“There’s something different about her”

 

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As big, burly, ex-marine Max took me in his tattooed arms and pulled me close, nearly off my barstool and toward his liquored lips, I felt… something.

Not his hand, moving slowly, up my skirt, although that did distract me for a moment.

It was time. It didn’t slow down, as time does in the movies and the romance novels. Instead, it rewound, pulling my concentration away from my corner barstool in the little Irish pub where we nine widows met regularly for wine, cocktails, and conversation.

And more wine.

I could sense the presence of Jackie, the only one left after many, many rounds, turning her eyes, her whole body, away from Max and me, this hunk of a man who sidled up to two moms at the bar, to chat us up and maybe have a little fun. And as my mind rode a tilt-a-whirl of memories, I accepted that’s why I was after, too: an escape, a thrill ride, a temporary diversion from grief.

My thoughts got lost in the spinning sensation sparked by my lips making contact with other lips, the process of thinking slowing to a stop until I was living in the moment. Excitement got my juices flowing and ignited a warm fire that started down below, the flames reaching up and rekindling my heart, gone cold.

Ten months. It’s been that long since my life changed, losing the love of my life, my spouse of almost 20 years, to cancer. And not long after that loss, I found something I’d never had in all my years: genuine, goodhearted, girlfriends.

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Jackie, Sam, Karen, Cait, Erynn, Michele, Debbie, Laura, Dani and me: the ten of us had met every other week at a local grief support group, some of us for months, some had been going for years. But it wasn’t long after I joined that we soon branched out, having emptied the tank of all our stories of struggle, crying through the many milestones together and lamenting why this was our cross to bear.

We felt as if we had graduated, and needed to find a venue that better fit our needs. Most but not all of us were weary of having to repeatedly reintroduce ourselves and retrigger our grief as new widows joined the group. Don’t get me wrong; I do think it is helpful to have those who’ve been around the block, so to speak, share their experience and guide those — like me — as they take their first steps into our horrible world.

Horrible because sooner or later, friends and family step back, unsure what to say or how to help, uncomfortable when we tell them, “yes, it’s still hard.” Hard because we are so used to having our other half to share the load, to make the memories and to hug away the hurt. And hurt, because there are holes in our hearts that will never, ever, be filled. Our job as single moms is to be everything to our kids, and show them how to learn to live with a hole in their hearts.

Not one widow’s story is like another’s, especially mine, I guess. We are each survivors of deadly accidents, fatal illnesses, suicides, overdoses and hearts that fail. But as much as wish to give back, there comes a time each of us has decided we need to practice self-care, and that includes going out.

It was in June at a noisy restaurant in Manchester, Connecticut, at my first-ever GNO — girls night out — that my cisgender (non-transgender) widow sisters finally felt comfortable to ask me about being transgender. And it was fine, we laughed, and they didn’t once make me uncomfortable. I hadn’t mentioned being trans that very first time I attended the widows group, for fear of being rejected.

“Sam had said to me, ‘there’s something different about her,’” Karen confessed. We laughed, but I made a confession, too: I had worried about how they might react.

Before I joined, one of the grief counseling leaders warned me that there might be resistance to me joining the group. And when I asked why, I was sure to look this woman in the eyes, so there’d be no mistaking how blown away I was, to suggest my grief might not hold the same value as other widows. “It’s just that, well, you said you two were separated, and that may not go over so well.”

Whew. Well at least it wasn’t “the trans thing.”

I paused, continuing to lock eyes with this usually kind, smiling soul who was going to stand between this group and I. Feeling determined, I decided a softer, quieter tone was what was required, even if I did want to scream.

“I am grieving. I loved as much as any one person can, and now I’m alone. No matter what else we are to one another, won’t that be something we can all relate to?”

My words resonated in just the way I had hoped, and so I began attending the group. We took turns telling our stories and truth be told we laughed more than we cried, but there were still plenty of tears. We bared our souls and found in our shared experience new friendships that evolved into GNO trips to comedy clubs, concerts, psychics and energy healers and drinking and dancing (and drinking) at our Irish pub in Plainville, Connecticut.

“Wowww,” said Max, pulling his face from mine, his stubble rubbing my smooth cheek in a way I’ve rarely felt before. The sensation knocked me back into reality. Meeting his eyes with mine, I whispered back. “Wow? Is that all you have to say?”

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“Well, yeahhh,” said Max, quietly, looking at me with his beer goggles firmly affixed. “I guess it’s just that I’ve never kissed someone transgender before.”

“Oh? Really?” I said, straightening my back in my seat, using my body language to speak volumes that I dared not utter with my mouth. I restrained myself from making a scene but glared at Jackie to my left.

“So, uhhh,” Max leans back in from the right, to deliver his second stupid statement of the evening, er, morning. “You’ve had the surgery?”

And just like on that old episode of Grey’s Anatomy, when McDreamy died? I’m done.

“Baby,” I cooed, as I put both my hands on his unshaven cheeks. “Your hands already know the answer to that question. Besides, you didn’t hear me ask about your prostate exam, hmmm?”

Jackie laughed, and it slowly dawned on Max he should join in the laughter.

That’s when I stepped gently but deliberately from my stool, and I extricated my body from his hands and made some excuse about needing to use the ladies room.

In the film version, I imagine Jackie jumping off her seat, too, and huffing off as we make our way to the bathroom, our heads held high, widow sisters forever! Woot!

But this is reality, and Jackie was glued to her seat. Before I left for the ladies room I whispered in her ear, out of Max’s earshot, that I wanted to leave, and why. That question, oof! Couldn’t he have pretended a little longer that he hadn’t clocked me?

Whatever. I just wanted to pee and go, and to my surprise, Jackie wasn’t budging. We are widows after all, and my disentanglement presented an opportunity. “It’ll be fine,” she told me. “I could use a good fuck! I can handle him.”

“Okaaaay.” I had never had a wing woman before — nor lost one. So, I broke formation, took care of my business and made my exit, but not before asking the bartender to keep an eye on Mr. Grabby Hands as he made the moves on my friend.

As I sat in my car, I reflected on the night: I’d kissed a boy, made-out in public and in front of a friend, and had one too many drinks, but not too many that I couldn’t drive. I’d laughed, a lot. And I’d been clocked, in the worst way possible. I was about to drive off when I decided instead to wait for Jackie, just in case.

After all, that’s what a widow sister does.

This is a different version of an essay that first appeared in NewNowNext.  Some names have been changed to protect privacy.

Get Out When You Can!

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14055013_10210281391411337_1557086871318331737_n.jpgMy latest YouTube video is dedicated to the wonderful women of my widows group, who have helped me to feel human again by getting me out of the house and connecting with them outside our biweekly sessions to explore our grief.

We all went out recently, had a few drinks, had a lot of laughs at a local comedy club, and bonded. I’m so grateful to them for including me and making me feel welcome and a part of their sisterhood.

Not one of us would give up a chance to have those we lost back in our lives, but since that’s not possible, we have each other. And my video this week is really for every person who feels cut off, and alone. It’s important to get out, make new friends and find connections. To find time for ourselves to grow and be with other grownups once in awhile.

I’m very glad my friends found me!

 

The Coping Cabana

Exactly three years ago today, my children met the real me, and as I’ve mentioned, it’s about six months since we lost their mother. Some might say my kids lost both their mom and their dad. And I say, no: that’s not the case.

That’s because they have what I call the DadMom: a woman called “dad” who does the job of “mom” and brings the best of both worlds to bear to raise my strong, smart children.

The focus of my “Life After Dawn” now more than ever is to meet their needs, lift them up, and dry their tears.

Grief is not our state of being but it is something we are dealing with, every day, each in our own way. And not one of us is handling it in the exact same way or on the same timeline.

Here’s a video about how I help my children cope with their grief. I welcome your comments and questions, here, on my YouTube channel or via email at dawnennis@gmail.com

Thanks for watching!

A trust has been established by Wendy’s brother, Robert Lachs. Anyone wishing to donate to the fund may send a check, payable to “Ennis Family Scholarship Fund Trust” to Robert Lachs, 1729 E Prairie Ave., Wheaton, IL 60137, or click here to donate via GoFundMe.

Thank you.

I’ll be their grandma

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

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

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

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

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

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

The War of 2016

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We are at war.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Hey, Pride. Gimme a raincheck.

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Greetings from Connecticut, and Happy Pride!

One year ago, I marched in my first ever Pride parade. My friend and everyday inspiration, Diane Anderson-Minshall, her husband Jacob and other colleagues at our company, Here Media, were joined by more friends in and around a smoking hot, cherry red Mustang convertible.
Pride 2015We waved flags, waved our hands, and walked for miles on a blistering hot day along Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. Although I’d come out two years before, had my face on TV, in newspapers and online, and even spoken on the radio, this was by far the most public attention I’ve ever received, before or since.

And perhaps most important of all: a new friend who had up to that day identified as gay came out to me as trans. I am so proud of her and happy for all she’s done to find her true path.

My own path led me to Southern California in the spring of 2015, where I began a new life. Sad to be separated from my children, but knowing my first priority was to provide financial support for them and their mom, I moved away thinking this was it. I had never wanted to leave home, but that wasn’t my choice.

IMG_1295I had spent two years living in exile from my loved ones, bouncing around every six months, from May 2013 until February 2015. I had moved from our home to Danbury to East Haven, from The Bronx to Marietta, Georgia, and back home again.

We lived again as a family of five, under the same roof, although my wife and I no longer shared a bedroom. And it was working out; we took vacations together, worshipped together, shopped and dined together. And yes, we planned a divorce together, something that normally would have been accomplished but her lawyer postponed again and again, through no fault of my own.

After two years of starts, stops and stalls, Wendy was intent on divorcing me for having transitioned. While I wasn’t excited or encouraged by that prospect, I recognized it was fair, it was what she wanted, and I did my best to not fight the inevitable, given the circumstances.

As that proceeded, this time it was me who made the decision to move out, given the fact I was unemployed and we needed someone to be earning money over the summer. The fact was, my wife’s job as a public school teacher only paid her a salary during the school year, with a lump payment to start the summer that wasn’t enough to last us through September. In March, I had been offered a job as news editor at The Advocate, where I had freelanced for several months, and I leaped at the chance to both provide for my family and restart my journalism career. I started by working remotely, in Connecticut, and then in May, joined the team in L.A.

12311291_10208138290035142_8590740602085746907_n.jpgThe challenges were new, the people friendly, the location awesome. Having lived there before, for two summers in the early 1990s, I adapted easily to SoCal, although as an intense, no-nonsense native New Yorker, I had a long way to go to find my chill.

But that intensity came in handy on the biggest news day of my new career: first thing that morning on June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court announced its ruling in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges, approving marriage equality in all 50 states by a narrow majority of 5 to 4. It was exciting, exhilarating, incredibly moving — and we were balls to the walls busy.

So when my iPhone rang, I was tempted to ignore it, but I knew that Wendy was facing her own challenge that day. Eight months after first complaining of unending stomach discomfort, pain and irritation, she finally got tired of me nagging her to see a specialist and was that morning getting a CT scan of her abdomen.

10493013_10206743312321571_506699379394948999_o“I need to talk to you,” she said. “It’s urgent.” I stopped what I was doing, got up from my cubicle in the penthouse overlooking West Los Angeles, Santa Monica and the Pacific Ocean, and headed to the unoccupied conference room. Given our lack of private space, the conference room was a phone booth of sorts, with a helluva view. I stared at the cars backed up on the 405 as I dialed Wendy’s cell, my eyes moving to the horizon and to Catalina Island.

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I was prepared by Wendy’s tone that this might be bad news, and braced myself as I redialed and she answered on the first ring. I asked, forgoing the usual greeting, what the test showed. She didn’t mince words.

“I have cancer.” 

Wendy was in tears, and I had to stifle my own exclamation by putting my hand over my mouth. The details were horrific: her cancer was rare, stage four, and her only hope was a risky surgery that might not save her life.

Here it was the most important day in modern LGBTQ history, and it was nothing compared to the news I had just learned. The love of my life was dying.

Not a week went by that I didn’t offer to move back home, and each time she refused; thanks to my bosses, I was permitted to spend weeks at a time, working remotely in Connecticut, from September through November.

Thirty weeks, seven rounds of chemotherapy and a complex operation later, my wife went into shock and died on January 20, 2016.

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That day Wendy died, a Wednesday, I was at work in California when I got the call from the hospital that I needed to come right away to the intensive care unit. “Hello, I’m in Los Angeles?” But I already had a flight home booked for Sunday, and so I fled to LAX after arranging to get my children to her ICU bedside. There, they were joined by her mother and cousins, closest friends and our rabbi. They gathered around her, prayed, sang songs, and they kept in touch with me by phone as I raced to the airport, fought with the airlines to let me board — but their archaic rules prevented me from switching flights and boarding fewer than 45 minutes before take-off.

That was, as it turns out, a blessing. Had I made the flight, she’d have passed as I passed over the midwest. Instead I was on a shuttle bus back to West L.A. when our brave, stalwart and brilliant eldest son called me, fighting back tears. He said they all had said their goodbyes, and that he wanted to hold the phone to his mom’s ear, so I could say goodbye, too. “She loved you, Dad,” he said. “She really did.”

I know. And whether she could hear me or not, I told her I loved her, that I’d take care of our children, told her to not worry, and also said how sorry I was, for everything. We remained married until the end, given that the divorce never happened; only in death did we truly part.

equality-supreme-court_603BB7659D884B37870F5B4480CB9D18Today, June 26, 2016, our community celebrates Pride, celebrates our victory at the Supreme Court, celebrates the defeat of the Defense of Marriage Act, and we mourn our dead in Orlando, and in a dozen or so states where at least 14 transgender people have been murdered because they are trans. And I mourn the woman who loved me more than anyone has, who pushed me to find my truth even at the expense of our marriage and her own happiness. I mourn her every day that ends in “y,” just like her name.

So, despite my youngest child’s insistence that I head down to New York City and celebrate Pride this weekend, I stayed here, with them, by their side, where I should be and want to be. There will be another Pride march, another year to join with my sisters and brothers and gender non-conforming folks, who only ask that we #FixSociety, and recognize the rights of all Americans to determine how best to pursue our lives, our liberty and happiness.

Instead of marching under a rainbow flag, I will drive my daughter to sleepaway camp, and prepare her little brother for his own. She packed herself this year, with some help, of course, and I couldn’t be more proud of her. I’ll drop her off Sunday, and a few days later I’ll drop off her younger brother at his first every sleepaway camp experience. Then their older brother and I will depart on an ambitious tour of colleges that will take us from Connecticut to Canada to Chicago and back again.

It is fitting that it is during Pride that our oldest son, who has accomplished so much in 17 years, embarks on this latest adventure. Yes, I still say “ours,” because he is.

ptp_2clogo_rev_rblue1.pngHe’s traveled the world as an ambassador from America with the People to People organization, attended President Obama’s second inauguration, drove coast to coast with me just a few weeks after getting his license, and regularly devotes time to his community through both temple and the Jewish Community Center, where he’s also a lifeguard.

Most recently, his high school selected him as one of a handful of teens to represent our town in the American Legion’s Boys State program for future policy wonks, where he became an outspoken advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex individuals. They had told me, he’d come home a changed man, but this was unanticipated.

boysstateHis evolution became especially evident Friday evening at the dinner table, when he regaled us with his stories from his time at Boys State. He had spent a week on a local college campus forming a model state government: running for office, casting votes, electing and running a government, dealing with the judicial system and otherwise enjoying nerd nirvana.

“There were some silly bills, in addition to the big ones,” he told us. One of the big ones was an obnoxious, arrogant proposal reeking of white privilege — to cut the state budget by eliminating all public transportation. And one of the “silly bills” was an especially cruel and juvenile version of a “bathroom bill.”

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“That bill would have officially renamed all transgender people ‘transformers,'” he said, and would require they use only the specific bathrooms assigned to them, according to how they presented. “Transgender men would use the ‘autobots’ bathrooms, and transgender women would be required to use facilities reserved for ‘decepticons.'”

Stunned at this naked transphobia, I paused for a moment. “How did that make you feel?” I asked, hesitantly, worried for him. He doesn’t exactly go around advertising that his dad is trans, as he is a very private person. When people refer to me as his mom, he often prefers I just let it go, unlike when I’m with his siblings who approve of me outing myself, and explaining that their mom has died.

So what did my eldest son do when confronted with a bill supported by a roomful of more than 100 teenage boys, denigrating people like his father? As an elected representative to the model state legislature from the fictional town of Tyler, named after our most ineffective president, my son stood up and gave an impassioned speech for why that “silly bill” should not advance.

He spoke of me, of our community, of our struggles for acceptance that not one other person there had reason to consider, because they did not know anyone transgender. He put a face to their mocking, gave them a flesh and blood person to consider impacted, and succeeded in turning around hearts and minds, at least for one day. The bill died a quick death.

Oh, and the buses in Tyler town didn’t stop running either; his proposal to reduce service rather than eliminate it altogether wound up shelved in a committee, but neither bill reached a vote.

And instead of promoting his own candidacy, he used his knowledge of Roberts Rules to execute a clever parliamentary trick, to help a fellow student leader advance to a position of power. Plus, he got to question Sen. Richard Blumenthal about the issue about which he is most passionate: reforming campaign financing. Adult leaders told him that had they an award for courage, he surely would have won it.

So, I’m sorry, Pride goers. Please party on, march along, dance and sing and say the names of those we lost without me this year. As much as I’d enjoy the chance to show my Pride for our community, I’m focused exclusively on three people who make me proud every day of the year: my children.

Gimme a raincheck. Let’s try again next year.

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A trust has been established by Wendy’s brother, Robert Lachs, to assist with furthering the education of the Ennis children. Anyone wishing to donate to the fund may send a check, payable to “Ennis Family Scholarship Fund Trust” to Robert Lachs, 1729 E Prairie Ave., Wheaton, IL 60137, or click here to donate via GoFundMe. 

Meet the “Dad/Mom”

Screen Shot 2016-06-16 at 3.14.09 AMStarting tonight I am a video blogger as well as the lady wordsmith here at lifeafterdawn.com. The term a decade ago was vlogger but I doubt that it is still in use today. Whatever you call it, I’m doing it.

So here is episode one, Meet the “Dad/Mom” in which I explain why I am such a thing and how I came to be me. Welcome new friends and old to this brave new world, with such transgender people in it. Please send me your questions, answers, ideas, random th0ughts, to my email dawnennis@gmail.com or you can comment here, too, or on YouTube. 

Thanks!

Also: A trust has been established by Wendy’s brother, Robert Lachs, to assist with furthering the education of the Ennis children. Anyone wishing to donate to the fund may send a check, payable to “Ennis Family Scholarship Fund Trust” to Robert Lachs, 1729 E Prairie Ave., Wheaton, IL 60137, or click here to donate via GoFundMe. 

 

 

The Journey of Our Lifetime

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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As I was saying…

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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.

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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!

Until Death Do Us Part

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Today was going to be a good day. I was smiling, it was Friday and I was done with work. True, I had a honey-do list as long as my arm, but I chucked that after getting a txt about one of my oldest friends; he was now in intensive care. He of course knows who I really am despite how I look, having come directly from work.

As I entered the hospital, I couldn’t help but notice the faces as people walked in and out: like mine, full of concern or sadness, or at most blank, perhaps in shock or discomfort. No smiles to speak of.

Then I watched my friend’s wife as she fussed over her breadwinner, her longtime sweetheart, who recently lost his job and whose job now is to not die; they’re burning through his severance, racking up hospital bills they don’t have insurance to cover.

Then the specialist I helped arrange for paid him a visit, only to break the news that cancer treatments will have to wait until his heart is strong enough. And it didn’t look good for either prognosis. My friend had gambled on his health, and lost.

But at this precious moment, he and his wife are together, and their love is evident, even on their worried faces. I left them to make-up for what I promised I’d do for the woman I still love, who is grieving the death of her own husband, in a very real sense. I’m filled with heartache and misery.

I feel sad, as this story is revealed to have no happy ending.