Shifting the Narrative

A few weeks ago I spoke for a large group of therapists, teachers, and administrators about the state of transgender affairs in the world, the challenges of providing care to individuals with gender dysphoria, and the ways in which fundamentalist religion gets in the way of that treatment. It was a six hour training session for which the therapists received ongoing licensure credits.

When I began, most of the therapists wore expressions I have when I attend such trainings. I am ready for a boring day, with marginally helpful information presented perfunctorily. I wondered how long it would take to win them over.

I had prepared a 30-minute introduction to make the audience comfortable with my presence and style, and help them see it would be a good day to pay attention. I’m relatively well-versed in transgender issues, though the horrific statistics related to anti-transgender laws are getting worse literally every day. The first half of the day was focused on transgender issues. The second half was focused on religion.

On the subject of why the fundamentalist forms of the desert religions are so opposed to transgender rights, I could talk off the top of my head for an entire day. I’ve been studying religion for five decades, since I took my first course in church history in 1971. I am endlessly fascinated by the ways in which religious people figure out how, generation after generation, to ignore Jesus’s instruction to love God, neighbor, and self. They get caught up in the identity of Jesus, and are not particularly concerned about the way of Jesus.

The audience to whom I spoke was for the most part secular. There were a dozen or so pastoral counselors, but they are all affiliated with mainline Protestant denominations and are theologically liberal. The rest of the audience was fairly unaware of the religious landscape in the US. I find that to be the case in the northeast, the Pacific northwest, and in college towns. Twenty-eight percent of Americans are unaffiliated with any religion. Most of those people are highly educated, and many live in those regions. They are as shocked at the anti-trans laws as they were at the election of Donald Trump. Unaware of just how much power evangelicals hold in conservative regions, they are aghast at the laws being passed to remove the rights of transgender people.

Kentucky and Florida now have laws that not only affect transgender children, but adults as well. The religious right has gone on record saying they want to end all medical treatment for all transgender people. They want a theocracy and want all scripture interpretations to come from conservative theologians. To date, over 500 anti-trans laws have been introduced in state legislatures in 2023. Seventy-one have been signed into law, with another eight sitting on governor’s desks awaiting signatures.

Last fall I was able to spend an evening speaking with television writers, talking about how transgender characters are portrayed in television series. We have passed the period in which a trans character was a curiosity, and moved into a period in which the fact that a character is transgender is incidental to the storyline. That is very positive progress, and helps the cultural normalization of trans people.

Next month I will be speaking to another group of national influencers about ways in which they can shift the narrative about trans people. When it comes to gender issues, young people have moved on. Millennials and Gen Z are over it. It is primarily Baby Boomers and to a lesser degree, Gen X, that are initiating these anti-trans laws, and yes, an inordinate number of them are Evangelical Christians.

I do not like that I have felt the need to write about this subject so often recently, but these are frightening times. We need allies who will stand up for the rights of trans people. We cannot do it alone. The best thing you can do is correct inaccuracies about trans people when you hear them. When someone says high percentages of transgender people detransition, tell them the facts. The truth is that 92 percent of trans people are pleased with their transition. Of the 8 percent who are not, only one in twenty-five of those people actually dislikes their new body. The other 24 do not like the rejection they experience as a transgender person. Transitioning isn’t the problem. The negative response of their environment is the problem.

While it is true that many older adolescents who identify as trans or non-binary change their minds after a period of experimentation, that is normal differentiation, and it is a good thing. It is not something to fret over or fear. Individuation demands a period of experimentation. Young people who have consistently and persistently identified themselves as transgender since early childhood almost never regret transitioning genders. Their gender dysphoria is hard-wired. They are not experimenting. They are trans, always have been and always will be.

It is difficult to have large segments of the population deny your very identity. I had a lot of decades of privilege and entitlement I brought with me when I transitioned, so it is not as hard for me to handle the current political environment. But I am concerned for others, and particularly for our children.

I know this crisis will eventually pass, but I hope it doesn’t take the death of an entire generation of Baby Boomers to get it done. This negative narrative has grown up over just 6 or 7 years, and it can wind down just as quickly, but only if we work together to shift the narrative.

And so it goes.

Early or Late Onset?

I am concerned for trans kids. My greatest concern is for those who need medical care and are being prohibited from receiving it. In Kentucky, physicians can be indicted for not beginning detransition care. That’s right, they can be arrested for not undoing transitions that have already begun! Altogether this year, there have been 495 laws introduced or signed into law taking away the civil rights of transgender people.

This post is not about those laws, and the damage they are doing to transgender people. I’ve written about that before, and will write about it again. But not today. This blog is about something else.

I have a second concern, one that does not curry favor with everyone in the transgender community. The percentage of the transgender population has remained steady for a long time at about .58 percent of all people. Roughly one in every two-hundred people is transgender. Recently, however, that number has tripled, and almost all of the growth has been among adolescents, specifically adolescents who were identified female at birth.

The vast majority of mental health providers believe that exploring gender identity, particularly during one’s adolescent years, is good and appropriate for individuation and differentiation. In both the United States and Europe, the biggest controversy among medical personnel is not such exploration, but about the medical treatment of adolescents who say they are transgender or nonbinary.

A study in the January 19, 2023 New England Journal of Medicine followed 315 transgender adolescents through two years of hormone therapy. A total of 60.3 percent were transmasculine and the remainder transfeminine. The study found that the majority of young people who received treatment had a remarkably better quality of life after those two years than they had before. The truth is that for a certain subset of the trans population, we have known that to be true for a long time. But the study failed to answer an important question. Were these study participants individuals whose gender dysphoria was later onset or earlier onset?

Most clinicians with concerns about treatment, including those who are generally supportive of medical treatment for trans youth, are concerned about the increasing numbers of young people whose dysphoria is later onset, after the age of 12. It is still true that any child five or six years of age who consistently and persistently says he or she is not the gender listed on their birth certificate, will continue to feel that way throughout life. Providing gender affirming care to these young people is still supported by the vast majority of clinicians in the United States and Europe. I am not talking about that segment of the population. My question about medical care is reserved for adolescents who do not present as transgender until 12 or later.

In the United States, providing medical care to any transgender young people, regardless of age of onset, has become a political lightning rod. To gain a more balanced perspective on the circumstances, I want to turn to Europe, where the subject is less political.

There is significant rethinking of medical treatment for transgender adolescents in Europe, including the United Kingdom. Why? One study in the UK of 221 adolescents receiving treatment at the Tavistock Clinic, found no detectible improvement in overall mental health after three years of medical treatment. While that study is an outlier, it does raise yellow flags.

No European nation has legally prohibited medical care for transgender adolescents, but there is growing concern about the demographic shift. One clinic in Ghent, Belgium has seen a 42-fold increase in those presenting for treatment. The increase in Sweden has been 17-fold. Finland has seen a marked increase of those presenting for treatment as having been identified female at birth, 75 percent of whom have a separate and severe mental health diagnosis, as opposed to fewer than 33 percent comorbidity in other studies. There is even concern being expressed in Netherlands, the birthplace of transgender adolescent care with what became known as the Dutch protocol.

Amsterdam’s first transgender care center was opened in 1972, and they have been the most progressive nation in terms of transgender care since that time. The Dutch protocol for children was developed in the 1990s. Over the last ten years the number of children seeking care has grown from 60 to 1600, with the vast majority being adolescents who were assigned female at birth.

What is increasingly clear is that for children who present as transgender at a very early age, providing puberty blockers during adolescence is appropriate. For those whose presentation with gender dysphoria is later onset, more study needs to be done. Are these children truly transgender, or are other maturational issues at work?

I have a lot of observations, but have reached no firm conclusions. It appears that a lot of young people who might have presented as goth in a previous generation are now identifying as transgender or nonbinary. Is what we are seeing typical differentiation or individuation, albeit with a new presentation, chosen for its ability to shock and trouble a new generation of confused parents or right-wing politicians? I believe it is possible.

How many of the adolescents who present as transgender today will identify as transgender ten years from now? The truth is that we do not know. My suspicion is that it will be about .58 percent, the same percentage that has always identified as transgender.

What about those who are nonbinary? The 2017 US Transgender Survey found that 62 percent of those who identified as nonbinary were between 16 and 26 years of age. Is that because older people were not free to identify as nonbinary until now? It is possible. There are several nonbinary individuals in my church, none of whom fall into the age category above. But it is also possible that the majority of adolescents who identify as nonbinary today will not do so in ten years.

Having anti-transgender zealots attacking all medical care for trans adolescents is tragic. And let’s be clear. It is evangelical Christians who are behind these laws. In 2017, 84 percent of evangelicals believed gender is immutably determined at birth. Sixty-one percent believed we give transgender people too many civil rights, and only 25 percent knew someone who was out as a transgender person.

Six years later, the numbers have gotten worse. Eighty-seven percent of evangelicals now believe gender is immutably determined at birth. Sixty-seven percent believe we give transgender people too many civil rights, and 31 percent know someone who is out as a transgender person. The number of evangelicals who know someone who is transgender has increased, but so has the opposition to trans rights. What accounts for the increase in knowing someone who is trans? It is probably an increase in those who know a transgender adolescent, not those who know a trans adult. That makes a difference in the conclusions one draws about gender dysphoria.

It is not difficult to determine the adolescents who need puberty blockers during adolescence. They are the early-onset individuals who have consistently and persistently identified as transgender since early childhood. They need medical care, or their suicide completion rate will increase dramatically. Being deprived of that medical care could have tragic consequences. No wonder people are moving from Texas to Colorado. Texas has some of the most restrictive transgender laws in the nation. Colorado is a wonderful environment for thoughtful treatment of transgender adolescents. We Coloradans are pleased to see so many families finding refuge in our beautiful state.

As for those who have later onset gender dysphoria, I believe watchful waiting is advised, as well as a good therapist well-versed in gender identity issues. Time will tell if these young people continue to identify as transgender or nonbinary, or if they will later identify as cisgender adults. There is nothing wrong with watchful waiting.

I imagine some of you will have thoughts about this post. I look forward to hearing from you.

Back to Eden

When I was in Hawaii a few weeks ago I began reading James Hollis’s book, The Eden Project – In Search of the Magical Other. I don’t run across a lot of people reading Hollis, though last year’s Ted Lasso season featured a camera pan of the cover of The Middle Passage, more than a bit of a nod to the book’s influence on the writers. My favorite Hollis book is Swamplands of the Soul. Most of life is lived in the swamplands, so a map of the terrain seems like a very good idea.

The Eden Project brilliantly explains why we mess up every romantic relationship we ever have. We cannot avoid wanting the Other to take us back to the earliest stage of longing for the omnipotent, omniscient mother. Until we find that within, we will never truly be the romantic partner our lover deserves. John O’Donohue, in his book Eternal Echoes, writes about doing the work of becoming yourself:

There are no manuals for the construction of the individual you would like to become. You are the only one who can decide this and take up the lifetime of work that it demands. This is a wonderful privilege and such an exciting adventure. To grow into the person that your deepest longing desires is a great blessing. If you can find a creative harmony between your soul and your life, you will have found something infinitely precious. You may not be able to do much about the great problems of the world or to change the situation you are in, but if you can awaken the eternal beauty and light of your soul, you will bring light wherever you go. The gift of life is given to us for ourselves and also to bring peace, courage, and compassion to others.

“A great harmony between your soul and your life.” Yes, that is something precious. Hollis says once we have done the work O’Donohue has so beautifully described, we can finally become a worthy partner to our lover.

Joseph Campbell said marriage has nothing to do with being happy. It has to do with being transformed. The original projection onto the Other offers the fantasy of happiness, but reality cannot sustain that promise. Once the beloved is revealed as really Other, not just the carrier of  our projections, the troubles begin. Hollis says transformation is about enlargement and enlargement comes only through suffering.

Discovering the otherness of the Other can lead to the kind of loving energy which comes through caring for the other as Other, valuing and celebrating their otherness. For those fortunate enough to achieve that kind of love, the relationship is transformative. They allow the beloved to be who they are, even as they struggle to live authentically as they are.

Marriage has never been two halves becoming a whole. It is two wholes creating a third entity, the relationship, that must be nurtured as children are nurtured. It is the only entity created by the couple that stays in the house throughout their lives. Children are gone within a couple of decades. The relationship remains.

I am grateful for the marriage Cathy and I had. We still have a good relationship, though it is very different than it once was. It took us a long time to realize that if you are not committed to your own growth, you cannot truly appreciate the unique otherness of your partner. I wish it had not taken us so long to learn that lesson.

The core wound we all experience, that there is something about us that makes us unworthy of deep human connection, affects all of our relationships. Much of the reason is because our ego expends all of its energy trying to avoid the core wound. The ego believes acquiring power and safety are the only way to deal it. The ego blocks the soul from following its own path. The soul knows it is worthy of deep human connection, so it desires a richer journey. The soul is searching for meaning. It is, of necessity a solo search. You cannot appropriate the meaning your spouse has discovered, or postpone your own search in deference to theirs.

A healthy relationship is a base camp, with each person climbing his or her own mountain looking for the resonance, depth, and awe that indicates great meaning is nearby. You come back to the base camp at the end of the day, exhausted, exhilarated or discouraged. Whatever the case, you return ready to engage the Other on their equally fascinating quest.

You figure out all this good stuff when you’re old and have learned to suffer. We humans are not quick studies or willing sojourners. We have to be forced onto the road less traveled by, the easier road having been blocked by circumstances, leaving us no choice but to traverse the road filled with fallen branches and stones.

I finished The Eden Project and immediately started it again. It feels like one of those books you have to ponder. I might be able to eventually gain the wisdom of James Hollis or John O’Donohue. All I have to do is live another hundred years or so, and then I might be able to fully embody that kind of wisdom. Yep, that’s all I have to do.

And so it goes.

Time to Do Another Talk?

I’ve been contemplating what my next TED talk should be about. I don’t have one scheduled, but I have started thinking about what the subject should be. It’s been on my mind because I have the pleasure of coaching TEDxMileHigh speakers and I am always amazed at the breadth and depth of their talks. It is a joy to help the speakers bring them to life.

I am emceeing the June 24 event, which is always fun. We just had our first meeting with the speakers, and I can’t wait to start working with them. I told them they’d be sick of me by the time we get to June 24. The wife of one of the November speakers said, “My husband was equal parts terrified of you and grateful for you.” I said, “Yeah, that’s about right.” Helping speakers be at their best on the day of the event brings me immeasurable joy. To be alongside them at what has the potential to be one of the most important times of their lives is a great honor.

After working with 24 speakers last year, I keep thinking more and more about the subject of my next talk. An obvious choice would be America’s current fixation with transgender people. Having lost the war against gay marriage, the far right started looking for another enemy. Who knew they would choose transgender people? Though I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. Zealots have been creating enemies since the beginning of time, and they always choose enemies that are powerless minorities.

At .58 percent of the population, we trans folks are definitely a minority. We have no lobby in congress, and no large contingent of supporters to whip up sentiment among the masses. We were the perfect foil for the right wing Republicans who now have 196 anti-transgender bills pending in state legislatures. If you want to think about the true absurdity of that, just consider that those same state legislatures do not have a single gun violence bill pending. Because, you know, I’m clearly a bigger threat to America than guns.

If I do a talk on being transgender, I think I’ll throw in a good bit of humor. Maybe it’ll be a nice little reminder that y’all shouldn’t kills us because we make you laugh and all. Of course a TED Talk on transgender issues would not have any traction outside of the United States. In most Western nations, the subject brings a big yawn. Only the United States has gone to seed on it.

I’ve also thought about doing a talk on staying young while growing older. Nobody ever thinks I’m the age I am. They usually think I’m at least ten years younger. That pleases me greatly. But if I do that talk, then the whole world will know how old I am, and if you haven’t noticed, age discrimination is real.

I might do a talk on resilience. I just did a speech on resilience last week. I’ve been working on the talk for months. It seemed to go well, though you can never tell when you’re sitting in your living room talking on Zoom and viewers are scattered all over the planet. I like to mix humor with pathos, and I couldn’t find much humor in the actions that forced the development of my resilience. I mean, getting fired by evangelicals after 35 years of good work isn’t very funny. Neither is losing your entire pension, or having hundreds of friends abandon you because you are no longer useful to them. Nope, nothing funny there. “Hey, did you hear the one about the friend of 40 years who never spoke to me again because of an issue that isn’t even in the Bible?” Yeah, not funny.

I could do another talk on more stuff I’ve learned about gender inequity. You might be surprised to hear this, but my list of examples of being treated misogynistically grows exponentially. I have entire new categories of having been dismissed that I did not have when I did my first talk in 2017.

That 2017 talk was lightning in a bottle. Between TEDxMileHigh and TED it has had over six million views. I’ve heard from women from all seven continents thanking me for validating their experience. Back in the late summer I got my second email from Antarctica. I guess they don’t have much to do there during the Antarctic winter. I know I probably won’t catch lightning in a bottle again, but I think I can come up with a compelling talk. Though I must admit, it is definitely easier coaching TED speakers than being one.

My five granddaughters think I should do a talk about them – you know – like how extraordinary and brilliant they are and how remarkable that is, you know,  given the fact that they carry my genetic material and all. Or maybe I give up the idea of doing a talk altogether and my granddaughters collectively give one on how they’ve been ruined by having a grandparent who is transgender. I mean, that’d guarantee the right wing viewers. But wait a minute, right wing folks don’t watch TED talks. Scratch that idea.

I’m going to put off thinking about my next talk until after the June 24 event. I already know what those talks are going to be about. Trust me, you don’t wanna miss them.

It Won’t Stop

I check my junk file every week and notice I sometimes receive emails from a watchdog group riding herd over evangelical ministries. Every now and again, I check out their latest news.

Recently there has been a lot of controversy regarding Acts 29, a large church planting ministry similar to the one I directed for a quarter of a century. They’ve grown rapidly, have a huge position in the market, and have managed to get themselves into a fair amount of trouble over the last few years.

Some of the complaints about the ministry come from pastors who started churches with them. They are upset over Acts 29’s lack of transparency over whether or not they still believe in a complementarian view of women. For those not schooled in evangelical language, that is the view that women are not to preach or serve as elders, and that the husband is the head of the family. It is a view held in opposition to the egalitarian view, which teaches gender equality.

I forget there is still a world in which intelligent people believe men are supposed to be in charge of their families and churches and pretty much everything else. It is so foreign to anything I have known over the last ten years that it leaves me dumbfounded when people say with a straight face that God expects wives to submit to their husbands.

Conflict over women’s roles in the family and the church is just one example of the fantasy bubble of evangelicalism. The evangelical bubble makes me chuckle until I realize how much damage is being done to our nation because of evangelical perspectives on gender. It is not as bad as the horrible misogyny of fundamentalist Muslims in Afghanistan, nor as bad as a fictional America in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, but it’s bad enough.

Currently there are more than 900 anti LGBTQ+ bills pending in legislative bodies across the United States, 407 of them in state legislatures, and 196 of them trans specific. Pretty much all of those laws are driven by evangelical Christian men. As long as evangelical skirmishes remained contained within their own ranks, I viewed them as a tempest in a teapot. I could shake my head and dismiss them as a dying breed. Not anymore.

It all started in the 1980s with the Moral Majority. Grassroots organizers encouraged evangelicals to run for school boards, local governments, and state legislatures. It turns out evangelicals are as good at organizing as they are bad at biblical interpretation. Because of the abilities of state legislatures to gerrymander districts, and because of our forefathers accommodation to rural states giving them outsize power in the US Senate and Electoral College, we now have a nation of minority rule. That minority is made up of white, evangelical Christians, and they believe it is their God-given responsibility to enforce their moral code on the entire nation.

Now that the Dobbs decision has been handed down, we see America waking up to the outsize power these groups wield. We can see the direct line from complementarian thinking to anti-abortion legislation. Women should not be given agency over their own bodies. God says so. Except of course, God never said so. Their doctrinal positions are based on a very narrow type of hermeneutics and exegesis best described as literalism or originalism. Within the world of most scripture scholars, this type of biblical interpretation was dismissed more than a century ago. Unfortunately, no one told fundamentalists and evangelicals that, and through shrewd manipulation, they now hold great political power.

Evangelical men have mounted a campaign to take away my civil rights and declare me a non-person. They want to eradicate me from the face of the earth. As I wrote a few weeks ago, one of the leading organizations rallying people against trans rights is the American Principles Project. Terry Schilling, president of the organization, was asked if their opposition will stop with bans on medical care for adolescents. He answered, “I want transition care to be thought of as horrific medical practices that happened in the past.” The end game is clear. These Christians will fight tooth and nail to eradicate all transgender rights. Barring trans kids from scholastic sports is just the beginning.

I know that once Millennials and Gen Z become the majority of the electorate things will change. They are far more socially liberal than their parents, and they already make up 42 percent of voters. By 2036 they will be 62 percent of the electorate. Once my generation dies off, there will be few left to fight against LGBTQ+ rights and women’s equality. But last I checked, my generation isn’t dying off all that quickly. Until then, trans folks  and women are in trouble.

We need allies and apprentices on deck. Allies work from their own perspective to speak up on our behalf. Apprentices work at our direction to do the work. We need both groups. These attacks are not going away without a strong and vibrant resistance. I am grateful for those who are willing to speak up. There is no room for passive citizenship. Our nation’s future depends on active citizens willing to fight for equality for all Americans.

And so it goes.


Four Christian schools in Northern Colorado, including Longmont Christian School, not far from the church I serve, closed on March 31st because a large group of transgender people were headed up I-25 planning to destroy Christian churches and schools along the way. Yep. Awful, right? A Denver television channel showed a video of the principal of one of the schools in which he detailed the supposed threat. I sat on my couch and laughed at the absurdity of the accusation.

I think about the transgender people who now attend or have attended Envision Community Church (formerly Left Hand Church) in Longmont. We are people who have a hard time destroying dandelions in our front lawns, because you know, they are dandelions. We take spiders outside and wish them well on their journey. We rush injured birds to the local wildlife center. We cry at garage sales. The idea that we would be on a rampage to destroy property is beyond absurd. Have any of these people actually ever met a transgender person?

Yep, that’s the problem. They have not. Over 60 percent of evangelicals believe transgender people already have too many civil rights, yet only 25 percent have actually met someone who is out as a transgender person.

I used to preach regularly at LifeBridge Christian Church in Longmont, a megachurch of a few thousand people. Do you know how many of those people have had conversations with me since I transitioned? It’s not hard counting them. It’s fewer than a dozen, and three of them didn’t realize they were talking with the person who used to preach for them. I’ve met with everyone who has asked to meet with me, but that is exactly three people.

Now you see the problem. It takes hearing people’s stories and being in close proximity to one another to narrow the political divide. And today that simply doesn’t happen. So, some Christian School principal in Loveland, Colorado, earnestly warned his student’s parents about a “threat” that was so absurd it actually made me laugh. After all of the laws and rhetoric of the last few months, it’s pretty hard to make me laugh about this subject. Most of the time I’m sad, and often I am considerably frightened.

The board members of the town in which I live were all encouraging one another to run for office again next year. We enjoy working together and share similar concerns about the priorities of our beautiful town. I had to remind them that as the anti-trans rhetoric increases, my chances of reelection dwindle. It is just a fact.

Sometimes the media adds to the problem. March 31 was International Transgender Day of Visibility, but our local paper had no article about this important celebration, only a front page article about the four Christian schools that closed because they were afraid of transgender people. Thanks Longmont Times-Call. That certainly helps trans people. In the newspaper’s defense, the article did focus on the fact that the threats were completely unsubstantiated. Nevertheless, frightened evangelicals got news coverage, while anything positive about transgender people was absent from the pages of the paper.

I keep thinking about all of the trans people who now attend or have ever attended our church. I keep thinking of the threat we are to society. Getting to know us is a threat to maintaining bigotry and hatred toward transgender people. Spending time with us is a threat to maintaining the fantasy that we are anything other than ordinary humans, roughly as healthy or unhealthy as everybody else. Attending our church is a threat to being able to back up your principal’s harried call to close the school doors because we are headed en masse to destroy every Christian thing in our path. I mean, among other things, that would include destroying my own church.

Reading my memoir would be a threat to continuing your chosen ignorance about the pain transgender people experience from a very young age. Reading my son’s book would be a threat to your conviction that transgender people destroy their families. Meeting my co-pastors would be a threat your conviction that people who support trans people are evil, or at the very least, misguided.

I have a friend from New Zealand who said on a call last week, “What is wrong with America? You are a sick society?” I said, “Yes, we are. And all of this has happened in less than a decade.” If we can fall this far this fast, I am truly frightened about what might come next.

Cavafy Is Right

I’ve been living as Paula for nine years. When I transitioned, I lost all my jobs, my pension, and most of my friends. The kind of people I have in my life nowadays are astonished that such a thing could have happened. It is foreign to the world they inhabit. They understand little about the bubble in which evangelical Christians live.

I probably do not give enough weight to the emotional effect of having the world I inhabited for five decades turn its back on me. My friends are furious on my behalf. Maybe I let them carry the anger for me. If that is true, it is not fair to them. I’d like to forgive my evangelical friends, but there is such a thing as cheap forgiveness, forgiveness that comes too soon, before you realize the awfulness of a thing.

When my memoir was published, every interviewer asked about my friends in my old life. I usually acknowledged the awfulness without really acknowledging the awfulness. Instead, I steered the conversation to the many blessings I have experienced since my transition. Not many transgender people have the kind of post-transition blessings I enjoy.

My family has been wonderfully supportive and accepting. But I do still struggle with the pain they all experienced. The grandchildren adjusted without much difficulty. It has been much harder for my children and their spouses, and much harder still for Cathy. I love my family more than anything and I still find myself asking, “Was there another way?” It is always an open question. Sometimes I have to be reminded just how badly I was doing before I transitioned.

When I can get out of the way of my own tendency toward self-condemnation, its own kind of self-centeredness, I see the bigger picture. Rainer Maria Rilke has the right words for what I feel:

Sometimes a man stands up during supper

and walks outdoors, and keeps on walking,

because of a church that stands somewhere in the East.

And his children say blessings on him as if he were dead.

And another man, who remains inside his own house,

stays there, inside the dishes and in the glasses,

so that his children have to go far out into the world

toward that same church, which he forgot.

With everything in me, I hope Rilke is right. The Greek Poet Cavafy suggests that perhaps the goal of the journey is the journey itself. Ithaca was both the point of departure and the goal of return for Odysseus. Yet even when he returned to his home and his beloved Penelope, he was called onto yet another journey, this time inland, a metaphor for the truth that the most important journey is the journey into the deeper regions of one’s own soul. Cavafy writes:

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.

Without her you would never have taken the road.

But she has nothing more to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not defrauded you.

With the great wisdom you have gained, with so much experience,

You must surely have understood by then what Ithacas mean.

I love vacationing in Hawaii, and often peruse sales listings on the Internet after I get home. It is a wonderful escape. There is something appealing about the one spot on earth in which you are farther from land than any other place. A long journey over water clears the mind. Being surrounded by the ocean reminds me of the eternal toing and froing of the tides. I love it there. But you take yourself with yourself wherever you go, and eventually the limerence stage of young love, with a place or a person, yields to the always restless longings of the soul. The existential anxiety would return to me in Hawaii as surely as it does in the beauty of the Rocky Mountains.

I’ve given up on thinking of life as any destination, any Ithaca. The notion of heaven as the destination, or sustained bliss, or abiding peace, are notions from the past. I think the object of this one precious life is the pathways you take along the way, the energy you bring to those pathways, and the energies you leave behind.

James Hollis writes about this in The Middle Passage. He reminds us of Jung’s central question. “Are we related to something infinite or not?” If we are, then more than anything I want my journey to bring sustaining energy into the lives of those I love and beyond. Is that too much to hope for? This is not a rhetorical question.

Jung also said life is a luminous pause between two great mysteries. The luminosity is because there is something holy and sacred about each human life, and the authenticity with which we live it. Which reminds me of Mary Oliver’s Summer Day. But two poems is my quota for a single post, so you’ll have to look that one up yourself.

And so it goes.

Well, That Was Quite a Statement!

Michael Knowles, right wing commentator of the Daily Wire, said at CPAC this past Saturday, “There can be no middle way in dealing with transgenderism. It is all or nothing.” He went on to say, “Transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely.” I don’t mean to alarm you or anything, but since “transgenderism” doesn’t exist without transgender people, what he is advocating sounds more than a little like genocide. In fact, historically this is exactly how hate speech ushers in genocide.

Knowles is not the only one making inflammatory statements. Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, said gender affirming treatment is a “demonic assault on the innocence of our children.” Demonic? Seriously?

Texas has introduced over 100 bills in 2023 restricting transgender rights. By comparison, they introduced “only” 20 in 2018. Last year Governor Greg Abbott signed into law a bill that classified age-appropriate gender affirming care for transgender youth as child abuse. He was in effect saying to parents, “We will take your child out of class and build a case that you’ve accessed gender affirming care for that child, and then we will remove your child from your home and charge you with a felony.” Note nowhere in that investigation is any concern about whether or not your child is actually transgender.

By classifying gender affirming care as child abuse, you also make individuals in a plethora of professions mandatory reporters, likely to lose their jobs, licenses, and freedom if they do not report such “abuse.”

Fifty-six percent of transgender youth have experienced suicidal ideation, compared to 20 percent of their cisgender peers, an alarming number in itself. Thirty-one percent of transgender teens have attempted suicide, compared to 11 percent of their cis peers.

It’s not just children’s rights that are being threatened. Terry Schilling, president of the American Principles Project, told the New York Times that their goal is to ban transgender care for anyone of any age.

The fight against trans rights isn’t so much about Republicans as it is about evangelicals. Over 60 percent of Republicans believe transgender people should have the same civil rights as anyone else. But 84 percent of evangelicals believe gender is immutably determined at birth and over 60 percent believe we already give transgender people too many rights.

We’ve come a long way since I led a conversation with a group of megachurch pastors about ten years ago in which the pastors talked about making room within their congregations for transgender people. Their reasoning was simple, if inaccurate. They said, “The Bible speaks against homosexual behavior. It says nothing about being transgender.” But that was then.

Since 2016 gender dysphoria has become the leading flashpoint for the far right. Why? First, those seeking to retain waning power have always focused on the most vulnerable people, minorities who are powerless. Transgender people make up only .58 percent of the population. As a group, we hold very little power or influence. According to a Pew Research Study, only 42 percent of Americans know someone who is out as a transgender person. There are fewer than 100 of us holding elected positions at any level of US government. (It is an honor to be among that 100.)

Another problem is that social pendulums perpetually swing from one extreme to the other. There are many, particularly in the academic world, who believe gender is purely a social construct. They say there is no predisposition before experience toward gendered behavior. Gender is only learned environmentally. It is my opinion that for the majority of the population there is a predisposition before experience to behavior identified with one gender or the other.

I do not believe gender is a social construct any more than I believe gender is immutably determined by medical personnel at birth. Both are distortions of a complex reality. Gender identity, like sexual identity, is on a spectrum, and it is rarely apparent early in life. At its earliest, gender identity awareness exists by three or four years of age, and sexual identity awareness by nine or ten.

While I thoroughly endorse children being able to explore their gender identity, when the day is over there will still be about .58 percent of people who are transgender. In some environments, six times that many adolescents currently identify as transgender. I believe the majority of those young people will eventually decide they are not transgender. Therefore, we do need to be cautious when prescribing estrogen, testosterone, or anti-androgens. Some effects are not reversible. While caution is appropriate, parents and medical professionals should make those determinations, not legislatures.

The greatest concerns I have are not about hormonal treatment. They are far more basic. They are about the overt hatred and vilification of the transgender community. Forty-one percent of transgender people will attempt suicide at some point in their lives.

Even those who have transitioned have higher than average suicidal ideation. Why? For 99 percent of them, it is not because they are not happy in their new gender. It is because of our society’s rejection of them, which results in internalized transphobia. Forbidding transitioning will not solve that problem. Stopping ridicule, bullying, and hate speech will solve that problem. Stopping anti-trans laws from being signed into law will solve that problem. Helping this minority  thrive will solve that problem.

Comments like that of Michael Knowles, Tom Fitton, and Terry Schilling (Hmm, interesting, all are white males) should alarm all Americans. Language that encourages radicals to pursue genocide cannot be tolerated. It is hate speech at its worst. It is time for trans allies, accomplices, and apprentices to speak up on our behalf. Enough is enough.

This Is Getting Serious

Over the past five years I have spoken to over 100 corporations, government agencies, universities, and conferences on issues related to gender equity. My first TED Talk, about the differences between experiencing life as a man and as a woman, has been the subject of most of my talks.

While I continue to speak on the ongoing fight for gender equity, I am offering a new talk on what is happening in America with the anti-transgender laws, rhetoric, and repression that are permeating our nation. Here is the description of the new talk that my speaker’s agency will be offering throughout the United States and Canada.

When an Arkansas State Senator recently asked a transgender pharmacist in a public hearing whether she had a penis, America entered a new and dangerous period of anti-transgender rhetoric and repression. Over 300 anti-transgender bills are currently pending in over 35 states. Nineteen anti-transgender bills have already been signed into law in the last 14 months. What is going on? 

As a pastoral counselor and national speaker on gender equity, with over nine million TED Talk views and a best-selling memoir about her transgender experience, Paula Stone Williams is prepared to help your company, conference, university, or agency understand why transgender issues have become such a tipping point in American culture.

With humor, insight, and a surprisingly candid perspective, Paula will increase your understanding, answer your questions, and help you navigate the dangerous cultural waters of sex and gender politics.

I am very concerned about the rights of transgender and non-binary individuals. I am about as privileged as a transgender person can get, but even I have received an uptick in emails, texts, and other forms of anti-trans rhetoric aimed at me. It affects my decisions about the places I travel. I have been avoiding Florida and any state that has recently passed anti-transgender leglislation. I avoid my home states of Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia, unless I know I am going to be in a supportive environment. I can only imagine how parents with transgender children must feel.

There was a day, not so long ago, when I felt safe anywhere in America. Now, I feel about some parts of the United States like I feel about fundamentalist Muslim nations in the Middle East. They are not safe environments for a transgender person.

I am more than willing to use my platform to speak out against anti-transgender rhetoric and legislation. I have already testified against anti-trans laws and have worked with the Biden administration to bring accurate information about gender issues to the American public.

When I transitioned, I saw a clear pathway forward for transgender people. I thought it would take as little as a decade to bring about equity for trans and non-binary people in most parts of America, and not more than a couple of decades in more conservative regions.

Then came 2016. Since then, things have gotten alarmingly worse. This week’s fiasco in the Arkansas Senate is only the latest example of the danger at hand. There has been an explosion of bigotry directed at one of the most at-risk populations in our nation. Trans people have a suicide attempt rate of 41 percent, six times higher than any other people group. Transgender adolescents have a suicide completion rate 13 times higher than their peers.

These are trying times, and we all have a responsibility to stand up for the basic rights of transgender and non-binary people. Now, more than ever, we need allies willing to speak up on our behalf. We need apprentices, willing to take direction from the trans community, to help us battle the ignorance and prejudice permeating our nation.

Last week my co-pastor Kristie and her fiancee Mara joined the Parasol Patrol, using opened rainbow umbrellas to protect children going to the Broomfield, Colorado Library for a story hour with drag queens. Protestors were shouting offensive slogans at the children and their parents. My friends said they needed more people holding more umbrellas to protect the children. The protestors were calling those arriving for the story time pedophiles. It is important to note that the protestors hurling these insults were wearing face coverings to shield their identity. In my opinion, that is a sign of their deep shame about their behavior.

This is not the time to remain quiet. We must work together to protect the freedom to be who God made us to be. To do anything less is to fail our children and the principles upon which this nation was founded.

Nope, It’s Not Going to Die

Everything I read of late tells me the church is dying. Americans no longer go to church, they say. Twenty-five years ago, 70 percent of us identified with a local religious body. Today, that number is down to 47 percent, a rather precipitous drop. Post-pandemic attendance continues to diminish. Are the church’s days numbered?

I was reading an article last week that said people are no longer attending religious services, but they are reaching out for the help of a spiritual director or pastoral counselor. Since my doctorate is in pastoral counseling, this should be good news for my profession. And the truth is that my clients, most of whom do not go to church, do have a keen interest in spirituality. However, what I can provide as a pastoral counselor is not what a person can gain from regular involvement in a religious community.

The church is the only institution whose main purpose is to do life together, search for meaning together, celebrate life’s milestones of together, and band together to care for others. Other institutions might cover one of those bases, but the church is the only one that covers all four.

We ask a lot of the church, and it never quite lives up to the task. The church is messy. The church I serve as a pastor, Left Hand Church (more about that in my next post) is every bit as much of a mess as any other church. When you bring people together in a voluntary community, it is going to be messy. You hope everyone will muster the strength to live authentically, but often it’s only an aspirational goal, not a reality. It’ll always be that way when you live in community with other messy, self-absorbed, avoidant humans. And yet, here we are, after 2000 years, and somehow against all odds the church still stands. Empires come and go, but the church stands.

Yes, the church has to reinvent itself for every generation, because the world is in a constant state of change. But through the changes, some things remain. They are to love God, love neighbor, and love yourself. And you can’t do the first two very well until you’ve learned to do the third.

The church is where we celebrate the milestones of life, be it births, weddings, funerals, the solstices, or some obscure religious celebration known only to one’s peculiar tradition. (Ever hear of the Cane Ridge Revival?) As a pastor, it is an honor to perform weddings, funerals, baby dedications, baptismal services, and be present for every other milestone of our communal lives.

I particularly love preaching for Christmas Eve and Easter. Nicole likes Pentecost and the first weekend of October, when in the tradition of St. Francis, we bless everyone’s animals.  Kristie always preaches during Pride month, and for Palm Sunday. I love that the church is the place that celebrates all of life’s comings and goings.

The church is also a place in which the total is greater than the sum of the parts. Individuals come together and miracles happen. The first wave of the Civil Rights Movement would never have taken place without the church. The abolition of slavery would never have happened without the concerted efforts of the church. Today’s church, at its best, focuses on the needs of refugees, immigrants, children, the LGBTQ+ population, individuals with disabilities, women, the economically disadvantaged, and a plethora of other people groups that have been marginalized.

Governments exist to meet the needs of the citizenry. Corporations exist to benefit their shareholders. Schools exist to educate students. The church exists to do life and search for meaning together. The church exists to celebrate the moments of our lives, and to join in common cause to produce the miraculous.

If the church didn’t exist, we’d have to invent it. There is no other institution that does everything the church does. Church attendance might be down, but the church will be just fine. If we haven’t been able to kill it in 2000 years, we’re certainly not going to be able to kill it now.

And so it goes.