RiseUP with Gov. Malloy and Sarah McBride

A new episode of my talk show RiseUP With Dawn Ennis is live on YouTube in advance of tonight’s premiere on WHC-TV at 9:30pm.

My guests are Gov. Dannel Malloy of Connecticut, and Sarah McBride of HRC, who is out with a stunning memoir, Tomorrow Will Be Different.

RiseUP Malloy

Gov. Malloy talked with me one on one about his accomplishments over his two terms in office, responded to his critics and answered questions from viewers, one of which is: why don’t you just resign now? His answer? “Walk in my shoes” before he’ll consider that viewer’s advice. Malloy told another viewer inquiring about taxes, “Wake up!”

We’ll also look at the newest candidate to enter the competitive race to replace Malloy, former West Hartford mayor Jonathan Harris.

Also in this episode, Sarah McBride explains what motivated her to work in activism and told me what she hopes readers who aren’t LGBTQ will learn from her book, now on sale.

You’ll find links to help you learn more about the people and topics we cover in this episode by scrolling down below the video link! If you enjoy what you see, please like. share and subscribe:

If you’re looking to contact Gov. Dannel Malloy, here’s the link to send him (or, more accurately, his staff) an email. They are very responsive! And if you have a specific problem or issue you want the governor and his staff to address, click here to contact the Constituent Services Office.

Watch the governor’s final state of the state address here and read the transcript here. 

You can read up on Connecticut politics by clicking here for the Hartford Courant’s section devoted to political news coverage.

Find out more about Jonathan Harris’s campaign for governor of Connecticut by clicking here. 

Harris, of course, faces some stiff competition later this year in the state primary:

DEMOCRATS RUNNING FOR GOVERNOR OF CONNECTICUT

MARK STEWART GREENSTEIN

REPUBLICANS CANDIDATES FOR GOVERNOR SO FAR

This episode’s special correspondent is Sarah McBride, the national press secretary for Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and the first out transgender person to ever address a national political convention. Sarah is the author of Tomorrow Will Be Different, her memoir which the cover explains is about love, loss, and the fight for trans equality.

Read about Sarah and find out how you can get a copy of her book by clicking here

Sarah’s page at HRC can be found here. She’s on Twitter, and Instagram, too. And she’s written powerful stories at medium.com as well. Click here to read what else she’s written.

Click here to watch a short excerpt from Jennifer Finney Boylan’s powerful interview with Sarah at The Strand bookstore in New York City, on March 6th.

You can also order Sarah’s book on Amazon.com by clicking here. For information about Sarah’s book tour, you’ll find a list of cities and dates here. 

If you would like more information about Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford, reform Judaism or about the celebration of Purim and other Jewish holidays, visit CBI’s new and improved website for everything you ever wanted to know, but didn’t know who to ask! And expect to hear more in upcoming episodes about CBI’s 175th anniversary celebration!

If you like what you see, please like, share and subscribe, to both WHC-TV’s YouTube channel and to my own, as well as to this blog. Thank you!

 

 

Anthony Rapp, Wilson Cruz on ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Coupledom

The sci-fi franchise goes where no gays have gone before.

RappCruz

startrek.com

This is in part a repost of my article first published on the LGBT silo of nbcnews.com on October 13, 2017.

This blogpost includes original content not included with the article on NBC Out, and here appears in bold. 

The fact that for the first time in the 51-year history of “Star Trek,” out gay actors are playing gay characters in love, is not something CBS, its stars or its creators are either hiding or promoting. But it is something they’re celebrating.

“I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of ‘Star Trek’ TV’s first gay couple,” actor Anthony Rapp of “Rent” fame told NBC News. “I can’t say how much that means to me personally as a fan of the series and as a member of the LGBT community.”

Rapp plays the prickly, grumpy genius anastromycologist Lt. Paul Stamets, which basically means he’s the foremost expert on fungus. And fungus gets far more screen-time than his same-sex relationship on the CBS All Access streaming show, which is just fine with Rapp.

“I’m proud of the fact that none of that really matters in the show,” Rapp said, describing the portrayal of their relationship as “alive, truthful and human.”

IMG_8186His on-screen partner and costar, Wilson Cruz, who plays Dr. Hugh Culber, called Rapp his “space boo” on stage at New York Comic Con. They’ve been friends since they starred together on Broadway two decades ago. “We’ve worked together for 20 years, so it was so easy to create this together, because we have so much back history.”

Cruz won applause during the evening event at the Paley Center for Media in midtown Manhattan, when he spoke up for transgender rights, called out violence based on gender identity and called for more LGBTQ representation in entertainment. “These stories we tell are really important, so that people understand who we are, what our lives are like, and perhaps they will understand us and not hate us.”

Cruz was quick to denounce the actions of the Trump administration to rollback LGBT rights and attempts to erase protections against discrimination.

“I’m livid,” Cruz told me before Saturday night’s panel at the Paley Center. “We have a president who cares very little for LGBT people,” he said. “His words mean nothing and his actions mean everything, and he’s saying everything he really believes in his actions.”

“It saddens me that this continues to be the case,” Rapp told me, saying despite the government’s actions, he remains encouraged. “The backlash that comes is only possible because of the progress. So it is in direct opposition to progress. It’s like the last gasp.”

Isaacs

startrek.com

The “Star Trek” franchise, said actor Jason Isaacs, is inclusive of “all genders, all sexualities, all flavors, not just of humans, but in our show of [other] species as well. The point being, things we are told should separate us, actually unite us.”

“The original series was borne out of troubled times, “ Isaacs continued, ”the birth of the civil rights movement and feminism, and I think there’s never been a time where a story like this, with a positive view of the future — even though we’re at war in the show — has been more necessary, than when division is being sown by some really toxic elements.”

President Trump and his Justice Department’s newly announced policies threatening LGBT rights, and the administration’s continued efforts to curtail reproductive rights and threats to immigrants, were as talked about on the red carpet as were the Discovery’s groundbreaking spore drive, Vulcans and Klingons.

IMG_8187“Star Trek: Discovery” Executive Producer Akiva Goldsman said the franchise has “always been about inclusion.”

“We’re not value-neutral when it comes to the issues of people being isolated, separated, not understood, ostracized,” Goldsman explained.

Citing proof of the show’s inclusivity, Alex Kurtzman, also an executive producer on the series, said the team behind the scenes is an even mix of men and women. He also revealed the show’s producers decided a refocus was necessary following President Trump’s unexpected election victory. That included a not-accidental nod to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan, by giving the show’s antagonists, the Klingons, a new rallying cry: “Remain Klingon.”

PaleyFest: Star Trek Discovery

justjared.com

Cruz was swift to point out that from sexual harassment of women to racial inclusion, Hollywood has a lot more work to do, especially from his perspective as an industry trailblazer. He was the first out Latino actor on network television, playing the first openly gay teenager on TV: the character of Rickie Vasquez on “My So-Called Life” in the mid-1990s. Times have changed, Cruz said.

“But the fact of the matter is,” he told fans, “most of the LGBTQ characters now on TV are still gay white men. The work that needs to be done now is to diversify the picture of LGBTQ people, so that people can see that we come from all races, different genders, we have trans people.” Cruz’s character on the U.S.S. Discovery is only the second regular “Star Trek” character of Latinix heritage, following the half-Klingon, half-human B’elanna Torres played by Rosario Dawson on “Star Trek: Voyager.”

Cruz

CBS

As gay actors, Cruz and Rapp have tremendous allies both on the screen and in front of it, largely thanks to social media. “Star Trek: Discovery” is the first installment of the franchise since the creation of Twitter and Facebook.

“The ‘Trek’ community is so profoundly engaged,” Rapp said. “We’re all in this together. Yes, I’m the one in the show, and you’re the one consuming the show. But we all care about it, and we get to share in that.”

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Although CBS boasts the show has boosted subscriptions to its streaming service, a lot of the online chatter is centered on criticism of the network’s decision to hide it behind a paywall. Isaacs, who plays Discovery’s sexy, mysterious and mercurial Captain Gabriel Lorca, told Comic Con fans that controversy is not something the cast wants to address, and directed the question to “the other end of the panel.”

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Executive producer Kurtzman took the bull by the horns, and didn’t mince words. He told fans paid content is where television is going, following in the footsteps of Netflix, Hulu, now Disney, and of course the pay TV granddaddy, HBO.

tilly2

startrek.com

 

Another topic of internet speculation concerns Mary Wiseman’s character, Cadet Sylvia Tilly. Is she more than just a talkative space rookie, perhaps someone on the autism spectrum?

tilly

 

“In terms of the script, no one’s put a label on it,” Wiseman told NBC. “I think the idea that someone would see Tilly and recognize part of themselves in that performance, or that they would feel represented, is deeply moving to me, and gratifying.”

smg

startrek.com

 

Series star, the stunning Sonequa Martin-Green who rose to fame in The Walking Dead, told us her favorite part of playing mutineer Michael Burnham is her character’s desire to better understand other people.

sonequa2

“I’m on a journey of self-discovery and I have an issue of arrested development because of what I’ve gone through,” she said, alluding to the challenges no woman in the franchise’s history has ever tackled: Burnham is an orphan raised on Vulcan as an adopted member of Spock’s family. Her actions set in motion the war between the Federation and the Klingons.

Klingons

Speaking of Klingons, Mary Chieffo plays the imposing L’Rell, a character she describes as more than just intimidating; the six-foot-tall beauty revealed L’Rell has a quality Star Trek fans have never before seen in a Klingon: vulnerability.

Mary Chieffo

“I really hope,” she said, “whether it be LGBTQ, or anyone who sees themselves as ‘other,’ is able to relate to the Klingons, to L’Rell. I think there’s a lot there that I relate to, as someone who’s never felt quite in the vein of what other people wanted me to be.”

cruz rapp

startrek.com

Just as Rapp and Cruz hope to convey their humanity in their performances, Chieffo said she, Martin-Green and Wiseman aim to be strong female role models for girls.

“You don’t have to be fully-armored,” she said, “to be badass.”

 

 

Want more? Watch the videos from my Facebook Live stream by clicking these links!

Thanks to CBS, startrek.com and justjared.com for the photos appearing here. 

Special thanks to New York Comic Con and the Paley Center for Media for welcoming me to cover these two events for my readers here and at NBC News! 

I Am An American 


We Will Not Yield: A Prayer After Charlottesville

BY ALDEN SOLOVY 

Today, I am neither Democrat nor Republican,

Neither left nor right nor center.

I am an American,

Born to a legacy of truth and justice,

Born to a legacy of freedom and equality.
Today, I am a patriot

Who will not yield this nation to hate.

Not to neo-Nazis.

Not to thugs self-styled as militia.

Not to slogans or chants.

Not to gestures or flags.

Not to threats and not to violence.
Hate is hate,

Ugly and brutal,

And we will not yield.
Today,

I am Christian, Muslim and Jew,

Catholic, Buddist, Hindu and Sikh,

Atheist and agnostic.

I am Asian, Latino, Hispanic, African American,

White, Native American and multi-racial.

I am an immigrant, a child of the American Revolution,

A veteran and a soldier.

I work in the dark depth of the mines

And the high towers of Wall Street,

In the factories and the farms,

In our hospitals and strip malls.

I am gay, lesbian, straight, bi, trans,

Man, woman and gender-neutral.

I am young, old, blind and deaf,

Hearing and sighted,

Disabled,

Powerful and unafraid.
Truth is truth,

That all are created equal,

And we will not yield.
Today, I am an American,

A citizen of the United States,

A child of this great democracy,

A child of this wise republic,

Dedicated to liberty,

Dedicated to action.
We will not yield.

© 2017 Alden Solovy and tobendlight.com. All rights reserved.

http://reformjudaism.org/blog/2017/08/14/we-will-not-yield#post-count

Top Image by Stacey Lee 

Passions Fly

This month on RiseUP with Dawn Ennis, meet a longtime lawmaker who is an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ causes and her constituents here in Connecticut, as well as a new Air Force recruit,  a country music lover, a man who races sailboats and a gay journalist who is helping raise awareness of long-hidden racism in his hometown.


Activism, advocacy, service, song, and sailing: they’re very different experiences, for sure. 

But what each of these folks have in common is their passion. 


My passion for 34 years has been storytelling. I’m at a crossroads right now as I post this, but I can honestly say that even if I were to never ever publish another word, I’ll still pour most of my passion into the most important work I’ve ever done: doing the job of mom and being a dad to my three motherless children. 

One of them makes a cameo in this episode: singing is her passion. I hope you’ll watch and share! 

Links mentioned in the show are below the link. 

If you’re interested in getting involved in civic government, reach out to the League of Women Voters. In Connecticut their website is here. 

For more info on Philadelphia’s  inclusive flag and efforts toward greater equality in Philly, check out the More Color More Pride campaign. 

You can also read more about Ernest Owens and his work at G Philly magazine where he is the editor. 

Thanks especially to Meredith West who left WHC-TV last month for Atlanta. I wish her the very best!

Get Out When You Can!

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14055013_10210281391411337_1557086871318331737_n.jpgMy latest YouTube video is dedicated to the wonderful women of my widows group, who have helped me to feel human again by getting me out of the house and connecting with them outside our biweekly sessions to explore our grief.

We all went out recently, had a few drinks, had a lot of laughs at a local comedy club, and bonded. I’m so grateful to them for including me and making me feel welcome and a part of their sisterhood.

Not one of us would give up a chance to have those we lost back in our lives, but since that’s not possible, we have each other. And my video this week is really for every person who feels cut off, and alone. It’s important to get out, make new friends and find connections. To find time for ourselves to grow and be with other grownups once in awhile.

I’m very glad my friends found me!

 

Stop. Look. Listen.

Stop Look Listen copy

This morning, shortly after I woke up, I posted some “New Rules,” a la Bill Maher, but not to support him, rather to match my own thinking… and I’d like to expand upon one in particular before I turn in.

This new rule is something I myself have worked to fully incorporate into my life both online and in the real world, and I am making strides but it’s not something I think I will ever say, “Ah, well, cross that one off the list; it’s done.”

Here it is:

STOP.

I am a woman of white privilege, and no matter how hard I try — and I do — I’ll never, ever, EVER be able to grasp what it means to live as a black person in America. Or any person of color. Especially not a trans person of color. Especially not a trans woman of color.

My new rule of “STOP” means this: when a person of color shares with you their experience, and what life decisions they make accordingly, do not judge them and add your two cents — about anything.

STOP.

Even if you struggle, too.

Even if you disagree or have another point of view.

Even if your first thought is, “well, from my perspective…”

STOP.

What every single white person I know does is immediately think, “that’s not my experience.” I do it, too. And what should, in my opinion, happen next, is for us to go:

“Hmmm.”

Silently.

Think on it. Ponder. Share. Let your action be to raise up the voice of someone who doesn’t have your privilege. Not to point out the difference between us.

‘Cuz I’ve learned one thing: they already know the difference. There is no need nor any point to be made.

And to those who dismiss someone using the term “violence” to describe how someone feels when they are oppressed, even though it may be verbal or through an action not typically associated with physical violence, I encourage you to take the time to understand and grow, rather than reject out of hand something that does not come from your experience.

STOP. LOOK:

“It’s oppression on top of oppression to dictate how oppressed people should rebel.” — Unknown.

The thing I’m talking about here is intersectionality. As Sherry Hamby wrote:

“The burden of violence and victimization remains markedly unequal. The prevalence rates, risk factors, and consequences of violence are not equally distributed across society. Rather, there are many groups that carry an unequal burden, including groups disadvantaged due to race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sexual identity, place of residence, and other factors.”

It must STOP.

I do not write this to rant or pontificate but to raise up the voices of others. I’m not going to name names, but when I tried to share one person’s insight and solicited the thoughts and comments of my friends, that person fled, feeling attacked. She told me she felt victimized by violent and racist comments.

Not one of you will agree that your comments were racist.

Not one of you will agree that your comments were violent.

Not one of you will agree that you attacked her.

STOP. LOOK. LISTEN:

The point is not whether you intended to be racist, to be violent, to attack someone. Perception is reality. And I can see how these comments hurt her, but I was powerless to add my voice to support her because before I could notice there was an assault on her, she withdrew the post I had shared from my wall, blocked those of you who offended her, and blocked me from seeing it now. That is her right; it’s hers, and she felt attacked, and is justified in responding to those attacks as she sees fit.

I did see at one point the accusation that she played “the race card.” Several folks said to me that she “introduced” race into the conversation, and that you didn’t see it as an issue of race.

And let me just point out to you one thing each of you who said that to me share: every one of you, including me, is white. To sum up, the black woman said she felt the comments were racist, and the white women and men told her, “it’s not racism.”

Privilege conceals itself from those who have it.”Jarune UwujarenJamie Utt, Everyday Feminism.

There is no “race card.” Race is not something you get to deal, or fold, or shuffle so that you wind up with a better hand. It’s not the same as gender, because even though most of us are stuck with whatever we’re dealt, at least we who are transgender are at long last able to tell the dealer they made a mistake. It doesn’t improve our hand all that much, but

I can only imagine what it is like to be both transgender and a member of a race that is oppressed. What I am learning is to not judge, and to listen instead of speak.

And that, in my opinion, is a good place to start.

The Coping Cabana

Exactly three years ago today, my children met the real me, and as I’ve mentioned, it’s about six months since we lost their mother. Some might say my kids lost both their mom and their dad. And I say, no: that’s not the case.

That’s because they have what I call the DadMom: a woman called “dad” who does the job of “mom” and brings the best of both worlds to bear to raise my strong, smart children.

The focus of my “Life After Dawn” now more than ever is to meet their needs, lift them up, and dry their tears.

Grief is not our state of being but it is something we are dealing with, every day, each in our own way. And not one of us is handling it in the exact same way or on the same timeline.

Here’s a video about how I help my children cope with their grief. I welcome your comments and questions, here, on my YouTube channel or via email at dawnennis@gmail.com

Thanks for watching!

A trust has been established by Wendy’s brother, Robert Lachs. 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.

Thank you.

Six months


Six months ago today our world changed. I woke up to a text from Wendy in the hospital:
“I think I’m going home today.” 
It’s also my late father in law’s birthday. My hope is they are together in paradise. 
Above, a photo from the last time she did come home from the hospital. Miss her today and everyday.
Part of my “to do” list today is to order her headstone. The inscription is something we worked together to compose; her mother, brother, and of course our children wrote the words, and I am as always the copy editor. I’ll share those words when the time comes for the unveiling this fall.
PS our struggle continues… and I’m not ashamed to ask for help for our kids to reach our goal of funding their education. As for day in, day out, we get by on my meager salary and federal and state benefits, which is enough to buy groceries and kids clothing and pay bills. I’m a regular at Goodwill and our town and temple’s food pantries, and I firmly believe there’s no shame in accepting help when it’s offered. To those who’ve already given so much, thank you. 
A trust has been established by Wendy’s brother, Robert Lachs. 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: https://www.gofundme.com/zc4q96x4

Thank you.

I’ll be their grandma

Hockey-Stick-and-Puck-Photographic-Print-C11950881You’d think today would be a day in which my youngest son would be riding a cloud after a successful first session of hockey camp. Instead, he just crawled into my bed (currently doubling as my “home office”), looking for hugs because, in his words, fighting back tears: “my children will grow up without a grandma.”

He’s nine, and he’s thinking about his future offspring. This is the child who feels with his heart, not his fingers or toes. Everything he does, he does with all of his heart.

Embracing him, holding him tight, we lay in the bed Wendy and I once shared, arm in arm, holding on tight.

“I’ll be their grandma,” I told him, trying to be reassuring, “although I recognize it won’t be the same. But I promise, I’m going to be the best grandma I can be. And I’m sure Grandma Debbie will stick around a long time so she can be a great grandmother to your kids, just like Grandma Sophie was. Don’t worry, buddy, it’s going to be okay.”

In two days it will be six months since he lost his mom.

This is what it is to teach a 9-year-old to live with the hole in his heart. We are all learning.

How do you explain trans to kids?

ADDENDUM: I want to thank everyone who is helping get the word out that me explaining the concept of “transgender” to children, in response to a straight dad’s question, is NOT child abuse. It’s good parenting. I was up most of the night after posting this, emotionally wrecked by the idea that someone could be so callous as to think my efforts to educate constitute abuse. But thanks to my friends and allies, those who seek to oppress the truth, to block positive messages like mine, will not win. Thank you, friends!

And thank you, Steve, for your question!

Send YOUR question to dawnennis@gmail.com or post them here as a comment!

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.

 

 

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.

Wendy and Dawn.jpg

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. 

 

 

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

The Word Is Transgender… Not Trans-Jenner

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

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

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

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

But am I?

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

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

So back to my question: am I a woman?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will not say, “hear me roar.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because we’re trans.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11046378_10206428533692302_2786928928095290804_oLove,

Dawn

XOXO

Mind = Blown

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

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

I leave Philadelphia energized to make a difference.

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

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

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

Karma Calling

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There is this person I know.

We’ve known each other for many years, and we have quite a few friends in common in the TV News business, where she got her start before moving on to publishing. A few years ago, she was the first person to whom I pitched an idea for a memoir about the changes that have come about in my life. I sent her an email but I didn’t get a reply; no call, nothing… So I moved on.

I hired an agent and we put together what’s called a proposal.  By the fall of 2012, there was genuine buzz about my story and this person I know heard through the grapevine that I was about to make a pitch. She finally replied to my year-old email and asked me to send it to her first. I was gung-ho but my agents balked, telling me horror stories about every project this person touched. I was torn but they were adamant, so we didn’t include her when we sent out the proposal — each with a confidentiality agreement.

In that early form, the book admittedly needed work, and so we went back to the drawing board. I hired a publishing pro to help me address some of the feedback we’d received. And life went on…

I transitioned in May 2013, and just a few days later, a tabloid newspaper printed a full-page story about my coming out. The reporter (who also used to work in TV) copied and pasted much of her “reporting” from my facebook post, but then shocked everyone including me by citing details that could only have been taken straight from my book proposal. By revealing very private information that was privy only to those who received the proposal, this reporter totally undercut my efforts to tell my own story.

As I waited for all the attention to die down, the newspaper kept after me, sending reporters to grill my neighbors, my relatives and even to ambush my wife and children in hopes of digging up more dirt; although I deleted hundreds of my children’s pictures, almost any photograph or status update that my wife or I had posted in social media found a home in the paper’s pages and dozens of tabloids around the world. And this same tabloid reporter kept publishing articles about me. 

So, when my agents sent a revised proposal to 40 publishing houses earlier this year, we took extra steps to avoid a repeat of the leak. It didn’t matter; our worst nightmare came true once again when this reporter somehow obtained a copy of the latest proposal, and again printed details that made most of the publishers say, “no thanks, the story’s already been told.”

My agents had suspected my old friend was the reporter’s source all along, but I refused to accuse her, given I had no proof. However, this time, the agents confronted her publisher directly, and to our surprise, they confirmed our suspicions: my old friend admitted she leaked my proposal to that tabloid reporter, twice, out of spite.

I was crushed, but I felt the damage had been done. I am not a spiteful person and I would prefer to be bigger than her and just move on.

But as most of you know, just a few months later, my circumstances have changed. As I think I’ve made clear, I’m now beyond desperate.

Today at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York City, as I waited hours for a ride home to see my children, I spent my last $1.50 to buy myself a bagel, so I could have something to eat for the first time since Tuesday. It was the least expensive thing I could find, and yes, I know it’s hardly the healthiest option. Although relations are strained between us, my wife bought me that bus ticket because our kids missed me, but not before reminding me we don’t have enough money to pay both our mortgage and my rent next month; soon, I’m going to have to give up my apartment, and that will mean in just a few weeks I will not only be unemployed but I will be homeless, too.

I’ve applied for unemployment, welfare and disability but I won’t see any money until next month — and although it’s a fraction of what I used to earn, I can’t in good conscience keep it for myself. That money is to help feed my family; they need it far more than I do, because they’ve given up so much already. Tomorrow, we tell our daughter we can’t afford to send her to summer camp this year, something I vowed she would do, even though I lost my job. I’m still learning that I cannot make things happen just by wishing them to be true.

I’m not telling you all this to evoke pity or ask for your help. As I have blogged this week, I did this to myself by being shortsighted, selfish, and believing assurances my book would be a huge hit and fix all my problems. No one else is to blame for that. Just me.

When I lost my job, I thought I would quickly get another one to at least help me start to fix these issues — but it’s July. Nobody’s hiring, and those who are, want nothing to do with me; despite 30 years of experience, excellent references and awards, all that publicity has made me “radioactive.” Like many of you, I’m very well connected. But whereas Don Ennis could make a call and find a gig within days, the truth is Dawn Ennis rarely gets a return call or email. Thank goodness for my true friends who have continued to send me leads; I’ve followed up on each and every one.

And I’m still unemployed.

So I decided today that I would make a phone call that I’ve avoided. I dialed my old friend’s number for the first time in years, and sent her an email, because I believe, rightly or wrongly, that she owes me something. And what I want… is a job.

Any job; I’m not picky. All I need is a start, and a chance to earn some decent money to support my family. This is not extortion, and not a threat. But I promise I’m not going to remain silent either.

I’ve made sure people who know my friend are aware of my plea, and I am still awaiting her reply. I have told anyone who asks what she admits to doing. What’s the point in keeping it a secret?

It didn’t have to be this way. But my friend’s bosses told my agents she was so miffed at not being sent my confidential proposal, she decided to ruin my chances of seeing it published. Twice.

And now I’ve decided she should make that up to me. All she needs to do is get me a job. Someone in her position should be able to swing that easily.

We’ll see.

 

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!

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.

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