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.
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.
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!