The Angernet — Don’t Get Sucked In

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be Kind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I encourage them daily to “be kind.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That said, our position has not changed.”

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

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

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

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

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

Irish Proverb

Dear Universe: It’s me, Dawn

IMG_6439The other widow sat across from me as our kids played in another room, sharing stories of coping everyday with loss, and life as it is.

“Life is what happens when you make other plans,” we said in unison, laughing at our shared experience of grief mixed with good times.

Her life, at least, has more hills than valleys now: she’s remarried, and working full-time. My own remains a struggle, ever since coming out, but it’s one I make a constant effort to turn around.

She told me that when times got tough after losing the love of her life, she wrote a letter to the Universe, spelling out what she wished for, hoped for, and what she needed.

Then she said, “And it worked.”

I was trying to understand what she meant by “it worked,” when she added: “What I asked for came true. All of it.” And she urged me to give it a try. “What have you got to lose?” she said.

Not a thing, I thought. Right now? Absolutely nothing.

Now, I have spent many a Sunday on bended knee in prayer, and admit to asking God for more than I’ve spent time thanking. I’m working on that, because I do have a lot to be thankful for. Still, there are things I need right now, and believe me, yes, I have prayed on this, too.

However, I haven’t written a letter like she’s described since my mom tore apart some brown paper bags from the supermarket and handed one to me with a crayon, to use to write my annual letter to Santa Claus.

But as I recall, that also “worked,” so here goes.

Dear Universe.

Hi. It’s me, Dawn.

No. The other one (I know a LOT of women named Dawn, and I want to make sure there’s no confusion. And to its credit, the universe has been calling me “Dawn” consistently without stumbling, not even once).

So… I am writing to you today to spell out my wishes, hopes, dreams and needs. Not in that particular order, mind you; but my life would be a lot better if you, the universe, could find a way to fulfill these, even one at a time is fine.

First off, I need a new job to support my children. As you know, I have six part-time jobs writing the news. But my main gig, where I worked full-time hours for part-time pay, let me go on Friday because of budget cuts. They “loved” me, they said; I was doing a great job, they said, and still somebody had to get the axe. And I wasn’t the only one. At least they’ve agreed to pay me what they owe me.

But this job is what I’ve been doing to support my three children since their mom died, and without something in its place, we are really in trouble. We are getting by, barely, but not for much longer if I don’t find another job soon.

And as for what job you find me, I’m not picky; I’ll do anything that earns enough to make it worthwhile and will make me feel fulfilled by my efforts. Just a few years after coming out and losing my six-figure job in network TV news, I’ve struggled to stay in journalism, and I realize it’s probably time to move on and stop depending on a fast-shrinking industry to support us. Already I’ve applied for 50 positions, received my first two rejections and a lot of dead silence from the rest.

Also: is there any chance you can get the bill collectors off my back while I job-hunt? I will pay them but right now I have to save every penny in case the worst happens. Maybe just ask them to call back in a few weeks. Hopefully, your help with my number one problem will help me with this one.

Once the job is sorted out, I am eager to have some surgery that is right now in the planning stage, and all I’m asking is for it to be covered by my insurance and to be completed without major complications. It’s hard enough being a sole caregiver for three kids, but I need to recover as swiftly as possible so their lives aren’t negatively impacted, nor is mine. So universe, peek over the shoulder of the surgeon and make sure all goes well, and maybe give a little push to the backlogged paperwork at the insurance office. That would be appreciated, too.

So what else? I might as well ask for your help in maintaining my health. I’m exercising, eating better, and feeling better about myself. I just need encouragement to not slack off and feed my emotions, which is how I got to be so fat in the first place. I know you know, but it bears repeating. And hey — stop looking at me that way. It’s creepy.

Since I’m healthy and happy (and once I am employed), the very next thing I need from you, universe, is to keep my kids on track. They, too, are healthy, and for the most part, really happy. We all have learned to live with a hole in our hearts ever since the death of their mom, but we go on, together. My primary task on this earth, as I see it, is to provide for them and their well-being. Help me help them, please? I love them more than life itself.

Finally, if I could have one more wish, universe, it would be to find love again: a man to love me for who I am, and not in spite of it. I am looking for a person who will be my world, and I will be his. I want to find someone to help me solve these problems as a full partner, to make me feel loved and give me an opportunity to show my love; a hand to hold, a shoulder to cry on, and the other body parts that are standard equipment would be much appreciated by this particular lonely woman.

But let me set you straight: this is not something I’m pining for right away. In fact, I cannot even begin to think about dating right now, given all I have to deal with! So do not mess with me, universe, by sending Mr. Right to my door when I’m still not showered and dressed. Go away, you! That would be just my luck, too.

Of course, if you chose to send along a brand new car, a million bucks, maybe even a puppy, I wouldn’t complain. That’s up to you. Not asking, just sayin’. I wouldn’t say no.

Thank you, universe.

-Dawn Ennis

Done!

Now: does anyone know what the universe’s email address is?

They Watch the Watchers

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In the new episode of RiseUP, my new talk show on West Hartford Community Television and YouTube, I’m fortunate to give you a look behind the scenes of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The national organization has started an effort called People Power to challenge the Trump Administration’s efforts to ban Muslims from entering the U.S., and other attacks on Americans’ civil rights. Learn more about how to get involved here. 

Among the issues the Connecticut chapter is fighting for:

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Communications Director Meghan Smith filled in for executive director David J. McGuire, who was at the time of our taping testifying at the Capitol on the issue of drones.

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Watch the episode below, and scroll down for more information on this month’s episode.

Also appearing in this month’s program is my latest special correspondent: Maia Monet of Orlando, Florida. She’s a writer, photographer, singer and a burgeoning YouTube celebrity. She appears with the help of our friend and ally, Dev Michaels of the band Mad Transit. 

I’m also grateful to my friend, filmmaker Deana Mitchell, who shared with me a trailer of her film, Before Dawn/After Dawn, which appears in this episode to help tell my story. You’ll see clips from my YouTube series, DadMom, and a speech I gave to the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization, BBYO, following which I was inducted into the B’nai B’rith Girls organization. Thanks to budding videographer Liam Ennis for doing his best to capture this first

If you would like to know more about me, you can find the links here on lifeafterdawn.com including this overview of the key events of my transition and moment of fame, or infamy, depending on how you look at it.

RiseUP

“There’s something different about her”

 

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As big, burly, ex-marine Max took me in his tattooed arms and pulled me close, nearly off my barstool and toward his liquored lips, I felt… something.

Not his hand, moving slowly, up my skirt, although that did distract me for a moment.

It was time. It didn’t slow down, as time does in the movies and the romance novels. Instead, it rewound, pulling my concentration away from my corner barstool in the little Irish pub where we nine widows met regularly for wine, cocktails, and conversation.

And more wine.

I could sense the presence of Jackie, the only one left after many, many rounds, turning her eyes, her whole body, away from Max and me, this hunk of a man who sidled up to two moms at the bar, to chat us up and maybe have a little fun. And as my mind rode a tilt-a-whirl of memories, I accepted that’s why I was after, too: an escape, a thrill ride, a temporary diversion from grief.

My thoughts got lost in the spinning sensation sparked by my lips making contact with other lips, the process of thinking slowing to a stop until I was living in the moment. Excitement got my juices flowing and ignited a warm fire that started down below, the flames reaching up and rekindling my heart, gone cold.

Ten months. It’s been that long since my life changed, losing the love of my life, my spouse of almost 20 years, to cancer. And not long after that loss, I found something I’d never had in all my years: genuine, goodhearted, girlfriends.

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Jackie, Sam, Karen, Cait, Erynn, Michele, Debbie, Laura, Dani and me: the ten of us had met every other week at a local grief support group, some of us for months, some had been going for years. But it wasn’t long after I joined that we soon branched out, having emptied the tank of all our stories of struggle, crying through the many milestones together and lamenting why this was our cross to bear.

We felt as if we had graduated, and needed to find a venue that better fit our needs. Most but not all of us were weary of having to repeatedly reintroduce ourselves and retrigger our grief as new widows joined the group. Don’t get me wrong; I do think it is helpful to have those who’ve been around the block, so to speak, share their experience and guide those — like me — as they take their first steps into our horrible world.

Horrible because sooner or later, friends and family step back, unsure what to say or how to help, uncomfortable when we tell them, “yes, it’s still hard.” Hard because we are so used to having our other half to share the load, to make the memories and to hug away the hurt. And hurt, because there are holes in our hearts that will never, ever, be filled. Our job as single moms is to be everything to our kids, and show them how to learn to live with a hole in their hearts.

Not one widow’s story is like another’s, especially mine, I guess. We are each survivors of deadly accidents, fatal illnesses, suicides, overdoses and hearts that fail. But as much as wish to give back, there comes a time each of us has decided we need to practice self-care, and that includes going out.

It was in June at a noisy restaurant in Manchester, Connecticut, at my first-ever GNO — girls night out — that my cisgender (non-transgender) widow sisters finally felt comfortable to ask me about being transgender. And it was fine, we laughed, and they didn’t once make me uncomfortable. I hadn’t mentioned being trans that very first time I attended the widows group, for fear of being rejected.

“Sam had said to me, ‘there’s something different about her,’” Karen confessed. We laughed, but I made a confession, too: I had worried about how they might react.

Before I joined, one of the grief counseling leaders warned me that there might be resistance to me joining the group. And when I asked why, I was sure to look this woman in the eyes, so there’d be no mistaking how blown away I was, to suggest my grief might not hold the same value as other widows. “It’s just that, well, you said you two were separated, and that may not go over so well.”

Whew. Well at least it wasn’t “the trans thing.”

I paused, continuing to lock eyes with this usually kind, smiling soul who was going to stand between this group and I. Feeling determined, I decided a softer, quieter tone was what was required, even if I did want to scream.

“I am grieving. I loved as much as any one person can, and now I’m alone. No matter what else we are to one another, won’t that be something we can all relate to?”

My words resonated in just the way I had hoped, and so I began attending the group. We took turns telling our stories and truth be told we laughed more than we cried, but there were still plenty of tears. We bared our souls and found in our shared experience new friendships that evolved into GNO trips to comedy clubs, concerts, psychics and energy healers and drinking and dancing (and drinking) at our Irish pub in Plainville, Connecticut.

“Wowww,” said Max, pulling his face from mine, his stubble rubbing my smooth cheek in a way I’ve rarely felt before. The sensation knocked me back into reality. Meeting his eyes with mine, I whispered back. “Wow? Is that all you have to say?”

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“Well, yeahhh,” said Max, quietly, looking at me with his beer goggles firmly affixed. “I guess it’s just that I’ve never kissed someone transgender before.”

“Oh? Really?” I said, straightening my back in my seat, using my body language to speak volumes that I dared not utter with my mouth. I restrained myself from making a scene but glared at Jackie to my left.

“So, uhhh,” Max leans back in from the right, to deliver his second stupid statement of the evening, er, morning. “You’ve had the surgery?”

And just like on that old episode of Grey’s Anatomy, when McDreamy died? I’m done.

“Baby,” I cooed, as I put both my hands on his unshaven cheeks. “Your hands already know the answer to that question. Besides, you didn’t hear me ask about your prostate exam, hmmm?”

Jackie laughed, and it slowly dawned on Max he should join in the laughter.

That’s when I stepped gently but deliberately from my stool, and I extricated my body from his hands and made some excuse about needing to use the ladies room.

In the film version, I imagine Jackie jumping off her seat, too, and huffing off as we make our way to the bathroom, our heads held high, widow sisters forever! Woot!

But this is reality, and Jackie was glued to her seat. Before I left for the ladies room I whispered in her ear, out of Max’s earshot, that I wanted to leave, and why. That question, oof! Couldn’t he have pretended a little longer that he hadn’t clocked me?

Whatever. I just wanted to pee and go, and to my surprise, Jackie wasn’t budging. We are widows after all, and my disentanglement presented an opportunity. “It’ll be fine,” she told me. “I could use a good fuck! I can handle him.”

“Okaaaay.” I had never had a wing woman before — nor lost one. So, I broke formation, took care of my business and made my exit, but not before asking the bartender to keep an eye on Mr. Grabby Hands as he made the moves on my friend.

As I sat in my car, I reflected on the night: I’d kissed a boy, made-out in public and in front of a friend, and had one too many drinks, but not too many that I couldn’t drive. I’d laughed, a lot. And I’d been clocked, in the worst way possible. I was about to drive off when I decided instead to wait for Jackie, just in case.

After all, that’s what a widow sister does.

This is a different version of an essay that first appeared in NewNowNext.  Some names have been changed to protect privacy.

This side of heaven, where tears fall like rain


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

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

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

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

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

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