“…Hear Me Roar.”

12821493_10208792403027558_5242682184660530926_nA conversation I recently had with a woman who is a prominent author and, to me, a mentor as well as friend, turned from politics to our families to what is widely referred to as “the transgender community.”

I revealed to her something I told her would cause the earth to stop spinning on its axis, something I’ve never said publicly or written about. It’s not a confession, and it’s not something I am ashamed to say. I am expecting, however, I will be excoriated for this. So why say it? Because it’s necessary, now more than ever.

Ultra conservative bigots and zealots have forced my hand. So, too, have the internet trolls who envy my meager accomplishments to the point where criticism crosses the line into jealous rage and unjustifiable attacks. Gays and lesbians who see our fight for transgender civil rights as expendable, as unworthy of their investment, as someone else’s fight, have led me to redefine something that took me years to say to myself, and then to the world.

And most of all, an Olympian who turned her transition into a television spectacle, then found her harshest critics to be people like her — once they learned she was nothing like them — inadvertently inspired me to shout this from the virtual mountaintop, following our headline-generating face to face meeting high above Xanadu, I mean, Malibu.

She told me what she was doing was what made her happy and what helped the transgender community. And she made it clear, she meant to say that it in that order.

So, here it is what I have to say:

I no longer consider myself transgender.

I am a woman.

I’m not a woman in the same way a woman who lived her whole life seen as female, who experienced all the physical ramifications of being raised and growing up and living and loving and everything else female. Instead, I’m a woman in the way that I am. And that’s good enough for me.

12193588_10207941190067766_7495211278931430460_nI live and have lived every day as the woman I am. I care for my children, I mourn my spouse, I do my job, I clean my house, I buy and wear my clothes and shop for things and pay my bills and walk and talk and eat and even use the bathroom as the woman I am.

I work out, shower and change in the ladies locker room. My legal documents and medical records all carry an F for female. Those records include a decade of mammograms and visits to a gynecologist. I’ve lactated and I’ve nursed. I’ve been intimate with a man.

I did not do any of those things as someone transgender; I’m a woman. Can’t you hear me roar?

My voice is actually one of my least favorite qualities, but what matters, truly, is not what’s physical but what’s mental. Our brain is where our gender is, not between our legs.

Of course, you have every right to call me trans, even to say, “she’s no woman!” I would prefer you respect my choice of feminine pronouns if you’re going to deliberately misidentify me, please. But even that is beyond my control. And as my friend Cristan Williams of Transadvocate.com reminded me, despite my preference, I can’t escape being part of the trans political class whether I like it or not.

The only control I have is over how I present to the world who I am. And I’ve come to the realization that calling myself “transgender” isn’t accurate in the same way I don’t refer to myself as “former college student” or “former child model.” Both are true, but seldom relevant to my everyday existence.

I do recognize that to many, maybe even you, I’m still transgender, and the word “formerly” just doesn’t fit. Well, I do recognize that thanks to Google and the tabloids, the word “transgender” will forever be linked to my name, as well as the name I was given at birth. Yes, I transitioned from presenting in the male gender to my authentic gender, female. That doesn’t mean I must carry some kind of Trans ID card. If I had such a thing, I’d turn it in.

11148749_10206741616079166_24414663650444194_nMy recent work for The Advocate, where I was the first transgender editor on staff, reinforced in my mind on a daily basis that I was trans. It wasn’t ordered, but I felt it was akin to a job requirement to represent the transgender voice in our work. Thankfully, I was hardly alone in providing that perspective. Yet it was impossible to separate myself as I have, ever since beginning life as a work-from-home mom whose kids call her “Dad.”

Now, I’m living a totally different reality. I am Mrs. Ennis, the woman of the house, a widow raising three children all alone. I earn next to nothing, but thanks to generous friends and neighbors, state assistance as well as a few odd jobs and part-time work from The Advocate, we aren’t starving. And I’ve made finding a new full-time job my new full-time job.

But every time I fill out a new job application, trust me when I say there’s no space to enter “transgender,” and I would not if there were. Because that’s not how I feel about me. And perhaps if more of us were to say to those who oppose our civil rights, “You can’t oppress me, I’m a woman!” Or conversely, “I’m a man!” it would then change the dialogue from “religious freedom” to discriminate to a matter of self-determination.

This is an argument rooted in our American history: our right to liberty, equality, and to self-determination.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

And all women, as guaranteed by the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Just as women like Susan B. Anthony and so many others fought for suffrage, I demand my equal rights. Not special rights, nor tolerance, is what I’m after. I expect nothing short of acceptance, and equality, in hiring, housing, and all matters of business and public accommodations. I don’t want separate bathrooms any more than Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King or Malcolm X favored rest rooms, drinking fountains and lunch counters for “colored people.” Don’t mistake my analogy as equating the civil rights battles for people of color with the oppressed members of the LGBT community; they are separate and while analogous, very different struggles that need to be respected on their own merits.

What I wish would happen, though, is that more Americans would see that discriminating against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender men and women and gender non-conforming individuals is just as wrong as that terrible time in which skin color determined destiny. Sad to say, we haven’t even truly escaped that time. Sadder still, women earn only a percentage of what a man makes in 2016 America. And statistics on domestic violence show one in three women are victims of some sort of physical violence: an American woman is assaulted or beaten every nine seconds.

With those kinds of stats, why would anyone want to be a woman? Well, I didn’t decide to become one; I decided to stop pretending I wasn’t one. And you’ll have to take my word that finally living as the woman I am is a superior existence to a lifetime pretending to be a man.

Today I stand proudly as a woman, even if I am one who was assigned male at birth, and I don’t ask that you recognize me as one.

Because I am, and that is enough.

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. 

Farewell, My Beloved

image1.JPGToday we said farewell to the woman I married 19 years and three months ago, the mother of my children and my first love, Wendy Robin Lachs Ennis​. Many times here on facebook I have referred to Wendy as my ex, but in truth, we only separated, and because of a variety of reasons our divorce was postponed again and again and ultimately never legally finalized. And it’s fair to say that for most of that time, Wendy didn’t waffle nearly as much as I had in wanting to move on.
Her battle to beat a rare form of cancer ended Wednesday, just shy of 30 weeks. She survived extensive surgery by one of the top cancer doctors in the United States, seven excruciating rounds of chemo, disabling vertigo, nearly constant nausea and had lost a tremendous amount of weight and energy. Last Sunday at a doctor’s urging, her mother rushed her to the emergency room at Hartford Hospital. She wanted to avoid that, despite having always been well treated at hospitals but she was always resistant to going and preferred a bowl of chicken soup and her own bed to being hooked up to an IV and having beeping monitors by her bedside.
On Wednesday morning, I woke up in Los Angeles to a text response to a question I had asked her, about when she might be well enough to be discharged. She told me she was hoping today was the day.
But by noon she had taken a very sudden and terrible turn for the worse. A doctor from the ICU called me and said I need to come right away.
I was 3,000 miles away. Being still married meant all decisions regarding her care now fell to me, as she had fallen into unconsciousness and was not responding to anyone. That means I had to answer “the big question:” should the doctors and nurses try to keep her alive, or let her slip away? Factors ran through my head: is she suffering, what can be done to diminish her pain, what are they doing to treat her symptoms and will keeping her alive until the children can see her, and perhaps me, too — will that hurt her?
I also spoke to her mother, who has been living with Wendy and the kids about ten days, and we agreed on a course of action. The kids had been left in the dark as to the seriousness of Wendy’s diagnosis. They didn’t know that she had learned just before Christmas that some of the cancer the surgeon had said he removed had spread, first to two lymph nodes and then to her liver.
New scans showed it was now running rampant in her stomach lining and that the end was certainly near. She had skipped her last chemo session last week, on account of being too weak to handle the horrendous ordeal that is chemotherapy. And these killer cells took full advantage of that window of opportunity, and deprive her of the rest of her life. Once diagnosed with duodenal cancer, she never ever wavered in her fight to beat the disease, to see her children marry and hold her grandchildren, perhaps to even dance at their weddings someday.
The children were stunned to find their mother in her final hours, and we spoke by phone several times. They decided they would not leave her side, as the rabbi, cousins, friends all rushed to the hospital and I raced to the airport. Arcane rules about needing to purchase a ticket 45 minutes before departure prevented me from boarding the last afternoon flight, but that turned out to be for the best.
In addition to getting a $100 airline credit from American Airlines because of how a rude woman at LAX turned me away when I pleaded for help, I was able to make and take those calls that kept me in constant contact with the children.
Sean at one point offered to hold the phone up to his mom’s ear, so that if she could hear the sound of my voice from within her unconscious mind, I would have the opportunity to say goodbye. Such a blessing he is, our first-born.
My burden for the remainder of my days will be the shame I feel for not being by their side as they watched their mother die. I know it’s irrational but it’s real. And I am more proud of my children for how they navigated this crisis than for any of the other dozen obstacles thrown in their path over the last three years: transition, separation, distance, cancer… and now the death of their mom. I am very close to my kids but they connected with their mom on a level that only a mother can, and I have always envied her for that. But the fact is, I have loved being their dad. As I have said over and over again: the kids have a mother, and I’ve never intended or desired to replace Wendy as the kids’ mom. I can, however, see that as a single dad who’s trans there are aspects of motherhood I am eager to embrace, a delicate dance that I’m beginning cautiously as we try to recover from what the rabbi correctly described as the earthquake that is Wendy’s death.
At this hour, I am supposed to be in Chicago participating in a panel discussion about LGBT journalism at Creating Change 2016. To say I had been looking forward to it would be a gross understatement. But instead of speaking there, I stood on the bimah, the Hebrew word for altar, and delivered what follows, the eulogy to my spouse, before hundreds of our friends, relatives, coworkers and neighbors. My children each delivered one as well, and I could not be more proud of them.
When Wendy’s father, Joel, passed away 9 years ago, I sat in awe of her mother as she delivered his eulogy. Later, I told Wendy I was amazed at her mother’s strength in summoning the courage to stand before everyone and share her grief for the man she loved.
“I’ll never be that strong,” I told her.
I’m not.  But like her mother, Wendy was the kind of woman who made you feel you could do anything, even the impossible.
10398880_1127844273901_809057_nMost of you know that Wendy and I had a storybook romance that started in college, with a less than perfect ending. I’m here to tell you that although neither of us were perfect, she was a lot closer to perfect than I can ever hope to be.
She was the love of my life.
Wendy gave up a lot in the name of love, and I do feel tremendous guilt and sorrow that I was not worthy, that I could not be the person she deserved, the person who made all her dreams come true.
Was it enough that she made mine come true? She brought these beautiful children of ours into the world, her greatest gift to me, to whom I will dedicate myself the rest of my life.
She made my dreams come true by encouraging me to live my truth, knowing that anything less would bring us both misery.
Wendy made our family’s dreams come true by being flexible, thrifty, creative and steadfast in the face of poverty, desperation and despair.
This woman who we mourn put her needs and wants after everyone else’s, and now I pray to G-d that He or She rewards her eternally.
I’ve told my children their mother always found the silver lining in everything — and here it is. Wendy is right here with us, right now, in our hearts and minds, never to be parted.
She is my beloved, and once upon a time, I was hers. I wish only that I will someday be as good a parent, a person, a woman as wonderful as Wendy. Not likely, but I will try to be more like her, and I encourage everyone who mourns with us to find it in yourself to be more like Wendy: forgiving, loving, selfless and strong against impossible odds.
Farewell, my beloved. I love you always and everywhere. I conclude with the three  songs that meant the most to us:  “Have I told you lately that I love you,” my “brown eyed girl?” You were “the wind beneath our wings.” To her family, I say: thank you for sharing her with me, and honoring her memory today, and always.
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. 

I’ll Be Back

12193588_10207941190067766_7495211278931430460_n

I’ve been a California girl for 168 days — that’s almost six months — longer than I’ve ever lived here before (the summers of 1991 and ’92, respectively).

12191654_10207911761092060_7522814988500179113_nBut right now, I’m needed someplace else: the place I’ve called home since 2004.

My children need me. Their mom needs me. And I need to be with them.

And it looks like I need to rake a lot of leaves.

Once more, I’ll be flying back to the east coast this weekend. Starting Monday, I’ll once again work remotely for The Advocate for a few weeks, so I can support the kids and their mom as she resumes chemotherapy. I’m so grateful to my bosses and colleagues who have made it possible for me to be with my family so often during this crucial time, and keep my job.

I love being the News Editor. I consider myself lucky to not only be working again as a journalist — a storyteller — but to be working at all, let alone in my chosen field. And I’m committed to doing the best job I can, despite the circumstances. It’s a temporary solution, and not ideal by any means.

And I must admit I’ve grown weary of the extra back and forth travel from coast to coast. It was always my plan to fly back to see the kids, or fly them here, at least once a month, but it’s been necessary for me to travel more often, spend more time away from the office, to be where I’m needed most: with my family. I could never be one of those divorcées who tells the ex: “So sorry, that sucks for you, but you didn’t want to stay married to me, so this is what you get.” How could I do that to the mother of my children?

IMG_2002That’s not who I am. I’m a woman, yes, but more importantly I am a caring human being, one who does not turn her back on someone in need. I choose to honor my vow to support my wife in sickness and in health, even though I’m technically no longer her husband. She calls me her spouse, her soon to be ex-spouse.

And she rightly calls me the kids’ dad, although she has a tendency to prefer the word “parent,” for those who can’t get their head around me being a dad and a woman. No, I’m not their “other” mom. I get it, this is not for everybody; it works for us.

IMG_3385I realized tonight that what’s even worse than the confusion about what people call me, worse even than the frequent cross country flights, is how I’ve been stuck in a cycle for the last two and a half years (no, not THAT cycle. Okay, yes, I do, in fact, hormonally cycle, but not in the traditional way other women do… and that’s another story for another time).

The cycle I’m talking about started in May 2013, when I was given no choice but to leave my home, my children, to live authentically, Since then, I have moved every six months.

I moved from our hometown in Connecticut to another city an hour away, and then to another, then to the Bronx, to Marietta, Georgia, then back home with my family and now I am in Los Angeles.

IMG_3455Each move lasted only six months, like clockwork. Given how I’ve been able to provide my family with one stable home for almost 12 years, which is a rarity in the television news business, I regret that I have yet to settle down, and make a home for myself.

L.A. is by no means ideal. Gas is crazy expensive as is the cost of living. It’s 3,000 miles from my loved ones. But it’s where my all-important paycheck comes from… even if it’s only 25% of what I earned.

Before my downfall.

Slowly, I am rebuilding my life, making small inroads toward success and feeling better about myself than I ever have before.

12193849_10207951077034934_8302306643159774935_nThis is a life I enjoy, as I treat each day as a gift, and I look forward to one day after another, adding fewer and fewer milestones as we complete another trip around the sun. The “transition” part of my life has mostly ended and now I’m simply, “living my life.”

And almost every day here is beautiful and sunny. I do enjoy living in L.A…. dude.

I love my friends, most of all, my California bestie, Gillian. We’re quite a pair! She’s like a sister to me, only better.

Well, no matter what happens next, no matter what pitfalls await me in the journey of my life, I can at least say: I am happy. And I’m thrilled to know that in a few days I will be back in the loving arms of my children, and have them to hug and kiss and together we will prepare for a truly special Thanksgiving feast.

This year, we have much to be grateful for, not the least of which is the health of their mother as she fights cancer, and the help provided by all our friends, neighbors and relatives, our online acquaintances and the members of our congregation. These kind generous folks have done so much to help us through these trying times.

I’ve already survived car crashes, health issues, gender transition, termination and L.A. traffic. But I’m not done, city of angels! I’ll be back!

Whatever comes next, I’m ready.

Bring it!

A trust has been established by Wendy’s brother, Robert Lachs, to assist with furthering the education of the Ennis children. Anyone wishing to donate to the fund may send a check, payable to “Ennis Family Scholarship Fund Trust” to Robert Lachs, 1729 E Prairie Ave., Wheaton, IL 60137, or click here to donate via GoFundMe. 

Shame On Me

Fool me once, shame on you. 

Fool me again, shame on me.

That little ditty has been running through my head as I have learned — the hard way — the price of being authentic. Of expressing my opinion. Of trusting the universe will allow me to be without slapping me back down. Shame on me for thinking I can have all those things.

Just two people reached out to me this week, among the hundreds who read and responded to a recent opinion piece I wrote for The Advocate Magazine, offering to help me better understand a situation with which I am somewhat familiar, but not intimately nor with any personal experience; that of the detention of undocumented immigrants who are transgender.

That actually was not the subject I set out to write about, but for the central figure in the story and her supporters, it’s all that matters. What Jennicet Gutiérrez and her story represent is something that I have spent some time considering these last couple days. 4c72cc56a00532cd25647e0044b663569b27a672343c9dfd942c43ce6252b56c_thumb_medium

I did so, not because hundreds of mean people in their pajamas trash-talked me on Twitter, or because fringe “journalists” denounced my point of view as “privileged” and “classist.”

I did it because I enjoy learning things, especially when it’s something I don’t know well enough.

I took time to better acquaint myself with the views of people I respect, who were kind enough to constructively criticize my opinion without doing to me what I accused Gutiérrez of doing to the president.

What I wrote about was respect. I went so far as to call Gutiérrez rude. My point was to discuss civility, not activism or rape or race or the immigration status of any individual.

But no matter how many times I echoed the comments of others in praising Gutiérrez for achieving a policy change and for standing-up, no matter how I denounced those who booed her, all my detractors saw was me “shaming” or “shitting on” a trans Latina woman, and judging me “on the color of my skin,” and not “on the content of my character,” to quote Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.

One “friend” saw an opportunity to drag my name through the media mud once more: she misquoted me, mocked and dishonored the memory of my grandmother and aunt in suggesting they and all Irish immigrants were liars, and took me to the woodshed in a rival publication which someone I respect and admire once described as “one step below writing for al Qaeda.”

Well, friends and followers, I’m not going to flip-flop, or print a retraction, or apologize — my response tweet Wednesday basically said it wasn’t my intention to offend anyone, and I’m sorry that anyone took offense about anything I wrote — but, well, that’s the nature of opinion writing. Or as my grandfather said, “that’s why we have horse racing.” Because we all have opinions that lead us to think we’re right and the other guy is wrong.

But to those who blasted me for putting my preference for showing manners ahead of her cause, for spotlighting what Gutiérrez did in the context of civility, and for deploring the disrespect she showed the president — for putting those things ahead of the need for action and for change, I’ve got a message for you:

You’re right.

I’ve pondered, read, watched, listened and listened some more to trans, gay, bi, lesbian (LGBT), people of color (POC), white allies, and cis queer women, who instead of spitting at me online shared with me some of the experiences they and people they know have endured. I learned how bisexuals were once again the victims of erasure and shook my head in disgust at those who blasted Gutiérrez for being undocumented, as if that invalidated her opinion.

I even considered the position of someone who is a vicious bigot herself, giving grief to people who don’t match her standards, who demanded I unfriend her on Facebook because of my opinion piece (by the way, who does that? Why not just unfriend me? Oh, right; if you do that, then you lose influence over the people I connect you to in my vast media universe. Ah.).

Well, I must admit, she’s right when she says Jennicet Gutiérrez is brave. I’m sure Gutiérrez is also compassionate and I’ll agree she is beautiful. There is no doubt in my mind she is selfless and I trust those who know her who have told me she is a good person.

The only area where this woman on Facebook and I disagree (not counting this woman’s derogatory opinion of late transitioners) is that she said Gutiérrez “asked the president.”

C’mon now, let’s not pretend: she didn’t ask, Gutiérrez demanded.

She did what Sylvia Rivera and countless activists and civil rights leaders and everyday people have done when given an opportunity: she stepped up and challenged authority. She stood up for those who have no voice. She spoke truth to power. She grabbed the spotlight away from the president to shove it — not on herself — but toward those who only want two things: to become American citizens and live authentically without fear or retribution or danger.

And I’m certain what Gutiérrez did provoked change that would not have happened otherwise. For that she deserves our praise and all the credit, and those who booed her should be ashamed of themselves, because in booing Jennicet they booed all trans people. I said as much in my Op Ed. I never called for Gutiérrez to be silent, nor silenced, but in focusing on the disrespect I believe now I did Gutiérrez an injustice, by not recognizing that for someone like her, there appeared to be no other opportunity. If you favor sports analogies, this was her shot, her one and only shot, and she took it. Or maybe that’s a sniper’s analogy, but either way, she took it.

And I will concede her doing so frankly makes me uncomfortable, because of my own history. That’s why what I wrote is my opinion, because it’s based on who I am. 

I was raised to mind my manners and to respect authority, to work within the system, to network among those with similar backgrounds and to use the proper channels for communication and in addressing authority figures and institutions. To my parents, protesters were “hippies,” radicals, undesirable.

Challenging authority in my house was met with a beltstrap, a spanking, a slap across the face. I was taught to turn the other cheek, and that to cry or to complain was to be weak.

I was raised to be obsequious, with white privilege and upper middle class privilege and male privilege.  I have been reminded of all this recently, very much so, to the point at which I am humbled to now say: I believe rude was right, in this circumstance.

Despite my habit of being snarky and having a smart mouth, I failed to rebel as a youth, and bring that perspective to my adult life. As a parent myself, I have distilled the strict disciplines of my birth family to become more forgiving in the family I raise, to be more loving, more considerate, more patient and more accepting of ways that are different. I have been an active participant in my unions and have used my skills as a journalist to bring truth to light and expose the excesses of power and corruption. I’ve been arrested, seen the inside of a jail cell, had my days in court, and I’ve endured misgendering.

And I’ve educated myself further over the past 48 hours, reading up, opening my eyes to better understand and appreciate and truly listen to those who are willing to take time to share experiences, without casting aspersions. So I can now say: my opinion on Jennicet Gutiérrez evolved.

I consider opinion and thought to be different things. To me, thought is a process, an evolution of ideas; opinion is the result of that process, but it is not an end product unto itself, because thought continues. And so opinion can evolve as well, given more information and perspective.

Thanks go out to my friends who are like-minded on the topic of civility, as well as to those whose opinions contrast with mine — who gave me the impetus to grow rather than denouncing me as a heretic, for having a contrary view.

I will not back down from my position — that it’s usually best to show respect and manners — and I don’t write this to win converts. I am still a believer in doing whatever your conscience tells you is the right thing, and I am one who tries to walk that line on the side of civility.

But I will concede I could have done a better job expressing there are always exceptions and extenuating circumstances.

I am a reasonable enough person to admit, as much as I wish she didn’t have to, Gutiérrez did the right thing in seizing what she saw as her only opportunity, no matter the cost to herself or to respectability. Making change is a dirty business, and it takes someone willing to get her hands dirty or her name sullied to make a difference. I am proud of Gutiérrez, and can say without exception that I support her actions that day.

With respect to those who won’t see my statement as anything other than eating crow, well, that’s your opinion. The difference between us is, I will respect yours.

I send you wishes of peace and solidarity for LGBT people everywhere — and for all kinds of people, everywhere — from the City of Brotherly and Sisterly Love.

XOXO

Thank you, but please don’t wish me a Happy Mother’s Day.

27e5529bbd7e7b6cecbbcf32140a83b4 While there are among my friends many who identify as moms who were assigned male at birth, I’m just not one of them.

Today, I shared some of these thoughts with a friend who’s in the same position. As I have told anyone who wishes me “Happy Mother’s Day”, or refers to me as “your mom” to my children: it’s not that we wouldn’t love being moms.

For whatever reason, God didn’t make it so I could conceive, carry and deliver a child… which is something I have wished for all my life, even before I acknowledged my true gender identity. When I was almost four and my sister joined the family, I decided I wanted five children, and it crushed me to find out I couldn’t bear a single one.

Almost as much as the fact she wasn’t able to play ball. “What good is she?” I asked my parents. A few decades later she delivered two beautiful girls into the world, now young women I love almost as much as my own children. I miss them so, and pray we reconnect long before they themselves become moms.

IMG_6653And I pray to God to reconnect me with my own mom, who has passed along the message: “I gave birth to a son, not a daughter.” 

But I digress…

I think of motherhood as a miracle, as proof of a woman’s strength. For every woman who becomes a mom, whether she does so biologically or through the selfless act of adoption, that woman is connected with their baby in a way only a mother can. That’s the main reason I surrender any claim to being my kids’ mom. They have a wonderful mom already, and in our case, just the one.

I have witnessed firsthand how this amazing woman delivered three of our four children into the world. I weep for the one who did not thrive and was lost, but rejoice for those whose very existence is a gift from God, and I am blessed to have had a key role.

Lots of dads have become moms, and I’m not referring to transgender people here; whether it be the result of death or divorce, some of the best dads I know have taken on the mantle of motherhood as best as they could, out of love for their children. And you know what? They are among the best moms I know, too!  And to my trans friends who identify as moms, I understand and embrace you as you see yourselves. I love you for taking on the mantle of being your children’s moms, and I know they are doubly lucky to have you!

IMG_7467As for me, I think of it this way: God, in helping me find the confidence to be who I truly am, gave me the most wonderful gift: fatherhood is not bestowed universally to all men. I am indeed blessed, in more ways than I can count, as I bear no greater title than that of “Dad.” 

I will never be rid of it, not even after I die. I have often repeated the words of my youngest son to his questioning friends who tried to convince him that he now has two moms.

“Nope. She’s my dad.” 

So, to all those who identify as moms, Happy Mother’s Day, and I look forward to accepting your good wishes come Father’s Day in June!

The Word Is Transgender… Not Trans-Jenner

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

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

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

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

But am I?

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

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

So back to my question: am I a woman?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will not say, “hear me roar.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because we’re trans.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11046378_10206428533692302_2786928928095290804_oLove,

Dawn

XOXO

Mind = Blown

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

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

I leave Philadelphia energized to make a difference.

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

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

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

“All Things Considered, I’d Rather Be In Philadelphia”

hqdefaultGood morning from Philadelphia, the birthplace of both democracy and W.C. Fields, who famously joked about Philly.

You know, W.C. Fields? The movie actor. Yes, from a long time ago. Hence the black and white picture.

8b41e8920339ae641aa2cc42f951ad33Here’s a color one. This guy ———————————————————–>

Go ahead, google him; I’ll wait. Notice the look on his face? That’s the same look I make when I make a pop culture reference and I realize my idea of pop culture is not the same as someone born in 1988 or later. And there’s a lot of you people.

Okay, are you with me now? Because it’s really late and I’m beat, so I will make this entry brief and to the point.

Stop that. Stop laughing while I’m trying to blog, it’s rude.

Harrumph.

I am blogging from the City of Brotherly (and Sisterly) Love because I am attending the 2015 LGBT Media Convening (hashtag #LGBTMedia15) sponsored by the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr., Fund and organized by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA). This is the sixth diversity conference, and my first of any kind. What’s interesting to note is that this event is not open to all media; it’s invitation only, and I am both humbled and honored to be here as one of the many representatives of the LGBT blogging community.

IMG_6350Andrea Dulanto of South Florida Gay News reported: “This year’s host committee includes Sarah Blazucki of NLGJA, Trish Bendix of AfterEllen, Mark King of My Fabulous Disease, Erin Rook of Source Weekly, Faith Cheltenham of BiNet, and Bil Browning of The Bilerico Project.

In an email with SFGN, Browning reflected on the significance and goals of the Convening: ‘For journalists focused on the LGBT beat, an invitation has become quite the status symbol for being recognized as a valuable community reporter. We specifically aim to bring in not only the LGBT state/local newspapers and large audience bloggers, but we also search for up-and-coming voices and try to lift up the voices of people of color, trans folk, and women.’

Browning elaborated on the importance of diversity: ‘Many of the larger outlets are still run by cisgender white men so we try to also reflect the diversity that is our community — especially in online journalism. Often these journalists are the only ones reporting in any depth on issues like race, class, and gender. The intersectionality of our community and how we can translate LGBT-specific needs into broader issues is the focus of this year’s Convening.’

In 2015, presenters and attendees will explore issues related to the topic ‘So Now What?’

“As Browning noted, these are ‘issues that have been relegated to the back burner during the marriage battles’ and the Convening will offer ‘sessions on religious liberty bills, intersectionality, self-determination, the role of government in promoting diversity, bisexuality, race and gender-specific topics, as well as how to better report on HIV/AIDS stories.'”

IMG_6346A truly amazing perk of this three-day event is that it is all-expenses paid. My crib (see what I did there?) is the swanky Radisson Blu Warwick Hotel, and everything has been first class.

I flew in this morning from Hartford, took a shuttle van where I met-up with some fellow attendees including Colin Murphy of Boom Magazine in St. Louis, Steve Rothaus of the Miami Herald, and my longtime facebook friend and fellow writer, Trans Military activist Brynn Tannehill, whom I finally had the pleasure of meeting in person today.

It was a long trip given the many stops our van had to make — in fact it took twice as long to get from the airport to the hotel as it did to fly here from Connecticut! But that afforded us time to have a fascinating conversation about issues of the day, from bathroom bills to marriage equality and religious backlash. One woman who was riding along with us but not attending the conference told me she was very interested in our conversation and I think that is an important takeaway from this event: that we remember to reach out to those who are not knee-deep in LGBT topics. They can and should be included so we can better arm our allies, to help them help us.

IMG_6345Upon check-in, each of us received a very nice goodie bag from the City of Philadelphia. The contents included a tee shirt, notepads, a pen, some press releases, a “Gay Philadelphia” button which I attached to my purse and a Century21 store giftcard about which I am very excited!

This evening we gathered in the hotel lobby and I met sooo many folks! Too many to name but I’m looking forward to trying to get to know each one. Then we as a group walked the four blocks to the beautiful Comcast Center, where we were wined and dined and then met Nellie Helen Fitzpatrick, IMG_6355 the city’s newly-minted Director of LGBT Affairs, who read a letter from Mayor Nutter. In June, this city’s Pride Parade will celebrate its 25th anniversary, and Philadelphia itself is marking 50 years of LGBT activism

I met many more of my colleagues, including The Advocate Magazine’s Mitch Kellaway, who covers the Trans* beat, and our boss, Here Media Editorial Director Lucas Grindley, who has grown advocate.com from an afterthought to an invaluable online resource with a powerful presence in the LGBT community and the world at large.

One interesting footnote about the location of our first event: the Comcast Center tower lobby has the most incredible HDTV screen I’ve ever seen. Pictures and video don’t do it justice, and I was enthralled.

IMG_6357Then came time to meet tonight’s keynote speaker. Given that this is a conference on LGBT diversity and civil rights and the media, I was not sure what to make of the fact that the keynote address was to be delivered by a southern preacher. After all, right now the very existence of the transgender community is under attack by religious conservatives who believe laws should be enacted to deny me and people like me our civil rights, to block us from protection from unlawful discrimination, and to prevent us from using the restroom.

But this man who spoke was not just a minister. Reverend Dr. William J. Barber II is the President of the North Carolina NAACP, one of the leaders of the Moral Mondays protests in N.C., and a man who recognizes, in his own words, that “the stones rejected will become the cornerstone,” equating a parable from the New Testament to the struggle for equality.

He regaled us with stories and educated us with history, how he and others are helping North Carolinians “vote for the future and not out of fear.” And Rev. Barber encouraged us to visit his home state and cover the issues that have sown division in our society. He frequently explained he does not refer to conservative politicians as “the right,” because he doesn’t want to convey the idea he thinks they are correct.

IMG_6367We spoke one on one following his speech and a brief Q&A, about the epidemic of violence against trans women, particularly women of color. And he told me how he as a minister counsels those with conservative views to put aside hate and judgment of those women who feel they have no other choice but to turn to sex work, a potentially profitable but entirely dangerous and violent existence, that society at large dismisses as not worthy of consideration. “These are still people,” he told me. “Every life is precious.”

I wish the “pro-life” folks would consider that view the next time someone trans is murdered because a “john” figured nobody would care about a prostitute. I’m not advocating that as a viable line of work; I’m standing up for those who believe there is no other way to survive.

IMG_6388And that is where this blog ends tonight. My colleagues Rebecca Juro, Gwen Smith and Monica Roberts and I had a wonderful evening walking and talking and trading war stories. Tomorrow starts very early.

Oh. Right. It already is tomorrow.

Good morning from Philadelphia!

P.S. Sorry. I forgot to be brief.

Why, Butterfly? Why?

Blue_Butterfly_by_Sorana_chan

I said to my old friend with the fancy new suit,

“Well, don’t you look sharp now! And so cute!

New wings festooned like blueberry fruit

Antennae accessorizing that ensemble, to boot.

So why the long face? What’s with the snoot?”

 

Goliath-Butterfly-butterflies-13005828-1024-768

 “Admit it now, say it’s true,

Now that you have the broader view:

Life is better, since you flew?

You smile more, and giggle, too. 

Those wings! So new! So blue! So you!”

images (1)

“If you’ll pardon me, please; I must pry, 

I cannot help but wonder why

You weep and you do not fly?

What is here that makes you cry?

Wouldn’t you be happier up in the sky?

images

“Your life’s not here down on the ground!

Your wings, worthless, dragging around

Behind you like an abandoned hound.

Why, Butterfly? Why not make that sound

Of fluttering, flapping — lose the frown!”

butterfly_full

But my friend ignored my pleas to smile and take flight

And trundled along, wings and all; what a sight!

I watched her wander, slowly, left and right;

As if her wings cloaked a darkness blocking all light

A broken heart perhaps? This kid was not alright.

blue_butterfly_by_rana_rocks-d4grdbo

I decided then to act, to stop this morose tour.

“Why, Butterfly? Why? Why don’t you soar?

Tell me what saddens you to your core?”

My friend spoke, not a whisper, but a roar:

“Because I am what I am, a caterpillar no more.”

blues-on-blue-ii-blue-butterfly-diamonds-flowers-glitter-persona-sparkles-stars-1024x1280

“My family won’t accept me, saying ‘Those wings must be fake!’

And, ‘You’re not one of us! You’re a freak! A fruitcake!'”

“No, Butterfly. No,” I consoled her. “They made a mistake.”

She sighed, wishing they could be happy for her own sake.

“If only they would accept me. Perhaps my life I should take…”

blue_butterfly_tattoo_by_3mMmMmA

“NO, Butterfly! No!” I pleaded. “That won’t make it better.

The only thing death does is make you deader.

Your problems aren’t fixed, they multiply together

And anyone who rejects you won’t become a regretter.

‘A permanent solution to a temporary problem,’ says this letter.”

blue-butterfly-yorkshire-rose-wallpapers

“What letter?” asked the Butterfly, sad as can be.

“The one a friend shared when I changed into ME.

And now it is yours.” “Who, me?” said she.

“Yes, Butterfly! Yes! I transitioned, too, you see.

I survived thanks to friends. They’re my chosen family.”

blue_butterfly_by_crazthonfry_wallpaper-1440x900

The Butterfly absorbed all this new info fast

Picked up her wings and in a blue blast

Flew over for a hug, not her first, not her last.

She mourned and accepted what’s past is past

And took flight to explore her new world, so vast.

Fly, Butterfly! Fly!

If you or someone you know is thinking about or threatening suicide, don’t hesitate to use one of these great resources!

Trans Lifeline

(877) 565-8860

National Suicide Prevention Hotline:

(800) 273-8255

“Back and Forth”

images (1)

STOP. Just for a moment, before scrolling ahead, think of the word or phrase that irritates you most. Got it? Okay, let me guess. Was yours…

“Taxes”?

“Breaking News”?

“Obama” (or “Bush” or “Clinton”)?

“Sweetheart” (or “Hon”)?

“Tranny?”

“Religious Freedom”

“Mommm!”

“Dental Floss?”

Perhaps none of those words offends you, or gets your Irish up, as my grandmother from County Leitrim used to say.

Before I tell you mine, I must admit: I’m tired of being audited, I detest the ubiquitous overuse of “breaking news,” I won’t discuss politics here (at this time), I am not a fan of the “T” word and I am careful to avoid using “sweetheart” or “hon” with anyone unless I know them well enough — or they do so first, I thought we enacted religious freedom in 1789 and as much as I know I should, I hate flossing. Lastly, my spouse has a love/hate relationship with the moniker “Mom;” she had threatened to change her name to “Fred,” until a) her mother married a man named “Fred” and b) I changed my name to “Dawn” and she didn’t want people to think she, also, had gender dysphoria.

Which brings me to my most hated, despised and just all around annoying string of words:

” 

If you don’t know me or my story, I encourage you to read earlier entries of this, my blog, so as not to put the rest of our friends to sleep from having to hear it yet again.

But there has never been ONE TIME that someone hasn’t used the phrase “back and forth” to describe my transition when it is being discussed. For a time, I thought I should print up tee shirts with the words “Dawn is Back” on the front, “And Forth” on the back, just to make some money off the damn spectacle of it all.

Some have suggested that instead of “Life After Dawn” I should call my story “Back and Forth,” since it seems so top of mind. “And why isn’t it ‘Life After Don,’ anyway?’ they ask.

“Oh, shuddup!” I sometimes say… in my head.

Sigh. “Back and forth” bugs the hell out of me (I think I’ve made that point sufficiently clear, no?) because it focuses attention on my so-called “failure,” my confusion and perplexing inability to maintain my gender transition in one direction.

“Newsman Changed Gender Three Times” screamed the headlines, back in the day.

No.

No, I did not.

Before you say, “Now, wait a minute! Yes, you did…I remember! You even blogged about it. And besides, it’s on Google!” please allow me to explain.

I know just as well as you do what was reported, and yes, some of it was based on an ill-advised email I sent to “trusted” colleagues.

Fuggedaboudit. That’s old news.

Here is the message that matters, and why I’m writing this:

I was assigned male at birth in 1964… circumcised (twice)… given a male name… raised as a boy and loved by my parents and sister, who — for the first two years of her life, could not say my name and so she called me what she knew I was:

“Boy.” 384812_2645244207582_866694186_n

Yes, my one and only sister referred to me as “Boy,” as in “Boy’s home!” and “Boy, give me back my dolly!”

To me at age five and six, being called “Boy” was just about as awkward (but cute) as my kids calling me, their transgender parent, “Dad” as I exit the ladies room (not cute, potentially dangerous and if some people get their way, likely to get me incarcerated).

We’ll need to chat about that, I think, although I am on record as supporting their decision to continue to call me “Dad.”

But “Boy?” I spent a lot of time trying to get this little cherub to call me my proper name. And here we are, 45 years later, and guess what? I still can’t get her to call me by my proper name!

My sister, like so many others, cannot understand why I transitioned, why I did it so publicly — announcing it on facebook! The nerve! Why, people will SEE IT, and — they’ll know! 

Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of transgender people post stuff on facebook about their transitions. The difference is, they don’t work at a major TV network and have a book publisher with an agenda to ruin them and their plans for the future.

And maybe a few hundred of those possible tens of thousands may encounter difficulty in their transition; I don’t have reliable numbers, sadly. Nobody really knows how many people are trans, or how many people detransition. We are told very few, mainly because psychological and pharmaceutical guidance keeps people from going too far if they’re not prepared. Some chafe at the gatekeepers’ rules, others complain they don’t do enough.

Mine did their job well, and only one therapist failed me, just when I needed her most, when my career and livelihood were on the line.

She’s now working at Xerox. Good move!

She and a lot of people have said that phrase, “back and forth,” and I do understand why.

To them, I was “Don,” then I was “Dawn,” then “Don” again, then “Dawn” again.

I’m thinking maybe I’ll change it to “Shlomo” for the next go-round, just for laughs.

STOP. There is no next go-round. And what brings me to write about this is, I don’t see the back and forth everyone else does.

I’ve been doing a lot of meditating lately, thanks to the help of my dearest friend, Susan, and it’s helped me unlock some memories which I think connect the dots, from my early childhood to now, to help me better understand my gender transition.

That child raised and even called “Boy” — that’s me, remember? I do. I was hyperactive, imaginative, friendly, adventurous, uncoordinated, artistic and all-American looking — enough to be cast in commercials and print advertisements, starting at age four.

Slender, expressive, sensitive, emotional, intensely loyal and more interested in playing house with Marilyn Ciaccio across the street than cops and robbers with my best friend Tommy McCoy and the Quinlans. I recall wanting to be an astronaut race car driver who gave it all up to get married and have five children. I remember being saddened to catwomanlearn only women could be mommies and that priests were not allowed to marry.

I loved watching “Batman” on TV, but my favorite character was Catwoman, played by Lee Meriwether.

And a month before I was to turn six, I remember my parents and I watched one of our favorite TV shows together: “Mission Impossible.” 1393082889-0It was February of 1970, and Barry Williams of “The Brady Bunch” was the guest star. He played an Eastern European King who had to go into hiding to escape assassination… and Jim Phelps and his tireless IMF team disguised the boy king… as a girl.

I was transfixed.

Also in the 1970’s, Scooby Doo and Shaggy were running from the usual monsters, and — plot twist — they disguised themselves as women to try to escape.

In my teens, I was haunted by nightmares that my parents had left the department store without me — again, this was the 1970’s, when kids roamed wild without “helicopter parents.” My mom and dad could be rightly called “zeppelin” parents: they were always far away, moved slowly, and I have vivid memories of them exploding all over my sister and me when things went wrong.

In this recurring nightmare, the department store was locked up; I could not get out, there was no way for me to phone home, and when the workmen started coming around, I hid among the mannequins.1

The workmen are so convinced by my mannequin-like acting that they bring me into… the back room, where mannequins are disassembled and reassembled and set back out on the sales floor.

As you have no doubt guessed, my nightmare was that I was put on display… as a girl.

Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 3.13.51 AMIf you aren’t already aware that this stems from an actual experience in my acting and modeling career, I’ll ask you to catch up to the rest of the class.

And if you know that my summer job in college was to work at a department store, let me reveal to you how nervous I was that very first time I stepped into “the back room.”

I met a girl there, a cashier who came to mind today as the theme from “Flashdance” played on an 80’s radio station. That was our first date, and our last. I wanted to hold hands and watch the movie, she wanted to make out… and she was getting a vibe from me that she later described as feeling that I was “a… friend.” The reason for her pause eluded me for years, but I heard it again, and again.

I was a late bloomer. I didn’t have sex until I was a senior in college. And before that, I was frustrated at why every girl wanted me to be her friend and nothing more.

One woman was so bold as to ask me, more than once, “are you sure you’re not gay? Perhaps you were abused and you’re not ready to talk about it?”

What?

She later went around telling friends her theories. Gee, thanks. Buhbye.

Yet another said, no doubt in her mind: “I’ve figured you out: you want to be the woman!” Karen was aggressive, assertive, and never for a moment let me doubt she was in charge of our relationship. She told another female friend of mine what she thought of me, and when asked if this was true — there was no word for transgender in 1994 — I denied it. I realize now that I did that because I didn’t want to be what I was.

photoThat was the year I dressed up as a woman for Halloween, a little too convincingly, I was told. At age 30, fifteen years after modeling as a girl, I still had that uncanny ability to appear to be female.

It bothered me and intrigued me, and yet I wrote off the experience as a one-off; been there, done that. Moving on!

And now more than two decades later, I am living a life that is not a disguise or a Halloween get-up. It is my every day experience. I don’t have any “confusion” about my gender, or my expression of it.

Even in the months when I resumed a male presentation for the world to see, I maintained my legal name and gender as “Dawn”, and kept the F on my drivers license. I never even changed the picture. And within a few weeks of once again presenting as a male, I felt compelled to resume HRT, to rebalance my hormones and resume — at least part-time — living according to the gender I had somehow forgotten I truly was.

I did that until I felt strong enough to do it right, all the time.

The love of my life is one of those people who used to say “back and forth, more than anyone, and yet today this woman I married said something else, which is why I wrote this.

“You didn’t change genders three times,” she told me, her beautiful brown eyes like chocolate melting in the quiet afternoon sunlight that filled what was our bedroom.

“You changed once — no, even that’s not right. I realize now you were never really a male. Maybe physically, for awhile. But never,” pointing to her head, “up here. Where it counts.”

I think she’s right.

I’ll admit, my transition is hardly the traditional path. It’s nothing like anyone else’s that I’ve found. And being unique is both cool and lonely. But the one thing so many of us Male-to-Female transgender people have in common: being who we are means no longer being loved by those who learn we’re not who we were.

On this point, there is no “going back.”

So we go forth, into the unknown.

Ha, Me Boys

They are eight years apart and the best of friends.

They are roommates and clones in some ways, and nothing like each other in other ways.

One is strong, tall and burly — nothing like me — while his brother is short, skinny, and so strong in ways I only wished I was.

The big kid is a red head, with his mother’s eyes and wooly hair. He is 16, a math and science whiz who can both sing and play an instrument, and he is now learning to drive. And God help him, he’s learning from me (I will someday devote a blog to how I came by the nickname “Crash Ennis”). 

 The little one is getting bigger every day, his blond curls turned a light brown and straightened, an impish grin adorning an almost-always dirty face blessed with my father’s hazel eyes. He is 8, described by his third grade teacher at today’s parent-teacher conference as “the class clown,” and every bit as hyper and as intensely sensitive as I am told I was.

Make no mistake, the Brothers Ennis are very much my sons.

And I, a woman, am their father. 

Let’s allow that to sink in for a moment, while I reassure you: they saw it coming for years, they dealt with it each in their own way, and they, with their sister, have seen a therapist. They were fine with it before, they’re fine with it now… and, they are doing well in school and at home, apparently unaffected by my transition. They love having me back home, as I do.

Okay, so you’re wondering, how can a woman raise two boys to be men? Aren’t they at a disadvantage? Wouldn’t it be better for them to have a “real” father who is a man, who can teach them manly things? Who will be their male role model?

Step back — hold on: how many women in the world have had to raise sons all on their own, without a man? How many women in the history of civilization have carried the burden of bringing up a boy without the benefit of being one?

In truth, I see my transition as a bonus for them, in that my boys will benefit from my experience as a boy, as a man, as a woman, and as someone who can help them understand the difference in ways their mother might not.

I hope to show them the way to being a mensch, a path to manhood that helps them grow as decent, dependable, loving and loved individuals who respect women and understand that difference in a way their peers might never experience.

They would surely need a “real father” to raise them — and folks, that is who I am.

Transition didn’t erase my memories of seeing them enter this world nor my responsibility in helping them navigate it. I didn’t forget what it was like to grow up, to date, to live 40 years as a male. My transition, as their mother often says, is not merely mine, but theirs, too.

The extrovert who in his pre-teen years was bullied because his dad looked different is now much more introverted. Yet we still talk sports, we revel in our shared love for competitive reality television and he doesn’t hesitate to let me know he loves me, or to show it, even when he’s mortified that I exist. Is there a teenager on earth who isn’t embarrassed by his or her parents?

The singer/dancer/standup comic who cried when I came out and mercilessly mocked me for looking “weird” when I first appeared as my true gender now tells me I look pretty and holds the door for me, saying “After you, ma’am” and was the first one of the kids to declare to me on a car ride one day long ago: “Dad, you know what? I think you’re transgender.”

He also told his buddies, who insisted he now had two moms: “No, she’s my dad!”

I’m not saying this stuff doesn’t add a whole lot of extra topping on an already full plate: mom is Jewish, dad is Catholic, mom works in their school and knows all their teachers while dad works from home and always seems to be around, both grandfathers are dead and both grandmothers are out of sight in faraway Florida. Their house is tiny compared to most of their friends, they know we struggle to support them, and they are partners in our mission to live on a budget.

But underscoring all of the drama surrounding my transition was the fact all of my children never stopped loving me, and they accept me for who I am without judgment. There can be no greater gift for someone like me, and it is because their mother wants me in their lives that this is possible. I have no words to describe how grateful I am that this is the case, for it is not as common as it should be.

How will I raise two boys to be men? The same way I set out to: hopefully a little better than my dad raised me, to turn out hopefully a little better than I did. I think almost every father hopes for the same: to carry forward the good lessons and spare our children the things we wished were not part of our experience growing up.

Lest there be no doubt, I don’t wish my boys to be anything they don’t want to be, nor anything they are not. Everything seems to point toward them being healthy (thank you, God), smart, creative, heterosexual, cisgender males. That’s fine, and I’d say the same if they come to me someday and say, “Dad, I’m gay.” Or whatever. My only wish would be that someday they’d say, “Dad, I’m happy.”

My youngest often rallied to my side in the once-frequent arguments between (now) same-sex spouses, interjecting without any cue from me, “Dad can’t help being who she is. It’s not fair to treat her different, just because she’s transgender.”

And I would often reply, to him: “Life isn’t fair, buddy. But thank you.” And to she who was my wife: “Even he sees it. Please, stop.” Too often we broke that cardinal rule: never, ever fight in front of your kids.

I once asked my oldest boy, how could I have faced him, years from now, if he found out I had deferred or denied my truth to shield him from possible ramifications; how would he react if he learned I had not been true to him about who I was, as I counseled him to be true to himself? What kind of father would I be if I did not show him by example what it means to follow your dream and make it happen, even when that dream looks to others like a nightmare?

He got it. He confided in me that day how much he had concealed from me, how he hated what my transition had done to our family — meaning my marriage. He held me, hugging me, crying intensely, as he told me he loved me no matter what, and supported me as I am. And I told him I felt the same as he did about the consequences, but to not blame either his mother nor me for what was. “There is no fault in being who you are,” I told him; each of us, meaning his mother and I, finally accepted that, after a long time. And our family is better off because of that.

It remains my eternal hope that someday I can say, quoting the wise words of my friend and mentor, Jennifer Finney Boylan, “…having a father who became a woman has, in turn, helped my sons become better men.”

The title of this blog is from a lyric by our family’s favorite band. To learn more, watch and listen to this song by “Great Big Sea:” Lukey

Six

Wow. Six!

auto6 images Number_Six_Tricia_Helfer

Today marks six years since I decided to blog, to try to explain to friends — and to myself — what this journey is all about.

2009 seems like forever ago.

It was before the first iPad. Obama was still new at the job. Conan O’Brien was about to become host of The Tonight Show. People watched American Idol and Simon was still one of the judges. I lived and worked in Florida as a guy named Don.

But I was struggling both physically and mentally, and a year earlier I had made my first appointment to see a gender therapist. I didn’t believe her when she told me I had “gender identity disorder,” what is now called “gender dysphoria.”

I asked and received artificial male sex hormones to try to rebalance what I suspected was the problem, but all that did was make the problem worse. My body converted all that extra testosterone into estrogen.

1489212_10205720342227958_2246071283184507802_nI was a hormonal mess.

Here I am, six years later, and I rejoice in having survived the trials and tribulations of my long transition. What started as part-time exploration with the help of a therapist eventually led me to my own truth.

This weekend, I’ll be joining dozens of other LGBT journalists and media folks for LGBT Media Journalists Convening 2015, a conference about the work we do, sponsored by the National Lesbian Gay Journalists Association and made possible through the generosity of the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. fund.

It’ll be my first convention of this kind, and I am nervous about what to wear, how to style my hair, and just meeting folks. It will be great to finally put a face to all the names of folks I’ve considered colleagues and friends for so many years, and I so desperately want to make a good impression given the fact my infamy somewhat precedes me.

I can’t do anything about that, really. I am going to learn, to listen, to share ideas and to make connections. And hopefully, to have fun.

I obsess a little more about looks than others because, I’m not where I want to be weight-wise — And I know, so few women are. And because my hair is my own — I paid for it — but it’s just not the same as all the lucky folks who didn’t go bald in their 20s.

I’ve learned how to crimp, how to use a flat iron, how to tie it back and I’m picking up other tricks, too… but I don’t have that resource every natal woman I know had: a mother or friends who taught them this stuff when they were young. I do have some experience at makeup and style thanks to my rather unusual occupation as a child model and actor. But it’s not as much as I need when it comes to hair. 10984286_10206004341087752_4665889306200428706_n

Mostly, I learn by trial and error; the “heat wave” we’ve enjoyed the past few days with temperatures above 40 teased me into rolling down windows while driving. Not the smartest move by someone whose long flowing locks temporarily blinded me.

But I learned a lesson.

I’ve stocked up on tiebacks and bobby pins and somewhere I have a headband. And double-sided tape is my lifesaver.

Had I thought about this a decade ago, I could have been eligible for a hair transplant, but that’s not who I was. I couldn’t care less about going bald, having long ago accepted it was my lot in life and put up with the jokes and what-have-you. I wasn’t even tempted to get a toupee or plugs or a “hair system” — which one friend told me came off at a most inopportune time, during lovemaking. Nor would I consider that “spray-on” hair that I myself witnessed run down the face of a follicly-challenged reporter live on TV during a steady downpour. It looked like he was taking a bath in brown goo.

So my wig and I will wing our way to Philadelphia on Friday the 13th (good thing I’m not superstitious), and I will be Tweeting, Instagramming and updating facebook — hashtag #LGBTMedia15 — as well as updating this blog, for it is my ticket to the big event. I hope you’ll find my updates interesting and feel free to interact with me as questions or comments arise.

And so it goes.

Don’t Believe Me Just Watch

bloodysunday

Today in Selma, Alabama, there was talk of civil rights, how far we’ve come. How far we still have to go. Fifty years after Bloody Sunday, there are still pockets of racism deep enough to hold entire communities, churches and governments. There are still places where we Americans are not judged on the content of our character, but on how we appear — and if not the color of our skin, then the bone structure of our bodies and the clothes we wear to express our gender gives rise to oppression and prejudice and denial of our liberty. The people we love makes us targets for hate, for discrimination, for fear.

My former residence in Marietta in the great state of Georgia was an apartment complex where about 75 to 80 percent of my neighbors were African-American. The property manager, the rental office employees, maintenance workers and folks to whom I’d say good morning and good night at the bus stop were all in the majority and I was but one of two white women living among them, peacefully and without trouble. We all minded our own business, and nobody ever made a fuss about me being either white or a woman.

But some politicians there want to pass a law that allows business owners to discriminate against me if my existence runs contrary to their religious beliefs.

Since nobody in Georgia ever asked me where I pray, and nobody ever questioned where I pee, I don’t expect I’d run afoul of this lousy bit of legislation, should it ever come to pass. But to think there are others not quite as fortunate who might be oppressed because of this kind of lawmaking, others who just happen to be friends of mine, I worry. And I do pray.

I read somewhere that God helps those who help themselves, and so I decided the best course of action, given my few options — having a part-time job, no savings and a boatload of bills — is to not make matters more complicated. I know better than to live someplace where I’m not welcome to be me.

So, one month ago today, I packed up my car and headed north, to return home. Which is ironic in a way, given the fact that I left home in the first place because I was no longer welcome.

The 17 hours I spent driving gave me time to reflect, to ponder, to ruminate and reconsider. When I unlocked the front door and crossed that threshold, I put an end to 21 months of drifting from place to place, five cities across three states in less than two years. I never once hung a picture or painted a wall, never once considered that where I was would be where I’d stay.

IMG_5359Because… home is, as the saying goes, where the heart is. And mine was where I left it, in the dwelling of my kids and one true love.

In all that time, only two things remained constant: my name is Dawn Stacey Ennis, and I am transgender. And because of those two things, that one true love is no longer mine to hold, to my great regret.

I was offered the option: come home, leave that life behind, rebuild a life I put to rest.

And I’d be lying if I didn’t admit: I was sorely tempted.

But having been “back and forth” — rather infamously, I might add — I found that temptation was one I could withstand without even a second thought.

I realized, over the past few weeks since I returned home, the saving grace of my children mattered more to me than anything else. Their love and total acceptance are in fact enough to make every day worth living, and my love for them keeps me motivated to make a difference in their lives and the world they will someday inherit.

The love I lost ran out when the gauge hit E, and cannot be refilled by the woman I truly am. And although I have lived as the man who kept the tank full, to overbrimming, I can’t wear that disguise any longer.  And she’s not buying the brand I’m now selling.

So I set my clothes hanging where mens’ suits once hung, I filled the empty drawers with my blouses and bras and other underwear where I once kept boxers and briefs and polo shirts. And I live my life. I do my job. I search for better opportunities.

white_snowI cook, clean, shop, eat, sleep, play, shovel, and shovel, and shovel, and everything else I did before — just like everybody does — except now I do this here, and not as a visitor, but as ME, as a woman who lives here.

A woman whose kids call her dad — deal with it.

11024732_10206103216159567_8063329912938319156_nI am Dawn Stacey Ennis and I am transgender.

And I am home.

You know, I think I might even paint a wall or two, and then, perhaps, hang a picture.

So Long, And Thanks For All The Nietzsche

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Just a short post to say “thank you” to everyone who took time to read my commentary at The Advocate and/or my expanded post here, about all the hype surrounding Bruce Jenner. Of course, the very clever friend whom I call my Jiminy Cricket saw right through me, as I seized this opportunity to not only comment on that media maelstrom but the one that befell me, as well.

Putting those words out there, telling my whole story, is something I have wanted to do for the longest time. Something I was told I couldn’t do and then didn’t dare do, before now. And I’ll admit I can now at least say I did get to tell my story. Book, schmook; I am following the wise advice of a certain Barnard professor I know, who told me to live my life and write about it later.

Anyway, I am grateful for the love and support I’ve received thus far, and yes, even the feedback that wasn’t all positive, because I appreciate honesty. Most of all I cherish the new friendships I’ve made as a result of sharing with y’all.

Now begins my last 24 hours here in Georgia. Soon enough it’ll be time for me to pack up and head out. I’ll be trying to beat the latest snowpocalypse that’s bearing down on the Northeast. Last time I checked, yup: February. It snows in February in the Northeast. So… in other words, that kind of wintry weather is “normal?” Okay! Just an observation.

bert-unibrowAnd on my way, I’ll need to pick up a new pair of sunglasses that won’t leave a unibrow mark on the bridge of my nose, like this not-cheap pair I purchased at Sea World Orlando at Christmas time. While everyone’s making a big hullaballoo about protecting killer whales and dolphins from exploitation by evil amusement parks, where’s the outrage over nasty sunglasses leaving black marks that make me look like Bert from Sesame Street? Sigh.

Barring any unforeseen developments, like a job offer — hell, I’d detour just to have a job interview —  I’m headed home, to my children, and will deal with the other consequences that will most certainly arise.  Ahem.

But be assured, dear ones, I will be back, to share more thoughts and stories and emotions and some pictures now and again.  Until then, as my dear friend Rick always said: “Be Good.” 

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:

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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. 

Plan B from Inner Space

balda_alps_clouds_sunriseI’m scared.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not “terrified, freaking out, what the hell?!?” kind of scared. 91125

Not “uh oh, the fuel gauge is on E, I wasn’t paying attention and there are no gas stations for miles, only the sounds of banjos playing” kind of scared.

Not “where did I leave my baby/dog/keys/purse/eyeglasses” kind of scared (but don’t you just HATE when that happens?).

Not “the test is today and I didn’t study” kind of scared.

Not “I can’t for the life of me remember what I was supposed to do and I’m in trouble for forgetting” kind of scared.

ed3b324e35788ff7f7b246d5285ee8b8Not “Freddy Krueger is in the house and I’m hiding in a room with only one way out and no closet nor windows” kind of scared.

Not even “I’m watching the original Poseidon Adventure movie and I’m 8 years old and I’ve only seen Disney movies with princesses and talking animals” kind of scared.

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(That’s a real thing by the way. I’m talking nightmares. for weeks).

So, back to my point: I’m scared but not for the seven reasons named above or anything relatively ordinary.

I am scared because for the second time in one year, I find myself without a plan. No Plan A, nor a Plan B.

So don’t even ask me about Plan C. Ain’t happening.

As Commander Adama used to say on the rebooted Battlestar Galactica (man, I miss that show), when he wanted a very brief explanation of everything in short order and just the highlights: “SITREP!” That’s short for Situation Report.
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The fact he doesn’t even bother saying all the syllables and just barks “SITREP” always impressed me. I thought, “That is so cool. Like a BOSS! Just says two syllables and everybody stops to give the old man the low down. Cool.”
So here’s my “SITREP:”
  • I need a full-time job and a place to live (in that order, preferably).
  • My unemployment money is running out, probably right around February 14th. Valentine’s Day.
  • I have already moved five times in 20 months: first to Danbury, then back to West Hartford to convalesce after a seizure, and then back to Danbury, then to East Haven…connecticut_map
  • Then, last summer I moved to The Bronx(it’s at the top of the map; you know, “The Bronx is up and the Battery’s down!” No? Fuggedaboudit)…
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  • And now I am in Marietta, Georgia.
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  • My roommate here in Georgia, who took me in after I realized I could no longer afford a New York City apartment without a New York City salary, is moving out. Our lease is up February 14th. Once again, Valentine’s Day. And that’s fitting, because she’s in love, which is wonderful. She and her boyfriend are moving in together, and I’m very happy for them.
  • So, her moving out of this spacious two bedroom furnished apartment means I am, too. I don’t earn enough to afford the rent by myself, I didn’t find anyone to be a roommate and, frankly, it’s a little too dark here for my tastes. But it was home.
  • And now I’m not sure where to go. My dream is to go to my real home. Where my kids live, with their mom.
She’s the reason I don’t live there now, and she’s the reason I had to leave our home on May 1, 2013. I didn’t want to. But I certainly wasn’t about to kick the mother of my children to the curb, and she couldn’t live with me as I am.
And I am living as I am. There is no going back, no more than you’d ask a butterfly to wear a cocoon because you liked her the way she used to be. butterfly_PNG1056
I’m blessed to have had offers of help, a room, a couch, some money, and prayers which mean more to me than anything.
But I need to find a job. As much as I know I have to find a place to live, I must find some kind of job before the benefits run out and a bad situation gets worse.
A few hours ago, I got a text about my youngest son, age 8. He opened the fridge door and asked his mother, “where’s all the food? You need to go get some. I’m hungry!”
His mother didn’t share this to make me cry, but how could I not? My little boy is hungry and sees clearly that we don’t have what we used to. We’ve made it this far on the generosity of friends, through trips to the food bank and the occasional paychecks I collect for doing my two part-time jobs, and from her jobs as a teacher in a public school and at our Sunday school.
This cannot continue. I cannot draw money from our severely limited funds to rent another apartment, and  yet I know returning to our humble home will make life difficult for at least one of us in this strained, almost 19 year marriage. That, too, must end (once we can afford a divorce), because the butterfly must go on flapping its wings. rclrs
Last night, I dreamed I was that free, to fly where I wished. I was nothing special, and yet that made me feel so wonderful: I was welcome in the clouds among the flying things that didn’t care whether I could always fly, or had just learned how to.
I dreamed of soaring over the heads of my children, seeing them looking up at me, laughing, filled with joy, my own face grinning at their smiling faces, and knowing the love they felt for me could rise up into the sky to touch my faraway heart.
I dreamed that this was not a dream, but a wish fulfilled. One that allowed me to descend into a careful, deliberate and smooth flightpath, sticking the landing in a wonderful hangar where I could do what I do best.
With my wings, I painted on a blank, electronic canvas all sorts of fanciful ideas and songs and spiritual, soul-enriching concepts, which in turn filled a cauldron of edible emotions and fermented barrels of liquid ecstasy, as a calliope of words filled the air.
And when I awoke, it was not with a bright smile, but to face a dark truth: I do not have a safe place to land. I cannot fly where I wish, and I am not accepted in the way I wish I could be.
Most importantly, and to the point of why I am so very, very scared: I do not know what to do next. I can’t stay. I can’t go home. I don’t know where else to go if not home. I can’t get my bearings, and damnit, I need to find my bearings.
“A good producer always has a Plan B,” I often said. “And a really good producer has a Plan C, too.” I can easily hear my old voice saying those words, over and over in my 30 year career in the broadcast television news business. I was a good producer. But right now, fuggedaboudit: I don’t even have a Plan A.
What shall I do?
On Sunday, I received a priest’s blessing (I’m a recovering Irish Catholic). The week before I did penance, after making my confession. I’m all ears, God. Anytime now, Let me have it! I’m here… okay, ready! Are you there, God?
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[CRICKETS]
Sigh. Must be talking to Margaret again.
Well, for right now, my plan is to go to bed.
To sleep, perchance to dream (oooh! I so wish I could take credit for that!)  and to wake up tomorrow giving thanks for another day.
Like Bonnie Hunt, I guess I just have to take this One Day At A Time.gty_bonnie_franklin_ll_130301_wmain
And maybe, in a few days, maybe I’ll find out whether dreams really can come true.
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Me, the Pope, Two Guys Named Benedict and the late Alan Turing

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Sometimes I hate the fact that I have a Google setting to alert me whenever someone has written about me. It is both a blessing and a curse.

I received yet another alert today, the first in months. I’m writing this to help me deal with the effects of that alert. While lessened, these kinds of things still cause me great distress, even at this late date. Fortunately, I’m a lot stronger now than I once was.

I will not provide you a link and ask you to not bother googling it yourself, because I don’t want this blogpost to become a conduit to give my critics page views. Suffice to say: a priest overseas wrote something about one of the bravest men of the last century, Alan Turing, whose life is the subject of a new film starring actor Benedict Cumberbatch (I loved him in “Star Trek Into Darkness”), This priest drew comparisons to Turing’s cruel prosecution for being gay, and the ordeal of my seizure, amnesia and subsequent involuntary detransition, to express his opposition to a gender identity bill in his native land. That country is pictured below, if you care to guess.

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Far be it from me to ever consider myself worthy of comparison to the hero who ended WWII, with his Enigma code-breaking machine and his brilliant mind. This priest did rightly condemn the mistreatment of Turing and others like him… then, a few words later, to make all trans folks look like lunatics and to make his point, he invoked both Pope Emeritus Benedict, Pope Francis… and the New York Post. In fact, he quoted liberally from that seedy tabloid’s fabricated account of my experiences.

Last time I checked, being trans in America now and being gay in post-war Europe are not at all similar. And even if you’re not an American you ought to know better than to quote The New York Post.

It seems “The Don Ennis Controversy” as the Huffington Post once labeled it, is an albatross that will stalk me long after I am dead. And the truth is, it really isn’t anyone’s business. I am not a public figure, and never was.

All that matters now is that I am me, and I am just one of many trans folk whose transitions were not smooth (even though mine admittedly started out better than I could have ever dreamed).

The really awful part of my transition was that it occurred under a spotlight, which I did not seek nor do not want to ever repeat. I didn’t ask to be famous, infamous or notorious. I hesitated even writing about it for fear some bozo will say “look! She’s seeking attention again!”

No, I’m complaining that my rights to my privacy are being violated, again.

Why can’t they just leave me alone? Seriously, I think I may need to vanish to make that happen.

Siri, Google: “abracadabra.”

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Remember Them, Not Me

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Today you may notice a lot of stories online and in the media about transgender people, like me.

That’s because today is TDoR: The Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day dedicated to honoring the lives of those we lost because of violence, ignorance, hatred and because living was just too hard.

Their names, and their faces, are HERE.

Look at them. Scroll through. There are so many from all around the world.

Among the general population, the average rate of attempted suicide or serious consideration of suicide is estimated to be about 2-to-3%.

But for transgender people, researchers say it’s 41%. No, not 4.1%. Forty-one.

This year I became one of the 41%, and I can thank my friends and my kids that my name will not be among those read tonight. My eight year journey is finally on the right track, and heading in the right direction… although, to be fair, this train of mine could afford to shed some of the extra baggage that’s accumulated over time. Still, these are better days for me.

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Not so much for others. In the last few months, transwomen of color have been killed at an alarming rate; one group estimates a transgender woman is murdered every 32 hours somewhere on our planet.

My children and I will stand up tonight at the Metropolitan Community Church of Hartford, and light candles in remembrance, and join others around the world in a call for an end to the hate. Find a gathering near you HERE.

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Rejection Dejection

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I found this online and found it to be helpful in processing my thoughts about a recent rejection:

“Viewing rejection as “you’re not good enough” will cause you to try to change in order to become “good enough” for that person or circumstance.

Seeing rejection as “it’s not right for you, but another person happened to recognize it first,” frees you to find something or someone who is right for you instead.

At the heart of this shift in thinking are four very important things:

1. LOVE yourself.

2. ACCEPT yourself.

3. DO YOUR BEST!

4. Have CONFIDENCE in the first three!

– Doe Zantamata

Click HERE for more insight and information.

Our Lifeboat

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I am a cast away.
I am lost and have been for some time now.
Once upon a time, i shared a rocking lifeboat with you.
And then came a day when you told me I needed to get out.
I did so, but felt as it I were tossed out, because you chose to sail on without me, feeling as though I must be lost to you forever, rather than keep your vow to stay by my side and help me through whatever came our way.
You told me you had had enough of sharing that space and need your own.
You said you’d added up the days of sitting by side and decided when it was time for me to go.
And so, I struggled, but I let you know, I’ve never let go.
You only hung on in the one place you would not admit there was still a chance I might find my way back aboard.
And even as I hung on, you encouraged me to let go.
You behaved as if me hanging on was holding you back.
And yet I hung on, clinging, refusing to let go.
And you refused to move even an inch toward me to bring me back in.
I wanted to spend the rest of our lives in our lifeboat.
Sail the high seas with our family until we could sail no more.
I’ve come as far as I can without your help.
I need you to move toward me to get me back aboard.
I cannot do it myself. It takes two.
I wanted nothing more than to forget the choppy sea.
And yet all you threw in my face was more of the same old water.
You doubted I could hang on, and said so.
You didn’t encourage me, and in fact discouraged me.
I let my passions be known, I did not let go of them, nor you.
And yet you refused to yield.
You never took stock of how far we had come together.
You only reminded me how far I had gone outside the lifeboat.
You said it changed me and refused to help me back inside.
Never admitting how much you had changed from someone who shared their seat to someone who saw only room for you and our kids.
You changed from someone who cared about all of us to someone who cared about all of us except for me.
Today I told you, there are other lifeboats out there. Maybe one of them is for me?
I reminded you, I want nothing else but to be beside you, but just like last night and yesterday and all the other yesterdays, you only see the hurt you feel and the old water between us and never consider what I need, just that you are not satisfied.
I thought, will you ever be?
Will you ever see that I have never let go? Despite how being in the water has changed me, right down to my fingers and toes, how the years of piled-up insults and recriminations and reminders of my shortcomings have hurt me, could you ever move just enough to help me back aboard? I know you are hurt, too, and I thought we could help each other heal those wounds.
But I wondered whether you would let that part still clinging to me overtake your own doubts and memories of what’s in our past and give me your hand?
Or will you let me drift here until I finally am unable to hang on for even another day?
You’ve said you need time to think about it.
I’ve said I have needs, too, and it’s time for you to show me that one of your needs is me.
But again, and again, and again, what you show me is that you will sail along without me unless I find my own way back into your lifeboat, on my own.
You feel assured that you’ve done enough, even though we both know, it takes two. And it always has.
I shared with you a story that touches my heart, about how even after a husband goes beyond what it takes to be together, how his love for the woman who refuses to move even an inch costs him everything. How much I feel that this is our story, too. And how the woman in the story saves him by finally seeing him as he is, not as she thinks he is. And how I feel I am losing you because you cannot see beyond your own version of who and what I am.
And you say all you take away from that story is that it’s depressing. You don’t see deeper meaning. It doesn’t affect you deep down like it does me. You only see the surface, like the old water between us.
You don’t even see a lifeboat for all of us, just for you and our children, and you let me go.
So I let go.
Still you make not one move to bring me back in.
I hope perhaps I will find another lifeboat, but all I want is for that vessel to carry me home.
Home, back to you.
But you instead see me as “once again” abandoning you.
As I drift away, alone. Cast away.
If I find another lifeboat, I know you will only see it as further proof of your suffering and what you perceive as my abandonment. You would never see that I came as far as I could without you, and that you made your choice by sitting still, taking time, and leaving me outside.
So what happens next?
If you choose to look away, and not consider what happens to me to be relevant to you, I will drift away toward uncharted waters.
After all, it was you let me go.

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