As I was saying…

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Fifteen months!

My bad. And I am truly sad that I haven’t updated this blog in more than a year, and I don’t think I’ve even given it much thought in the past year, which has been a whirlwind. More like a cyclone, really. Thanks to a few bozos who decided I was just another meal ticket instead of a human being, much of what’s become of my life has been told, and retold, in graphic tabloid fashion.

Of course, they got most of it wrong. Beginning with the idea that my life and what I did was “news.” I’ll forgive everyone who thinks “google” is the authority on me, and invite you to get a clearer understanding of who I really am…

And it’s fair to say from this standpoint, who I really was. It’s not short, but how about you sum up your year in a few words, and we can compare later.

I Got Schooled

Consider this my first toe back in the water of blogging. I confess I stopped not because I wanted to but because I was told to. People who were trying to protect me urged me to go silent, to refrain from expressing myself, and scolded me whenever I broke ranks. I’ll admit I was ignorant of the impact my social media activity would have on others, including my beloved family, and how publicity based on my posts would in turn reflect poorly on others in the transgender community.

I was naive to think I could trust colleagues with my personal travails, which to them was just idle gossip worth spreading. And I was foolish to think I had no enemies who would enjoy nothing more than to see me fall. And I have fallen.

I restart my blog just as I am restarting my life. I am 50. I have lost everything except the love of my children and the support of my wonderful friends. I have no job. I have no money. Nothing to show for years of earning six figures; it’s all gone. I have no credit, no car, no license. What I own fits into a small studio apartment. My most valued possession is my life and the love of those who have not abandoned me. And I count God among them.

But I think even He was getting a little tired of my vida loca.

So let’s start with the facts: I am transgender. I was raised as a male and first felt something was amiss at the age of five. I didn’t think of it in terms of gender; I was different from other boys; my mother told me it meant I was special.

Yes, girls were my friends but not my only friends.

Yes, I enjoyed pretend games more than sports.

But I did not dress-up or fantasize or even dream that I was anything other than a boy.

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That Kid on TV

My childhood was “normal,” except for the fact I was the only boy in my school who was in a union and earned almost as much as my father. My sister did, too. We were child models and commercial actors; our boss was our mother, who quickly learned the ways of being a stage mother.

My little sister and I missed lots of school and afternoon playtime because of our work. But the money from those jobs helped our family move from New York City to the suburbs of Long Island. We had the first color TV on our block, the first VCR, the first boat, took trips to Disney and spent weekends in Connecticut.

We lived well and wanted for nothing. “No” was not a word we children heard often; in other words, we were spoiled rotten.

And then came that most hated thing, what every child model and actor fears most, worst than a cowlick, more frightening than a blackhead, in every way worse than a runny nose: puberty.

In fact, I hadn’t really even begun to change when I hit the age when most of my peers were getting their pimples, hair was sprouting from all kinds of places and the boys’ voices were dropping. I was 12 and about the only change my family noted was I had found my voice. Not a singing voice or for speech and debate, although you could say I did make myself heard for the first time. My lovable, sweet, do whatever you say without complaint disposition had begun to harden with the realization I could be the first one in my family to finally say “NO.” I didn’t want to take out the garbage. I didn’t want to iron the clothes or vacuum. I didn’t want to go on auditions. “No! No! NO!”

And “no” is what the agencies and clients started saying, too. There was very little work for boys ages 12-16, and my third of the family income dipped precipitously. My parents were on edge, and my mother in particular was beside herself with worry.

Going on The Pill

This is the part of my life that has caused no end of doubt and denial among family, supporters and naysayers. What I know happened next is that I was unexpectedly cast in the parts of girls. First on radio, then to model clothing. My work increased and so did my salary.

I was already slight, thin, narrow- shouldered and fair, with a 70s haircut that was typical for the time. A few trims here and beauty salon visits later and by the summer of 14th year I was likely the only boy on Long Island with a Dorothy Hamill hairstyle. And by 15, I could fill an A-cup bra.

How did this happen? I can only tell you that when I was 12, I stopped taking Flintstones vitamins and instead learned how to swallow whole a new smaller vitamin, that came in a beige clamshell case hidden in my mother’s bedside table drawer, next to what my sister and I recall was a typically half-eaten Cadbury bar and diaphragm.

My mother denies giving me birth control pills to keep my complexion acne- free, to keep my testosterone-fueled mood in check, to alter my body to look more feminine from my face to my budding breasts, rounding hips and buttocks. She says it was not her.

It’s not my place to say anything more except that my father got one look at me modeling a bra and I never took another “vitamin” or wore teenage girls’ clothes again.

With time, and the help of a barber and a nail clipper, my presentation was much more male by the time I turned 17 and finally “retired ” from acting and modeling. My delayed male pubescence kicked in around the same time and by college, I was dating every girl I could. My testosterone drive was so strong I went from bareskin to bearded and covered in body hair in just two years; it also may be partly to blame for my male pattern baldness that took me by surprise in my early 20s.

Riding the Stirrups and Other Medical Misadventures

What doctors have told me of this time in my life is that it’s possible my endocrine system may have been permanently altered after having been juiced for years with strong doses of female hormones — much higher dosages than are common in the pill today.

If true, that would explain why when my doctors detected a sudden drop in my T levels at age 41, a hidden, inexplicably high level of estrogen was revealed.

How high? High enough that without testosterone keeping it in check I redeveloped breasts, the curves of my teenage body began to re-emerge and those parts of my anatomy which defined me as male vanished from sight, and from use. My testes ascended and my penis receded, giving me the very feminine anatomical appearance that I have to this day. In layman’s terms, I now have an innie where I’ve always had an outie. And my breasts grew to a size considered normal for my body; to my horror, I learned that mine are also fully functional as to their intended use in natural-born women.

Not fun.

My body has been studied by doctors from Harvard to Yale, from Columbia to DC and from UConn’s research labs to the national experts at NIH. I’ve undergone every test and exam known to man — and woman. Yes, internal exams. Twice.

Plus MRIs, CT scans, ultrasounds, EKG, ECG, Nerve Conductivity tests, and more.

I’m not sure which of these was worse:

1- a male ultrasound tech for unknown reasons revealed to me he is gay while searching for my testicles, and, not finding them, asked his male boss to help him search. Using their fingers.
2- A female doctor and female nurse were examining me while I was in my hospital bed, and without warning me, the doctor inserted her finger into a place that does not really have a name, and told me she was doing so in order to measure my penis. After my attempt to stop them was thwarted and after some very uncomfortable maneuvering, the nurse announced the measurement. In centimeters. I asked them to please let me do that next time.
3- I was in my room at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD. Several doctors, nurses and medical students entered, about 12 in all. I was asked by one of the lead doctors studying me for a week to disrobe and stand in the semicircle of white coats before me, and I promised to do so.., after a quick run to my potty to make sure there’d be no problem when this begins. Once I returned and got naked, I was asked questions by just about everyone, as the two lead physicians poked and groped and fondled parts of my body. For science. I could tell it was almost over, and felt I had survived what I considered to be the worst and most humiliating examination of my adult life. That was when the lead doctor told me to also please remove my wig. I can’t for the life of me figure out why this was necessary, but I did as I was told. I was now completely and utterly without any dignity left. They stood around me staring at me, and I tried to look up and away from their probing gaze. But I was crying and doing my best to not show it. That is when they all started to file out, quietly thanking me, and the doctors told me I can get dressed. The door closed, and I cried alone for a long time.

Doctors first diagnosed me as a virilized man, and ultimately, NIH classified me as a woman, born male. And yet: I am 46xy. I am not intersex. I have not had any surgery and the only time in my adult life I took female hormones was first as a method of trying to balance my hormone imbalance, and ultimately as a form of maintenance when I decided I would transition from male to female.

Of course the changes in my body didn’t automatically make me female. If you take a man, alter his physique to appear and function as a woman, even give him artificial hormones, that will not transform him into her. He’s going to go crazy; his body dysphoria will tear him apart and test his mental health. Sorry , Hollywood, he’s not going to run off squealing in delight, get a mani/pedi and check out the lingerie sales at Victoria’s Secret.

What I believe made the difference for me is far more complex.

Drunk on Estrogen

By the time my third child was born, I was 42, and a more than half of my life I’d been unaware of a still-unknown estrogenic influence on my body and brain that began growing in strength, unchecked, throughout my forties. One endocrine researcher told my wife and I it was to blame for a change in my likes, dislikes, tastes and other senses, too. My personality had indeed shifted, enough to be noted and a cause for concern. The scientist said it was like my brain was “drunk on estrogen, soaking it up like a sponge.”

Try as they might, no doctor could successfully balance my hormone levels; they fluctuated, and the side effects were paralyzing. I’d go from PMS levels of basketcase to something akin to ‘roid rage, to hot flashes, all in a few weeks. One doctor early on offered to prescribe female hormones, saying that it might provide more balance, but I refused, as my only goal was to become more of the man I was, not the woman I was becoming.

Another expert tried resetting my hormone levels — both T and E — to zero, with injections of Lupron; biggest damn needles you’ve ever seen in your life. Estrogen levels wavered, slightly, and my testosterone dropped from low for a woman, to zero; it’s only recovered once since then, to male normal.

That was August of 2013: I suffered a seizure three months after deciding I was no longer able to maintain a life as a man. I had stopped fighting. It wasn’t cancer, it was a positive development in that I saw things in a new light. I tried new foods, learned to cook, and to appreciate my children in a way I never did before. My empathy increased a thousand-fold as did my interests in fashion and design.

And I think it’s important to acknowledge that even if I didn’t recognize it at the time, I believe now that my sense of being “different” or ” special” at age 5 was likely the first baby step toward discovering my true gender identity.

So, at this point in my life I had come to accept myself as trans and made the changes necessary for my family, my job and for legal purposes. I had made a successful transition and felt comfortable — even better, I felt a renewed sense of self-esteem I had not experienced in years.

My body and my mindset matched, and when I looked in the mirror, I liked what I saw reflected back at me. And my wife and I were finally moving toward tolerance and maybe even friendship. So what happened next would the worst possible outcome of that seizure on July 26, 2013.

I woke up and thought the year was 1999.

Detransition Like It’s 1999

You should know that even more than the “birth control pill ” part of my life story, this event has caused me more grief than anything. But it’s true, and documented, so if there are people who refuse to believe me, that’s their problem, not mine. I wasn’t scared of continuing my transition. I wasn’t worried about my family rejecting me, nor did I have any reason to doubt my job was secure. The very last thing I wanted was to stop the life I was just starting.

Yes, I had been morose over the end of my marriage. But there was no going back. Or so I thought.

I would wind up in a hospital in Hartford. I had taken off my wig and bra and was wearing clothes typical for a dude — T-shirt, shorts, ballcap and sneakers. But all my ID said “Dawn Ennis” and “female.” I recall now being impressed with all the fancy flat screens and cellphones. And I was pissed that people kept calling me “miss.” But I had seen enough Twilight Zone episodes to know not to scream or act paranoid. The last thing I wanted was to be sent to some psych ward. Instead I wound up in a private room with a 24/7 minder to make sure I didn’t wander off.

I cracked a lot of jokes — and I remember the psychiatrist being upset at this. “You think this is funny? Losing your memories is humorous? Don’t you understand, this is very serious!” My answer was, if that is true than I’d much rather laugh than cry!

With help and after a battery of tests, no permanent damage was discovered and most of my memories returned within a few days. Not all, but enough to get discharged. And the reason they were reluctant to release me was not that I didn’t know it was 2013… But that I had no memory of transitioning.

Early on, I asked my wife, how could I have done such a thing? How did I get boobs? Where’s my dick?!? I feared I had some surgery that I could not remember even wanting. One of the more helpful things was the internet. Not only did it help me recover memories of 9/11, Presidents Bush and Obama, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the tragedy of Newtown, but I read about ME. Not at first, of course. And I was warned to stay away from something called Facebook.

In time, I faced what I saw as my reality: I was legally and physically female and yet had no desire to present in that gender. I was Don again. Friends said even my voice sounded like it did in years past. And somehow, that vanished part of my anatomy made a very dramatic reappearance in our bedroom. My wife asked to take pictures but I strongly objected.

We called my reemergence as Don “our miracle.” The kids were delighted, and I took it slow except in my desire to return to work. Since money was tight, I pushed hard to get back to work fast, and there were very serious questions being asked at my job about whether I might be a danger to myself or others.

Really? How? By wearing men’s clothes?

In time, though, I started having nightmares. Other health-related issues arose, and it became clear to me that what I ascribed to being a delusion — my transition and realization of being trans — was in fact real. The delusion was believing that I could go back to being a guy and live that life.

Coming Out: The Sequel

Imagine my dilemma: it was all over the news! The New York Post plastered my face on page one! How on earth was I going to resume my transition without everyone thinking, this person is insane? I opted to go slow. Keep things on the down low. My doctor helped me resume HRT (one of the reasons I could manage an erection was that my wackadoodle roller coaster hormonal imbalance had resumed; going back on a low dose of estradiol restored my balance, albeit on the female side).

Within a few months, I felt confident that I had properly prepared. I had kept my legal name and never sought a change in gender marker. And try as I might to be the man my wife and I wanted me to be, there was no denying who I was deep down at the core of my being. I came out. Again, but without fanfare, quietly, and happily.

My kids are resilient. They have accepted me as before, and shown me their love is unchanged.

The Price of Authenticity

The love of my life seeks a divorce and we will get there. I am ready to accept I may never love or be loved quite the same way ever again; but I hope that is not true for her. She deserves to be loved and I’ll forever regret that the changes in me were so great as to separate us. That is her choice and I must abide by it.

Most married couples never survive transition; we are but one more statistic.

You will no doubt wonder why I couldn’t have tried just a little harder, to bury my feelings or to suppress this identity. This is the one area where homosexuality and transsexualism have something very much in common: it is not “curable.” You can no more pray away the gay than you can stop being trans. You can live in denial. You can try being trans in secret. I’ve done both, and I’m a lousy liar.

I stupidly thought lying to my beloved was better than admitting who I was, because in lying I thought “lying will buy time to get over this. If I tell her the truth, our marriage is over.” The truth? Our marriage was over when I decided to lie to the woman I vowed “to have and to hold till death do us part.”

I repeated those vows to her many times in the last year, in a selfish attempt to guilt her into finding a way forward together. Nothing has been harder than letting go. I’m still struggling with it, but I know it’s really for the best.

Her life will go on, as will mine, and we will always be co-parents. My life after becoming Dawn is just beginning.

There is no plan as yet, except to choose to keep living.

I came close to choosing poorly. Twice.

More about that, next time.

Thanks for resuming the trip with me!

On The Brink of Me

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I spent five days trying to understand more than five years of change. Driving, thinking, listening, talking with friends, crying alone and together, eating, drinking and enjoying each other’s company. Five days.

On the last night, I took off the wig, wiped off the little makeup I wear (lipstick, mascara) and for the first time since the odyssey began, I looked at my male face in a mirror.

It literally took my breath away to not recognize that face. To have been so deep into the reflection I wanted to see for five days that when I finally confronted the face most everyone knew as “me,” I didn’t recognize it.

A good friend who has successfully transitioned described this as her litmus test. The disorientation, she said, was what convinced her she needed to keep going.

For me, it was that – plus being made to feel I was an unwelcome houseguest in my own home that made the difference for me.

I worked my shift, went home, and for the first time in days I gazed upon the love of my life at our children’s school. We met there for a parent teacher meeting, and as soon as our eyes locked, mine were filled with tears, hers narrowed into a frown. She knew without me saying.

Later, in our bedroom, we had The Talk. I had been trying to nap when she came in and sat at the edge of the mattress coiled like a spring. I started to tell her what I had experienced, what I’d learned and what it was like to be back in her presence. How overwhelmed I felt. Wendy wasn’t interested. “Just cut to the chase,” she barked. “I read your blog. I know what you’re going to say, so just say it. Rip off the band-aid already!”

Well, I was expecting she might want the short version but I didn’t expect this. And I purposely did not update my blog on the road for fear of telegraphing any message before I had time to process. That “band-aid” phrase really hurt, mainly because that was what my HR rep at NBC had told me when it my turn among 700 to get laid-off. More than five years later and it still sends shivers up my spine.

And so, realizing I had little choice, I spat it out: “I can’t deny any longer what I feel. I realized who I am, and I know that for you, that means ‘the end.'” She stood up, spring engaged, and in one motion took her wedding band off her hand, tossed it on the ironing board standing by our bedside and made for the door. “You’re right, it’s the end,” she said. “It’s over. Thank you for at least confirming what I already knew.”

The next hour was even harder. Within the space of 60 minutes, she had declared us separated and defriended me on facebook and disinvited me from a family vacation this summer, which also included a seat at her mother’s wedding. “Disinvited” might be the wrong word since she asked me if I would consider letting her take the kids to the wedding without me. But the net effect was the same: I wasn’t welcome.

And there was one more wrinkle: she changed her mind about when I would transition. She had begged me even after learning the news of my trip that I would wait until school was over. I had agreed. But in that hour, Wendy had a change of heart. “You can do it this week. We’ll tell the kids Friday and you can be out of here on Saturday. I’ll sleep on the couch.”

I was dumbfounded. “Where am I to go? I have no place that I can just move all of a sudden! And we really cannot afford to maintain two households without budgeting for it,” I pleaded. “Fine,” she responded, icily. “Then, just get out as soon as possible.”

I thought I was the one who had changed. I had no idea who this person was, or where she had come from. But she was not the woman I had loved, and lost. This is who emerged after the death of her husband. Bitter, cold, cruel, calculating and defensive. After a time, I knew better than to blame her for being this way. But I would not accept the blame, either. This wasn’t my doing, my choice, my decision. This is the end result of what changed me, possibly forever.

I begged her to see our marriage counselor with me, so we could at least be civil to one another as we tried to decide what to tell the kids. I wasn’t sure how to hit them with this triple whammy: their parents are divorcing, their dad is moving out, and their dad is now going to be a woman. If that isn’t a recipe for lifelong therapy, I don’t know what is.

So Thursday night came and went; counseling was a bust. We were further apart than before. But something changed. Wendy saw some light, finally, or at least hoped to: “Let’s give it a week,” she said.

I think I know what it was that inspired this unexpected reprieve from the gallows. Earlier that day I saw my therapist. I went in relaxed, focused, feeling positive for the first time since this nightmare began, despite not having slept or eaten much since Monday. I had emailed my therapist to be ready for a bold plan of action. And within 10 seconds all the wind was knocked from my sails. I was defeated before I began. Wendy had sent my therapist an email, to have her read to me, stating her point of view. This totally threw me off track and I felt violated the privacy of my session. But she felt I had not been listening to her.

Once we talked it through, and my therapist walked me back from the ledge, I proceeded to tell her my idea: I told her to plant a suggestion: “You are a man. You want to be a man. You want to be the man in Wendy’s life. You don’t want to be anything else. Let go of Dawn, and anything feminine. Embrace your masculinity. Be Don.”

I know you cannot hypnotize someone into being someone they are not.

BUT — if I am under “the influence” and not truly inherently transsexual — then this oughta work. Right?

She agreed and she was able to put me under easily. I think it mostly worked. I came out of the trance relaxed, a little disoriented but feeling okay. I’ve felt okay since.

Have I felt like the suggestion worked? No. Not entirely. But there is doubt where there was certainty, so that might be something. Or it just may be.. doubt.

Of one thing I am certain: I can no longer postpone this. As a good friend of mine said: “Pull the ripcord on the parachute and decide how you’re going to land before you smack into the ground at terminal velocity.”

Look out, below!

 

The Decision

577847_10200682954296408_1550639363_n“Look at you. You repulse me. It’s… it’s disgusting what you’ve become.”

Wendy said this as I was just changing to take a shower; I stood there, shocked. For a moment I couldn’t even move, couldn’t pull my bathrobe tight to hide myself. I felt as if I had been kicked in the stomach… I’d say lower, but kicking me there no longer had the effect it did on every other man. Because I no longer looked like one.

“Really? That’s what you want to say to me, before you go?” Tears burned my eyes, and I could feel her eyes like cockroaches crawling up and down my body. I clenched the robe and drew it tight, but all that did was emphasize certain curves that had become more apparent and unconcealable: generous breasts, wide hips, a narrower waist, and not a hair on my chest, back or legs. And nothing between the legs. “How can you say that, to me? I didn’t do this. And you know that.”

“Yes,” she spat, raising her head and looking into my eyes with the most disdain I’ve ever seen cross her beautiful face. “You are revolting. At least, to me.”
Wendy grabbed her bag, turned and left our bedroom and headed off to work. She left me in tears that, even had she stayed, I could not have stopped streaming down my cheeks. I felt their sting during and long after a hot shower. It felt as if the tears had burned into my skin and left scars.

I had counted on Wendy’s love the same way a bird counts on its wings to fly. I considered our love an unbreakable bond: unconditional and unquestionable. To me.  But not for her.

That morning, our lives changed: Wendy admitted for the very first time in the most stark, and yes, cruel terms, that love only carried her so far. I thought of it as a limit, a line she wouldn’t cross; to her, as she explained, it was knowing herself, and what she couldn’t do, and whom she couldn’t love: me, in female form.

This was a hole in my heart that burst open, a spot on my mind that went dim before it turned black, as the realization dawned: she didn’t love me as I loved her. She didn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t love Dawn. And more than sadness, I was shocked to discover: this mattered to me. More than ever, I now thought of myself as Dawn, not Don.

And so did she.

I dressed, putting on my guy disguise, what I now felt was cross-dressing to fool people into thinking I am a man, and got the kids off to school. I stole a glance in the bathroom mirror before heading out, saw the man reflected there and knew, right down to my pores, there was more to be seen than what appeared. I was Dawn. And I could see it without the makeup, the clothes, the hair.

The change was no longer skin deep. It had leaked from my adrenal glands into the place where identity lives. I felt a new awareness, a change in the natural feeling one has, without questioning, of who you are.

Now, no one wakes up and says, “I feel like a woman,” or a man. You just are. You don’t doubt it or wonder about it. You might sometimes complain or wish or even make a joke, that “if only” one could swap, things would be better.

I’ve been on both sides, and let me tell you: there are advantages and disadvantages alike. But it was never my ambition to live how the other half lived. I never wished for anything other than what I was, growing up as a boy.

At most, I felt “different” from other boys, in that I liked art more than I liked gym. I enjoyed my friendships with girls as much with the boys, depending on what we played. My father who was determined to make an athlete out of me, once asked after a Little League baseball game what I was muttering as I stood in the outfield. “I dunno,” I lied. My dad must have been able to read lips. “Looked to me like you were praying. Praying the batter wouldn’t hit the ball to you.”  I looked at him in disbelief as a knowing smile formed under his mustache.

I was told many times I was “sensitive.” I thought that meant it was okay to cry.  But there was no doubt I was still a boy. Even though I played with dolls, they were Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and GI Joe. I didn’t fantasize of gowns and guys and fairytales in which I was the damsel. I didn’t consider the taunts and awful treatment I endured as a child as being true. If calling me a “fag” or “gay” meant someone thought I wanted to date and marry a boy, I knew in my heart: that wasn’t true. I wanted to get married, have five children, and to be loved by a woman, for as long as I can remember. Maybe it was all those Disney movies I saw as a child that inspired me to develop a romantic and chivalrous attitude, long before I ever felt the stirrings of being sexually attracted to a girl.

As I drove to work that morning, a familiar song played on the car radio. Bruce Springsteen, singing of the end of a marriage in “Brilliant Disguise,” ends his lament with words that had never resonated with me in quite the same way as they did that morning:

“God have mercy on the man, who doubts what he’s sure of.”

Was I still a man? Even partially? I looked like one, dressed like one. What did it mean now to be a man? To be Wendy’s man? What was it that made me feel female? “It just is,” seemed like a copout. And that feeling which overwhelmed her to the point of rejecting me, as someone she couldn’t possibly love, was that my fault?

Or perhaps: Dawn’s fault? I dialed Wendy’s cellphone, and asked the question I had never dared ask, despite all she had said; that morning’s outburst fueled my need to know.

“Are we done? I don’t want to be,” I said, as I held back a shudder and so many tears I felt my eyes would explode. I talked to the disembodied voice over my car speakers and begged her to tell me: “Are we still married?”

“You’re not the man I married,” she said. “You took his place. The man I married… is dead. You killed him.”

Lest there be any doubt, after a long pause of silence on my part, and without a tear or a trace of sadness on hers, Wendy dealt the killing blow: “You are not the one I want to spend the rest of my life with. And I won’t.”

She couldn’t have been more clear.

I couldn’t have been more devastated than if she told me she’d been having an affair. Except in that case, I’d be the injured party, accusing her of breaking our vows and violating my trust. What was this then? Wasn’t I still the injured party?

I didn’t ask for this. I didn’t change my body to become female. I had fought it and worked to find an answer and an antidote to this transformation. Now, fighting back tears unsuccessfully, not sure what point I could possibly score in this losing battle, I told her all this. “It’s not my fault.”

“No, it’s not. But you did stop fighting,” she said. Wendy was cool, calm, deliberate. She was a fantastic listener, and had a crisp, clear delivery that once served her well in broadcast news as well as now in the classroom. When she spoke, it was as if every word she chose was selected with due diligence and enunciated with care; not a thought out of place. And that is what made her outburst that morning hurt so much more than if she had said it out of spite. Wendy meant every word.

“You stopped fighting, and went with it. You killed Don in the process,” she stated, accusingly.

“So that makes me…” I paused. We both knew what was coming next and I didn’t dare say it.

“The other woman, yes. You took him from me. And you expect me to love you? You? You’re someone I hate. I don’t even know if I can be friends with you. I can’t, can’t talk anymore. I have to go.” And she clicked the “end call” button even before the word “go” was fully out of her mouth. I could tell, there were tears behind the anger, the fear and disappointment. She was as crushed as I was, and as the person who loved her more than I loved myself, I felt her pain even more strongly than my own. She didn’t ask for this. It wasn’t fair, and it was heartbreaking to think of how her dreams of a life together, her plan for bar mitzvahs, weddings and family get togethers was torn to shreds by this woman, the woman we felt I had become.

I may have been both the injured party and the murderer, but
Wendy was the innocent victim, who deserved better than this fate. And I could do nothing to ease her pain.

Or could I?

She often reminded me, as a point in an argument, that she had married a man, and that if I were not a man, those vows were no longer valid.

Memories of our wedding always brought a smile to my face, and it grew wider when I pictured our children at their weddings, when I thought of the many places
Wendy and I still wanted to see together, and as I imagined cradling the first grandchild in my hands as a grandfather, that feeling was overwhelming, beyond my own ability to hold it inside all to myself.

And the next day, when I shared these feelings with Wendy, she reminded me that even after transition, I’d still be the children’s parent. I could go anywhere in the world I wanted, without having to worry about what people thought of my appearance, because I’d finally be true to myself and my body. It made me think, that would be all anyone could ever ask for. She said she hoped I’d still want to be a part of the family as our grandchildren made their way in the world. I’d still have a seat at the table, just a different seat.

“But… that’s MY seat,” I said. “Wendy, you act as if I’m making some incredible sacrifice here. I’m not being generous. I’m not doing anything but being 100% selfish.”

She stared at me, her eyes questioning.

“I have made a choice, and it’s one that makes me happy. Happier than any other choice.”

Wendy’s eyes welled with tears as we said our goodbyes – across a room. I begged her to hug me goodbye, as I cut that space between us in half, then by three-quarters until I was right in front of her, my arms extended for a hug. She nearly fell into my arms as she whispered, “I love you enough to let you go.”

And so I went. But not to work.

I headed for a meeting not far from our home, a meeting of transsexuals, cross-dressers and their supporters. It was my first, and after some discussion I decided I needed to do this alone. I was welcomed, introduced myself around and spent most of the evening discussing how on earth this had become our life.  And without breaking confidences, I talked about my decision and expressed my fears of where Wendy and I might wind up, after this night.

I felt comfortable in this environment, among these people. As someone who was new to this group, I thought most of the guys looked like guys and most of the women definitely passed. And I realized that this was their place not to care about that. But I couldn’t escape the notion that some of these kindhearted folks would probably not get far under close examination. Short-short skirts and high heels brought to mind “Some Like it Hot” and “Tootsie.” And then there was me.

I was dressed as me, as Dawn, behind Wendy’s back, after swearing I would never do it again. My wig was brushed, I wore a black top and the same jeans and sneakers and jacket I had worn when I left the house; I had not worn the compression shirt and I applied just enough lip gloss and mascara to make a difference. I felt more than comfortable. I belonged.

My heart skipped a beat as people called me by my chosen name, and treated me as the woman I tried to present. We laughed, we chatted, we shared our struggles. Before I knew it, two hours had passed and it was time to say good night. I hugged my new friends goodbye, I shook the hands of the transmen and I was polite to the cross-dressers, who frankly make me felt uncomfortable; dressing as a woman is a turn-on for them, not who they are. I was most definitely not a CD, which would have turned this into a hobby instead of a condition.

But as I walked out, I looked up to the stars in the brightly lit night sky and could sense that something had changed tonight for me. I had been accepted into a community. One I didn’t even realize had thought of me as a member. I cried a small bit, staring at Orion. And I cried more, as I realized his arrow pointed toward home.

My home. Where my wife waited to learn what my choice was. It was not the decision she thought I made, and certainly not the one I believed I would make. I realized in that moment my condition was not in charge of me, not on that night, nor ever.

As Wendy, my therapist and a psychiatrist had warned me: I could not have my cake and eat it, too. As a child, I could have pretty much anything I wanted. As a grownup, I was still learning that I was no longer a child.

I walked for a bit, bypassing my car and going over my thoughts. Was I panicking? Maybe I’m being rash. Why must I decide this now? And I heard the answer from the sarcastic voice in my head (which for some reason sounds like my Bronx-born mother in law): “What, you want more time? Of course, sure, put her through another month of misery! Hey, how about I schedule this for 2017? Too soon?” I needed to make up my mind, for real.

I thought about how for the rest of my life, the guy who accepted unequivocally that he was bald and refused to do anything to hide it would now, as a woman, wear a wig until her dying day. I thought how comfortable I felt and accepted and happy as Dawn, and how unhappy I had been for so long as Don. I thought of our kids, and what this would mean for them, and for Wendy.

Never again would she kiss me. No touch she’d ever make of my body would ever be as warm and intimate as it used to be. She’d face her own questions, people feeling sorry for her, people hating her, people wondering if it was her fault. Wendy blaming herself for not being able to love me and not being able to change me.

No decision was going to undo the very real changes to my body. I would be sentencing myself to forever wearing either a compression shirt or this wig. I’d be real as a woman in this world, but a freak to the world I grew up in… or, a phony to the world appearing as a man, and a woman in my mind; would Wendy know? Could she tell? Would it matter? Will I live a life of regret, or happiness?

Either way, I knew: there would be regret. Either choice offered happiness. But only one provided happiness that came from inside my heart. Where Wendy had made a place for herself, deep inside my heart. She had mostly moved out, but left just enough for me to know, she’d be back in my heart – if I made her feel welcome.

And as I turned down a street with no streetlamps another thought occurred to me: I’m a woman, walking alone on a dark street with about $50 in my purse. This certainly cannot be good.

I made my way back to my car, wiped off the makeup, removed the wig and put a men’s T-shirt over my top, then headed home. I walked in just after ten o’clock, where my wife had exhausted herself working, cooking and cleaning and was fast asleep. I went to the dining room table and removed my bracelet, put my Tory Burch eyeglasses back in their case and removed from my purse all my credit and debit and ID cards – especially the “Dawn” ones — and, lastly, spent 45 minutes trying to remove the back on my earring, never having done that before. Damn frustrating!

When Wendy awoke the next morning, I accompanied her downstairs. She looked at the display of my stuff and asked, in her pre-coffee fog: “What does all this mean? Are you decided? Are you Dawn now?”

“No, I’m tossing all of this, and the earring, if you can help me remove it. I want to go full-time… as your husband.”

We kissed, as we had not kissed in months, perhaps years, and I knew this sacrifice on my part would never be easy, even though I was making it for that most selfish of all reasons, to truly be happy.  Perhaps that is why she stopped embracing me to tell me, how happy she was but how worried that I was not being true to myself, “You won’t be as happy as you could be,” Wendy said, crying.

“Oh yes, I will,” I told her, confidently, “so long as we are together, I’ll be happier on our most miserable days together than I would be on my absolutely happiest day alone, without you. I love you enough, Wendy, to let Dawn go.”

We made plans that morning for a romantic getaway, just the two of us: a place for us to talk privately, without the interruption of children, to honestly discuss our future and how we would make it work. To help her better understand “gender variance” and for me to better understand her sadness, anger and how my own mixed messages were the root cause of her confusion and despair.

She found a B&B in New England with a “his and her” spa package, something we’d never done. And Wendy felt it necessary to mention, just in case I missed it: “So, that would mean YOU are the “His” and I am the “Her.” Right?

Without a doubt.  And yeah, it was something that was probably good to remind me, just in case.

photo

Options

I have been trying on the idea of living full time as a woman, asking myself if that is how I truly feel, if that is what is most in tune with my modified mind, body and my original soul. I know that if the answer is yes, it just won’t be possible at “home” -the place I live with the love of my life and the children I cherish more than life itself.20111128-190815.jpg

That bond, that connection is what holds me back, because there is no option to be me and be with them. It’s not fair — but as I’ve drilled into my children, life often is not fair.

I’ve lived apart from them before because of work and I have a crash pad here in New York City where I go when I’m working too much to be commuting to and from the ‘burbs. I can be me full time but I cannot live there full time. And it’s just not home.

So I have been exploring, and settled upon the Upper East Side as my choice for my possible next home. It’s close enough to work without being too close, far enough from my home to give me space to grow as a person, and unfamiliar enough to make it a challenge and an opportunity to put a new foot forward. I’m scared and excited, and mindful that moving out on my own is not my choice but hers. From our long, painful conversations, this looks to be more of a destiny than a decision. I think to myself, I’m just keeping my options open.

How far I will extend that philosophy — allowing myself options rather than limiting choices — has been on my mind of late. I’ve always been attracted to women, one in particular; will that change? I will confess to having a better understanding of what attracts women to men, and what qualities in men I like and which ones I cannot stand. Familiarity breeds contempt, as they say.

But I’m not exactly ready for more than contemplation. And I’m certainly not looking to be labeled. For now, I’m keeping “married to a beautiful woman who is no longer attracted to me” as my relationship status. She says in no uncertain terms she supports me and understands I need to be true to me; what she asks in return is my understanding that she cannot share a home with me if I’m not male in appearance. There is no negotiating this. The question I repeatedly ask: how much longer does she think I can keep pretending and dressing up as a guy? Secretly, I pray she will “acclimate,” so, I give her space, and time, and understanding instead of applying the pressure I feel all around and inside of me.

We both realize the future may ultimately mean separation, and as I have always done, I’m making a backup plan. How positively male of me, I thought; then I realized how I am actually just responding to my natural desire to nest, knowing present arrangements may be short-lived. Few things could make me sadder than separating. And so, I am being true to my newly found self by living in the moment rather than getting too far ahead and planning an “escape.”

Besides, legally, I have been counseled that the last thing I would want, is to be seen as abandoning my family. So I’m only exploring options.

It’s a peculiar mix of exhilaration and dread that I feel. Would getting my own place — moving out — be a terrible mistake? How can I put myself before this woman and our children? Isn’t that what I’m supposed to do, choose their happiness over mine? Will they be better off without me as I am, than with someone forced to deny reality? Or will the idea of going out on my own, as myself, be much harder and more painful than I anticipate?

I think it’s like finding a really great pair of new shoes that look fabulous on you, but they hurt your feet. The question is: how long do you try to break them in before you realize, they’re not for you?

Or: do you just accept that this pain is the price of doing what you need to do?