Ha, Me Boys

They are eight years apart and the best of friends.

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

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

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

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

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

And I, a woman, am their father. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Six

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.

Don’t Believe Me Just Watch

bloodysunday

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.

So Long, And Thanks For All The Nietzsche

10403900_10205873977428742_3427158236744361944_o

Just a short post to say “thank you” to everyone who took time to read my commentary at The Advocate and/or my expanded post here, about all the hype surrounding Bruce Jenner. Of course, the very clever friend whom I call my Jiminy Cricket saw right through me, as I seized this opportunity to not only comment on that media maelstrom but the one that befell me, as well.

Putting those words out there, telling my whole story, is something I have wanted to do for the longest time. Something I was told I couldn’t do and then didn’t dare do, before now. And I’ll admit I can now at least say I did get to tell my story. Book, schmook; I am following the wise advice of a certain Barnard professor I know, who told me to live my life and write about it later.

Anyway, I am grateful for the love and support I’ve received thus far, and yes, even the feedback that wasn’t all positive, because I appreciate honesty. Most of all I cherish the new friendships I’ve made as a result of sharing with y’all.

Now begins my last 24 hours here in Georgia. Soon enough it’ll be time for me to pack up and head out. I’ll be trying to beat the latest snowpocalypse that’s bearing down on the Northeast. Last time I checked, yup: February. It snows in February in the Northeast. So… in other words, that kind of wintry weather is “normal?” Okay! Just an observation.

bert-unibrowAnd on my way, I’ll need to pick up a new pair of sunglasses that won’t leave a unibrow mark on the bridge of my nose, like this not-cheap pair I purchased at Sea World Orlando at Christmas time. While everyone’s making a big hullaballoo about protecting killer whales and dolphins from exploitation by evil amusement parks, where’s the outrage over nasty sunglasses leaving black marks that make me look like Bert from Sesame Street? Sigh.

Barring any unforeseen developments, like a job offer — hell, I’d detour just to have a job interview —  I’m headed home, to my children, and will deal with the other consequences that will most certainly arise.  Ahem.

But be assured, dear ones, I will be back, to share more thoughts and stories and emotions and some pictures now and again.  Until then, as my dear friend Rick always said: “Be Good.” 

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.

pa

(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.
bsg_chars_william-adama_01_web
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)…
2010june_mtamap
  • And now I am in Marietta, Georgia.
2000px-Map_of_USA_GA.svg
  • 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

Remember Them, Not Me

Screen-shot-2013-11-20-at-10.28.17-AM-700x325

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

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

Their names, and their faces, are HERE.

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

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

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

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

200820014

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

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

tdor___transgender_day_of_remembrance_by_aikam-d6uvv46

Rejection Dejection

rejected

I found this online and found it to be helpful in processing my thoughts about a recent rejection:

“Viewing rejection as “you’re not good enough” will cause you to try to change in order to become “good enough” for that person or circumstance.

Seeing rejection as “it’s not right for you, but another person happened to recognize it first,” frees you to find something or someone who is right for you instead.

At the heart of this shift in thinking are four very important things:

1. LOVE yourself.

2. ACCEPT yourself.

3. DO YOUR BEST!

4. Have CONFIDENCE in the first three!

– Doe Zantamata

Click HERE for more insight and information.

The Journey of Our Lifetime

slider-header-cows

Thirty years ago, I was a junior in college and I rented a car from the airport in Oakland, and after visiting San Francisco, I headed north. No destination in particular, I had no idea where I was going, and yet I didn’t feel lost at all.

I was out west for Columbus Day weekend, taking advantage of a still incredible bargain $99 flight on People Express — the airline where you paid after you boarded and the flight was already en route. It’s no wonder they went out of business.

I had no plans other than to enjoy myself and see what I could see. My drive north led me, inexplicably, to Point Reyes National Seashore, and its historic lighthouse.

nco59B3F615EC11C65C8

These pictures posted here are from the internet; I don’t have any pictures from that part of my trip, because I wasn’t there to take any. I just wanted to experience this place, and create memories for myself that have stood the test of time… and amnesia. When I reached Point Reyes near sunset, I knew I had traveled where I was supposed to be: my new, all-time and still-forever favorite place on Planet Earth.

258C9AA5911A4679B7EEF3D222842438

It was 16 years before I returned to California. I took my college sweetheart, now my wife, and our first-born there, to share with them what I had discovered. It wasn’t sunset, and it didn’t make any impression on an 18-month-old baby, but my beloved understood how special this was to me, and that was all that mattered. Now 14 years have elapsed and so much has changed in my life, I have made a promise to myself that I will return sometime in 2015. It’s time.

Why is Point Reyes so special? I don’t know. I have always felt a close connection to water, since my earliest days. Bodies of water, the sounds of waves, the vastness of an ocean in particular, calms my soul. Pretty funny for a kid who grew up so scared of water that I wouldn’t take a bath unless I could sit on a folded towel in the tub and didn’t learn to swim in a pool until I was eight.

point-reyes-lighthouse-george-oze

When you climb down the steep stairs to the lighthouse, and venture to the side where it faces the Pacific Ocean, you feel something like the character Kate Winslet played in James Cameron’s “Titanic,” Rose DeWitt, as Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) held her aloft at the stem of the mighty ship.

Point-Reyes_Calif

You look to your left, and to your right, and all around you, all you see is the magnificent Pacific Ocean. It is as if you are, indeed, king or queen of the world. I have never witnessed such a view before or since.

point-reyes-lighthouse-illuminate_FULL

Every day has the potential to bring you new opportunities as well as obstacles, and that can lead to new perspectives and new feelings.

Even a new outlook. That happened to me recently. I’m still processing the experience and I remain a little tingly, in a good way.

I believe that when you’ve found a special place or a special person, seized an opportunity or overcome an obstacle, real or imagined, I think it is good to take time to consider how you got there, how you accomplished that feat, and what lessons you might draw for the next step on your journey.

That’s where my head has been at today.

And tonight, I am reminded to never miss the chance to tell someone: “I love you,” “I’m sorry, or “I hope you can forgive me,” thinking that it can wait until tomorrow.

The reminder came to me from my old, dormant “Don” Facebook account, where every once in awhile I find a reason to re-activate it for a short time, like just now. And almost always, I stumble upon something unexpected.

There, I happened to notice something I hadn’t seen before tonight: Darryl duPont, a dear friend of mine, posted a beautiful and heartwarming comment on a post about the passing of my pal, Rick Regan, earlier this year.

It stunned me because just a few days later, this friend, too, lost his life, and I failed to acknowledge his kindness. Darryl and I had other conversations, of course, and I know he knew of my fondness for him. This observation struck me as a reminder, there isn’t always time to say what needs to be said, right then and there.

So, covering my bases: I love you all, and for those to whom I owe my apologies, I ask forgiveness, and I am sorry.

Looking forward to another day and more adventures tomorrow and all the days to follow on this journey!

Bj222vpIcAAdE9C.jpg-large

Our Lifeboat

IMG_2269.JPG

I am a cast away.
I am lost and have been for some time now.
Once upon a time, i shared a rocking lifeboat with you.
And then came a day when you told me I needed to get out.
I did so, but felt as it I were tossed out, because you chose to sail on without me, feeling as though I must be lost to you forever, rather than keep your vow to stay by my side and help me through whatever came our way.
You told me you had had enough of sharing that space and need your own.
You said you’d added up the days of sitting by side and decided when it was time for me to go.
And so, I struggled, but I let you know, I’ve never let go.
You only hung on in the one place you would not admit there was still a chance I might find my way back aboard.
And even as I hung on, you encouraged me to let go.
You behaved as if me hanging on was holding you back.
And yet I hung on, clinging, refusing to let go.
And you refused to move even an inch toward me to bring me back in.
I wanted to spend the rest of our lives in our lifeboat.
Sail the high seas with our family until we could sail no more.
I’ve come as far as I can without your help.
I need you to move toward me to get me back aboard.
I cannot do it myself. It takes two.
I wanted nothing more than to forget the choppy sea.
And yet all you threw in my face was more of the same old water.
You doubted I could hang on, and said so.
You didn’t encourage me, and in fact discouraged me.
I let my passions be known, I did not let go of them, nor you.
And yet you refused to yield.
You never took stock of how far we had come together.
You only reminded me how far I had gone outside the lifeboat.
You said it changed me and refused to help me back inside.
Never admitting how much you had changed from someone who shared their seat to someone who saw only room for you and our kids.
You changed from someone who cared about all of us to someone who cared about all of us except for me.
Today I told you, there are other lifeboats out there. Maybe one of them is for me?
I reminded you, I want nothing else but to be beside you, but just like last night and yesterday and all the other yesterdays, you only see the hurt you feel and the old water between us and never consider what I need, just that you are not satisfied.
I thought, will you ever be?
Will you ever see that I have never let go? Despite how being in the water has changed me, right down to my fingers and toes, how the years of piled-up insults and recriminations and reminders of my shortcomings have hurt me, could you ever move just enough to help me back aboard? I know you are hurt, too, and I thought we could help each other heal those wounds.
But I wondered whether you would let that part still clinging to me overtake your own doubts and memories of what’s in our past and give me your hand?
Or will you let me drift here until I finally am unable to hang on for even another day?
You’ve said you need time to think about it.
I’ve said I have needs, too, and it’s time for you to show me that one of your needs is me.
But again, and again, and again, what you show me is that you will sail along without me unless I find my own way back into your lifeboat, on my own.
You feel assured that you’ve done enough, even though we both know, it takes two. And it always has.
I shared with you a story that touches my heart, about how even after a husband goes beyond what it takes to be together, how his love for the woman who refuses to move even an inch costs him everything. How much I feel that this is our story, too. And how the woman in the story saves him by finally seeing him as he is, not as she thinks he is. And how I feel I am losing you because you cannot see beyond your own version of who and what I am.
And you say all you take away from that story is that it’s depressing. You don’t see deeper meaning. It doesn’t affect you deep down like it does me. You only see the surface, like the old water between us.
You don’t even see a lifeboat for all of us, just for you and our children, and you let me go.
So I let go.
Still you make not one move to bring me back in.
I hope perhaps I will find another lifeboat, but all I want is for that vessel to carry me home.
Home, back to you.
But you instead see me as “once again” abandoning you.
As I drift away, alone. Cast away.
If I find another lifeboat, I know you will only see it as further proof of your suffering and what you perceive as my abandonment. You would never see that I came as far as I could without you, and that you made your choice by sitting still, taking time, and leaving me outside.
So what happens next?
If you choose to look away, and not consider what happens to me to be relevant to you, I will drift away toward uncharted waters.
After all, it was you let me go.

IMG_2271.JPG

Attention, “Transparent” Fans and Wanna Be Screenwriters

Transparent_Amazon-1024x313

Before you ask, yes. I’ve already sent in my entry.

But… if you’ve always dreamed of living in Hollywood and writing for a program about a family dealing with a transgender person going through transition, this is for YOU!

THE DEADLINE IS TONIGHT! They are, indeed, looking for a trans woman writer to join the writers’ room.

Official Description:

TRANSPARENT is looking for a trans woman writer to join the writing staff next season. No TV experience necessary, but you should be a self-identified writer. A love of words, comedy, story, drama and performers is a must.

If you don’t live in LA, you’d need to potentially be able to relocate to LA from January to June ish, 2015.

Your first step, if you’re interested, is to write a 2-3 page fictional short story about anything you like. Your story doesn’t need to be about being trans, but it can be. It should feel brutally, beautifully honest, show your sense of humor and feel like a reflection of you. It would be great if there were a protagonist or idea of a protagonist on a journey towards getting something, but not necessary.

If you’re interested, please send your resume and a 3-page short story (double-spaced and as a word doc) to estigiordani@gmail.com by (TONIGHT) October 15th. Please be sure you have a separate cover sheet with your name on it and that your name doesn’t appear in the headers of the story as part of the process will involve blind submissions.

140929_TV_Tambor.jpg.CROP.promo-mediumlarge

And Now, The News

577847_10200682954296408_1550639363_n

I took two months to consider the advice of smarter people, closed the blog, took time away from social media (not enough time, of course; I’m addicted) and can boast that I have again found work and reached a mutually beneficial severance agreement with my former employer, from whose employ I have now officially resigned.

And with my new start, my new job, my new attitude, I am going to once again resume blogging and ramp-up my online presence to heretofore unseen visibility. I will be active in activism, outspoken in civil rights, and offer my voice to causes in which I am invested. My hope is to help those already leading the charge and put my energy to work in raising the tide that lifts all boats.

Do not mistake me for someone seeking more attention for me. I have had more than my share and I am glad to be behind the curtain, behind the throne, backstage and making noises off. I am not taking stands to be seen or heard for my own sake but for our sake, as humans, as people, and no, not just for transgender people.

But without a doubt I will not be silent. It was a joy to be a part of the tradition of journalism, when it was something I enjoyed. I always said I would quit when it was no longer fun, and surprisingly, I needed a shove to recognize I had already entered the “no fun” zone. But that’s okay. I am happier, I am clear in my mind and in my soul that I am on the right path, one that leads to my future and not someone else’s.

Allow me to introduce you to the new me, and not just the old me, improved and refitted. I am me, and I am glad, and hope you will be, too. The biggest change? I won’t feel bad if you don’t approve or accept who I am and what I do. I am not living for you, or anyone, anymore. I am not changing to make others happy anymore.

I posted my first entry in two months very early this morning, thoughts that grew from an email exchange with one of my dearest friends. I hope it resonates with you, and if not, know that I wrote it to help me better understand where I am and to reflect with my close friend on where I’ve been. I am indebted to Janine for growing with me on this journey, in growing beyond tolerance to a new level of acceptance and awareness.

Thank you, too, for checking in. I’ll have more to say, soon. Big news, in fact.

Expect more of that, from time to time, now that I am who I am. And I Am Real. #iamreal

I Am Real

IMG_0970.JPG
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!

Yet.

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!

Nobody Knew

hat

The man holding the Panama Hat
Appeared anxious, going this way and that,
He paced the subway car, up and down,
Looking for something, all around

Under seats
Behind feets
Moving forth and up he backed,
For whatever it was that he lacked.

My fellow riders and I politely complied
As the man in black in exasperation sighed.
We looked under, left and right
For something out of sight.

But for what? He didn’t say
As he moved that and this way.
I considered but decided to not ask
Concluding he was some kind of bask
Et case.

Perhaps in answer to my unspoken query
Panama Hat Man spoke, and busted my theory.
“A brown umbrella,” he declared
Was the item for which he cared

1c7a72b7-3ebd-429a-9ac5-e9ece52768be

So much so, he dared interrupt our gaze
Away from our practiced straphanger daze.
“Have you seen it?” He inquired
Of everyone sitting bored and tired

Of living
Day to day without meaning;
Of giving
Every ounce of blood without keening.

“Has anyone seen my brown umbrella?” the man pleaded
As he kneeled right before me, his face with sweat balls beaded
And for a moment my skeptic mind
Thought this a ruse to prey on kind

Hearted people so moved by his loss
Nobody noticed a second man, perhaps his boss?
Two con men out to rob each New Yorker;
Perhaps he was the eye-catching label and his friend the uncorker

Popping open each lady’s purse
As Missing Umbrella Dude used chapter and verse
As a distraction from his partner, the champagne from the bubbles.
Whether he be thief, or just a fool, I know his troubles:

What it’s like to be without something, an umbrella, love or dinner
Whether it’s a con or on the level, we are each of us a sinner.
The difference between us is, you’re either just playing a part
Or losing your marbles, not your broken heart.

Crazy umbrella guy, I left you crouching on your knees
Go , scour the subway car, once more if you please.
If you’re fooling us or just a fool , it really matters not
Because I am who I am and what matters matters a lot.

I’m not playing a game or some kind of trick
And I have no intention to deceive men about a prick
Ly subject.
To this I object.

I live according to my heart, authentic at last
Not one regret for the bumpy ride or my past
Each challenge has made me stronger, one day at a time
I’ve evolved, you might say, just like “Rosemary and Thyme.”

Nobody knew if ever there was a brown ‘brella.
And if the hat was a style statement or just a costume for this fella.
Nobody knew if he was nuts or just a pretender.
Just as nobody knew that I am transgender.

I keep to myself, but I smile a lot more
Now that I no longer need search for
The item I was missing; it’s found, and it’s me.
Like an umbrella, out and open for all to see.

Karma Calling

Ice-Fire-Awesome-Wallpaper-Hd

There is this person I know.

We’ve known each other for many years, and we have quite a few friends in common in the TV News business, where she got her start before moving on to publishing. A few years ago, she was the first person to whom I pitched an idea for a memoir about the changes that have come about in my life. I sent her an email but I didn’t get a reply; no call, nothing… So I moved on.

I hired an agent and we put together what’s called a proposal.  By the fall of 2012, there was genuine buzz about my story and this person I know heard through the grapevine that I was about to make a pitch. She finally replied to my year-old email and asked me to send it to her first. I was gung-ho but my agents balked, telling me horror stories about every project this person touched. I was torn but they were adamant, so we didn’t include her when we sent out the proposal — each with a confidentiality agreement.

In that early form, the book admittedly needed work, and so we went back to the drawing board. I hired a publishing pro to help me address some of the feedback we’d received. And life went on…

I transitioned in May 2013, and just a few days later, a tabloid newspaper printed a full-page story about my coming out. The reporter (who also used to work in TV) copied and pasted much of her “reporting” from my facebook post, but then shocked everyone including me by citing details that could only have been taken straight from my book proposal. By revealing very private information that was privy only to those who received the proposal, this reporter totally undercut my efforts to tell my own story.

As I waited for all the attention to die down, the newspaper kept after me, sending reporters to grill my neighbors, my relatives and even to ambush my wife and children in hopes of digging up more dirt; although I deleted hundreds of my children’s pictures, almost any photograph or status update that my wife or I had posted in social media found a home in the paper’s pages and dozens of tabloids around the world. And this same tabloid reporter kept publishing articles about me. 

So, when my agents sent a revised proposal to 40 publishing houses earlier this year, we took extra steps to avoid a repeat of the leak. It didn’t matter; our worst nightmare came true once again when this reporter somehow obtained a copy of the latest proposal, and again printed details that made most of the publishers say, “no thanks, the story’s already been told.”

My agents had suspected my old friend was the reporter’s source all along, but I refused to accuse her, given I had no proof. However, this time, the agents confronted her publisher directly, and to our surprise, they confirmed our suspicions: my old friend admitted she leaked my proposal to that tabloid reporter, twice, out of spite.

I was crushed, but I felt the damage had been done. I am not a spiteful person and I would prefer to be bigger than her and just move on.

But as most of you know, just a few months later, my circumstances have changed. As I think I’ve made clear, I’m now beyond desperate.

Today at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City, as I waited hours for a ride home to see my children, I spent my last $1.50 to buy myself a bagel, so I could have something to eat for the first time since Tuesday. It was the least expensive thing I could find, and yes, I know it’s hardly the healthiest option. Although relations are strained between us, my wife bought me that bus ticket because our kids missed me, but not before reminding me we don’t have enough money to pay both our mortgage and my rent next month; soon, I’m going to have to give up my apartment, and that will mean in just a few weeks I will not only be unemployed but I will be homeless, too.

I’ve applied for unemployment, welfare and disability but I won’t see any money until next month — and although it’s a fraction of what I used to earn, I can’t in good conscience keep it for myself. That money is to help feed my family; they need it far more than I do, because they’ve given up so much already. Tomorrow, we tell our daughter we can’t afford to send her to summer camp this year, something I vowed she would do, even though I lost my job. I’m still learning that I cannot make things happen just by wishing them to be true.

I’m not telling you all this to evoke pity or ask for your help. As I have blogged this week, I did this to myself by being shortsighted, selfish, and believing assurances my book would be a huge hit and fix all my problems. No one else is to blame for that. Just me.

When I lost my job, I thought I would quickly get another one to at least help me start to fix these issues — but it’s July. Nobody’s hiring, and those who are, want nothing to do with me; despite 30 years of experience, excellent references and awards, all that publicity has made me “radioactive.” Like many of you, I’m very well connected. But whereas Don Ennis could make a call and find a gig within days, the truth is Dawn Ennis rarely gets a return call or email. Thank goodness for my true friends who have continued to send me leads; I’ve followed up on each and every one.

And I’m still unemployed.

So I decided today that I would make a phone call that I’ve avoided. I dialed my old friend’s number for the first time in years, and sent her an email, because I believe, rightly or wrongly, that she owes me something. And what I want… is a job.

Any job; I’m not picky. All I need is a start, and a chance to earn some decent money to support my family. This is not extortion, and not a threat. But I promise I’m not going to remain silent either.

I’ve made sure people who know my friend are aware of my plea, and I am still awaiting her reply. I have told anyone who asks what she admits to doing. What’s the point in keeping it a secret?

It didn’t have to be this way. But my friend’s bosses told my agents she was so miffed at not being sent my confidential proposal, she decided to ruin my chances of seeing it published. Twice.

And now I’ve decided she should make that up to me. All she needs to do is get me a job. Someone in her position should be able to swing that easily.

We’ll see.

 

My Truth, Our Consequences

20140709-204414-74654341.jpg

WordPress sent me a message wishing me a happy anniversary. For five years (not counting my long absences) I have been blogging about my gender identity, my marriage and my journey of self discovery.

As we used to say in the 90s: Yadda, yadda, yadda.

The word that I think bothers me most about transition is “authenticity.” A better word , in my experience, would be “honesty,” or. ” truth.”

I have long complained here and elsewhere that I felt the price of authenticity, of living honestly and true to one’s gender, was just too damn high; my marriage cratered and I lost the love, trust and respect of the woman I loved most in life, not just because I’m transgender, but because of the choices I made in eventually acknowledging who I am.

Although being trans is not a choice, I realized too late I should have chosen to not lie to my wife. I should have chosen to not keep secrets and to tell her what I was feeling.

Except: I knew telling her would be the end. And so I refused to admit the truth even to myself.

Except: I kept secrets to avoid arguments that I felt would only split us apart.

Except: I heard her say, over and over, that if my hormone imbalance leads me down the path I eventually followed,, that we were finished. And I desperately did not want that to happen.

That’s why I lied to myself before I ever lied to her.

The Lessons

This price I paid for authenticity turns out to be a package deal. I learned things I never knew about my wife and my family just by becoming who I am.

I learned that her love and that of my mother and my sister and many more relatives is not unconditional.

I discovered that people who said they supported you can be good at keeping their hatred and disdain hidden so that you’re never aware until they betray you.

And I learned firsthand how transgender people are considered by some ignorant people to be dishonest and “uncomfortable” to be around. But by the time you find out that’s how some people you know really feel, there’s really not much you can do except not be around them. Oh, and if you don’t make that happen, they will.

Still, I’m not sad that I have achieved my goal in transitioning from male to female and living as my true, honest and yes, “authentic” self.

Yes, it took me a year of figuring it all out, and I understand to some folks it looked like I went back and forth. Not true… but if you’ll agree with me that if being confused about one’s true gender is hard for most people to grasp… Then please allow me to say you’re not going to understand why I had trouble getting this issue resolved cleanly, with tabloids and public attention focused on my every online posting.

Folks, I had reporters hiding in shrubs on my property ambushing my family. I got calls within minutes of updating my Facebook status to ask for interviews. I mean, who the hell am I to command this much media attention? I’m nobody.

As it turns out, I’m the first transgender woman in a key editorial position at a major US TV network to have come out… And because the network where I worked was owned by the biggest family entertainment company on the planet, that apparently made me “newsworthy .”

Not exactly something employers are looking for, incidentally.

Starting at Zero

The toughest part of where I am right now… is accepting this is where I am right now. Someone who grew up spoiled rotten and raised to think you can have anything you want is likely to be a little shocked to find it’s not true… and the clock is still running.

At a time in life when others are counting their earnings and their days until retirement (and making sure the college funds are growing), I have one dollar in my purse and an overdrawn bank account. That’s not a plea for charity or help; it’s just me being honest. I’m broke. I got here all on my own, putting aside responsibility for pleasing myself or others, and putting off till tomorrow what needed to be done yesterday. I have at age 50 learned a lesson most people learn when they are five: there are always consequences.

I’m still knocking on doors in the online world of job-hunting. Still getting nowhere but trying to not feel defeated.

I have learned in my therapy sessions that transgender people, more often than the general public, experience these childhood traumas in adulthood because of the suppression of their true identities as children. Some of us work so hard to be someone we are not and to be loved and accepted by our parents, that it is not until these issues complicate our adult lives that we finally face our true selves.

That is where I am. This is where I start. From Zero.

A very good friend of mine, someone whose path is not far from mine and a woman I truly look up to, told me I am not a zero. I just need to learn to hold on.

Stacey, I’m trying. Twice I nearly let go, of everything. I could have wound up another statistic, but for my friends and the love of my children.

The lesson I learned from all this is one that applies to everyone, not just transfolk: remember that there are always consequences.

You would have thought I might have first got the message watching a game show when I was a child, called “Truth or Consequences.”

My mistake was believing the goal was to find a way to win the game, whatever the cost. My truth, at long last, is that I have not really lost what is most important in life, and I have finally begun to pay the consequences.

As I was saying…

photo 1
Fifteen months!

My bad. And I am truly sad that I haven’t updated this blog in more than a year, and I don’t think I’ve even given it much thought in the past year, which has been a whirlwind. More like a cyclone, really. Thanks to a few bozos who decided I was just another meal ticket instead of a human being, much of what’s become of my life has been told, and retold, in graphic tabloid fashion.

Of course, they got most of it wrong. Beginning with the idea that my life and what I did was “news.” I’ll forgive everyone who thinks “google” is the authority on me, and invite you to get a clearer understanding of who I really am…

And it’s fair to say from this standpoint, who I really was. It’s not short, but how about you sum up your year in a few words, and we can compare later.

I Got Schooled

Consider this my first toe back in the water of blogging. I confess I stopped not because I wanted to but because I was told to. People who were trying to protect me urged me to go silent, to refrain from expressing myself, and scolded me whenever I broke ranks. I’ll admit I was ignorant of the impact my social media activity would have on others, including my beloved family, and how publicity based on my posts would in turn reflect poorly on others in the transgender community.

I was naive to think I could trust colleagues with my personal travails, which to them was just idle gossip worth spreading. And I was foolish to think I had no enemies who would enjoy nothing more than to see me fall. And I have fallen.

I restart my blog just as I am restarting my life. I am 50. I have lost everything except the love of my children and the support of my wonderful friends. I have no job. I have no money. Nothing to show for years of earning six figures; it’s all gone. I have no credit, no car, no license. What I own fits into a small studio apartment. My most valued possession is my life and the love of those who have not abandoned me. And I count God among them.

But I think even He was getting a little tired of my vida loca.

So let’s start with the facts: I am transgender. I was raised as a male and first felt something was amiss at the age of five. I didn’t think of it in terms of gender; I was different from other boys; my mother told me it meant I was special.

Yes, girls were my friends but not my only friends.

Yes, I enjoyed pretend games more than sports.

But I did not dress-up or fantasize or even dream that I was anything other than a boy.

384812_2645244207582_866694186_n

That Kid on TV

My childhood was “normal,” except for the fact I was the only boy in my school who was in a union and earned almost as much as my father. My sister did, too. We were child models and commercial actors; our boss was our mother, who quickly learned the ways of being a stage mother.

My little sister and I missed lots of school and afternoon playtime because of our work. But the money from those jobs helped our family move from New York City to the suburbs of Long Island. We had the first color TV on our block, the first VCR, the first boat, took trips to Disney and spent weekends in Connecticut.

We lived well and wanted for nothing. “No” was not a word we children heard often; in other words, we were spoiled rotten.

And then came that most hated thing, what every child model and actor fears most, worst than a cowlick, more frightening than a blackhead, in every way worse than a runny nose: puberty.

In fact, I hadn’t really even begun to change when I hit the age when most of my peers were getting their pimples, hair was sprouting from all kinds of places and the boys’ voices were dropping. I was 12 and about the only change my family noted was I had found my voice. Not a singing voice or for speech and debate, although you could say I did make myself heard for the first time. My lovable, sweet, do whatever you say without complaint disposition had begun to harden with the realization I could be the first one in my family to finally say “NO.” I didn’t want to take out the garbage. I didn’t want to iron the clothes or vacuum. I didn’t want to go on auditions. “No! No! NO!”

And “no” is what the agencies and clients started saying, too. There was very little work for boys ages 12-16, and my third of the family income dipped precipitously. My parents were on edge, and my mother in particular was beside herself with worry.

Going on The Pill

This is the part of my life that has caused no end of doubt and denial among family, supporters and naysayers. What I know happened next is that I was unexpectedly cast in the parts of girls. First on radio, then to model clothing. My work increased and so did my salary.

I was already slight, thin, narrow- shouldered and fair, with a 70s haircut that was typical for the time. A few trims here and beauty salon visits later and by the summer of 14th year I was likely the only boy on Long Island with a Dorothy Hamill hairstyle. And by 15, I could fill an A-cup bra.

How did this happen? I can only tell you that when I was 12, I stopped taking Flintstones vitamins and instead learned how to swallow whole a new smaller vitamin, that came in a beige clamshell case hidden in my mother’s bedside table drawer, next to what my sister and I recall was a typically half-eaten Cadbury bar and diaphragm.

My mother denies giving me birth control pills to keep my complexion acne- free, to keep my testosterone-fueled mood in check, to alter my body to look more feminine from my face to my budding breasts, rounding hips and buttocks. She says it was not her.

It’s not my place to say anything more except that my father got one look at me modeling a bra and I never took another “vitamin” or wore teenage girls’ clothes again.

With time, and the help of a barber and a nail clipper, my presentation was much more male by the time I turned 17 and finally “retired ” from acting and modeling. My delayed male pubescence kicked in around the same time and by college, I was dating every girl I could. My testosterone drive was so strong I went from bareskin to bearded and covered in body hair in just two years; it also may be partly to blame for my male pattern baldness that took me by surprise in my early 20s.

Riding the Stirrups and Other Medical Misadventures

What doctors have told me of this time in my life is that it’s possible my endocrine system may have been permanently altered after having been juiced for years with strong doses of female hormones — much higher dosages than are common in the pill today.

If true, that would explain why when my doctors detected a sudden drop in my T levels at age 41, a hidden, inexplicably high level of estrogen was revealed.

How high? High enough that without testosterone keeping it in check I redeveloped breasts, the curves of my teenage body began to re-emerge and those parts of my anatomy which defined me as male vanished from sight, and from use. My testes ascended and my penis receded, giving me the very feminine anatomical appearance that I have to this day. In layman’s terms, I now have an innie where I’ve always had an outie. And my breasts grew to a size considered normal for my body; to my horror, I learned that mine are also fully functional as to their intended use in natural-born women.

Not fun.

My body has been studied by doctors from Harvard to Yale, from Columbia to DC and from UConn’s research labs to the national experts at NIH. I’ve undergone every test and exam known to man — and woman. Yes, internal exams. Twice.

Plus MRIs, CT scans, ultrasounds, EKG, ECG, Nerve Conductivity tests, and more.

I’m not sure which of these was worse:

1- a male ultrasound tech for unknown reasons revealed to me he is gay while searching for my testicles, and, not finding them, asked his male boss to help him search. Using their fingers.
2- A female doctor and female nurse were examining me while I was in my hospital bed, and without warning me, the doctor inserted her finger into a place that does not really have a name, and told me she was doing so in order to measure my penis. After my attempt to stop them was thwarted and after some very uncomfortable maneuvering, the nurse announced the measurement. In centimeters. I asked them to please let me do that next time.
3- I was in my room at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD. Several doctors, nurses and medical students entered, about 12 in all. I was asked by one of the lead doctors studying me for a week to disrobe and stand in the semicircle of white coats before me, and I promised to do so.., after a quick run to my potty to make sure there’d be no problem when this begins. Once I returned and got naked, I was asked questions by just about everyone, as the two lead physicians poked and groped and fondled parts of my body. For science. I could tell it was almost over, and felt I had survived what I considered to be the worst and most humiliating examination of my adult life. That was when the lead doctor told me to also please remove my wig. I can’t for the life of me figure out why this was necessary, but I did as I was told. I was now completely and utterly without any dignity left. They stood around me staring at me, and I tried to look up and away from their probing gaze. But I was crying and doing my best to not show it. That is when they all started to file out, quietly thanking me, and the doctors told me I can get dressed. The door closed, and I cried alone for a long time.

Doctors first diagnosed me as a virilized man, and ultimately, NIH classified me as a woman, born male. And yet: I am 46xy. I am not intersex. I have not had any surgery and the only time in my adult life I took female hormones was first as a method of trying to balance my hormone imbalance, and ultimately as a form of maintenance when I decided I would transition from male to female.

Of course the changes in my body didn’t automatically make me female. If you take a man, alter his physique to appear and function as a woman, even give him artificial hormones, that will not transform him into her. He’s going to go crazy; his body dysphoria will tear him apart and test his mental health. Sorry , Hollywood, he’s not going to run off squealing in delight, get a mani/pedi and check out the lingerie sales at Victoria’s Secret.

What I believe made the difference for me is far more complex.

Drunk on Estrogen

By the time my third child was born, I was 42, and a more than half of my life I’d been unaware of a still-unknown estrogenic influence on my body and brain that began growing in strength, unchecked, throughout my forties. One endocrine researcher told my wife and I it was to blame for a change in my likes, dislikes, tastes and other senses, too. My personality had indeed shifted, enough to be noted and a cause for concern. The scientist said it was like my brain was “drunk on estrogen, soaking it up like a sponge.”

Try as they might, no doctor could successfully balance my hormone levels; they fluctuated, and the side effects were paralyzing. I’d go from PMS levels of basketcase to something akin to ‘roid rage, to hot flashes, all in a few weeks. One doctor early on offered to prescribe female hormones, saying that it might provide more balance, but I refused, as my only goal was to become more of the man I was, not the woman I was becoming.

Another expert tried resetting my hormone levels — both T and E — to zero, with injections of Lupron; biggest damn needles you’ve ever seen in your life. Estrogen levels wavered, slightly, and my testosterone dropped from low for a woman, to zero; it’s only recovered once since then, to male normal.

That was August of 2013: I suffered a seizure three months after deciding I was no longer able to maintain a life as a man. I had stopped fighting. It wasn’t cancer, it was a positive development in that I saw things in a new light. I tried new foods, learned to cook, and to appreciate my children in a way I never did before. My empathy increased a thousand-fold as did my interests in fashion and design.

And I think it’s important to acknowledge that even if I didn’t recognize it at the time, I believe now that my sense of being “different” or ” special” at age 5 was likely the first baby step toward discovering my true gender identity.

So, at this point in my life I had come to accept myself as trans and made the changes necessary for my family, my job and for legal purposes. I had made a successful transition and felt comfortable — even better, I felt a renewed sense of self-esteem I had not experienced in years.

My body and my mindset matched, and when I looked in the mirror, I liked what I saw reflected back at me. And my wife and I were finally moving toward tolerance and maybe even friendship. So what happened next would the worst possible outcome of that seizure on July 26, 2013.

I woke up and thought the year was 1999.

Detransition Like It’s 1999

You should know that even more than the “birth control pill ” part of my life story, this event has caused me more grief than anything. But it’s true, and documented, so if there are people who refuse to believe me, that’s their problem, not mine. I wasn’t scared of continuing my transition. I wasn’t worried about my family rejecting me, nor did I have any reason to doubt my job was secure. The very last thing I wanted was to stop the life I was just starting.

Yes, I had been morose over the end of my marriage. But there was no going back. Or so I thought.

I would wind up in a hospital in Hartford. I had taken off my wig and bra and was wearing clothes typical for a dude — T-shirt, shorts, ballcap and sneakers. But all my ID said “Dawn Ennis” and “female.” I recall now being impressed with all the fancy flat screens and cellphones. And I was pissed that people kept calling me “miss.” But I had seen enough Twilight Zone episodes to know not to scream or act paranoid. The last thing I wanted was to be sent to some psych ward. Instead I wound up in a private room with a 24/7 minder to make sure I didn’t wander off.

I cracked a lot of jokes — and I remember the psychiatrist being upset at this. “You think this is funny? Losing your memories is humorous? Don’t you understand, this is very serious!” My answer was, if that is true than I’d much rather laugh than cry!

With help and after a battery of tests, no permanent damage was discovered and most of my memories returned within a few days. Not all, but enough to get discharged. And the reason they were reluctant to release me was not that I didn’t know it was 2013… But that I had no memory of transitioning.

Early on, I asked my wife, how could I have done such a thing? How did I get boobs? Where’s my dick?!? I feared I had some surgery that I could not remember even wanting. One of the more helpful things was the internet. Not only did it help me recover memories of 9/11, Presidents Bush and Obama, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the tragedy of Newtown, but I read about ME. Not at first, of course. And I was warned to stay away from something called Facebook.

In time, I faced what I saw as my reality: I was legally and physically female and yet had no desire to present in that gender. I was Don again. Friends said even my voice sounded like it did in years past. And somehow, that vanished part of my anatomy made a very dramatic reappearance in our bedroom. My wife asked to take pictures but I strongly objected.

We called my reemergence as Don “our miracle.” The kids were delighted, and I took it slow except in my desire to return to work. Since money was tight, I pushed hard to get back to work fast, and there were very serious questions being asked at my job about whether I might be a danger to myself or others.

Really? How? By wearing men’s clothes?

In time, though, I started having nightmares. Other health-related issues arose, and it became clear to me that what I ascribed to being a delusion — my transition and realization of being trans — was in fact real. The delusion was believing that I could go back to being a guy and live that life.

Coming Out: The Sequel

Imagine my dilemma: it was all over the news! The New York Post plastered my face on page one! How on earth was I going to resume my transition without everyone thinking, this person is insane? I opted to go slow. Keep things on the down low. My doctor helped me resume HRT (one of the reasons I could manage an erection was that my wackadoodle roller coaster hormonal imbalance had resumed; going back on a low dose of estradiol restored my balance, albeit on the female side).

Within a few months, I felt confident that I had properly prepared. I had kept my legal name and never sought a change in gender marker. And try as I might to be the man my wife and I wanted me to be, there was no denying who I was deep down at the core of my being. I came out. Again, but without fanfare, quietly, and happily.

My kids are resilient. They have accepted me as before, and shown me their love is unchanged.

The Price of Authenticity

The love of my life seeks a divorce and we will get there. I am ready to accept I may never love or be loved quite the same way ever again; but I hope that is not true for her. She deserves to be loved and I’ll forever regret that the changes in me were so great as to separate us. That is her choice and I must abide by it.

Most married couples never survive transition; we are but one more statistic.

You will no doubt wonder why I couldn’t have tried just a little harder, to bury my feelings or to suppress this identity. This is the one area where homosexuality and transsexualism have something very much in common: it is not “curable.” You can no more pray away the gay than you can stop being trans. You can live in denial. You can try being trans in secret. I’ve done both, and I’m a lousy liar.

I stupidly thought lying to my beloved was better than admitting who I was, because in lying I thought “lying will buy time to get over this. If I tell her the truth, our marriage is over.” The truth? Our marriage was over when I decided to lie to the woman I vowed “to have and to hold till death do us part.”

I repeated those vows to her many times in the last year, in a selfish attempt to guilt her into finding a way forward together. Nothing has been harder than letting go. I’m still struggling with it, but I know it’s really for the best.

Her life will go on, as will mine, and we will always be co-parents. My life after becoming Dawn is just beginning.

There is no plan as yet, except to choose to keep living.

I came close to choosing poorly. Twice.

More about that, next time.

Thanks for resuming the trip with me!

What I Have Lost So I May Win

I need to find another way to describe the feeling I keep having. The word I use doesn’t accurately capture the feeling, nor does it help cisgendered (non-trans) people comprehend what I’m experiencing. I’ve come to call it “the tug” for how this feeling pulls me off course — or back on course, depending on your perspective, toward going full-time.

This is not a judgment of others; to me, it’s a path that will certainly end my marriage and cause me so much unhappiness. And I realize there could be happiness in my acceptance of my true self and in living that life, someday, after a time.

But I cannot get past the fact that “the tug” leads to unhappiness first, and foremost. That thought keeps “the tug” at bay.

Image

My friends offer great advice on how to follow the trails they have blazed, or to at least be open to this path; instead I spurn their advice and plunge into the abyss, on a hopeless quest that can only lead back to sorrow, separation and the realization of futility. I don’t pretend to be unique, or to think of myself as a superhero or act invincible. I cry, I bleed, I break. I do believe I am special, and that in my particular form of faith, God gave me a gift that I squandered once and was given a second chance to nurture: a woman’s love. How dare I reject that gift once more, and forever?

Or am I already breaking more than just that woman’s heart, by going against the insight of our family’s rabbi (I’ll explain how an Irish Catholic transwoman has a rabbi another time). “You,” he told me with all sincerity and lovingkindness, “are created in God’s image. No matter male or female. You are how God envisioned you. Remember this, and take it to heart.”

I am frequently stunned by the acceptance I have received in coming out to those family and friends who know, and my wonderful employers and colleagues. The hardest part is not in the telling of my odyssey as a girl model, as a boy with breasts and a Dorothy Hamill hairstyle, or as a female member of the gym right across the street from work. The tough nut to crack is when I get to their question, “So, what’s next for you?” And I tell them, my plan is to stay married, present as male, and transition out of sight. Not one person has encouraged me on this path; quite the opposite. They almost beg me to reconsider, as if I am climbing into a barrel at Niagara Falls and asking them for to give me one last shove toward the water.

Their instinct is the natural one: they want me to be happy. They ask me to at least not rule out, that someday, when the timing is right, that I’ll live my life as the gender of my heart. How can they see it sadly thumping so clearly beneath my compression shirt? I have learned to tune out the beat, the way I managed to concentrate on my homework on the subway ride home from my auditions, despite the screeching of the wheels and the rumble of the trains and the noise of the commuters. I found a way to flip the off switch to my ears.

So why don’t our hearts and our brains have something similar? I don’t think I’d ever use it, but surely I’d be tempted. To me, the pain of my heart and the struggle of my mind remind me: I AM ALIVE. This is no dream. I live in the moment and for the moment, I live. Such a gift, almost as precious as the love of a woman, given to me by God, to be cherished, nurtured and cultivated.

And every expression of me as the woman I felt I was crushed that gift like an army boot on wildflowers. They didn’t stand a chance.

One dear friend told me to consider that “if you and your wife love each other and you can find some happiness in life without transitioning, don’t do it. If that’s not possible, then you may join the ranks of us that have lost while we’ve won.” Her words haunted me for hours after she posted them on my social network’s wall, like a motivational poster in a corporate office.

Last November I decided what I needed so I could live. Today, halfway through January, I have come to the conclusion that if I ultimately give into this “tug,” what I will lose is the person I have consistently refused to surrender: my Wendy.

But in doing so, the real winner could be this woman, and me… if I set us free.

The Decision

577847_10200682954296408_1550639363_n“Look at you. You repulse me. It’s… it’s disgusting what you’ve become.”

Wendy said this as I was just changing to take a shower; I stood there, shocked. For a moment I couldn’t even move, couldn’t pull my bathrobe tight to hide myself. I felt as if I had been kicked in the stomach… I’d say lower, but kicking me there no longer had the effect it did on every other man. Because I no longer looked like one.

“Really? That’s what you want to say to me, before you go?” Tears burned my eyes, and I could feel her eyes like cockroaches crawling up and down my body. I clenched the robe and drew it tight, but all that did was emphasize certain curves that had become more apparent and unconcealable: generous breasts, wide hips, a narrower waist, and not a hair on my chest, back or legs. And nothing between the legs. “How can you say that, to me? I didn’t do this. And you know that.”

“Yes,” she spat, raising her head and looking into my eyes with the most disdain I’ve ever seen cross her beautiful face. “You are revolting. At least, to me.”
Wendy grabbed her bag, turned and left our bedroom and headed off to work. She left me in tears that, even had she stayed, I could not have stopped streaming down my cheeks. I felt their sting during and long after a hot shower. It felt as if the tears had burned into my skin and left scars.

I had counted on Wendy’s love the same way a bird counts on its wings to fly. I considered our love an unbreakable bond: unconditional and unquestionable. To me.  But not for her.

That morning, our lives changed: Wendy admitted for the very first time in the most stark, and yes, cruel terms, that love only carried her so far. I thought of it as a limit, a line she wouldn’t cross; to her, as she explained, it was knowing herself, and what she couldn’t do, and whom she couldn’t love: me, in female form.

This was a hole in my heart that burst open, a spot on my mind that went dim before it turned black, as the realization dawned: she didn’t love me as I loved her. She didn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t love Dawn. And more than sadness, I was shocked to discover: this mattered to me. More than ever, I now thought of myself as Dawn, not Don.

And so did she.

I dressed, putting on my guy disguise, what I now felt was cross-dressing to fool people into thinking I am a man, and got the kids off to school. I stole a glance in the bathroom mirror before heading out, saw the man reflected there and knew, right down to my pores, there was more to be seen than what appeared. I was Dawn. And I could see it without the makeup, the clothes, the hair.

The change was no longer skin deep. It had leaked from my adrenal glands into the place where identity lives. I felt a new awareness, a change in the natural feeling one has, without questioning, of who you are.

Now, no one wakes up and says, “I feel like a woman,” or a man. You just are. You don’t doubt it or wonder about it. You might sometimes complain or wish or even make a joke, that “if only” one could swap, things would be better.

I’ve been on both sides, and let me tell you: there are advantages and disadvantages alike. But it was never my ambition to live how the other half lived. I never wished for anything other than what I was, growing up as a boy.

At most, I felt “different” from other boys, in that I liked art more than I liked gym. I enjoyed my friendships with girls as much with the boys, depending on what we played. My father who was determined to make an athlete out of me, once asked after a Little League baseball game what I was muttering as I stood in the outfield. “I dunno,” I lied. My dad must have been able to read lips. “Looked to me like you were praying. Praying the batter wouldn’t hit the ball to you.”  I looked at him in disbelief as a knowing smile formed under his mustache.

I was told many times I was “sensitive.” I thought that meant it was okay to cry.  But there was no doubt I was still a boy. Even though I played with dolls, they were Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and GI Joe. I didn’t fantasize of gowns and guys and fairytales in which I was the damsel. I didn’t consider the taunts and awful treatment I endured as a child as being true. If calling me a “fag” or “gay” meant someone thought I wanted to date and marry a boy, I knew in my heart: that wasn’t true. I wanted to get married, have five children, and to be loved by a woman, for as long as I can remember. Maybe it was all those Disney movies I saw as a child that inspired me to develop a romantic and chivalrous attitude, long before I ever felt the stirrings of being sexually attracted to a girl.

As I drove to work that morning, a familiar song played on the car radio. Bruce Springsteen, singing of the end of a marriage in “Brilliant Disguise,” ends his lament with words that had never resonated with me in quite the same way as they did that morning:

“God have mercy on the man, who doubts what he’s sure of.”

Was I still a man? Even partially? I looked like one, dressed like one. What did it mean now to be a man? To be Wendy’s man? What was it that made me feel female? “It just is,” seemed like a copout. And that feeling which overwhelmed her to the point of rejecting me, as someone she couldn’t possibly love, was that my fault?

Or perhaps: Dawn’s fault? I dialed Wendy’s cellphone, and asked the question I had never dared ask, despite all she had said; that morning’s outburst fueled my need to know.

“Are we done? I don’t want to be,” I said, as I held back a shudder and so many tears I felt my eyes would explode. I talked to the disembodied voice over my car speakers and begged her to tell me: “Are we still married?”

“You’re not the man I married,” she said. “You took his place. The man I married… is dead. You killed him.”

Lest there be any doubt, after a long pause of silence on my part, and without a tear or a trace of sadness on hers, Wendy dealt the killing blow: “You are not the one I want to spend the rest of my life with. And I won’t.”

She couldn’t have been more clear.

I couldn’t have been more devastated than if she told me she’d been having an affair. Except in that case, I’d be the injured party, accusing her of breaking our vows and violating my trust. What was this then? Wasn’t I still the injured party?

I didn’t ask for this. I didn’t change my body to become female. I had fought it and worked to find an answer and an antidote to this transformation. Now, fighting back tears unsuccessfully, not sure what point I could possibly score in this losing battle, I told her all this. “It’s not my fault.”

“No, it’s not. But you did stop fighting,” she said. Wendy was cool, calm, deliberate. She was a fantastic listener, and had a crisp, clear delivery that once served her well in broadcast news as well as now in the classroom. When she spoke, it was as if every word she chose was selected with due diligence and enunciated with care; not a thought out of place. And that is what made her outburst that morning hurt so much more than if she had said it out of spite. Wendy meant every word.

“You stopped fighting, and went with it. You killed Don in the process,” she stated, accusingly.

“So that makes me…” I paused. We both knew what was coming next and I didn’t dare say it.

“The other woman, yes. You took him from me. And you expect me to love you? You? You’re someone I hate. I don’t even know if I can be friends with you. I can’t, can’t talk anymore. I have to go.” And she clicked the “end call” button even before the word “go” was fully out of her mouth. I could tell, there were tears behind the anger, the fear and disappointment. She was as crushed as I was, and as the person who loved her more than I loved myself, I felt her pain even more strongly than my own. She didn’t ask for this. It wasn’t fair, and it was heartbreaking to think of how her dreams of a life together, her plan for bar mitzvahs, weddings and family get togethers was torn to shreds by this woman, the woman we felt I had become.

I may have been both the injured party and the murderer, but
Wendy was the innocent victim, who deserved better than this fate. And I could do nothing to ease her pain.

Or could I?

She often reminded me, as a point in an argument, that she had married a man, and that if I were not a man, those vows were no longer valid.

Memories of our wedding always brought a smile to my face, and it grew wider when I pictured our children at their weddings, when I thought of the many places
Wendy and I still wanted to see together, and as I imagined cradling the first grandchild in my hands as a grandfather, that feeling was overwhelming, beyond my own ability to hold it inside all to myself.

And the next day, when I shared these feelings with Wendy, she reminded me that even after transition, I’d still be the children’s parent. I could go anywhere in the world I wanted, without having to worry about what people thought of my appearance, because I’d finally be true to myself and my body. It made me think, that would be all anyone could ever ask for. She said she hoped I’d still want to be a part of the family as our grandchildren made their way in the world. I’d still have a seat at the table, just a different seat.

“But… that’s MY seat,” I said. “Wendy, you act as if I’m making some incredible sacrifice here. I’m not being generous. I’m not doing anything but being 100% selfish.”

She stared at me, her eyes questioning.

“I have made a choice, and it’s one that makes me happy. Happier than any other choice.”

Wendy’s eyes welled with tears as we said our goodbyes – across a room. I begged her to hug me goodbye, as I cut that space between us in half, then by three-quarters until I was right in front of her, my arms extended for a hug. She nearly fell into my arms as she whispered, “I love you enough to let you go.”

And so I went. But not to work.

I headed for a meeting not far from our home, a meeting of transsexuals, cross-dressers and their supporters. It was my first, and after some discussion I decided I needed to do this alone. I was welcomed, introduced myself around and spent most of the evening discussing how on earth this had become our life.  And without breaking confidences, I talked about my decision and expressed my fears of where Wendy and I might wind up, after this night.

I felt comfortable in this environment, among these people. As someone who was new to this group, I thought most of the guys looked like guys and most of the women definitely passed. And I realized that this was their place not to care about that. But I couldn’t escape the notion that some of these kindhearted folks would probably not get far under close examination. Short-short skirts and high heels brought to mind “Some Like it Hot” and “Tootsie.” And then there was me.

I was dressed as me, as Dawn, behind Wendy’s back, after swearing I would never do it again. My wig was brushed, I wore a black top and the same jeans and sneakers and jacket I had worn when I left the house; I had not worn the compression shirt and I applied just enough lip gloss and mascara to make a difference. I felt more than comfortable. I belonged.

My heart skipped a beat as people called me by my chosen name, and treated me as the woman I tried to present. We laughed, we chatted, we shared our struggles. Before I knew it, two hours had passed and it was time to say good night. I hugged my new friends goodbye, I shook the hands of the transmen and I was polite to the cross-dressers, who frankly make me felt uncomfortable; dressing as a woman is a turn-on for them, not who they are. I was most definitely not a CD, which would have turned this into a hobby instead of a condition.

But as I walked out, I looked up to the stars in the brightly lit night sky and could sense that something had changed tonight for me. I had been accepted into a community. One I didn’t even realize had thought of me as a member. I cried a small bit, staring at Orion. And I cried more, as I realized his arrow pointed toward home.

My home. Where my wife waited to learn what my choice was. It was not the decision she thought I made, and certainly not the one I believed I would make. I realized in that moment my condition was not in charge of me, not on that night, nor ever.

As Wendy, my therapist and a psychiatrist had warned me: I could not have my cake and eat it, too. As a child, I could have pretty much anything I wanted. As a grownup, I was still learning that I was no longer a child.

I walked for a bit, bypassing my car and going over my thoughts. Was I panicking? Maybe I’m being rash. Why must I decide this now? And I heard the answer from the sarcastic voice in my head (which for some reason sounds like my Bronx-born mother in law): “What, you want more time? Of course, sure, put her through another month of misery! Hey, how about I schedule this for 2017? Too soon?” I needed to make up my mind, for real.

I thought about how for the rest of my life, the guy who accepted unequivocally that he was bald and refused to do anything to hide it would now, as a woman, wear a wig until her dying day. I thought how comfortable I felt and accepted and happy as Dawn, and how unhappy I had been for so long as Don. I thought of our kids, and what this would mean for them, and for Wendy.

Never again would she kiss me. No touch she’d ever make of my body would ever be as warm and intimate as it used to be. She’d face her own questions, people feeling sorry for her, people hating her, people wondering if it was her fault. Wendy blaming herself for not being able to love me and not being able to change me.

No decision was going to undo the very real changes to my body. I would be sentencing myself to forever wearing either a compression shirt or this wig. I’d be real as a woman in this world, but a freak to the world I grew up in… or, a phony to the world appearing as a man, and a woman in my mind; would Wendy know? Could she tell? Would it matter? Will I live a life of regret, or happiness?

Either way, I knew: there would be regret. Either choice offered happiness. But only one provided happiness that came from inside my heart. Where Wendy had made a place for herself, deep inside my heart. She had mostly moved out, but left just enough for me to know, she’d be back in my heart – if I made her feel welcome.

And as I turned down a street with no streetlamps another thought occurred to me: I’m a woman, walking alone on a dark street with about $50 in my purse. This certainly cannot be good.

I made my way back to my car, wiped off the makeup, removed the wig and put a men’s T-shirt over my top, then headed home. I walked in just after ten o’clock, where my wife had exhausted herself working, cooking and cleaning and was fast asleep. I went to the dining room table and removed my bracelet, put my Tory Burch eyeglasses back in their case and removed from my purse all my credit and debit and ID cards – especially the “Dawn” ones — and, lastly, spent 45 minutes trying to remove the back on my earring, never having done that before. Damn frustrating!

When Wendy awoke the next morning, I accompanied her downstairs. She looked at the display of my stuff and asked, in her pre-coffee fog: “What does all this mean? Are you decided? Are you Dawn now?”

“No, I’m tossing all of this, and the earring, if you can help me remove it. I want to go full-time… as your husband.”

We kissed, as we had not kissed in months, perhaps years, and I knew this sacrifice on my part would never be easy, even though I was making it for that most selfish of all reasons, to truly be happy.  Perhaps that is why she stopped embracing me to tell me, how happy she was but how worried that I was not being true to myself, “You won’t be as happy as you could be,” Wendy said, crying.

“Oh yes, I will,” I told her, confidently, “so long as we are together, I’ll be happier on our most miserable days together than I would be on my absolutely happiest day alone, without you. I love you enough, Wendy, to let Dawn go.”

We made plans that morning for a romantic getaway, just the two of us: a place for us to talk privately, without the interruption of children, to honestly discuss our future and how we would make it work. To help her better understand “gender variance” and for me to better understand her sadness, anger and how my own mixed messages were the root cause of her confusion and despair.

She found a B&B in New England with a “his and her” spa package, something we’d never done. And Wendy felt it necessary to mention, just in case I missed it: “So, that would mean YOU are the “His” and I am the “Her.” Right?

Without a doubt.  And yeah, it was something that was probably good to remind me, just in case.

photo

Options

I have been trying on the idea of living full time as a woman, asking myself if that is how I truly feel, if that is what is most in tune with my modified mind, body and my original soul. I know that if the answer is yes, it just won’t be possible at “home” -the place I live with the love of my life and the children I cherish more than life itself.20111128-190815.jpg

That bond, that connection is what holds me back, because there is no option to be me and be with them. It’s not fair — but as I’ve drilled into my children, life often is not fair.

I’ve lived apart from them before because of work and I have a crash pad here in New York City where I go when I’m working too much to be commuting to and from the ‘burbs. I can be me full time but I cannot live there full time. And it’s just not home.

So I have been exploring, and settled upon the Upper East Side as my choice for my possible next home. It’s close enough to work without being too close, far enough from my home to give me space to grow as a person, and unfamiliar enough to make it a challenge and an opportunity to put a new foot forward. I’m scared and excited, and mindful that moving out on my own is not my choice but hers. From our long, painful conversations, this looks to be more of a destiny than a decision. I think to myself, I’m just keeping my options open.

How far I will extend that philosophy — allowing myself options rather than limiting choices — has been on my mind of late. I’ve always been attracted to women, one in particular; will that change? I will confess to having a better understanding of what attracts women to men, and what qualities in men I like and which ones I cannot stand. Familiarity breeds contempt, as they say.

But I’m not exactly ready for more than contemplation. And I’m certainly not looking to be labeled. For now, I’m keeping “married to a beautiful woman who is no longer attracted to me” as my relationship status. She says in no uncertain terms she supports me and understands I need to be true to me; what she asks in return is my understanding that she cannot share a home with me if I’m not male in appearance. There is no negotiating this. The question I repeatedly ask: how much longer does she think I can keep pretending and dressing up as a guy? Secretly, I pray she will “acclimate,” so, I give her space, and time, and understanding instead of applying the pressure I feel all around and inside of me.

We both realize the future may ultimately mean separation, and as I have always done, I’m making a backup plan. How positively male of me, I thought; then I realized how I am actually just responding to my natural desire to nest, knowing present arrangements may be short-lived. Few things could make me sadder than separating. And so, I am being true to my newly found self by living in the moment rather than getting too far ahead and planning an “escape.”

Besides, legally, I have been counseled that the last thing I would want, is to be seen as abandoning my family. So I’m only exploring options.

It’s a peculiar mix of exhilaration and dread that I feel. Would getting my own place — moving out — be a terrible mistake? How can I put myself before this woman and our children? Isn’t that what I’m supposed to do, choose their happiness over mine? Will they be better off without me as I am, than with someone forced to deny reality? Or will the idea of going out on my own, as myself, be much harder and more painful than I anticipate?

I think it’s like finding a really great pair of new shoes that look fabulous on you, but they hurt your feet. The question is: how long do you try to break them in before you realize, they’re not for you?

Or: do you just accept that this pain is the price of doing what you need to do?