Her eyes told me everything: The massacre in Sandy Hook

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Four years ago this morning, after working all night gathering news for a major TV network, I was headed home to my family in Connecticut when I got a call asking me to divert to Newtown. 

There were reports of multiple gunshots there.

 

My boss was candid: “You’re going to be our first eyes and ears on the ground. We are hearing, and it’s unconfirmed, there are a lot of people dead, and the worst part: many of them are children. Just get us some solid info. Be safe,” she said.

 
I drove into town before all the barriers and roadblocks were set, to keep curious onlookers and predatory media away from the crime scene.
 
I found myself on a street outside a firehouse, where eventually a couple emerged, and before I could ask the woman what had happened, her eyes locked with mine.
 
It was clear to me in an instant what had happened.
 
I saw in those grieving eyes the worst nightmare any mother could imagine. The look of someone whose entire world just ended.
 
I didn’t ask her a thing, not her name, not the circumstances of the tragedy still unfolding. I knew why I was there, what I was supposed to do, and what I was told to do: find out what happened and report back.
 
My instructions did not include making this family’s day worse. I mouthed the words, “I’m so sorry” to this mom whose eyes met mine, and let her pass.
 
I would work until late that night, walking all over town with a camera, interviewing witnesses, doctors, police spokesmen, and securing a live location for both the evening news and a special report, from which to broadcast live: a church that was holding a prayer service for the victims’ families and first responders.
My memory of that day is a bit like swiss cheese, with lots of holes, but I recall that I wasn’t out to everyone yet, and I remember how much I cried later that night, released from the burden of holding in the tears for so many hours.
And that wasn’t the only thing I had to hold in. Another woman working for a competitor and I went knocking on the door of a family down the road from the gunman, not to ask questions but to use their bathroom.
 “At least you could pee behind a tree,” she whispered to me, as we waited for a response.
“That’s the privilege of men,” I said to her, “and that’s not who I am.” She mistook my meaning, but her message was clear when she responded.
“Well, yeah, this is more civilized and practical, and who knows, maybe they’ll even talk to us.”
Actually, no, and they wouldn’t let us use their bathroom, either. Another neighbor did, but they claimed they had no idea about the gunman, his mother, or the families of those murdered.

We thanked them for their kindness and agreed to not tell anyone else about it, for fear their bathroom would become, in their words, “Grand Central Station.”

Every TV news truck within a hundred miles converged on sleepy little Newtown that day. Reporters and field producers and network correspondents and anchors and guest bookers and camera people and truck engineers and black car drivers, dozens and dozens of them.

And several hours after the sun had set and the world had seen what we had learned, I finally got to go home and hug my own first grader, tighter than I ever had before. 

I did so for every one of the parents in Sandy Hook who could not do that, and I thought of the mom I had encountered… as well as all 20 moms and 20 dads, and the families of the Sandy Hook school employees, whose world ended that day in a hail of senseless gunfire.

The Damsel Writer in Distress, and the Two Men Who Rescued Me Today

PicMonkey Collage.jpgThere was a lot of freelance writing drama today as I juggled four of my six part-time jobs all at once. And as I prepare for bed, I have two short stories (for which I shall not be paid) that I will share with you.

 

all-i-really-have-going-for-me-is-sarcasm-resting-bitch-face-a-huge-rack-and-really-good-eyebrows-3d268At one point earlier today I was fit to be tied, in an unshakably gloomy, angry and mostly just sad, sad mood. I was able to shield my daughter and others from incurring my wrath… but I am sure that, had I looked in a mirror, I might have seen that “OMG what is THAT about” resting bitch face I involuntarily show whenever trouble strikes. It’s at these times I remember never, ever to play poker.

 

weird-alBut despite the feeling the world was at an end, something happened that turned my frown upside down: a song by “Weird Al” Yankovic played on the SiriusXM Radio. “Smells Like Nirvana.”

 

As I listened, the parody taking me back decades, I felt the stress fade away. I could not resist smiling and just enjoyed the silliness. “Weird Al” made me feel 1,000 times lighter. It was a welcome break for my troubled mind and soul.

 

Thank you, “Weird Al,” or being my first savior of the day.

 

As for the second one, Tilesha Brown knows all too well my obsession with saving my copy, and often, to avoid what we each have experienced in losing EVERYTHING. This is the story of why I was in that foul, foul mood.

 

Well, after dutifully and repeatedly saving a 1,000+word piece I had been writing this week for NBC News, I closed the tab, and then could not for the life of me find the article on my Mac. It was gone, poof, as if I had never written a single character. I was simultaneously writing another story for another outlet and also on the phone conducting an interview with a highly-placed transgender advocate, all at the same time, so I had to stifle my scream and just let it go for awhile.

 

14-2.jpgAfter the interview (IT WAS STILL MISSING, WHERE DID IT GO?!?!?) I ran to fetch my daughter from her school on a snowy day — “oh, hey, can you please give my friend a ride home too?” — then, I drove her to get her flu shot, which was, thankfully, the fastest appointment in the history of pediatric medicine. Somewhere in between I emailed the editor with my sob story. Tears streaming down my face, I wrote that I was determined to find the missing article, and if not, type it all over again from memory.

 

At first, I tried using AppleCare’s chat function. Chandra was the very kind, patient woman on the other side of the screen, as I typed in panic mode and explained my desperate situation. I told her I hadn’t trashed anything but checked it anyway, and had already tried the usual search tools.

 

Me: “I’ve used Spotlight and searched the ‘My Mac’ box and the ‘All My Files’ box.”

Chandra: “Ok, that is what I would suggest. You could not find the document through those means?”

Me: “I’m sorry, do you think I’d be in this chat if I could?”

 

I thanked her and disconnected. With my MacBookPro in hand (or, well, in tote bag), I dashed to the mall where I met with Chris at the Microsoft store. This was, after all, a Microsoft Word issue.

 

d5fd16ce33cfac682eda90c51e0f6e3c.jpgTall, stocky, friendly Chris clapped his hands loudly like he was about to head center court. “Okay! Let’s do this!” he said, apparently to me. “Okay!” I said in response, cheered by his enthusiasm.
Sadly, Chris is from BillGatesGeektown, where the only computers in the world are Windows PCs. He cleaned my screen, gave me a free Pepsi, and then told me he had no clue where to begin. It was as if I had brought a 12th century monk a cellphone and asked him to show me how to place a call. The good news: the Pepsi was cold. And my screen was clean, yay! But still no article. So off to the Apple Store I went.

 

iphones_and_crowds_in_the_apple_storeWhile the Microsoft store was virtually empty, there were dozens and dozens of people ahead of me waiting to see a genius at the Apple Store. A very friendly young woman informed me my walk-in appointment would occur sometime “between 47 minutes and 57 minutes.”

 

I just stared at her for a moment, not sure what to say next.
“So… like, 45 minutes to an hour?” I asked.

 

“Close enough,” she said. Okaaaay. I dashed back to the car, fetched the youngest from chess club and dropped him off at home to do his homework and navigated the slushy, slippery streets… just a little better than the pilot of Mike Pence’s plane.
AP_16302063971741.jpgI made it back to the Apple Store with 5.214 minutes to spare (according to the blue-shirted employee who directed me to a stool). So, I got back to work, writing other stories for my other employers, answering emails from still others and trading instant messages with even more. Simultaneously, my cellphone dinged me with messages from my widow sisters — a group of nine who I adore who are my number one support system and friends and allies and great ladies who spend a lot of time texting one another in the group chat — and my eldest son who was on a field trip to the United Nations.

 

I read the texts from the widows but texted only a few messages, focusing mostly on sending my son short bursts of parental love.

 

“K.”
“Nice pic!”
“Cool.”
“Safe travels.”
“Yes, snow.”
“Does your car have snowbrush?”
“Drive carefully!”
“Steak. TTYL.”

 

And as I put the finishing touches on another article for another outlet and hit “publish,” into my life walked Rud.

 

Yes, his name is Rud. Standing six-two, sporting a thick red beard, with a lovely smile and calm voice, cool green eyes and those earrings that make your earlobes really huge. Rud is an Apple Genius.

 

He had read the notes, understood not only the workings of my MacBookPro but also knew a thing or two about Microsoft Word.

 

I showed him how my computer had saved a test document and together we traced where it had hidden my article: in a file that does not show up in “Search My Mac” or “Search All Files” or even in Spotlight.

 

It’s called Office 2011 AutoRecovery. There, with other documents that automatically are saved by Word every ten minutes, was (angels sing, trumpets sound) my missing article. Along with a LOT of other crap. It looked similar to this:

 

autorecovery-all
I literally burst into happy tears and said something I’ve never said to any man, ever.

 

“Oh my God, I love you!”

 

Where on earth that came from, I have no idea. His response: “Cool. Any other issues I can help you with?”

 

“No, no, thank you! Thank you!”

 

In hindsight, my Mac superuser friend Maia probably could have solved this in half the time it took me waiting on Rud the Apple Genius. But I was determined to resolve this without having to bother my friends.

 

When you’re a widow working six part-time jobs to earn enough money to feed three growing kids and pay bills and keep the lights and heat on, you put your head down and plow ahead full-speed. It’s hard to comprehend how a simple thing like losing a Word document has taken on so much greater significance.

 

Thankfully, all is well tonight, and off I go, to bed, where I shall sleep with a smile as I dream of Rud and Al, knowing that I shall have more stories to tell tomorrow.

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.

 

 

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. 

 

 

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

Why We Need to Listen to Bruce Jenner

Note to my readers: This is an expanded version of what first appeared on Thursday, February 5th, 2015, as an Op Ed for The Advocate Magazine:

640_bruce_jenner_long_hair

These days you can’t turn on the TV or go online in any LGBT social media space without seeing three words together:

Bruce. Jenner. Woman!

10835412_10205108433382284_5812753451013993168_oIt’s not only in outlets that traffic in “celebrity” gossip like TMZ and InTouch Weekly — which had the balls to Photoshop a cover image of Jenner to look more feminine; even legendary, respected sources of industry news can’t help but jump on the bandwagon that transgender stand-up comedian Tammy Twotone dubbed “Bruce Jennifer.”

People magazine’s latest headline loudly proclaims to its 3.5 million weekly readers what all those “anonymous sources” are all to happy too report, despite the fact that Jenner himself has never addressed long-standing rumors about his gender identity.

Even Variety, the storied bible of Hollywood insiders, boasts its reporters have learned “E! is developing a docuseries following Bruce Jenner’s ‘journey,’” and that “the head of publicity at E! [is] planning a meeting with GLAAD about how to handle such a sensitive subject.”

E!, of course, already pays Jenner to star as the often reclusive patriarch on the family reality series, Keeping Up With the Kardashians.

Lest the gossip remain solely the purview of entertainment media, bruceinterviewmainstream outlets are jumping on the speculation brigade, too. A representative with ABC News reportedly confirmed to BuzzFeed that Diane Sawyer is finalizing an agreement to host Jenner for a sit-down interview to be aired during the crucial May sweeps rating period.

Then the Associated Press circumvented Bruce Jenner altogether on Wednesday and called up his 88-year-old mother for an hourlong conversation. The reporter asked how Jenner had come out to her. “It was brief,” she said, “and I said I was proud of him and that I’ll always love him. I never thought I could be more proud of Bruce when he reached his goal in 1976, but I’m more proud of him now. It takes a lot of courage to do what he’s doing.”

Well, that’s it, then, right? Done deal? All that’s left is for Bruce Jenner himself (or herself) to make it official.

But this is my point. And it’s not mine alone — it’s shared by my colleagues at The Advocate and other leading LGBT publications: We don’t know how Jenner identifies until Jenner tells us.

We at The Advocate have made the choice to wait for confirmation, denial, or whatever it will be from Jenner and the representatives who are actually authorized to speak on behalf of the former Olympic athlete. The Advocate has not been able to get E!, Jenner, or the star’s agent to confirm anything — or even comment on the record.

Is Jenner transitioning? We really don’t know. When we do, we’ll let you know.

But, damn it, People magazine, even if you’re right about Jenner’s plans, here’s a tip: No one “transitions into a woman!”

The ignorance and misinformation about this subject galls me, given the fact that GLAAD has a very easy-to-understand lexicon available online, and experts on gender identity can be found in nearly every metropolis on earth — many of them transgender. Reporters cannot plead “we didn’t know” in their own defense anymore. I mean, come on: Have you heard of Google?

Apparently, it’s time for a crash-course for those unfamiliar: transition is not a “journey.” It’s a very long, Tilt-a-Whirl, summit plummet looping roller-coaster free-fall drop, Tower of Terror ride that, at best, ends with a person feeling better about themselves, employed, in their residence, and accepted by most friends and family. Too often, trans men and women get only one of those — or none.

When it is said a person who transitions “passes” in public as the gender they are presenting, that is seen by some as an achievement, and by others as reinforcing damaging gender stereotypes.

To me, the significance of passing is a personal preference, but let’s be frank: Even the most progressive, LGBTQ-allied cisgender (nontrans) people cannot help but comment to those of us who transition “how much prettier,” or “how handsome,” or, my favorite, “how much happier” we are, once we are living true to ourselves.

It’s a compliment, to be sure, and usually well-intentioned. And in my case, I agree: I am prettier; I am happier. But being trans is not just wearing clothes that match our mind-set. It’s about living and being accepted as the gender we know we are.

I did not “transition into a woman.” 397449_originalAnd I think a new, better explanation for this thing we do is needed, given all the attention Jenner, Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, Chaz Bono, and little ol’ me have received. chaz bono new look

My favorite view is from scientist and global businesswoman Carol Holly, who posted last month on Facebook:

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I don’t believe that it’s possible for people to change gender. You can’t deny or change what you are.

Gender transition as we know it is really gender *presentation* transition. You stay what you always were, your body is allowed to conform to your soul, giving one the liberty to relax and be ones-self.

Not even all the surgery, hormones and therapy in the world can turn a man into a woman. And even attempting it can be deadly.

For this reason I say, “I was always a woman.”

Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 3.13.51 AMBeing cast as a girl in commercials and catalog ads didn’t make me one, and the birth control pills I took as a teenager didn’t make me trans. The hormones I take now don’t “make” me a woman. I am one. I’m a transgender woman.

Before I could say that, I would get physically ill, and I twice contemplated suicide. Then I realized what I needed to do to live was to stop pretending I was a man.

And so I did, with the support of the love of my life and my children.

But unlike most other transgender folks, I was made aware of what thousands of people thought about my transition, my looks, my “lifestyle,” and how I “abandoned” my family.

imageNo, I’m not a reality star, but the unanticipated and unsolicited news coverage of my transition in 2013 transported me from anonymity to the front page of a New York City tabloid. Shock jocks, YouTubers, and cable TV personalities made me the butt of their jokes; reporters hid in bushes outside my home, ambushed my children on their way home from school, and asked my neighbors what they thought of “the tranny next door.”

Having to keep the children indoors on a summer day to hide from paparazzi parked outside one’s home is not something most transgender people ever endure. And about the only thing worse than having your picture on the newsstands and all over Google is seeing a segment on HuffPost Live featuring your “friends” titled “The Don Ennis Controversy.”

Of course, to celebrities like Jenner and the Kardashians, that kind of attention is not only commonplace, it may even be desirable. Pictures boost publicity, which increases ratings, and ratings translate into riches.

My 15 minutes of fame, however, translated into the loss of my good name and my reputation, and the end of my 30-year career in broadcast journalism.

I can only plead to the media to consider that there is a real person at the center of this frenzy. As someone who used to assign journalists stories for a living, and whose gender transition ironically became your assignment, I beg you to choose your words more carefully.

Focusing on clothing and makeup — as if trans women are drag queens or clowns — dehumanizes us all and trivializes what it means to be a woman. Speculating about surgeries is no more fair to us than strangers asking you about your hysterectomy, colonoscopy, or prostate exam. When someone decided it was my turn, your cameras and blogs and puns magnified my every mistake, for all to see and mock.

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 1.38.30 AMNobody, not even me, knew how deeply someone suffering a seizure and amnesia can be affected by that. In July 2013, three months into living full-time in my true gender, I suddenly had no memory of being trans, and so in my delusion I renounced it in an email to colleagues and detransitioned, and that triggered an even bigger tsunami of negative publicity.

The fact is, detransition happens, even if it’s brushed under the rug. And because it goes against the positive narrative, it is considered taboo. Detransition aids our enemies and perpetuates the myth that we who say we were born this way are just pretenders, that we can be “cured,” or live as we once did through crackpot ideas like reparative therapy. I myself was used as “proof” by anti-LGBT zealots like Matt Barber and Michael Brown that being transgender is something you choose, that can be un-chosen, or that having amnesia is a cure for gender dysphoria. No, it’s not.

I know of more than a few transgender people who have consciously opted to detransition, even after gender confirmation surgery.

Because of family pressure, or unemployment, or just unhappiness, they abandoned their adopted presentation, quietly, out of the spotlight, and were able to do so because friends and family supported their detransition as “normal;” to them, being trans was “abnormal.”

At least one post-op transwoman now lives as a transman. Go figure.

But here’s the thing: he’s still trans. Detransitioners are still transgender, but for many that means back to living in the closet. And in my experience, that is a far worse fate. It is to live a lie. They deserve our sympathy and support.

Given the headlines, I can better understand now why so many transgender people turned on me and treated me as a pariah when I detransitioned, because I, too, cringe at all the speculation about Jenner’s alleged transition, and how it may in turn hurt all of us who are trans. As Dana Beyer, the Executive Director of Gender Rights Maryland, wrote in 2013 about me, “public behavior can be easily misused to pathologize the rest of us.” She was right.

I say now as I have told anyone who will listen: I was under a delusion that took time to heal. I didn’t invent an illness to escape a successful transition; I was diagnosed, treated, and recovered — and was horrified to discover all I had worked for had been undone during my delusion. I was further in the closet than I had ever been. I’ll admit, I am a very creative writer, but even I could not have dreamed-up that much melodrama. It was a living nightmare.

1932605_10205376924282724_59548182704784261_o (1)Luckily for me, once the delusion ended and my memories fully returned, I resumed my transition in secret in hopes of avoiding a third round of headlines. Eventually I lived part-time, and then fully reclaimed my authentic identity. Over and over, I’ve turned down the chance to tell my story to the TV tabloids, so they can show me fixing my makeup or choosing which dress to wear, just to prove I am who I say I am. My gender is defined by my brain, not my bra size.

At the very least, media attention to details like boob jobs, nail polish, hairstyles, and tracheal shaves undercut our genuine attempts to present ourselves as authentic. Even trans men are not immune from harsh judgment. The public’s fascination with transgender identities — a curiosity about people like Jenner — drives gossip, sells papers, and draws page views.

Gender dysphoria is real. Hormone replacement therapy helps. Living authentically is the only true solution to gender dysphoria. I know.

Even considering my own negative experiences, it’s not my place to speculate what Jenner may or may not be going through. I do, however, recognize the fear that comes with being talked about, trying to avoid stumbling in front of the whole world, as you undergo the biggest change in your life since puberty.

I’m confident that sooner or later the whole world will hear from Jenner about this. To those looking in from the outside, you cannot imagine what it’s like being in the position where transition is the only way to live.

To Jenner and all those who live authentically, here is something even the media frenzy cannot take away:

The feeling you have when you are all alone, and you look in the mirror and see your true self looking back at you, and you feel for the first time that sense of self-esteem, self-worth, and love for your true self that until that moment had only been a dream.

My hope for Bruce Jenner is to experience that, without a camera recording it.

DAWN ENNIS is a blogger at LifeAfterDawn.com and media correspondent for The Advocate. She was the first transgender journalist in a position of editorial authority at any of the major TV networks in the U.S. to transition on the job. 

And Now, The News

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I took two months to consider the advice of smarter people, closed the blog, took time away from social media (not enough time, of course; I’m addicted) and can boast that I have again found work and reached a mutually beneficial severance agreement with my former employer, from whose employ I have now officially resigned.

And with my new start, my new job, my new attitude, I am going to once again resume blogging and ramp-up my online presence to heretofore unseen visibility. I will be active in activism, outspoken in civil rights, and offer my voice to causes in which I am invested. My hope is to help those already leading the charge and put my energy to work in raising the tide that lifts all boats.

Do not mistake me for someone seeking more attention for me. I have had more than my share and I am glad to be behind the curtain, behind the throne, backstage and making noises off. I am not taking stands to be seen or heard for my own sake but for our sake, as humans, as people, and no, not just for transgender people.

But without a doubt I will not be silent. It was a joy to be a part of the tradition of journalism, when it was something I enjoyed. I always said I would quit when it was no longer fun, and surprisingly, I needed a shove to recognize I had already entered the “no fun” zone. But that’s okay. I am happier, I am clear in my mind and in my soul that I am on the right path, one that leads to my future and not someone else’s.

Allow me to introduce you to the new me, and not just the old me, improved and refitted. I am me, and I am glad, and hope you will be, too. The biggest change? I won’t feel bad if you don’t approve or accept who I am and what I do. I am not living for you, or anyone, anymore. I am not changing to make others happy anymore.

I posted my first entry in two months very early this morning, thoughts that grew from an email exchange with one of my dearest friends. I hope it resonates with you, and if not, know that I wrote it to help me better understand where I am and to reflect with my close friend on where I’ve been. I am indebted to Janine for growing with me on this journey, in growing beyond tolerance to a new level of acceptance and awareness.

Thank you, too, for checking in. I’ll have more to say, soon. Big news, in fact.

Expect more of that, from time to time, now that I am who I am. And I Am Real. #iamreal