My Friend

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Who can lift my fallen spirit with just a story
What turns my sad heart glad is her smile.
When I need her, she is but a keystroke away with kindness
Where my soul lives, she’s willing to walk the mile.

Why would I turn to anyone else when I’m in trouble
Because no one knows me as she does.
Because she is my friend, and I am hers
And I wish that would be how it always was.

In days gone by we had different names;
Perhaps time is what made us who we are.
I can’t say for certain what it is that connects us,
But my friend is my friend no matter how far.

We say good night, and we part with a joke
Something of a smile to carry us on our way
The worries will fade, along with my sadness
Tomorrow, she reminds me, is another day.

To live.
To pray.
To laugh.
To love.
To forgive.
To forget.
To start.
To end.
To take.
And to give.

I’ll begin by giving thanks to God, for my friend, Janine D’Alessandro Ferren. ❤

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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

A Reason to Smile

It just so happened that my eleven-year-old daughter today wore her beloved camp shirt, as a reminder of how she has been counting the days until her third summer at Camp Laurelwood. It’s a Jewish kids sleepaway camp here in New England, and it offers three weeks of bonding, adventure, spiritual connections and just plain summer fun. And all that doesn’t come cheap.

The enormous expense was why my wife and I planned to have the second of two morose meetings with our daughter today, to tell her the news I’d been dreading for more than a month. In our first meeting, we let her know that with me not working, we just didn’t have the funds for camp this year, and that even though we would continue to look for a way, she needed to be prepared for bad news. She took this in stride, and shed not a tear. She was kind enough to not remind me of my promise.

I had vowed, no matter what, she was going to camp. I promised her, somehow I’d make it happen.

Just one more in a long line of broken promises I made to people, to myself, that had no basis in reality. I have lived most of 50 years making promises I had no means of keeping, and yet that never stopped me from making them, breaking them, and then making more.

Because every once in awhile, magic happened. Or call it providence, good fortune, God’s intervention, the luck of the Irish, or just a coincidence. Some members of my family gambled and played the lottery, and only talked about the jackpots they won; it’s been the same way with my pie in the sky promises. I can tell you plenty about the ones I kept, somehow, someway.

As it turns out, this was one of those promises.

Today I learned the camp agreed to provide our daughter with a generous scholarship, and today the rabbi at our temple wrote a check, and then a dear friend — who tells me how much the memories of going to camp in Quantico more than 50 years ago still makes her smile — pitched in tonight with the remainder. All told, we are the beneficiaries of a fortune!

My glass-half-empty wife lamented that to her, all this effort at raising money for three weeks of summer camp was at odds with her own desire to save enough to pay September’s bills. I know; I’d do well to start thinking as she does. I admitted as much, and told my soon to be ex I’ve learned that I need to become more risk-averse.

But when it comes to real wisdom, the rabbi said it best: “I’m doing this because she needs an escape.” To my troubled mind, the unspoken end of that sentence was “from the two of you and your issues and your arguing and the mess you’ve made of a young girl’s summer vacation.” He didn’t say that, he probably didn’t even think it, but that is how I feel. The rabbi continued: “At camp, she’ll have time to be a child, to be a young woman, and to learn who she is becoming in a safe, comforting and supportive environment. She needs this experience and I am glad to offer to do this.” And he’s right; he is that kind of a man (and father) that I didn’t even have to ask. He is a blessing, even to this Roman Catholic transgender woman, and he closed our meeting with a prayer, for me, that brought tears to my eyes.

This evening, as we sat outside the family therapist’s office, I had the pleasure to tell all the funding had been arranged: “Mom and I talked about it, and after hearing from camp, from Rabbi Pincus and from a very good and generous friend of Daddy’s… you’re going,. I promised you you’d go, and you’re going!” Tears streamed down my cheeks and I could see them welling in her eyes, but her smile was so bright it dried them before they could even flow.

I took a photograph, to show our friend what her loan meant to my daughter, and she texted back that she was crying, too.

And when the therapist opened her door and asked which of our three children would like to see her first today, my girl — who has dreaded every session so far and made it clear how much — jumped up like a rocket at Cape Canaveral and said, “I will! I want to go first!”

She bounced into the office and my wife and I smiled at each other for the first time in a long time.

Just now, after I told her my daughter I loved her and wished her good night, I recalled a poem. A father named Kyle J. Underwood penned this ode to his daughter Alexandra a decade ago, when my little girl was just shy of her second birthday, her very first in our New England home:

Ode to My Daughter

She’s a soft cool rain on a hot summer’s day.
She makes me laugh with the funny things she has to say.

She’s the beat of my heart, and the air that I breathe.
She’s the sun and the wind, and autumn’s golden leaves.

She’s the pride that I feel when I know she’s done what’s right.
She’s that warm feeling I get, when I remember tucking her in at night.

She is homework and sports, and a busy social life.
She has this beautiful smile that could light the darkest night.

She is the scared feeling I have when she stays out late.
Or the feeling that I am losing her, when she wants to date.

She’s the mixed emotions I have, as I watch her mature and grow.
I tell myself she will never leave, but, I know in my heart that someday she will go.

I hope the man that steals her heart, will treat her like a queen.
Because she deserves so much more, than a man that treats her mean.

I will always cherish the wonderful times we have had.
The best part of my life was being her dad.

So now you know who she is, she’s my little girl.
I love her with all my heart and I always will.

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.

 

My Truth, Our Consequences

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WordPress sent me a message wishing me a happy anniversary. For five years (not counting my long absences) I have been blogging about my gender identity, my marriage and my journey of self discovery.

As we used to say in the 90s: Yadda, yadda, yadda.

The word that I think bothers me most about transition is “authenticity.” A better word , in my experience, would be “honesty,” or. ” truth.”

I have long complained here and elsewhere that I felt the price of authenticity, of living honestly and true to one’s gender, was just too damn high; my marriage cratered and I lost the love, trust and respect of the woman I loved most in life, not just because I’m transgender, but because of the choices I made in eventually acknowledging who I am.

Although being trans is not a choice, I realized too late I should have chosen to not lie to my wife. I should have chosen to not keep secrets and to tell her what I was feeling.

Except: I knew telling her would be the end. And so I refused to admit the truth even to myself.

Except: I kept secrets to avoid arguments that I felt would only split us apart.

Except: I heard her say, over and over, that if my hormone imbalance leads me down the path I eventually followed,, that we were finished. And I desperately did not want that to happen.

That’s why I lied to myself before I ever lied to her.

The Lessons

This price I paid for authenticity turns out to be a package deal. I learned things I never knew about my wife and my family just by becoming who I am.

I learned that her love and that of my mother and my sister and many more relatives is not unconditional.

I discovered that people who said they supported you can be good at keeping their hatred and disdain hidden so that you’re never aware until they betray you.

And I learned firsthand how transgender people are considered by some ignorant people to be dishonest and “uncomfortable” to be around. But by the time you find out that’s how some people you know really feel, there’s really not much you can do except not be around them. Oh, and if you don’t make that happen, they will.

Still, I’m not sad that I have achieved my goal in transitioning from male to female and living as my true, honest and yes, “authentic” self.

Yes, it took me a year of figuring it all out, and I understand to some folks it looked like I went back and forth. Not true… but if you’ll agree with me that if being confused about one’s true gender is hard for most people to grasp… Then please allow me to say you’re not going to understand why I had trouble getting this issue resolved cleanly, with tabloids and public attention focused on my every online posting.

Folks, I had reporters hiding in shrubs on my property ambushing my family. I got calls within minutes of updating my Facebook status to ask for interviews. I mean, who the hell am I to command this much media attention? I’m nobody.

As it turns out, I’m the first transgender woman in a key editorial position at a major US TV network to have come out… And because the network where I worked was owned by the biggest family entertainment company on the planet, that apparently made me “newsworthy .”

Not exactly something employers are looking for, incidentally.

Starting at Zero

The toughest part of where I am right now… is accepting this is where I am right now. Someone who grew up spoiled rotten and raised to think you can have anything you want is likely to be a little shocked to find it’s not true… and the clock is still running.

At a time in life when others are counting their earnings and their days until retirement (and making sure the college funds are growing), I have one dollar in my purse and an overdrawn bank account. That’s not a plea for charity or help; it’s just me being honest. I’m broke. I got here all on my own, putting aside responsibility for pleasing myself or others, and putting off till tomorrow what needed to be done yesterday. I have at age 50 learned a lesson most people learn when they are five: there are always consequences.

I’m still knocking on doors in the online world of job-hunting. Still getting nowhere but trying to not feel defeated.

I have learned in my therapy sessions that transgender people, more often than the general public, experience these childhood traumas in adulthood because of the suppression of their true identities as children. Some of us work so hard to be someone we are not and to be loved and accepted by our parents, that it is not until these issues complicate our adult lives that we finally face our true selves.

That is where I am. This is where I start. From Zero.

A very good friend of mine, someone whose path is not far from mine and a woman I truly look up to, told me I am not a zero. I just need to learn to hold on.

Stacey, I’m trying. Twice I nearly let go, of everything. I could have wound up another statistic, but for my friends and the love of my children.

The lesson I learned from all this is one that applies to everyone, not just transfolk: remember that there are always consequences.

You would have thought I might have first got the message watching a game show when I was a child, called “Truth or Consequences.”

My mistake was believing the goal was to find a way to win the game, whatever the cost. My truth, at long last, is that I have not really lost what is most important in life, and I have finally begun to pay the consequences.

On The Brink of Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look out, below!

 

What I Have Lost So I May Win

I need to find another way to describe the feeling I keep having. The word I use doesn’t accurately capture the feeling, nor does it help cisgendered (non-trans) people comprehend what I’m experiencing. I’ve come to call it “the tug” for how this feeling pulls me off course — or back on course, depending on your perspective, toward going full-time.

This is not a judgment of others; to me, it’s a path that will certainly end my marriage and cause me so much unhappiness. And I realize there could be happiness in my acceptance of my true self and in living that life, someday, after a time.

But I cannot get past the fact that “the tug” leads to unhappiness first, and foremost. That thought keeps “the tug” at bay.

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My friends offer great advice on how to follow the trails they have blazed, or to at least be open to this path; instead I spurn their advice and plunge into the abyss, on a hopeless quest that can only lead back to sorrow, separation and the realization of futility. I don’t pretend to be unique, or to think of myself as a superhero or act invincible. I cry, I bleed, I break. I do believe I am special, and that in my particular form of faith, God gave me a gift that I squandered once and was given a second chance to nurture: a woman’s love. How dare I reject that gift once more, and forever?

Or am I already breaking more than just that woman’s heart, by going against the insight of our family’s rabbi (I’ll explain how an Irish Catholic transwoman has a rabbi another time). “You,” he told me with all sincerity and lovingkindness, “are created in God’s image. No matter male or female. You are how God envisioned you. Remember this, and take it to heart.”

I am frequently stunned by the acceptance I have received in coming out to those family and friends who know, and my wonderful employers and colleagues. The hardest part is not in the telling of my odyssey as a girl model, as a boy with breasts and a Dorothy Hamill hairstyle, or as a female member of the gym right across the street from work. The tough nut to crack is when I get to their question, “So, what’s next for you?” And I tell them, my plan is to stay married, present as male, and transition out of sight. Not one person has encouraged me on this path; quite the opposite. They almost beg me to reconsider, as if I am climbing into a barrel at Niagara Falls and asking them for to give me one last shove toward the water.

Their instinct is the natural one: they want me to be happy. They ask me to at least not rule out, that someday, when the timing is right, that I’ll live my life as the gender of my heart. How can they see it sadly thumping so clearly beneath my compression shirt? I have learned to tune out the beat, the way I managed to concentrate on my homework on the subway ride home from my auditions, despite the screeching of the wheels and the rumble of the trains and the noise of the commuters. I found a way to flip the off switch to my ears.

So why don’t our hearts and our brains have something similar? I don’t think I’d ever use it, but surely I’d be tempted. To me, the pain of my heart and the struggle of my mind remind me: I AM ALIVE. This is no dream. I live in the moment and for the moment, I live. Such a gift, almost as precious as the love of a woman, given to me by God, to be cherished, nurtured and cultivated.

And every expression of me as the woman I felt I was crushed that gift like an army boot on wildflowers. They didn’t stand a chance.

One dear friend told me to consider that “if you and your wife love each other and you can find some happiness in life without transitioning, don’t do it. If that’s not possible, then you may join the ranks of us that have lost while we’ve won.” Her words haunted me for hours after she posted them on my social network’s wall, like a motivational poster in a corporate office.

Last November I decided what I needed so I could live. Today, halfway through January, I have come to the conclusion that if I ultimately give into this “tug,” what I will lose is the person I have consistently refused to surrender: my Wendy.

But in doing so, the real winner could be this woman, and me… if I set us free.

The Decision

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so did she.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She couldn’t have been more clear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or could I?

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

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

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

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

She stared at me, her eyes questioning.

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

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

And so I went. But not to work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo

Options

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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