It could have been me


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

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

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

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

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

Or yours. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life is too damn short. 

#TransHands


Thirty years ago tomorrow, millions of people did something that had never been done before, and never repeated since. They held one another’s hands across America, from sea to shining sea.


Well, almost. Despite the participation of between five and six million men, women and children, there were of course huge geographic gaps. But to this day, the pre-Internet era effort stands as an inspiring milestone of unity, of sisterhood and of brotherhood.
Imagine you could take part in something as moving, as exciting and yet a heck of a lot easier to send a message of acceptance, love and understanding.

Well, you can. Right now!

My friend and colleague Hannah Simpson and I invite you to take part in a new, electronic effort, aimed at generating support for transgender Americans.

We call it #TransHands.

Our idea is simple: take a photo of your hand grasping the hand of someone transgender, and share it with the hashtag #TransHands.

It’s really that easy. And if you don’t have a trans friend for your photo, you can still take part and show your support by snapping a picture of your open hand, as it would be extended in friendship, like this:


We think the idea would best be conveyed if one of the hands pictured was that of a child, as shown at the top of this post… since those intent on depriving us of our civil rights and denying our existence are hellbent on spreading the myth that we are predators of children.

We’re not. We are all God’s children, and never has there been even one incident of a trans person arrested taking advantage of laws protecting our civil rights to prey upon a child or a woman for that matter. It’s a myth, and this is just one way we are working to counter it.

The #TransHands movement is aimed at countering such ridiculous and baseless right wing propaganda, by showing transgender people holding hands with children, and transgender children holding hands with adults.

This is an open invitation to people of all ages, backgrounds, religions, cultures, cities and towns across America.

We chose hands so as to avoid any concerns or questions about the electronic sharing of images featuring minors, which is of course a legal concern. We are sensitive to the privacy worries parents might have, concerning their children’s faces being shared on the Internet.
So just to make it clear:

1. Snap a photo. You can show your hand holding a trans person’s hand, or your hand outstretched in friendship. You can show your faces, too, if you want!

2. Share it with the hashtag #transhands (or #TransHands –capitalization not necessary) on whatever social media app you like, and as many as you like, and don’t forget the hashtag!

3. Please share this post to get the word out?

Look for a story tomorrow about our project in The Advocate. We’ll include the best photos, so act quickly! Get snapping!

And just like those who took part in Hands Across America on May 25, 1986, you’ll be taking part in history.

Thank you in advance for your show of support, love and acceptance!
Hannah Simpson and Dawn Ennis

The Choice

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Today I am 52 years — and one day — old.

But I’ve achieved this milestone despite a choice I made in 2014. And because I lived to make another one.

I stepped into traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike. And I did it because I could not bear the burden of being unloved, unworthy and distrusted by the woman I still loved. I was devastated by a few words she said, words she refused to take back, that cut through me like a knife:

“I’d be better off if you were dead.”

IMG_0511I held the cellphone to my ear as I begged her to recant, as I stood in the fast lane with my back to oncoming traffic. It was not the busiest day ever, but there were still cars, tractor trailers and buses that swerved to avoid striking me. Some blared their horns, but I didn’t budge. I didn’t consider how my suicide might take someone else’s life; I didn’t consider how my wife and kids would feel about me killing myself. I didn’t care. I didn’t care about anyone else. And at one point, I hung up the phone, when I realized I didn’t care if Wendy loved me or not.

Because I didn’t love me, either.

I snapped one last picture, and no, it wasn’t a selfie. And it slowly dawned on me, that this was a mistake. I actually laughed at myself, standing in the middle of a highway and unable to end my life without someone else delivering the fatal blow.

“Can’t even succeed at killing myself,” I muttered. “I am a total failure.”

That was the exact opposite of how I felt just a day or two before. I had been well-received by longtime friends, at a reunion in sunny Florida. I had also met my mother as my authentic self, and made every effort to reconcile our differences. I hugged her goodbye, never to see or speak to her again. I left Florida feeling hopeful for the future, and at peace.

On the way home to Connecticut, I had stopped for lunch in my old Jacksonville neighborhood when I received word from my job: I was getting fired, and a young colleague who I had trained had been promoted — to management. Isn’t that a coincidence, I thought.

Just the month before, I had resumed my transition, and my employer had built a bullshit case of “performance issues” based on what this one person reported, in order to curry favor and advance their own career; the kind of transgressions overlooked in a favorite employee and used to blackball someone whose file included the worrisome notation, “business unit growing concerned about headlines” that my transition had generated in the tabloids. Almost all of that coverage was negative.

I was summoned to appear before a meeting of my boss, the head of human resources, and the VP in charge of HR and legal affairs. She was the woman who shepherded me through my transition and all the troubles that followed. My only hope of avoiding — more likely, postponing — my fate, was to take a medical leave of absence.

In a panic, I phoned my therapist and asked for a letter citing just such a need. I told her I was desperate. And to my surprise, my therapist said, “no.”

“I’m thinking you want me to give you this just to avoid being fired,” she said.

Well, duh. I mean, what was happening was clearly unfair. And I wasn’t just looking to avert the inevitable. I was rightfully frightened about my future.

It was the start of summer, when Wendy stopped getting paychecks from her job as a school teacher. My wife and kids were dependent on me until late September. How would I support my family? And I had just moved into my own apartment, my first in my true name, at considerable expense. How would I support myself?

“I’m at the end of my rope,” I told my therapist. “I can’t live if this happens.” She cast aside my pleas and my feelings of desperation, and told me I should go to an emergency room or call 911 if I “really” wanted help. Really? At that exact moment, I fired her, although it felt like she had already fired me.

And so I prepared to face the network firing squad.

It didn’t help boost my spirits that my wife blamed my situation on my transition, as if this path of self-destruction was the only possible outcome, and she let me know she still felt I was worth more to her dead than alive. I felt utterly and completely without value.

We had dinner as a family one last time. She then dropped me off at Union Station in Hartford for the train to New York.

It was raining, which covered up the tears streaming down my cheeks. I stepped up to the platform and dialed the number of a close friend and confidante who I had dubbed my Trans Jiminy Cricket for helping me throughout my tumultuous transition.

Getting no answer, I left a cryptic voicemail, saying goodbye, and stepped in front of the oncoming Amtrak train in an attempt to kill myself, once and forever.

I looked into the eyes of the motorman. The raindrops pelted my face. I closed my eyes and listened to the blaring train horn. It blotted out almost every sound, except one: that of my iPhone ringtone.

The shrill classic phone ring penetrated my contemplation of imminent death, the end to all suffering, and like a child tugging on the hem of my skirt, demanded I heed its call, to life.

10410235_10205381333592954_1886322810314400017_nIt was Maia, my Trans Jiminy Cricket, calling her Trans Pinnochio.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“I’m standing on the tracks, waiting for the train to kill me. It’s coming.”

She didn’t mince words. “Get out of there,” Maia said.

She didn’t raise her sweet, sultry voice or beg or plead. She just told me matter of factly what to do, and waited on the line until I told her I did.

“Good. Now get on the train and I’ll call you right back in a few minutes. Okay?”

“Okay,” I said. Her calm demeanor made me feel calm; her unemotional but strong way of speaking settled me down.

Maia, like many of us, once considered ending it all. She lost her marriage and left their only child with her ex-wife, so she should live authentically. Maia told me God once spoke to her, and to her that was affirmation enough that this was the life she was meant to lead.

I was still waiting to hear from God, but in a few minutes time, I received a message from author and mentor Jenny Boylan on the train to New Haven. She had heard what I had attempted from Maia.

10245350_10203643378425161_4162073435877127621_n“Don’t do something stupid,” wrote Jenny, in that professorial parental tone millions of people have seen her use on the world’s most famous (and perhaps most politically stubborn) woman, Caitlyn Jenner.

She urged me to call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. And so I did. I told the young woman on the other end of the line my story and what was driving me to end my life, and how I was basing my own value on how my wife perceived me.

“Well, you really can’t blame her,” said the woman who was trying to convince me my life was worth living. “She’s been through a lot and she’s being honest with you about her feelings.”

“Yes,” I said, “but I’d like to talk to you about my feelings, okay? Not hers.”

“I understand — Click!”

“Hello?!”

Yes, the Suicide Hotline hung up on me. No, not on purpose; a few minutes later my phone rang and I let it go to voicemail. When I checked it later I heard the young woman apologize for inadvertently hanging up on me.

“Please do call back, if you’re, um, still there.”

I was still there even though I decided to not call back. IMG_0569But I did dial 911, when I got to Times Square, because I found myself unable to leave the subway platform.

IMG_0570Train after train came and left. I watched as men and women of all ages and races and faces and places boarded and disembarked the number 1 local uptown and to The Bronx.

But all I could think was that train would take me to my apartment to spend the night awaiting my doom, and take me back here to Manhattan where my career would be pulverized into dust, my name disgraced and my professional life ended. If I left this platform that step would set in motion the events that would end my role as provider for my family.

I was, to put it mildly, distraught. My call brought the police, and the paramedics, who took me from the subway station… to Bellevue.

The official police terminology for my case is EDP: “emotionally disturbed person.” All those years hearing “EDP” on the police scanners in the newsroom, and in my dad’s home office, and now, I was the EDP.

It was the right call, even if Bellevue was the worst possible place to go. I wasn’t crazy, or insane. I was distraught and needed to get my head straight. But Bellevue? Imagine a holding place chock full of depressed, suicidal and unhinged men and women, stripped of their belongings and with no ability to reach the outside world, or even see it. No windows, no media, no phones, no nothing except beds, chairs and some very disturbed people.

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#TransIsBeautiful

The only thing they let me keep was a certain copy of Time magazine, with Laverne Cox on the cover. This was my own personal Transgender Tipping Point.

I wasn’t medicated or treated, just allowed to sleep (with the lights on) and to contemplate what had led me here and what might await me when… if… I were released.

After brief interviews with a psychologist and a psychiatrist and some calls to my doctors, wife and therapist, I was determined to be no danger to myself or others, and let go.

And I had been let go from my job, too, without a hearing. It had been a day: I missed the big meeting, I didn’t produce a letter requesting medical leave, and so I was terminated.

I responded to the official email with a proposal that we not bash each other in the media, and they agreed. And after they bashed me in the media — the Daily News quoted “an insider” — we entered into negotiations which, let’s just say, ended to my satisfaction.

All this taught me survival skills, and lessons you can put to use: first among them is that nothing is more important than my children. Had I gone through with suicide, my kids would be orphans now. As one of the 41 percent of trans people and gender non-conforming adults who consider or attempt suicide, I am aware many people are not as lucky as I am to have lived, or to have access to their children.

Second: it’s important is to not let others’ perceptions define who you are. I needed to learn to respect Wendy’s perspective and to determine my own. After a time, she did recant, and agreed the words — although they were just words — were not true. I regained her trust; Wendy came to see me as the woman I am, and even said she loved me, as the father of her children and her co-parent. Time healed the bitter wounds that had broken her heart.

Third was to reach out for help. Thanks to Chloe Schwenke, the late Rick Regan, Maia and Jenny, Susan and even Wendy, I survived these attempts, and got help to get past my acute depression. It took time. It got worse. But ultimately it did get better. And mental health counseling was part of that solution. It’s not something we should stigmatize, it’s something we as a society ought to look at as part of being healthy. I am grateful to those who helped me be the healthy person I am today.

And last was to not take myself so seriously. I found other jobs. We survived the summer from hell. I laughed at my own inability to end my life, and thanked God for such incompetence.

And despite the turmoil and media trashing, thanks to the hard work of attorney Jillian Weiss, I left on good terms with my former employer, and I’d recommend working for them if you’re given the opportunity. Better days hopefully lay ahead.

I wrote this not just in reflection of my birthday, or the fact that Easter is upon us with its message of renewal and resurrection from death, but with the recent suicide of a friend’s transgender son in mind. It is hard to contemplate how anyone can take their life, unless you’ve been there, until life is so unbearable that even death, and the thought of causing pain unto others, doesn’t matter to you. I pray you never experience it. And if you do, that you find someone to help you see that holding on just one more day is worthwhile.

A friend once told me, you don’t need to win the fight. Just remember when you’re knocked down to get back up, one more time… and to do that every time you are knocked down. Because you will be, and the only way to finish the fight is to keep getting up.

I pray for those who couldn’t, and for those left wondering… why.

If you are a trans or gender-nonconforming person considering suicide, Trans Lifeline can be reached at 877-565-8860. LGBT youth (ages 24 and younger) can reach the Trevor Project Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386.The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 can also be reached 24 hours a day by people of all ages and identities.

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. 

“Back and Forth”

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STOP. Just for a moment, before scrolling ahead, think of the word or phrase that irritates you most. Got it? Okay, let me guess. Was yours…

“Taxes”?

“Breaking News”?

“Obama” (or “Bush” or “Clinton”)?

“Sweetheart” (or “Hon”)?

“Tranny?”

“Religious Freedom”

“Mommm!”

“Dental Floss?”

Perhaps none of those words offends you, or gets your Irish up, as my grandmother from County Leitrim used to say.

Before I tell you mine, I must admit: I’m tired of being audited, I detest the ubiquitous overuse of “breaking news,” I won’t discuss politics here (at this time), I am not a fan of the “T” word and I am careful to avoid using “sweetheart” or “hon” with anyone unless I know them well enough — or they do so first, I thought we enacted religious freedom in 1789 and as much as I know I should, I hate flossing. Lastly, my spouse has a love/hate relationship with the moniker “Mom;” she had threatened to change her name to “Fred,” until a) her mother married a man named “Fred” and b) I changed my name to “Dawn” and she didn’t want people to think she, also, had gender dysphoria.

Which brings me to my most hated, despised and just all around annoying string of words:

” 

If you don’t know me or my story, I encourage you to read earlier entries of this, my blog, so as not to put the rest of our friends to sleep from having to hear it yet again.

But there has never been ONE TIME that someone hasn’t used the phrase “back and forth” to describe my transition when it is being discussed. For a time, I thought I should print up tee shirts with the words “Dawn is Back” on the front, “And Forth” on the back, just to make some money off the damn spectacle of it all.

Some have suggested that instead of “Life After Dawn” I should call my story “Back and Forth,” since it seems so top of mind. “And why isn’t it ‘Life After Don,’ anyway?’ they ask.

“Oh, shuddup!” I sometimes say… in my head.

Sigh. “Back and forth” bugs the hell out of me (I think I’ve made that point sufficiently clear, no?) because it focuses attention on my so-called “failure,” my confusion and perplexing inability to maintain my gender transition in one direction.

“Newsman Changed Gender Three Times” screamed the headlines, back in the day.

No.

No, I did not.

Before you say, “Now, wait a minute! Yes, you did…I remember! You even blogged about it. And besides, it’s on Google!” please allow me to explain.

I know just as well as you do what was reported, and yes, some of it was based on an ill-advised email I sent to “trusted” colleagues.

Fuggedaboudit. That’s old news.

Here is the message that matters, and why I’m writing this:

I was assigned male at birth in 1964… circumcised (twice)… given a male name… raised as a boy and loved by my parents and sister, who — for the first two years of her life, could not say my name and so she called me what she knew I was:

“Boy.” 384812_2645244207582_866694186_n

Yes, my one and only sister referred to me as “Boy,” as in “Boy’s home!” and “Boy, give me back my dolly!”

To me at age five and six, being called “Boy” was just about as awkward (but cute) as my kids calling me, their transgender parent, “Dad” as I exit the ladies room (not cute, potentially dangerous and if some people get their way, likely to get me incarcerated).

We’ll need to chat about that, I think, although I am on record as supporting their decision to continue to call me “Dad.”

But “Boy?” I spent a lot of time trying to get this little cherub to call me my proper name. And here we are, 45 years later, and guess what? I still can’t get her to call me by my proper name!

My sister, like so many others, cannot understand why I transitioned, why I did it so publicly — announcing it on facebook! The nerve! Why, people will SEE IT, and — they’ll know! 

Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of transgender people post stuff on facebook about their transitions. The difference is, they don’t work at a major TV network and have a book publisher with an agenda to ruin them and their plans for the future.

And maybe a few hundred of those possible tens of thousands may encounter difficulty in their transition; I don’t have reliable numbers, sadly. Nobody really knows how many people are trans, or how many people detransition. We are told very few, mainly because psychological and pharmaceutical guidance keeps people from going too far if they’re not prepared. Some chafe at the gatekeepers’ rules, others complain they don’t do enough.

Mine did their job well, and only one therapist failed me, just when I needed her most, when my career and livelihood were on the line.

She’s now working at Xerox. Good move!

She and a lot of people have said that phrase, “back and forth,” and I do understand why.

To them, I was “Don,” then I was “Dawn,” then “Don” again, then “Dawn” again.

I’m thinking maybe I’ll change it to “Shlomo” for the next go-round, just for laughs.

STOP. There is no next go-round. And what brings me to write about this is, I don’t see the back and forth everyone else does.

I’ve been doing a lot of meditating lately, thanks to the help of my dearest friend, Susan, and it’s helped me unlock some memories which I think connect the dots, from my early childhood to now, to help me better understand my gender transition.

That child raised and even called “Boy” — that’s me, remember? I do. I was hyperactive, imaginative, friendly, adventurous, uncoordinated, artistic and all-American looking — enough to be cast in commercials and print advertisements, starting at age four.

Slender, expressive, sensitive, emotional, intensely loyal and more interested in playing house with Marilyn Ciaccio across the street than cops and robbers with my best friend Tommy McCoy and the Quinlans. I recall wanting to be an astronaut race car driver who gave it all up to get married and have five children. I remember being saddened to catwomanlearn only women could be mommies and that priests were not allowed to marry.

I loved watching “Batman” on TV, but my favorite character was Catwoman, played by Lee Meriwether.

And a month before I was to turn six, I remember my parents and I watched one of our favorite TV shows together: “Mission Impossible.” 1393082889-0It was February of 1970, and Barry Williams of “The Brady Bunch” was the guest star. He played an Eastern European King who had to go into hiding to escape assassination… and Jim Phelps and his tireless IMF team disguised the boy king… as a girl.

I was transfixed.

Also in the 1970’s, Scooby Doo and Shaggy were running from the usual monsters, and — plot twist — they disguised themselves as women to try to escape.

In my teens, I was haunted by nightmares that my parents had left the department store without me — again, this was the 1970’s, when kids roamed wild without “helicopter parents.” My mom and dad could be rightly called “zeppelin” parents: they were always far away, moved slowly, and I have vivid memories of them exploding all over my sister and me when things went wrong.

In this recurring nightmare, the department store was locked up; I could not get out, there was no way for me to phone home, and when the workmen started coming around, I hid among the mannequins.1

The workmen are so convinced by my mannequin-like acting that they bring me into… the back room, where mannequins are disassembled and reassembled and set back out on the sales floor.

As you have no doubt guessed, my nightmare was that I was put on display… as a girl.

Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 3.13.51 AMIf you aren’t already aware that this stems from an actual experience in my acting and modeling career, I’ll ask you to catch up to the rest of the class.

And if you know that my summer job in college was to work at a department store, let me reveal to you how nervous I was that very first time I stepped into “the back room.”

I met a girl there, a cashier who came to mind today as the theme from “Flashdance” played on an 80’s radio station. That was our first date, and our last. I wanted to hold hands and watch the movie, she wanted to make out… and she was getting a vibe from me that she later described as feeling that I was “a… friend.” The reason for her pause eluded me for years, but I heard it again, and again.

I was a late bloomer. I didn’t have sex until I was a senior in college. And before that, I was frustrated at why every girl wanted me to be her friend and nothing more.

One woman was so bold as to ask me, more than once, “are you sure you’re not gay? Perhaps you were abused and you’re not ready to talk about it?”

What?

She later went around telling friends her theories. Gee, thanks. Buhbye.

Yet another said, no doubt in her mind: “I’ve figured you out: you want to be the woman!” Karen was aggressive, assertive, and never for a moment let me doubt she was in charge of our relationship. She told another female friend of mine what she thought of me, and when asked if this was true — there was no word for transgender in 1994 — I denied it. I realize now that I did that because I didn’t want to be what I was.

photoThat was the year I dressed up as a woman for Halloween, a little too convincingly, I was told. At age 30, fifteen years after modeling as a girl, I still had that uncanny ability to appear to be female.

It bothered me and intrigued me, and yet I wrote off the experience as a one-off; been there, done that. Moving on!

And now more than two decades later, I am living a life that is not a disguise or a Halloween get-up. It is my every day experience. I don’t have any “confusion” about my gender, or my expression of it.

Even in the months when I resumed a male presentation for the world to see, I maintained my legal name and gender as “Dawn”, and kept the F on my drivers license. I never even changed the picture. And within a few weeks of once again presenting as a male, I felt compelled to resume HRT, to rebalance my hormones and resume — at least part-time — living according to the gender I had somehow forgotten I truly was.

I did that until I felt strong enough to do it right, all the time.

The love of my life is one of those people who used to say “back and forth, more than anyone, and yet today this woman I married said something else, which is why I wrote this.

“You didn’t change genders three times,” she told me, her beautiful brown eyes like chocolate melting in the quiet afternoon sunlight that filled what was our bedroom.

“You changed once — no, even that’s not right. I realize now you were never really a male. Maybe physically, for awhile. But never,” pointing to her head, “up here. Where it counts.”

I think she’s right.

I’ll admit, my transition is hardly the traditional path. It’s nothing like anyone else’s that I’ve found. And being unique is both cool and lonely. But the one thing so many of us Male-to-Female transgender people have in common: being who we are means no longer being loved by those who learn we’re not who we were.

On this point, there is no “going back.”

So we go forth, into the unknown.

Ha, Me Boys

They are eight years apart and the best of friends.

They are roommates and clones in some ways, and nothing like each other in other ways.

One is strong, tall and burly — nothing like me — while his brother is short, skinny, and so strong in ways I only wished I was.

The big kid is a red head, with his mother’s eyes and wooly hair. He is 16, a math and science whiz who can both sing and play an instrument, and he is now learning to drive. And God help him, he’s learning from me (I will someday devote a blog to how I came by the nickname “Crash Ennis”). 

 The little one is getting bigger every day, his blond curls turned a light brown and straightened, an impish grin adorning an almost-always dirty face blessed with my father’s hazel eyes. He is 8, described by his third grade teacher at today’s parent-teacher conference as “the class clown,” and every bit as hyper and as intensely sensitive as I am told I was.

Make no mistake, the Brothers Ennis are very much my sons.

And I, a woman, am their father. 

Let’s allow that to sink in for a moment, while I reassure you: they saw it coming for years, they dealt with it each in their own way, and they, with their sister, have seen a therapist. They were fine with it before, they’re fine with it now… and, they are doing well in school and at home, apparently unaffected by my transition. They love having me back home, as I do.

Okay, so you’re wondering, how can a woman raise two boys to be men? Aren’t they at a disadvantage? Wouldn’t it be better for them to have a “real” father who is a man, who can teach them manly things? Who will be their male role model?

Step back — hold on: how many women in the world have had to raise sons all on their own, without a man? How many women in the history of civilization have carried the burden of bringing up a boy without the benefit of being one?

In truth, I see my transition as a bonus for them, in that my boys will benefit from my experience as a boy, as a man, as a woman, and as someone who can help them understand the difference in ways their mother might not.

I hope to show them the way to being a mensch, a path to manhood that helps them grow as decent, dependable, loving and loved individuals who respect women and understand that difference in a way their peers might never experience.

They would surely need a “real father” to raise them — and folks, that is who I am.

Transition didn’t erase my memories of seeing them enter this world nor my responsibility in helping them navigate it. I didn’t forget what it was like to grow up, to date, to live 40 years as a male. My transition, as their mother often says, is not merely mine, but theirs, too.

The extrovert who in his pre-teen years was bullied because his dad looked different is now much more introverted. Yet we still talk sports, we revel in our shared love for competitive reality television and he doesn’t hesitate to let me know he loves me, or to show it, even when he’s mortified that I exist. Is there a teenager on earth who isn’t embarrassed by his or her parents?

The singer/dancer/standup comic who cried when I came out and mercilessly mocked me for looking “weird” when I first appeared as my true gender now tells me I look pretty and holds the door for me, saying “After you, ma’am” and was the first one of the kids to declare to me on a car ride one day long ago: “Dad, you know what? I think you’re transgender.”

He also told his buddies, who insisted he now had two moms: “No, she’s my dad!”

I’m not saying this stuff doesn’t add a whole lot of extra topping on an already full plate: mom is Jewish, dad is Catholic, mom works in their school and knows all their teachers while dad works from home and always seems to be around, both grandfathers are dead and both grandmothers are out of sight in faraway Florida. Their house is tiny compared to most of their friends, they know we struggle to support them, and they are partners in our mission to live on a budget.

But underscoring all of the drama surrounding my transition was the fact all of my children never stopped loving me, and they accept me for who I am without judgment. There can be no greater gift for someone like me, and it is because their mother wants me in their lives that this is possible. I have no words to describe how grateful I am that this is the case, for it is not as common as it should be.

How will I raise two boys to be men? The same way I set out to: hopefully a little better than my dad raised me, to turn out hopefully a little better than I did. I think almost every father hopes for the same: to carry forward the good lessons and spare our children the things we wished were not part of our experience growing up.

Lest there be no doubt, I don’t wish my boys to be anything they don’t want to be, nor anything they are not. Everything seems to point toward them being healthy (thank you, God), smart, creative, heterosexual, cisgender males. That’s fine, and I’d say the same if they come to me someday and say, “Dad, I’m gay.” Or whatever. My only wish would be that someday they’d say, “Dad, I’m happy.”

My youngest often rallied to my side in the once-frequent arguments between (now) same-sex spouses, interjecting without any cue from me, “Dad can’t help being who she is. It’s not fair to treat her different, just because she’s transgender.”

And I would often reply, to him: “Life isn’t fair, buddy. But thank you.” And to she who was my wife: “Even he sees it. Please, stop.” Too often we broke that cardinal rule: never, ever fight in front of your kids.

I once asked my oldest boy, how could I have faced him, years from now, if he found out I had deferred or denied my truth to shield him from possible ramifications; how would he react if he learned I had not been true to him about who I was, as I counseled him to be true to himself? What kind of father would I be if I did not show him by example what it means to follow your dream and make it happen, even when that dream looks to others like a nightmare?

He got it. He confided in me that day how much he had concealed from me, how he hated what my transition had done to our family — meaning my marriage. He held me, hugging me, crying intensely, as he told me he loved me no matter what, and supported me as I am. And I told him I felt the same as he did about the consequences, but to not blame either his mother nor me for what was. “There is no fault in being who you are,” I told him; each of us, meaning his mother and I, finally accepted that, after a long time. And our family is better off because of that.

It remains my eternal hope that someday I can say, quoting the wise words of my friend and mentor, Jennifer Finney Boylan, “…having a father who became a woman has, in turn, helped my sons become better men.”

The title of this blog is from a lyric by our family’s favorite band. To learn more, watch and listen to this song by “Great Big Sea:” Lukey

Plan B from Inner Space

balda_alps_clouds_sunriseI’m scared.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not “terrified, freaking out, what the hell?!?” kind of scared. 91125

Not “uh oh, the fuel gauge is on E, I wasn’t paying attention and there are no gas stations for miles, only the sounds of banjos playing” kind of scared.

Not “where did I leave my baby/dog/keys/purse/eyeglasses” kind of scared (but don’t you just HATE when that happens?).

Not “the test is today and I didn’t study” kind of scared.

Not “I can’t for the life of me remember what I was supposed to do and I’m in trouble for forgetting” kind of scared.

ed3b324e35788ff7f7b246d5285ee8b8Not “Freddy Krueger is in the house and I’m hiding in a room with only one way out and no closet nor windows” kind of scared.

Not even “I’m watching the original Poseidon Adventure movie and I’m 8 years old and I’ve only seen Disney movies with princesses and talking animals” kind of scared.

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(That’s a real thing by the way. I’m talking nightmares. for weeks).

So, back to my point: I’m scared but not for the seven reasons named above or anything relatively ordinary.

I am scared because for the second time in one year, I find myself without a plan. No Plan A, nor a Plan B.

So don’t even ask me about Plan C. Ain’t happening.

As Commander Adama used to say on the rebooted Battlestar Galactica (man, I miss that show), when he wanted a very brief explanation of everything in short order and just the highlights: “SITREP!” That’s short for Situation Report.
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The fact he doesn’t even bother saying all the syllables and just barks “SITREP” always impressed me. I thought, “That is so cool. Like a BOSS! Just says two syllables and everybody stops to give the old man the low down. Cool.”
So here’s my “SITREP:”
  • I need a full-time job and a place to live (in that order, preferably).
  • My unemployment money is running out, probably right around February 14th. Valentine’s Day.
  • I have already moved five times in 20 months: first to Danbury, then back to West Hartford to convalesce after a seizure, and then back to Danbury, then to East Haven…connecticut_map
  • Then, last summer I moved to The Bronx(it’s at the top of the map; you know, “The Bronx is up and the Battery’s down!” No? Fuggedaboudit)…
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  • And now I am in Marietta, Georgia.
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  • My roommate here in Georgia, who took me in after I realized I could no longer afford a New York City apartment without a New York City salary, is moving out. Our lease is up February 14th. Once again, Valentine’s Day. And that’s fitting, because she’s in love, which is wonderful. She and her boyfriend are moving in together, and I’m very happy for them.
  • So, her moving out of this spacious two bedroom furnished apartment means I am, too. I don’t earn enough to afford the rent by myself, I didn’t find anyone to be a roommate and, frankly, it’s a little too dark here for my tastes. But it was home.
  • And now I’m not sure where to go. My dream is to go to my real home. Where my kids live, with their mom.
She’s the reason I don’t live there now, and she’s the reason I had to leave our home on May 1, 2013. I didn’t want to. But I certainly wasn’t about to kick the mother of my children to the curb, and she couldn’t live with me as I am.
And I am living as I am. There is no going back, no more than you’d ask a butterfly to wear a cocoon because you liked her the way she used to be. butterfly_PNG1056
I’m blessed to have had offers of help, a room, a couch, some money, and prayers which mean more to me than anything.
But I need to find a job. As much as I know I have to find a place to live, I must find some kind of job before the benefits run out and a bad situation gets worse.
A few hours ago, I got a text about my youngest son, age 8. He opened the fridge door and asked his mother, “where’s all the food? You need to go get some. I’m hungry!”
His mother didn’t share this to make me cry, but how could I not? My little boy is hungry and sees clearly that we don’t have what we used to. We’ve made it this far on the generosity of friends, through trips to the food bank and the occasional paychecks I collect for doing my two part-time jobs, and from her jobs as a teacher in a public school and at our Sunday school.
This cannot continue. I cannot draw money from our severely limited funds to rent another apartment, and  yet I know returning to our humble home will make life difficult for at least one of us in this strained, almost 19 year marriage. That, too, must end (once we can afford a divorce), because the butterfly must go on flapping its wings. rclrs
Last night, I dreamed I was that free, to fly where I wished. I was nothing special, and yet that made me feel so wonderful: I was welcome in the clouds among the flying things that didn’t care whether I could always fly, or had just learned how to.
I dreamed of soaring over the heads of my children, seeing them looking up at me, laughing, filled with joy, my own face grinning at their smiling faces, and knowing the love they felt for me could rise up into the sky to touch my faraway heart.
I dreamed that this was not a dream, but a wish fulfilled. One that allowed me to descend into a careful, deliberate and smooth flightpath, sticking the landing in a wonderful hangar where I could do what I do best.
With my wings, I painted on a blank, electronic canvas all sorts of fanciful ideas and songs and spiritual, soul-enriching concepts, which in turn filled a cauldron of edible emotions and fermented barrels of liquid ecstasy, as a calliope of words filled the air.
And when I awoke, it was not with a bright smile, but to face a dark truth: I do not have a safe place to land. I cannot fly where I wish, and I am not accepted in the way I wish I could be.
Most importantly, and to the point of why I am so very, very scared: I do not know what to do next. I can’t stay. I can’t go home. I don’t know where else to go if not home. I can’t get my bearings, and damnit, I need to find my bearings.
“A good producer always has a Plan B,” I often said. “And a really good producer has a Plan C, too.” I can easily hear my old voice saying those words, over and over in my 30 year career in the broadcast television news business. I was a good producer. But right now, fuggedaboudit: I don’t even have a Plan A.
What shall I do?
On Sunday, I received a priest’s blessing (I’m a recovering Irish Catholic). The week before I did penance, after making my confession. I’m all ears, God. Anytime now, Let me have it! I’m here… okay, ready! Are you there, God?
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[CRICKETS]
Sigh. Must be talking to Margaret again.
Well, for right now, my plan is to go to bed.
To sleep, perchance to dream (oooh! I so wish I could take credit for that!)  and to wake up tomorrow giving thanks for another day.
Like Bonnie Hunt, I guess I just have to take this One Day At A Time.gty_bonnie_franklin_ll_130301_wmain
And maybe, in a few days, maybe I’ll find out whether dreams really can come true.
High_Above_The_Clouds_by_AllyBear24

Remember Them, Not Me

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Today you may notice a lot of stories online and in the media about transgender people, like me.

That’s because today is TDoR: The Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day dedicated to honoring the lives of those we lost because of violence, ignorance, hatred and because living was just too hard.

Their names, and their faces, are HERE.

Look at them. Scroll through. There are so many from all around the world.

Among the general population, the average rate of attempted suicide or serious consideration of suicide is estimated to be about 2-to-3%.

But for transgender people, researchers say it’s 41%. No, not 4.1%. Forty-one.

This year I became one of the 41%, and I can thank my friends and my kids that my name will not be among those read tonight. My eight year journey is finally on the right track, and heading in the right direction… although, to be fair, this train of mine could afford to shed some of the extra baggage that’s accumulated over time. Still, these are better days for me.

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Not so much for others. In the last few months, transwomen of color have been killed at an alarming rate; one group estimates a transgender woman is murdered every 32 hours somewhere on our planet.

My children and I will stand up tonight at the Metropolitan Community Church of Hartford, and light candles in remembrance, and join others around the world in a call for an end to the hate. Find a gathering near you HERE.

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