The War of 2016

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We are at war.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Do trans people support women’s rights? Go ask your DadMom

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

The #Dad/Mom welcomes your questions, your stories

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

Hey, Pride. Gimme a raincheck.

Pride

Greetings from Connecticut, and Happy Pride!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I have cancer.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet the “Dad/Mom”

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

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

Thanks!

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

 

 

It could have been me


I’m hardly a barfly but yes: I’ve danced, drank, met friends and enjoyed music in some of Central Florida’s gay-friendly bars. And I’ve done the same in Tampa, St. Pete, and Jacksonville, too. And N.Y., L.A. and D.C. And even Hartford. 
It’s not the “gay” aspect that attracted me, of course, but the fact that someone like me doesn’t feel out of place in a club or tavern that caters to the gay. lesbian, bi and trans clientele. 
And that makes me a target of terrorism. 

But I’m apparently not lesbian. A trusted lady friend who would certainly know once told me she can “smell the straight” on me. But as a transgender woman who loved only one woman for 20+ years, my emerging attraction to the opposite sex still isn’t ready for field testing in the kinds of bars and clubs I frequented in my youth, when I was the suitor instead of the prey. 

The one thing I can say about what happened in Orlando early Sunday, is that is how I now feel: as the hunted. 

Omar Mateen could have chosen any club anywhere for his record-setting murder spree. And he wasn’t alone in his homophobia nor hardly the first terrorist hellbent on extinguishing the lives of people who offended him simply by loving. 

I can’t put it out of my mind: I could have been there with friends in Orlando’s gay and Latin community. Or it might have been those friends of mine who lost their lives or were wounded.

Or yours. 

You know, you don’t have to be gay to visit a “gay bar.” And I’ll wager that among those poor 50 souls, there very well might be one straight ally, maybe more. Or one of the 53 wounded could be a friend who was in the “wrong place at the wrong time,” as is often said. Who could imagine such a thing? The thought that planes could be used as missiles sprung from the minds of terrorists 15 years ago, and now gay clubs, Pride parades and even public bathrooms are the modern terrorist’s inspiration for hateful carnage. 

I heard one network reporter breathlessly broadcast that the result of the Orlando massacre was that police nationwide were beefing up patrols “in areas frequented by the gay community” in order to protect “people who live the LGBTQ lifestyle.” Whoa, why didn’t anyone tell me there’s a special place gays go? See, I thought that in 2016, gay people “frequent” supermarkets, offices, churches, movie theaters, shops and stores and gas stations and restaurants and – on occasion – the streets and sidewalks of cities and towns across America. 

And why is it that in all the years I was the best imitation of a married heterosexual man, nobody ever described me as living a “straight lifestyle?” I’m still straight, yet somehow coming out as trans earned me a “lifestyle.” And, truth be told, I’m neither rich nor famous. 

Omar Mateen may have landed a place in the history books with this bloody massacre, but I’m more interested in learning about the folks whose lives were lost and those forever changed by his legally licensed and NRA-sanctioned gunfire. 

I also want to know more about the brave officers who ran into danger when all hell broke loose. And I wish I could offer some comfort to the families and friends who are in mourning. They join so many more like them in Newtown, Aurora, and San Bernardino. My heart breaks, knowing full well that death is cruel. 

But let’s be honest: I’m a selfish bitch, and all I really care about is my kids and me. I know that as a marked woman, my choices can get me killed. As a widow, I am all my kids have. So, do I dare go where a predator who hates LGBTQ people might take out his hatred or a copycat might commit more terrorism? 

And here we were just 24 hours ago, fretting about the danger trans people posed in the bathroom. Really? 

How ironic that many of those frightened victims inside Pulse found shelter from the fusillade of gunshots by hiding in the nightclub’s ladies room. 

Well, if  you need me, I won’t be hiding in the loo, or under my bed. I will be out, and about, and I will shout: I will not stop living my authentic life. I will be me and I will be visible. How can I teach my kids to stand up for themselves if I won’t do the same? 

To all of you who dance and drink, who enjoy the music and the camaraderie of gay-friendly clubs: let’s go clubbing, and keep going. We can’t let the terrorists win, no matter how high the cover charge is. 

Life is too damn short. 

#TransHands


Thirty years ago tomorrow, millions of people did something that had never been done before, and never repeated since. They held one another’s hands across America, from sea to shining sea.


Well, almost. Despite the participation of between five and six million men, women and children, there were of course huge geographic gaps. But to this day, the pre-Internet era effort stands as an inspiring milestone of unity, of sisterhood and of brotherhood.
Imagine you could take part in something as moving, as exciting and yet a heck of a lot easier to send a message of acceptance, love and understanding.

Well, you can. Right now!

My friend and colleague Hannah Simpson and I invite you to take part in a new, electronic effort, aimed at generating support for transgender Americans.

We call it #TransHands.

Our idea is simple: take a photo of your hand grasping the hand of someone transgender, and share it with the hashtag #TransHands.

It’s really that easy. And if you don’t have a trans friend for your photo, you can still take part and show your support by snapping a picture of your open hand, as it would be extended in friendship, like this:


We think the idea would best be conveyed if one of the hands pictured was that of a child, as shown at the top of this post… since those intent on depriving us of our civil rights and denying our existence are hellbent on spreading the myth that we are predators of children.

We’re not. We are all God’s children, and never has there been even one incident of a trans person arrested taking advantage of laws protecting our civil rights to prey upon a child or a woman for that matter. It’s a myth, and this is just one way we are working to counter it.

The #TransHands movement is aimed at countering such ridiculous and baseless right wing propaganda, by showing transgender people holding hands with children, and transgender children holding hands with adults.

This is an open invitation to people of all ages, backgrounds, religions, cultures, cities and towns across America.

We chose hands so as to avoid any concerns or questions about the electronic sharing of images featuring minors, which is of course a legal concern. We are sensitive to the privacy worries parents might have, concerning their children’s faces being shared on the Internet.
So just to make it clear:

1. Snap a photo. You can show your hand holding a trans person’s hand, or your hand outstretched in friendship. You can show your faces, too, if you want!

2. Share it with the hashtag #transhands (or #TransHands –capitalization not necessary) on whatever social media app you like, and as many as you like, and don’t forget the hashtag!

3. Please share this post to get the word out?

Look for a story tomorrow about our project in The Advocate. We’ll include the best photos, so act quickly! Get snapping!

And just like those who took part in Hands Across America on May 25, 1986, you’ll be taking part in history.

Thank you in advance for your show of support, love and acceptance!
Hannah Simpson and Dawn Ennis

My Love Letter to Bill, or Everything You Need to Know About Bathrooms and Trans People

CORRECTION Mens Room Tourism

This isn’t a mushy romance story or a sexy rendezvous story or even an unrequited love story. I should think the alternate title (and the picture above) would have made that clear.

The love I refer to in the title of this post is something I feel for my friend Bill which transcends all those kinds of love. We formed a bond that began as one between brothers  (although unrelated) and is now one between friends. The love is not the physical sort, but the kind that allows me to connect with the fantastic mind of this great guy, whose brain is bursting with ideas and energy, richly refined, deep in useful knowledge as well as insightful and quite incredible in almost every way.

Almost.

The one way Bill’s brain is not at all in sync with the world I inhabit is in the difference of opinion on the debate raging in some quarters about who should use which bathroom. Former ace pitcher and, until this week, ESPN Baseball Analyst Curt Schilling, lost his job after sharing a particularly awful meme which you can see here but I’m not going to taint my blog with it. Here’s the comment he posted to accompany a truly transphobic image:

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Despite this difference of opinion between Bill and myself, our friendship remains fully intact, because the way in which our love is deepest is in how we respect each other even when we disagree most forcefully. That’s a rare feat in this “take no prisoners,” “compromise is for losers” world in which Republicans hate Democrats, liberals hate conservatives, and the South hates the North.

Well, let’s put that last one aside for now since we’re talking hundreds of years of animosity passed from generation to generation and not without just cause in some cases and totally reprehensibly in cases of racism. But the South is where this guy named Bill lives, and I am from the North. And yet we are friends.

Friends who love each other… in a mutual admiration and respect kind of way.

Hey! Goodness, get your mind out of the gutter! Pulleeeze?

Tonight, I awoke to use the private bathroom in my home, utilized by both males and females, and upon returning to bed I noticed that my lovely friend posted something on Facebook about public bathrooms. After reading his thoughts, I felt he was honest, kind and authentic to his feelings, and that is not at all surprising.

I’m not going to post his words, as that would be presumptuous. But in sum, he offered his opinion of this political hot potato of the week: he said he favored the idea that transgender people use the public single use bathrooms that we used to refer to as the handicap or disabled or family bathroom, and that he championed privacy over everything else. He did not hesitate to voice his respect for LGBT folks and wrote that he expected to be hammered for his view.

That is not what I did, nor would I ever. I wrote a reply which follows, and in re-reading it I realize I did leave out one important point: too few public facilities offer single-stall bathrooms as an alternative, and they are not always safe as a trans woman learned last month, when she was raped at, of all places, The Stonewall Inn. All that needs to be taken into consideration.

But here, without further preamble, is my love letter to my friend Bill, as it relates to bathrooms.

“Sigh. I know you too long and too well to be offended by anything you say, think or feel, let alone post on Facebook. But if you will allow me, here are the major points in why the law as written in North Carolina is, in my humble opinion, wrongheaded and discriminatory.

YouWereFine“First: you’ve already shared a men’s room with someone transgender. If this law is to be enforced, which a respected sheriff says it cannot be, then trans men will be kicked out of men’s rooms and forced to use the ladies rooms.

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How does that make any sense, that a person who was assigned female at birth but identifies as male must continue to use a ladies restroom even though he is burly, bearded, and — since as you say, no one is inspecting any other person’s genitals — doing his business behind a locked stall door? Above and at right are some of the memes posted to Twitter by my friend Michael Hughes and (below) by another friend, James Sheffield.

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CruzAd“Second: I don’t think there’s been a lot of research done by folks who put much of the emphasis, as Ted Cruz has, on the idea that grown men should not be using the same rest room as little girls. Always men and girls. Never men and women, because that wouldn’t be scary enough. The implication is, trans women are men who are sexual deviants pretending or dressing up as women so that they can prey upon innocent children.

So, here’s what is missing: trans women aren’t men. Many (not that you would know) have the anatomy of a female, and thus cannot use a urinal. If they do have that kind of “plumbing,” as you cleverly described it, the hormones legally prescribed to help someone achieve a gender transition render that plumbing ineffective for anything other than urination. In trying to avoid crude terms, the drawbridge no longer raises, for anyone or anything.

“Third: the reason this kind of person, or me, just for example, even attempts a gender transition is because we don’t identify with the gender we were assigned at birth. gender-is-between-your-ears-Hoodies---SweatshirtsGender is not what is between our legs, it’s what is between our ears. That’s a scientific fact. I have been prescribed female hormones since 2011, after five years of taking male hormones because the last thing in the world I wanted to be was transgender. I thought I could cure this. I thought, I’ll take testosterone and be a man. But it didn’t do anything for me except turn me into a very angry, unhappy woman who walked around looking like a bald guy. In fact, my body did something even worse: after some initial success, the T I was taking luteinized and my body converted that male hormone into estrogen, which was not helpful to someone who was trying to prove she was a man.

17000753-mmmain“Lastly, and to your final point: you are not wrong. There ought to be privacy. Women and girls should use the ladies room, men and boys should use the men’s room, and those single stall family or disabled bathrooms should be available everywhere for people who don’t feel comfortable in public restrooms, whether they fear trans people or are shy or they are transgender and worry that, if I were to walk into a men’s room, even if I were to use a stall since I don’t have the plumbing for a urinal, I risk my life because that has happened over and over again: trans women attacked in public bathrooms. What has never happened in the U.S., not once, is that someone trans has attacked a woman or child in a ladies room. There was one case in 2014 in Canada. One.

“Bill, I love you, too. And if you can find it in your heart to accept what my late spouse and my children and mother in law and lots of other folks believe, even though I myself was in denial the longest: I am a woman. That’s why I use the ladies room.

“You see, #wejustneedtopee (and maybe touch up my makeup, since I am a woman).

“Thanks for allowing me the space to explain. I won’t feel bad if those who support your view attack me or call me names. I’m a big girl, and as you well know, I can handle anything after what I’ve been through the last three years. God bless and good night!”

Your comments are welcome. And tell me: what do you think would happen if I wore this into the men’s room?

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The Choice

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Today I am 52 years — and one day — old.

But I’ve achieved this milestone despite a choice I made in 2014. And because I lived to make another one.

I stepped into traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike. And I did it because I could not bear the burden of being unloved, unworthy and distrusted by the woman I still loved. I was devastated by a few words she said, words she refused to take back, that cut through me like a knife:

“I’d be better off if you were dead.”

IMG_0511I held the cellphone to my ear as I begged her to recant, as I stood in the fast lane with my back to oncoming traffic. It was not the busiest day ever, but there were still cars, tractor trailers and buses that swerved to avoid striking me. Some blared their horns, but I didn’t budge. I didn’t consider how my suicide might take someone else’s life; I didn’t consider how my wife and kids would feel about me killing myself. I didn’t care. I didn’t care about anyone else. And at one point, I hung up the phone, when I realized I didn’t care if Wendy loved me or not.

Because I didn’t love me, either.

I snapped one last picture, and no, it wasn’t a selfie. And it slowly dawned on me, that this was a mistake. I actually laughed at myself, standing in the middle of a highway and unable to end my life without someone else delivering the fatal blow.

“Can’t even succeed at killing myself,” I muttered. “I am a total failure.”

That was the exact opposite of how I felt just a day or two before. I had been well-received by longtime friends, at a reunion in sunny Florida. I had also met my mother as my authentic self, and made every effort to reconcile our differences. I hugged her goodbye, never to see or speak to her again. I left Florida feeling hopeful for the future, and at peace.

On the way home to Connecticut, I had stopped for lunch in my old Jacksonville neighborhood when I received word from my job: I was getting fired, and a young colleague who I had trained had been promoted — to management. Isn’t that a coincidence, I thought.

Just the month before, I had resumed my transition, and my employer had built a bullshit case of “performance issues” based on what this one person reported, in order to curry favor and advance their own career; the kind of transgressions overlooked in a favorite employee and used to blackball someone whose file included the worrisome notation, “business unit growing concerned about headlines” that my transition had generated in the tabloids. Almost all of that coverage was negative.

I was summoned to appear before a meeting of my boss, the head of human resources, and the VP in charge of HR and legal affairs. She was the woman who shepherded me through my transition and all the troubles that followed. My only hope of avoiding — more likely, postponing — my fate, was to take a medical leave of absence.

In a panic, I phoned my therapist and asked for a letter citing just such a need. I told her I was desperate. And to my surprise, my therapist said, “no.”

“I’m thinking you want me to give you this just to avoid being fired,” she said.

Well, duh. I mean, what was happening was clearly unfair. And I wasn’t just looking to avert the inevitable. I was rightfully frightened about my future.

It was the start of summer, when Wendy stopped getting paychecks from her job as a school teacher. My wife and kids were dependent on me until late September. How would I support my family? And I had just moved into my own apartment, my first in my true name, at considerable expense. How would I support myself?

“I’m at the end of my rope,” I told my therapist. “I can’t live if this happens.” She cast aside my pleas and my feelings of desperation, and told me I should go to an emergency room or call 911 if I “really” wanted help. Really? At that exact moment, I fired her, although it felt like she had already fired me.

And so I prepared to face the network firing squad.

It didn’t help boost my spirits that my wife blamed my situation on my transition, as if this path of self-destruction was the only possible outcome, and she let me know she still felt I was worth more to her dead than alive. I felt utterly and completely without value.

We had dinner as a family one last time. She then dropped me off at Union Station in Hartford for the train to New York.

It was raining, which covered up the tears streaming down my cheeks. I stepped up to the platform and dialed the number of a close friend and confidante who I had dubbed my Trans Jiminy Cricket for helping me throughout my tumultuous transition.

Getting no answer, I left a cryptic voicemail, saying goodbye, and stepped in front of the oncoming Amtrak train in an attempt to kill myself, once and forever.

I looked into the eyes of the motorman. The raindrops pelted my face. I closed my eyes and listened to the blaring train horn. It blotted out almost every sound, except one: that of my iPhone ringtone.

The shrill classic phone ring penetrated my contemplation of imminent death, the end to all suffering, and like a child tugging on the hem of my skirt, demanded I heed its call, to life.

10410235_10205381333592954_1886322810314400017_nIt was Maia, my Trans Jiminy Cricket, calling her Trans Pinnochio.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“I’m standing on the tracks, waiting for the train to kill me. It’s coming.”

She didn’t mince words. “Get out of there,” Maia said.

She didn’t raise her sweet, sultry voice or beg or plead. She just told me matter of factly what to do, and waited on the line until I told her I did.

“Good. Now get on the train and I’ll call you right back in a few minutes. Okay?”

“Okay,” I said. Her calm demeanor made me feel calm; her unemotional but strong way of speaking settled me down.

Maia, like many of us, once considered ending it all. She lost her marriage and left their only child with her ex-wife, so she should live authentically. Maia told me God once spoke to her, and to her that was affirmation enough that this was the life she was meant to lead.

I was still waiting to hear from God, but in a few minutes time, I received a message from author and mentor Jenny Boylan on the train to New Haven. She had heard what I had attempted from Maia.

10245350_10203643378425161_4162073435877127621_n“Don’t do something stupid,” wrote Jenny, in that professorial parental tone millions of people have seen her use on the world’s most famous (and perhaps most politically stubborn) woman, Caitlyn Jenner.

She urged me to call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. And so I did. I told the young woman on the other end of the line my story and what was driving me to end my life, and how I was basing my own value on how my wife perceived me.

“Well, you really can’t blame her,” said the woman who was trying to convince me my life was worth living. “She’s been through a lot and she’s being honest with you about her feelings.”

“Yes,” I said, “but I’d like to talk to you about my feelings, okay? Not hers.”

“I understand — Click!”

“Hello?!”

Yes, the Suicide Hotline hung up on me. No, not on purpose; a few minutes later my phone rang and I let it go to voicemail. When I checked it later I heard the young woman apologize for inadvertently hanging up on me.

“Please do call back, if you’re, um, still there.”

I was still there even though I decided to not call back. IMG_0569But I did dial 911, when I got to Times Square, because I found myself unable to leave the subway platform.

IMG_0570Train after train came and left. I watched as men and women of all ages and races and faces and places boarded and disembarked the number 1 local uptown and to The Bronx.

But all I could think was that train would take me to my apartment to spend the night awaiting my doom, and take me back here to Manhattan where my career would be pulverized into dust, my name disgraced and my professional life ended. If I left this platform that step would set in motion the events that would end my role as provider for my family.

I was, to put it mildly, distraught. My call brought the police, and the paramedics, who took me from the subway station… to Bellevue.

The official police terminology for my case is EDP: “emotionally disturbed person.” All those years hearing “EDP” on the police scanners in the newsroom, and in my dad’s home office, and now, I was the EDP.

It was the right call, even if Bellevue was the worst possible place to go. I wasn’t crazy, or insane. I was distraught and needed to get my head straight. But Bellevue? Imagine a holding place chock full of depressed, suicidal and unhinged men and women, stripped of their belongings and with no ability to reach the outside world, or even see it. No windows, no media, no phones, no nothing except beds, chairs and some very disturbed people.

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#TransIsBeautiful

The only thing they let me keep was a certain copy of Time magazine, with Laverne Cox on the cover. This was my own personal Transgender Tipping Point.

I wasn’t medicated or treated, just allowed to sleep (with the lights on) and to contemplate what had led me here and what might await me when… if… I were released.

After brief interviews with a psychologist and a psychiatrist and some calls to my doctors, wife and therapist, I was determined to be no danger to myself or others, and let go.

And I had been let go from my job, too, without a hearing. It had been a day: I missed the big meeting, I didn’t produce a letter requesting medical leave, and so I was terminated.

I responded to the official email with a proposal that we not bash each other in the media, and they agreed. And after they bashed me in the media — the Daily News quoted “an insider” — we entered into negotiations which, let’s just say, ended to my satisfaction.

All this taught me survival skills, and lessons you can put to use: first among them is that nothing is more important than my children. Had I gone through with suicide, my kids would be orphans now. As one of the 41 percent of trans people and gender non-conforming adults who consider or attempt suicide, I am aware many people are not as lucky as I am to have lived, or to have access to their children.

Second: it’s important is to not let others’ perceptions define who you are. I needed to learn to respect Wendy’s perspective and to determine my own. After a time, she did recant, and agreed the words — although they were just words — were not true. I regained her trust; Wendy came to see me as the woman I am, and even said she loved me, as the father of her children and her co-parent. Time healed the bitter wounds that had broken her heart.

Third was to reach out for help. Thanks to Chloe Schwenke, the late Rick Regan, Maia and Jenny, Susan and even Wendy, I survived these attempts, and got help to get past my acute depression. It took time. It got worse. But ultimately it did get better. And mental health counseling was part of that solution. It’s not something we should stigmatize, it’s something we as a society ought to look at as part of being healthy. I am grateful to those who helped me be the healthy person I am today.

And last was to not take myself so seriously. I found other jobs. We survived the summer from hell. I laughed at my own inability to end my life, and thanked God for such incompetence.

And despite the turmoil and media trashing, thanks to the hard work of attorney Jillian Weiss, I left on good terms with my former employer, and I’d recommend working for them if you’re given the opportunity. Better days hopefully lay ahead.

I wrote this not just in reflection of my birthday, or the fact that Easter is upon us with its message of renewal and resurrection from death, but with the recent suicide of a friend’s transgender son in mind. It is hard to contemplate how anyone can take their life, unless you’ve been there, until life is so unbearable that even death, and the thought of causing pain unto others, doesn’t matter to you. I pray you never experience it. And if you do, that you find someone to help you see that holding on just one more day is worthwhile.

A friend once told me, you don’t need to win the fight. Just remember when you’re knocked down to get back up, one more time… and to do that every time you are knocked down. Because you will be, and the only way to finish the fight is to keep getting up.

I pray for those who couldn’t, and for those left wondering… why.

If you are a trans or gender-nonconforming person considering suicide, Trans Lifeline can be reached at 877-565-8860. LGBT youth (ages 24 and younger) can reach the Trevor Project Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386.The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 can also be reached 24 hours a day by people of all ages and identities.

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

Good Morning, Baltimore

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(Thanks to Zack Ford for the gif idea)

This was my second time attending the National Lesbian Gay Journalists Association Media Convening, held this year on the Inner Harbor of Baltimore, Md.

12622418_10208483887874872_1174301297741275067_o.jpgTwenty years ago, Wendy Lachs invited me to fly up from Tampa, Fla. for a date weekend. I was presenting male and not out; we were bordering on serious, I was falling in love and not thinking about how different I was from her prior boyfriends. She invited me here, to see the Orioles play in the nearly brand-new baseball palace of Camden Yards, risked seasickness to rent a pedal boat on the harbor and romanced me like no woman had ever done before, or ever will.

She’s on my mind today as she is every hour of every day, and not just since her untimely passing in January, as I try to concentrate on the important topics of this convening. Two decades ago, Wendy was a journalist who later became my wife. And I was a television news producer who later became her wife, although she preferred to call me her spouse, or “the kids’ dad.”

IMG_5439This morning, we were asked to sum ourselves up with three words. Zack Ford wisely chose “Good morning, Baltimore!” from Hairspray. My words were “Widowed. Relaxed. Trans.”

Our session right now is about LGBT families, homelessness, imprisonment and foster care. And while I’m moved by the stories of perseverance, of dedication, of injustice and of discrimination, it’s very warm in this meeting room and I’m beginning to feel myself fade.

Earlier today we discussed online journalism and the preponderance of work that goes unpaid, learned about the politics of PrEP, covering the black LGBT community and the movement to enact religious freedom reform legislation.

IMG_5431They’ve fed us, informed us and entertained us with Baltimore natives Deray Mckesson and director John Waters — whose off-color and downright offensive standup routine upset some attendees, enough for them to walk out. I stuck it out, and endured his ribald comedy mainly because I expected him to offend and that he intended to offend. He did not disappoint. For my stamina, I got to ask Waters a question, pose with him for a photo and he autographed a copy of his book. I sympathize with those who took offense, and hope they don’t see my ability to withstand offensive material as an endorsement. It’s not.

IMG_5400I was truly impressed by Mckesson, who is clearly an intellectual, politically savvy and a rising star in the gay community. He was kind enough to engage me in conversation and pose for a picture.

The booze flowed freely at this event, and after my third glass of wine I was feeling no pain. It was wonderful seeing familiar faces, meeting new people and being welcomed among my peers. Every hug offered felt like I won the lottery.

And I got a lot of hugs.

In my 30 years as a journalist, I’ve received trophies, certificates, accolades and pats on the back for a job well done, but nothing’s meant as much to me as these hugs. If you’ve read this blog or know me IRL, then you know that for me, it’s been a rough couple of months, and I am so very grateful for every embrace I can get.

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

“…Hear Me Roar.”

12821493_10208792403027558_5242682184660530926_nA conversation I recently had with a woman who is a prominent author and, to me, a mentor as well as friend, turned from politics to our families to what is widely referred to as “the transgender community.”

I revealed to her something I told her would cause the earth to stop spinning on its axis, something I’ve never said publicly or written about. It’s not a confession, and it’s not something I am ashamed to say. I am expecting, however, I will be excoriated for this. So why say it? Because it’s necessary, now more than ever.

Ultra conservative bigots and zealots have forced my hand. So, too, have the internet trolls who envy my meager accomplishments to the point where criticism crosses the line into jealous rage and unjustifiable attacks. Gays and lesbians who see our fight for transgender civil rights as expendable, as unworthy of their investment, as someone else’s fight, have led me to redefine something that took me years to say to myself, and then to the world.

And most of all, an Olympian who turned her transition into a television spectacle, then found her harshest critics to be people like her — once they learned she was nothing like them — inadvertently inspired me to shout this from the virtual mountaintop, following our headline-generating face to face meeting high above Xanadu, I mean, Malibu.

She told me what she was doing was what made her happy and what helped the transgender community. And she made it clear, she meant to say that it in that order.

So, here it is what I have to say:

I no longer consider myself transgender.

I am a woman.

I’m not a woman in the same way a woman who lived her whole life seen as female, who experienced all the physical ramifications of being raised and growing up and living and loving and everything else female. Instead, I’m a woman in the way that I am. And that’s good enough for me.

12193588_10207941190067766_7495211278931430460_nI live and have lived every day as the woman I am. I care for my children, I mourn my spouse, I do my job, I clean my house, I buy and wear my clothes and shop for things and pay my bills and walk and talk and eat and even use the bathroom as the woman I am.

I work out, shower and change in the ladies locker room. My legal documents and medical records all carry an F for female. Those records include a decade of mammograms and visits to a gynecologist. I’ve lactated and I’ve nursed. I’ve been intimate with a man.

I did not do any of those things as someone transgender; I’m a woman. Can’t you hear me roar?

My voice is actually one of my least favorite qualities, but what matters, truly, is not what’s physical but what’s mental. Our brain is where our gender is, not between our legs.

Of course, you have every right to call me trans, even to say, “she’s no woman!” I would prefer you respect my choice of feminine pronouns if you’re going to deliberately misidentify me, please. But even that is beyond my control. And as my friend Cristan Williams of Transadvocate.com reminded me, despite my preference, I can’t escape being part of the trans political class whether I like it or not.

The only control I have is over how I present to the world who I am. And I’ve come to the realization that calling myself “transgender” isn’t accurate in the same way I don’t refer to myself as “former college student” or “former child model.” Both are true, but seldom relevant to my everyday existence.

I do recognize that to many, maybe even you, I’m still transgender, and the word “formerly” just doesn’t fit. Well, I do recognize that thanks to Google and the tabloids, the word “transgender” will forever be linked to my name, as well as the name I was given at birth. Yes, I transitioned from presenting in the male gender to my authentic gender, female. That doesn’t mean I must carry some kind of Trans ID card. If I had such a thing, I’d turn it in.

11148749_10206741616079166_24414663650444194_nMy recent work for The Advocate, where I was the first transgender editor on staff, reinforced in my mind on a daily basis that I was trans. It wasn’t ordered, but I felt it was akin to a job requirement to represent the transgender voice in our work. Thankfully, I was hardly alone in providing that perspective. Yet it was impossible to separate myself as I have, ever since beginning life as a work-from-home mom whose kids call her “Dad.”

Now, I’m living a totally different reality. I am Mrs. Ennis, the woman of the house, a widow raising three children all alone. I earn next to nothing, but thanks to generous friends and neighbors, state assistance as well as a few odd jobs and part-time work from The Advocate, we aren’t starving. And I’ve made finding a new full-time job my new full-time job.

But every time I fill out a new job application, trust me when I say there’s no space to enter “transgender,” and I would not if there were. Because that’s not how I feel about me. And perhaps if more of us were to say to those who oppose our civil rights, “You can’t oppress me, I’m a woman!” Or conversely, “I’m a man!” it would then change the dialogue from “religious freedom” to discriminate to a matter of self-determination.

This is an argument rooted in our American history: our right to liberty, equality, and to self-determination.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

And all women, as guaranteed by the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Just as women like Susan B. Anthony and so many others fought for suffrage, I demand my equal rights. Not special rights, nor tolerance, is what I’m after. I expect nothing short of acceptance, and equality, in hiring, housing, and all matters of business and public accommodations. I don’t want separate bathrooms any more than Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King or Malcolm X favored rest rooms, drinking fountains and lunch counters for “colored people.” Don’t mistake my analogy as equating the civil rights battles for people of color with the oppressed members of the LGBT community; they are separate and while analogous, very different struggles that need to be respected on their own merits.

What I wish would happen, though, is that more Americans would see that discriminating against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender men and women and gender non-conforming individuals is just as wrong as that terrible time in which skin color determined destiny. Sad to say, we haven’t even truly escaped that time. Sadder still, women earn only a percentage of what a man makes in 2016 America. And statistics on domestic violence show one in three women are victims of some sort of physical violence: an American woman is assaulted or beaten every nine seconds.

With those kinds of stats, why would anyone want to be a woman? Well, I didn’t decide to become one; I decided to stop pretending I wasn’t one. And you’ll have to take my word that finally living as the woman I am is a superior existence to a lifetime pretending to be a man.

Today I stand proudly as a woman, even if I am one who was assigned male at birth, and I don’t ask that you recognize me as one.

Because I am, and that is enough.

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

Farewell, My Beloved

image1.JPGToday we said farewell to the woman I married 19 years and three months ago, the mother of my children and my first love, Wendy Robin Lachs Ennis​. Many times here on facebook I have referred to Wendy as my ex, but in truth, we only separated, and because of a variety of reasons our divorce was postponed again and again and ultimately never legally finalized. And it’s fair to say that for most of that time, Wendy didn’t waffle nearly as much as I had in wanting to move on.
Her battle to beat a rare form of cancer ended Wednesday, just shy of 30 weeks. She survived extensive surgery by one of the top cancer doctors in the United States, seven excruciating rounds of chemo, disabling vertigo, nearly constant nausea and had lost a tremendous amount of weight and energy. Last Sunday at a doctor’s urging, her mother rushed her to the emergency room at Hartford Hospital. She wanted to avoid that, despite having always been well treated at hospitals but she was always resistant to going and preferred a bowl of chicken soup and her own bed to being hooked up to an IV and having beeping monitors by her bedside.
On Wednesday morning, I woke up in Los Angeles to a text response to a question I had asked her, about when she might be well enough to be discharged. She told me she was hoping today was the day.
But by noon she had taken a very sudden and terrible turn for the worse. A doctor from the ICU called me and said I need to come right away.
I was 3,000 miles away. Being still married meant all decisions regarding her care now fell to me, as she had fallen into unconsciousness and was not responding to anyone. That means I had to answer “the big question:” should the doctors and nurses try to keep her alive, or let her slip away? Factors ran through my head: is she suffering, what can be done to diminish her pain, what are they doing to treat her symptoms and will keeping her alive until the children can see her, and perhaps me, too — will that hurt her?
I also spoke to her mother, who has been living with Wendy and the kids about ten days, and we agreed on a course of action. The kids had been left in the dark as to the seriousness of Wendy’s diagnosis. They didn’t know that she had learned just before Christmas that some of the cancer the surgeon had said he removed had spread, first to two lymph nodes and then to her liver.
New scans showed it was now running rampant in her stomach lining and that the end was certainly near. She had skipped her last chemo session last week, on account of being too weak to handle the horrendous ordeal that is chemotherapy. And these killer cells took full advantage of that window of opportunity, and deprive her of the rest of her life. Once diagnosed with duodenal cancer, she never ever wavered in her fight to beat the disease, to see her children marry and hold her grandchildren, perhaps to even dance at their weddings someday.
The children were stunned to find their mother in her final hours, and we spoke by phone several times. They decided they would not leave her side, as the rabbi, cousins, friends all rushed to the hospital and I raced to the airport. Arcane rules about needing to purchase a ticket 45 minutes before departure prevented me from boarding the last afternoon flight, but that turned out to be for the best.
In addition to getting a $100 airline credit from American Airlines because of how a rude woman at LAX turned me away when I pleaded for help, I was able to make and take those calls that kept me in constant contact with the children.
Sean at one point offered to hold the phone up to his mom’s ear, so that if she could hear the sound of my voice from within her unconscious mind, I would have the opportunity to say goodbye. Such a blessing he is, our first-born.
My burden for the remainder of my days will be the shame I feel for not being by their side as they watched their mother die. I know it’s irrational but it’s real. And I am more proud of my children for how they navigated this crisis than for any of the other dozen obstacles thrown in their path over the last three years: transition, separation, distance, cancer… and now the death of their mom. I am very close to my kids but they connected with their mom on a level that only a mother can, and I have always envied her for that. But the fact is, I have loved being their dad. As I have said over and over again: the kids have a mother, and I’ve never intended or desired to replace Wendy as the kids’ mom. I can, however, see that as a single dad who’s trans there are aspects of motherhood I am eager to embrace, a delicate dance that I’m beginning cautiously as we try to recover from what the rabbi correctly described as the earthquake that is Wendy’s death.
At this hour, I am supposed to be in Chicago participating in a panel discussion about LGBT journalism at Creating Change 2016. To say I had been looking forward to it would be a gross understatement. But instead of speaking there, I stood on the bimah, the Hebrew word for altar, and delivered what follows, the eulogy to my spouse, before hundreds of our friends, relatives, coworkers and neighbors. My children each delivered one as well, and I could not be more proud of them.
When Wendy’s father, Joel, passed away 9 years ago, I sat in awe of her mother as she delivered his eulogy. Later, I told Wendy I was amazed at her mother’s strength in summoning the courage to stand before everyone and share her grief for the man she loved.
“I’ll never be that strong,” I told her.
I’m not.  But like her mother, Wendy was the kind of woman who made you feel you could do anything, even the impossible.
10398880_1127844273901_809057_nMost of you know that Wendy and I had a storybook romance that started in college, with a less than perfect ending. I’m here to tell you that although neither of us were perfect, she was a lot closer to perfect than I can ever hope to be.
She was the love of my life.
Wendy gave up a lot in the name of love, and I do feel tremendous guilt and sorrow that I was not worthy, that I could not be the person she deserved, the person who made all her dreams come true.
Was it enough that she made mine come true? She brought these beautiful children of ours into the world, her greatest gift to me, to whom I will dedicate myself the rest of my life.
She made my dreams come true by encouraging me to live my truth, knowing that anything less would bring us both misery.
Wendy made our family’s dreams come true by being flexible, thrifty, creative and steadfast in the face of poverty, desperation and despair.
This woman who we mourn put her needs and wants after everyone else’s, and now I pray to G-d that He or She rewards her eternally.
I’ve told my children their mother always found the silver lining in everything — and here it is. Wendy is right here with us, right now, in our hearts and minds, never to be parted.
She is my beloved, and once upon a time, I was hers. I wish only that I will someday be as good a parent, a person, a woman as wonderful as Wendy. Not likely, but I will try to be more like her, and I encourage everyone who mourns with us to find it in yourself to be more like Wendy: forgiving, loving, selfless and strong against impossible odds.
Farewell, my beloved. I love you always and everywhere. I conclude with the three  songs that meant the most to us:  “Have I told you lately that I love you,” my “brown eyed girl?” You were “the wind beneath our wings.” To her family, I say: thank you for sharing her with me, and honoring her memory today, and always.
A trust has been established by Wendy’s brother, Robert Lachs, to assist with furthering the education of the Ennis children. Anyone wishing to donate to the fund may send a check, payable to “Ennis Family Scholarship Fund Trust” to Robert Lachs, 1729 E Prairie Ave., Wheaton, IL 60137, or click here to donate via GoFundMe. 

New Year, Old Luck

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PLUNK!

The sound was unmistakable. Despite it being a relatively quiet noise, this New Year’s Day event some 14 hours after we watched the ball drop on TV jarred me awake from my afternoon nap faster than any alarm could.

I grabbed my earbuds that now draped over the edge of the bed and pulled, quickly, hoping I was not too late.

iphone-5-water-damage-repairAnd then there it was, the earbuds plug still attached to my dripping wet iPhone.

Turns out I had taken the device out of its OtterBox just before I fell asleep, and of course I left a nice, cool cup of water in perfect position for my personal disaster. If I had for some reason decided to toss the phone and aim for the cup, I probably would never have hit the mark in 1,000 tries.

The next steps are no doubt familiar to those who’ve learned the hard way that modern mobile devices enjoy a bath about as much as the Wicked Witches of the West: the bowl of rice, the waiting, the joy of seeing it light up once again only to learn the damage to the screen prevented me from unlocking the phone and saving what had not yet been backed-up.

This experience made me wonder if maybe New Year’s is something like an automatic data backup: we collect all our memories of the year just ended, and we save them in the hard drives of our minds… then move on.

And my friends, it is time for me to move on, too.

I am on the cusp of a huge upheaval in my personal life.

NO, I AM NOT DETRANSITIONING.

Sheesh. Really?

For the first time since moving to Los Angeles in 2015, I’m stepping forward into the spotlight in a new way:

i-am-cait-caitlyn-jennerThis week, I’m covering the premiere of a major project in the realm of LGBT entertainment, and next week (fingers crossed) I’ll be putting questions to the most famous transgender woman in the world.
1313519_1411496282.2664_wlAnd in less than three weeks, I’ll be in Chicago for a huge conference that will mark my debut as a panelist and a speaker on the subject of LGBT journalism.

On top of all that, for the first time since 1981, I’ve been presented with an opportunity to revisit my past experience as an actor, something I swore I’d never do again. Lastly, somehow, I’ve attracted the attention of two filmmakers who think people might want to spend their valuable time watching me on their screens. And I’ve said yes to both, with the stipulation that their projects will benefit all transgender folks, and maybe me, too.

For the first time since 1998, I have a new cell phone number, with a 310 area code. My longtime 914 number, like the phone, is dead and gone.
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For the first time since 1996, I am single.

For the first time in my life, there is a man with whom I am spending time, and yeah, before you ask: yes, he knows. The rest is private, and let’s just say we’re only starting to get to know each other.

While that brings me joy, what is topmost of mind is my family back home. My children still hold the center of my heart. Their mother is struggling, and she’s made it clear it’s no longer my place to ease her burden, as much as I have tried. You know me, though: I’m not done trying, not by a long shot.

But in my mind I’ve shifted my efforts from being Wendy’s main support, to supporting our children, as it should be. They come first.

The film, the guy, the woman on the Malibu mountaintop, even my work… they all come after my obligation to my three lovelies, just as my own needs must take a backseat to the kids who make my life worth living.

Luckily, thus far, they’ve survived multiple dunkings of water and emerged no worse for wear.

Buckle-up, friends. No doubt the road ahead will be bumpy.

And, uh, you’ve seen how I drive.

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

Over, and Out

irisReticulata
Tell me, dear
What can I do?
What do you fear?
It’s all so new.
 
I’m not the same
As I was before:
A different name.
Same old score.
 
Endures, love does
Finds new ways.
Forgets what was,
Starts new days.
 
You’ve already won
This place in my heart.
Yesterday’s done
Can’t we just start
 
Over?
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A trust has been established by Wendy’s brother, Robert Lachs, to assist with furthering the education of the Ennis children. Anyone wishing to donate to the fund may send a check, payable to “Ennis Family Scholarship Fund Trust” to Robert Lachs, 1729 E Prairie Ave., Wheaton, IL 60137, or click here to donate via GoFundMe.  

I’ll Be Back

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I’ve been a California girl for 168 days — that’s almost six months — longer than I’ve ever lived here before (the summers of 1991 and ’92, respectively).

12191654_10207911761092060_7522814988500179113_nBut right now, I’m needed someplace else: the place I’ve called home since 2004.

My children need me. Their mom needs me. And I need to be with them.

And it looks like I need to rake a lot of leaves.

Once more, I’ll be flying back to the east coast this weekend. Starting Monday, I’ll once again work remotely for The Advocate for a few weeks, so I can support the kids and their mom as she resumes chemotherapy. I’m so grateful to my bosses and colleagues who have made it possible for me to be with my family so often during this crucial time, and keep my job.

I love being the News Editor. I consider myself lucky to not only be working again as a journalist — a storyteller — but to be working at all, let alone in my chosen field. And I’m committed to doing the best job I can, despite the circumstances. It’s a temporary solution, and not ideal by any means.

And I must admit I’ve grown weary of the extra back and forth travel from coast to coast. It was always my plan to fly back to see the kids, or fly them here, at least once a month, but it’s been necessary for me to travel more often, spend more time away from the office, to be where I’m needed most: with my family. I could never be one of those divorcées who tells the ex: “So sorry, that sucks for you, but you didn’t want to stay married to me, so this is what you get.” How could I do that to the mother of my children?

IMG_2002That’s not who I am. I’m a woman, yes, but more importantly I am a caring human being, one who does not turn her back on someone in need. I choose to honor my vow to support my wife in sickness and in health, even though I’m technically no longer her husband. She calls me her spouse, her soon to be ex-spouse.

And she rightly calls me the kids’ dad, although she has a tendency to prefer the word “parent,” for those who can’t get their head around me being a dad and a woman. No, I’m not their “other” mom. I get it, this is not for everybody; it works for us.

IMG_3385I realized tonight that what’s even worse than the confusion about what people call me, worse even than the frequent cross country flights, is how I’ve been stuck in a cycle for the last two and a half years (no, not THAT cycle. Okay, yes, I do, in fact, hormonally cycle, but not in the traditional way other women do… and that’s another story for another time).

The cycle I’m talking about started in May 2013, when I was given no choice but to leave my home, my children, to live authentically, Since then, I have moved every six months.

I moved from our hometown in Connecticut to another city an hour away, and then to another, then to the Bronx, to Marietta, Georgia, then back home with my family and now I am in Los Angeles.

IMG_3455Each move lasted only six months, like clockwork. Given how I’ve been able to provide my family with one stable home for almost 12 years, which is a rarity in the television news business, I regret that I have yet to settle down, and make a home for myself.

L.A. is by no means ideal. Gas is crazy expensive as is the cost of living. It’s 3,000 miles from my loved ones. But it’s where my all-important paycheck comes from… even if it’s only 25% of what I earned.

Before my downfall.

Slowly, I am rebuilding my life, making small inroads toward success and feeling better about myself than I ever have before.

12193849_10207951077034934_8302306643159774935_nThis is a life I enjoy, as I treat each day as a gift, and I look forward to one day after another, adding fewer and fewer milestones as we complete another trip around the sun. The “transition” part of my life has mostly ended and now I’m simply, “living my life.”

And almost every day here is beautiful and sunny. I do enjoy living in L.A…. dude.

I love my friends, most of all, my California bestie, Gillian. We’re quite a pair! She’s like a sister to me, only better.

Well, no matter what happens next, no matter what pitfalls await me in the journey of my life, I can at least say: I am happy. And I’m thrilled to know that in a few days I will be back in the loving arms of my children, and have them to hug and kiss and together we will prepare for a truly special Thanksgiving feast.

This year, we have much to be grateful for, not the least of which is the health of their mother as she fights cancer, and the help provided by all our friends, neighbors and relatives, our online acquaintances and the members of our congregation. These kind generous folks have done so much to help us through these trying times.

I’ve already survived car crashes, health issues, gender transition, termination and L.A. traffic. But I’m not done, city of angels! I’ll be back!

Whatever comes next, I’m ready.

Bring it!

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

“Don’t Be A Stupid One”

Are you talkin’ to ME? Well, I’m the only one here, so… You might as well have been, Jenny Boylan.

4fcb6032749bf4821ea70181edf8317dafaba3b0When you said,“You are a normal woman — right now, today.”

When you said, “You don’t need a man to make you a woman. A woman can make you a woman. I think it’s a thing that women do: we look to men to give us self-worth.”

When you said, “Now that you’re in the sisterhood, you have gone to such trouble to be a woman: Don’t be a stupid one — be a smart one.”

In point of fact, the esteemed Colby and Barnard professor, author, mentor and GLAAD co-chair — and my good friend — was speaking to another woman, the one on the TV.

i-am-caitCait somebody or other. Doesn’t matter, really.

I heard Jenny Boylan talking to me, too. When she challenged her friend, frankly, directly, honestly — the way only a true friend can — she didn’t cushion her words to spare Caitlyn Jenner’s feelings. And despite being more prepared than most viewers about what was going down in this clash of the titan trans women, I was on edge. Tears were close, but at bay.

jennifer-boylan-1024When Cait claimed to be too focused on education to worry about love and sex and dating, Jenny accused Cait of “throwing herself into her work” as a way of avoiding her own truth, and the issues that stand in the way. Like she did when she pursued the Olympics, when she focused on her families. “You’re running away,” said Jenny.

“Am I?” I asked. I imagined my face looked about as shocked as Cait’s at this very brazen but insightful statement of fact.

And Jenny reminded us, “Who you love is different from who you are.”

Truth. And right now, I don’t feel particularly loved by anybody. Sure: my kids, my friends, even some members of my extended family, they love me. My dog back in Connecticut loves me. But not by those who’ve known me longest, and who have no desire to know me now. The women who once were my entire life.

“We all deserve love. I worry that you’re not letting yourself be loved.”

IMG_0050Shut up, Jenny.

Of course, she’s right. I’ve sealed myself off from love because the only woman I’ve ever loved can’t love me back now that my truth is revealed. Her love faded as I stepped from the shadows as the woman I am. Her love died as surely as the name that once identified me to the world and to my Church. And I don’t have a prayer of winning back her love, because she’s got more important things to do than deal with my drama, my life, my unrequited love.

This woman who made me a father — who is now living authentically as a woman –has a far greater battle to wage than to deal with me, or to expend precious energy trying to love me, or not. She is fighting for her life in a struggle to survive cancer, and I have to put my own selfish needs aside, slip them into my back pocket, bury them in my suitcase, toss it down the basement stairs, bolt the door and switch off the light.

What I need to do is not cause her further anguish, pain, or distraction. I’m not her sole source of support anymore, and I have to accept that supporting her now means just staying the hell out of her way and taking on whatever is too much for her to burden.

I’ve hired housecleaners so that order can be restored before her mother drops in and shakes her head at the mess caused by three children, a dog and a kitten. It’s a mess that a woman fighting cancer tries valiantly to contain, but truth be told, what little energy she has must be saved for work, for ferrying kids around, for cooking, making lunches, and for chemo.

200_sThe poison that heals… the hurt that helps.The Pac-Man gobbling up those little, white, round cancer cells inside her body.

She’s so incredibly strong, this woman I loved and lost, having witnessed her give birth to our three children, a miracle if ever there was one given who I am, what’s inside me and the secrets of my real gender identity.

She’s fighting to win, to live, to show our children what real bravery, courage and strength is. What I did in coming out as trans is the equivalent of walking on a hot sandy beach barefoot, compared to the giant leaps she is taking to beat those dirty Russian cancer cells to the moon, and make it back alive.

I’ve done all I can to support her and our kids from afar. In 72 hours, we’ll be together again, and celebrating a once in a lifetime milestone for our one and only daughter.

I’m so proud of my girl, and her resilience in the face of parental strife, transition, separation, and now sickness. My daughter is the woman I look up to these days, and I have no doubt where she gets such incredible drive and stamina, as I watch her mother refuse to succumb, and resist rest. It’s my hope that just as the fabulous Jenny Boylan has helped me cross frightening intersections in my transition, that perhaps I can channel some of her wisdom and lend this woman a hand across her own crossroads. I will share every ounce of my strength, and a shoulder to lean on when hers grows weak.

11954688_10207524441049301_494445892356120049_nBut first, I must find within myself the ability to forgive her and all those who find my identity to be a selfish act, an abandonment of my wedding vows and my commitment to my bride. Let them chatter, whisper, be phony, or look upon me with judgment in their eyes. It’s all the same to me. I am who I am.

No, this is not the life I wanted, or want. But it is the life I must lead, and I’ve learned the hard way that living true is far better than dying while pretending to be someone I am not.

To My Friend Who Thinks It’s Okay For People to Mock Me This Halloween

caitlyn-jenner-costume-aug-25-2015-927b71e3fb3213c1There’s a new controversy making the rounds on social media and in online journalism about a new Halloween costume. It seems to me every year there’s at least one boundary-pushing, “edgy” get-up that makes headlines, and no surprise, this year it’s Caitlyn Jenner.

Made for either male or female adults, this costume is “tricked” out to resemble Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover photo.
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And one of my real-life and social media friends posted that he’s sick of folks whining about it. Being mocked is the price of acceptance, he feels. Catholics don’t whine about nun costumes, he wrote.
Of course, last time I checked, we didn’t have a list of 18 nuns killed because of hate, as we do a very sad list of transgender women, most of them women of color.
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Yes, we all can indeed stand being made fun of. On that we agree. But having a thick skin is not what this is about. And it’s not about pandering, or whining, or demands. It is in point of fact about the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I know, you think I’m overstepping.
Burning-Rainbow-Flag-x400So let me explain: I started posting this hours ago but I got distracted by a tip about a man and his family — four kids and a wife who is not LGBT. They were targeted by people who torched his car because they put up an LGBT rainbow Pride flag. They burned that, too. My guess is whoever did this probably wore costumes, but not just on Halloween.
White robes with pointy caps, most likely.
My question to you and everyone else who thinks a Caitlyn Jenner Halloween costume is no different than dressing-up as a nun or as a hippie: why would you defend a costume that debases a representative of an oppressed minority like trans people?
ST. LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 12: Demonstrators protest the killing of teenager Michael Brown outside Greater St. Marks Family Church while Browns family along with civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton and a capacity crowd of guests met inside to discuss the killing on August 12, 2014 in St Louis, Missouri. Brown was shot and killed by a police officer on Saturday in the nearby suburb of Ferguson. Ferguson has experienced two days of violent protests since the killing but, tonight the town remained mostly peaceful. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Would you say the same about a Ferguson Protester costume? Maybe with a sign that says “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” Funny, right?
My point is, it’s not just a Caitlyn costume, it’s a costume for people to dress up as a famous man who revealed he is a woman, and all the people like her.
Like me. Not people choosing a lifestyle. Not dressing up. Living true. Pursuing our happiness and our right to life and liberty.
Recognizing equality doesn’t erase the need for decency. Accepting that everyone in America has the right to marry who they love doesn’t deny anyone the right to be treated with respect, on both sides. And you seem to forget, trans people still don’t have rights in 39 states.
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No, I’m not talking “special rights,” I mean equal rights: to be who we are without being fired, losing our home or being denied service. You think society has bent over backwards to meet our demands? I must have missed a meeting because I never saw any demand other than one to be respected and society so far still fucks me over because I am still seen as “other.”
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And I’m one of the lucky ones who doesn’t stand out, even though I choose to not hide that I am in fact trans.
Here are three more points I shared with you on social media that bear repeating here:
1) Her whole life, Jenner hid who she really is, secretly presenting as female, and is now out and about. A costume in which people dress up as her — a pretend-you’re-transgender costume — is seen not as “being made fun of like everyone else” but as being mocked for “dressing in women’s clothes,” as if that’s all it means to be trans. It’s not. And I trust you know that. photo

Halloween, like it or not, is also a day in which a lot of closeted trans people reveal themselves. I did, once, long before we met. The irony was, nobody realized it was a costume.

2) I love you but your request that I and others “stop trying to get everyone else to validate (my) life choices” is ignorant and insulting. You crossed a line there, because being female is not a “life choice,” not a “lifestyle.” It’s my identity. You didn’t make a choice to be a heterosexual male, and my life is no different. The only “choice” is to live, or not.

I’ve shared this with you before but maybe you missed it. Every time you use the word “lifestyle” you take your support and you water it down to being meaningless. Conservative has nothing to do with it. PLEASE UNDERSTAND: “Lifestyle” is the same as “faggot,” as “The N Word.” It’s a slur. Can you stop using it, or better: try to understand why I keep asking you to stop using it? I happen to be straight, not gay, but the meaning is the same. Here is the paragraph from GLAAD: “Offensive: ‘gay lifestyle’ or ‘homosexual lifestyle.’ Preferred: ‘gay lives,’ ‘gay and lesbian lives.’ There is no single lesbian, gay or bisexual lifestyle. Lesbians, gay men and bisexuals are diverse in the ways they lead their lives. The phrase ‘gay lifestyle’ is used to denigrate lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals suggesting that their orientation is a choice and therefore can and should be ‘cured.'”

3) LGBT people aren’t treated the way Catholics, nuns, priests and hippies are treated. We have been bullied, ridiculed, beaten, mocked and discriminated against all our lives, and a costume mocking us just repeats the cycle all over again.

So in sum, yes, costumes are fun, people need to be thicker skinned. But I hope in explaining why some people aren’t happy about this particular costume you realize being an ally isn’t about giving LGBT people acceptance — it’s about standing up in support of us even when you think we are “whining,” without us having to ask.

While I can respect anyone’s right to wear whatever costume they want, and I support their right to have any point of view, even if we disagree, I cannot in good conscience stand by as people like yourself who claim to be supportive as you dismiss my view as “whining” because you believe being mocked is the price of acceptance.
I’ll let you know — when I actually am accepted. Not just tolerated; there is a difference.
Until then, my friend and I remain friends who disagree.

Shame On Me

Fool me once, shame on you. 

Fool me again, shame on me.

That little ditty has been running through my head as I have learned — the hard way — the price of being authentic. Of expressing my opinion. Of trusting the universe will allow me to be without slapping me back down. Shame on me for thinking I can have all those things.

Just two people reached out to me this week, among the hundreds who read and responded to a recent opinion piece I wrote for The Advocate Magazine, offering to help me better understand a situation with which I am somewhat familiar, but not intimately nor with any personal experience; that of the detention of undocumented immigrants who are transgender.

That actually was not the subject I set out to write about, but for the central figure in the story and her supporters, it’s all that matters. What Jennicet Gutiérrez and her story represent is something that I have spent some time considering these last couple days. 4c72cc56a00532cd25647e0044b663569b27a672343c9dfd942c43ce6252b56c_thumb_medium

I did so, not because hundreds of mean people in their pajamas trash-talked me on Twitter, or because fringe “journalists” denounced my point of view as “privileged” and “classist.”

I did it because I enjoy learning things, especially when it’s something I don’t know well enough.

I took time to better acquaint myself with the views of people I respect, who were kind enough to constructively criticize my opinion without doing to me what I accused Gutiérrez of doing to the president.

What I wrote about was respect. I went so far as to call Gutiérrez rude. My point was to discuss civility, not activism or rape or race or the immigration status of any individual.

But no matter how many times I echoed the comments of others in praising Gutiérrez for achieving a policy change and for standing-up, no matter how I denounced those who booed her, all my detractors saw was me “shaming” or “shitting on” a trans Latina woman, and judging me “on the color of my skin,” and not “on the content of my character,” to quote Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.

One “friend” saw an opportunity to drag my name through the media mud once more: she misquoted me, mocked and dishonored the memory of my grandmother and aunt in suggesting they and all Irish immigrants were liars, and took me to the woodshed in a rival publication which someone I respect and admire once described as “one step below writing for al Qaeda.”

Well, friends and followers, I’m not going to flip-flop, or print a retraction, or apologize — my response tweet Wednesday basically said it wasn’t my intention to offend anyone, and I’m sorry that anyone took offense about anything I wrote — but, well, that’s the nature of opinion writing. Or as my grandfather said, “that’s why we have horse racing.” Because we all have opinions that lead us to think we’re right and the other guy is wrong.

But to those who blasted me for putting my preference for showing manners ahead of her cause, for spotlighting what Gutiérrez did in the context of civility, and for deploring the disrespect she showed the president — for putting those things ahead of the need for action and for change, I’ve got a message for you:

You’re right.

I’ve pondered, read, watched, listened and listened some more to trans, gay, bi, lesbian (LGBT), people of color (POC), white allies, and cis queer women, who instead of spitting at me online shared with me some of the experiences they and people they know have endured. I learned how bisexuals were once again the victims of erasure and shook my head in disgust at those who blasted Gutiérrez for being undocumented, as if that invalidated her opinion.

I even considered the position of someone who is a vicious bigot herself, giving grief to people who don’t match her standards, who demanded I unfriend her on Facebook because of my opinion piece (by the way, who does that? Why not just unfriend me? Oh, right; if you do that, then you lose influence over the people I connect you to in my vast media universe. Ah.).

Well, I must admit, she’s right when she says Jennicet Gutiérrez is brave. I’m sure Gutiérrez is also compassionate and I’ll agree she is beautiful. There is no doubt in my mind she is selfless and I trust those who know her who have told me she is a good person.

The only area where this woman on Facebook and I disagree (not counting this woman’s derogatory opinion of late transitioners) is that she said Gutiérrez “asked the president.”

C’mon now, let’s not pretend: she didn’t ask, Gutiérrez demanded.

She did what Sylvia Rivera and countless activists and civil rights leaders and everyday people have done when given an opportunity: she stepped up and challenged authority. She stood up for those who have no voice. She spoke truth to power. She grabbed the spotlight away from the president to shove it — not on herself — but toward those who only want two things: to become American citizens and live authentically without fear or retribution or danger.

And I’m certain what Gutiérrez did provoked change that would not have happened otherwise. For that she deserves our praise and all the credit, and those who booed her should be ashamed of themselves, because in booing Jennicet they booed all trans people. I said as much in my Op Ed. I never called for Gutiérrez to be silent, nor silenced, but in focusing on the disrespect I believe now I did Gutiérrez an injustice, by not recognizing that for someone like her, there appeared to be no other opportunity. If you favor sports analogies, this was her shot, her one and only shot, and she took it. Or maybe that’s a sniper’s analogy, but either way, she took it.

And I will concede her doing so frankly makes me uncomfortable, because of my own history. That’s why what I wrote is my opinion, because it’s based on who I am. 

I was raised to mind my manners and to respect authority, to work within the system, to network among those with similar backgrounds and to use the proper channels for communication and in addressing authority figures and institutions. To my parents, protesters were “hippies,” radicals, undesirable.

Challenging authority in my house was met with a beltstrap, a spanking, a slap across the face. I was taught to turn the other cheek, and that to cry or to complain was to be weak.

I was raised to be obsequious, with white privilege and upper middle class privilege and male privilege.  I have been reminded of all this recently, very much so, to the point at which I am humbled to now say: I believe rude was right, in this circumstance.

Despite my habit of being snarky and having a smart mouth, I failed to rebel as a youth, and bring that perspective to my adult life. As a parent myself, I have distilled the strict disciplines of my birth family to become more forgiving in the family I raise, to be more loving, more considerate, more patient and more accepting of ways that are different. I have been an active participant in my unions and have used my skills as a journalist to bring truth to light and expose the excesses of power and corruption. I’ve been arrested, seen the inside of a jail cell, had my days in court, and I’ve endured misgendering.

And I’ve educated myself further over the past 48 hours, reading up, opening my eyes to better understand and appreciate and truly listen to those who are willing to take time to share experiences, without casting aspersions. So I can now say: my opinion on Jennicet Gutiérrez evolved.

I consider opinion and thought to be different things. To me, thought is a process, an evolution of ideas; opinion is the result of that process, but it is not an end product unto itself, because thought continues. And so opinion can evolve as well, given more information and perspective.

Thanks go out to my friends who are like-minded on the topic of civility, as well as to those whose opinions contrast with mine — who gave me the impetus to grow rather than denouncing me as a heretic, for having a contrary view.

I will not back down from my position — that it’s usually best to show respect and manners — and I don’t write this to win converts. I am still a believer in doing whatever your conscience tells you is the right thing, and I am one who tries to walk that line on the side of civility.

But I will concede I could have done a better job expressing there are always exceptions and extenuating circumstances.

I am a reasonable enough person to admit, as much as I wish she didn’t have to, Gutiérrez did the right thing in seizing what she saw as her only opportunity, no matter the cost to herself or to respectability. Making change is a dirty business, and it takes someone willing to get her hands dirty or her name sullied to make a difference. I am proud of Gutiérrez, and can say without exception that I support her actions that day.

With respect to those who won’t see my statement as anything other than eating crow, well, that’s your opinion. The difference between us is, I will respect yours.

I send you wishes of peace and solidarity for LGBT people everywhere — and for all kinds of people, everywhere — from the City of Brotherly and Sisterly Love.

XOXO

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