I’ll be their grandma

Hockey-Stick-and-Puck-Photographic-Print-C11950881You’d think today would be a day in which my youngest son would be riding a cloud after a successful first session of hockey camp. Instead, he just crawled into my bed (currently doubling as my “home office”), looking for hugs because, in his words, fighting back tears: “my children will grow up without a grandma.”

He’s nine, and he’s thinking about his future offspring. This is the child who feels with his heart, not his fingers or toes. Everything he does, he does with all of his heart.

Embracing him, holding him tight, we lay in the bed Wendy and I once shared, arm in arm, holding on tight.

“I’ll be their grandma,” I told him, trying to be reassuring, “although I recognize it won’t be the same. But I promise, I’m going to be the best grandma I can be. And I’m sure Grandma Debbie will stick around a long time so she can be a great grandmother to your kids, just like Grandma Sophie was. Don’t worry, buddy, it’s going to be okay.”

In two days it will be six months since he lost his mom.

This is what it is to teach a 9-year-old to live with the hole in his heart. We are all learning.

The War of 2016

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We are at war.

Don’t believe me? Post anything involving politics, race, religion or criminal justice on social media… and count to ten.

Let me state at the start, I’m no psychologist (not yet, but that is most definitely my next career, after my kids finish college). That said, I consider myself intelligent, insightful and well-educated, and willing to put forth my own analysis with the full knowledge it is informed opinion, and not fact; I stand ready to receive criticism, commentary and challenges to my thinking.

And my thoughts of late are WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?!?

In just seven months, I count 14 incidents: mass shootings, murders of police officers, police-involved deadly shootings and mass killings by terrorists and military clashes around the world. Here’s the toll since January:

  • 6 murdered in Chesapeake, VA.
  • 5 murdered in Glendale, AZ.
  • 5 murdered in Pittsburgh, PA.
  • 5 murdered in Kansas City, KS.
  • 8 murdered in Piketon, OH.
  • 5 murdered in Moultrie, GA.
  • 49 murdered in Orlando, FL.
  • 290 murdered by bombers in Baghdad, Iraq.
  • Alton Sterling killed by police in Baton Rouge, LA.
  • Philandro Castile killed by police in Falcon Heights, MN.
  • 5 police officers murdered in Dallas, TX.
  • 84 murdered in Nice, France.
  • 265 killed in failed military coup in Turkey.
  • And today, at least 3 police officers murdered in Baton Rouge, LA.

That’s at least 93 dead here in the U.S., 462 overseas, a total of 555 lives lost. The last seven of those incidents above happened all in the space of the last two weeks, and the massacre in Orlando was just a little over one month ago.

Amid all that bloodshed, we live in a world that is more divided than ever before. Isolationism is catching fire around the globe. The U.K. voted to quit the European Union, the leading Republican candidate for president in the U.S. wants to build a wall on our border with Mexico and put a halt to legal immigration by those of the Muslim faith, the Black Lives Matter movement is marching for social justice, police officers nationwide are under fire, literally, and those opposed to transgender rights have encouraged followers to oppress, restrict and even shoot to kill anyone who dares to use a bathroom matching their gender identity.

Social media right now is a cesspool of opposing views, anti-Hillary Clinton, anti-Donald Trump, antigay, anti-LGBT, anti-BLM, anti-police, anti-Obama, anti-foreigners, anti-Democrat, anti-Republican, anti-establishment, anti-Wall Street, anti-politics, anti-government, anti-white, anti-Mexican American, anti-Muslim, antisemitism, anti-Christian, anti-Catholic, anti-religion, anti-feminist, anti-men, anti-Ghostbusters… anti-anybody who doesn’t think the way I do.

Posting an opinion online is equivalent to lighting a firecracker in your hand: no matter how great an idea you think it is to do it, be aware: you’re likely to wind up hurt.

And the question I see most often asked is, “why?” Why are we like this? What is behind this spate of rudeness, disrespect, hatred, divisiveness, violence, murder?

We humans have had differences of opinion since Adam and Eve, since the first Cro Magnon man beat the shit out of the second Cro Magnon man, since Ren fought Stimpy.

The late Rodney King, the man whose beating by police was caught on video, said it best:

So it’s not new:  we don’t get along. Too many of us don’t play well together.

I believe there is no one cause, or one person to blame, but in the background of all of this divisiveness is the rising empowerment via technology of fringe or alternate opinions, outside the mainstream, which has fueled a new, unrestricted mindset. We are connected in a way with the rest of the planet that gives everyone with access to the internet an opportunity to speak our mind, no matter how arcane or antiestablishment our views are.

troll 2I see the seed in this development in the evolution of the internet troll. He or she is afforded total anonymity with which they can speak from a virtual soapbox. They are attracted to cultural icons who boast, berate and bellow via reality television, who win kudos for being rude and “speaking their mind.” I think a significant segment of our society has decided it’s okay, even better, to be divisive. Perhaps, they consider finding compromise a sign of weakness: better to “stand your ground” against “others” unlike “us.”

The “others” are not just strange or different, they are dangerous. They must be stopped. They must be defriended, denounced, denied rights, and ultimately, denied life. The world is not big enough for “others.” Their existence threatens my own, goes the thinking.

It’s reminiscent to me of survivalist mentality, as if an entire population of our nation has decided we are at war. And so we are.

The Nice, Baghdad and Turkey incidents may seem unrelated to this mindset, but to my mind, there is a connection: terrorists commit mass murder to advance a cause against “others,” military juntas overthrow governments because they see their leaders as representing views other than their own.

And Brexit was a democratic, non-violent reaction to that same principle. How far will we, as Americans, go?

clinton-trump1Will our next leader pull us out of the United Nations? Will our economy suffer because of whom we elected? Will we shutter our borders to certain foreigners who are deemed “too foreign?” Will we become the Earth’s policeman and go to war in Syria, with Korea, or China? Will a new record for low turnout be set, tainting our next presidential election, given the negative opinions we have of our leading candidates? How will whoever wins govern a country that stays home on Election Day out of disgust for the choices available?

How can any man or woman heal the rift that is now wider than at any point since our civil war? My friend Jennifer Finney Boylan — professor, writer, author, mentor and oh, she happens to be a transgender woman like me — has long advocated love as the proper response to these times. I don’t disagree, we need more love. But I believe we need something more.

I looked to the words of Abraham Lincoln, and those of John F. Kennedy, two beloved presidents separated by a century, unpopular in office but revered and hallowed following their assassinations.

Abraham Lincoln “won the presidency in 1860 with just 39.8% of the vote and was considered so offensive by half of the polity that the country split in two because of him,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

“A house divided against itself cannot stand,” said Lincoln.

“Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future,” declared Kennedy, who also said:  “If we cannot now end our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity.”

Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon in 1960 with a 0.17% margin of victory, the narrowest of the 20th century, according to the L.A. Times. And his popularity plummeted each year he was in office. But he is now revered, in part because of the stand he took for civil rights:

“Those who do nothing are inviting shame as well as violence… those who act boldly are recognizing right as well as reality… A great change is at hand, and our task, our obligation, is to make that revolution, that change, peaceful and constructive for all.”

I close with Lincoln, whose words are as timely today as when he first delivered his Lyceum address, in 1838. He’s commonly quoted as having said, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” But the actual quote, far darker, is below:

“If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen we must live through all time or die by suicide.”

I am taking up Jenny Boylan’s challenge to love more, and to raise my voice to call for a better way forward, for my children and yours. My hope is that we “live through all time,” even this time, and together find a way to heal the rift, and end The War of 2016.

 

 

The Word Is Transgender… Not Trans-Jenner

11178376_10206498349237647_6212748240193972348_nRelax: this is not yet another analysis of what Bruce Jenner said, and like most everyone else, I am using male pronouns because that appears to be what he and his family want, and I respect that. If that changes, I’ll follow suit.

What this is, will likely take you by surprise. Buckle up, buttercup.

Earlier this year I wrote a plea that we needed to let Jenner tell us what if anything he was doing, even though it seemed pretty damn clear he was undergoing a gender transition. Now that he has spoken and confirmed that, it’s time for a follow-up.

And as I did before, I am going to devote more words to me and my experience rather than to his, because even if you didn’t watch all two hours — which I did, my spouse did, even my kids did (most of it, at least; they fled as soon as Diane Sawyer started talking about the Kardashians) — even if you avoided all the articles, you probably have an idea that Bruce Jenner confirmed he is trans. He actually said: “I am a woman.”

But am I?

Whoa — what? Is this another bout of amnesia? Am I going “back and forth” again?!? Perhaps I am a Time Lord as one of my friends calls me, or I’m “waffling” again as another friend ribbed me to no end?

No, I’m just being honest, which is what I’ve always been, and by the way: you cannot tell me I am wrong, because this is about how I feel. And how I feel is how I feel. If you still think I’m wrong after reading the rest, well, that’s why we have horse races, as my grandfather liked to say.

So back to my question: am I a woman?

I’m not denying I am trans, and no, really: I am not detransitioning. I am not denying my mind and my soul are female and that I feel very much in sync with the female gender. I enjoy my femininity and I’m not ashamed to say so, just as I never despised being a male or any part of my former male identity. I was assigned male at birth. And 40 years later, there came a time in which, after a long struggle, I stopped fighting, I stopped pretending and embraced that my true gender is female and that although I could present as male, it didn’t feel natural. It no longer fit me.

But if I’m not a man, does that make me a woman? Well, if someone else assigned male at birth lays claim to being a woman, I’ll take them at their word. I’m only asking about me. And please note: I am not using the adjective “real” here, as if to differentiate between a woman and a “real woman.” That’s offensive, in my book. We are all of us real… some more than others!

11150410_10206435085336089_2894930514843387634_nMy body has undergone very distinct and gender appropriate changes (without the benefit of surgery). I’ve got a face that appears feminine enough, wide hips, a healthy butt and generous boobs. I’ve lactated; I could have nursed if I chose to. Sitting down (or squatting) to pee is my only option without making a mess; no more writing my name in the snow for me!

And my instincts are distinctly, if not stereotypically, feminine: I prefer collaboration to confrontation; I’m a gatherer and a listener; I find shopping therapeutic; I’m in control of my emotions but it doesn’t take much for me to feel empathy or to cry; I have close female friends who I treasure, and I enjoy our ability to share our misadventures without judgment; I am strong, but I can be my own worst enemy, and my maternal drive is fine tuned. I watch over my kids like a hawk, anticipating their needs and reveling in how I can provide for them, from sustenance to spirit-building. I am not their mom; they have a wonderful mother who loves them and cares for them equally if not more. But it’s clear to my kids, who still call me “dad,” that I’m a lot more than just their dad.

Perhaps given all these facts you need to consider me as something separate, something like… “transgender woman.”

It does fit; to every woman who grew up as a girl, to every girl who aspires to be a woman, and to every mother and grandmother and wife and daughter, I can sense what you feel and I can understand what that feeling means to you… but I cannot feel as you do.

I don’t know what a period feels like, even though I’ve had stomach cramps and PMS-like hormone-driven mood swings and cravings. I’ll never know what it’s like to feel life growing within me, to carry a child inside me or to bring a baby into the world. I have only a small sense of the incredible humongous exaltation that intercourse and orgasm must be like for a woman; that is something I hope to be able to fully experience someday.

And then? Well, then, certainly I should be entitled to declare, “I am woman.”

I will not say, “hear me roar.”

Let me be clear: I am not claiming someone needs to be a mother to be a woman, nor that a vagina is what defines a human being as a woman. It’s what’s between our ears not our legs that defines our gender. Me included. I just think the difference between “woman” and “transgender woman” is one worth noting, when appropriate. 

Just as you might say bald white guy, or red-headed woman or Asian child, it’s rarely necessary to point out the difference, and downright wrong to discriminate based on those differences. 

But treating everyone fairly as fellow human beings doesn’t erase our differences, and shouldn’t! I’m Irish. I am right-handed and have blue eyes. Does that matter? Not particularly. 

But when and if it does, I’ll gladly say, that’s me. The same applies to my womanhood.

So, If someone calls me a woman or picks up on the obvious visual cues, and sees me as a woman, I won’t correct them. But I also won’t deny I am a transgender woman. In some circumstances, I do sometimes out myself as trans because it’s relevant or necessary. I’m lucky that in most cases, it’s not, and I don’t feel compelled to share my personal life with acquaintances or strangers.

So, stranger… why am I sharing this with you?

Because I felt it necessary to underscore what Jenner and the awesome team at ABC News made clear: that being trans is just another way to be. We bleed, we sing, we feel heartbreak, we feel joy. We want to be loved, and when love is not possible, or offered, many of us would be happy to settle for being accepted and understood. We know what it feels like to have love withdrawn, to have a phone conversation end abruptly. We share the pain of feeling a door slammed in our face or a punch landing on our jaw. Some of us have been raped, beaten, stabbed, shot, burned, tortured, mutilated and murdered.

Because we’re trans.

Jenner is among us now, and I for one welcome him, and embrace the struggle that in some ways, perhaps many ways, matched my own.

Bruce-Jenner-interview-x400But we are not Bruce Jenner, folks. He’s not us. He said very clearly he is not our spokesperson and wants to do good, and all that is very welcome.

No one is asking him to be our icon, our standard bearer, our hero. And the hope is that the media publicity machine won’t try to do that, despite Kardashian evidence to the contrary.

I encourage Jenner to listen, and not talk, so he can learn about others’ experiences, about trans women of color, about trans men, about the children whose parents can’t accept them as trans, and the supportive moms and dads who worry their child will never really be happy because of transphobia and prejudice. I hope he keeps praying, as I have, knowing God loves us. Even us.

And he will make mistakes. God knows I have, and I am blessed to know His forgiveness. As Jenner said, I have apologized for my life, to everybody, and I will keep doing so as each day adds to another in a string of days living true. April 29th will mark two years since I chose my name and made it my own, forever.

I won’t deny Jenner his right to call himself a woman, or anyone else. I don’t think of myself as “less than” because I prefer to use the term “transgender woman.”  As a journalist whose job is to parse those kinds of differences, I feel better having done so.

But given that my job is to tell stories, let us now find those whose stories must be told, in addition to Bruce’s. My dear friend Jennell Jaquays offered a laundry list of transgender men and transgender women whose lives matter and merit a spotlight twice as big as the one in Malibu. A trans woman writer I’ve known longer than almost any other, Ina Fried, compared this moment Jenner has created to the one Ellen brought about, when at last it was okay to be gay; the hope is the same could happen to those like Ina and me who are transgender.

Let’s remember that after Ellen came out, we moved on, and learned our gay neighbor is just another neighbor, that the lesbian who works in the cubicle across the way isn’t anything more or less than another co-worker.

And me? I’m on my way to being just another woman. But today, I am a transgender woman, and have been for awhile now.

Still, I would be grateful to you for thinking of me as… just another woman.

11046378_10206428533692302_2786928928095290804_oLove,

Dawn

XOXO

Don’t Believe Me Just Watch

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Today in Selma, Alabama, there was talk of civil rights, how far we’ve come. How far we still have to go. Fifty years after Bloody Sunday, there are still pockets of racism deep enough to hold entire communities, churches and governments. There are still places where we Americans are not judged on the content of our character, but on how we appear — and if not the color of our skin, then the bone structure of our bodies and the clothes we wear to express our gender gives rise to oppression and prejudice and denial of our liberty. The people we love makes us targets for hate, for discrimination, for fear.

My former residence in Marietta in the great state of Georgia was an apartment complex where about 75 to 80 percent of my neighbors were African-American. The property manager, the rental office employees, maintenance workers and folks to whom I’d say good morning and good night at the bus stop were all in the majority and I was but one of two white women living among them, peacefully and without trouble. We all minded our own business, and nobody ever made a fuss about me being either white or a woman.

But some politicians there want to pass a law that allows business owners to discriminate against me if my existence runs contrary to their religious beliefs.

Since nobody in Georgia ever asked me where I pray, and nobody ever questioned where I pee, I don’t expect I’d run afoul of this lousy bit of legislation, should it ever come to pass. But to think there are others not quite as fortunate who might be oppressed because of this kind of lawmaking, others who just happen to be friends of mine, I worry. And I do pray.

I read somewhere that God helps those who help themselves, and so I decided the best course of action, given my few options — having a part-time job, no savings and a boatload of bills — is to not make matters more complicated. I know better than to live someplace where I’m not welcome to be me.

So, one month ago today, I packed up my car and headed north, to return home. Which is ironic in a way, given the fact that I left home in the first place because I was no longer welcome.

The 17 hours I spent driving gave me time to reflect, to ponder, to ruminate and reconsider. When I unlocked the front door and crossed that threshold, I put an end to 21 months of drifting from place to place, five cities across three states in less than two years. I never once hung a picture or painted a wall, never once considered that where I was would be where I’d stay.

IMG_5359Because… home is, as the saying goes, where the heart is. And mine was where I left it, in the dwelling of my kids and one true love.

In all that time, only two things remained constant: my name is Dawn Stacey Ennis, and I am transgender. And because of those two things, that one true love is no longer mine to hold, to my great regret.

I was offered the option: come home, leave that life behind, rebuild a life I put to rest.

And I’d be lying if I didn’t admit: I was sorely tempted.

But having been “back and forth” — rather infamously, I might add — I found that temptation was one I could withstand without even a second thought.

I realized, over the past few weeks since I returned home, the saving grace of my children mattered more to me than anything else. Their love and total acceptance are in fact enough to make every day worth living, and my love for them keeps me motivated to make a difference in their lives and the world they will someday inherit.

The love I lost ran out when the gauge hit E, and cannot be refilled by the woman I truly am. And although I have lived as the man who kept the tank full, to overbrimming, I can’t wear that disguise any longer.  And she’s not buying the brand I’m now selling.

So I set my clothes hanging where mens’ suits once hung, I filled the empty drawers with my blouses and bras and other underwear where I once kept boxers and briefs and polo shirts. And I live my life. I do my job. I search for better opportunities.

white_snowI cook, clean, shop, eat, sleep, play, shovel, and shovel, and shovel, and everything else I did before — just like everybody does — except now I do this here, and not as a visitor, but as ME, as a woman who lives here.

A woman whose kids call her dad — deal with it.

11024732_10206103216159567_8063329912938319156_nI am Dawn Stacey Ennis and I am transgender.

And I am home.

You know, I think I might even paint a wall or two, and then, perhaps, hang a picture.

Plan B from Inner Space

balda_alps_clouds_sunriseI’m scared.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Worst Father of All Time

NO, the title of today’s entry does not refer to me or anyone I know. Except maybe in the “biblical sense” of the word.

Today I’m using my blog to share with you an excerpt from a book written by a friend, “What’s In It For Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives.” Now, before you roll your eyes or start thinking I now believe I’m on a mission from God, or that this is an advertisement for Christianity, bear with me: no, I’m no missionary and this is the farthest thing from an ad for the Church.

It could be construed as an ad for my rabbi.

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As you may know, I’m not Jewish except for that part of me that I share with every New York native in which I know just enough Yiddish to have a conversation with my bubbe, and my license to use the word, “Oy” is still valid. I am married to a Jewish woman, 18 years next month, which is a very lucky number in Judaism. “Chai” it’s called, and that’s pronounced “ZSCHZCH-hi” as if you mean to spit, not in my direction if you don’t mind. And we are raising three beautiful children as observant Jews in the Reform tradition.

Okay, except for my daughter (whose name is of Greek origin), the boys’ names are not so much Jewish. BUT there are Irish Jews, even in Ireland, and before we had children my bride and I visited just such a synagogue and were warmly received.

I call him “my rabbi” even though I have no plans and never did to convert. I am Roman Catholic and continue to practice my faith, even if Church doctrine doesn’t recognize me as a Catholic in good faith — since I am transgender. I figure if Pope Francis can be so non-judgmental on gays and divorced Catholics, he might come around some day. Until then, my family is very active in our synagogue and have been since joining Congregation Beth Israel a decade ago.

Rabbi Stephen Fuchs officiated at our youngest son’s brit, and has taught our two oldest in Hebrew School. He’s aware of both our interfaith marriage and that I am trans, and is one of my strongest allies and supporters. Our only disagreement in a decade was over an OpEd in which he opined that Hanukkah is a minor holiday “just like St. Patrick’s Day,” which triggered a blustery letter to the editor from me defending this significant day on the calendar of my Irish heritage (and our love of Hanukkah). Out of respect for each other’s views and in keeping with the tradition of reconciliation, we have allowed this gaping wound to heal.

Now, on the Hebrew calendar we are approaching a time known to Jews as The High Holy Days, their most important and most solemn days of the year. First up is Rosh Hashanah, next week, followed by Yom Kippur, and the beginning of a New Year. It is a time of reflection for Jewish people, and since Jesus and his mom and dad here on earth were Jews, I figure it’s worth understanding even for Christians and others who revere Jesus.

Rabbi Fuchs has been blogging excerpts from his book, now on sale on Amazon, and today’s entry is about what I have called The Worst Father of All Time. That is being heavy handed, admittedly, since Abraham did not in fact murder his son, he only planned to do so, and God knows a lot of parents have muttered something like “I want to kill that kid” at one time or another. But if not Abraham, who is the Worst Father of All Time? Here’s a guy who agrees to sacrifice his only son — a boy that he and his wife struggled mightily to conceive and bring into the world. I’ve been very strict with my kids but I can’t recall ever considering human sacrifice as an appropriate punishment.

Close. But I am nothing if not a typical Irish hothead who blows her top and then cools just as quickly.

So take a few minutes as Rabbi Fuchs takes us through the Torah or Old Testament story of Abraham and Isaac, and think about why something like this is even in the bible. It sounds about as relevant as the legalization of polygamy in the time of Moses. But you might see things differently after reading this excerpt which also includes the tragic story of a young British singer who fell from the height of stardom to poverty, self abuse and ultimately, death.

The rabbi begins with an introduction from Europe, where he and his lovely wife are spending ten weeks as he gives talks and tours Germany. Thanks!

As I sit here in Germany, site of the horrific human sacrifices that forever changed the course of our people’s and all of human history during the Shoah, I think of the story of the Binding of Isaac (Genesis 22) that we read in a few days from the Torah on Rosh Hashanah. I feel many people completely misunderstand the story’s vital message. I hope this excerpt from my just released book, What’s in It for Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives enables the story to speak directly to us.

Perhaps Scripture’s most puzzling and profound stories is the near sacrifice of Isaac. How, we wonder, could God ask such a thing? How could Abraham agree? Why does Abraham, who stood up to God and protested mightily on behalf of the strangers in Sodom and Gomorrah, not object when God instructs him: “Take your son…whom you love, Isaac, and offer him as a sacrifice on one of the heights that I will point out to you” (Genesis 22:3).

The answer is that after his argument with God over Sodom and Gomorrah Abraham knew God was just and knew that he could trust the Almighty even when God asked him to do something seemingly unthinkable: Sacrifice his own son. Some interpreters assert that by taking Isaac to Mount Moriah, Abraham failed God’s test. Others opine that while he might have been a great religious leader, he was a failure as a father to Isaac and a husband to Sarah. How else, they ask, could a good man be willing to sacrifice his own son? I contend, respectfully, they miss the point.

Human sacrifice was the principal scourge of the pagan world to which the new covenantal religion objected. The new religion that evolved into Judaism completely rejected human sacrifice. It is that horrific practice, which, I submit, the story of the Binding of Isaac decries. In beckoning Abraham to Mount Moriah to slay his son, but staying his hand, God sends a message that humanity still struggles with today. No civilized religion can accept human sacrifice in its name. From the ancient world out of which the covenant emerged, to the Spartans of ancient Greece, the Incas, Aztecs, Mayan, and Hawaiian civilizations of other hemispheres, pagan religion has always involved human sacrifice.

Indeed, a serious student of the Bible understands that the perceived efficacy of this horrific form of human behavior was difficult to uproot from the mindset of the ancient Hebrews as well. No fewer than fifteen times does the Hebrew Bible protest human sacrifice or cast it in a shameful light. Does a parent ever tell a child not to do something fifteen times when the parent has no worry whatsoever that the child will do that thing in the first place? Of course, not!

No biblical story illustrates how difficult it was to convince our ancestors that human sacrifice was an abomination better than the story of Mesha, King of Moab (ca. 850 BCE). Mesha had paid tribute to King Ahab of Israel, but rebelled after Ahab’s death. In the ensuing battle, the Israelites were routing the Moabite forces until (in the words of the Israelite biblical author), “Seeing that the battle was going against him, the King of Moab…took his firstborn son and offered him up on the wall as a burnt offering. A great wrath came upon Israel, so they withdrew from him and went back to their own land” (2 Kings 3:25-27). The point of this amazing story is that the biblical author clearly believed that Mesha’s act of human sacrifice is what turned the tide of battle in his favor.

When we evaluate the revolution in human thought that the God of the Hebrew Bible represents, I contend that the absolute rejection of human sacrifice is even more significant than the insistence on one God as opposed to many gods and the rejection of idol worship!

Critics of Abraham’s behavior in the story of the Binding of Isaac point out that God never again addressed Abraham directly after the incident. So what? This does not change the reality that Abraham remained God’s active covenantal partner until the end of his days. His acts of covenantal responsibility at the end of hislife were every bit as significant as those earlier in his covenantal career.

Why did God ask such a thing of Abraham? And why was Abraham willing to do it? God and Abraham had a unique relationship, which illustrated a brand new way of experiencing God to the world. Unlike the pagan gods, God in the Torah is not simply a force to appease. Rather, God is the source of moral and ethical values that brought a much higher level of civil thinking to the world. One of the vilest aspects of the pagan world was human sacrifice. It is befitting, then, that God and God’s unique covenantal partner, Abraham, should present a dramatic demonstration to the world that human sacrifice should never occur. That is why God could ask Abraham to do the unthinkable. That is why Abraham, who protested so forcefully for the sake of strangers in Sodom and Gomorrah, so willingly complied with God’s request.

Suppose for a moment a parent called me and said, “Rabbi, you will not be seeing Petunia in religious school anymore because this morning, God told me to take her to the mountains and offer her as a sacrifice.” Naturally, I would do everything possible to convince the parent that the voice he or she heard was not that of God. Moreover, I would do everything, including notifying the police, to stop him or her from doing this.

Of course, the scenario I just proposed is absurd. Nevertheless, we have yet to learn not to sacrifice our children. It happens all the time. It happens each time we send our children to fight wars over conflicts that could better be settled by negotiation. It happens each time we force our children into pursuits or professions to satisfy our own ego’s needs. It happens every time we overwhelm our children with pressure to succeed, never letting them feel that they are good enough.

The great British entertainer Lena Zavaroni (1963-1999) is a case in point. Born on the tiny Scottish Isle of Bute, Lena Zavaroni was an amazing musical talent with a magnificent voice and boundless charisma and charm. As a little girl, her aunt whisked her off to London to pursue fame and fortune. She achieved both in spades. By the time she was ten years old, she had appeared on The Johnny Carson Show, toured Japan, and sung for Queen Elizabeth and President Gerald Ford. By the end of her teenage years, she had starred in three successful British TV variety series. She was the highest-paid entertainer in the United Kingdom. View her YouTube video clips. She was amazing.

Ah, but when she was still a young girl, people began to tell her that she looked a bit pudgy. To make a long, sad story short, Lena Zavaroni⎯once the richest teenager in the world, adored by millions⎯died broke and penniless from complications of anorexia at age thirty-five.

Beautiful, precious Lena Zavaroni was every bit as much a human sacrifice as Jephtha’s daughter (and the rabbis of the Midrash condemn Jephtha as a fool) in Chapter 11 of the book of Judges. Every time I watch her sing, I want to reach into the computer screen, hug her and promise, “I won’t let anyone hurt you!” But it is a promise I could never make, let alone keep. And Lena Zavaroni, who appeared thinner and thinner with each passing year of her young life, is just one of millions of examples of horrific human sacrifice we have offered throughout the centuries and continue to offer today.

Yet many contemporary rabbis and others bemoan the fact that God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son. They just don’t get it! They just don’t get that God and Abraham tried to teach the world a vital lesson⎯a lesson we still have not learned.
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Message Received: My Final Post (of July)

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“God works in mysterious ways.”

Yeah, and sometimes He beats us over the head to make sure we got the message.

Maybe it isn’t God at all, but a lost loved one or friend reaching out from heaven, or a guardian angel… Or just a coincidence.

I’m not going to tell you what you should believe, but I believe the dead and God (or whatever name you call our Creator) do speak to us, and we can learn things and avoid mistakes, if we pay heed.

The same lesson applies if we simply avoid repeating mistakes — a friend once posted a sign at work: “MAKE ONLY NEW MISTAKES” — but I’ll admit, I have been one of those “needs extra help” kinda people. And I think God noticed.

So, for example, when I was feeling bitter that a relative misgendered me as he told me whatever happens to me is my fault and the result of my “chosen lifestyle” — I started writing a reply in which the word “ignorant” featured prominently. And within a few seconds before I could either save or send my relative my terse reply, my laptop decided to reboot.. Just out of nowhere, no reason that I could understand. And the time it took to resume my work and retype my message was just enough to take a breath and compose not only myself, but a more gentle note of sadness and to genuinely express my hope for future reconciliation, instead of sending one that slammed the door shut.

There are dozens of similar instances, but none more powerful than those I experienced at today’s Sunday Mass. Oh, and before you go thinking I’m in Church every week, praying for my family and loved ones and for my own salvation, the truth is, this former altar boy can’t recall the last time I attended mass or received the sacraments. Even though I often think of going, I’m pretty sure that doesn’t count.

Yes, I know the Church isn’t exactly a big fan of trans people, but this pope has been very moderate and surprisingly far more tolerant than any of his predecessors. Maybe he’d even agree with my friend the rabbi that I, as a transwoman, am still created in God’s image. Either way, I’m not really as religious as I am someone who has faith. And so, for no particular reason, today was the day Dawn went back to Church.

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The beautiful Roman Catholic Church of St. John is right around the corner from my Bronx apartment, and its steeple can be seen from my window. After a short walk on a gorgeous, sunny day, I took my seat in a pew right off the center aisle of the church. Two older women were seated in front of me, an older man behind me, a young girl who reminded me of myself at that age sat all alone across the aisle; there were perhaps 50 of the faithful in all. It was hardly crowded.

The readings today all focused on a message of finding the good within ourselves and our neighbors, and what it would be like to go to heaven (as well as hell). Today’s Gospel in particular focused on parables about a farmer’s wheat crop and the weeds sown by an enemy, and the strength of a tiny mustard seed, and what a difference it makes where it is planted.

I wanted to stand up, look to the mighty cathedral ceiling and shout, “OKAY, OKAY! I GOT IT!”

But it would not have mattered because, apparently, God wasn’t done.

The hymn following the Liturgy of the Eucharist — played and sung during communion — was one that has always touched my heart and soul. Like “Be Not Afraid,” a childhood favorite played at one of my cousin’s funerals, this hymn always brings me to tears within the first few notes. I kneeled, sobbing, and could not stop even as I stood and joined the procession to receive the host.

I’m guessing people must have thought me mad, or just inconsolable. I didn’t care, as I thought how truly wretched my life was… how much I missed my daughter, today of all days, and all of my family… how much I truly grieved the loss of my best friends Rick Regan and Art Daley… and how alone I felt, now that I’ve chosen to cut myself off from friends and supporters who carried me through these dark days. But most of all, how despondent I was, to be abandoned by my own mother, sister and all those who have rejected me and turned their backs on me, simply because of who I am.

No, I was not wallowing in self-pity; I was acknowledging to God, yes, this hurts, having lost so much all at once. My tears faded as I confirmed my faith that this point in my life is not the end; that this grief is necessary to overcome my mistakes and to learn from them; and that my life will get better.

Eventually.

God had once again sent me a message, that I am blessed, that He Loves me… and that His Grace is indeed Amazing.

“Amazing Grace”
by John Newton (1725-1807)

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
And Grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me.
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

20140720-143515-52515204.jpg Click the link to see and hear a beautiful performance of “Amazing Grace,” by Celtic Woman