“Does your husband know you’re doing this?” That was one of the questions Democrat Jillian Gilchrest faced when she went door-to-door across West Hartford, Conn., in her first political campaign ever. “Yes, he does, and he supports me 100-percent,” Gilchrest told the skeptical man.
Skeptics were decidedly outnumbered in the August primary in which Gilchrest defeated a 23-year incumbent for his seat in the Connecticut State Legislature, representing her hometown in the 18th Assembly district. Andy Fleischmann’s 12-terms as a strong advocate for West Hartford and most recently as chairman of the education committee were not enough to overcome the wave of momentum Gilchrest had built both online and in person.
Watch my interview with Jillian Gilchrest by clicking the link below, and you’ll find more links and information about this month’s episode by scrolling down.
There has been a firestorm of reaction since the incident.
I added my own comments in response to Mr. McPeek’s tweeted apology:
I want to go on record saying I do not want to see you punished, either by @nlgja or your employer or by anyone, including #trans, #GNC and #NB individuals you offended. What I do wish is that instead of resigning your membership you had pledged to work with those maligned —>
(2) by you and for you to work with your supporters who seem to think the trans community (in the opinion of @SteveFriess) is a bunch of pitchfork-waving wackos and that some of us are less than (in the opinion of @HankPlante) because we blog instead of working in the MSM. –>
(3) I think you are being sincere in this statement. I am eager to both forgive and move on, but you have in your own way opened-up a hornet's nest and only together can we work to eliminate the danger. Will you work with #trans#GNC and #NB folks and your cis gay colleagues –>
(4 of 4) to resolve differences, bring about better understanding and fight transphobia? Or will you side with those who say it was just a joke, get over it, it was a one time slip of the tongue. No it wasn't. You know it wasn't. I extend my hand if you wish to work together.
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.
This 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:
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!
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.
We 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.
And 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 Magazineas 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.
If 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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!
Outsports Prideis an annual event that anyone interested in sports and equality should definitely add to your calendar!
At The Advocate I earned the nickname “SportsGirl” so this was a genuine honor to be asked to moderate a panel, featuring:
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.
Thank 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:firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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!
Find 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.
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.
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!
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 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!
My daughter and I took part in last month’s March For Our Lives on the grounds of Connecticut’s capitol. We left our “pussy hats” from the 2017 protest behind, but she did bring along a homemade sign, replete with handrawn blood-drips and the question, “Am I Next?”
There we met teachers, students, mothers and fathers and many, many little children among the thousands who marched and rallied. Also in attendance, this week’s guest on RiseUP With Dawn Ennis: Kevin Sullivan, a legend in Connecticut politics and currently the commissioner of revenue services.
Yes, he’s the Tax Man. And in this episode, he has important advice for everyone still working on your taxes (the IRS extended its deadline until midnight tonight).
Sullivan is also the former mayor of my hometown, West Hartford, a former member of the town council, a former state senator and president of the state senate. And Commissioner Sullivan also served as Connecticut’s lieutenant governor. In addition to safeguarding the state’s revenue coffers, he also serves our town as a leader in the Democratic Party. With his help and sponsorship, I am honored to serve as an alternate representative for my district on the town council. That’s one way I’m rising up.
Jacquelyn Martin / AP
Also this month, my special correspondent is a mom of six children in Alexandria, Virginia: Amanda Brewer, a military wife who never expected she’d become an advocate for transgender rights. That all changed when her daughter, came out as trans at age 11.
Amanda bravely accepted my invitation to share how she became an activist for trans rights, and I’m so grateful to her for telling her story.
You’ll find helpful links and more information below the link to this month’s show.
Wow, how about that thumbnail of me? Ouch!
Thank you in advance for watching, liking, sharing, and subscribing!
You can support families like Amanda Brewer’s by supporting the American Military Partners Association, which is actively fighting both the Pentagon and the Trump administration on behalf of trans military troops and their families.
To find out more about the March For Our Lives movement, click here.
If you’re interested in learning more about Commissioner Kevin Sullivan or the department of revenue services, click here. And you’ll find information about state tax refunds here.
If you are interested in becoming a RiseUP special correspondent, please contact me via the comments section! All you need is a camera phone and a story to tell about how you’ve taken action in your community. No experience required!
Donald Trump Is A Racist. Donald Trump Is A Racist. Donald Trump Is A Racist.
I hear you asking: Why did I bare everything to send you this message?
Well, I recorded this without much forethought after watching a video by the brilliant columnist for The New York Times,Charles M. Blow.
On the morning of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, he spoke on Twitter about people who refuse to call out racism when they see it. This is not to say Mr. Blow inspired me to take my clothes off! Yes, he’s gorgeous, but, no, he didn’t.
I chose to do this for one simple reason, and it’s to send a message that is both succinct and visually clear, without any distraction:
Donald Trump is a racist.
If you already know the tale of The Emperor’s New Clothes, then let’s skip right to the moral of the story: all it takes to call out a lie, to expose a fraud, and to take down a king, is for one honest individual with no preconceptions to speak out.
Let’s stop pretending we don’t know exactly what the president is, why his message resonates so strongly with some Americans, and how he gets away with it.
It is because there are too few people willing to risk everything to call him out. With this, I leave no doubt where I stand, and make no presumptions about the potential fallout. You see me here totally unguarded. I am giving you my plain, honest and unvarnished perspective.
Donald Trump is a racist.
Now, even with all the much-needed efforts to empower women lately, and not treat us as sex objects serving only to please men, there are unfortunately some folks who will only focus on the fact my video reveals part of a woman’s nude body, even if it is just for ten seconds. So, I repeat myself in the video.
Hey! Eyes up here!
Did you miss what I said? Donald Trump is a racist. I am being as transparent as I can here.
That’s a pun, of course.
Apologies if the pendant is also a distraction; I wear it only because I am rarely seen without it. This was a gift from a longtime friend, and its symbols will be familiar to many: male and female, intertwined. It signifies I am transgender, and my very existence and that of women like me is threatened each and every day because of who we are.
After an impossibly horrible year, the first month of 2018 is only at the midway point, and already two trans women have been murdered: one in Southern California and another in New England. I won’t even try to compare the suffering of our tiny community to that of the generations of victims of rampant institutional and individual racism. But we can say that for each instance of these outrageous kinds of human behavior, it is the fear of something different, something other, that fuels hate, violence and oppression. And I will not be silent as it continues.
I may not do more than make a spectacle of myself in sharing this video, and I am willing to accept this risk.
Or, perhaps I will show that there is no justification for accommodation, no reason to cloak the obvious fact that we have as our elected leader of these United States a man who is a proven, unrepenting, lying, undeniable racist.
That’s the naked truth.
Oh, and please note: I usually wear pajamas to bed.
“I am a leaf on the wind. Watch how I soar,” is a quote from Serenity, the 2009 film based on the TV series, Firefly. And I drew great inspiration from it this month as I prepared to record the latest episode of my talk show.
For those who are unfamiliar, the movie reunited the cast of Joss Whedon’s much-beloved but short-lived Fox scifi western, which ran for only 14 episodes in 2002.
Hoban “Wash” Washburne was the pilot of the Firefly-class spaceship, Serenity. I found a post by blogger MyGeekWisdom that deciphered the meaning of Washburne’s inspiring words, as he summoned the courage to fly against seemingly impossible odds.
“It’s incredibly easy to psyche ourselves out when under pressure. It’s easy to talk ourselves out of doing, of even attempting to perform complicated tasks. In order to actually do them, confidence is key. We have to believe in ourselves whenever we do anything. Whether it be relatively mundane activities or extremely complex processes, we have to believe in ourselves that we can actually do it.”
And this month on RiseUP With Dawn Ennis, I summoned my courage to do something I’d never before attempted: I flew solo, recording an entire 30-minute show without a guest, without a script, covering the tragic news of the past week and addressing some of the most challenging times of my life. It’s a packed half-hour, and I relished the challenge.
Scroll down, and you’ll find all the links I mentioned in this episode, as well as links to some prior blogposts, addressing important issues raised in our program this month. Let me know your thoughts in the comments, including criticism if you feel it’s warranted. I went out on a limb this time, and I’m more than willing to learn from my mistakes.
It’s painful, but I’ve learned more from those, than from my successes. Here’s the show:
And now, the links, along with other helpful information:
To help victims of Hurricane Harvey, click here,and click hereto help victims of Hurricane Irma. Those links will connect you with Public Good, which will direct you to vetted charities that are IRS-verified nonprofit organizations. You can donate money, time and show your support online.
Blood donation agencies are urging people living outside of Texas, Louisiana, Florida and Georgia to visit their local blood center and donate blood as soon as possible. All blood types are needed, but there is an urgent need for platelet donations, as well as O negative blood.
The Hispanic Federation is organizing support for the victims in Puerto Rico online at its Unidos portal, where 100% of your gift goes to the Puerto Rico Hurricane Relief Fund.
Click hereto make an online donation. And here are several other ways you can help:
Donate Via Text – Compose a new text message for number 41444. Type UNIDOS (space) YOUR AMOUNT (space) and YOUR NAME. (For example: Unidos 100 John Doe) Then press “send” and click on the link to complete your donation.
Donate In Person – Visit any Popular Community Bank branch. Account name: Hurricane Relief Effort. Checking account number: 6810893500.
Donate By Check – Make your check payable to: Hispanic Federation, in the memo line, write Hurricane Relief Fund and mail to: Unidos Disaster Relief Fund, c/o Hispanic Federation, 55 Exchange Place, 5th Floor, New York, NY 10005
Donate Goods and Your Time – You can also support the Puerto Rican relief efforts by donating essential goods and volunteer through efforts coordinated by the New York City and State governments:
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has launched an effort to collect critically-needed items, such as diapers, baby food, and first aid supplies. To find locations, clickhere.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has also launched the Empire State Relief and Recovery Effort for Puerto Rico to collect donations and volunteer. To find locations, click here.
Nearly 85 percent of the island is still without power, which means millions of people remain without electricity weeks after the storm, says José H. Román Morales, president of Puerto Rico’s Energy Commission, which regulates the island’s electric power authority. And clean water remains a precious commodity, available to only one-third of the island; another factor that has doctors and health experts fearful of an epidemic outbreak spread by mosquitos.
Public Good also provides a portal if you want to help victims of the latest earthquake to strike Mexico. Click here for more information and to donate money.
The victims of the massacre in Las Vegas will benefit from a GoFundMe account set up by Steve Sisolak, Chair of the Clark County Commission, to raise money for those shot and their families. In the first three days, it raised more than $9 million and as this is published the victims fund stands five million dollars short of its goal. Click herefor more information and to donate.
I’ve invited you to tweet your solution to the epidemic of gun violence in the U.S. But before you do, read this compelling articlefrom Forbes — by a Republican — titled Ten Lies That Distort the Gun Control Debate.
As for the National Anthem protests, there are new developments: the NFL reportedly changed the rulebook, now requiring all players to be on the field and standing for the Star Spangled Banner. Team owners plan to meet to discuss this and an empty threat from President Trump to take away tax breaks to the NFL… which the league already gave up in 2015.
Interestingly, the NAACP called a pledge by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, to bench players who take a knee during the national anthem, “a public commitment by an NFL owner to violate his players’ Constitutional right to free speech.” A prominent Texas politician of color, Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, went a step further in denouncing Jones, calling his order to players an ultimatum “that says, ‘Slaves, obey your master.'”
A different view on this issue comes from Michael Caputo, a longtime Republican who served as a senior adviser to President Trump’s 2016 campaign and the presidential campaigns of Ronald Reagan, Jack Kemp and George H.W. Bush. I hope you’ll consider his perspective, in support of his beloved Buffalo Bills and his fellow veterans and their families, which you can read via CNN by clicking here.
As you may have noticed, I heard from a number of guys named “John.” Let me know your thoughts by tweeting me @riseupwithdawn.
I talked a little about detransition in this episode, and my personal experience. My good friend Brynn Tannehill wrote one of the most forceful arguments to attack the myths surrounding this controversial topic a year after my experience, and it holds up well. Click here to read the article in HuffPost, and here to find more of Brynn’s amazing writing.
And you can read more about my personal experience here on lifefterdawn, in this blogpost from last year.
If you have questions about trans people, there are three excellent resources to consider. Click herefor a quick, handy guide from Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and click here for an in-depth Q&A from the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE). GLAAD put together a list of FAQs as well, which you’ll find here.
What does gender confirmation surgery involve? Click hereto read WebMD’s very simple explanation about the various operations that some transgender people undergo as part of their transition. About one-third of transgender Americans do have GCS, but most never take this step; it is fraught with potential complications, it’s expensive if your insurance doesn’t cover it, or your provider won’t accept your insurance, and the surgery requires an intense amount of recovery time and aftercare. In my personal opinion, all that is worth it, but I respect those who either choose to live without it or cannot have it for financial, health or other personal reasons. As for the corrective work I’m looking forward to having done, that’s nobody’s business but mine.
To find out more about WPATH, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, click here for that organization’s website. You can click here to read about the Standards of Care every respected surgeon and health care professional is expected to follow, and you can find out if your provider is a member byclicking here.
Why is it important that your surgeon be a member of WPATH? Let’s take a more mundane example than what some consider the most important operation of their life.
Let’s say your car desperately needs new brakes. Brakes make the difference between you and your loved ones traveling at a high rate of speed, and all of you crashing into something at a high rate of speed. Bobby’s Brakes wants $900 to replace yours, and that’s more than you have. So, you approach Mike the Mechanic on his lunch break, and slip him $450 cash to do it after work. After all, Mike knows how to install brakes, and for him, it’s quick, easy money.
But what happens if Mike makes a mistake? Or if he cuts corners to get home in time to watch the latest streaming episode of Star Trek: Discovery? Mike doesn’t give you a warranty, there is no money-back guarantee, no nothing. So, instead, you shell out the $900 for peace of mind, knowing Bobby stands behind every set of brakes he installs.
If something goes wrong, there are consumer resources you can use to make sure Bobby fixes it. Mike, meanwhile, took your $450 in cash and is on his way to the casino.
And who would want to cut corners on the surgery that’s going to change their life? My advice: choose wisely, and don’t ever accept less than the best for your health care needs.
Click here for the official link to the website of Dr. Stanton Honig of Yale New Haven Hospital, the urologist who is, at the moment, the only surgeon Connecticut’s state-run health care system has authorized to perform surgeries on transgender patients. Be sure to read the reviews his patients left on RateMDs.com, Vitals.com, and Healthgrades.com
Or, if you’re interested in my personal opinion: don’t bother.
You can find links to hundreds of other qualified surgeons here. A warning: this list contains doctors I would never, ever recommend, not even to my worst enemy. As in all things, do your homework, ask around. And avoid any doctor who offers a surgical consultation over the phone. I mean, really? Again, would you expect your mechanic to accurately diagnose what your car needs over the phone, sight unseen? No, you would not.
You can read an article I wrote about the potential complications that can arise during gender confirmation surgery, which is also known as sex reassignment surgery, by clicking here.
If you’re looking for more information about your right to health care, click here.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has gutted healthcare.gov since the new administration took office, but you can see what’s left by clicking here. And HRC has an online resource about health care protections for LGBT folks that you can visit by clicking here.
How about those melons? This photo and a few others are from a promotional shoot for Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, to show off their center for transgender patients. The shoot was in March, when I was a redhead, before my recent breast surgery, and dozens of pounds ago.
If you find yourself the victim of bullying online, don’t allow anyone to victimize you that way. Report them, block them, or send them a strong message if you feel you can resolve whatever issue stands between you. But don’t allow anyone to treat you as “less than.” You have every right to not be bothered. Sometimes, switching off, logging out, walking away is the best solution rather than engaging.
Remember: what a bully wants most of all, whether it’s online or face to face, is to see you hurting. I’ve learned that “hurt people hurt people,” and the best way to stop a bully with their own issues is to not give them any ammunition or fuel to continue their assault on you. I know it stings. But resist fighting a fool, lest anyone not be able to tell the difference. In the meantime, click here for resources to combat bullying from the fine folks at GLAAD.
Spirit Day on October 19th is a great opportunity to show you’re willing to stand up against bullying, by wearing purple and spreading the message on social media. For details, click here.
You can read the latest on Kylie Perez, the 14-year-old trans girl assaulted in her New Jersey school here.
The mom of Missouri trans teen Ally Steinfeld spoke out following the gruesome murder of her 17-year-old daughter. Click here for that story, and read why Missouri law prevents prosecutors from pursuing hate crime charges by clicking here.
You can read more about the gender non-conforming student from Illinois who took his life, Elijah DePue, by reading his obituary here.
And if you wish, you can reach out to his mom and to his dad to send your thoughts through Facebook. Lacy DePue is here, Zachary DePue is here.
I’ve written here about the two times I tried to take my life. I called that post “The Choice” because I faced a decision that appeared to leave me only one option: to die. Thankfully, other options presented themselves, namely, to live. My children and I are so happy that’s how it worked out.
I invite you to read about that in greater detail by clicking here.
Find out more about my BFF Maia Monet, who was there for me when I needed her most, by visiting her YouTube channel. Like, share and subscribe by clicking here! And learn what a gift it is to read the works of my dear friend and mentor, Jennifer Finney Boylan, by visiting her website, which you’ll find here. I’m who I am today, and alive, thanks to these women, and because of the love of my children.
If you are a trans or gender-nonconforming person considering suicide, Trans Lifeline can be reached at 1-877-565-8860. In Canada, dial 1-877-330-6366. Click here for other information about this organization, and click here to make a donation.
LGBT youth (ages 24 and younger) can reach the Trevor Project Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386. Don’t feel like calling? The Trevor Project also offers online chat and text. Find out more by clicking here. You can help save lives by clicking hereto donate.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 is available 24 hours a day to people of all ages and identities. The Nacional de Prevención del Suicidio es 1-888-628-9454. A line is also set up for the deaf and hard of hearing at 1-800-799-4889. Veterans can call 1-800-273-8255 to speak to someone who understands their particular needs. And for those dealing with the aftermath of any disaster, call 1-800-985-5990.
If you’re still not confident any of these fine organizations can help you, reach out to me. I’ve been there, and I’ll do my best to guide you. Email me at email@example.com or in the comments below, or send me a tweet at @riseupwithdawn.
Please note:I’m sorry, but I do not accept unsolicited phone calls, or video calls via Facebook, FaceTime or any other means. Thanks in advance for respecting my privacy.
Thank you so much for reading my blog and for watching the latest episode of RiseUP. Leave me a comment here or on Facebook or on Twitter. And in just a few weeks, I’ll be back with a new episode recorded on location in Provincetown, Mass. at the annual Fantasia Fair. Until then, remember the words of Bruce Springsteen: “C’mon, Rise Up!”
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.
Talk 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.
“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…
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.
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.
I 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.
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.
The 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.
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.
Now: does anyone know what the universe’s email address is?
Tonight, the first episode of my debut talk show airs on WHC-TV, West Hartford Community Television, as well as on YouTube. I’m so excited to share this with you!
The show is called Rise UP with Dawn Ennis and our first episode is “Forward March.” My goal is to focus on politics and culture, guiding viewers to stand up for ourselves, for our beliefs. I, myself, am a progressive, but I hope viewers of all backgrounds will find information of interest.
This blog that I have been writing for eight years now will serve as a resource for viewers, until I start a webpage dedicated solely to the program.
Below, you’ll find links to the events and groups I mention in the show, and to prior blog entries that expand upon my own story as I introduce viewers to my “Life After (becoming) Dawn.” Scroll down for these and other important links!
Here it is: episode one, shared with permission from WHC-TV’s YouTube Channel.
Due to time limitations and to keep from boring our viewers, I introduced you to part of my story — my child acting career — which was the subject of a lot of tabloid headlines in 2013 when I came out, because for almost five of the 12 years I worked as a model I worked as a girl. I was earning $100 a day when I “retired” from modeling in 1980, at the age of 16.
Here and here are two blog entries that expand upon that experience. And I’ll share more about my life in future episodes.
If you’re looking for information about the West Hartford Board of Education2017-2018 Budget, click here for the town site and here for details on proposed spending and cuts that could decimate the education our town provides our children.
And below are the dates of upcoming meetings, and note that at some of these, you can not just listen but also be heard.
Budget Workshop #1 – March 15, Town Hall, 7 PM
Budget Workshop #2 – March 21, Town Hall, 7 PM
Council and Board of Education Forum – March 23, Charter Oak, 6 PM
Board Public Hearing – March 29, Town Hall, 7 PM
Budget Workshop #3 – March 29, After Public Hearing
Board Budget Adoption – April 4, Town Hall, 7 PM
Town Council Adoption – April 25, Town Hall, 7 PM
The BOE has also set up an email box for questions, suggestions and complaints related to the budget proposal and process. Send your sentiments to firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’re interested in Swing Left, the non-profit group working to take back the House of Representatives from Republican party control, then click here. Interested residents of West Hartford are being asked to focus on New York’s 19th Congressional District, stretching from the area east of Binghamton to just outside Albany and Schenectady. Information about that effort is here.
But as you can see from the map below, there are many, many other districts being targeted, more than 50, and if you’re invested in wresting control from the GOP, enter your zip code here and you’ll be linked to a district near you.
If you’re looking for a non-partisan organization that welcomes both Republicans and conservatives as well as Democrats and liberals (and Libertarians and Working Party members and LGBTQ Americans, and so on), then check out the League of Women Voters.
And no, you don’t have to be a woman.
West Hartford residents should click here for information about the Greater Hartford chapter, and here if you’d like more information about how to join. The membership application is here. And if you’re looking for one where you live, here’s a link to the national organization which will direct you to the chapter in your area.
Dues are nominal (just $45 for new members), and one of the issues the league is working hard to support is to change our process of electing a president and eliminate the electoral college.
Tonight’s guest, Sarah Hambrick, spoke about an issue she is personally invested in: the Aid in Dying movement. Six states currently have legalized this way of ending life when the quality of life is no longer viable: Washington, Oregon, California, Montana, Colorado and Vermont. You can learn more about those states here. If you’d like more information about this, click here for an overview from the University of Washington, and Connecticut residents should click here for a January article from the Hartford Courant that reported it’s unlikely to be presented for action by the state legislature this year.
And you can learn more about my special correspondent Hannah Simpson by checking out her website, her Facebook page and following her on Twitter: @hannsimp
Please “like” our page on Facebook and follow our Twitter account, @RiseUPwithDawn. Send questions for Sarah or future guests by tweeting them to us or adding a comment here or on Facebook, and we promise to answer each and every one.
Next episode: the head of the Connecticut chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union joins us to discuss what they are doing here in the Constitution state and across the nation to advance its cause, and give us some info on how you can become more involved.
Four years ago this morning, after working all night gathering news for a major TV network, I was headed home to my family in Connecticut when I got a call asking me to divert to Newtown.
There were reports of multiple gunshots there.
My boss was candid: “You’re going to be our first eyes and ears on the ground. We are hearing, and it’s unconfirmed, there are a lot of people dead, and the worst part: many of them are children. Just get us some solid info. Be safe,” she said.
I drove into town before all the barriers and roadblocks were set, to keep curious onlookers and predatory media away from the crime scene.
I found myself on a street outside a firehouse, where eventually a couple emerged, and before I could ask the woman what had happened, her eyes locked with mine.
It was clear to me in an instant what had happened.
I saw in those grieving eyes the worst nightmare any mother could imagine. The look of someone whose entire world just ended.
I didn’t ask her a thing, not her name, not the circumstances of the tragedy still unfolding. I knew why I was there, what I was supposed to do, and what I was told to do: find out what happened and report back.
My instructions did not include making this family’s day worse. I mouthed the words, “I’m so sorry” to this mom whose eyes met mine, and let her pass.
I would work until late that night, walking all over town with a camera, interviewing witnesses, doctors, police spokesmen, and securing a live location for both the evening news and a special report, from which to broadcast live: a church that was holding a prayer service for the victims’ families and first responders.
My memory of that day is a bit like swiss cheese, with lots of holes, but I recall that I wasn’t out to everyone yet, and I remember how much I cried later that night, released from the burden of holding in the tears for so many hours.
And that wasn’t the only thing I had to hold in. Another woman working for a competitor and I went knocking on the door of a family down the road from the gunman, not to ask questions but to use their bathroom.
“At least you could pee behind a tree,” she whispered to me, as we waited for a response.
“That’s the privilege of men,” I said to her, “and that’s not who I am.” She mistook my meaning, but her message was clear when she responded.
“Well, yeah, this is more civilized and practical, and who knows, maybe they’ll even talk to us.”
Actually, no, and they wouldn’t let us use their bathroom, either. Another neighbor did, but they claimed they had no idea about the gunman, his mother, or the families of those murdered.
We thanked them for their kindness and agreed to not tell anyone else about it, for fear their bathroom would become, in their words, “Grand Central Station.”
Every TV news truck within a hundred miles converged on sleepy little Newtown that day. Reporters and field producers and network correspondents and anchors and guest bookers and camera people and truck engineers and black car drivers, dozens and dozens of them.
And several hours after the sun had set and the world had seen what we had learned, I finally got to go home and hug my own first grader, tighter than I ever had before.
I did so for every one of the parents in Sandy Hook who could not do that, and I thought of the mom I had encountered… as well as all 20 moms and 20 dads, and the families of the Sandy Hook school employees, whose world ended that day in a hail of senseless gunfire.
There was a lot of freelance writing drama today as I juggled four of my six part-time jobs all at once. And as I prepare for bed, I have two short stories (for which I shall not be paid) that I will share with you.
At one point earlier today I was fit to be tied, in an unshakably gloomy, angry and mostly just sad, sad mood. I was able to shield my daughter and others from incurring my wrath… but I am sure that, had I looked in a mirror, I might have seen that “OMG what is THAT about” resting bitch face I involuntarily show whenever trouble strikes. It’s at these times I remember never, ever to play poker.
But despite the feeling the world was at an end, something happened that turned my frown upside down: a song by “Weird Al” Yankovic played on the SiriusXM Radio. “Smells Like Nirvana.”
As I listened, the parody taking me back decades, I felt the stress fade away. I could not resist smiling and just enjoyed the silliness. “Weird Al” made me feel 1,000 times lighter. It was a welcome break for my troubled mind and soul.
Thank you, “Weird Al,” or being my first savior of the day.
As for the second one, Tilesha Brown knows all too well my obsession with saving my copy, and often, to avoid what we each have experienced in losing EVERYTHING. This is the story of why I was in that foul, foul mood.
Well, after dutifully and repeatedly saving a 1,000+word piece I had been writing this week for NBC News, I closed the tab, and then could not for the life of me find the article on my Mac. It was gone, poof, as if I had never written a single character. I was simultaneously writing another story for another outlet and also on the phone conducting an interview with a highly-placed transgender advocate, all at the same time, so I had to stifle my scream and just let it go for awhile.
After the interview (IT WAS STILL MISSING, WHERE DID IT GO?!?!?) I ran to fetch my daughter from her school on a snowy day — “oh, hey, can you please give my friend a ride home too?” — then, I drove her to get her flu shot, which was, thankfully, the fastest appointment in the history of pediatric medicine. Somewhere in between I emailed the editor with my sob story. Tears streaming down my face, I wrote that I was determined to find the missing article, and if not, type it all over again from memory.
At first, I tried using AppleCare’s chat function. Chandra was the very kind, patient woman on the other side of the screen, as I typed in panic mode and explained my desperate situation. I told her I hadn’t trashed anything but checked it anyway, and had already tried the usual search tools.
Me: “I’ve used Spotlight and searched the ‘My Mac’ box and the ‘All My Files’ box.”
Chandra: “Ok, that is what I would suggest. You could not find the document through those means?”
Me: “I’m sorry, do you think I’d be in this chat if I could?”
I thanked her and disconnected. With my MacBookPro in hand (or, well, in tote bag), I dashed to the mall where I met with Chris at the Microsoft store. This was, after all, a Microsoft Word issue.
Tall, stocky, friendly Chris clapped his hands loudly like he was about to head center court. “Okay! Let’s do this!” he said, apparently to me. “Okay!” I said in response, cheered by his enthusiasm.
Sadly, Chris is from BillGatesGeektown, where the only computers in the world are Windows PCs. He cleaned my screen, gave me a free Pepsi, and then told me he had no clue where to begin. It was as if I had brought a 12th century monk a cellphone and asked him to show me how to place a call. The good news: the Pepsi was cold. And my screen was clean, yay! But still no article. So off to the Apple Store I went.
While the Microsoft store was virtually empty, there were dozens and dozens of people ahead of me waiting to see a genius at the Apple Store. A very friendly young woman informed me my walk-in appointment would occur sometime “between 47 minutes and 57 minutes.”
I just stared at her for a moment, not sure what to say next.
“So… like, 45 minutes to an hour?” I asked.
“Close enough,” she said. Okaaaay. I dashed back to the car, fetched the youngest from chess club and dropped him off at home to do his homework and navigated the slushy, slippery streets… just a little better than the pilot of Mike Pence’s plane.
I made it back to the Apple Store with 5.214 minutes to spare (according to the blue-shirted employee who directed me to a stool). So, I got back to work, writing other stories for my other employers, answering emails from still others and trading instant messages with even more. Simultaneously, my cellphone dinged me with messages from my widow sisters — a group of nine who I adore who are my number one support system and friends and allies and great ladies who spend a lot of time texting one another in the group chat — and my eldest son who was on a field trip to the United Nations.
I read the texts from the widows but texted only a few messages, focusing mostly on sending my son short bursts of parental love.
“Does your car have snowbrush?”
And as I put the finishing touches on another article for another outlet and hit “publish,” into my life walked Rud.
Yes, his name is Rud. Standing six-two, sporting a thick red beard, with a lovely smile and calm voice, cool green eyes and those earrings that make your earlobes really huge. Rud is an Apple Genius.
He had read the notes, understood not only the workings of my MacBookPro but also knew a thing or two about Microsoft Word.
I showed him how my computer had saved a test document and together we traced where it had hidden my article: in a file that does not show up in “Search My Mac” or “Search All Files” or even in Spotlight.
It’s called Office 2011 AutoRecovery. There, with other documents that automatically are saved by Word every ten minutes, was (angels sing, trumpets sound) my missing article. Along with a LOT of other crap. It looked similar to this:
I literally burst into happy tears and said something I’ve never said to any man, ever.
“Oh my God, I love you!”
Where on earth that came from, I have no idea. His response: “Cool. Any other issues I can help you with?”
“No, no, thank you! Thank you!”
In hindsight, my Mac superuser friend Maia probably could have solved this in half the time it took me waiting on Rud the Apple Genius. But I was determined to resolve this without having to bother my friends.
When you’re a widow working six part-time jobs to earn enough money to feed three growing kids and pay bills and keep the lights and heat on, you put your head down and plow ahead full-speed. It’s hard to comprehend how a simple thing like losing a Word document has taken on so much greater significance.
Thankfully, all is well tonight, and off I go, to bed, where I shall sleep with a smile as I dream of Rud and Al, knowing that I shall have more stories to tell tomorrow.
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
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.
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.
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:
On this date in 2013, my world, such as it was, fell apart. The New York Post published an article based on an ill-advised email I had sent to “friends,” following a medical catastrophe.
I had just been discharged from a hospital where I spent a week recovering my memories and trying to figure out so many things: what year this was, who I was, why did my driver’s license have a picture of me wearing a wig, a gender marker with an F, and this other name that people called me.
Dissociative amnesia, I am told, was the result of a seizure that struck one night at the dinner table in late July. On that same night, as my wife rushed me to a hospital, my mother’s second husband died at a hospital in Florida. It was a bizarre, hard to fathom experience that I still have trouble explaining.
And that’s the worst thing I could have done: tried to explain. It was diagnosed as “transient global amnesia” at first, which spawned endless puns, and the doctors advised me upon my release that I needed to be cautious and not make any hasty decisions.
So, of course the first thing I did was tell my job I was returning to work as the man I once was.
File this under, “Things You’ve Done You Wish You Could Take Back or Do Over.”
Reaction among most of my “friends” and supporters was just short of Salem, only instead of burning me at the stake, I was set ablaze on the internet. Thank God for those of you who stood by me, then and now. And those of you who returned as my friends, I cannot blame you for joining the witchhunt, or standing by as I twisted in a tornado of my mind’s own creation.
To this day, I cannot explain what happened to me other than that I was clearly not as ready as I thought I was to continue my transition. One doctor compared it to a circuit breaker snapping, or a fuse blowing, when too much energy was required than it could handle.
Through that date, I had come out to my wife, to my children, on the job and to the world. I wasn’t regretting a thing, except of course the end of my marriage. That was devastating, but understandable and anticipated. There was no going back, no putting the genie back in the bottle.
And yet, for all of August 2013, that was what happened. I lived as Don again. A man with a generous set of moobs. A man who peed sitting down as that was the only way. My identification, which I had been told had been quite easily switched to “Dawn” and “female,” was not so easily changed back, however, given I could not get a doctor to write a letter that I was undergoing a gender transition from female to male. I ran into roadblocks that I could not overcome and decided to just lump it and explain it as best as I could, should the subject come up, like when I had to present a driver’s license to a cashier.
Those kinds of quiet explanations are understandable. However, telling my “close friends” at work what had happened, in writing, was the height of stupidity. I had no idea at that time who my enemies were, and how or why anyone I called a friend would leak my email to gossipmongers and tabloids.
If only I had just kept it all to myself. But if you know me, you know that’s like asking a shaken soda bottle to please not explode when you open the cap, pretty please?
I was under enormous pressure to get back to work, and earn the money we counted on for survival. I felt obligated to prove I wasn’t this “transgender woman” the identification papers and newspapers and websites said I was, and I wanted more than anything to be with my wife and children, not living separately from them with a couple of gay guys an hour away.
And then, slowly, I started to realize, every time I looked in the mirror, the face staring back at me wasn’t the one I thought it would be. Where did she go? Who was I, truly?
My nights were plagued by dreams of being this other person, a woman. My days were filled with embarrassing moments such as walking into the ladies room while still presenting as a male.
And I wasn’t sure what to do with all those shoes, and clothes, and wigs… until I decided, actually I do want to go back to the lovely guys who took me in when my beloved kicked me out. I chose to move this time. And when that letter came, that fateful letter, it clicked.
To: Dawn Stacey Ennis
From: National Institutes for Health (NIH), Bethesda, Maryland
It said in part: “The patient is a successfully transitioned woman, born male, who…” I stopped reading. That’s ME, I thought.
What the hell happened? Memories flooded back. I realized what I had done in my deluded state and cried, and hugged my roommates, unsure what to do. I had killed and buried Dawn Stacey Ennis, and I had not the slightest clue how to bring her back to life. How to resume my authentic life.
I realized the delusion was not that I was trans; it was that I could be anything but.
By September, I would be back on HRT and by October of 2013, I resumed my presentation as my authentic self, in secret, away from work and family. I was further back in the closet than I had been when this all started.
It was not until May of 2014 that I finally came out, again, and have lived true.
I have tried to be a voice for those who do voluntarily detransition, to stand up against those who would shame them, for fear it taints all of us. What I learned was except for those very few who never were trans, that no one transgender ever really detransitions; they stop presenting, they can deny who they are, but they are always, endlessly transgender. And sadly, closeted.
Three years later, I cannot say I don’t have regrets, but I am a better person, a happier person, a more authentic person than I ever was when I pretended to be someone I wasn’t.
I like to think it took nothing short of a medical catastrophe to make me think I could be him again, and that when I got better, the truth came out. I am a successfully transitioned woman named Dawn Stacey Ennis, a woman born male.
And although the road to me has not been easy, there’s not a woman alive who can say that it ever is.
“One is not born a woman, but becomes one.” – Simone de Beauvoir
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.
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.
We 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.
I 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.
The 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.
“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.
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.
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.
Today, 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.
He’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.
His 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.”
“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.
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 click here to donate via GoFundMe.
Starting tonight I am a video blogger as well as the lady wordsmith here at lifeafterdawn.com. The term a decade ago was vlogger but I doubt that it is still in use today. Whatever you call it, I’m doing it.
So here is episode one, Meet the “Dad/Mom” in which I explain why I am such a thing and how I came to be me. Welcome new friends and old to this brave new world, with such transgender people in it. Please send me your questions, answers, ideas, random th0ughts, to my email email@example.com or you can comment here, too, or on YouTube.
Also: A trust has been established by Wendy’s brother, Robert Lachs, to assist with furthering the education of the Ennis children. Anyone wishing to donate to the fund may click here to donate via GoFundMe.
I’m hardly a barfly but yes: I’ve danced, drank, met friends and enjoyed music in some of Central Florida’s gay-friendly bars. And I’ve done the same in Tampa, St. Pete, and Jacksonville, too. And N.Y., L.A. and D.C. And even Hartford.
It’s not the “gay” aspect that attracted me, of course, but the fact that someone like me doesn’t feel out of place in a club or tavern that caters to the gay. lesbian, bi and trans clientele.
And that makes me a target of terrorism.
But I’m apparently not lesbian. A trusted lady friend who would certainly know once told me she can “smell the straight” on me. But as a transgender woman who loved only one woman for 20+ years, my emerging attraction to the opposite sex still isn’t ready for field testing in the kinds of bars and clubs I frequented in my youth, when I was the suitor instead of the prey.
The one thing I can say about what happened in Orlando early Sunday, is that is how I now feel: as the hunted.
Omar Mateen could have chosen any club anywhere for his record-setting murder spree. And he wasn’t alone in his homophobia nor hardly the first terrorist hellbent on extinguishing the lives of people who offended him simply by loving.
I can’t put it out of my mind: I could have been there with friends in Orlando’s gay and Latin community. Or it might have been those friends of mine who lost their lives or were wounded.
You know, you don’t have to be gay to visit a “gay bar.” And I’ll wager that among those poor 50 souls, there very well might be one straight ally, maybe more. Or one of the 53 wounded could be a friend who was in the “wrong place at the wrong time,” as is often said. Who could imagine such a thing? The thought that planes could be used as missiles sprung from the minds of terrorists 15 years ago, and now gay clubs, Pride parades and even public bathrooms are the modern terrorist’s inspiration for hateful carnage.
I heard one network reporter breathlessly broadcast that the result of the Orlando massacre was that police nationwide were beefing up patrols “in areas frequented by the gay community” in order to protect “people who live the LGBTQ lifestyle.” Whoa, why didn’t anyone tell me there’s a special place gays go? See, I thought that in 2016, gay people “frequent” supermarkets, offices, churches, movie theaters, shops and stores and gas stations and restaurants and – on occasion – the streets and sidewalks of cities and towns across America.
And why is it that in all the years I was the best imitation of a married heterosexual man, nobody ever described me as living a “straight lifestyle?” I’m still straight, yet somehow coming out as trans earned me a “lifestyle.” And, truth be told, I’m neither rich nor famous.
Omar Mateen may have landed a place in the history books with this bloody massacre, but I’m more interested in learning about the folks whose lives were lost and those forever changed by his legally licensed and NRA-sanctioned gunfire.
I also want to know more about the brave officers who ran into danger when all hell broke loose. And I wish I could offer some comfort to the families and friends who are in mourning. They join so many more like them in Newtown, Aurora, and San Bernardino. My heart breaks, knowing full well that death is cruel.
But let’s be honest: I’m a selfish bitch, and all I really care about is my kids and me. I know that as a marked woman, my choices can get me killed. As a widow, I am all my kids have. So, do I dare go where a predator who hates LGBTQ people might take out his hatred or a copycat might commit more terrorism?
And here we were just 24 hours ago, fretting about the danger trans people posed in the bathroom. Really?
How ironic that many of those frightened victims inside Pulse found shelter from the fusillade of gunshots by hiding in the nightclub’s ladies room.
Well, if you need me, I won’t be hiding in the loo, or under my bed. I will be out, and about, and I will shout: I will not stop living my authentic life. I will be me and I will be visible. How can I teach my kids to stand up for themselves if I won’t do the same?
To all of you who dance and drink, who enjoy the music and the camaraderie of gay-friendly clubs: let’s go clubbing, and keep going. We can’t let the terrorists win, no matter how high the cover charge is.