to her ICU bedside. There, they were joined by her mother and cousins, closest friends and our rabbi. They gathered around her, prayed, sang songs, and they kept in touch with me by phone as I raced to the airport, fought with the airlines to let me board — but their archaic rules prevented me from switching flights and boarding fewer than 45 minutes before take-off.

That was, as it turns out, a blessing. Had I made the flight, she’d have passed as I passed over the midwest. Instead I was on a shuttle bus back to West L.A. when our brave, stalwart and brilliant eldest son called me, fighting back tears. He said they all had said their goodbyes, and that he wanted to hold the phone to his mom’s ear, so I could say goodbye, too. “She loved you, Dad,” he said. “She really did.”

I know. And whether she could hear me or not, I told her I loved her, that I’d take care of our children, told her to not worry, and also said how sorry I was, for everything. We remained married until the end, given that the divorce never happened; only in death did we truly part.

equality-supreme-court_603BB7659D884B37870F5B4480CB9D18Today, June 26, 2016, our community celebrates Pride, celebrates our victory at the Supreme Court, celebrates the defeat of the Defense of Marriage Act, and we mourn our dead in Orlando, and in a dozen or so states where at least 14 transgender people have been murdered because they are trans. And I mourn the woman who loved me more than anyone has, who pushed me to find my truth even at the expense of our marriage and her own happiness. I mourn her every day that ends in “y,” just like her name.

So, despite my youngest child’s insistence that I head down to New York City and celebrate Pride this weekend, I stayed here, with them, by their side, where I should be and want to be. There will be another Pride march, another year to join with my sisters and brothers and gender non-conforming folks, who only ask that we #FixSociety, and recognize the rights of all Americans to determine how best to pursue our lives, our liberty and happiness.

Instead of marching under a rainbow flag, I will drive my daughter to sleepaway camp, and prepare her little brother for his own. She packed herself this year, with some help, of course, and I couldn’t be more proud of her. I’ll drop her off Sunday, and a few days later I’ll drop off her younger brother at his first every sleepaway camp experience. Then their older brother and I will depart on an ambitious tour of colleges that will take us from Connecticut to Canada to Chicago and back again.

It is fitting that it is during Pride that our oldest son, who has accomplished so much in 17 years, embarks on this latest adventure. Yes, I still say “ours,” because he is.

ptp_2clogo_rev_rblue1.pngHe’s traveled the world as an ambassador from America with the People to People organization, attended President Obama’s second inauguration, drove coast to coast with me just a few weeks after getting his license, and regularly devotes time to his community through both temple and the Jewish Community Center, where he’s also a lifeguard.

Most recently, his high school selected him as one of a handful of teens to represent our town in the American Legion’s Boys State program for future policy wonks, where he became an outspoken advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex individuals. They had told me, he’d come home a changed man, but this was unanticipated.

boysstateHis evolution became especially evident Friday evening at the dinner table, when he regaled us with his stories from his time at Boys State. He had spent a week on a local college campus forming a model state government: running for office, casting votes, electing and running a government, dealing with the judicial system and otherwise enjoying nerd nirvana.

“There were some silly bills, in addition to the big ones,” he told us. One of the big ones was an obnoxious, arrogant proposal reeking of white privilege — to cut the state budget by eliminating all public transportation. And one of the “silly bills” was an especially cruel and juvenile version of a “bathroom bill.”

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“That bill would have officially renamed all transgender people ‘transformers,'” he said, and would require they use only the specific bathrooms assigned to them, according to how they presented. “Transgender men would use the ‘autobots’ bathrooms, and transgender women would be required to use facilities reserved for ‘decepticons.'”

Stunned at this naked transphobia, I paused for a moment. “How did that make you feel?” I asked, hesitantly, worried for him. He doesn’t exactly go around advertising that his dad is trans, as he is a very private person. When people refer to me as his mom, he often prefers I just let it go, unlike when I’m with his siblings who approve of me outing myself, and explaining that their mom has died.

So what did my eldest son do when confronted with a bill supported by a roomful of more than 100 teenage boys, denigrating people like his father? As an elected representative to the model state legislature from the fictional town of Tyler, named after our most ineffective president, my son stood up and gave an impassioned speech for why that “silly bill” should not advance.

He spoke of me, of our community, of our struggles for acceptance that not one other person there had reason to consider, because they did not know anyone transgender. He put a face to their mocking, gave them a flesh and blood person to consider impacted, and succeeded in turning around hearts and minds, at least for one day. The bill died a quick death.

Oh, and the buses in Tyler town didn’t stop running either; his proposal to reduce service rather than eliminate it altogether wound up shelved in a committee, but neither bill reached a vote.

And instead of promoting his own candidacy, he used his knowledge of Roberts Rules to execute a clever parliamentary trick, to help a fellow student leader advance to a position of power. Plus, he got to question Sen. Richard Blumenthal about the issue about which he is most passionate: reforming campaign financing. Adult leaders told him that had they an award for courage, he surely would have won it.

So, I’m sorry, Pride goers. Please party on, march along, dance and sing and say the names of those we lost without me this year. As much as I’d enjoy the chance to show my Pride for our community, I’m focused exclusively on three people who make me proud every day of the year: my children.

Gimme a raincheck. Let’s try again next year.

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A trust has been established by Wendy’s brother, Robert Lachs, to assist with furthering the education of the Ennis children. Anyone wishing to donate to the fund may send a check, payable to “Ennis Family Scholarship Fund Trust” to Robert Lachs, 1729 E Prairie Ave., Wheaton, IL 60137, or click here to donate via GoFundMe. 

Meet the “Dad/Mom”

Screen Shot 2016-06-16 at 3.14.09 AMStarting tonight I am a video blogger as well as the lady wordsmith here at lifeafterdawn.com. The term a decade ago was vlogger but I doubt that it is still in use today. Whatever you call it, I’m doing it.

So here is episode one, Meet the “Dad/Mom” in which I explain why I am such a thing and how I came to be me. Welcome new friends and old to this brave new world, with such transgender people in it. Please send me your questions, answers, ideas, random th0ughts, to my email dawnennis@gmail.com or you can comment here, too, or on YouTube. 

Thanks!

Also: 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. 

 

 

It could have been me


I’m hardly a barfly but yes: I’ve danced, drank, met friends and enjoyed music in some of Central Florida’s gay-friendly bars. And I’ve done the same in Tampa, St. Pete, and Jacksonville, too. And N.Y., L.A. and D.C. And even Hartford. 
It’s not the “gay” aspect that attracted me, of course, but the fact that someone like me doesn’t feel out of place in a club or tavern that caters to the gay. lesbian, bi and trans clientele. 
And that makes me a target of terrorism. 

But I’m apparently not lesbian. A trusted lady friend who would certainly know once told me she can “smell the straight” on me. But as a transgender woman who loved only one woman for 20+ years, my emerging attraction to the opposite sex still isn’t ready for field testing in the kinds of bars and clubs I frequented in my youth, when I was the suitor instead of the prey. 

The one thing I can say about what happened in Orlando early Sunday, is that is how I now feel: as the hunted. 

Omar Mateen could have chosen any club anywhere for his record-setting murder spree. And he wasn’t alone in his homophobia nor hardly the first terrorist hellbent on extinguishing the lives of people who offended him simply by loving. 

I can’t put it out of my mind: I could have been there with friends in Orlando’s gay and Latin community. Or it might have been those friends of mine who lost their lives or were wounded.

Or yours. 

You know, you don’t have to be gay to visit a “gay bar.” And I’ll wager that among those poor 50 souls, there very well might be one straight ally, maybe more. Or one of the 53 wounded could be a friend who was in the “wrong place at the wrong time,” as is often said. Who could imagine such a thing? The thought that planes could be used as missiles sprung from the minds of terrorists 15 years ago, and now gay clubs, Pride parades and even public bathrooms are the modern terrorist’s inspiration for hateful carnage. 

I heard one network reporter breathlessly broadcast that the result of the Orlando massacre was that police nationwide were beefing up patrols “in areas frequented by the gay community” in order to protect “people who live the LGBTQ lifestyle.” Whoa, why didn’t anyone tell me there’s a special place gays go? See, I thought that in 2016, gay people “frequent” supermarkets, offices, churches, movie theaters, shops and stores and gas stations and restaurants and – on occasion – the streets and sidewalks of cities and towns across America. 

And why is it that in all the years I was the best imitation of a married heterosexual man, nobody ever described me as living a “straight lifestyle?” I’m still straight, yet somehow coming out as trans earned me a “lifestyle.” And, truth be told, I’m neither rich nor famous. 

Omar Mateen may have landed a place in the history books with this bloody massacre, but I’m more interested in learning about the folks whose lives were lost and those forever changed by his legally licensed and NRA-sanctioned gunfire. 

I also want to know more about the brave officers who ran into danger when all hell broke loose. And I wish I could offer some comfort to the families and friends who are in mourning. They join so many more like them in Newtown, Aurora, and San Bernardino. My heart breaks, knowing full well that death is cruel. 

But let’s be honest: I’m a selfish bitch, and all I really care about is my kids and me. I know that as a marked woman, my choices can get me killed. As a widow, I am all my kids have. So, do I dare go where a predator who hates LGBTQ people might take out his hatred or a copycat might commit more terrorism? 

And here we were just 24 hours ago, fretting about the danger trans people posed in the bathroom. Really? 

How ironic that many of those frightened victims inside Pulse found shelter from the fusillade of gunshots by hiding in the nightclub’s ladies room. 

Well, if  you need me, I won’t be hiding in the loo, or under my bed. I will be out, and about, and I will shout: I will not stop living my authentic life. I will be me and I will be visible. How can I teach my kids to stand up for themselves if I won’t do the same? 

To all of you who dance and drink, who enjoy the music and the camaraderie of gay-friendly clubs: let’s go clubbing, and keep going. We can’t let the terrorists win, no matter how high the cover charge is. 

Life is too damn short. 

New Year, Old Luck

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PLUNK!

The sound was unmistakable. Despite it being a relatively quiet noise, this New Year’s Day event some 14 hours after we watched the ball drop on TV jarred me awake from my afternoon nap faster than any alarm could.

I grabbed my earbuds that now draped over the edge of the bed and pulled, quickly, hoping I was not too late.

iphone-5-water-damage-repairAnd then there it was, the earbuds plug still attached to my dripping wet iPhone.

Turns out I had taken the device out of its OtterBox just before I fell asleep, and of course I left a nice, cool cup of water in perfect position for my personal disaster. If I had for some reason decided to toss the phone and aim for the cup, I probably would never have hit the mark in 1,000 tries.

The next steps are no doubt familiar to those who’ve learned the hard way that modern mobile devices enjoy a bath about as much as the Wicked Witches of the West: the bowl of rice, the waiting, the joy of seeing it light up once again only to learn the damage to the screen prevented me from unlocking the phone and saving what had not yet been backed-up.

This experience made me wonder if maybe New Year’s is something like an automatic data backup: we collect all our memories of the year just ended, and we save them in the hard drives of our minds… then move on.

And my friends, it is time for me to move on, too.

I am on the cusp of a huge upheaval in my personal life.

NO, I AM NOT DETRANSITIONING.

Sheesh. Really?

For the first time since moving to Los Angeles in 2015, I’m stepping forward into the spotlight in a new way:

i-am-cait-caitlyn-jennerThis week, I’m covering the premiere of a major project in the realm of LGBT entertainment, and next week (fingers crossed) I’ll be putting questions to the most famous transgender woman in the world.
1313519_1411496282.2664_wlAnd in less than three weeks, I’ll be in Chicago for a huge conference that will mark my debut as a panelist and a speaker on the subject of LGBT journalism.

On top of all that, for the first time since 1981, I’ve been presented with an opportunity to revisit my past experience as an actor, something I swore I’d never do again. Lastly, somehow, I’ve attracted the attention of two filmmakers who think people might want to spend their valuable time watching me on their screens. And I’ve said yes to both, with the stipulation that their projects will benefit all transgender folks, and maybe me, too.

For the first time since 1998, I have a new cell phone number, with a 310 area code. My longtime 914 number, like the phone, is dead and gone.
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For the first time since 1996, I am single.

For the first time in my life, there is a man with whom I am spending time, and yeah, before you ask: yes, he knows. The rest is private, and let’s just say we’re only starting to get to know each other.

While that brings me joy, what is topmost of mind is my family back home. My children still hold the center of my heart. Their mother is struggling, and she’s made it clear it’s no longer my place to ease her burden, as much as I have tried. You know me, though: I’m not done trying, not by a long shot.

But in my mind I’ve shifted my efforts from being Wendy’s main support, to supporting our children, as it should be. They come first.

The film, the guy, the woman on the Malibu mountaintop, even my work… they all come after my obligation to my three lovelies, just as my own needs must take a backseat to the kids who make my life worth living.

Luckily, thus far, they’ve survived multiple dunkings of water and emerged no worse for wear.

Buckle-up, friends. No doubt the road ahead will be bumpy.

And, uh, you’ve seen how I drive.

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A trust has been established by Wendy’s brother, Robert Lachs, to assist with furthering the education of the Ennis children. Anyone wishing to donate to the fund may send a check, payable to “Ennis Family Scholarship Fund Trust” to Robert Lachs, 1729 E Prairie Ave., Wheaton, IL 60137, or click here to donate via GoFundMe. 

Mind = Blown

Today is my last day in Philadelphia for #LGBTMedia15, the convening of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender journalists and media folks from 23 states, and one from Nigeria!
Today the gang enjoyed a private tour of the Free Library of Pennsylvania after one last brunch. My flight home is in four hours and I’m packing up, not just my clothes… but my memories and what I have learned that I did not know. Here are ten:

  1. The struggle of bisexuals for acceptance. That 70% of bi folks are women. That they are too often lumped-in with gays and lesbians because people don’t “get” them or judge them or don’t want to know what it is that makes them happy.
  2. The fear of HIV hasn’t truly gone away and how modern medicine has made advances that in the 1980s would be the equivalent to the discovery of penicillin but because of fear and association with “the gay disease” the mainstream media and famous names keep their distance from hailing this breakthrough. It is keeping people alive who would have died, like my uncle did. Like my cousin did.
  3. That LGB journalists are as interested and motivated to fight for transgender civil rights as my trans brothers and sisters are. They understand — or want to understand better — our struggle, that we need their support and that we need it now.
  4. I was able to meet, hug and get to know many of the wonderful people whose names I’ve seen online, and for them to get to know me a little, too.
  5. That a transgender woman with an incredible platform to educate our society has given aid and comfort to those who would want trans kids excluded from sports activities and deny every trans man and trans woman the right to use the bathroom of their true gender. It’s abominable what she has done and an apology is not sufficient; she simply needs to stop talking about things she doesn’t understand.
  6. How awesome my friend Brynn Tannehill truly is. I’ve admired her for years and got to see her in action in person at this event. She’s the whole package, folks: smart, sassy, cute, well-spoken and passionate about civil liberties, the trans community, her family and her comrades who serve and have served our nation. And she’s a scholar of all things Hogwarts, Game of Thrones and the dwellers of Middle Earth.
  7. The generosity of people like Bil Browning, Jen Christiansen and Adam Pawlus, and their amazing ability to listen, to help, to encourage and facilitate our work.
  8. Diversity is not the right word to describe our assemblage: a salmagundi of smart, sensitive downright sexy people. We have had divergent experiences but share a single goal. I think instead of diversity I will start to use the word multiversity.
  9. I learned a lot about Philly’s history of LGBT advocacy and met some of the most treasured members of our community: our elders, who we need to not only salute but save from poverty and homelessness.
  10. And I also heard some very sad stories from those I was blessed to meet here, about work, love, life and their struggles to survive in a world that rejects them.Edit

I leave Philadelphia energized to make a difference.

I am empowered. I am strengthened. I am motivated.

I’m also hungry, and just got an invite to lunch, so bye for now!

Oh — before I go: please do me one favor, dear readers: be nice to someone today, even if they don’t deserve it.