It’s been a few months since my last blogpost, and I felt today was a good day to count my blessings.
Tonight is the 3rd night of Passover, and the day that I used to mark as Easter Sunday. My conversion to Judaism is imminent, and it makes my heart soar to be on this journey.
I don’t see it as leaving anything behind as much as accepting a truth about myself and where my spirit and soul reside, and it is in the faith of my children, my beloved, and my in-laws. And perhaps also in the legacy of my great, great grandfather Moses Ennis, a tailor in Castlebar, County Mayo, Ireland.
This week, Irish people the world over will mark the 103rd anniversary of the Easter Rising.
Because I stumbled soon after my transition became public in 2013, I feel connected to the bloody rebellion against England. Like me, it at first failed, but ultimately led to the creation of the Irish Free State, a republic that is my ancestral home, and still home to both my mother and father’s families. Which makes them my family.
It was two years ago this summer that the children and I traveled to our ancestral homeland. I look forward to returning to Ireland, perhaps in 2020. Or sooner, if President Trump continues to oppress transgender Americans as he and his administration are doing. Some folks would go to Canada, but it’s Ireland for us.
Our extended family still needs your prayers and good thoughts, as one of our loved ones is ailing. I won’t get into details because they’re not mine to share.
But other than that, life is good. No, really!
In fact, we’re all doing well. Our oldest is in his last quarter of his first year of college. Our middle child is finishing her junior year and we’re starting to look at colleges, and the youngest is a boy scout in seventh grade and studying for his bar mitzvah this fall.
Together we are doing all the planning, and this being my first one without his mom to help us, I’ll admit it’s a challenge. But we have the hall, the cake, the deejay and a theme. Next up is invitations, seating charts and of course, the actual ceremony and celebration!
I’ve been teaching journalism, advertising and public relations at the University of Hartford since January, and I’ll be back in the fall. This week, my students in my Writing for the Media class are almost at the conclusion of viewing “All The President’s Men.”
My News Reporting students are conducting interviews, asking people their thoughts on the redacted Mueller Report. Their assignment: find people on both sides of the Trump divide.
And last week, I signed a contract to be a contributor toForbes.com,starting soon. So, financially, we’re in the best shape we’ve been in since 2016. I still have huge debts, and even with three paychecks, we still struggle, but my head is at long last above water.
Yes, life is good. Our seder was fun and for the first time in the 22 years since I’ve been co-hosting seders, we had a guest, our housemate Kati. Dahlia was there but we missed having our oldest child at the table! In fact, it’s the first time in 20 years we didn’t have all three children sitting with us, and our third Seder since we lost the most important person in our lives. But life goes on.
As it must. And there will be people who will gossip and whisper about the fact that for the first time in a long time I shared photographs of our children here. Well, let them.
It’s proof we are happy, and together (sorta), and thriving. And that’s worth sharing.
This time on RiseUP With Dawn Ennis,I’m delighted to have Mary Fay in the studio. We discuss the recent election and its result, being a Republican in a progressive community, Connecticut politics and how she can be both an out lesbian and a Republican.
You might recall that last month, I interviewed her empty chair. She was a no-show!
Well, she showed up this time! And we had a great conversation, even if we didn’t agree on much. She was the first Republican to be my guest, and hopefully not the last.
Watch here, and scroll down for links mentioned in this month’s episode!
And you can find out more about our representative government here in West Hartford, Connecticut, by clicking here.I myself am an alternate representative to the town Democratic committee, representing District 1. Find out about ushere, and please join us! If you’re interested in the Republican committee, they have a website, too.
One of the issues we discussed were tolls coming to Connecticut, and although Ms. Fay told me I was wrong, you can read for yourself that a study shows they will bring $1B to our financially-strapped state. Here’s the report in the Hartford Courant.
And if you’d like to communicate with the woman who beat Ms. Fay for the 18th Legislative district seat, you’ll find Jillian Gilchrest on Twitter. Incidentally, I’ve learned Jillian still has not received a promised call from Ms. Fay conceding the election.
That’s all for our January episode of RiseUP, and I invite you to like, share and subscribe to our YouTube channel.
Also listen to the podcast I’m now doing with Chardonnay Merlot, Before The War. We discuss politics, transgender issues and news of the week.
We took some time off recently because of the holidays, the death of Chardonnay’s grandfather and my own recovery from surgery at Mount Sinai’s NY Eye and Ear Infirmary.
Despite the name of the facility, my surgeon is now performing vaginoplasty surgeries there. I suffered a complication in June from the operation he performed in May, and so my recent surgery was aimed at correcting that. All is well!
Since this is the Christmas season, I thought I’d leave you with three “gifts.” First, two articles just published by The Advocate Magazine, profiling some amazing people I met at the NYC Pride march… Kaia Naadira and Ty Defoe! Click on their names to read!
Then, some politically-inspired carols… (SCROLL DOWN)
And last, the latest video from my BFF Maia Monet in which she wrangled Santa Claus (Dev Zebra) into listening to the Christmas wishes of transgender people! (KEEP SCROLLING)
I don’t want a lot for Christmas There’s just one change we need. I don’t care about Jared or Junior
Let them spend this Christmas free.
I just want #Trump‘s mobile phone
Then let him go to Mar-A-Lago
We’ll end the shutdown, too.
All I want for Christmas
Is a COUP.
Silent night, Shutdown night Everyone’s gone, turn out the lights ‘Round the world, allies gone wild Holy shit, Trump is out of his mind Sleep with porn stars, grab pussy Sleep with porn stars, grab pussy!
We wish you a Mueller Christmas We wish you a Mueller Christmas We wish you a Mueller Christmas and a Happy Indictment Fake Newscasts we bring to you and your kin We wish you a Mueller Christmas and a Happy Indictment!
Closing bells ring, are you listening On Wall Street, stocks are slipping A terrible fright We’re crying tonight Watching our markets crashland. Gone away are our investments Here to stay is a depressment #Trump was so wrong To boast all along While our markets crashland.
Donald the Conman Was a lying racist clown With combover hair and tiny hands And pouting lips in a permanent frown Donald the President Lied ’bout the wall: Mexico won’t pay And his base was surprised when Before their eyes All those promised jobs went away.
You know Flynn and Manafort and Gates and Cohen Kellyanne and Sarah and Jared and Stephen But do you recall The most famous Trumpster of all? Ivanka the President’s Daughter Plays a very shady role And if you ever saw her You would even say she knows More than the other reindeer!
Mueller baby, slip your report under the tree for me Been an awful good girl Mueller baby, and hurry up with your Trump indictment Mueller baby, more indictments, too, for Mike Pence, too I’ll wait up for you, Robert Mueller baby, so hurry to the White House tonight
I really can’t wait (Baby Mueller’s outside) I gotta go to Mar-A-Lago (Baby Mueller’s outside) This term has been (Been hoping that it would end) So very sad (I’ve noticed your hands really are tiny like a toy) Mike Pence will start to worry (Not as much as we worry!)
Just hear breaking news alerts jingling, ring tingle tingling, too Come on, it drives me crazy my phone blows up ‘cuz of you Feels like the sky is falling and friends are crying “boo hoo!” Come on, it’s time for Mueller to finish so we can get rid of you!
‘Twas the Sunday before Christmas, when all thro’ the House, Not a congressman was stirring, not even @RepMikeBost The shutdown begun by the POTUS who dared Hoping his base soon would not care; The children nestled in cages of dread Forget freedom, just don’t let them be dead.
Well, I have a little witness I made him talk today And when the indictment’s ready Then, a video I shall play Oh, Jared, Jared, Jared What you told me I can’t say But when the indictment’s ready Then, #Trump will say, OY VEY.
Happy Holidays and here’s wishing to a fabulous 2019!
It’s taken me all week to process this, and share this news. A few days ago, on my mother’s birthday, I got the results of a genetic test following my annual mammogram (#12) and I learned I inherited the BRCA1 gene, putting me at “high risk” for cancer. Most folks have a one percent chance; the odds for me are 50/50.
Given the fact I lost my beloved Wendy, my father and my father in law to this killer, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. And it’s not like I’ve been diagnosed, not at all. I am surrounded by fighters and survivors and relatives of those who fought… so I am, at the moment, still on the sidelines… or to use a baseball analogy, I am in the bullpen, warming up.
I’m not going to just sit here; I am heeding this wake up call. The road ahead will be marked by enhanced screenings, a better diet and more exercise. I will fight cancer before it gets its cold dead hands on me. I will survive this as I’ve survived every single challenge and overcome every obstacle in my path. My children and those who love me expect nothing less.
I feel as if cancer is a stalker, or worse: a serial killer. And the cops just knocked on my door to warn me I’m a potential target.
“Get out of town while you can!” they say. So I have bid farewell to the city of bad eating habits and sedentary living. I am running for my life.
If you’ll allow me one more metaphor, I will wage a war through my writing and my social media and my media platforms. And if you have a relative in your immediate family who is either a cancer survivor or was diagnosed, I strongly encourage you to check with your insurance about getting tested. Mine was covered 100% and I’m grateful that I have this knowledge to set the course ahead to healthier living.
“Does your husband know you’re doing this?” That was one of the questions Democrat Jillian Gilchrest faced when she went door-to-door across West Hartford, Conn., in her first political campaign ever. “Yes, he does, and he supports me 100-percent,” Gilchrest told the skeptical man.
Skeptics were decidedly outnumbered in the August primary in which Gilchrest defeated a 23-year incumbent for his seat in the Connecticut State Legislature, representing her hometown in the 18th Assembly district. Andy Fleischmann’s 12-terms as a strong advocate for West Hartford and most recently as chairman of the education committee were not enough to overcome the wave of momentum Gilchrest had built both online and in person.
Watch my interview with Jillian Gilchrest by clicking the link below, and you’ll find more links and information about this month’s episode by scrolling down.
There has been a firestorm of reaction since the incident.
I added my own comments in response to Mr. McPeek’s tweeted apology:
I want to go on record saying I do not want to see you punished, either by @nlgja or your employer or by anyone, including #trans, #GNC and #NB individuals you offended. What I do wish is that instead of resigning your membership you had pledged to work with those maligned —>
(2) by you and for you to work with your supporters who seem to think the trans community (in the opinion of @SteveFriess) is a bunch of pitchfork-waving wackos and that some of us are less than (in the opinion of @HankPlante) because we blog instead of working in the MSM. –>
(3) I think you are being sincere in this statement. I am eager to both forgive and move on, but you have in your own way opened-up a hornet's nest and only together can we work to eliminate the danger. Will you work with #trans#GNC and #NB folks and your cis gay colleagues –>
(4 of 4) to resolve differences, bring about better understanding and fight transphobia? Or will you side with those who say it was just a joke, get over it, it was a one time slip of the tongue. No it wasn't. You know it wasn't. I extend my hand if you wish to work together.
Just because June is over doesn’t mean it’s the end of pride celebrations. This month on my talk show, RiseUP with Dawn Ennis,we cover a lot of ground, and if you’ll forgive me for boasting… I have a lot to boast about.
This summer has been one big event after another for me, personally. And for my eleventh episode of this series on WHC-TV and YouTube, I’ve decided to navel-gaze, and share some personal milestones:
My children and I welcomed a new addition to our happy home (NO, I am not and never will be pregnant!);
And my selection as a community hero by Heritage of Pride (organizers of the NYC Pride March), which put me front and center at the historic 49th annual event on June 24th, alongside several genuine LGBTQ icons. Click here for the link to the names of all of this year’s honorees.
Hello, imposter syndrome!
Kaia Naadira (left), Emma Gonzalez and Dawn Ennis
Yes, that woman with the crew cut standing to my right is indeed Emma Gonzalez,18, a graduate of Parkland, Fla.’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and survivor of the deadly school shooting rampage on February 14th.
We talked at length about how she’s dealt with all she’s seen, handling haters, her hairstyle and her choice for college. Her mom is a sweetheart and entrusted me to keep an eye on Emma as she walked ahead of the float we rode through Lower Manhattan.
And because I am a journalist first and foremost, I also took time before and after the march to do my job: I interviewed the woman in the center of this photo, the queer-identified gender nonconforming artist and video innovator Kaia Naadira, whose mother Tarana Burke started the #MeToo movement. I also spoke with Two Spirit performance artist Ty Defoe, right, who followed Pride with a stint on Broadway alongside transgender icon Kate Bornstein in Straight White Men.
You can read the interviews in an upcoming print issue of The Advocate Magazineas well as watch the interviews in this month’s episode, on YouTube, below. And below the episode, you’ll find links promised during the show.
My friend Kati and I also met one of my lifelong heroes, Billie Jean King, one of the grand marshals.
If you don’t know how she single-handedly changed the world — not just the world of sports — watch this Peabody Award-winning documentary about the tennis and women’s movement and lesbian legend here.
I asked King about “Battle of the Sexes,” the recent movie about her historic 1973 tennis match against Bobby Riggs, and how producers had suggested they “leave out” that she was lesbian, since at the time she was married to her ex-husband. “You can’t leave that out!” she told them.
King also had this to say, in the Portrait of a Pioneer documentary:
“Even though I get discouraged sometimes, if you’re a girl or a woman, you’re supposed to be really happy when you get the crumbs. I don’t want just the crumbs! I want the cake and the icing. Everybody deserves the cake and the icing.”
Placide, pictured above left with King, is OutRight Action International’s Caribbean-based Advisor and the Executive Director of the Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality (ECADE). She has been an advocate for HIV and human rights, youth and LGBTI issues, for over 12 years. Instrumental in organizing the first OECS regional security and human rights training for LGBT and sexual rights defenders in 2011, she made history co-coordinating the Caribbean’s first International Dialogue on Human Rights in 2012.
Lambda Legal is the oldest and largest national legal organization whose mission is to achieve the full recognition of the civil rights of the LGBTQ community and everyone living with HIV through impact litigation, education, and public policy work. In the past year alone, Lambda Legal has sued to stop the transgender military ban, defended marriage equality nationally, fought federal, state and local-level discrimination, and continued to advocate for the most vulnerable members of our community – including youth, seniors, the trans community, and communities of color.
Tyler Ford is an award-winning agender advocate, writer, and speaker, whose creative and critical writing on queer and trans identity inspires, comforts, and challenges a diverse spectrum of audiences. Ford is also the Deputy Editor at Condé Nast’s them, a next-generation LGBTQ community platform.
If you’re like my youngest son and you’d like to know more about Stonewall and the 1969 protests and riots that sparked the LGBTQ pride movement (there were several other uprisings, such as in Philadelphia and San Francisco that preceded Stonewall, incidentally), read this history of how it came to be here. If not for Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, it might never have.
I met two heroes who are living witnesses to history, riding along with me on the Community Heroes float: trans activist Victoria Cruz, and Tree Sequoia, who’s tended bar at The Stonewall Inn for decades.
For details about the Center for Transgender Surgery at Mount Sinai Hospitalin New York City, you can visit their website here, and don’t be surprised when you see my familiar mug online! The hospital hired several LGBTQ actors and trans models for their promotional material and in-house videos, me among them.
The New Haven Register reported on my surgery last month, and not for any reason but to raise awareness of the battle I waged. I fought for me, but I also don’t believe it’s fair that I should be the first and last transgender resident of Connecticut to be allowed this oppportunity.
I would never have granted the reporter the interview just to talk about me; I talked about this fight in an episode last fall and you can read about it here. The battle is not over just because I got mine.
Speaking of names in the news, I was interviewed by The New York Times for a story that was published on the same day as the NYC Pride March, about traveling while trans and people around the world who identify as LGBTQ. Or as The Times put it, L.G.B.T.Q. You can read that story here, and although it’s the first time I’ve had my name in the newspaper of record, I hope it’s not the last!
Find out about NYC Pride by clicking here, and make plans now for the 50th anniversary celebration in June 2019!
Outsports Prideis an annual event that anyone interested in sports and equality should definitely add to your calendar!
At The Advocate I earned the nickname “SportsGirl” so this was a genuine honor to be asked to moderate a panel, featuring:
Nevin Caple. The former NCAA basketball player for Farleigh-Dickinson University is a co-founder of LGBT SportSafe, which seeks to build inclusion for athletes and coaches of any sexual orientation or gender identity.
Sarah Axelson. Axelson is a former softball player at the University of Mary Washington. She is currently the Director of Advocacy for theWomen’s Sports Foundation, and:
Clare Kenny. Now campaigns manager at GLAAD and working with campus programs, Kenny is a former volleyball player at Skidmore College and build an LGBTQ inclusion program in her athletics department.
Thank you to Cyd Ziegler of Outsports for inviting me, and for being so generous as to also welcome my friend Kati Ennis, who has been my right hand, my helper, my chauffeur, cook, and co-mom while I’ve been focused on my recovery. She and her dogs have moved in with us at our home in Connecticut and we are all ever so grateful!
Together we met San Francisco 49ers coach Katie Sowers — the first woman to coach in the NFL — and Ryan O’Callaghan, the out former Patriots star. I urge you to donate to his Ryan O’Callaghan Foundation — which supports talented LGBTQ youth with college scholarships. Find out more about their important work by clicking here, Or email Ryan here:email@example.com
If you’re looking for other ways to celebrate Pride in Connecticut, go to CT Visit.com for a complete list, including New Haven and New London Pride as well as details about Hartford Capital City Pride September 7th and 8th.
If Karleigh looks familiar, she was my videographer, editor, producer and brilliant collaborator on the episode last fall we taped in Provincetown, Mass. She’s incredibly talented!
Find out more about New York City’s Museum of Sex by going to their website or visiting them at 233 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, at the corner of East 27th Street.
I heartily recommend the Magic Wand, by the way. It’s great for… massaging.
By the way, we stayed at the Evelyn Hotel just down the block, and had a lovely time! It’s steps away from the end of the new parade route and around the corner from Madison Square Park.
Did you like the “RESIST” tee with the transgender colors — from the flag created by Monica Helms — which I wore during the NYC Pride March, and the recording of this episode? Click here for a link to get your own!
I can also connect you with Nolan Custom Craft on Etsy, who produced the RiseUP With Dawn Ennis Pride 2018 stainless steel water bottle seen in this episode. I own another one, too, as you can see below!
Thanks for watching and for reading lifeafterdawn.com Your comments on the show and my blog are welcome in the comments, and that’s also how you can let me know if you’d like to be our next special correspondent.
Next month: Another candidate in Connecticut’s embattled race for attorney general! Until then… Remember to RISE UP!
My daughter and I took part in last month’s March For Our Lives on the grounds of Connecticut’s capitol. We left our “pussy hats” from the 2017 protest behind, but she did bring along a homemade sign, replete with handrawn blood-drips and the question, “Am I Next?”
There we met teachers, students, mothers and fathers and many, many little children among the thousands who marched and rallied. Also in attendance, this week’s guest on RiseUP With Dawn Ennis: Kevin Sullivan, a legend in Connecticut politics and currently the commissioner of revenue services.
Yes, he’s the Tax Man. And in this episode, he has important advice for everyone still working on your taxes (the IRS extended its deadline until midnight tonight).
Sullivan is also the former mayor of my hometown, West Hartford, a former member of the town council, a former state senator and president of the state senate. And Commissioner Sullivan also served as Connecticut’s lieutenant governor. In addition to safeguarding the state’s revenue coffers, he also serves our town as a leader in the Democratic Party. With his help and sponsorship, I am honored to serve as an alternate representative for my district on the town council. That’s one way I’m rising up.
Jacquelyn Martin / AP
Also this month, my special correspondent is a mom of six children in Alexandria, Virginia: Amanda Brewer, a military wife who never expected she’d become an advocate for transgender rights. That all changed when her daughter, came out as trans at age 11.
Amanda bravely accepted my invitation to share how she became an activist for trans rights, and I’m so grateful to her for telling her story.
You’ll find helpful links and more information below the link to this month’s show.
Wow, how about that thumbnail of me? Ouch!
Thank you in advance for watching, liking, sharing, and subscribing!
You can support families like Amanda Brewer’s by supporting the American Military Partners Association, which is actively fighting both the Pentagon and the Trump administration on behalf of trans military troops and their families.
To find out more about the March For Our Lives movement, click here.
If you’re interested in learning more about Commissioner Kevin Sullivan or the department of revenue services, click here. And you’ll find information about state tax refunds here.
If you are interested in becoming a RiseUP special correspondent, please contact me via the comments section! All you need is a camera phone and a story to tell about how you’ve taken action in your community. No experience required!
Gov. Malloy talked with me one on one about his accomplishments over his two terms in office, responded to his critics and answered questions from viewers, one of which is: why don’t you just resign now? His answer? “Walk in my shoes” before he’ll consider that viewer’s advice. Malloy told another viewer inquiring about taxes, “Wake up!”
We’ll also look at the newest candidate to enter the competitive race to replace Malloy, former West Hartford mayor Jonathan Harris.
Also in this episode, Sarah McBride explains what motivated her to work in activism and told me what she hopes readers who aren’t LGBTQ will learn from her book, now on sale.
You’ll find links to help you learn more about the people and topics we cover in this episode by scrolling down below the video link! If you enjoy what you see, please like. share and subscribe:
If you’re looking to contact Gov. Dannel Malloy, here’s the linkto send him (or, more accurately, his staff) an email. They are very responsive! And if you have a specific problem or issue you want the governor and his staff to address, click hereto contact the Constituent Services Office.
Watch the governor’s final state of the state address hereand read the transcripthere.
You can read up on Connecticut politics by clicking here for the Hartford Courant’s section devoted to political news coverage.
Find out more about Jonathan Harris’s campaign for governor of Connecticut by clicking here.
Harris, of course, faces some stiff competition later this year in the state primary:
This episode’s special correspondent is Sarah McBride, the national press secretary for Human Rights Campaign(HRC) and the first out transgender person to ever address a national political convention. Sarah is the author ofTomorrow Will Be Different,her memoir which the cover explains is about love, loss, and the fight for trans equality.
Read about Sarah and find out how you can get a copy of her book byclicking here.
Click here to watch a short excerpt from Jennifer Finney Boylan’s powerful interview with Sarah at The Strand bookstore in New York City, on March 6th.
You can also order Sarah’s book on Amazon.com by clicking here.For information about Sarah’s book tour, you’ll find a list of cities and dateshere.
If you would like more information about Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford, reform Judaism or about the celebration of Purim and other Jewish holidays, visit CBI’s new and improved website for everything you ever wanted to know, but didn’t know who to ask! And expect to hear more in upcoming episodes about CBI’s 175th anniversary celebration!
Jeffrey Tambor (left) and Dawn Ennis, May 9, 2015 at the GLAAD Media Awards NYC. Photographer: Hannah Simpson
Although what I experienced pales in comparison to what other women endured… this week I finally broke my silence with a post on Facebook. It’s been a long time coming.
The news first broke last fall that award-winning actor Jeffrey Tambor was accused of inappropriate sexual behavior by my FB friends Van Barnes, his assistant on the TV show Transparent, and actress Trace Lysette.,who has appeared on that show among others.
Trace Lysette (left) and Van Barnes
I was not among those who were stunned and surprised. Not just because this came amidst the #MeToo scandals rocking Hollywood and big business. Not just because I knew as a journalist that the accusations would need to be investigated before any action would be taken. But as a woman, I knew in my heart that there could be no mistake: the beloved, cherished and much-heralded actor who won Emmy awards, a Golden Globe, and more, had crossed the line.
Because Jeffrey Tambor had also fondled me.
He actually did it twice: Once at a star-studded gala at the Waldorf in New York City in May 2015, and a few months later at a Transparent publicity shoot in West Hollywood. I’ll share the details in a moment, but first let me address the bigger question: why didn’t I say anything? If not the first time, why not call him out the second time?
I admit, and I’m embarrassed to do so, that first time it did not even occur to me that I should. And when he touched me, even though this was in front of several other people in both instances, I remained silent, endured his touch, and just waited for it to be over.
I thought at the time, this is the shit that men do. I never said anything… because I thought this was what we did, as women. And thanks to Van, Trace, Tarana Burke, Ashley Judd, Rose McGowan, Alyssa Milano, and so many more women — and men like Anthony Rapp — I found the strength to detail my own #MeToostory here. No longer should any of us remain silent.
“Dawn Ennis!” shouted the actor with the distinct baritone voice, as he crossed the ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria the night of May 9, 2015. “There you are!” said Jeffrey Tambor, as he sidled up to me and took my hand. He was dressed in a men’s suit.
If my jaw hit the floor any harder, there would have been a crater. Here was one of Hollywood’s most well-known character actors, now the star of Amazon’s new streamed series… a straight, cisgender man who ‘friended’ me and several other transgender women on Facebook, presumably to be more “authentic” in his role of Maura Pfefferman… here was Jeffrey Tambor calling my name out in a crowd of celebrities and LGBT superstars.
Dawn Ennis selfie, May 9 2015
I was there at the invitation of my friend and mentor, Jennifer Finney Boylan, then a member of the GLAAD board of directors and a featured speaker at that night’s GLAAD Media Awards. Decked out in a voluptuous violet gown, I was a victim of a Sephora stylist’s really poor taste in brow pencil, But I managed to find the words just as Tambor’s other hand wrapped around my torso.
I could feel everyone’s eyes upon us.
“I cannot believe you recognize me from Facebook,” I told him. Perhaps all those tabloid headlines helped, too. But either way, I stood in surprise, and not just at the recognition, but at the arm that now found its way around my waist. “Oh, I’m a big fan of yours! Your stories, all you’ve been through. Let’s take a selfie!” Tambor said to me, my mind racing. What was happening?
He had found me in one of those rare moments when my iPhone was not in my hand, so a friend snapped our photo as his grip held me tight and close to his body. The cheeks of my face turned bright red as I felt my left buttcheek squeezed, in that moment before the flash of the cameraphone blinded us.
And… then he was gone. I looked around, saw several others following him through the ballroom, my friends smiling at me, happy at the recognition bestowed upon me by a big name celebrity, and I thought, there was nothing I could say about what just happened. If anyone saw it, nobody said anything. I guessed I should just chalk up another first-time experience, being the woman I am. This is what happens, trans or cisgender. I didn’t feel good about the objectification, the fondle or the forced intimacy of his body pressed against mine. I took it as a price I had to pay to be who I am.
Fast-forward to August, and to a soundstage in West Hollywood, where after many, many, many requests, the producers of Transparent invited me — the new news editor at The Advocate Magazine, and its first out transgender editor — to visit a gathering of all the stars.
Photographer’s master sheet of talent from Amazon’s Transparent, August 2015
They gathered for publicity portraits, and to be interviewed by me about the much anticipated second season. It was the kind of exclusive I had hoped for, chatting up the stars behind the scenes, getting to know them and how their characters were about to evolve.
Melora Hardin (left) and Gaby Hoffman
Although I only chatted briefly with Amy Landecker, Melora Hardin and literally bumped into Gaby Hoffman as I helped her wheel her baby stroller in the front door, Carrie Brownstein, Jay Duplass, Alexandra Billings and the incredible Judith Light spent about 15 to 20 minutes each, examining the work they were doing and how it relates to their LGBT audience, particularly transgender women like me. In addition,
Jay Duplass (left) and Dawn Ennis
Carrie talked about how different this role was from her work on Portlandia; Jay and I laughed about his portrayal of a truly selfish and immature manchild, and the lessons to be learned from playing Josh. Judith and I discussed our love of Broadway, and fulfilling the part of mother figure even off-camera, my worries for my then-ailing wife. And Alexandra, who is trans, shared how being misgendered and being mistreated by cisgender men empowered her instead of debilitating her, and challenged her to persevere.
Dawn Ennis (left) and Judith Light
That is when I got word that it was time to leave, and that I would not be seeing Mr. Tambor.
“Okay,” I said. “We’ve already met,” and besides, I had more than enough material for my readers. I figured what Alexandra and Melora had to say about their characters and their own authentic identities would be of more interest than yet another interview with the star of the show, which had pretty much been done to death.
Alexandra Billings (left) and Dawn Ennis
I was actually leaving the soundstage, when who should come around the bend but Tambor himself, leading an entourage of hair and makeup people. The biggest difference between May and August was he was wearing his wig, fake nails, makeup and a muumuu instead of the fancy man’s suit I’d seen him in before.
Jeffrey Tambor as Maura on Amazon’s Transparent
Van, his “Girl Friday,” had exchanged emails with me, but I really didn’t get much of a chance to talk with her on this busy day.
Yet once again, without me needing to be introduced or get his attention, her boss called out my name. “Dawn Ennis!” he bellowed.
I’m someone who isn’t starstruck meeting leaders and presidents, nor actors and celebrities of all kinds, since I myself was a child actor and model beginning at the age of four. But there was no denying I was again flattered by the fact that Tambor acted as if he knew me — and acted is probably the most important word in that sentence. Given that he grabbed my butt at the GLAAD Awards, maybe he felt he did know me, in his own way.
The memory was fresh, so when he walked up to me, I used both hands to grasp his. And that worked, for a moment.
“Good to see you again, Jeffrey. Thank you for what you do to represent girls like me,” I told him, sincerely. He let go of my hands, clasped my face in both hands, and then used them to firmly grasp my shoulders and pull me in for a tighter than expected hug.
“No, thank you!” Tambor replied, effusively. “Thank you, for all that it is that you do. Thank you. It’s for you and for everyone like you that I do this,” he said.
All the stars had given me a hug of one kind or another. All were meeting me for the first time. Not Tambor. And I thought I was prepared.
As I started to pull my body back, away from his embrace, I could not help but feel his long arms slide down from my shoulders… and his hands find their way straight to my rear end.
“Okay, well, go break a leg,” I muttered as I abruptly took a step back. Not sure if anyone noticed the spring in my step from that double grab… but once again, as inappropriate as it was, I did not exclaim or confront him or ask if anyone saw what he did. If they did, I suspect it probably wouldn’t have been news to anyone who worked closely with him. Just another day, another buttocks.
I thanked my hosts and hightailed it off the soundstage, walking my New York walk of big fast strides to get to the safe harbor of my car.
I told one person, and only one person, and that was my wife, before she died. We had separated since my transition two years earlier, and stayed separated after I resumed my transition, She was intent on eventually divorcing me, and in spite of everything, I still loved her… but we had found a way forward as friends.
Hearing me tell her how a famous actor had treated me like any other woman surely couldn’t have been easy, and neither was hearing her tell me what so many cisgender women say when this kind of thing happens to trans women (and if I’m not being clear, we absolutely HATE hearing this):
“Welcome to womanhood.”
Except in my case, I didn’t feel particularly welcome. Being told this makes most trans women I know feel “othered,” as if we are mere pledges to the sorority and not yet really women. Now, the truth is, I had certainly pinched my wife’s butt more than once, but I was living as a male and we were married almost 20 years. I could not get my mind around the idea that a man felt comfortable groping a woman in that way, or worse.
But even then, I resisted revealing these particular events. Truth is, they were still too fresh, and the backlash against the movement was virulent. I’ve had more than my fair share of tabloid attention in the last five years, and I’m not seeking any more. I do this now because I can no longer deny it happened, and happened again, and because Jeffrey Tambor continues to deny the accusations against him, insisting he was treated unfairly and blames a “toxic politicized atmosphere.”
No, sir: as Van and Trace have said more eloquently than I ever can, you have no one to blame but yourself. I consider myself lucky to have escaped your clutches twice with minimal scarring. And I’ve told you so.
All this just makes me wonder who else has not yet told their Jeffrey Tambor story.
I wish it had not taken me so long. I wish this was something no woman ever had to do. But it is in the telling that we heal, we grow, and we show that we will not be silenced. Never again.
I send my eternal praise and gratitude to Van Barnes and Trace Lysette and Anthony Rapp for inspiring me with their bravery and courage. As Van said, may it be easier for the next one.
Tonight I will speak of death, and mourn those who lost their lives to hate in 2017. At this annual gathering in Hartford, not far from my home, we will read the names of each transgender individual killed because of who they were, and light a candle in their memory, an action that will be repeated around the world.
But as the transgender community and our allies take time to honor those taken from us on this Transgender Day of Remembrance (more about this below), I am proud to share with you a very special episode ofRiseUP With Dawn Ennis which is timed to coincide with this solemn occasion as well as #TransAwarenessWeek. Scroll down for the link to the YouTube video.
This month’s episode is special for a number of reasons.
First, we shot it entirely on location in the beautiful Cape Cod community of Provincetown, Massachusetts.
We traveled there for last month’s Fantasia Fair, now in its 43rd year.
The weeklong event celebrated gender diversity feature speakers, singers, comedians, fashion shows and provided attendees a chance to make new friends, to shop and be social, and to be the genuine person some people feel they cannot be at home, at work, and/or with their family. And some people bring their spouses so they can show them this side of themselves. You can get answers to the frequently asked questions about the fair by clicking here.
For the first time in the eight months of doing this show, I worked with a collaborator for this episode: Chardonnay Merlot served as videographer, editor, interviewee, as well as interviewer in my absence, once I left P-Town to attend to my children. Last year, the kiddos accompanied me, but given the timing I opted to run up and back from CT.
My many thanks to Chardonnay for doing such great work, and my sincere congrats on the fair scholarship she received to perform the videography duties at which she excels.
“Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR) is a vehicle for the Gender Spectrum to unify against the violence, oppressive and discriminatory behavior against Transgender, Intersex, Gender Non-Conforming and Non-Binary, Gender Fluid, Two Spirit people and unconventional Gender Spectrum people. This event is a vehicle for all to provide education and awareness. We use this event to connect to this community to help them live authentic and free from violence, addressing oppressive disparities within the health care field, HIV infection and prevention, financial independence and economic prosperity, homelessness, youth, suicide, policy reform, violence and other aspects in life that obstruct authentic living.”
And be sure to not miss my interview with Lorelei Erisis,standup comic, improv, actor, activist and extrovert who is among the loveliest and kindest human beings I know. [Lorelei, please remember to send the check to my home, not the TV station].
Don’t believe me? As she suggests, just Google her name and you’ll see for yourself.
As promised, here’s the link to this month’s episode on YouTube. You can also check it out at 9pm on WHC-TV Channel 5 beginning Wednesday, November 22nd. WHC-TV is a community public access station available only in West Hartford, Connecticut. Scroll down for more links and information!
The list of speakers at this year’s Fantasia Fair was greater than we could show in a single episode, including retired fire captain and GLAAD board member Lana Moore, Lambda Legal’s transgender rights project director M. Dru Levasseur, transgender youth advocate and author Tony Ferraiolo, activist Monica Perez, Nick Adams of GLAAD, and so many more!
During our time in P-Town, we spoke to so many folks, trans men as well as women, spouses, allies and locals who welcomed the attendees with open arms. Thank you to everyone who took a moment to share their stories!
One of them was Heather Leigh, who runs a support group that’s more like a party in New Haven, Connecticut.
It’s called Diva Social and it’s billed as a monthly, friendly, safe and welcoming event for the transgender, crossdressing and queer segments of the LGBTQ community. Contact Heather for more information about the next event in mid-December by clicking here.
What’s the difference between a trans woman and a crossdresser? There are two famous responses, each aimed at eliciting laughter: the first is that a crossdresser arrives home from work and cannot wait to put on a bra… and a trans woman cannot wait to take hers off. The second answer to the question, “what’s the difference between a crossdresser and a trans woman,” is… about three years.
“While anyone may wear clothes associated with a different sex, the term cross-dresser is typically used to refer to men who occasionally wear clothes, makeup, and accessories culturally associated with women. Those men typically identify as heterosexual. This activity is a form of gender expression and not done for entertainment purposes. Cross-dressers do not wish to permanently change their sex or live full-time as women. Replaces the term ‘transvestite’.”
If you’re interested in a great time in Provincetown, consider staying, dining or booking your next event at the Crown and Anchor, where many of the fair events were held, and The Boatslip Resort where many of my friends stayed; even without being their guest, I myself received a warm welcome and generous help from the staff.
Our thanks to the fine folks at the Pilgrim Monument for welcoming the RiseUP team and all the fairgoers and providing us with an incredible space to conduct some of our interviews.
The historic landmark tower and museum is a real treat for all ages, staffed by knowledgeable guides, featuring fascinating exhibits and an amazing view from atop the tower that is well worth the hike!
That’s all for this month. I’ll be back next month with a new episode of RiseUp and I certainly hope to update the blog well before then! Send me your comments here or via Facebook, Instagram or Twitter@riseupwithdawn
Thanks for watching, sharing, subscribing and of course, reading! Happy Thanksgiving!
“I am a leaf on the wind. Watch how I soar,” is a quote from Serenity, the 2009 film based on the TV series, Firefly. And I drew great inspiration from it this month as I prepared to record the latest episode of my talk show.
For those who are unfamiliar, the movie reunited the cast of Joss Whedon’s much-beloved but short-lived Fox scifi western, which ran for only 14 episodes in 2002.
Hoban “Wash” Washburne was the pilot of the Firefly-class spaceship, Serenity. I found a post by blogger MyGeekWisdom that deciphered the meaning of Washburne’s inspiring words, as he summoned the courage to fly against seemingly impossible odds.
“It’s incredibly easy to psyche ourselves out when under pressure. It’s easy to talk ourselves out of doing, of even attempting to perform complicated tasks. In order to actually do them, confidence is key. We have to believe in ourselves whenever we do anything. Whether it be relatively mundane activities or extremely complex processes, we have to believe in ourselves that we can actually do it.”
And this month on RiseUP With Dawn Ennis, I summoned my courage to do something I’d never before attempted: I flew solo, recording an entire 30-minute show without a guest, without a script, covering the tragic news of the past week and addressing some of the most challenging times of my life. It’s a packed half-hour, and I relished the challenge.
Scroll down, and you’ll find all the links I mentioned in this episode, as well as links to some prior blogposts, addressing important issues raised in our program this month. Let me know your thoughts in the comments, including criticism if you feel it’s warranted. I went out on a limb this time, and I’m more than willing to learn from my mistakes.
It’s painful, but I’ve learned more from those, than from my successes. Here’s the show:
And now, the links, along with other helpful information:
To help victims of Hurricane Harvey, click here,and click hereto help victims of Hurricane Irma. Those links will connect you with Public Good, which will direct you to vetted charities that are IRS-verified nonprofit organizations. You can donate money, time and show your support online.
Blood donation agencies are urging people living outside of Texas, Louisiana, Florida and Georgia to visit their local blood center and donate blood as soon as possible. All blood types are needed, but there is an urgent need for platelet donations, as well as O negative blood.
The Hispanic Federation is organizing support for the victims in Puerto Rico online at its Unidos portal, where 100% of your gift goes to the Puerto Rico Hurricane Relief Fund.
Click hereto make an online donation. And here are several other ways you can help:
Donate Via Text – Compose a new text message for number 41444. Type UNIDOS (space) YOUR AMOUNT (space) and YOUR NAME. (For example: Unidos 100 John Doe) Then press “send” and click on the link to complete your donation.
Donate In Person – Visit any Popular Community Bank branch. Account name: Hurricane Relief Effort. Checking account number: 6810893500.
Donate By Check – Make your check payable to: Hispanic Federation, in the memo line, write Hurricane Relief Fund and mail to: Unidos Disaster Relief Fund, c/o Hispanic Federation, 55 Exchange Place, 5th Floor, New York, NY 10005
Donate Goods and Your Time – You can also support the Puerto Rican relief efforts by donating essential goods and volunteer through efforts coordinated by the New York City and State governments:
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has launched an effort to collect critically-needed items, such as diapers, baby food, and first aid supplies. To find locations, clickhere.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has also launched the Empire State Relief and Recovery Effort for Puerto Rico to collect donations and volunteer. To find locations, click here.
Nearly 85 percent of the island is still without power, which means millions of people remain without electricity weeks after the storm, says José H. Román Morales, president of Puerto Rico’s Energy Commission, which regulates the island’s electric power authority. And clean water remains a precious commodity, available to only one-third of the island; another factor that has doctors and health experts fearful of an epidemic outbreak spread by mosquitos.
Public Good also provides a portal if you want to help victims of the latest earthquake to strike Mexico. Click here for more information and to donate money.
The victims of the massacre in Las Vegas will benefit from a GoFundMe account set up by Steve Sisolak, Chair of the Clark County Commission, to raise money for those shot and their families. In the first three days, it raised more than $9 million and as this is published the victims fund stands five million dollars short of its goal. Click herefor more information and to donate.
I’ve invited you to tweet your solution to the epidemic of gun violence in the U.S. But before you do, read this compelling articlefrom Forbes — by a Republican — titled Ten Lies That Distort the Gun Control Debate.
As for the National Anthem protests, there are new developments: the NFL reportedly changed the rulebook, now requiring all players to be on the field and standing for the Star Spangled Banner. Team owners plan to meet to discuss this and an empty threat from President Trump to take away tax breaks to the NFL… which the league already gave up in 2015.
Interestingly, the NAACP called a pledge by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, to bench players who take a knee during the national anthem, “a public commitment by an NFL owner to violate his players’ Constitutional right to free speech.” A prominent Texas politician of color, Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price, went a step further in denouncing Jones, calling his order to players an ultimatum “that says, ‘Slaves, obey your master.'”
A different view on this issue comes from Michael Caputo, a longtime Republican who served as a senior adviser to President Trump’s 2016 campaign and the presidential campaigns of Ronald Reagan, Jack Kemp and George H.W. Bush. I hope you’ll consider his perspective, in support of his beloved Buffalo Bills and his fellow veterans and their families, which you can read via CNN by clicking here.
As you may have noticed, I heard from a number of guys named “John.” Let me know your thoughts by tweeting me @riseupwithdawn.
I talked a little about detransition in this episode, and my personal experience. My good friend Brynn Tannehill wrote one of the most forceful arguments to attack the myths surrounding this controversial topic a year after my experience, and it holds up well. Click here to read the article in HuffPost, and here to find more of Brynn’s amazing writing.
And you can read more about my personal experience here on lifefterdawn, in this blogpost from last year.
If you have questions about trans people, there are three excellent resources to consider. Click herefor a quick, handy guide from Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and click here for an in-depth Q&A from the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE). GLAAD put together a list of FAQs as well, which you’ll find here.
What does gender confirmation surgery involve? Click hereto read WebMD’s very simple explanation about the various operations that some transgender people undergo as part of their transition. About one-third of transgender Americans do have GCS, but most never take this step; it is fraught with potential complications, it’s expensive if your insurance doesn’t cover it, or your provider won’t accept your insurance, and the surgery requires an intense amount of recovery time and aftercare. In my personal opinion, all that is worth it, but I respect those who either choose to live without it or cannot have it for financial, health or other personal reasons. As for the corrective work I’m looking forward to having done, that’s nobody’s business but mine.
To find out more about WPATH, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, click here for that organization’s website. You can click here to read about the Standards of Care every respected surgeon and health care professional is expected to follow, and you can find out if your provider is a member byclicking here.
Why is it important that your surgeon be a member of WPATH? Let’s take a more mundane example than what some consider the most important operation of their life.
Let’s say your car desperately needs new brakes. Brakes make the difference between you and your loved ones traveling at a high rate of speed, and all of you crashing into something at a high rate of speed. Bobby’s Brakes wants $900 to replace yours, and that’s more than you have. So, you approach Mike the Mechanic on his lunch break, and slip him $450 cash to do it after work. After all, Mike knows how to install brakes, and for him, it’s quick, easy money.
But what happens if Mike makes a mistake? Or if he cuts corners to get home in time to watch the latest streaming episode of Star Trek: Discovery? Mike doesn’t give you a warranty, there is no money-back guarantee, no nothing. So, instead, you shell out the $900 for peace of mind, knowing Bobby stands behind every set of brakes he installs.
If something goes wrong, there are consumer resources you can use to make sure Bobby fixes it. Mike, meanwhile, took your $450 in cash and is on his way to the casino.
And who would want to cut corners on the surgery that’s going to change their life? My advice: choose wisely, and don’t ever accept less than the best for your health care needs.
Click here for the official link to the website of Dr. Stanton Honig of Yale New Haven Hospital, the urologist who is, at the moment, the only surgeon Connecticut’s state-run health care system has authorized to perform surgeries on transgender patients. Be sure to read the reviews his patients left on RateMDs.com, Vitals.com, and Healthgrades.com
Or, if you’re interested in my personal opinion: don’t bother.
You can find links to hundreds of other qualified surgeons here. A warning: this list contains doctors I would never, ever recommend, not even to my worst enemy. As in all things, do your homework, ask around. And avoid any doctor who offers a surgical consultation over the phone. I mean, really? Again, would you expect your mechanic to accurately diagnose what your car needs over the phone, sight unseen? No, you would not.
You can read an article I wrote about the potential complications that can arise during gender confirmation surgery, which is also known as sex reassignment surgery, by clicking here.
If you’re looking for more information about your right to health care, click here.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has gutted healthcare.gov since the new administration took office, but you can see what’s left by clicking here. And HRC has an online resource about health care protections for LGBT folks that you can visit by clicking here.
How about those melons? This photo and a few others are from a promotional shoot for Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, to show off their center for transgender patients. The shoot was in March, when I was a redhead, before my recent breast surgery, and dozens of pounds ago.
If you find yourself the victim of bullying online, don’t allow anyone to victimize you that way. Report them, block them, or send them a strong message if you feel you can resolve whatever issue stands between you. But don’t allow anyone to treat you as “less than.” You have every right to not be bothered. Sometimes, switching off, logging out, walking away is the best solution rather than engaging.
Remember: what a bully wants most of all, whether it’s online or face to face, is to see you hurting. I’ve learned that “hurt people hurt people,” and the best way to stop a bully with their own issues is to not give them any ammunition or fuel to continue their assault on you. I know it stings. But resist fighting a fool, lest anyone not be able to tell the difference. In the meantime, click here for resources to combat bullying from the fine folks at GLAAD.
Spirit Day on October 19th is a great opportunity to show you’re willing to stand up against bullying, by wearing purple and spreading the message on social media. For details, click here.
You can read the latest on Kylie Perez, the 14-year-old trans girl assaulted in her New Jersey school here.
The mom of Missouri trans teen Ally Steinfeld spoke out following the gruesome murder of her 17-year-old daughter. Click here for that story, and read why Missouri law prevents prosecutors from pursuing hate crime charges by clicking here.
You can read more about the gender non-conforming student from Illinois who took his life, Elijah DePue, by reading his obituary here.
And if you wish, you can reach out to his mom and to his dad to send your thoughts through Facebook. Lacy DePue is here, Zachary DePue is here.
I’ve written here about the two times I tried to take my life. I called that post “The Choice” because I faced a decision that appeared to leave me only one option: to die. Thankfully, other options presented themselves, namely, to live. My children and I are so happy that’s how it worked out.
I invite you to read about that in greater detail by clicking here.
Find out more about my BFF Maia Monet, who was there for me when I needed her most, by visiting her YouTube channel. Like, share and subscribe by clicking here! And learn what a gift it is to read the works of my dear friend and mentor, Jennifer Finney Boylan, by visiting her website, which you’ll find here. I’m who I am today, and alive, thanks to these women, and because of the love of my children.
If you are a trans or gender-nonconforming person considering suicide, Trans Lifeline can be reached at 1-877-565-8860. In Canada, dial 1-877-330-6366. Click here for other information about this organization, and click here to make a donation.
LGBT youth (ages 24 and younger) can reach the Trevor Project Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386. Don’t feel like calling? The Trevor Project also offers online chat and text. Find out more by clicking here. You can help save lives by clicking hereto donate.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 is available 24 hours a day to people of all ages and identities. The Nacional de Prevención del Suicidio es 1-888-628-9454. A line is also set up for the deaf and hard of hearing at 1-800-799-4889. Veterans can call 1-800-273-8255 to speak to someone who understands their particular needs. And for those dealing with the aftermath of any disaster, call 1-800-985-5990.
If you’re still not confident any of these fine organizations can help you, reach out to me. I’ve been there, and I’ll do my best to guide you. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or in the comments below, or send me a tweet at @riseupwithdawn.
Please note:I’m sorry, but I do not accept unsolicited phone calls, or video calls via Facebook, FaceTime or any other means. Thanks in advance for respecting my privacy.
Thank you so much for reading my blog and for watching the latest episode of RiseUP. Leave me a comment here or on Facebook or on Twitter. And in just a few weeks, I’ll be back with a new episode recorded on location in Provincetown, Mass. at the annual Fantasia Fair. Until then, remember the words of Bruce Springsteen: “C’mon, Rise Up!”
To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, “Oh, the places you’ll go… mad… on the internet.” If you’re like me, you know Social Media can be not so social, whether it’s because of the knock-down, drag-out debates over politics, religion, civil rights, race, heritage, privilege or identity, or all of these divisive issues. It’s a no-win scenario, where everyone believes the other guy is the troll.
So aside from blocking those who enrage us, or abandoning the online world altogether, what can you do?
Meet David Ryan Polgar, a “tech ethicist” — he says that means he explores the “ethical legal, and emotional impact of social media and tech” — and he is my guest on this month’s episode of RiseUP With Dawn Ennis. Polgar joined me in the studio earlier this summer to talk about online solutions, best practices and offer insight into why the internet can so quickly turn into the angernet.
In addition to television appearances, Polgar writes for BigThink. One column focused on something called Cunningham’s Law, which holds that “the best way to find the right answer online is to post something wrong and then get corrected.”
You can follow Polgar on Twitter and network with him on LinkedIn, or catch him on stage in New York City doing improv with comedian Joe Leonardo in a series of shows called Funny as Tech. Their act is aimed at unpacking “our absurd present and uncertain future.”
Here’s your link to this episode of RiseUP (and what’s got me angry is that someone not me misspelled the word “not” in the title “Not So Social Media,” and I can’t do anything about it! But I will survive). Please scroll down to learn about my latest special correspondent, Kristen Browde.
Kristen, who also goes by Chrissie, is a transgender woman living in Chappaqua, N.Y., a neighbor of Hillary and Bill Clinton, a powerhouse attorney and a former television journalist who is now running for political office. She and I go way back. I mean, waaaay back.
Our paths first crossed in the 1990s, at Fox5, WNYW-TV in New York City. That was the first TV station where I worked as a writer and learned how to be a copy editor and producer. Later that decade and into the new millennium, we worked more closely across town (literally) at CBS, where she was a network correspondent for TV and radio and I worked at “The Deuce,” Channel 2, WCBS-TV, which was at times called 2News, CBS2, CBS2NY, The CBS2 Information Center and my favorite, News2… as in, “If it’s News2 you, it’s news to us!” That name, umm, didn’t last very long.
The reason I mention all those names is because neither Browde nor myself stuck by our original birth names either. Neither one of us knew the other was hiding a secret two decades ago. We laugh sometimes thinking what it might have been like if either one of us had confided in the other, or if we had come out all those years ago.
I don’t mind posting pre-transition photos of myself but I’ve opted to not share them of Chrissie here, because to me, that would be the same as me posting a bare-butt picture of her as a baby. Sure, it’s still her, but it’s hardly representative of who she is today.
My favorite story about our friendship is that we connected online in October 2015, two and a half years after I came out, and seven months before she did. And until the day she came out, I somehow did not catch on that Chrissie Browde had been that “guy” I worked with at Fox5 and CBS! Duh.
To say I was floored would be an understatement. And we had a great laugh about it when we finally met face to face as our authentic selves one year ago this month.
My only defense in not recognizing that this Browde was that Browde is that I don’t waste my energy trying to find out who trans people were “before” they found themselves. It’s of no value to me, and I didn’t even give it a thought, even when she told me we had worked at the same places. That, or I am just dumb. But the lesson here is, there is absolutely no reason to ever ask a trans person their “real name.” Because Kristen Browde is her real name.
And she is running for town supervisor in New Castle, N.Y., a northern suburb of New York City. She and two other candidates are running under the banner Stronger New Castle, and have the backing of three political parties including the Democratic majority.
Browde isn’t the first transgender political candidate in New York — that honor goes to our friend and living legend Melissa Sklarz, who was the first out trans candidate elected in the state. But Browde is the first to have the backing of the state Democratic party for a townwide office, and if she wins, will be New York State’s first-ever transgender Town Supervisor.
My daughter is home from a lovely two nights with her cousins, and their moms. They visited a lake, went hiking, did girl stuff and visited a local art studio where they volunteered their time to craft beautiful handmade clay pendants, like the one above.
Each one says, “Be Kind.” That is the motto of Ben’s Bells, whose mission as stated on its website is “to inspire, educate, and motivate people to realize the impact of intentional kindness, and to empower individuals to act according to that awareness, thereby strengthening ourselves, our relationships and our communities.”
“Recent research demonstrates that kindness benefits our physical and mental health, and that recognizing kindness in others increases a person’s happiness and satisfaction. But just as solving a calculus problem requires advanced math skills, the challenges of daily life require advanced kindness skills. By focusing on kindness and being intentional in our personal interactions, we can improve our ability to connect. The mission of Ben’s Bells is to inspire individuals and communities to engage in kindness education and practice.” — from the Ben’s Bells website.
We have a windchime from Ben’s Bells on our front door, which was a Hanukkah gift from one of my late wife’s cousins, to my children. I’m grateful for this gift, and for how much my wife’s family loves my children.
These chimes and jewelry and other items are a great idea, and you can find out more about Ben’s Bells by clicking here.
I’ve decided I’m going to order one of the “Be Kind” pendants for myself, since the cousins didn’t invite me to take part in their girls-only adventure, something they surely would have done for my beloved.
I won’t lay guilt on my daughter for not thinking to get me one, as this was a gift from her mom’s cousins, and it would have been inappropriate for her to ask. Instead, she did bring home a second one to give to anyone she comes across who acts with kindness. I love this idea!
We discussed who might be worthy candidates, and although I was flattered that she asked me if I’d like this one, I insisted that she give her spare pendant to someone else, perhaps her girlfriend.
To me, the message here is ultimately ironic. “Be kind.” Wow.
I was told earlier this year by my former in laws that they now consider me “divorced” from them, given that one year had passed since the death of my wife, and thus they were done pretending to be kind to me. They did so with the explanation that, since she had planned to divorce me, but her lawyer postponed the proceeding, and so it was not finalized before her death, that they considered us “divorced in every way — except for legally.” Um, yeah, that’s sorta the most important part of that sentence.
Soon after, I learned from my mother-in-law that she and “Wendy’s family” had taken steps to take custody of my children away from me in those early days following her passing (but they stopped, because — in her words — “it’s really hard to take children away from a custodial parent, and it’s very expensive.” Also, I said, it was against what Wendy herself wanted and had put in writing to avoid exactly that from happening).
“Be kind” indeed. They say “of course this is not about you being transgender.” They defend their rejection of me as being about how I “treated Wendy.”
Do they mean how I treated her when she called me “the bitch who killed her husband,” and told me the very sight of my feminized body filled her with disgust?
I moved out at her demand, rather than put out the mother of my children. I guess that’s how I mistreated her?
Maybe when I took a job across the country to help support her and our kids? Or when I quit that job and moved back the day she died, instead of uprooting them to Los Angeles?
Or when I badgered her to see a doctor about her stomach pains in November 2014, and for long after, until eight months later, she finally did and was diagnosed with stage four cancer?
Or when, upon learning that diagnosis and repeatedly after, I offered to quit my job in L.A. and move home?
Do they mean when I called her doctor behind her back on a Friday night so he would urge her to go to the ER? She had refused and she said she’d call him after the three-day weekend, then, a few days later, wound up in shock and died in intensive care? Had I treated her the way she wanted to be treated, she’d no doubt have died at home before the weekend ended.
How about when she screamed “There’s a man in the ladies room!” at our town pool because I was passing through, fully-clothed?
When she tore my wig from my head in anger one night before I left for work, and left a permanent scar down the side of my face that I still see every single day?
When she unexpectedly withdrew all the money from our joint bank account, leaving me with nothing, and “took over responsibility” for the utilities and mortgage — and then for the first time in the dozen years we lived in our house, the lights went out, the cable got turned off and the mortgage company filed for foreclosure?
Maybe it was when I paid-up all those utility bills and reached an agreement with the mortgage company to save our home?
It must be my fault that the house was infested with mice and sorely lacking in everyday maintenance, while I was 3,000 miles away. Was that my fault, too?
And when she borrowed money from family, it’s of course my fault that I did not repay those loans (which were at the time considered gifts, but magically turned into loans after her passing).
Lastly, was it the day I agreed to bind my breasts and present as “Don” one more day for our daughter’s bat mitzvah, so she could have the illusion of me as her husband once more? It broke my heart to keep my word, but it made her happy, and so I did. Two days later, the police were at my house because I went back to living authentically and she was furious.
I mean, I get it: she needed someone to hate for wrecking our marriage, for dashing our dreams of growing old together and for the cancer that ravaged her body. And no, I wasn’t perfect or blameless. I wish I had done more to help her, if she’d have let me. Instead, she put all that anger on me, and told her family everything was my fault.
So, I’m the villain. But of course, it’s not because I’m trans.
My children’s response to me being excluded from the family Passover Seder, and disinvited from a cousin’s daughter’s Bat Mitzvah, was to send a message, one that their mother had said to her cousins, after I transitioned: “We are a family and wherever one of us is not welcome, none of us will attend.” I love my kids. They are the very best of their mother and father, and I am doing my damndest to be a loving, supportive although single parent. I am a dad who does the job of mom. It’s not easy. It’s without doubt the toughest job I’ve ever loved.
Despite this standoff between us and “Wendy’s family” — I’ve told them, we are the ones who really are Wendy’s family — I firmly believe it’s important for the children to keep in touch with their cousins and their mom’s relatives. Although I set all their cell phone numbers in my contacts to “Do Not Disturb,” I encouraged the kids to call their grandmother often and to text with the cousins. I’m not the one trying to keep them from seeing their relatives; that’s on them, for not respecting their mother’s wishes, and mine.
I encourage them daily to “be kind.”
So after I suggested this sleepover, and they accepted, imagine my discouragement when one of the cousins asked if instead of having me drive my daughter down to meet them, that I would instead send my oldest, who is 18 and a licensed driver. He also works two jobs and doesn’t really need to add a road trip of at least one hour each way to his day. In addition, he’s still very angry over my exclusion and decided on his own to stop communicating with them. I told him I understood his reasoning but strongly urged him to reach out to them when he feels comfortable doing so. Thus far, he hasn’t. So I’m not going to give them the excuse not to face me and in doing so impose an extra burden on my firstborn.
We agreed on a date and time to meet, which was not only generous of them but allowed them to keep me from entering their house. But then, the cousin tried once more to do an end run around my kids’ firm insistence that where I was not welcome, we would not go. It’s all of us or none of us, with the exception being a sleepover. I felt that was different from a family gathering.
I was stunned when the cousin emailed again, asking once again to turn the sleepover into a family gathering after all, ignoring what I had already made clear, that my oldest had to work and had no desire to see them or even text with them.
“I will text and see if he would like to (if he is not working) come with his little brother on Friday to pick up his sister and hang by the pool for a little.”
Really? What part of “my children don’t want me excluded” is hard to comprehend?
When does the urge to “be kind” kick in?
The cousin concluded her email with a response to my plea, promising to not bring up the issue of my exclusion with my daughter, given this is a matter for adults. I asked that we at least be civil to one another if they cannot see fit to treat me as a member of the family. She agreed and then added one, clear-cut, unkind comment:
“That said, our position has not changed.”
The “position” she speaks of is one in which they treat me, not as the widow of their cousin, or the single parent of our children, but as a divorcée to be kept at a distance; a facilitator to provide them with access to “Wendy’s children.”
What surprises me about that is that even if they want to label me as such, that does not remove me from my role as the kids’ parent! I’m still their dad, even as a woman, and because of the gender roles our society places on us, I have learned to embrace being a mom. I don’t dare claim to be their “mom,” a title we hold dear out of respect for their mother. But my kids have seen how I have grown into this role and how much I enjoy it. And, probably to the in laws’ chagrin, I am good at it, too.
I am proud to boast that my children are resilient, strong, score at the top of their class, have friendships with good, upstanding children and are loving to just about everyone. Even people who are mean to me. And most of all, these kids have learned from the example their parents have set: my children are kind.
I think the same of my in laws’ children. But I wonder what lesson my wife’s cousins are teaching them when they treat me this way? Someday, my children will tell their children about these times, and I am certain that the shame their parents should feel will instead be inherited by these innocent kids.
All I can do is continue to do as I say and as I do, to be kind, even to those who are not. And I pray for their hearts to be turned. Which reminds me of the Irish proverb:
The other widow sat across from me as our kids played in another room, sharing stories of coping everyday with loss, and life as it is.
“Life is what happens when you make other plans,” we said in unison, laughing at our shared experience of grief mixed with good times.
Her life, at least, has more hills than valleys now: she’s remarried, and working full-time. My own remains a struggle, ever since coming out, but it’s one I make a constant effort to turn around.
She told me that when times got tough after losing the love of her life, she wrote a letter to the Universe, spelling out what she wished for, hoped for, and what she needed.
Then she said, “And it worked.”
I was trying to understand what she meant by “it worked,” when she added: “What I asked for came true. All of it.” And she urged me to give it a try. “What have you got to lose?” she said.
Not a thing, I thought. Right now? Absolutely nothing.
Now, I have spent many a Sunday on bended knee in prayer, and admit to asking God for more than I’ve spent time thanking. I’m working on that, because I do have a lot to be thankful for. Still, there are things I need right now, and believe me, yes, I have prayed on this, too.
However, I haven’t written a letter like she’s described since my mom tore apart some brown paper bags from the supermarket and handed one to me with a crayon, to use to write my annual letter to Santa Claus.
But as I recall, that also “worked,” so here goes.
Hi. It’s me, Dawn.
No. The other one (I know a LOT of women named Dawn, and I want to make sure there’s no confusion. And to its credit, the universe has been calling me “Dawn” consistently without stumbling, not even once).
So… I am writing to you today to spell out my wishes, hopes, dreams and needs. Not in that particular order, mind you; but my life would be a lot better if you, the universe, could find a way to fulfill these, even one at a time is fine.
First off, I need a new job to support my children. As you know, I have six part-time jobs writing the news. But my main gig, where I worked full-time hours for part-time pay, let me go on Friday because of budget cuts. They “loved” me, they said; I was doing a great job, they said, and still somebody had to get the axe. And I wasn’t the only one. At least they’ve agreed to pay me what they owe me.
But this job is what I’ve been doing to support my three children since their mom died, and without something in its place, we are really in trouble. We are getting by, barely, but not for much longer if I don’t find another job soon.
And as for what job you find me, I’m not picky; I’ll do anything that earns enough to make it worthwhile and will make me feel fulfilled by my efforts. Just a few years after coming out and losing my six-figure job in network TV news, I’ve struggled to stay in journalism, and I realize it’s probably time to move on and stop depending on a fast-shrinking industry to support us. Already I’ve applied for 50 positions, received my first two rejections and a lot of dead silence from the rest.
Also: is there any chance you can get the bill collectors off my back while I job-hunt? I will pay them but right now I have to save every penny in case the worst happens. Maybe just ask them to call back in a few weeks. Hopefully, your help with my number one problem will help me with this one.
Once the job is sorted out, I am eager to have some surgery that is right now in the planning stage, and all I’m asking is for it to be covered by my insurance and to be completed without major complications. It’s hard enough being a sole caregiver for three kids, but I need to recover as swiftly as possible so their lives aren’t negatively impacted, nor is mine. So universe, peek over the shoulder of the surgeon and make sure all goes well, and maybe give a little push to the backlogged paperwork at the insurance office. That would be appreciated, too.
So what else? I might as well ask for your help in maintaining my health. I’m exercising, eating better, and feeling better about myself. I just need encouragement to not slack off and feed my emotions, which is how I got to be so fat in the first place. I know you know, but it bears repeating. And hey — stop looking at me that way. It’s creepy.
Since I’m healthy and happy (and once I am employed), the very next thing I need from you, universe, is to keep my kids on track. They, too, are healthy, and for the most part, really happy. We all have learned to live with a hole in our hearts ever since the death of their mom, but we go on, together. My primary task on this earth, as I see it, is to provide for them and their well-being. Help me help them, please? I love them more than life itself.
Finally, if I could have one more wish, universe, it would be to find love again: a man to love me for who I am, and not in spite of it. I am looking for a person who will be my world, and I will be his. I want to find someone to help me solve these problems as a full partner, to make me feel loved and give me an opportunity to show my love; a hand to hold, a shoulder to cry on, and the other body parts that are standard equipment would be much appreciated by this particular lonely woman.
But let me set you straight: this is not something I’m pining for right away. In fact, I cannot even begin to think about dating right now, given all I have to deal with! So do not mess with me, universe, by sending Mr. Right to my door when I’m still not showered and dressed. Go away, you! That would be just my luck, too.
Of course, if you chose to send along a brand new car, a million bucks, maybe even a puppy, I wouldn’t complain. That’s up to you. Not asking, just sayin’. I wouldn’t say no.
Thank you, universe.
Now: does anyone know what the universe’s email address is?
This month, yes, the TV show Transparent does figure in our various discussions, but given that season four is still several months away, that’s not all we’re talking about.
We begin this episode of RiseUPwith a look at faith — not necessarily the religious kind, but if that works for you, then yes, that’s one kind of faith that we address. And I will confess to having my own crises of faith, and not just in my religion, but in my extended family, now distant friends, even strangers who judge me without knowing who I am or where I’ve been. And I feel many of us believe our elected leaders have let us down, or are not giving us a reason to have faith that our world will be better.
As Episode 3 debuts, the president of the United States has given clergy of all faiths a free pass to politicize their sermons and what they see as their holy work. No longer threatened by the tax man who warned them they might lose their tax-exempt status, every priest, reverend, minister, bishop, clergyman, rabbi, imam, shaman, and nun can now tell you that a vote for candidate A will save your soul, while a vote for candidate B will send you to eternal damnation. Political speech is to be protected, even if it’s anti-LGBTQ, says President Trump, because he believes the shepherds will say “only good things” and “what is in your heart.”
A lot of those hearts have no use for someone like me, and consider me evil, an abomination, and someone “delusional” or mentally ill who needs to be “cured.” Or told to go to hell. And they have free reign to say these things because of this executive order.
God help us all.
To fight oppression, especially faith-based oppression, we need faith in ourselves, and in our cause. Likewise to stop inequality on the job, inequity in housing, homelessness, and racial injustice. Learn more about the guests in this month’s episode, below.
First up is scholar and author Stephen Fuchs, rabbi emeritus of Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford, Connecticut, someone I’ve known for more than a dozen years.
He’s an LGBTQ ally, a husband and grandfather, and an amazing individual who is an inspiration to many in my hometown. He has traveled the globe to educate about scripture and bring people together in love and understanding,
You can read more about Stephen on his website, rabbifuchs.com and if you’re interested in the books he discusses on the show, you can find them at that website as well as at amazon.com.
The other incredible person we meet on RiseUpthis month is Gillian Cameron, an actress, artist and educator as well as an accomplished storyteller in Southern California.
For five years, Gillian has been sharing the tales of a knight from the time of King Arthur, but no ordinary knight is he. Calogrenant is the story of a man magically transformed into a maiden, and despite the steep learning curve and oppression of the era, as well as her own human foibles, she blazes a trail for #girlslikeus long before our modern era.
You can find her web comic each and every Sunday night at calogrenant.com and her first two books collecting all the work she’s done so far are for sale at the Calogrenant Shoppe on her website.
Gillian also can be found on television, on the movie screen and on stage, depending on where you look.
She’s appeared on TV’s I Am Cait and Amazon’s Transparent, and is featured in The ‘Carol’ Support Group— about fans of the Oscar-winning movie Carol who love it just a little too much.
We’ve been friends for a long time now and remains my West Coast BFF. Even 3,000 miles apart, we find new ways to support one another and offer guidance, laughs, tears and support.
I’m so grateful that she is in my life, and I wish I could be the friend to her that she is to me.
I’m honored to share her with you this month and hope you adore her as much as I do.
If you’re someone who needs a friend, or is having a crisis of faith, or identity, or just feel like at you’re at the end of your rope, you’re in the right place.
There are resources here for you, and they won’t cost you a dime.
I know what it’s like to feel depressed, like giving up, and that no one in the world understands how much pain you are in. So many of us experience this, and it’s not uncommon that we feel that there is no fix, or solution, none that doesn’t end in death. I’m here to tell you as a survivor that it won’t necessarily get better soon, maybe not for awhile. But it will not always suck. There will be a hill after the valley, and you can take it from me that you are not alone.
If you are a transgender or gender-nonconforming person considering suicide, Trans Lifeline can be reached at 877-565-8860. LGBT youth (ages 24 and younger) can reach the Trevor Project Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 can also be reached 24 hours a day by people of all ages and identities. Please take a moment to talk to one of these fine people, who will listen without judgment, and offer an ear without telling you “what you need to do.”
And I’m here, too. Find me via the comments section here, or on Facebook or Twitter.
Lastly, a small glitch caused the audio in this month’s episode to be somewhat fuzzy, or to use a technical term, overmodulated. It cannot be corrected until Monday, and so I thank you very much for your patience and understanding.
Thank you for watching RiseUp and for reading about my lifeafterdawn. See you next time!
In the new episode of RiseUP, my new talk show on West Hartford Community Television and YouTube, I’m fortunate to give you a look behind the scenes of the American Civil Liberties Union.
The national organization has started an effort called People Power to challenge the Trump Administration’s efforts to ban Muslims from entering the U.S., and other attacks on Americans’ civil rights. Learn more about how to get involved here.
Among the issues the Connecticut chapter is fighting for:
If you would like to know more about me, you can find the links here on lifeafterdawn.com including this overview of the key events of my transition and moment of fame, or infamy, depending on how you look at it.
Tonight, the first episode of my debut talk show airs on WHC-TV, West Hartford Community Television, as well as on YouTube. I’m so excited to share this with you!
The show is called Rise UP with Dawn Ennis and our first episode is “Forward March.” My goal is to focus on politics and culture, guiding viewers to stand up for ourselves, for our beliefs. I, myself, am a progressive, but I hope viewers of all backgrounds will find information of interest.
This blog that I have been writing for eight years now will serve as a resource for viewers, until I start a webpage dedicated solely to the program.
Below, you’ll find links to the events and groups I mention in the show, and to prior blog entries that expand upon my own story as I introduce viewers to my “Life After (becoming) Dawn.” Scroll down for these and other important links!
Here it is: episode one, shared with permission from WHC-TV’s YouTube Channel.
Due to time limitations and to keep from boring our viewers, I introduced you to part of my story — my child acting career — which was the subject of a lot of tabloid headlines in 2013 when I came out, because for almost five of the 12 years I worked as a model I worked as a girl. I was earning $100 a day when I “retired” from modeling in 1980, at the age of 16.
Here and here are two blog entries that expand upon that experience. And I’ll share more about my life in future episodes.
If you’re looking for information about the West Hartford Board of Education2017-2018 Budget, click here for the town site and here for details on proposed spending and cuts that could decimate the education our town provides our children.
And below are the dates of upcoming meetings, and note that at some of these, you can not just listen but also be heard.
Budget Workshop #1 – March 15, Town Hall, 7 PM
Budget Workshop #2 – March 21, Town Hall, 7 PM
Council and Board of Education Forum – March 23, Charter Oak, 6 PM
Board Public Hearing – March 29, Town Hall, 7 PM
Budget Workshop #3 – March 29, After Public Hearing
Board Budget Adoption – April 4, Town Hall, 7 PM
Town Council Adoption – April 25, Town Hall, 7 PM
The BOE has also set up an email box for questions, suggestions and complaints related to the budget proposal and process. Send your sentiments to email@example.com
If you’re interested in Swing Left, the non-profit group working to take back the House of Representatives from Republican party control, then click here. Interested residents of West Hartford are being asked to focus on New York’s 19th Congressional District, stretching from the area east of Binghamton to just outside Albany and Schenectady. Information about that effort is here.
But as you can see from the map below, there are many, many other districts being targeted, more than 50, and if you’re invested in wresting control from the GOP, enter your zip code here and you’ll be linked to a district near you.
If you’re looking for a non-partisan organization that welcomes both Republicans and conservatives as well as Democrats and liberals (and Libertarians and Working Party members and LGBTQ Americans, and so on), then check out the League of Women Voters.
And no, you don’t have to be a woman.
West Hartford residents should click here for information about the Greater Hartford chapter, and here if you’d like more information about how to join. The membership application is here. And if you’re looking for one where you live, here’s a link to the national organization which will direct you to the chapter in your area.
Dues are nominal (just $45 for new members), and one of the issues the league is working hard to support is to change our process of electing a president and eliminate the electoral college.
Tonight’s guest, Sarah Hambrick, spoke about an issue she is personally invested in: the Aid in Dying movement. Six states currently have legalized this way of ending life when the quality of life is no longer viable: Washington, Oregon, California, Montana, Colorado and Vermont. You can learn more about those states here. If you’d like more information about this, click here for an overview from the University of Washington, and Connecticut residents should click here for a January article from the Hartford Courant that reported it’s unlikely to be presented for action by the state legislature this year.
And you can learn more about my special correspondent Hannah Simpson by checking out her website, her Facebook page and following her on Twitter: @hannsimp
Please “like” our page on Facebook and follow our Twitter account, @RiseUPwithDawn. Send questions for Sarah or future guests by tweeting them to us or adding a comment here or on Facebook, and we promise to answer each and every one.
Next episode: the head of the Connecticut chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union joins us to discuss what they are doing here in the Constitution state and across the nation to advance its cause, and give us some info on how you can become more involved.
Four years ago this morning, after working all night gathering news for a major TV network, I was headed home to my family in Connecticut when I got a call asking me to divert to Newtown.
There were reports of multiple gunshots there.
My boss was candid: “You’re going to be our first eyes and ears on the ground. We are hearing, and it’s unconfirmed, there are a lot of people dead, and the worst part: many of them are children. Just get us some solid info. Be safe,” she said.
I drove into town before all the barriers and roadblocks were set, to keep curious onlookers and predatory media away from the crime scene.
I found myself on a street outside a firehouse, where eventually a couple emerged, and before I could ask the woman what had happened, her eyes locked with mine.
It was clear to me in an instant what had happened.
I saw in those grieving eyes the worst nightmare any mother could imagine. The look of someone whose entire world just ended.
I didn’t ask her a thing, not her name, not the circumstances of the tragedy still unfolding. I knew why I was there, what I was supposed to do, and what I was told to do: find out what happened and report back.
My instructions did not include making this family’s day worse. I mouthed the words, “I’m so sorry” to this mom whose eyes met mine, and let her pass.
I would work until late that night, walking all over town with a camera, interviewing witnesses, doctors, police spokesmen, and securing a live location for both the evening news and a special report, from which to broadcast live: a church that was holding a prayer service for the victims’ families and first responders.
My memory of that day is a bit like swiss cheese, with lots of holes, but I recall that I wasn’t out to everyone yet, and I remember how much I cried later that night, released from the burden of holding in the tears for so many hours.
And that wasn’t the only thing I had to hold in. Another woman working for a competitor and I went knocking on the door of a family down the road from the gunman, not to ask questions but to use their bathroom.
“At least you could pee behind a tree,” she whispered to me, as we waited for a response.
“That’s the privilege of men,” I said to her, “and that’s not who I am.” She mistook my meaning, but her message was clear when she responded.
“Well, yeah, this is more civilized and practical, and who knows, maybe they’ll even talk to us.”
Actually, no, and they wouldn’t let us use their bathroom, either. Another neighbor did, but they claimed they had no idea about the gunman, his mother, or the families of those murdered.
We thanked them for their kindness and agreed to not tell anyone else about it, for fear their bathroom would become, in their words, “Grand Central Station.”
Every TV news truck within a hundred miles converged on sleepy little Newtown that day. Reporters and field producers and network correspondents and anchors and guest bookers and camera people and truck engineers and black car drivers, dozens and dozens of them.
And several hours after the sun had set and the world had seen what we had learned, I finally got to go home and hug my own first grader, tighter than I ever had before.
I did so for every one of the parents in Sandy Hook who could not do that, and I thought of the mom I had encountered… as well as all 20 moms and 20 dads, and the families of the Sandy Hook school employees, whose world ended that day in a hail of senseless gunfire.
As big, burly, ex-marine Max took me in his tattooed arms and pulled me close, nearly off my barstool and toward his liquored lips, I felt… something.
Not his hand, moving slowly, up my skirt, although that did distract me for a moment.
It was time. It didn’t slow down, as time does in the movies and the romance novels. Instead, it rewound, pulling my concentration away from my corner barstool in the little Irish pub where we nine widows met regularly for wine, cocktails, and conversation.
And more wine.
I could sense the presence of Jackie, the only one left after many, many rounds, turning her eyes, her whole body, away from Max and me, this hunk of a man who sidled up to two moms at the bar, to chat us up and maybe have a little fun. And as my mind rode a tilt-a-whirl of memories, I accepted that’s why I was after, too: an escape, a thrill ride, a temporary diversion from grief.
My thoughts got lost in the spinning sensation sparked by my lips making contact with other lips, the process of thinking slowing to a stop until I was living in the moment. Excitement got my juices flowing and ignited a warm fire that started down below, the flames reaching up and rekindling my heart, gone cold.
Ten months. It’s been that long since my life changed, losing the love of my life, my spouse of almost 20 years, to cancer. And not long after that loss, I found something I’d never had in all my years: genuine, goodhearted, girlfriends.
Jackie, Sam, Karen, Cait, Erynn, Michele, Debbie, Laura, Dani and me: the ten of us had met every other week at a local grief support group, some of us for months, some had been going for years. But it wasn’t long after I joined that we soon branched out, having emptied the tank of all our stories of struggle, crying through the many milestones together and lamenting why this was our cross to bear.
We felt as if we had graduated, and needed to find a venue that better fit our needs. Most but not all of us were weary of having to repeatedly reintroduce ourselves and retrigger our grief as new widows joined the group. Don’t get me wrong; I do think it is helpful to have those who’ve been around the block, so to speak, share their experience and guide those — like me — as they take their first steps into our horrible world.
Horrible because sooner or later, friends and family step back, unsure what to say or how to help, uncomfortable when we tell them, “yes, it’s still hard.” Hard because we are so used to having our other half to share the load, to make the memories and to hug away the hurt. And hurt, because there are holes in our hearts that will never, ever, be filled. Our job as single moms is to be everything to our kids, and show them how to learn to live with a hole in their hearts.
Not one widow’s story is like another’s, especially mine, I guess. We are each survivors of deadly accidents, fatal illnesses, suicides, overdoses and hearts that fail. But as much as wish to give back, there comes a time each of us has decided we need to practice self-care, and that includes going out.
It was in June at a noisy restaurant in Manchester, Connecticut, at my first-ever GNO — girls night out — that my cisgender (non-transgender) widow sisters finally felt comfortable to ask me about being transgender. And it was fine, we laughed, and they didn’t once make me uncomfortable. I hadn’t mentioned being trans that very first time I attended the widows group, for fear of being rejected.
“Sam had said to me, ‘there’s something different about her,’” Karen confessed. We laughed, but I made a confession, too: I had worried about how they might react.
Before I joined, one of the grief counseling leaders warned me that there might be resistance to me joining the group. And when I asked why, I was sure to look this woman in the eyes, so there’d be no mistaking how blown away I was, to suggest my grief might not hold the same value as other widows. “It’s just that, well, you said you two were separated, and that may not go over so well.”
Whew. Well at least it wasn’t “the trans thing.”
I paused, continuing to lock eyes with this usually kind, smiling soul who was going to stand between this group and I. Feeling determined, I decided a softer, quieter tone was what was required, even if I did want to scream.
“I am grieving. I loved as much as any one person can, and now I’m alone. No matter what else we are to one another, won’t that be something we can all relate to?”
My words resonated in just the way I had hoped, and so I began attending the group. We took turns telling our stories and truth be told we laughed more than we cried, but there were still plenty of tears. We bared our souls and found in our shared experience new friendships that evolved into GNO trips to comedy clubs, concerts, psychics and energy healers and drinking and dancing (and drinking) at our Irish pub in Plainville, Connecticut.
“Wowww,” said Max, pulling his face from mine, his stubble rubbing my smooth cheek in a way I’ve rarely felt before. The sensation knocked me back into reality. Meeting his eyes with mine, I whispered back. “Wow? Is that all you have to say?”
“Well, yeahhh,” said Max, quietly, looking at me with his beer goggles firmly affixed. “I guess it’s just that I’ve never kissed someone transgender before.”
“Oh? Really?” I said, straightening my back in my seat, using my body language to speak volumes that I dared not utter with my mouth. I restrained myself from making a scene but glared at Jackie to my left.
“So, uhhh,” Max leans back in from the right, to deliver his second stupid statement of the evening, er, morning. “You’ve had the surgery?”
And just like on that old episode of Grey’s Anatomy, when McDreamy died? I’m done.
“Baby,” I cooed, as I put both my hands on his unshaven cheeks. “Your hands already know the answer to that question. Besides, you didn’t hear me ask about your prostate exam, hmmm?”
Jackie laughed, and it slowly dawned on Max he should join in the laughter.
That’s when I stepped gently but deliberately from my stool, and I extricated my body from his hands and made some excuse about needing to use the ladies room.
In the film version, I imagine Jackie jumping off her seat, too, and huffing off as we make our way to the bathroom, our heads held high, widow sisters forever! Woot!
But this is reality, and Jackie was glued to her seat. Before I left for the ladies room I whispered in her ear, out of Max’s earshot, that I wanted to leave, and why. That question, oof! Couldn’t he have pretended a little longer that he hadn’t clocked me?
Whatever. I just wanted to pee and go, and to my surprise, Jackie wasn’t budging. We are widows after all, and my disentanglement presented an opportunity. “It’ll be fine,” she told me. “I could use a good fuck! I can handle him.”
“Okaaaay.” I had never had a wing woman before — nor lost one. So, I broke formation, took care of my business and made my exit, but not before asking the bartender to keep an eye on Mr. Grabby Hands as he made the moves on my friend.
As I sat in my car, I reflected on the night: I’d kissed a boy, made-out in public and in front of a friend, and had one too many drinks, but not too many that I couldn’t drive. I’d laughed, a lot. And I’d been clocked, in the worst way possible. I was about to drive off when I decided instead to wait for Jackie, just in case.
After all, that’s what a widow sister does.
This is a different version of an essay that first appeared in NewNowNext. Some names have been changed to protect privacy.
I tried to avoid thinking about it. I wanted to not make a big deal of it. I pretended you weren’t in my mind at every minute of every hour.
Instead…I focused on our children. I focused on their grief. I focused on our home, cleaning it and stocking its cabinets. I put my time and energy into our kids’ needs, wants, desires.
They in turn helped me mark the Transgender Day of Remembrance and honored me by participating.
I spent time with each of them today, by their side, showing them my pride, my love, my devotion. Honoring my promise, fulfilling their dreams, putting wind in their sails. They are so like you, so strong, so beautiful and so very wise. And loving.
And after making their dessert, as I turned to close the door of the fridge, my eyes caught a glimpse of one of your pictures that I placed there, and everywhere, in your kitchen.
And… I lost it. I miss you so!
“Always and everywhere,” we always wrote on every card for twenty years, and even ten months later I am no less heartbroken, no less despondent and still grieving, as we prepare to mark Thanksgiving, one more holiday with an empty chair at our table.
That was supposed to be mine; it’s so wrong. That should be my empty chair. You should be here, having cast me out of our home and your heart. But like so many things, including a cure, long life, secure finances and a man for a spouse, you didn’t get what you wished for, counted on nor deserved.
The thing is, even after our rough times, in the end there was forgiveness, friendship, and we forged a strong connection bound by our children. Yes, even though we parted “before death do us part,” I didn’t let you return that part of my heart that I gave to you.
And so today, I lived another day with that hole in my heart. Tears are the accessory I’ve worn most often this year, accompanied by a fresh packet of tissues wherever I go. But whenever the healthy release of bottled-up emotions ends, I try to focus on this quote from ever optimist Zig Ziglar:
“We hear tears loudly on this side of Heaven. What we don’t take time to contemplate are the even louder cheers on the other side of death’s valley.”
There was a lot of freelance writing drama today as I juggled four of my six part-time jobs all at once. And as I prepare for bed, I have two short stories (for which I shall not be paid) that I will share with you.
At one point earlier today I was fit to be tied, in an unshakably gloomy, angry and mostly just sad, sad mood. I was able to shield my daughter and others from incurring my wrath… but I am sure that, had I looked in a mirror, I might have seen that “OMG what is THAT about” resting bitch face I involuntarily show whenever trouble strikes. It’s at these times I remember never, ever to play poker.
But despite the feeling the world was at an end, something happened that turned my frown upside down: a song by “Weird Al” Yankovic played on the SiriusXM Radio. “Smells Like Nirvana.”
As I listened, the parody taking me back decades, I felt the stress fade away. I could not resist smiling and just enjoyed the silliness. “Weird Al” made me feel 1,000 times lighter. It was a welcome break for my troubled mind and soul.
Thank you, “Weird Al,” or being my first savior of the day.
As for the second one, Tilesha Brown knows all too well my obsession with saving my copy, and often, to avoid what we each have experienced in losing EVERYTHING. This is the story of why I was in that foul, foul mood.
Well, after dutifully and repeatedly saving a 1,000+word piece I had been writing this week for NBC News, I closed the tab, and then could not for the life of me find the article on my Mac. It was gone, poof, as if I had never written a single character. I was simultaneously writing another story for another outlet and also on the phone conducting an interview with a highly-placed transgender advocate, all at the same time, so I had to stifle my scream and just let it go for awhile.
After the interview (IT WAS STILL MISSING, WHERE DID IT GO?!?!?) I ran to fetch my daughter from her school on a snowy day — “oh, hey, can you please give my friend a ride home too?” — then, I drove her to get her flu shot, which was, thankfully, the fastest appointment in the history of pediatric medicine. Somewhere in between I emailed the editor with my sob story. Tears streaming down my face, I wrote that I was determined to find the missing article, and if not, type it all over again from memory.
At first, I tried using AppleCare’s chat function. Chandra was the very kind, patient woman on the other side of the screen, as I typed in panic mode and explained my desperate situation. I told her I hadn’t trashed anything but checked it anyway, and had already tried the usual search tools.
Me: “I’ve used Spotlight and searched the ‘My Mac’ box and the ‘All My Files’ box.”
Chandra: “Ok, that is what I would suggest. You could not find the document through those means?”
Me: “I’m sorry, do you think I’d be in this chat if I could?”
I thanked her and disconnected. With my MacBookPro in hand (or, well, in tote bag), I dashed to the mall where I met with Chris at the Microsoft store. This was, after all, a Microsoft Word issue.
Tall, stocky, friendly Chris clapped his hands loudly like he was about to head center court. “Okay! Let’s do this!” he said, apparently to me. “Okay!” I said in response, cheered by his enthusiasm.
Sadly, Chris is from BillGatesGeektown, where the only computers in the world are Windows PCs. He cleaned my screen, gave me a free Pepsi, and then told me he had no clue where to begin. It was as if I had brought a 12th century monk a cellphone and asked him to show me how to place a call. The good news: the Pepsi was cold. And my screen was clean, yay! But still no article. So off to the Apple Store I went.
While the Microsoft store was virtually empty, there were dozens and dozens of people ahead of me waiting to see a genius at the Apple Store. A very friendly young woman informed me my walk-in appointment would occur sometime “between 47 minutes and 57 minutes.”
I just stared at her for a moment, not sure what to say next.
“So… like, 45 minutes to an hour?” I asked.
“Close enough,” she said. Okaaaay. I dashed back to the car, fetched the youngest from chess club and dropped him off at home to do his homework and navigated the slushy, slippery streets… just a little better than the pilot of Mike Pence’s plane.
I made it back to the Apple Store with 5.214 minutes to spare (according to the blue-shirted employee who directed me to a stool). So, I got back to work, writing other stories for my other employers, answering emails from still others and trading instant messages with even more. Simultaneously, my cellphone dinged me with messages from my widow sisters — a group of nine who I adore who are my number one support system and friends and allies and great ladies who spend a lot of time texting one another in the group chat — and my eldest son who was on a field trip to the United Nations.
I read the texts from the widows but texted only a few messages, focusing mostly on sending my son short bursts of parental love.
“Does your car have snowbrush?”
And as I put the finishing touches on another article for another outlet and hit “publish,” into my life walked Rud.
Yes, his name is Rud. Standing six-two, sporting a thick red beard, with a lovely smile and calm voice, cool green eyes and those earrings that make your earlobes really huge. Rud is an Apple Genius.
He had read the notes, understood not only the workings of my MacBookPro but also knew a thing or two about Microsoft Word.
I showed him how my computer had saved a test document and together we traced where it had hidden my article: in a file that does not show up in “Search My Mac” or “Search All Files” or even in Spotlight.
It’s called Office 2011 AutoRecovery. There, with other documents that automatically are saved by Word every ten minutes, was (angels sing, trumpets sound) my missing article. Along with a LOT of other crap. It looked similar to this:
I literally burst into happy tears and said something I’ve never said to any man, ever.
“Oh my God, I love you!”
Where on earth that came from, I have no idea. His response: “Cool. Any other issues I can help you with?”
“No, no, thank you! Thank you!”
In hindsight, my Mac superuser friend Maia probably could have solved this in half the time it took me waiting on Rud the Apple Genius. But I was determined to resolve this without having to bother my friends.
When you’re a widow working six part-time jobs to earn enough money to feed three growing kids and pay bills and keep the lights and heat on, you put your head down and plow ahead full-speed. It’s hard to comprehend how a simple thing like losing a Word document has taken on so much greater significance.
Thankfully, all is well tonight, and off I go, to bed, where I shall sleep with a smile as I dream of Rud and Al, knowing that I shall have more stories to tell tomorrow.