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An Open Letter to Don Ennis

August 6, 2013

Dear Don,

Earlier today, I read an article on New York Magazine’s website titled, “Transgender Newsman Don Ennis Has Second Thoughts After ‘Amnesia’”.

In May, you came out publicly as transgender, writing, “This is not a game of dress-up, or make-believe…It is my affirmation of who I now am and what I must do to be happy, in response to a soul-crushing secret that my wife and I have been dealing with for more than seven years, mostly in secret.” You resolved to continue your life as Dawn, as you. It was so nice to see how much public support you received. Reading about your co-workers greeting the arrival of Dawn with flowers on your desk was the perfect touch.

If someone were to ask me why I’m trans, I’d answer, “I really do not know, this is just how I am.” Biologists have presented some compelling medical theories about why someone may end up transgender, such as a hormone imbalance in utero or variations on chromosomal makeup where people may end up XXY or XYY rather than XY or XX (this is not necessarily trans, but rather, intersex).

Something didn’t add up. Your answer was much more definite, in spite of it being something outside of medical theory. Initial reports said that “Ennis said she suffers from an ‘unusual hormonal imbalance,’ and blames her mother, who fed her female hormones as a child to prolong a commercial acting career.” This read like something more out of strange internet “forced fem” fiction than real life. I’m not doubting that your mother fed you “female hormones” as a child. What I am doubting is that even something like that, it wouldn’t make you transgender. Parents letting boys play with Barbie dolls? Doesn’t make them transgender. A mom who let’s her son wear bows in his hair? Doesn’t make them transgender.

Even so, I see the need to grasp onto something as “the reason” for being trans. It’s completely understandable. What is dangerous is that what you said injected anecdotal “evidence” for a cause of being trans into the mainstream. By suggesting there is a cause implies that there is a solution to being this way, that being transgender is an affliction that needs to be eradicated.

Still, I was happy for you. Good for you, being you. It’s really all anyone can do: be themselves.

This morning, when I read about your decision to de-transition and revert to using masculine pronouns and your birth name, again, I was happy for you. Sometimes life is trial and error, and that’s okay.

Unfortunately, much like your initial coming out, there was some harmful misinformation in the reports of you de-transitioning (which you’ve since told me you will work to correct).

The New York Post writes:

Ennis wrote in an e-mail to friends and colleagues Friday, explaining his shock after he woke up from what he called a “transient global amnesia” last month.

“It became obvious this was not the case once I took off the bra — and discovered two reasons I was wearing one,” he said, referring to his hormone-induced breasts.

Wait, what? “Transient global amnesia?”

According to the Mayo Clinic, transient global amnesia is “a sudden, temporary episode of memory loss that can’t be attributed to a more common neurological condition, such as epilepsy or stroke.” They go on to note that “during an episode of transient global amnesia, your recall of recent events simply vanishes, so you can’t remember where you are or how you got there. You may also draw a blank when asked to remember things that happened a day, a month or even a year ago. With transient global amnesia, you do remember who you are, and recognize the people you know well, but that doesn’t make your memory loss less disturbing.” Luckily, “transient global amnesia is rare, seemingly harmless and unlikely to happen again. Episodes are usually short-lived, and afterward your memory is fine.”

This is what caused you to believe you were trans? I thought it was the hormones at a young age? I’m confused. None of this seems to make sense.

Further, in the New York Post article:

He explained he had gone to the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Md., for testing last month to understand why his mind and body changed from male to female. He said he learned it was a hormone imbalance that could be fixed.

A week after he was discharged, his wife rushed him back to the hospital because he thought he was having a seizure and was experiencing a “drastic loss of memory.”

Don added that he now feels “fantastic” as a man again.

And he said he hopes that with the hormone treatment and surgery, things will only get better.

“…for testing last month to understand why his mind and body changed from male to female. He said he learned it was a hormone imbalance that could be fixed.”

Don, this is where the information you’ve put out to the public is beginning to go beyond “problematic” and veer straight into “outright dangerous.” First, there is not a test to determine if someone is transgender. There just isn’t. As far as the hormone imbalance thing (again), let me state something very plainly, being transgender is not something that can be treated by doubling down on the hormones associated with the sex you were assigned at birth. There is not a “cure” or a “fix” to being transgender. Stating otherwise sounds very much like the oft-debunked reparative therapy model of treatment.

I am happy that you’ve come to a very personal realization about yourself. I’m glad that your marriage appears to have recovered as a result of this. I wish you nothing but happiness in life. Just, Don, please help us. It’s rare that transgender issues get highlighted in a somewhat positive light. Please don’t waste those opportunities by letting blatant misinformation run amok.

Best,

Parks

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6 Responses to “An Open Letter to Don Ennis”


  1. […] So, since I’m unwilling to take it as fact that there’s truth to the situation, the rest of my commentary here is framed in the hypothetical that the article is true. If this does turn out to be true, there’s a lot that doesn’t add up. I’m not going to tear it all apart, because I feel like there’s enough of that already going on with this story. But, I will say that experience that’s allegedly described in the email regarding “transient global amnesia” doesn’t seem to fit the literature descriptions of this condition. That, combined with some of the other pieces of her statements both when coming out and in this alleged email, point to possibility of someone who wasn’t quite prepared for the stresses and complications that living full-time entail, and retreated back from the progress she had made. She certainly wouldn’t be the first trans person to do so, and I don’t think anyone who’s lived through transition could blame her. Given that her transition and career were in a very public sphere, it may be that she felt a pressure to come up with an explanation for her de-transitioning (the most common term for returning to your birth gender after beginning transition), and thus the TGA story. Another possibility is that she doesn’t fall as firmly on the “woman” side of the spectrum of gender identity as she had initially thought, and that her time living as a woman left her continuing to feel conflicted,  her ultimate decision was to return to her male life. Again, that’s a completely legitimate experience. Once more, that kind of sudden change back may feel like it requires a lot of explanation even if you didn’t make national headlines when you came out…I can only begin to imagine the pressure she would have felt to explain herself, no matter what the “real” reason for her de-transition. Other possibilities (including that her story is 100% true) exist. Whatever the reasons and/or causes, this is ultimately her decision, and she shouldn’t HAVE to explain it to anyone (aside from, to a certain extent, her wife and children). Ultimately, transition (and by extension de-transition) are personal, medical decisions and the motivations behind them aren’t anyone’s business but our own.  Parker Marie over at Park That Car wrote a wonderful open letter to Dawn (or Don) that touches on some of these issues beautifully. […]

  2. Kira Says:

    Well said. I am going to reblog this on my site as well as I think everyone should read this.

  3. Kira Says:

    Reblogged this on Kira Moore's Closet and commented:
    You should read this.

  4. Ren'Ai Says:

    Reblogged this on Meganekko Memoirs and commented:
    Though I was surprised to hear about Don Ennis choosing to revert back to male pronouns, this open letter does well in highlighting the opportunity Don now has to help the TG community. Do give it a read.


  5. […] members of the transgender community spoke up about the fact that you were spreading falsehoods about what it is to be transgender. You never […]


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