Pride in the name of… Dawn

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Just because June is over doesn’t mean it’s the end of pride celebrations. This month on my talk show, RiseUP with Dawn Ennis,we cover a lot of ground, and if you’ll forgive me for boasting… I have a lot to boast about.

IMG_1597.PNGThis summer has been one big event after another for me, personally. And for my eleventh episode of this series on WHC-TV and YouTube, I’ve decided to navel-gaze, and share some personal milestones:

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  • My victory over Connecticut’s state Medicaid program, Husky, to have the surgeon of my choice perform a life-saving and affirming operation culminated in that surgery on May 15th;
  • My children and I welcomed a new addition to our happy home (NO, I am not and never will be pregnant!);
  • And my selection as a community hero by Heritage of Pride (organizers of the NYC Pride March), which put me front and center at the historic 49th annual event on June 24th, alongside several genuine LGBTQ icons. Click here for the link to the names of all of this year’s honorees.

Hello, imposter syndrome! 

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Kaia Naadira (left), Emma Gonzalez and Dawn Ennis

Yes, that woman with the crew cut standing to my right is indeed Emma Gonzalez,18, a graduate of Parkland, Fla.’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and survivor of the deadly school shooting rampage on February 14th.

36177311_10216645339866071_383963565091979264_nWe talked at length about how she’s dealt with all she’s seen, handling haters, her hairstyle and her choice for college. Her mom is a sweetheart and entrusted me to keep an eye on Emma as she walked ahead of the float we rode through Lower Manhattan.

IMG_1579And because I am a journalist first and foremost, I also took time before and after the march to do my job: I interviewed the woman in the center of this photo, the queer-identified gender nonconforming artist and video innovator Kaia Naadira, whose mother Tarana Burke started the #MeToo movement. I also spoke with Two Spirit performance artist Ty Defoe, right, who followed Pride with a stint on Broadway alongside transgender icon Kate Bornstein in Straight White Men. 

You can read the interviews in an upcoming print issue of The Advocate Magazine as well as watch the interviews in this month’s episode, on YouTube, below. And below the episode, you’ll find links promised during the show.

My friend Kati and I also met one of my lifelong heroes, Billie Jean King, one of the grand marshals.

IMG_1769If you don’t know how she single-handedly changed the world — not just the world of sports — watch this Peabody Award-winning documentary about the tennis and women’s movement and lesbian legend here. 

I asked King about “Battle of the Sexes,” the recent movie about her historic 1973 tennis match against Bobby Riggs, and how producers had suggested they “leave out” that she was lesbian, since at the time she was married to her ex-husband. “You can’t leave that out!” she told them.

King also had this to say, in the Portrait of a Pioneer documentary:

“Even though I get discouraged sometimes, if you’re a girl or a woman, you’re supposed to be really happy when you get the crumbs. I don’t want just the crumbs! I want the cake and the icing. Everybody deserves the cake and the icing.”

The other grand marshals for 2018 were Lambda Legal, Tyler Ford, and Kenita Placide.

  • Placide, pictured above left with King, is OutRight Action International’s Caribbean-based Advisor and the Executive Director of the Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality (ECADE). She has been an advocate for HIV and human rights, youth and LGBTI issues, for over 12 years. Instrumental in organizing the first OECS regional security and human rights training for LGBT and sexual rights defenders in 2011, she made history co-coordinating the Caribbean’s first International Dialogue on Human Rights in 2012.
  • Lambda Legal is the oldest and largest national legal organization whose mission is to achieve the full recognition of the civil rights of the LGBTQ community and everyone living with HIV through impact litigation, education, and public policy work. In the past year alone, Lambda Legal has sued to stop the transgender military ban, defended marriage equality nationally, fought federal, state and local-level discrimination, and continued to advocate for the most vulnerable members of our community – including youth, seniors, the trans community, and communities of color.
  • Tyler Ford is an award-winning agender advocate, writer, and speaker, whose creative and critical writing on queer and trans identity inspires, comforts, and challenges a diverse spectrum of audiences. Ford is also the Deputy Editor at Condé Nast’s them, a next-generation LGBTQ community platform.
Tyler Ford, Photo by D. Strutt

If you’re like my youngest son and you’d like to know more about Stonewall and the 1969 protests and riots that sparked the LGBTQ pride movement (there were several other uprisings, such as in Philadelphia and San Francisco that preceded Stonewall, incidentally), read this history of how it came to be here. If not for Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, it might never have.

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I met two heroes who are living witnesses to history,  riding along with me on the Community Heroes float: trans activist Victoria Cruz, and Tree Sequoia, who’s tended bar at The Stonewall Inn for decades.

For details about the Center for Transgender Surgery at Mount Sinai Hospitalin New York City, you can visit their website here, and don’t be surprised when you see my familiar mug online! The hospital hired several LGBTQ actors and trans models for their promotional material and in-house videos, me among them.

36442620_10156579209593408_7411668171846844416_o.jpgIf you’re interested in the surgeon who performed my operation, he’s Dr. Jess Ting, Not only is he famous for innovating a technique that provides women like me natural lubrication — a groundbreaking medical breakthrough featured prominently on TV’s Grey’s Anatomy”  — he also recently worked with Dr. Marci Bowers to perform that same surgery on Jazz Jennings, the teen reality star. She’s someone I have been blessed to meet twice in the last five years. IMG_0901

The New Haven Register reported on my surgery last month, and not for any reason but to raise awareness of the battle I waged. I fought for me, but I also don’t believe it’s fair that I should be the first and last transgender resident of Connecticut to be allowed this oppportunity.

I would never have granted the reporter the interview just to talk about me; I talked about this fight in an episode last fall and you can read about it here. The battle is not over just because I got mine.

Speaking of names in the news, I was interviewed by The New York Times for a story that was published on the same day as the NYC Pride March, about traveling while trans and people around the world who identify as LGBTQ. Or as The Times put it, L.G.B.T.Q.  You can read that story here, and although it’s the first time I’ve had my name in the newspaper of record, I hope it’s not the last!

Find out about NYC Pride by clicking here, and make plans now for the 50th anniversary celebration in June 2019!

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Outsports Prideis an annual event that anyone interested in sports and equality should definitely add to your calendar!

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At The Advocate I earned the nickname “SportsGirl” so this was a genuine honor to be asked to moderate a panel, featuring:

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  • Nevin Caple. The former NCAA basketball player for Farleigh-Dickinson University is a co-founder of LGBT SportSafe, which seeks to build inclusion for athletes and coaches of any sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • Sarah Axelson. Axelson is a former softball player at the University of Mary Washington. She is currently the Director of Advocacy for theWomen’s Sports Foundation, and:
  • Clare Kenny. Now campaigns manager at GLAAD and working with campus programs, Kenny is a former volleyball player at Skidmore College and build an LGBTQ inclusion program in her athletics department.

IMG_5330Thank you to Cyd Ziegler of Outsports for inviting me, and for being so generous as to also welcome my friend Kati Ennis, who has been my right hand, my helper, my chauffeur, cook, and co-mom while I’ve been focused on my recovery. She and her dogs have moved in with us at our home in Connecticut and we are all ever so grateful!

Together we met San Francisco 49ers coach Katie Sowers — the first woman to coach in the NFL — and Ryan O’Callaghan, the out former Patriots star. I urge you to donate to his Ryan O’Callaghan Foundation — which supports talented LGBTQ youth with college scholarships. Find out more about their important work by clicking here, Or email Ryan here: ryantocallaghan@yahoo.com

If you’re looking for other ways to celebrate Pride in Connecticut, go to CT Visit.com for a complete list, including New Haven and New London Pride as well as details about Hartford Capital City Pride September 7th and 8th.

IMG_8381And learn more about this month’s special correspondent, Karleigh Merlot, by following her on Twitter or emailing her at charlenechardonnay@gmail.com

If Karleigh looks familiar, she was my videographer, editor, producer and brilliant collaborator on the episode last fall we taped in Provincetown, Mass. She’s incredibly talented!

35927127_10216638305890226_5101582628297900032_nFind out more about New York City’s Museum of Sex by going to their website or visiting them at 233 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, at the corner of East 27th Street.

I heartily recommend the Magic Wand, by the way. It’s great for… massaging.

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By the way, we stayed at the Evelyn Hotel just down the block, and had a lovely time! It’s steps away from the end of the new parade route and around the corner from Madison Square Park. IMG_1546

Did you like the “RESIST” tee with the transgender colors — from the flag created by Monica Helms — which I wore during the NYC Pride March, and the recording of this episode? Click here for a link to get your own!

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I can also connect you with Nolan Custom Craft on Etsy, who produced the RiseUP With Dawn Ennis Pride 2018 stainless steel water bottle seen in this episode. I own another one, too, as you can see below!

Thanks to Emma for recording a greeting for one-time special correspondent and popular YouTuber Melody Maia Monet! You can watch Maia’s videos by clicking here.

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Thanks for watching and for reading lifeafterdawn.com Your comments on the show and my blog are welcome in the comments, and that’s also how you can let me know if you’d like to be our next special correspondent.

Next month: Another candidate in Connecticut’s embattled race for attorney general! Until then… Remember to RISE UP! 

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Room 16

HH_FB_COVER_2016Today, I traveled back in time.

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

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

That was Sunday night.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Think I’m going home today”

And that was the last.

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

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

That turned out to be a blessing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes: I needed to see Room 16.

“Why?”

“What will you do there?”

“What are your intentions?”

Those were logical questions.

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

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

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

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

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

But I did not hear, “no.”

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

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

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

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

Where she took her last breath.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The No Zone.”

l’Shana Tovah to my Jewish family and friends.

Be Kind

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My daughter is home from a lovely two nights with her cousins, and their moms. They visited a lake, went hiking, did girl stuff and visited a local art studio where they volunteered their time to craft beautiful handmade clay pendants, like the one above.

Each one says, “Be Kind.” That is the motto of Ben’s Bells, whose mission as stated on its website is “to inspire, educate, and motivate people to realize the impact of intentional kindness, and to empower individuals to act according to that awareness, thereby strengthening ourselves, our relationships and our communities.”

“Recent research demonstrates that kindness benefits our physical and mental health, and that recognizing kindness in others increases a person’s happiness and satisfaction. But just as solving a calculus problem requires advanced math skills, the challenges of daily life require advanced kindness skills. By focusing on kindness and being intentional in our personal interactions, we can improve our ability to connect. The mission of Ben’s Bells is to inspire individuals and communities to engage in kindness education and practice.”  — from the Ben’s Bells website.

We have a windchime from Ben’s Bells on our front door, which was a Hanukkah gift from one of my late wife’s cousins, to my children. I’m grateful for this gift, and for how much my wife’s family loves my children.

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These chimes and jewelry and other items are a great idea, and you can find out more about Ben’s Bells by clicking here. 

I’ve decided I’m going to order one of the “Be Kind” pendants for myself, since the cousins didn’t invite me to take part in their girls-only adventure, something they surely would have done for my beloved.

I won’t lay guilt on my daughter for not thinking to get me one, as this was a gift from her mom’s cousins, and it would have been inappropriate for her to ask. Instead, she did bring home a second one to give to anyone she comes across who acts with kindness. I love this idea!

We discussed who might be worthy candidates, and although I was flattered that she asked me if I’d like this one, I insisted that she give her spare pendant to someone else, perhaps her girlfriend.

To me, the message here is ultimately ironic. “Be kind.” Wow.

I was told earlier this year by my former in laws that they now consider me “divorced” from them, given that one year had passed since the death of my wife, and thus they were done pretending to be kind to me. They did so with the explanation that, since she had planned to divorce me, but her lawyer postponed the proceeding, and so it was not finalized before her death, that they considered us “divorced in every way — except for legally.” Um, yeah, that’s sorta the most important part of that sentence.

Soon after, I learned from my mother-in-law that she and “Wendy’s family” had taken steps to take custody of my children away from me in those early days following her passing (but they stopped, because — in her words — “it’s really hard to take children away from a custodial parent, and it’s very expensive.” Also, I said, it was against what Wendy herself wanted and had put in writing to avoid exactly that from happening).

“Be kind” indeed. They say “of course this is not about you being transgender.” They defend their rejection of me as being about how I “treated Wendy.”

  1. Do they mean how I treated her when she called me “the bitch who killed her husband,” and told me the very sight of my feminized body filled her with disgust?
  2. I moved out at her demand, rather than put out the mother of my children. I guess that’s how I mistreated her?
  3. Maybe when I took a job across the country to help support her and our kids? Or when I quit that job and moved back the day she died, instead of uprooting them to Los Angeles?
  4. Or when I badgered her to see a doctor about her stomach pains in November 2014, and for long after, until eight months later, she finally did and was diagnosed with stage four cancer?
  5. Or when, upon learning that diagnosis and repeatedly after, I offered to quit my job in L.A. and move home?
  6. Do they mean when I called her doctor behind her back on a Friday night so he would urge her to go to the ER? She had refused and she said she’d call him after the three-day weekend, then, a few days later, wound up in shock and died in intensive care? Had I treated her the way she wanted to be treated, she’d no doubt have died at home before the weekend ended.
  7. How about when she screamed “There’s a man in the ladies room!” at our town pool because I was passing through, fully-clothed?
  8. When she tore my wig from my head in anger one night before I left for work, and left a permanent scar down the side of my face that I still see every single day?
  9. When she unexpectedly withdrew all the money from our joint bank account, leaving me with nothing, and “took over responsibility” for the utilities and mortgage — and then for the first time in the dozen years we lived in our house, the lights went out, the cable got turned off and the mortgage company filed for foreclosure?
  10. Maybe it was when I paid-up all those utility bills and reached an agreement with the mortgage company to save our home?
  11. It must be my fault that the house was infested with mice and sorely lacking in everyday maintenance, while I was 3,000 miles away. Was that my fault, too?
  12. And when she borrowed money from family, it’s of course my fault that I did not repay those loans (which were at the time considered gifts, but magically turned into loans after her passing).
  13. Lastly, was it the day I agreed to bind my breasts and present as “Don” one more day for our daughter’s bat mitzvah, so she could have the illusion of me as her husband once more? It broke my heart to keep my word, but it made her happy, and so I did. Two days later, the police were at my house because I went back to living authentically and she was furious.

I mean, I get it: she needed someone to hate for wrecking our marriage, for dashing our dreams of growing old together and for the cancer that ravaged her body. And no, I wasn’t perfect or blameless. I wish I had done more to help her, if she’d have let me. Instead, she put all that anger on me, and told her family everything was my fault.

So, I’m the villain. But of course, it’s not because I’m trans.

My children’s response to me being excluded from the family Passover Seder, and disinvited from a cousin’s daughter’s Bat Mitzvah, was to send a message, one that their mother had said to her cousins, after I transitioned: “We are a family and wherever one of us is not welcome, none of us will attend.” I love my kids. They are the very best of their mother and father, and I am doing my damndest to be a loving, supportive although single parent. I am a dad who does the job of mom. It’s not easy. It’s without doubt the toughest job I’ve ever loved.

Despite this standoff between us and “Wendy’s family”  — I’ve told them, we are the ones who really are Wendy’s family — I firmly believe it’s important for the children to keep in touch with their cousins and their mom’s relatives. Although I set all their cell phone numbers in my contacts to “Do Not Disturb,” I encouraged the kids to call their grandmother often and to text with the cousins. I’m not the one trying to keep them from seeing their relatives; that’s on them, for not respecting their mother’s wishes, and mine.

I encourage them daily to “be kind.”

So after I suggested this sleepover, and they accepted, imagine my discouragement when one of the cousins asked if instead of having me drive my daughter down to meet them, that I would instead send my oldest, who is 18 and a licensed driver. He also works two jobs and doesn’t really need to add a road trip of at least one hour each way to his day. In addition, he’s still very angry over my exclusion and decided on his own to stop communicating with them. I told him I understood his reasoning but strongly urged him to reach out to them when he feels comfortable doing so. Thus far, he hasn’t. So I’m not going to give them the excuse not to face me and in doing so impose an extra burden on my firstborn.

We agreed on a date and time to meet, which was not only generous of them but allowed them to keep me from entering their house. But then, the cousin tried once more to do an end run around my kids’ firm insistence that where I was not welcome, we would not go. It’s all of us or none of us, with the exception being a sleepover. I felt that was different from a family gathering.

I was stunned when the cousin emailed again, asking once again to turn the sleepover into a family gathering after all, ignoring what I had already made clear, that my oldest had to work and had no desire to see them or even text with them.

“I will text and see if he would like to (if he is not working) come with his little brother on Friday to pick up his sister and hang by the pool for a little.”

Really? What part of “my children don’t want me excluded” is hard to comprehend?

When does the urge to “be kind” kick in?

The cousin concluded her email with a response to my plea, promising to not bring up the issue of my exclusion with my daughter, given this is a matter for adults.  I asked that we at least be civil to one another if they cannot see fit to treat me as a member of the family. She agreed and then added one, clear-cut, unkind comment:

“That said, our position has not changed.”

The “position” she speaks of is one in which they treat me, not as the widow of their cousin, or the single parent of our children, but as a divorcée to be kept at a distance; a facilitator to provide them with access to “Wendy’s children.”

What surprises me about that is that even if they want to label me as such, that does not remove me from my role as the kids’ parent! I’m still their dad, even as a woman, and because of the gender roles our society places on us, I have learned to embrace being a mom. I don’t dare claim to be their “mom,” a title we hold dear out of respect for their mother. But my kids have seen how I have grown into this role and how much I enjoy it. And, probably to the in laws’ chagrin, I am good at it, too.

I am proud to boast that my children are resilient, strong, score at the top of their class, have friendships with good, upstanding children and are loving to just about everyone. Even people who are mean to me. And most of all, these kids have learned from the example their parents have set: my children are kind.

I think the same of my in laws’ children. But I wonder what lesson my wife’s cousins are teaching them when they treat me this way? Someday, my children will tell their children about these times, and I am certain that the shame their parents should feel will instead be inherited by these innocent kids.

All I can do is continue to do as I say and as I do, to be kind, even to those who are not. And I pray for their hearts to be turned. Which reminds me of the Irish proverb:

Irish Proverb

Ya gotta have faith

It’s here: episode 3 of RiseUP With Dawn Ennis!

This month, yes, the TV show Transparent does figure in our various discussions, but given that season four is still several months away, that’s not all we’re talking about.

We begin this episode of RiseUP with a look at faith — not necessarily the religious kind, but if that works for you, then yes, that’s one kind of faith that we address. And I will confess to having my own crises of faith, and not just in my religion, but in my extended family, now distant friends, even strangers who judge me without knowing who I am or where I’ve been. And I feel many of us believe our elected leaders have let us down, or are not giving us a reason to have faith that our world will be better.

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As Episode 3 debuts, the president of the United States has given clergy of all faiths a free pass to politicize their sermons and what they see as their holy work. No longer threatened by the tax man who warned them they might lose their tax-exempt status, every priest, reverend, minister, bishop, clergyman, rabbi, imam, shaman, and nun can now tell you that a vote for candidate A will save your soul, while a vote for candidate B will send you to eternal damnation. Political speech is to be protected, even if it’s anti-LGBTQ, says President Trump, because he believes the shepherds will say “only good things” and “what is in your heart.”

A lot of those hearts have no use for someone like me, and consider me evil, an abomination, and someone “delusional” or mentally ill who needs to be “cured.” Or told to go to hell. And they have free reign to say these things because of this executive order.

God help us all.

To fight oppression, especially faith-based oppression, we need faith in ourselves, and in our cause. Likewise to stop inequality on the job, inequity in housing, homelessness, and racial injustice. Learn more about the guests in this month’s episode, below.

First up is scholar and author Stephen Fuchs, rabbi emeritus of Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford, Connecticut, someone I’ve known for more than a dozen years.

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He’s an LGBTQ ally, a husband and grandfather, and an amazing individual who is an inspiration to many in my hometown. He has traveled the globe to educate about scripture and bring people together in love and understanding,

You can read more about Stephen on his website, rabbifuchs.com and if you’re interested in the books he discusses on the show, you can find them at that website as well as at amazon.com.

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To see and purchase a copy of ToraHighlights, featuring photographs by Lena Stein, check out Amazon’s German site. 

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The other incredible person we meet on RiseUp this month is Gillian Cameron, an actress, artist and educator as well as an accomplished storyteller in Southern California.

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For five years, Gillian has been sharing the tales of a knight from the time of King Arthur, but no ordinary knight is he. Calogrenant is the story of a man magically transformed into a maiden, and despite the steep learning curve and oppression of the era, as well as her own human foibles, she blazes a trail for #girlslikeus long before our modern era.

Banner copyYou can find her web comic each and every Sunday night at calogrenant.com and her first two books collecting all the work she’s done so far are for sale at the Calogrenant Shoppe on her website.

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Gillian also can be found on television, on the movie screen and on stage, depending on where you look.

She’s appeared on TV’s I Am Cait and Amazon’s Transparent, and is featured in The ‘Carol’ Support Group — about fans of the Oscar-winning movie Carol who love it just a little too much.

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Plus you can catch her on stage with her friend Alexa Hunter in The Alexian Chronicles. That will be staged May 19th and 20th at the Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica, California.

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11401337_10206873940867203_6109822987238053550_nContact Gillian via Twitter, or find her on Facebook. 

We’ve been friends for a long time now and remains my West Coast BFF. Even 3,000 miles apart, we find new ways to support one another and offer guidance, laughs, tears and support.

I’m so grateful that she is in my life, and I wish I could be the friend to her that she is to me.

I’m honored to share her with you this month and hope you adore her as much as I do.

If you’re someone who needs a friend, or is having a crisis of faith, or identity, or just feel like at you’re at the end of your rope, you’re in the right place.

There are resources here for you, and they won’t cost you a dime.

I know what it’s like to feel depressed, like giving up, and that no one in the world understands how much pain you are in. So many of us experience this, and it’s not uncommon that we feel that there is no fix, or solution, none that doesn’t end in death. I’m here to tell you as a survivor that it won’t necessarily get better soon, maybe not for awhile. But it will not always suck. There will be a hill after the valley, and you can take it from me that you are not alone.

If you are a transgender or gender-nonconforming person considering suicide, Trans Lifeline can be reached at 877-565-8860. LGBT youth (ages 24 and younger) can reach the Trevor Project Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 can also be reached 24 hours a day by people of all ages and identities. Please take a moment to talk to one of these fine people, who will listen without judgment, and offer an ear without telling you “what you need to do.”

And I’m here, too. Find me via the comments section here, or on Facebook or Twitter.

Lastly, a small glitch caused the audio in this month’s episode to be somewhat fuzzy, or to use a technical term, overmodulated. It cannot be corrected until Monday, and so I thank you very much for your patience and understanding.

Thank you for watching RiseUp and for reading about my lifeafterdawn. See you next time!

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. 

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. 

I’ll Be Back

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I’ve been a California girl for 168 days — that’s almost six months — longer than I’ve ever lived here before (the summers of 1991 and ’92, respectively).

12191654_10207911761092060_7522814988500179113_nBut right now, I’m needed someplace else: the place I’ve called home since 2004.

My children need me. Their mom needs me. And I need to be with them.

And it looks like I need to rake a lot of leaves.

Once more, I’ll be flying back to the east coast this weekend. Starting Monday, I’ll once again work remotely for The Advocate for a few weeks, so I can support the kids and their mom as she resumes chemotherapy. I’m so grateful to my bosses and colleagues who have made it possible for me to be with my family so often during this crucial time, and keep my job.

I love being the News Editor. I consider myself lucky to not only be working again as a journalist — a storyteller — but to be working at all, let alone in my chosen field. And I’m committed to doing the best job I can, despite the circumstances. It’s a temporary solution, and not ideal by any means.

And I must admit I’ve grown weary of the extra back and forth travel from coast to coast. It was always my plan to fly back to see the kids, or fly them here, at least once a month, but it’s been necessary for me to travel more often, spend more time away from the office, to be where I’m needed most: with my family. I could never be one of those divorcées who tells the ex: “So sorry, that sucks for you, but you didn’t want to stay married to me, so this is what you get.” How could I do that to the mother of my children?

IMG_2002That’s not who I am. I’m a woman, yes, but more importantly I am a caring human being, one who does not turn her back on someone in need. I choose to honor my vow to support my wife in sickness and in health, even though I’m technically no longer her husband. She calls me her spouse, her soon to be ex-spouse.

And she rightly calls me the kids’ dad, although she has a tendency to prefer the word “parent,” for those who can’t get their head around me being a dad and a woman. No, I’m not their “other” mom. I get it, this is not for everybody; it works for us.

IMG_3385I realized tonight that what’s even worse than the confusion about what people call me, worse even than the frequent cross country flights, is how I’ve been stuck in a cycle for the last two and a half years (no, not THAT cycle. Okay, yes, I do, in fact, hormonally cycle, but not in the traditional way other women do… and that’s another story for another time).

The cycle I’m talking about started in May 2013, when I was given no choice but to leave my home, my children, to live authentically, Since then, I have moved every six months.

I moved from our hometown in Connecticut to another city an hour away, and then to another, then to the Bronx, to Marietta, Georgia, then back home with my family and now I am in Los Angeles.

IMG_3455Each move lasted only six months, like clockwork. Given how I’ve been able to provide my family with one stable home for almost 12 years, which is a rarity in the television news business, I regret that I have yet to settle down, and make a home for myself.

L.A. is by no means ideal. Gas is crazy expensive as is the cost of living. It’s 3,000 miles from my loved ones. But it’s where my all-important paycheck comes from… even if it’s only 25% of what I earned.

Before my downfall.

Slowly, I am rebuilding my life, making small inroads toward success and feeling better about myself than I ever have before.

12193849_10207951077034934_8302306643159774935_nThis is a life I enjoy, as I treat each day as a gift, and I look forward to one day after another, adding fewer and fewer milestones as we complete another trip around the sun. The “transition” part of my life has mostly ended and now I’m simply, “living my life.”

And almost every day here is beautiful and sunny. I do enjoy living in L.A…. dude.

I love my friends, most of all, my California bestie, Gillian. We’re quite a pair! She’s like a sister to me, only better.

Well, no matter what happens next, no matter what pitfalls await me in the journey of my life, I can at least say: I am happy. And I’m thrilled to know that in a few days I will be back in the loving arms of my children, and have them to hug and kiss and together we will prepare for a truly special Thanksgiving feast.

This year, we have much to be grateful for, not the least of which is the health of their mother as she fights cancer, and the help provided by all our friends, neighbors and relatives, our online acquaintances and the members of our congregation. These kind generous folks have done so much to help us through these trying times.

I’ve already survived car crashes, health issues, gender transition, termination and L.A. traffic. But I’m not done, city of angels! I’ll be back!

Whatever comes next, I’m ready.

Bring it!

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.