Rage, Rage

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Move along, nothing to see here!”

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, thanks for that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do not go gentle into that good night
by Dylan Thomas

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

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

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

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

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

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

Farewell, My Friend

Rick Regan

My pal is gone.

Rick Regan is the second of my close, longtime friends to be taken from us this year. I cannot fathom a tribute fitting the master of words that I could write and he’d approve.

Our first meeting 18 years ago was in the newsroom at WCBS-TV. He was the copy editor or what we called the co- producer. He didn’t give me as much trouble with my copy as he did with his gnarly, gruff “go away, kid… you’re bothering me” attitude.

I can’t say why but I persisted in becoming his friend. Rick taught me so much about the business and ten times more about life, love, the Sox and tenacity. This was a man who simply did not let go.

And he was the same way when he met me… as ME. He refused to let go of our friendship, now established and ingrained. He told me he stood up for me against people I didn’t even know, who mocked me and laughed at the change I embraced and he accepted, even though like most folks he struggled to understand it. Anyone could have stayed silent. But not Rick. He made it clear: “that’s my friend and you’d better quit it. Now.” And they did, at least around Rick.

He was the kind of friend who could tell me, as he did once: “God, you’re putting on weight! What’s wrong? You need to run that off. Come run with me!”

He delighted in hoisting my oldest son on his broad shoulders when we took our son to see “The Gates” in Central Park in 2005.

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We thought it was lovely, creative, cool and imaginative. Rick declared: “It’s okay, so long as it doesn’t interfere with my run.”

My favorite Rick story, though, dates back to that awful day in September 2001. We were just beginning our coverage of that terrible tragedy when it occurred to me, I need to make a phone call. Yes, I did call home, but first: I called Rick. “What?” was his “this better be important” acid-toned answer when he picked up the phone; clearly I had woken him up. “Get up. Turn on the TV. Get in here.” I didn’t even say it was me. I hung up and went back to work. Fifteen minutes later, he was at his desk pounding out copy. That was Rick. He later thanked me. None was necessary.

Rick was the light of every newsroom. And when I wound up at WABC- TV, all I had to say was “I’m a friend of Rick Regan’s.” And I was “in” with the old guard (or at least the good guys in the old guard; the rest were just jealous).

He was the last guy you would imagine with a mirror glued to his cubicle — not to check out his wild red hair — but so he could see the managers if they snuck up behind him! He loved showing that off.

And he loved words. He loved them almost as much as Laurie, but he loved her beyond words. He told me once she was everything he lived for, and I never doubted it.

I will never be the writer Rick was, try as I might. So, instead of wasting effort, time and risking his heavenly wrath, I shall instead quote an irish poet… Who is now buying a round in the honor of my friend, Rick Regan.

“A Drinking Song”
by W. B. Yeats

Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That’s all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.

I look at pictures of my friend now and find it so hard to believe he’s gone forever from our earth. I would have thought the world would end first, and Rick would be there to write about it all.

Rick: say hello, please, to Art, to your brother, to our dads, and all those waiting to greet you. I love you, Rick.

And I say to you and to all who took the time to read this, as Rick always said to me, instead of “goodbye:”

Be good.

Nobody Knew

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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

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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.

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.

Karma Calling

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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

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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…

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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!

What Lurks Inside?

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I so rarely even bother checking voicemail anymore, I’m so busy; I usually just call back whomever I recognize in my missed calls list and go from there. But when I spotted a call from my new doctor, just a few days after the blood work was due back from the lab, I grew curious.

So I dialed and had to hold onto the phone with both hands not to drop it. Her exact words: “I want to talk to you right away about your prolactin levels. They’re elevated, and, um, it’s very worrisome.”

She thinks SHE was worried?

Next, I did what my wife and a lot of people do, which I have held in great disdain for so long, I surprised myself at how quickly I reversed course on the wisdom of WebMD. Search “prolactin elevated.” And the news was not good.

The next logical step now that my doctor and I have met is to get a high resolution MRI of my brain. I had one almost exactly two years ago and everything was normal. Back then my reading said “20.” I’m not sure what unit of measurement, all I know is 20 is normal.

Mine is now 80.

You can’t get me into that godawful, horribly confining and damn loud Magnetic Resonance Imaging machine fast enough. I need to know what this is, and I need to know it now. Is it related to what’s happened to me? Am I in for something far worse? Will it be a tumor? Will it be benign? Can a surgeon remove it safely? Am I going to die?

Well, yes, eventually; I mean soon.

And I thought I was just having a bad week.

I’ll keep you my dear readers up to date once I learn something I can pass along. I hate to beg but your prayers, thoughts or just plain non-hatred toward me are very much appreciated.

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?