Room 16

HH_FB_COVER_2016Today, I traveled back in time.

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

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

That was Sunday night.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Think I’m going home today”

And that was the last.

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

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

That turned out to be a blessing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes: I needed to see Room 16.

“Why?”

“What will you do there?”

“What are your intentions?”

Those were logical questions.

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

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

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

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

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

But I did not hear, “no.”

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

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

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

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

Where she took her last breath.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The No Zone.”

l’Shana Tovah to my Jewish family and friends.

The Angernet — Don’t Get Sucked In

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Universe: It’s me, Dawn

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

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

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

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

Then she said, “And it worked.”

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Universe.

Hi. It’s me, Dawn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, universe.

-Dawn Ennis

Done!

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

Forward March

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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.

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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 Education 2017-2018 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 budget@whps.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.

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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.

Thank you for watching and sharing!

Dawn

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Her eyes told me everything: The massacre in Sandy Hook

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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.

The Damsel Writer in Distress, and the Two Men Who Rescued Me Today

PicMonkey Collage.jpgThere 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.

 

all-i-really-have-going-for-me-is-sarcasm-resting-bitch-face-a-huge-rack-and-really-good-eyebrows-3d268At 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.

 

weird-alBut 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.

 

14-2.jpgAfter 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.

 

d5fd16ce33cfac682eda90c51e0f6e3c.jpgTall, 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.

 

iphones_and_crowds_in_the_apple_storeWhile 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.
AP_16302063971741.jpgI 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.

 

“K.”
“Nice pic!”
“Cool.”
“Safe travels.”
“Yes, snow.”
“Does your car have snowbrush?”
“Drive carefully!”
“Steak. TTYL.”

 

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:

 

autorecovery-all
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.

The Media Is Not Your Friend

fantasiafair3

Photo by Trace Peterson

On Saturday, the event organizers of the 42nd annual Fantasia Fair invited me to deliver a keynote address on the subject of my choosing. Here is that address:

Lies, Sex and Journalism: Refocusing the Media’s Perspective of Trans Americans

Yes, I am THAT Dawn Ennis.

If you don’t know me by my name or reputation, let me explain. At the start of May of 2013, I became the first journalist to come out as trans in a network TV newsroom. That made headlines. One tabloid reporter in particular seized upon an very unusual aspect of my childhood that was stolen from a confidential book manuscript I had pitched to publishing houses. I learned the hard way what it was like to be the target of the news media.

Talk show hosts and shock jocks made me the butt of their jokes. Reporters hid in my bushes, and ambushed my wife and oldest child, visited the homes of my mother, my mother in law and sister. One went up and down my block, asking my neighbors what they thought of the “tranny next door.”

Despite this, life was good. I was accepted at work, by my children and had reached that rare thing married trans women long for with their spouses: peace, co-parenting, friendly coexistence.

In late July, I suffered a seizure that cost me everything: my successful transition, my good name, and a lot of support. This time I learned what it’s like to have your name dragged through the mud. I found out the price of being someone who detransitioned, even as briefly as I did, as deluded as I was that I could declare, “I’m not trans.”

The truth is, despite a 30 year career of digging for the truth, of reporting the facts, I realized: I was lying to myself. I had lied to myself before I transitioned, and I lied to myself after I detransitioned. I had lied to the love of my life, too. But just a month later, all became clear. I awoke from my delusion, resumed my transition in private, then public, without alerting the media. And just when I felt strong enough to be me, I made headlines one more time, by getting fired… hard as it may be to conceive, in this day of wide acceptance.

In the two years since, I have found a new career in the world of LGBTQ journalism, becoming the first trans staff editor at The Advocate. I’m the reporter who earlier this year asked Caitlyn Jenner if she wanted to be Ted Cruz’s “trans ambassador.”

But I gave up my life as an L.A. woman, walked away from the red carpets and Hollywood hunks, the day I became a widow. Now I’m a mom to three children, who call me “dad.” I’m a YouTuber and I hold down a half-dozen jobs which allow me to work from home. You can see my videos at The Advocate, I’m assistant editor at LGBTQ Nation and I also write for NBC OUT, BuzzFeed, OutSports and Logo’s website NewNowNext.

Unlike the career I led at ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN as well as a half-dozen local TV stations, I’m now an advocacy journalist. I report to our community and beyond from the LGBTQ perspective. I don’t hide it, and I’m proud to declare it. I believe I report fairly, but fairness requires that I do not ignore the fact that our civil rights are more threatened than ever before.

In August, a man on TV called the rights of transgender Americans a “boutique issue” that should be put aside until after the general election.

Here we are 16 days out.

And the outcome will surely determine our fight to be treated equally as Americans. Our fight is about more than just the right to use the appropriate bathroom, although that has been the focus of much of the media coverage this year.
Here are the facts the mainstream media ignores every time it reports on bathrooms and locker rooms. We transgender Americans face:

  • unprecedented levels of poverty
  • endure employment discrimination and get fired
  • are denied housing
  • are beaten
  • and are murdered, at a disproportionate rate, just for being who we are.

Who you are, is up to you. Some of you here may not consider yourselves transgender. That’s not for me or anyone to say, except yourselves.

Those of you who have struggled with gender identity and dysphoria, like I did, know exactly who we are.

We attempt suicide at a rate of 41 percent, and not because, as HBO’s Bill Maher joked, we are 6-foot-4 and cannot find pantyhose. It’s because we are different and instead of acceptance we find ourselves ostracized by our families, our coworkers and a large swath of society.

I am one of the statistics: when I lost my job I tried to end my life. I had gone from earning six figures at ABC to being ridiculed by the tabloids. I got a “pink slip to go with my pink slip.” One news manager said he “didn’t want my drama” in his newsroom.

But the tide is changing: Jen Christensen, the president of the NLGJA, the National Lesbian Gay Journalists Association, works at CNN’s Washington bureau. She told me she feels inspired by the transgender staffers working there. Staffers, plural. My heart leapt at the news.

In our ranks are sports journalism power hitter, Christina Kahrl of ESPN; Vincent Shields, a trans photojournalist in New York City; Eden Lane is a longtime TV host in Denver; Parker Molloy writes for Upworthy in Chicago; Janet Mock is on MSNBC and wrote a wonderful memoir, Redefining Realness.

Plus there’s Jillian Page of the Montreal Gazette; Meredith Talusan who is also writing her own memoir and recently left BuzzFeed; Zoey Tur who’s been on Inside Edition and has a radio show in L.A.; Jacob Tobia has contributed to MSNBC; writer and trans activist Hannah Simpson is one of the brightest young minds of her generation and has helped advance understanding of us through both words and video; my longtime friends Brynn Tannehill and Melody Maia Monet have written some of the post powerful and thoughtful pieces on our experience to date. And like Hannah, each has done some groundbreaking work in video, too.

Blogger Monica Roberts is a media powerhouse who has been honored by this conference in a prior year. And be sure to check out Amanda Kerri, a standup comic in Oklahoma City and an insightful op-ed writer for The Advocate.

Beyond those and many other trans journalists, we of course know the transgender media stars who have become household names Caitlyn Jenner, Chaz Bono, Jenny Boylan, Laverne Cox, Sarah McBride, Jazz Jennings, and Kristin Beck to name a few.

Kristin has launched a program in conjunction with the TSA to hold airport agents accountable when they misgender or otherwise harass travelers. Read more about that by clicking here.

On the verge of breaking out are poet Trace Peterson who’s right here with us and presented earlier this week, as is spoken word dramatist Lorelei Erisis; actors Trace Lysette, Scott Turner Schofield, Alexandra Grey, Jen Richards and Angelica Ross of HerStory; trans standup comics April Reed and Tammy Twotone; and singer/songwriter Summer Luk.

I find it interesting that the vast majority of people on that list and those here are predominantly female identified. It’s gotta be hard living as a woman who feels she is male, experiencing that second class existence only to face discrimination all over again as a transgender man, as so much attention and focus is heaped on trans women. About the only group that gets less media attention than trans men are trans people of color.

One reason the media, both the news and the entertainment branches, overlook us, trans men and especially trans people of color is because there are so few of us in their newsrooms. With 1.3 million trans people in America, I would hazard to guess we might have a few dozen transgender journalists in America. If those making the decisions about who to hire or who to cast had more first-hand experience with trans folks, it wouldn’t be such a rarity to have trans reporters and actors.

And when there is no job, some of us turn to the only thing we have to sell to survive: Our bodies. It’s the job that can kill you, just for being you. And in the news media, those who have been preyed upon as victims of crime are all too often robbed of the dignity the dead deserve. Why? Because they rely on a biased local law enforcement authority that insists the only identity that matters is not what name a transgender crime victim used but what’s printed on a license. We need more advocates to work with the police departments in our cities and towns and have them recognize our needs, not just when we’re living but for those we lose.

And I believe that the Perception of Deceit is what drives this discrimination. Be who you are, but if you are perceived to be dressing up by a cisgender person — meaning someone not trans — your life could be placed at risk. Lawyers tried cooking this up as the “trans panic” defense, as if murder and violence was justified given the shock of finding out the girl you took to bed was assigned male at birth and has had no surgeries to change that.

GLAAD and other advocacy groups have helpful guidelines for both our allies and the news media to help them avoid stereotypical mistakes and mischaracterizations.

But what I hope you will take away from my talk today is a mischaracterization of the profession I love: Journalism.

Friends, and I hope you’ll all follow me on social media, send me a friend request, so I can truly call you my friends… I need you to understand the most basic rule I’ve learned about being authentic. Here it is:

The Media Is Not Your Friend.

Are there friendly reporters? Sure! Will you be thrilled to meet that nice guy or sweet lady you see on TV? Yes, and they’re probably just as nice when the camera isn’t rolling.

But they’re not your friends. They have other stories to tell and their mission is to get this one done so they can either get to their next assignment or dinner or home.

The big interview you prepare for, get your hair and nails done for, that you DVR and tell all your friends to watch, is likely to be fewer than 2 minutes on TV or 500 words on a website. I won’t deny that it’s a thrill to see your name in print or broadcast on TV, just that you must recall that when it’s done, they move on. News is, by and large, a Profit Game. Reporters are not interviewing you to be altruistic. It’s not a priesthood. And if it’s a scandal, or controversy, don’t bet your pumps that the way it’s told will necessarily be how you see it, or even to your advantage.

Ask any lawyer on the planet: Hey, Lawyer Larry, before we go to trial I was thinking maybe I’d give an interview to NCF-TV… WhereNewsComesFirstFollowedbySportsandWeather27.

What do you think?

Lawyer Larry will in almost every case remind you that the risks outweigh the value. The exception, to me, is when you are fighting our government. This week, I helped an American trans girl who is stationed with her family in Germany win the right to use the girls bathroom. I did that by asking questions at the Pentagon and at Ramstein Air Force Base, which put officials on notice that they needed to avoid the appearance of discrimination. That’s a rare thing.

So how can you use the news media and avoid letting them use you?

Find an advocate. Who’s working in public relations at your local LGBTQ center? Start with someone already on our side, and then become their friend or follower on social media. Find out if there is an LGBTQ journalist in your area, and if not, seek out the ones who are at least allies. Google them and see what events they attend on their own time. Seek out mentors, and if you feel so inclined, offer to be one.

Remember – The Media is Not Your Friend. But don’t presume the media is your enemy, either. I know that most people have a negative view of the media, which is not altogether undeserving. But like us, members of the media are Americans, with families and friends and biases and perspectives.

Jenny Boylan who spoke here earlier this week often says what we need to remember:

No One Hates You Who Knows Your Story.

You are the best one at telling your story. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t offer character references to be interviewed when a journalist comes calling. My advice remains, talk to your lawyer first.

If you’re thinking of writing something to public about you, be smart. If it’s a memoir, recruit or hire someone to help you craft your story, like an editor or ghostwriter. Be prepared to wave at the start of every performance you do and take a curtain call. Telling your story comes with benefits as well as drawbacks. And the magical thing is, if it doesn’t sell — and some of my friends in the business have done this — you can always self-publish.

But even there, watch your back. Your reputation, your story, even your face can be at risk of being stolen or told in a way that does not represent your view.

I sincerely believe that with the exception of Breitbart, FOX News and the other right-wing nut sites, there is no plot against us. They just don’t recognize that we are fighting for our lives. Not special rights, equal rights.

Your mission, whether you decide to accept it or not, is to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your story.

Because in the end, you have only one person you can honestly rely upon when faced with an unknown journalist or media representative. YOU.

I believe our efforts now should be to stop playing into the hands of penis-focused opponents. I suggest we work to move the conversation away from phallus obsession and toward the brain.

Just as the same-sex marriage fight was won by changing hearts and minds and focusing on the value of love, instead of the physical manifestation of same-sex love, why cannot we redirect the argument away from our genitals and nudity, to the real issue of identity and equal rights.
Let’s stop trying to win a war over dicks with ignorant dickheads… and instead overwhelm our enemies with the uplifting stories of more than 1 million successfully transitioned, happily secure and sane trans women and men. Let’s dispel the predator myth by refusing to engage them when our enemies stoke fears without actual crimes or incidents to base them upon.
We can choose to lose at their game, or win at ours.
Below is a link to the trailer for the documentary about me and how my life has changed:

Trailer: “Before Dawn, After Don” from deana mitchell on Vimeo.