Thank you, but please don’t wish me a Happy Mother’s Day.

27e5529bbd7e7b6cecbbcf32140a83b4 While there are among my friends many who identify as moms who were assigned male at birth, I’m just not one of them.

Today, I shared some of these thoughts with a friend who’s in the same position. As I have told anyone who wishes me “Happy Mother’s Day”, or refers to me as “your mom” to my children: it’s not that we wouldn’t love being moms.

For whatever reason, God didn’t make it so I could conceive, carry and deliver a child… which is something I have wished for all my life, even before I acknowledged my true gender identity. When I was almost four and my sister joined the family, I decided I wanted five children, and it crushed me to find out I couldn’t bear a single one.

Almost as much as the fact she wasn’t able to play ball. “What good is she?” I asked my parents. A few decades later she delivered two beautiful girls into the world, now young women I love almost as much as my own children. I miss them so, and pray we reconnect long before they themselves become moms.

IMG_6653And I pray to God to reconnect me with my own mom, who has passed along the message: “I gave birth to a son, not a daughter.” 

But I digress…

I think of motherhood as a miracle, as proof of a woman’s strength. For every woman who becomes a mom, whether she does so biologically or through the selfless act of adoption, that woman is connected with their baby in a way only a mother can. That’s the main reason I surrender any claim to being my kids’ mom. They have a wonderful mom already, and in our case, just the one.

I have witnessed firsthand how this amazing woman delivered three of our four children into the world. I weep for the one who did not thrive and was lost, but rejoice for those whose very existence is a gift from God, and I am blessed to have had a key role.

Lots of dads have become moms, and I’m not referring to transgender people here; whether it be the result of death or divorce, some of the best dads I know have taken on the mantle of motherhood as best as they could, out of love for their children. And you know what? They are among the best moms I know, too!  And to my trans friends who identify as moms, I understand and embrace you as you see yourselves. I love you for taking on the mantle of being your children’s moms, and I know they are doubly lucky to have you!

IMG_7467As for me, I think of it this way: God, in helping me find the confidence to be who I truly am, gave me the most wonderful gift: fatherhood is not bestowed universally to all men. I am indeed blessed, in more ways than I can count, as I bear no greater title than that of “Dad.” 

I will never be rid of it, not even after I die. I have often repeated the words of my youngest son to his questioning friends who tried to convince him that he now has two moms.

“Nope. She’s my dad.” 

So, to all those who identify as moms, Happy Mother’s Day, and I look forward to accepting your good wishes come Father’s Day in June!

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

Mind = Blown

Today is my last day in Philadelphia for #LGBTMedia15, the convening of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender journalists and media folks from 23 states, and one from Nigeria!
Today the gang enjoyed a private tour of the Free Library of Pennsylvania after one last brunch. My flight home is in four hours and I’m packing up, not just my clothes… but my memories and what I have learned that I did not know. Here are ten:

  1. The struggle of bisexuals for acceptance. That 70% of bi folks are women. That they are too often lumped-in with gays and lesbians because people don’t “get” them or judge them or don’t want to know what it is that makes them happy.
  2. The fear of HIV hasn’t truly gone away and how modern medicine has made advances that in the 1980s would be the equivalent to the discovery of penicillin but because of fear and association with “the gay disease” the mainstream media and famous names keep their distance from hailing this breakthrough. It is keeping people alive who would have died, like my uncle did. Like my cousin did.
  3. That LGB journalists are as interested and motivated to fight for transgender civil rights as my trans brothers and sisters are. They understand — or want to understand better — our struggle, that we need their support and that we need it now.
  4. I was able to meet, hug and get to know many of the wonderful people whose names I’ve seen online, and for them to get to know me a little, too.
  5. That a transgender woman with an incredible platform to educate our society has given aid and comfort to those who would want trans kids excluded from sports activities and deny every trans man and trans woman the right to use the bathroom of their true gender. It’s abominable what she has done and an apology is not sufficient; she simply needs to stop talking about things she doesn’t understand.
  6. How awesome my friend Brynn Tannehill truly is. I’ve admired her for years and got to see her in action in person at this event. She’s the whole package, folks: smart, sassy, cute, well-spoken and passionate about civil liberties, the trans community, her family and her comrades who serve and have served our nation. And she’s a scholar of all things Hogwarts, Game of Thrones and the dwellers of Middle Earth.
  7. The generosity of people like Bil Browning, Jen Christiansen and Adam Pawlus, and their amazing ability to listen, to help, to encourage and facilitate our work.
  8. Diversity is not the right word to describe our assemblage: a salmagundi of smart, sensitive downright sexy people. We have had divergent experiences but share a single goal. I think instead of diversity I will start to use the word multiversity.
  9. I learned a lot about Philly’s history of LGBT advocacy and met some of the most treasured members of our community: our elders, who we need to not only salute but save from poverty and homelessness.
  10. And I also heard some very sad stories from those I was blessed to meet here, about work, love, life and their struggles to survive in a world that rejects them.Edit

I leave Philadelphia energized to make a difference.

I am empowered. I am strengthened. I am motivated.

I’m also hungry, and just got an invite to lunch, so bye for now!

Oh — before I go: please do me one favor, dear readers: be nice to someone today, even if they don’t deserve it.

“All Things Considered, I’d Rather Be In Philadelphia”

hqdefaultGood morning from Philadelphia, the birthplace of both democracy and W.C. Fields, who famously joked about Philly.

You know, W.C. Fields? The movie actor. Yes, from a long time ago. Hence the black and white picture.

8b41e8920339ae641aa2cc42f951ad33Here’s a color one. This guy ———————————————————–>

Go ahead, google him; I’ll wait. Notice the look on his face? That’s the same look I make when I make a pop culture reference and I realize my idea of pop culture is not the same as someone born in 1988 or later. And there’s a lot of you people.

Okay, are you with me now? Because it’s really late and I’m beat, so I will make this entry brief and to the point.

Stop that. Stop laughing while I’m trying to blog, it’s rude.

Harrumph.

I am blogging from the City of Brotherly (and Sisterly) Love because I am attending the 2015 LGBT Media Convening (hashtag #LGBTMedia15) sponsored by the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr., Fund and organized by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA). This is the sixth diversity conference, and my first of any kind. What’s interesting to note is that this event is not open to all media; it’s invitation only, and I am both humbled and honored to be here as one of the many representatives of the LGBT blogging community.

IMG_6350Andrea Dulanto of South Florida Gay News reported: “This year’s host committee includes Sarah Blazucki of NLGJA, Trish Bendix of AfterEllen, Mark King of My Fabulous Disease, Erin Rook of Source Weekly, Faith Cheltenham of BiNet, and Bil Browning of The Bilerico Project.

In an email with SFGN, Browning reflected on the significance and goals of the Convening: ‘For journalists focused on the LGBT beat, an invitation has become quite the status symbol for being recognized as a valuable community reporter. We specifically aim to bring in not only the LGBT state/local newspapers and large audience bloggers, but we also search for up-and-coming voices and try to lift up the voices of people of color, trans folk, and women.’

Browning elaborated on the importance of diversity: ‘Many of the larger outlets are still run by cisgender white men so we try to also reflect the diversity that is our community — especially in online journalism. Often these journalists are the only ones reporting in any depth on issues like race, class, and gender. The intersectionality of our community and how we can translate LGBT-specific needs into broader issues is the focus of this year’s Convening.’

In 2015, presenters and attendees will explore issues related to the topic ‘So Now What?’

“As Browning noted, these are ‘issues that have been relegated to the back burner during the marriage battles’ and the Convening will offer ‘sessions on religious liberty bills, intersectionality, self-determination, the role of government in promoting diversity, bisexuality, race and gender-specific topics, as well as how to better report on HIV/AIDS stories.'”

IMG_6346A truly amazing perk of this three-day event is that it is all-expenses paid. My crib (see what I did there?) is the swanky Radisson Blu Warwick Hotel, and everything has been first class.

I flew in this morning from Hartford, took a shuttle van where I met-up with some fellow attendees including Colin Murphy of Boom Magazine in St. Louis, Steve Rothaus of the Miami Herald, and my longtime facebook friend and fellow writer, Trans Military activist Brynn Tannehill, whom I finally had the pleasure of meeting in person today.

It was a long trip given the many stops our van had to make — in fact it took twice as long to get from the airport to the hotel as it did to fly here from Connecticut! But that afforded us time to have a fascinating conversation about issues of the day, from bathroom bills to marriage equality and religious backlash. One woman who was riding along with us but not attending the conference told me she was very interested in our conversation and I think that is an important takeaway from this event: that we remember to reach out to those who are not knee-deep in LGBT topics. They can and should be included so we can better arm our allies, to help them help us.

IMG_6345Upon check-in, each of us received a very nice goodie bag from the City of Philadelphia. The contents included a tee shirt, notepads, a pen, some press releases, a “Gay Philadelphia” button which I attached to my purse and a Century21 store giftcard about which I am very excited!

This evening we gathered in the hotel lobby and I met sooo many folks! Too many to name but I’m looking forward to trying to get to know each one. Then we as a group walked the four blocks to the beautiful Comcast Center, where we were wined and dined and then met Nellie Helen Fitzpatrick, IMG_6355 the city’s newly-minted Director of LGBT Affairs, who read a letter from Mayor Nutter. In June, this city’s Pride Parade will celebrate its 25th anniversary, and Philadelphia itself is marking 50 years of LGBT activism

I met many more of my colleagues, including The Advocate Magazine’s Mitch Kellaway, who covers the Trans* beat, and our boss, Here Media Editorial Director Lucas Grindley, who has grown advocate.com from an afterthought to an invaluable online resource with a powerful presence in the LGBT community and the world at large.

One interesting footnote about the location of our first event: the Comcast Center tower lobby has the most incredible HDTV screen I’ve ever seen. Pictures and video don’t do it justice, and I was enthralled.

IMG_6357Then came time to meet tonight’s keynote speaker. Given that this is a conference on LGBT diversity and civil rights and the media, I was not sure what to make of the fact that the keynote address was to be delivered by a southern preacher. After all, right now the very existence of the transgender community is under attack by religious conservatives who believe laws should be enacted to deny me and people like me our civil rights, to block us from protection from unlawful discrimination, and to prevent us from using the restroom.

But this man who spoke was not just a minister. Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II is the President of the North Carolina NAACP, one of the leaders of the Moral Mondays protests in N.C., and a man who recognizes, in his own words, that “the stones rejected will become the cornerstone,” equating a parable from the New Testament to the struggle for equality.

He regaled us with stories and educated us with history, how he and others are helping North Carolinians “vote for the future and not out of fear.” And Rev. Barber encouraged us to visit his home state and cover the issues that have sown division in our society. He frequently explained he does not refer to conservative politicians as “the right,” because he doesn’t want to convey the idea he thinks they are correct.

IMG_6367We spoke one on one following his speech and a brief Q&A, about the epidemic of violence against trans women, particularly women of color. And he told me how he as a minister counsels those with conservative views to put aside hate and judgment of those women who feel they have no other choice but to turn to sex work, a potentially profitable but entirely dangerous and violent existence, that society at large dismisses as not worthy of consideration. “These are still people,” he told me. “Every life is precious.”

I wish the “pro-life” folks would consider that view the next time someone trans is murdered because a “john” figured nobody would care about a prostitute. I’m not advocating that as a viable line of work; I’m standing up for those who believe there is no other way to survive.

IMG_6388And that is where this blog ends tonight. My colleagues Rebecca Juro, Gwen Smith and Monica Roberts and I had a wonderful evening walking and talking and trading war stories. Tomorrow starts very early.

Oh. Right. It already is tomorrow.

Good morning from Philadelphia!

P.S. Sorry. I forgot to be brief.

Why, Butterfly? Why?

Blue_Butterfly_by_Sorana_chan

I said to my old friend with the fancy new suit,

“Well, don’t you look sharp now! And so cute!

New wings festooned like blueberry fruit

Antennae accessorizing that ensemble, to boot.

So why the long face? What’s with the snoot?”

 

Goliath-Butterfly-butterflies-13005828-1024-768

 “Admit it now, say it’s true,

Now that you have the broader view:

Life is better, since you flew?

You smile more, and giggle, too. 

Those wings! So new! So blue! So you!”

images (1)

“If you’ll pardon me, please; I must pry, 

I cannot help but wonder why

You weep and you do not fly?

What is here that makes you cry?

Wouldn’t you be happier up in the sky?

images

“Your life’s not here down on the ground!

Your wings, worthless, dragging around

Behind you like an abandoned hound.

Why, Butterfly? Why not make that sound

Of fluttering, flapping — lose the frown!”

butterfly_full

But my friend ignored my pleas to smile and take flight

And trundled along, wings and all; what a sight!

I watched her wander, slowly, left and right;

As if her wings cloaked a darkness blocking all light

A broken heart perhaps? This kid was not alright.

blue_butterfly_by_rana_rocks-d4grdbo

I decided then to act, to stop this morose tour.

“Why, Butterfly? Why? Why don’t you soar?

Tell me what saddens you to your core?”

My friend spoke, not a whisper, but a roar:

“Because I am what I am, a caterpillar no more.”

blues-on-blue-ii-blue-butterfly-diamonds-flowers-glitter-persona-sparkles-stars-1024x1280

“My family won’t accept me, saying ‘Those wings must be fake!’

And, ‘You’re not one of us! You’re a freak! A fruitcake!'”

“No, Butterfly. No,” I consoled her. “They made a mistake.”

She sighed, wishing they could be happy for her own sake.

“If only they would accept me. Perhaps my life I should take…”

blue_butterfly_tattoo_by_3mMmMmA

“NO, Butterfly! No!” I pleaded. “That won’t make it better.

The only thing death does is make you deader.

Your problems aren’t fixed, they multiply together

And anyone who rejects you won’t become a regretter.

‘A permanent solution to a temporary problem,’ says this letter.”

blue-butterfly-yorkshire-rose-wallpapers

“What letter?” asked the Butterfly, sad as can be.

“The one a friend shared when I changed into ME.

And now it is yours.” “Who, me?” said she.

“Yes, Butterfly! Yes! I transitioned, too, you see.

I survived thanks to friends. They’re my chosen family.”

blue_butterfly_by_crazthonfry_wallpaper-1440x900

The Butterfly absorbed all this new info fast

Picked up her wings and in a blue blast

Flew over for a hug, not her first, not her last.

She mourned and accepted what’s past is past

And took flight to explore her new world, so vast.

Fly, Butterfly! Fly!

If you or someone you know is thinking about or threatening suicide, don’t hesitate to use one of these great resources!

Trans Lifeline

(877) 565-8860

National Suicide Prevention Hotline:

(800) 273-8255

“Back and Forth”

images (1)

STOP. Just for a moment, before scrolling ahead, think of the word or phrase that irritates you most. Got it? Okay, let me guess. Was yours…

“Taxes”?

“Breaking News”?

“Obama” (or “Bush” or “Clinton”)?

“Sweetheart” (or “Hon”)?

“Tranny?”

“Religious Freedom”

“Mommm!”

“Dental Floss?”

Perhaps none of those words offends you, or gets your Irish up, as my grandmother from County Leitrim used to say.

Before I tell you mine, I must admit: I’m tired of being audited, I detest the ubiquitous overuse of “breaking news,” I won’t discuss politics here (at this time), I am not a fan of the “T” word and I am careful to avoid using “sweetheart” or “hon” with anyone unless I know them well enough — or they do so first, I thought we enacted religious freedom in 1789 and as much as I know I should, I hate flossing. Lastly, my spouse has a love/hate relationship with the moniker “Mom;” she had threatened to change her name to “Fred,” until a) her mother married a man named “Fred” and b) I changed my name to “Dawn” and she didn’t want people to think she, also, had gender dysphoria.

Which brings me to my most hated, despised and just all around annoying string of words:

” 

If you don’t know me or my story, I encourage you to read earlier entries of this, my blog, so as not to put the rest of our friends to sleep from having to hear it yet again.

But there has never been ONE TIME that someone hasn’t used the phrase “back and forth” to describe my transition when it is being discussed. For a time, I thought I should print up tee shirts with the words “Dawn is Back” on the front, “And Forth” on the back, just to make some money off the damn spectacle of it all.

Some have suggested that instead of “Life After Dawn” I should call my story “Back and Forth,” since it seems so top of mind. “And why isn’t it ‘Life After Don,’ anyway?’ they ask.

“Oh, shuddup!” I sometimes say… in my head.

Sigh. “Back and forth” bugs the hell out of me (I think I’ve made that point sufficiently clear, no?) because it focuses attention on my so-called “failure,” my confusion and perplexing inability to maintain my gender transition in one direction.

“Newsman Changed Gender Three Times” screamed the headlines, back in the day.

No.

No, I did not.

Before you say, “Now, wait a minute! Yes, you did…I remember! You even blogged about it. And besides, it’s on Google!” please allow me to explain.

I know just as well as you do what was reported, and yes, some of it was based on an ill-advised email I sent to “trusted” colleagues.

Fuggedaboudit. That’s old news.

Here is the message that matters, and why I’m writing this:

I was assigned male at birth in 1964… circumcised (twice)… given a male name… raised as a boy and loved by my parents and sister, who — for the first two years of her life, could not say my name and so she called me what she knew I was:

“Boy.” 384812_2645244207582_866694186_n

Yes, my one and only sister referred to me as “Boy,” as in “Boy’s home!” and “Boy, give me back my dolly!”

To me at age five and six, being called “Boy” was just about as awkward (but cute) as my kids calling me, their transgender parent, “Dad” as I exit the ladies room (not cute, potentially dangerous and if some people get their way, likely to get me incarcerated).

We’ll need to chat about that, I think, although I am on record as supporting their decision to continue to call me “Dad.”

But “Boy?” I spent a lot of time trying to get this little cherub to call me my proper name. And here we are, 45 years later, and guess what? I still can’t get her to call me by my proper name!

My sister, like so many others, cannot understand why I transitioned, why I did it so publicly — announcing it on facebook! The nerve! Why, people will SEE IT, and — they’ll know! 

Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of transgender people post stuff on facebook about their transitions. The difference is, they don’t work at a major TV network and have a book publisher with an agenda to ruin them and their plans for the future.

And maybe a few hundred of those possible tens of thousands may encounter difficulty in their transition; I don’t have reliable numbers, sadly. Nobody really knows how many people are trans, or how many people detransition. We are told very few, mainly because psychological and pharmaceutical guidance keeps people from going too far if they’re not prepared. Some chafe at the gatekeepers’ rules, others complain they don’t do enough.

Mine did their job well, and only one therapist failed me, just when I needed her most, when my career and livelihood were on the line.

She’s now working at Xerox. Good move!

She and a lot of people have said that phrase, “back and forth,” and I do understand why.

To them, I was “Don,” then I was “Dawn,” then “Don” again, then “Dawn” again.

I’m thinking maybe I’ll change it to “Shlomo” for the next go-round, just for laughs.

STOP. There is no next go-round. And what brings me to write about this is, I don’t see the back and forth everyone else does.

I’ve been doing a lot of meditating lately, thanks to the help of my dearest friend, Susan, and it’s helped me unlock some memories which I think connect the dots, from my early childhood to now, to help me better understand my gender transition.

That child raised and even called “Boy” — that’s me, remember? I do. I was hyperactive, imaginative, friendly, adventurous, uncoordinated, artistic and all-American looking — enough to be cast in commercials and print advertisements, starting at age four.

Slender, expressive, sensitive, emotional, intensely loyal and more interested in playing house with Marilyn Ciaccio across the street than cops and robbers with my best friend Tommy McCoy and the Quinlans. I recall wanting to be an astronaut race car driver who gave it all up to get married and have five children. I remember being saddened to catwomanlearn only women could be mommies and that priests were not allowed to marry.

I loved watching “Batman” on TV, but my favorite character was Catwoman, played by Lee Meriwether.

And a month before I was to turn six, I remember my parents and I watched one of our favorite TV shows together: “Mission Impossible.” 1393082889-0It was February of 1970, and Barry Williams of “The Brady Bunch” was the guest star. He played an Eastern European King who had to go into hiding to escape assassination… and Jim Phelps and his tireless IMF team disguised the boy king… as a girl.

I was transfixed.

Also in the 1970’s, Scooby Doo and Shaggy were running from the usual monsters, and — plot twist — they disguised themselves as women to try to escape.

In my teens, I was haunted by nightmares that my parents had left the department store without me — again, this was the 1970’s, when kids roamed wild without “helicopter parents.” My mom and dad could be rightly called “zeppelin” parents: they were always far away, moved slowly, and I have vivid memories of them exploding all over my sister and me when things went wrong.

In this recurring nightmare, the department store was locked up; I could not get out, there was no way for me to phone home, and when the workmen started coming around, I hid among the mannequins.1

The workmen are so convinced by my mannequin-like acting that they bring me into… the back room, where mannequins are disassembled and reassembled and set back out on the sales floor.

As you have no doubt guessed, my nightmare was that I was put on display… as a girl.

Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 3.13.51 AMIf you aren’t already aware that this stems from an actual experience in my acting and modeling career, I’ll ask you to catch up to the rest of the class.

And if you know that my summer job in college was to work at a department store, let me reveal to you how nervous I was that very first time I stepped into “the back room.”

I met a girl there, a cashier who came to mind today as the theme from “Flashdance” played on an 80’s radio station. That was our first date, and our last. I wanted to hold hands and watch the movie, she wanted to make out… and she was getting a vibe from me that she later described as feeling that I was “a… friend.” The reason for her pause eluded me for years, but I heard it again, and again.

I was a late bloomer. I didn’t have sex until I was a senior in college. And before that, I was frustrated at why every girl wanted me to be her friend and nothing more.

One woman was so bold as to ask me, more than once, “are you sure you’re not gay? Perhaps you were abused and you’re not ready to talk about it?”

What?

She later went around telling friends her theories. Gee, thanks. Buhbye.

Yet another said, no doubt in her mind: “I’ve figured you out: you want to be the woman!” Karen was aggressive, assertive, and never for a moment let me doubt she was in charge of our relationship. She told another female friend of mine what she thought of me, and when asked if this was true — there was no word for transgender in 1994 — I denied it. I realize now that I did that because I didn’t want to be what I was.

photoThat was the year I dressed up as a woman for Halloween, a little too convincingly, I was told. At age 30, fifteen years after modeling as a girl, I still had that uncanny ability to appear to be female.

It bothered me and intrigued me, and yet I wrote off the experience as a one-off; been there, done that. Moving on!

And now more than two decades later, I am living a life that is not a disguise or a Halloween get-up. It is my every day experience. I don’t have any “confusion” about my gender, or my expression of it.

Even in the months when I resumed a male presentation for the world to see, I maintained my legal name and gender as “Dawn”, and kept the F on my drivers license. I never even changed the picture. And within a few weeks of once again presenting as a male, I felt compelled to resume HRT, to rebalance my hormones and resume — at least part-time — living according to the gender I had somehow forgotten I truly was.

I did that until I felt strong enough to do it right, all the time.

The love of my life is one of those people who used to say “back and forth, more than anyone, and yet today this woman I married said something else, which is why I wrote this.

“You didn’t change genders three times,” she told me, her beautiful brown eyes like chocolate melting in the quiet afternoon sunlight that filled what was our bedroom.

“You changed once — no, even that’s not right. I realize now you were never really a male. Maybe physically, for awhile. But never,” pointing to her head, “up here. Where it counts.”

I think she’s right.

I’ll admit, my transition is hardly the traditional path. It’s nothing like anyone else’s that I’ve found. And being unique is both cool and lonely. But the one thing so many of us Male-to-Female transgender people have in common: being who we are means no longer being loved by those who learn we’re not who we were.

On this point, there is no “going back.”

So we go forth, into the unknown.

Ha, Me Boys

They are eight years apart and the best of friends.

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

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

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

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

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

And I, a woman, am their father. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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