The Media Is Not Your Friend


Photo by Trace Peterson

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

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

Yes, I am THAT Dawn Ennis.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here we are 16 days out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Media Is Not Your Friend.

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

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

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

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

What do you think?

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

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

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

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

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

No One Hates You Who Knows Your Story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mind = Blown

Today is my last day in Philadelphia for #LGBTMedia15, the convening of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender journalists and media folks from 23 states, and one from Nigeria!
Today the gang enjoyed a private tour of the Free Library of Pennsylvania after one last brunch. My flight home is in four hours and I’m packing up, not just my clothes… but my memories and what I have learned that I did not know. Here are ten:

  1. The struggle of bisexuals for acceptance. That 70% of bi folks are women. That they are too often lumped-in with gays and lesbians because people don’t “get” them or judge them or don’t want to know what it is that makes them happy.
  2. The fear of HIV hasn’t truly gone away and how modern medicine has made advances that in the 1980s would be the equivalent to the discovery of penicillin but because of fear and association with “the gay disease” the mainstream media and famous names keep their distance from hailing this breakthrough. It is keeping people alive who would have died, like my uncle did. Like my cousin did.
  3. That LGB journalists are as interested and motivated to fight for transgender civil rights as my trans brothers and sisters are. They understand — or want to understand better — our struggle, that we need their support and that we need it now.
  4. I was able to meet, hug and get to know many of the wonderful people whose names I’ve seen online, and for them to get to know me a little, too.
  5. That a transgender woman with an incredible platform to educate our society has given aid and comfort to those who would want trans kids excluded from sports activities and deny every trans man and trans woman the right to use the bathroom of their true gender. It’s abominable what she has done and an apology is not sufficient; she simply needs to stop talking about things she doesn’t understand.
  6. How awesome my friend Brynn Tannehill truly is. I’ve admired her for years and got to see her in action in person at this event. She’s the whole package, folks: smart, sassy, cute, well-spoken and passionate about civil liberties, the trans community, her family and her comrades who serve and have served our nation. And she’s a scholar of all things Hogwarts, Game of Thrones and the dwellers of Middle Earth.
  7. The generosity of people like Bil Browning, Jen Christiansen and Adam Pawlus, and their amazing ability to listen, to help, to encourage and facilitate our work.
  8. Diversity is not the right word to describe our assemblage: a salmagundi of smart, sensitive downright sexy people. We have had divergent experiences but share a single goal. I think instead of diversity I will start to use the word multiversity.
  9. I learned a lot about Philly’s history of LGBT advocacy and met some of the most treasured members of our community: our elders, who we need to not only salute but save from poverty and homelessness.
  10. And I also heard some very sad stories from those I was blessed to meet here, about work, love, life and their struggles to survive in a world that rejects them.Edit

I leave Philadelphia energized to make a difference.

I am empowered. I am strengthened. I am motivated.

I’m also hungry, and just got an invite to lunch, so bye for now!

Oh — before I go: please do me one favor, dear readers: be nice to someone today, even if they don’t deserve it.

“All Things Considered, I’d Rather Be In Philadelphia”

hqdefaultGood morning from Philadelphia, the birthplace of both democracy and W.C. Fields, who famously joked about Philly.

You know, W.C. Fields? The movie actor. Yes, from a long time ago. Hence the black and white picture.

8b41e8920339ae641aa2cc42f951ad33Here’s a color one. This guy ———————————————————–>

Go ahead, google him; I’ll wait. Notice the look on his face? That’s the same look I make when I make a pop culture reference and I realize my idea of pop culture is not the same as someone born in 1988 or later. And there’s a lot of you people.

Okay, are you with me now? Because it’s really late and I’m beat, so I will make this entry brief and to the point.

Stop that. Stop laughing while I’m trying to blog, it’s rude.


I am blogging from the City of Brotherly (and Sisterly) Love because I am attending the 2015 LGBT Media Convening (hashtag #LGBTMedia15) sponsored by the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr., Fund and organized by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA). This is the sixth diversity conference, and my first of any kind. What’s interesting to note is that this event is not open to all media; it’s invitation only, and I am both humbled and honored to be here as one of the many representatives of the LGBT blogging community.

IMG_6350Andrea Dulanto of South Florida Gay News reported: “This year’s host committee includes Sarah Blazucki of NLGJA, Trish Bendix of AfterEllen, Mark King of My Fabulous Disease, Erin Rook of Source Weekly, Faith Cheltenham of BiNet, and Bil Browning of The Bilerico Project.

In an email with SFGN, Browning reflected on the significance and goals of the Convening: ‘For journalists focused on the LGBT beat, an invitation has become quite the status symbol for being recognized as a valuable community reporter. We specifically aim to bring in not only the LGBT state/local newspapers and large audience bloggers, but we also search for up-and-coming voices and try to lift up the voices of people of color, trans folk, and women.’

Browning elaborated on the importance of diversity: ‘Many of the larger outlets are still run by cisgender white men so we try to also reflect the diversity that is our community — especially in online journalism. Often these journalists are the only ones reporting in any depth on issues like race, class, and gender. The intersectionality of our community and how we can translate LGBT-specific needs into broader issues is the focus of this year’s Convening.’

In 2015, presenters and attendees will explore issues related to the topic ‘So Now What?’

“As Browning noted, these are ‘issues that have been relegated to the back burner during the marriage battles’ and the Convening will offer ‘sessions on religious liberty bills, intersectionality, self-determination, the role of government in promoting diversity, bisexuality, race and gender-specific topics, as well as how to better report on HIV/AIDS stories.'”

IMG_6346A truly amazing perk of this three-day event is that it is all-expenses paid. My crib (see what I did there?) is the swanky Radisson Blu Warwick Hotel, and everything has been first class.

I flew in this morning from Hartford, took a shuttle van where I met-up with some fellow attendees including Colin Murphy of Boom Magazine in St. Louis, Steve Rothaus of the Miami Herald, and my longtime facebook friend and fellow writer, Trans Military activist Brynn Tannehill, whom I finally had the pleasure of meeting in person today.

It was a long trip given the many stops our van had to make — in fact it took twice as long to get from the airport to the hotel as it did to fly here from Connecticut! But that afforded us time to have a fascinating conversation about issues of the day, from bathroom bills to marriage equality and religious backlash. One woman who was riding along with us but not attending the conference told me she was very interested in our conversation and I think that is an important takeaway from this event: that we remember to reach out to those who are not knee-deep in LGBT topics. They can and should be included so we can better arm our allies, to help them help us.

IMG_6345Upon check-in, each of us received a very nice goodie bag from the City of Philadelphia. The contents included a tee shirt, notepads, a pen, some press releases, a “Gay Philadelphia” button which I attached to my purse and a Century21 store giftcard about which I am very excited!

This evening we gathered in the hotel lobby and I met sooo many folks! Too many to name but I’m looking forward to trying to get to know each one. Then we as a group walked the four blocks to the beautiful Comcast Center, where we were wined and dined and then met Nellie Helen Fitzpatrick, IMG_6355 the city’s newly-minted Director of LGBT Affairs, who read a letter from Mayor Nutter. In June, this city’s Pride Parade will celebrate its 25th anniversary, and Philadelphia itself is marking 50 years of LGBT activism

I met many more of my colleagues, including The Advocate Magazine’s Mitch Kellaway, who covers the Trans* beat, and our boss, Here Media Editorial Director Lucas Grindley, who has grown from an afterthought to an invaluable online resource with a powerful presence in the LGBT community and the world at large.

One interesting footnote about the location of our first event: the Comcast Center tower lobby has the most incredible HDTV screen I’ve ever seen. Pictures and video don’t do it justice, and I was enthralled.

IMG_6357Then came time to meet tonight’s keynote speaker. Given that this is a conference on LGBT diversity and civil rights and the media, I was not sure what to make of the fact that the keynote address was to be delivered by a southern preacher. After all, right now the very existence of the transgender community is under attack by religious conservatives who believe laws should be enacted to deny me and people like me our civil rights, to block us from protection from unlawful discrimination, and to prevent us from using the restroom.

But this man who spoke was not just a minister. Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II is the President of the North Carolina NAACP, one of the leaders of the Moral Mondays protests in N.C., and a man who recognizes, in his own words, that “the stones rejected will become the cornerstone,” equating a parable from the New Testament to the struggle for equality.

He regaled us with stories and educated us with history, how he and others are helping North Carolinians “vote for the future and not out of fear.” And Rev. Barber encouraged us to visit his home state and cover the issues that have sown division in our society. He frequently explained he does not refer to conservative politicians as “the right,” because he doesn’t want to convey the idea he thinks they are correct.

IMG_6367We spoke one on one following his speech and a brief Q&A, about the epidemic of violence against trans women, particularly women of color. And he told me how he as a minister counsels those with conservative views to put aside hate and judgment of those women who feel they have no other choice but to turn to sex work, a potentially profitable but entirely dangerous and violent existence, that society at large dismisses as not worthy of consideration. “These are still people,” he told me. “Every life is precious.”

I wish the “pro-life” folks would consider that view the next time someone trans is murdered because a “john” figured nobody would care about a prostitute. I’m not advocating that as a viable line of work; I’m standing up for those who believe there is no other way to survive.

IMG_6388And that is where this blog ends tonight. My colleagues Rebecca Juro, Gwen Smith and Monica Roberts and I had a wonderful evening walking and talking and trading war stories. Tomorrow starts very early.

Oh. Right. It already is tomorrow.

Good morning from Philadelphia!

P.S. Sorry. I forgot to be brief.


Wow. Six!

auto6 images Number_Six_Tricia_Helfer

Today marks six years since I decided to blog, to try to explain to friends — and to myself — what this journey is all about.

2009 seems like forever ago.

It was before the first iPad. Obama was still new at the job. Conan O’Brien was about to become host of The Tonight Show. People watched American Idol and Simon was still one of the judges. I lived and worked in Florida as a guy named Don.

But I was struggling both physically and mentally, and a year earlier I had made my first appointment to see a gender therapist. I didn’t believe her when she told me I had “gender identity disorder,” what is now called “gender dysphoria.”

I asked and received artificial male sex hormones to try to rebalance what I suspected was the problem, but all that did was make the problem worse. My body converted all that extra testosterone into estrogen.

1489212_10205720342227958_2246071283184507802_nI was a hormonal mess.

Here I am, six years later, and I rejoice in having survived the trials and tribulations of my long transition. What started as part-time exploration with the help of a therapist eventually led me to my own truth.

This weekend, I’ll be joining dozens of other LGBT journalists and media folks for LGBT Media Journalists Convening 2015, a conference about the work we do, sponsored by the National Lesbian Gay Journalists Association and made possible through the generosity of the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. fund.

It’ll be my first convention of this kind, and I am nervous about what to wear, how to style my hair, and just meeting folks. It will be great to finally put a face to all the names of folks I’ve considered colleagues and friends for so many years, and I so desperately want to make a good impression given the fact my infamy somewhat precedes me.

I can’t do anything about that, really. I am going to learn, to listen, to share ideas and to make connections. And hopefully, to have fun.

I obsess a little more about looks than others because, I’m not where I want to be weight-wise — And I know, so few women are. And because my hair is my own — I paid for it — but it’s just not the same as all the lucky folks who didn’t go bald in their 20s.

I’ve learned how to crimp, how to use a flat iron, how to tie it back and I’m picking up other tricks, too… but I don’t have that resource every natal woman I know had: a mother or friends who taught them this stuff when they were young. I do have some experience at makeup and style thanks to my rather unusual occupation as a child model and actor. But it’s not as much as I need when it comes to hair. 10984286_10206004341087752_4665889306200428706_n

Mostly, I learn by trial and error; the “heat wave” we’ve enjoyed the past few days with temperatures above 40 teased me into rolling down windows while driving. Not the smartest move by someone whose long flowing locks temporarily blinded me.

But I learned a lesson.

I’ve stocked up on tiebacks and bobby pins and somewhere I have a headband. And double-sided tape is my lifesaver.

Had I thought about this a decade ago, I could have been eligible for a hair transplant, but that’s not who I was. I couldn’t care less about going bald, having long ago accepted it was my lot in life and put up with the jokes and what-have-you. I wasn’t even tempted to get a toupee or plugs or a “hair system” — which one friend told me came off at a most inopportune time, during lovemaking. Nor would I consider that “spray-on” hair that I myself witnessed run down the face of a follicly-challenged reporter live on TV during a steady downpour. It looked like he was taking a bath in brown goo.

So my wig and I will wing our way to Philadelphia on Friday the 13th (good thing I’m not superstitious), and I will be Tweeting, Instagramming and updating facebook — hashtag #LGBTMedia15 — as well as updating this blog, for it is my ticket to the big event. I hope you’ll find my updates interesting and feel free to interact with me as questions or comments arise.

And so it goes.

I Am Real

I have been told and I even once conceded I am not a “real” woman, according to those who believe it is their place to determine such things.

That word — “real” — couldn’t be more misconstrued, in my opinion.

When it is used maliciously, it is meant to “other” me, to differentiate me from someone born with the anatomy I will soon have a surgeon replicate. No, I will never have the internal organs or chromosomes of a 46xx genetic female such as my wife , my sister or my mom, my mother-in-law, aunts and cousins who were born and assigned female upon their birth.

I will never know the joy nor pain nor physical connection many women have with the children they conceive and deliver, nor the sensation and suffering of menstruation nor the feelings of a very first sexual encounter as a young woman experiences it.

But women who have hysterectomies are still real women. A person assigned female at birth who cannot herself give birth is still a real woman no matter if she adopts or uses a surrogate to have children, or chooses to remain childless.

And even with my current weird amalgam of genitals, my feelings, thoughts, instincts, senses, emotions and desires combined with nearly a decade of needing to sit or squat to pee, significant breast development, nine mammograms, two episodes of lactation, boxes of nipple shields and pads, packages of heavy duty panty liners, what seemed like never-ending bloating, rollercoaster hormonal cycles, thinning upper body muscle mass, stronger pelvic and leg muscles, new curves and shifts in weight distribution, hot flashes and chills… About the only thing I’m missing is a sufficient amount of hair on my head and a sufficiently deep orafice between my legs.

One of the weirdest of all the anomalies I have shared with only two people was detailed in a final report by doctors at NIH who spent a week studying me last summer; a detail that seemed nonsensical when I first read it. The whole experience made me shudder, but the doctors’ description that my “public hair is consistent with a female pattern” stopped me in my tracks, and I’m not sure why. What possible significance could it have, and why is mine is as it is? The answer escapes me. It’s not like I’ve been waxed or had electrolysis down there!


Frankly, I’m still quietly surprised whenever callers hear my voice and think it’s my wife answering the phone, or call me “Miss” or “Ma’am” upon meeting me. Yet strangely enough, the only time I get upset are those rare occasions when someone misgenders me by calling me “sir” or “him.” You might as well say you think I’m ugly and that the outfit I’m wearing doesn’t go well together.

Perhaps that is because my overarching need to be loved as I truly am is now stronger than my lifelong obsession to change who I am in order to be liked. Because who I am in the dark, in the spotlight, in my dreams and every day for the past five months is the most real woman I can possibly be.

Writer and activist Janet Mock coined the catchy slogan #girlslikeus to unite transgender women and spread the message of her excellent memoir, Redefining Realness.

Author and professor Jennifer Finney Boylan offered up three words of her own, “Equality of Identity” and I pushed for it to be adopted as another unifying hashtag.

Lately, I feel inspired by the keynote address delivered at the 2014 Pittsburgh Trans Conference, by a longtime friend and true civil rights champion: Brynn Tannehill. Her speech and the title she chose for it resonated strongly within me: a simple sentence, also of three words that sum up my feelings better than anything I myself have ever put together.

I Am Real.

I urge everyone to use these sets of three words in a hashtag on all messages, social media posts and tweets related to transgender civil rights. #iamreal #equalityofidentity #girlslikeus

And I don’t need to prove it to believe it, or feel it. I possess the realness within. I Am Real!

Rage, Rage


Not for the first time somebody I deeply respect told me, forget Facebook.

Close it, shut it down, walk away.
Terminate your Twitter.
Filter-out your Instagram.
Block your blog.

I understand why. If I take away the low-hanging fruit that tabloid writers have feasted on for more than a year to ruin me and make me famous, infamous and notorious, perhaps the lack of attention will make me less appetizing.

I have become, in what is sure to be a buzzword if it’s not already, “RADIOACTIVE.”

The way my closest cisgender friends see it, I need to go Chernobyl: offline, abandoned, off limits. Or for our younger readers, put the f-u-k in Fukushima. If you enjoy movies, then you understand I should “Make like a tree… and get outta here, McFly!”

Of course, the only remedy for being radioactive is time and distance.

“Move along, nothing to see here!”

Stay out of sight while the media isotopes cool down. Pull my social media profile.

Sadly, in my 30 years of writing about people who vanish and then resurface, they seldom re-emerge without taint. They go from “controversial ” to “formerly controversial.” Now, some do surprise us with their lessons learned. As my dear friend and much wiser social media user Maia Monet told me, while the public enjoys seeing someone big taken down a notch, nothing compares to the joy of watching the great American comeback.

The question is, can there be a comeback for someone like me?

Here are the facts: I’m a pariah to some trans people who saw my honest but wrong declaration of not being trans last summer, after suffering amnesia, as a betrayal that hurt everyone in transition. Others have told me I inspired them to step forward and transition, and called me brave. And there are some who tell me what I have endured convinced them they could not possibly transition and survive, that I am living their worst nightmare (mine, too, incidentally). One called me her “anti-role model.”

To cisgender folks who know only one transgender person (ME), I am what one friend called a “high profile champion of transgender rights.” Really? It’s all a matter of perspective, I guess. Just so you understand, “cisgender” is a word used to define someone who is not transgender. The closest equivalent would be “non-transgender people,” or as someone I know said, unkindly: “you mean, ‘normal’ people.”

Yeah, thanks for that.

To the larger transgender community, I’m still pretty much nobody, although my name is frequently recognized from all the media attention. I have indeed shared articles in social media to draw attention to issues of discrimination, and to attempt to help spread understanding of what if means to be trans, and in support of this issue of civil rights. But those posts are merely a blip, compared to the megaphone held by true activists and heroes of mine like Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, Brynn Tannehill, Parker Marie Malloy, Kristen Beck, Cristen Williams, Masen Davis, Landon Wilson, Jennifer Louise Lopez, Lexie Cannes, Ashley Love and so many more. I don’t seek to be their equal on the world stage; I only wish to see all of us be treated equally with all of you.

To most members of my extended family, I am an embarrassment. Some will accept me privately but have faced real retaliation from ignorant people just for being related to me. Others have made excuses for refusing to publicly associate with me and consider it justified. Would it be just as okay to deny knowing me if I were a Jew, or homeless, or gay? (Not that I’d be ashamed to be any of those, but I’m not; I hope you get my point).

And I am saddened beyond words that close relatives I love can turn their backs on me and feel no shame or regret. I never could imagine a situation where I would turn to any member of my family who I felt had done something wrong in my eyes, and as a result, tell them I no longer loved them. Love forgives, strives to accept, and when necessary, keeps its distance — I can accept that — but the bond that is love, for me, is unbreakable.

That bond today helped me realize my true place in the universe: yes, I am trans, but first I am responsible for the lives of four people, in addition to myself: she who married me, and our three children. They have depended on me longer than I’ve known I was trans. I have a responsibility to find work that will sustain all of us, and so far I have failed at this. The majority opinion is that my social media presence has made that task even harder.

I’d cut off my own left arm (I’m partial to my right one) if it meant I could then support my family , so cutting myself off from social media is an easy sacrifice. And so I have taken that step.

What took me so long? I am all alone, separated from my loved ones and desperate for human contact. Social media provides both the illusion of connectedness as well as genuine interaction and friendships with real people who have similar interests and problems. I was hesitant to give up that lifeline that has supported me when no one else would.

But I realize people got by long before Facebook; they were able to make it through the day before a tweet was anything other than the sound a bird makes; they survived back when sharing a photo was sitting in Uncle Bill’s darkened living room watching his slides from his trip to Denver… all 300 of them.

And I will survive this, too. But I also decided today, I will not vanish. Even after my blog goes dark, I cannot imagine muting my voice now that I have found it.

The cause (Vice President Joe Biden once called it “the civil rights issue of our time”) is too important to surrender now. I will find a way to anonymously advocate for change without jeopardizing my family or what remains of my career. I will seek a way to have my say secretly, without putting an employer in the position of having to comment.

I believe I can do this by covertly supporting the cause in a way that will not take precedence over my primary mission of being a provider. I pray it will allow me to fulfill what I see as a calling, second only to my responsibility to support those I love.

I am going away, my friends. But I will not be silent. I will rage on, in secret if necessary, until my dying day.

Do not go gentle into that good night
by Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.