Heart of Glass

29 Sep

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Today, I remembered, with the help of a hefty pitcher of mango margarita and long conversations with a longtime friend, that it’s not just the last few years that I had to survive as someone who people knew of, or knew about, or recognized, rather than to be known as an individual. Starting in grade school and continuing on through high school, it really wasn’t until I was in college and finally experiencing natural puberty that I truly was able to make a first impression without someone already having formed an opinion of me.

All because I was a child model and commercial actor.

I thought it was cool, fun, and it helped support my family. But that changed the moment a certain bully cornered me and asked, rhetorically, “What makes YOU so special? Why are YOU on TV? Why’d they pick YOU?” I remember standing there, my back to the brick wall in the stairwell leading to McCloskey Auditorium, connecting St. Anne’s School and the church, sweating, frightened, not knowing what to say.

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This was 40 years ago. I was in fifth grade, just ten years old. “I dunno, they just did,” I stammered.

“‘I dunno'” the boy parroted me, raising his pitch mockingly, getting laughs from the gathering crowd, as he grabbed my tie with his right hand and moved his clenched left fist closer to my face. “How about I break your nose? Not gonna be on TV then, are ya, Ennis?”

My first thought: my mother is gonna kill me.

Not that I’d be in pain, or bloody, or that I would have to live the rest of my life with a broken nose; no, the fear that filled my mind at that exact moment was how angry my mom would get over the fact I somehow managed to have my nose broken by this overgrown escaped convict masquerading as a classmate. And he was right, a broken nose would surely cost me my career.

How many ten year olds do you know who’ve experienced panic at the thought their career might be over? I had spent six of my ten years, pretty much as far back as I can remember, working as a model and commercial actor. And it was all about to end in a big, painful, and no doubt very costly punch.

I decided it was time for action. And that’s when I came up with my plan. But I needed to time it just right.

So, I stood there, defiantly, not answering his taunt, except to take my index finger, and slowly tap the bully’s right fist that held my clip-on tie with his GI Joe Kung Fu Grip… and I drew an invisible line from his fingers to my nose, tapping my nose twice. As if to say, “Here it is. Give it your best shot, tough guy.”

But I didn’t say that. I was too busy watching his eyes change in exactly the way I imagined a bull would look if shown a red cape.

Exactly the same, I am sure. And those eyes were close enough for me to see my own petrified reflection against the wall. And our ears rang with the chant that almost always accompanied a bully — is there a union for bully chanters, or perhaps a roadie-like experience? There should be.

“HIT HIM! HIT HIM! HIT HIM!” chanted the chanters.

He pulled my tie tighter, I watched him clench his left fist, and as it sprung from its coiled position toward my nose, I dropped like a ton of bricks and didn’t look back.

I imagine I must have heard the impact of his fingers against the bricks, the scream of anger, agony and rage as he looked at the clip-on tie still gripped tightly by his other hand, and had I turned around I’m sure I would have seen the almost certain disappointment on the faces of the chanters.

But I was focused only on the stairs that I was running down, toward the door that leads outside. A few more steps, and I’d be –

“STOP HIM!”

The chanters had turned the page from two-word repetition to two-word command, directed at anyone else in my path.

I went for the door, my hands extended to hit the bar that would spring it open. And it did not. It would not, no matter how hard I pushed, not with two boys on the other side holding that door shut.

A tall glass door, glass covering every inch except in the frame and hardware that made it operate. I stared at the four hands pressed up against that glass, and to this day I cannot recall the faces… just those hands.

I turned in panic, as a bloody fisted bully with my tie wrapped around his bleeding fist came barreling down those same stairs I had just scooted… and he was headed right for me.

There wasn’t any option left. I needed to escape. It wasn’t just my nose that was at risk this time. I pounded on the bar to open the door, on the glass, on the frame, with my fists, with my body, and finally with my feet.

I kicked, hard… and that’s when I heard the sound that should have meant freedom.

The glass in the door shattered: some of it cracked, some fell in, some fell out, but the bottom line was: Ennis broke the door.

“ENNIS BROKE THE DOOR!!!” screamed the chanters.

What came next was a surprise. The bully turned, and ran, and everyone followed his example. Their allies on the outside, the chanters, the bystanders, anyone and everyone cleared out so fast, you might have thought I had farted.

I stood there, tieless amid the glass shards and tiny pieces, and within seconds of the foyer becoming void of children, in flew the nuns. They didn’t hear the chanting, the punching of the wall, the screams to stop me or the taunts that had started this entire ugly episode. No, what they heard was glass breaking, and what they saw was what others surely told them: Ennis broke the door.

And no, my mother was not mad, despite the call to come get me, and meet with the principal. She was not mad, having avoided my nose being broken; but she still berated me for coming so close to “risking everything.” Actually, it was my father who was pissed that I hadn’t thrown the first punch, or taken the punch and fought back, or tried to, or did anything other than run, and break school property that we now had to pay to replace.

I share this memory because it’s a reminder of a time when I felt so despised, ridiculed, bullied and mistreated… just for being me.

It’s sad to think there are still people in the world who feel that same way about me, even now, just for being me.

But instead of sadness, I feel so wonderful… to have found love, kindness, acceptance and good ol’ simple friendship and respect, here online and out in the world. Then, and now, I’m going to be me, like it or not.

And I’m learning, slowly, what I now must do is learn how to break glass ceilings, instead of doors.

The Worst Father of All Time

20 Sep

NO, the title of today’s entry does not refer to me or anyone I know. Except maybe in the “biblical sense” of the word.

Today I’m using my blog to share with you an excerpt from a book written by a friend, “What’s In It For Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives.” Now, before you roll your eyes or start thinking I now believe I’m on a mission from God, or that this is an advertisement for Christianity, bear with me: no, I’m no missionary and this is the farthest thing from an ad for the Church.

It could be construed as an ad for my rabbi.

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As you may know, I’m not Jewish except for that part of me that I share with every New York native in which I know just enough Yiddish to have a conversation with my bubbe, and my license to use the word, “Oy” is still valid. I am married to a Jewish woman, 18 years next month, which is a very lucky number in Judaism. “Chai” it’s called, and that’s pronounced “ZSCHZCH-hi” as if you mean to spit, not in my direction if you don’t mind. And we are raising three beautiful children as observant Jews in the Reform tradition: Sean, Sophie and Liam.

Okay, except for Soph (which is a Greek name), the boys’ names are not so much Jewish. BUT there are Irish Jews, even in Ireland, and before we had children my bride and I visited just such a synagogue and were warmly received.

I call him “my rabbi” even though I have no plans and never did to convert. I am Roman Catholic and continue to practice my faith, even if Church doctrine doesn’t recognize me as a Catholic in good faith — since I am transgender. I figure if Pope Francis can be so non-judgmental on gays and divorced Catholics, he might come around some day. Until then, my family is very active in our synagogue and have been since joining Congregation Beth Israel a decade ago.

Rabbi Stephen Fuchs officiated at our youngest son’s brit, and has taught our two oldest in Hebrew School. He’s aware of both our interfaith marriage and that I am trans, and is one of my strongest allies and supporters. Our only disagreement in a decade was over an OpEd in which he opined that Hanukkah is a minor holiday “just like St. Patrick’s Day,” which triggered a blustery letter to the editor from me defending this significant day on the calendar of my Irish heritage (and our love of Hanukkah). Out of respect for each other’s views and in keeping with the tradition of reconciliation, we have allowed this gaping wound to heal.

Now, on the Hebrew calendar we are approaching a time known to Jews as The High Holy Days, their most important and most solemn days of the year. First up is Rosh Hashanah, next week, followed by Yom Kippur, and the beginning of a New Year. It is a time of reflection for Jewish people, and since Jesus and his mom and dad here on earth were Jews, I figure it’s worth understanding even for Christians and others who revere Jesus.

Rabbi Fuchs has been blogging excerpts from his book, now on sale on Amazon, and today’s entry is about what I have called The Worst Father of All Time. That is being heavy handed, admittedly, since Abraham did not in fact murder his son, he only planned to do so, and God knows a lot of parents have muttered something like “I want to kill that kid” at one time or another. But if not Abraham, who is the Worst Father of All Time? Here’s a guy who agrees to sacrifice his only son — a boy that he and his wife struggled mightily to conceive and bring into the world. I’ve been very strict with my kids but I can’t recall ever considering human sacrifice as an appropriate punishment.

Close. But I am nothing if not a typical Irish hothead who blows her top and then cools just as quickly.

So take a few minutes as Rabbi Fuchs takes us through the Torah or Old Testament story of Abraham and Isaac, and think about why something like this is even in the bible. It sounds about as relevant as the legalization of polygamy in the time of Moses. But you might see things differently after reading this excerpt which also includes the tragic story of a young British singer who fell from the height of stardom to poverty, self abuse and ultimately, death.

The rabbi begins with an introduction from Europe, where he and his lovely wife are spending ten weeks as he gives talks and tours Germany. Thanks!

As I sit here in Germany, site of the horrific human sacrifices that forever changed the course of our people’s and all of human history during the Shoah, I think of the story of the Binding of Isaac (Genesis 22) that we read in a few days from the Torah on Rosh Hashanah. I feel many people completely misunderstand the story’s vital message. I hope this excerpt from my just released book, What’s in It for Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives enables the story to speak directly to us.

Perhaps Scripture’s most puzzling and profound stories is the near sacrifice of Isaac. How, we wonder, could God ask such a thing? How could Abraham agree? Why does Abraham, who stood up to God and protested mightily on behalf of the strangers in Sodom and Gomorrah, not object when God instructs him: “Take your son…whom you love, Isaac, and offer him as a sacrifice on one of the heights that I will point out to you” (Genesis 22:3).

The answer is that after his argument with God over Sodom and Gomorrah Abraham knew God was just and knew that he could trust the Almighty even when God asked him to do something seemingly unthinkable: Sacrifice his own son. Some interpreters assert that by taking Isaac to Mount Moriah, Abraham failed God’s test. Others opine that while he might have been a great religious leader, he was a failure as a father to Isaac and a husband to Sarah. How else, they ask, could a good man be willing to sacrifice his own son? I contend, respectfully, they miss the point.

Human sacrifice was the principal scourge of the pagan world to which the new covenantal religion objected. The new religion that evolved into Judaism completely rejected human sacrifice. It is that horrific practice, which, I submit, the story of the Binding of Isaac decries. In beckoning Abraham to Mount Moriah to slay his son, but staying his hand, God sends a message that humanity still struggles with today. No civilized religion can accept human sacrifice in its name. From the ancient world out of which the covenant emerged, to the Spartans of ancient Greece, the Incas, Aztecs, Mayan, and Hawaiian civilizations of other hemispheres, pagan religion has always involved human sacrifice.

Indeed, a serious student of the Bible understands that the perceived efficacy of this horrific form of human behavior was difficult to uproot from the mindset of the ancient Hebrews as well. No fewer than fifteen times does the Hebrew Bible protest human sacrifice or cast it in a shameful light. Does a parent ever tell a child not to do something fifteen times when the parent has no worry whatsoever that the child will do that thing in the first place? Of course, not!

No biblical story illustrates how difficult it was to convince our ancestors that human sacrifice was an abomination better than the story of Mesha, King of Moab (ca. 850 BCE). Mesha had paid tribute to King Ahab of Israel, but rebelled after Ahab’s death. In the ensuing battle, the Israelites were routing the Moabite forces until (in the words of the Israelite biblical author), “Seeing that the battle was going against him, the King of Moab…took his firstborn son and offered him up on the wall as a burnt offering. A great wrath came upon Israel, so they withdrew from him and went back to their own land” (2 Kings 3:25-27). The point of this amazing story is that the biblical author clearly believed that Mesha’s act of human sacrifice is what turned the tide of battle in his favor.

When we evaluate the revolution in human thought that the God of the Hebrew Bible represents, I contend that the absolute rejection of human sacrifice is even more significant than the insistence on one God as opposed to many gods and the rejection of idol worship!

Critics of Abraham’s behavior in the story of the Binding of Isaac point out that God never again addressed Abraham directly after the incident. So what? This does not change the reality that Abraham remained God’s active covenantal partner until the end of his days. His acts of covenantal responsibility at the end of hislife were every bit as significant as those earlier in his covenantal career.

Why did God ask such a thing of Abraham? And why was Abraham willing to do it? God and Abraham had a unique relationship, which illustrated a brand new way of experiencing God to the world. Unlike the pagan gods, God in the Torah is not simply a force to appease. Rather, God is the source of moral and ethical values that brought a much higher level of civil thinking to the world. One of the vilest aspects of the pagan world was human sacrifice. It is befitting, then, that God and God’s unique covenantal partner, Abraham, should present a dramatic demonstration to the world that human sacrifice should never occur. That is why God could ask Abraham to do the unthinkable. That is why Abraham, who protested so forcefully for the sake of strangers in Sodom and Gomorrah, so willingly complied with God’s request.

Suppose for a moment a parent called me and said, “Rabbi, you will not be seeing Petunia in religious school anymore because this morning, God told me to take her to the mountains and offer her as a sacrifice.” Naturally, I would do everything possible to convince the parent that the voice he or she heard was not that of God. Moreover, I would do everything, including notifying the police, to stop him or her from doing this.

Of course, the scenario I just proposed is absurd. Nevertheless, we have yet to learn not to sacrifice our children. It happens all the time. It happens each time we send our children to fight wars over conflicts that could better be settled by negotiation. It happens each time we force our children into pursuits or professions to satisfy our own ego’s needs. It happens every time we overwhelm our children with pressure to succeed, never letting them feel that they are good enough.

The great British entertainer Lena Zavaroni (1963-1999) is a case in point. Born on the tiny Scottish Isle of Bute, Lena Zavaroni was an amazing musical talent with a magnificent voice and boundless charisma and charm. As a little girl, her aunt whisked her off to London to pursue fame and fortune. She achieved both in spades. By the time she was ten years old, she had appeared on The Johnny Carson Show, toured Japan, and sung for Queen Elizabeth and President Gerald Ford. By the end of her teenage years, she had starred in three successful British TV variety series. She was the highest-paid entertainer in the United Kingdom. View her YouTube video clips. She was amazing.

Ah, but when she was still a young girl, people began to tell her that she looked a bit pudgy. To make a long, sad story short, Lena Zavaroni⎯once the richest teenager in the world, adored by millions⎯died broke and penniless from complications of anorexia at age thirty-five.

Beautiful, precious Lena Zavaroni was every bit as much a human sacrifice as Jephtha’s daughter (and the rabbis of the Midrash condemn Jephtha as a fool) in Chapter 11 of the book of Judges. Every time I watch her sing, I want to reach into the computer screen, hug her and promise, “I won’t let anyone hurt you!” But it is a promise I could never make, let alone keep. And Lena Zavaroni, who appeared thinner and thinner with each passing year of her young life, is just one of millions of examples of horrific human sacrifice we have offered throughout the centuries and continue to offer today.

Yet many contemporary rabbis and others bemoan the fact that God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son. They just don’t get it! They just don’t get that God and Abraham tried to teach the world a vital lesson⎯a lesson we still have not learned.

 
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And Now, The News

19 Sep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Am Real

19 Sep

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I have been told and I even once conceded I am not a “real” woman, according to those who believe it is their place to determine such things.

That word — “real” — couldn’t be more misconstrued, in my opinion.

When it is used maliciously, it is meant to “other” me, to differentiate me from someone born with the anatomy I will soon have a surgeon replicate. No, I will never have the internal organs or chromosomes of a 46xx genetic female such as my wife , my sister or my mom, my mother-in-law, aunts and cousins who were born and assigned female upon their birth.

I will never know the joy nor pain nor physical connection many women have with the children they conceive and deliver, nor the sensation and suffering of menstruation nor the feelings of a very first sexual encounter as a young woman experiences it.

But women who have hysterectomies are still real women. A person assigned female at birth who cannot herself give birth is still a real woman no matter if she adopts or uses a surrogate to have children, or chooses to remain childless.

And even with my current weird amalgam of genitals, my feelings, thoughts, instincts, senses, emotions and desires combined with nearly a decade of needing to sit or squat to pee, significant breast development, nine mammograms, two episodes of lactation, boxes of nipple shields and pads, packages of heavy duty panty liners, what seemed like never-ending bloating, rollercoaster hormonal cycles, thinning upper body muscle mass, stronger pelvic and leg muscles, new curves and shifts in weight distribution, hot flashes and chills… About the only thing I’m missing is a sufficient amount of hair on my head and a sufficiently deep orafice between my legs.

One of the weirdest of all the anomalies I have shared with only two people was detailed in a final report by doctors at NIH who spent a week studying me last summer; a detail that seemed nonsensical when I first read it. The whole experience made me shudder, but the doctors’ description that my “public hair is consistent with a female pattern” stopped me in my tracks, and I’m not sure why. What possible significance could it have, and why is mine is as it is? The answer escapes me. It’s not like I’ve been waxed or had electrolysis down there!

Yet.

Frankly, I’m still quietly surprised whenever callers hear my voice and think it’s my wife answering the phone, or call me “Miss” or “Ma’am” upon meeting me. Yet strangely enough, the only time I get upset are those rare occasions when someone misgenders me by calling me “sir” or “him.” You might as well say you think I’m ugly and that the outfit I’m wearing doesn’t go well together.

Perhaps that is because my overarching need to be loved as I truly am is now stronger than my lifelong obsession to change who I am in order to be liked. Because who I am in the dark, in the spotlight, in my dreams and every day for the past five months is the most real woman I can possibly be.

Writer and activist Janet Mock coined the catchy slogan #girlslikeus to unite transgender women and spread the message of her excellent memoir, Redefining Realness.

Author and professor Jennifer Finney Boylan offered up three words of her own, “Equality of Identity” and I pushed for it to be adopted as another unifying hashtag.

Lately, I feel inspired by the keynote address delivered at the 2014 Pittsburgh Trans Conference, by a longtime friend and true civil rights champion: Brynn Tannehill. Her speech and the title she chose for it resonated strongly within me: a simple sentence, also of three words that sum up my feelings better than anything I myself have ever put together.

I Am Real.

I urge everyone to use these sets of three words in a hashtag on all messages, social media posts and tweets related to transgender civil rights. #iamreal #equalityofidentity #girlslikeus

And I don’t need to prove it to believe it, or feel it. I possess the realness within. I Am Real!

Message Received: My Final Post (of July)

20 Jul

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“God works in mysterious ways.”

Yeah, and sometimes He beats us over the head to make sure we got the message.

Maybe it isn’t God at all, but a lost loved one or friend reaching out from heaven, or a guardian angel… Or just a coincidence.

I’m not going to tell you what you should believe, but I believe the dead and God (or whatever name you call our Creator) do speak to us, and we can learn things and avoid mistakes, if we pay heed.

The same lesson applies if we simply avoid repeating mistakes — a friend once posted a sign at work: “MAKE ONLY NEW MISTAKES” — but I’ll admit, I have been one of those “needs extra help” kinda people. And I think God noticed.

So, for example, when I was feeling bitter that a relative misgendered me as he told me whatever happens to me is my fault and the result of my “chosen lifestyle” — I started writing a reply in which the word “ignorant” featured prominently. And within a few seconds before I could either save or send my relative my terse reply, my laptop decided to reboot.. Just out of nowhere, no reason that I could understand. And the time it took to resume my work and retype my message was just enough to take a breath and compose not only myself, but a more gentle note of sadness and to genuinely express my hope for future reconciliation, instead of sending one that slammed the door shut.

There are dozens of similar instances, but none more powerful than those I experienced at today’s Sunday Mass. Oh, and before you go thinking I’m in Church every week, praying for my family and loved ones and for my own salvation, the truth is, this former altar boy can’t recall the last time I attended mass or received the sacraments. Even though I often think of going, I’m pretty sure that doesn’t count.

Yes, I know the Church isn’t exactly a big fan of trans people, but this pope has been very moderate and surprisingly far more tolerant than any of his predecessors. Maybe he’d even agree with my friend the rabbi that I, as a transwoman, am still created in God’s image. Either way, I’m not really as religious as I am someone who has faith. And so, for no particular reason, today was the day Dawn went back to Church.

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The beautiful Roman Catholic Church of St. John is right around the corner from my Bronx apartment, and its steeple can be seen from my window. After a short walk on a gorgeous, sunny day, I took my seat in a pew right off the center aisle of the church. Two older women were seated in front of me, an older man behind me, a young girl who reminded me of myself at that age sat all alone across the aisle; there were perhaps 50 of the faithful in all. It was hardly crowded.

The readings today all focused on a message of finding the good within ourselves and our neighbors, and what it would be like to go to heaven (as well as hell). Today’s Gospel in particular focused on parables about a farmer’s wheat crop and the weeds sown by an enemy, and the strength of a tiny mustard seed, and what a difference it makes where it is planted.

I wanted to stand up, look to the mighty cathedral ceiling and shout, “OKAY, OKAY! I GOT IT!”

But it would not have mattered because, apparently, God wasn’t done.

The hymn following the Liturgy of the Eucharist — played and sung during communion — was one that has always touched my heart and soul. Like “Be Not Afraid,” a childhood favorite played at one of my cousin’s funerals, this hymn always brings me to tears within the first few notes. I kneeled, sobbing, and could not stop even as I stood and joined the procession to receive the host.

I’m guessing people must have thought me mad, or just inconsolable. I didn’t care, as I thought how truly wretched my life was… how much I missed my daughter Sophie Grace, today of all days, and all of my family… how much I truly grieved the loss of my best friends Rick Regan and Art Daley… and how alone I felt, now that I’ve chosen to cut myself off from friends and supporters who carried me through these dark days. But most of all, how despondent I was, to be abandoned by my own mother, sister and all those who have rejected me and turned their backs on me, simply because of who I am.

No, I was not wallowing in self-pity; I was acknowledging to God, yes, this hurts, having lost so much all at once. My tears faded as I confirmed my faith that this point in my life is not the end; that this grief is necessary to overcome my mistakes and to learn from them; and that my life will get better.

Eventually.

God had once again sent me a message, that I am blessed, that He Loves me… and that His Grace is indeed Amazing.

“Amazing Grace”
by John Newton (1725-1807)

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis Grace that brought me safe thus far
And Grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me.
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

20140720-143515-52515204.jpg Click the link to see and hear a beautiful performance of “Amazing Grace,” by Celtic Woman

Rage, Rage

19 Jul

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Not for the first time somebody I deeply respect told me, forget Facebook.

Close it, shut it down, walk away.
Terminate your Twitter.
Filter-out your Instagram.
Block your blog.

I understand why. If I take away the low-hanging fruit that tabloid writers have feasted on for more than a year to ruin me and make me famous, infamous and notorious, perhaps the lack of attention will make me less appetizing.

I have become, in what is sure to be a buzzword if it’s not already, “RADIOACTIVE.”

The way my closest cisgender friends see it, I need to go Chernobyl: offline, abandoned, off limits. Or for our younger readers, put the f-u-k in Fukushima. If you enjoy movies, then you understand I should “Make like a tree… and get outta here, McFly!”

Of course, the only remedy for being radioactive is time and distance.

“Move along, nothing to see here!”

Stay out of sight while the media isotopes cool down. Pull my social media profile.

Sadly, in my 30 years of writing about people who vanish and then resurface, they seldom re-emerge without taint. They go from “controversial ” to “formerly controversial.” Now, some do surprise us with their lessons learned. As my dear friend and much wiser social media user Maia Monet told me, while the public enjoys seeing someone big taken down a notch, nothing compares to the joy of watching the great American comeback.

The question is, can there be a comeback for someone like me?

Here are the facts: I’m a pariah to some trans people who saw my honest but wrong declaration of not being trans last summer, after suffering amnesia, as a betrayal that hurt everyone in transition. Others have told me I inspired them to step forward and transition, and called me brave. And there are some who tell me what I have endured convinced them they could not possibly transition and survive, that I am living their worst nightmare (mine, too, incidentally). One called me her “anti-role model.”

To cisgender folks who know only one transgender person (ME), I am what one friend called a “high profile champion of transgender rights.” Really? It’s all a matter of perspective, I guess. Just so you understand, “cisgender” is a word used to define someone who is not transgender. The closest equivalent would be “non-transgender people,” or as someone I know said, unkindly: “you mean, ‘normal’ people.”

Yeah, thanks for that.

To the larger transgender community, I’m still pretty much nobody, although my name is frequently recognized from all the media attention. I have indeed shared articles in social media to draw attention to issues of discrimination, and to attempt to help spread understanding of what if means to be trans, and in support of this issue of civil rights. But those posts are merely a blip, compared to the megaphone held by true activists and heroes of mine like Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, Brynn Tannehill, Parker Marie Malloy, Kristen Beck, Cristen Williams, Masen Davis, Landon Wilson, Jennifer Louise Lopez, Lexie Cannes, Ashley Love and so many more. I don’t seek to be their equal on the world stage; I only wish to see all of us be treated equally with all of you.

To most members of my extended family, I am an embarrassment. Some will accept me privately but have faced real retaliation from ignorant people just for being related to me. Others have made excuses for refusing to publicly associate with me and consider it justified. Would it be just as okay to deny knowing me if I were a Jew, or homeless, or gay? (Not that I’d be ashamed to be any of those, but I’m not; I hope you get my point).

And I am saddened beyond words that close relatives I love can turn their backs on me and feel no shame or regret. I never could imagine a situation where I would turn to any member of my family who I felt had done something wrong in my eyes, and as a result, tell them I no longer loved them. Love forgives, strives to accept, and when necessary, keeps its distance — I can accept that — but the bond that is love, for me, is unbreakable.

That bond today helped me realize my true place in the universe: yes, I am trans, but first I am responsible for the lives of four people, in addition to myself: she who married me, and our three children. They have depended on me longer than I’ve known I was trans. I have a responsibility to find work that will sustain all of us, and so far I have failed at this. The majority opinion is that my social media presence has made that task even harder.

I’d cut off my own left arm (I’m partial to my right one) if it meant I could then support my family , so cutting myself off from social media is an easy sacrifice. And so I have taken that step.

What took me so long? I am all alone, separated from my loved ones and desperate for human contact. Social media provides both the illusion of connectedness as well as genuine interaction and friendships with real people who have similar interests and problems. I was hesitant to give up that lifeline that has supported me when no one else would.

But I realize people got by long before Facebook; they were able to make it through the day before a tweet was anything other than the sound a bird makes; they survived back when sharing a photo was sitting in Uncle Bill’s darkened living room watching his slides from his trip to Denver… all 300 of them.

And I will survive this, too. But I also decided today, I will not vanish. Even after my blog goes dark, I cannot imagine muting my voice now that I have found it.

The cause (Vice President Joe Biden once called it “the civil rights issue of our time”) is too important to surrender now. I will find a way to anonymously advocate for change without jeopardizing my family or what remains of my career. I will seek a way to have my say secretly, without putting an employer in the position of having to comment.

I believe I can do this by covertly supporting the cause in a way that will not take precedence over my primary mission of being a provider. I pray it will allow me to fulfill what I see as a calling, second only to my responsibility to support those I love.

I am going away, my friends. But I will not be silent. I will rage on, in secret if necessary, until my dying day.

Do not go gentle into that good night
by Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Farewell, My Friend

17 Jul

Rick Regan                                              

My pal is gone.

Rick Regan is the second of my close, longtime friends to be taken from us this year. I cannot fathom a tribute fitting the master of words that I could write and he’d approve.

Our first meeting 18 years ago was in the newsroom at WCBS-TV. He was the copy editor or what we called the co- producer. He didn’t give me as much trouble with my copy as he did with his gnarly, gruff “go away, kid… you’re bothering me” attitude.

I can’t say why but I persisted in becoming his friend. Rick taught me so much about the business and ten times more about life, love, the Sox and tenacity. This was a man who simply did not let go.

And he was the same way when he met me… as ME. He refused to let go of our friendship, now established and ingrained. He told me he stood up for me against people I didn’t even know, who mocked me and laughed at the change I embraced and he accepted, even though like most folks he struggled to understand it. Anyone could have stayed silent. But not Rick. He made it clear: “that’s my friend and you’d better quit it. Now.” And they did, at least around Rick.

He was the kind of friend who could tell me, as he did once: “God, you’re putting on weight! What’s wrong? You need to run that off. Come run with me!”

He delighted in hoisting my oldest son on his broad shoulders when we took Sean to see “The Gates” in Central Park in 2005.

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We thought it was lovely, creative, cool and imaginative. Rick declared: “It’s okay, so long as it doesn’t interfere with my run.”

My favorite Rick story, though, dates back to that awful day in September 2001. We were just beginning our coverage of that terrible tragedy when it occurred to me, I need to make a phone call. Yes, I did call home, but first: I called Rick. “What?” was his “this better be important” acid-toned answer when he picked up the phone; clearly I had woken him up. “Get up. Turn on the TV. Get in here.” I didn’t even say it was me. I hung up and went back to work. Fifteen minutes later, he was at his desk pounding out copy. That was Rick. He later thanked me. None was necessary.

Rick was the light of every newsroom. And when I wound up at WABC- TV, all I had to say was “I’m a friend of Rick Regan’s.” And I was “in” with the old guard (or at least the good guys in the old guard; the rest were just jealous).

He was the last guy you would imagine with a mirror glued to his cubicle — not to check out his wild red hair — but so he could see the managers if they snuck up behind him! He loved showing that off.

And he loved words. He loved them almost as much as Laurie, but he loved her beyond words. He told me once she was everything he lived for, and I never doubted it.

I will never be the writer Rick was, try as I might. So, instead of wasting effort, time and risking his heavenly wrath, I shall instead quote an irish poet… Who is now buying a round in the honor of my friend, Rick Regan.

“A Drinking Song”
by W. B. Yeats

Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That’s all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.

I look at pictures of my friend now and find it so hard to believe he’s gone forever from our earth. I would have thought the world would end first, and Rick would be there to write about it all.

Rick: say hello, please, to Art, to your brother, to our dads, and all those waiting to greet you. I love you, Rick.

And I say to you and to all who took the time to read this, as Rick always said to me, instead of “goodbye:”

Be good.

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