The Word Is Transgender… Not Trans-Jenner

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

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

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

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

But am I?

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

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

So back to my question: am I a woman?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will not say, “hear me roar.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because we’re trans.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11046378_10206428533692302_2786928928095290804_oLove,

Dawn

XOXO

Don’t Believe Me Just Watch

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.

A Reason to Smile

It just so happened that my eleven-year-old daughter today wore her beloved camp shirt, as a reminder of how she has been counting the days until her third summer at Camp Laurelwood. It’s a Jewish kids sleepaway camp here in New England, and it offers three weeks of bonding, adventure, spiritual connections and just plain summer fun. And all that doesn’t come cheap.

The enormous expense was why my wife and I planned to have the second of two morose meetings with our daughter today, to tell her the news I’d been dreading for more than a month. In our first meeting, we let her know that with me not working, we just didn’t have the funds for camp this year, and that even though we would continue to look for a way, she needed to be prepared for bad news. She took this in stride, and shed not a tear. She was kind enough to not remind me of my promise.

I had vowed, no matter what, she was going to camp. I promised her, somehow I’d make it happen.

Just one more in a long line of broken promises I made to people, to myself, that had no basis in reality. I have lived most of 50 years making promises I had no means of keeping, and yet that never stopped me from making them, breaking them, and then making more.

Because every once in awhile, magic happened. Or call it providence, good fortune, God’s intervention, the luck of the Irish, or just a coincidence. Some members of my family gambled and played the lottery, and only talked about the jackpots they won; it’s been the same way with my pie in the sky promises. I can tell you plenty about the ones I kept, somehow, someway.

As it turns out, this was one of those promises.

Today I learned the camp agreed to provide our daughter with a generous scholarship, and today the rabbi at our temple wrote a check, and then a dear friend — who tells me how much the memories of going to camp in Quantico more than 50 years ago still makes her smile — pitched in tonight with the remainder. All told, we are the beneficiaries of a fortune!

My glass-half-empty wife lamented that to her, all this effort at raising money for three weeks of summer camp was at odds with her own desire to save enough to pay September’s bills. I know; I’d do well to start thinking as she does. I admitted as much, and told my soon to be ex I’ve learned that I need to become more risk-averse.

But when it comes to real wisdom, the rabbi said it best: “I’m doing this because she needs an escape.” To my troubled mind, the unspoken end of that sentence was “from the two of you and your issues and your arguing and the mess you’ve made of a young girl’s summer vacation.” He didn’t say that, he probably didn’t even think it, but that is how I feel. The rabbi continued: “At camp, she’ll have time to be a child, to be a young woman, and to learn who she is becoming in a safe, comforting and supportive environment. She needs this experience and I am glad to offer to do this.” And he’s right; he is that kind of a man (and father) that I didn’t even have to ask. He is a blessing, even to this Roman Catholic transgender woman, and he closed our meeting with a prayer, for me, that brought tears to my eyes.

This evening, as we sat outside the family therapist’s office, I had the pleasure to tell all the funding had been arranged: “Mom and I talked about it, and after hearing from camp, from Rabbi Pincus and from a very good and generous friend of Daddy’s… you’re going,. I promised you you’d go, and you’re going!” Tears streamed down my cheeks and I could see them welling in her eyes, but her smile was so bright it dried them before they could even flow.

I took a photograph, to show our friend what her loan meant to my daughter, and she texted back that she was crying, too.

And when the therapist opened her door and asked which of our three children would like to see her first today, my girl — who has dreaded every session so far and made it clear how much — jumped up like a rocket at Cape Canaveral and said, “I will! I want to go first!”

She bounced into the office and my wife and I smiled at each other for the first time in a long time.

Just now, after I told her my daughter I loved her and wished her good night, I recalled a poem. A father named Kyle J. Underwood penned this ode to his daughter Alexandra a decade ago, when my little girl was just shy of her second birthday, her very first in our New England home:

Ode to My Daughter

She’s a soft cool rain on a hot summer’s day.
She makes me laugh with the funny things she has to say.

She’s the beat of my heart, and the air that I breathe.
She’s the sun and the wind, and autumn’s golden leaves.

She’s the pride that I feel when I know she’s done what’s right.
She’s that warm feeling I get, when I remember tucking her in at night.

She is homework and sports, and a busy social life.
She has this beautiful smile that could light the darkest night.

She is the scared feeling I have when she stays out late.
Or the feeling that I am losing her, when she wants to date.

She’s the mixed emotions I have, as I watch her mature and grow.
I tell myself she will never leave, but, I know in my heart that someday she will go.

I hope the man that steals her heart, will treat her like a queen.
Because she deserves so much more, than a man that treats her mean.

I will always cherish the wonderful times we have had.
The best part of my life was being her dad.

So now you know who she is, she’s my little girl.
I love her with all my heart and I always will.