Insight at the TEDxMileHigh After-Party

Insight at the TEDxMileHigh  After-Party

Speaking last Saturday at the TEDxMileHigh Wonder event was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I was overwhelmed by the response I received from the wonderfully warm and supportive audience.  I want to thank Jeremy, Helena, Nicole, Briar and all of the TEDxMileHigh staff for giving me such an amazing opportunity.

I spoke about the unique experience of having lived in both genders, and about the privilege I had, but did not fully appreciate, as a male. While the event was live streamed, the video will not be available for another month or so. I will let you know when it comes out.

On Saturday evening I attended the after-party and had the privilege of talking with a couple hundred people who heard my speech. I cannot count the number of women who came to me and said, “Thank you for validating my experience.” Many had tears in their eyes.  I felt such gratitude.

I spoke with mechanical engineers, educators, psychotherapists and software architects. I talked with full-time homemakers, mothers with young children, and retirees. I conversed with African-Americans, Asians, Hispanics and Whites. Whenever I had the chance, I asked the women to talk about their own experiences. While some shared lighthearted experiences that reflected the early part of my talk, the majority shared stories of a lifetime of treatment as second-class citizens.  Some told stories of abuse. Over a score talked of growing up in fundamentalist homes. The connection between religion, misogyny and abuse is clear, and appalling.

When I left the after-party I was overcome with emotion. Thankfully, my Lyft driver was silent as I cried on the ride back to my hotel. Women know too much pain, and have known too much pain since the dawn of time.

After several years as a female, I thought I was beginning to grasp the breadth and depth of the problem.  As I listened to these women, I realized how much I still have to learn.  I had too many years as a privileged alpha male to be able to fully understand what these women have been through.  It is humbling.

The last few weeks have been difficult, as I have watched most of the women I know share some kind of “Me Too” experience. I am most haunted by my friends who cannot bring themselves to speak or write the words, “Me Too,” because their wounds are still open. For some, these wounds have been open for decades.

I retired to my hotel room and thought about all of my years in the patriarchal world of the church.  By trying to bring about change from the inside, I thought I was doing my part.  It was not enough.  The abuse, misogyny and lack of equity demanded a much stronger response than what I offered.  I could have done more.

Five thousand people came to their feet on Saturday to show gratitude for my talk.   I am grateful I had a chance to shine a little bit of light on a very real problem, but the ones who deserve the ovation are the women who have endured a lifetime of mistreatment and are now rising up and powerfully crying out, “No more!” I was inspired by these women and the stories they told.  I will continue to do whatever is in my power to bring about change.

As a male, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I know now, more than ever, just how unjustly this world treats women, and I will not be silent!

 

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Long Showers and the Like

Long Showers and the Like

When you transition from one gender to another, your entire life is turned upside down. Initially you are just trying to survive. A little later comes the post-traumatic stress. I barely remember the six months after I was let go by the various ministries I served. It was a good two years before I became confident about my ability to survive.

For all of those reasons, it’s only been recently that I have begun to reflect on the more subtle aspects of transitioning. I started making a list. I am not suggesting all of these shifts are directly related to transitioning, but I suspect most are. In no particular order, here are a few of my observations.

First, let’s talk about the temperature in the office building – any office building. I don’t remember offices being cold, but now I would never go to the office without a sweater. Why? Because it’s 58 degrees in there! You can tell who controls the thermostat – the guys with their jackets off and shirtsleeves rolled up.  Who put them in charge?

This is also true of the front of an airplane. (I did not lose my free upgrades and the accompanying perks. Thank God, the airline industry does not care if you are transgender.) There are blankets in every first class seat, and the women always have them draped over their bodies. The men never open theirs. The people in the cockpit control the cabin temperature. Yep, most are men.

When I was in college, my dorm had the world’s smallest hot water tank, but it didn’t matter because fast showers were the order of the day.  All I had to do was lather up, rinse off, and I was done. Now, I can stay in the shower for days. After mountain biking this afternoon I took a 35-minute shower. It’s a good thing we have two giant hot water tanks. My body wants the feel of all those droplets.

Since I have extremely curly hair, the amount of time devoted to my hair has grown exponentially. It is the main reason I kept it short through most of my adult life. Until I found the book, The Curly Girl, I went back and forth between frizzy and frighteningly frizzy. I am finally making peace with my hair, but I am still concerned about its borderline tendencies. It turns from friend to enemy on a dime.

Women do need a lot more clothes than men – a lot more. Which is frustrating because clothes are more expensive and of lesser quality. Men’s shirts are made of cotton that could be used to make mainsails. They are sturdy. Women’s cotton shirts are about as thick as two-ply toilet paper. And don’t dare take them to the dry cleaner, because you’ll pay twice as much to have them laundered.

I wonder, who was the first dry cleaner to figure out you could fleece women with impunity? He probably thought, “Hey, we can pay them less but charge them more. How cool is that!” There’ll be a special place in purgatory for that guy. He’ll have to spend millennia ironing linen pants.

My skin is thinner now, which is probably why I’m always cold. It’s also why I bruise twice as much as I used to. And of course that is obvious to everyone, because women’s clothes show a lot more skin than men’s clothes. Thinner skin is also why women get cellulite while men don’t. I also find it ironic that while women have thinner skin, in my experience men are more thin-skinned. You know what I mean.

The biggest differences come from the loss of testosterone and the arrival of estrogen. Testosterone is a powerful drug. The number one reason transgender men are in psychotherapy is because they are struggling to deal with the arrival of testosterone. Aggression is one result. (When was the last time you saw a woman starting a brawl at a football game?) And of course, the biggest impact of testosterone is how one experiences sexuality.

As a male, sex was a problem. I never crossed a line of any kind, but I’m telling you, it wasn’t easy. You constantly had to be on guard. I mean, think about it. There are no brothels for women, and according to a Pew Research study, 80 percent of people watching porn are male. Male sexuality is about perpetuating the species, so the male is pretty much always thinking, “I’ll have that, and that, and that.” Have you ever watched bull elk during the mating season? Yeah.

I now experience sexuality far more holistically. I’m not even sure what I mean when I say that, but I know it to be true. It’s more of a being experience and less of a body experience.

I could go on. In fact, it seems I always need more words to express what I’m thinking and feeling nowadays, but I’ll have to save that observation for another day.

And so it goes.

Reconciled to My Heritage

Reconciled to My Heritage

One of the most painful realities of my transition has been the loss of my tribe. I was always proud of the Restoration Movement, and particularly its structure, a collection of independent churches working together for a common cause. Unfortunately, at this point in my life I would not be welcome in almost any Christian Church/Church of Christ, and I definitely would not be allowed to preach. Which is why Sunday, October 22 was so special.

In 1879, First Christian Church of Portland came into being. In 1922 they finished a beautiful building in downtown Portland, Oregon. The building is now surrounded by apartment buildings and parking garages – literally. There is a large parking garage beneath the building and a luxury apartment building rises above it. The beautiful sanctuary and courtyard remain as they were decades ago.

High on the sanctuary walls are stained glass windows reflecting the work of pioneers of the Restoration Movement. There are windows devoted to Thomas and Alexander Campbell, J.W. McGarvey, Isaac Errett, Barton W. Stone and others. All are beautiful in their intricacy.

On Sunday morning, October 22, I preached at Christ’s Church Portland, a church affiliated with the Disciples of Christ sharing the building with First Christian. I stood in the sanctuary and preached the Gospel, bathed in light passing through those stained glass windows. I was overcome with emotion.

Beneath the window commemorating Isaac Errett, I preached from the Book of Acts. In 1866, Isaac Errett founded Christian Standard magazine. From 2003 to 2013, I was a weekly columnist and editor-at-large at CS. And there I was, Paula, boldly preaching the Gospel.

We have no idea with whom the early leaders of the Restoration Movement would align themselves if they were alive today. Maybe they would be partial to the Churches of Christ, the most conservative branch of the movement. Possibly they would find a home in my former branch, the independent Christian churches. Or they might be most comfortable in the Disciples of Christ, the current affiliation of First Christian Church and Christ’s Church Portland.

We have so much more knowledge than was known in the early 1800s. We can only guess how that accumulation of knowledge would have affected the theology of those early leaders. I know how much my increase in knowledge has changed my theology over the past 40 years.

I do know how it felt when, during my sermon, I pointed to Isaac Errett’s name and referred to my work with Christian Standard, and pointed to Barton W. Stone’s name, and noted my middle name, Stone, and my affiliation with the movement he started. It was grounding.  There is an entire branch of the Restoration Movement, made up of hundreds of thousands of members, that welcomes me with open arms.

Sunday, October 22 brought redemption. I am not an orphan. I do have a heritage, and I have been firmly embraced by people who look fondly on the names I have known since childhood.

What goes around, comes around, with reconciliation in its arms.

And so it goes.

TEDxMileHigh

TEDxMileHigh

On November 11 I will be one of the speakers at TEDxMileHigh Wonder. I will join 5,000 of my closest friends in a day of fascinating conversations about big ideas. I have been able to spend time with most of the speakers, and this is gonna be fun.

The Wonder event will be held at Bellco Theater at the Colorado Convention Center. As of this writing, there are still seats remaining, though they do expect it to be sold out.  http://tedxmilehigh.com

How did I come to speak at a large TEDx event? Unlike most speakers, I did not apply. Back in April, Michael Hidalgo, lead pastor at Denver Community Church, and I did an interview with Ryan Warner on Colorado Matters, a popular show on Colorado Public Radio. That interview resulted in CPR taking an interest in my July sermon at DCC.  After I preached, CPR  asked to play a portion of my message on Colorado Matters. That  got the attention of one of the curators at TEDxMileHigh.

It has been fascinating to see how much work the leaders do to ensure a great day for the TEDx attendees. Each speaker has a coach, and the coordinators weigh in heavily on every aspect of your presentation. At a little over two weeks out, I am on draft 14 of my talk. Just for the sake of comparison, my typical blog goes through about five edits and my typical sermon goes through seven or eight. The folks at TEDxMileHigh have high expectations. That is one of the reasons their events sell out.

I cannot help but compare my sermon preparation to this TEDx experience. Part of the reason I love preaching at Highlands Church is because the bar is high. Both of our preaching pastors, Jenny Morgan and Mark Tidd, work long and hard on their sermons. Their good work makes itself known. I want the sermons I preach at Highlands to be at the level of excellence they routinely attain.  I put a lot of hours into my sermons.

In the typical Roman Catholic Church, the sermon (they call it a homily) is not that big a deal.  A homily gets maybe an hour’s worth of work on a Saturday evening.  It shows.  Sermons are more important in Protestant churches.  They are the central part of the service, and last anywhere from 20 to 50 minutes. I usually preach between 21 and 23 minutes. No one complains about a short sermon.

There are some interesting peculiarities about evangelical preaching. A lot of preachers “borrow” a sermon that has already been preached by a megachurch preacher.  They do not give proper attribution.  Preaching someone else’s sermon and not admitting it has became a common practice in the evangelical church.  I have thoughts about that.  I have never preached another pastor’s outline, let alone the entire sermon.

I have noticed men tend to overestimate the quality of their sermons, while women tend to underestimate theirs. Just an observation.

Since I did not apply to speak for TEDx, it was difficult to decide what direction to go with my talk.  I thought about speaking about how the evangelical church responds to LGBTQ issues.  I also thought about telling my story, in all of its raw truth.  Ultimately,  I decided to speak about the differences between experiencing life as a male and as a female in America. It’s been fun writing my talk.  If you live in Denver, I’d love it if you came.  Friendly faces in the audience would be nice.  (Sorry, but I don’t have any more discounted tickets.)

I am really looking forward to speaking at TEDxMileHigh, though I am not particularly nervous about the talk. I have spoken to large audiences before, both as Paul and as Paula. I’m old enough that if it goes well, great. If it doesn’t, no one dies.

And so it goes.

Oh, Those Walls…

Oh, Those Walls…

I spent much of my life hiding. I worked with others who were also hiding. Some were hiding from their sexual or gender identity, but most were hiding from their own intelligence, their inquisitive minds, or the awakening awareness they knew things they did not want to know. You could see fear in their eyes.

Evangelicalism tells you truth is abstract and knowable. Once known, it can be categorized, catalogued and encased in reinforced concrete. We dust off our hands and say, “Okay, that one’s taken care of. What is the next truth I can polish off?” What we don’t realize is like Poe’s Cask of Amontillado, with each concrete brick we are being walled off from real life, with all of its radiant mystery. The cruel bricklayer is our own theology. We are cutting off the oxygen we need to breathe, and guaranteeing an early demise, figuratively if not literally.

Many people are so walled off they only get half of themselves out of bed in the morning, their stored abstract truths like a weight on the better half of themselves. It works out in some perverse way because the life they have crafted is so bland only half of one’s self is necessary to live it. So they shuffle through, day after day, 401k secure, but soul as dry as stale bread.

I know an older evangelical who is bedfast, though without physiological reason. A bone was broken, but when it had healed sufficiently enough to resume an ambulatory life, this poor soul didn’t have it in them to rise up and walk. It has now been so long that the person couldn’t walk if they wanted to. I often wonder about the reason. Was there some complex trauma of which I am unaware, or was it nothing more than the cumulative effect of stifled curiosity?

The desire for safety and security is powerful. The desire to be a dutiful member of a lifelong tribe is strong. I am living proof of what happens if you dare to stand and walk on your own. The tribe is brutal and unforgiving. In my case, I was virtually annihilated.

Let’s be clear. I did not fundamentally disobey the teaching of Scripture, not even if you start with an evangelical hermeneutic. My true sins are of the common variety, not the type that result in rejection. Some have attempted mental gymnastics to invent a more traditional reason for my banishment, but you don’t have to scratch very deeply to see the ruse.

My memory was banished because I was uncomfortably different. That was my unforgiveable sin. My banishment says to others who are curious or committed to living authentically, “Look very carefully at the empty space where she once existed. This could happen to you.” No wonder most stay behind those reinforced walls.

I understand if my experience gives you pause. Leaving a tribe is not for everyone. The journey is easier if you feel a strong sense of call. Should you feel that call, that defiant nevertheless, I can assure you there is life on the other side of evangelical orthodoxy. And that life is redemptive and beautiful and good, full of important work in the ministry of reconciliation.

And so it goes.

By Their Fruit I Came to Trust Them

By Their Fruit I Came to Trust Them

Three weeks ago it was my privilege to be at the meeting of the Union of Affirming Christians – a Faithful Coalition for LGBTQ Equality at Union Seminary in New York City. The conference was under the capable leadership of Josh Dickson, Fred Davie and Derrick Harkins. For two days, 25 of us talked about the need for LGBTQ equality in the evangelical world.

The meeting was a reminder of how much my world has changed over the past few years. For most of my evangelical life I was in the company of leaders who were almost all straight white evangelical males. At the Union meeting straight white men were a decided minority.

Those attending the Union conference have had ample opportunities to spend time with people of varied backgrounds. That has been one of the most refreshing aspects of my new church world. For the most part, those with whom I worked in my previous life came from the same background. I did not encounter gay clergy. I did not interact with women who were pastors, seminary presidents or non-profit CEOs. I interacted with very few people of color.

The beginnings of my own interaction with warm, intelligent, loving non-evangelicals began in my childhood in Akron, Ohio. It continued after I moved to New York and was surrounded by people who did not know an evangelical from a kumquat. These people were intelligent, well educated and accepting. By their fruit I came to trust them. They loved well. Proximity promotes understanding.

I believe those with whom I worked in my previous ministries were good and devoted people. The majority also lived in silos. While being in close proximity promotes understanding, living in silos promotes prejudice. The world I now inhabit is much larger than my previous world. It has been enlightening.

As is most often the case in my new life, the people with whom I worked three weeks ago were not particularly interested in my gender. I am not the first transgender person in their lives. They were far more interested in my knowledge about the evangelical church. They are accustomed to being with people of varied backgrounds. They are not accustomed to spending time with evangelicals, primarily because evangelicals show little interest in spending time with them.

Occasionally I am asked to speak in evangelical environments. I am never invited to speak about the expertise I gained over four decades in ministry. They only want to know about my gender identity. If I am at an educational institution, monitors are in the classroom to pull me from the lectern, should they not like my comments. If I am at a church, the venue is chosen for the ease with which people can choose to make an unobtrusive exit.

I have chosen to place myself in those environments for the primary reason that proximity does promote tolerance. And I appreciate the opportunity. I know those institutions pay a price when they ask me to come. But invariably I must do so at my own expense, and my financial generosity has its limits. I cannot continue to self-fund a one-person campaign to educate evangelicals.

One of the harder lessons of the Union meeting was being reminded of my white privilege. Eighty percent of those in attendance were white, and we knew that was not all right. But I was grateful to at least be in an environment in which that was painfully acknowledged.

I still miss my old friends. Losing their friendship is one of the most painful losses of my life, devastating really. But there is nothing I can do about those losses. When they ask to meet with me, we meet. But not many ask. (The only time I refuse a meeting is when I am being invited to an interrogation, not a conversation. I have no interest in being ambushed.)

Difficult as those losses have been, I am grateful for my new world of wounded healers and faithful questioners. They are fresh air for my tired lungs. Those friendships remind me of the words that close David Whyte’s poem, Sweet Darkness:

The world was made to be free in

You must give up all worlds except the one to which you belong

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet confinement of your aloneness

To learn that anything or anyone that does not bring you alive

Is too small for you

 

We Shrug Our Shoulders and Move On

We Shrug Our Shoulders and Move On

It is a rare rainy day in the foothills of the Rockies. The clouds are at about 5600 feet, just a few hundred feet above the surface of the earth. I awoke to golden leaves gracing the outer branches of the cottonwoods along the St. Vrain. The river flowed yesterday. It flows today. It will flow again tomorrow, after the clouds have lifted and the sun has returned. But something will be different.

There are malevolent forces in our midst. We saw them at Sandy Hook, and again at Pulse. Sunday night we saw them in Las Vegas. Over the last 20 years more than half of the mass killings in the world have occurred in the United States.

We act as though we are powerless against these forces, but the truth is we have decided to be powerless. We have decided to gasp at the bulletin, offer prayers over the headlines, then shrug our shoulders and move on. That’s not okay.

Don’t spin anything. Don’t even start with the rhetoric. If assault rifles were banned, the Sunday night massacre would not have happened. It is that simple.

There are 250 million adults in the United States, and only five million members of the NRA, the combined population of Brooklyn and Queens. No one at the NRA believes they are powerless. So why do the other 245 million of us believe we are powerless? Because most of the other 245 million Americans are not politically engaged, that’s why. And when you are not politically engaged, you are powerless.

Why can’t a new pro-life (in favor of severely restricting assault rifles) lobby emerge? Can’t the rest of America agree on this one issue? Apparently the answer to that question is a sorry no. Some of us are too comfortable. Some of us assume the odds are low that our family will be shot, and that’s enough for our self-centered selves. I’m afraid the bottom line is that those who fight so hard for the right to own assault weapons are more frightened than the rest of us.

They are frightened of our federal government. They are frightened of Blacks, immigrants, Hispanics, LGBTQ individuals and pretty much everyone who does not look like them. Frightened people who are already in power are very dangerous.

If the election of Barack Obama showed we live in a nation in which a highly competent Black man can be elected president, they decided to show us they still had enough votes to elect a highly incompetent white man as president.

They also want us to know they still hold enough power to make sure a crazy white man can get an assault rifle and kill innocent people. They would rather accept that reality than lose their political clout.

ISIS tried to claim credit for the Vegas shooting. We don’t need ISIS to bring us down. The fear of angry white men and the families they control is enough to bring us down. Creating threats that do not exist is their stock in trade. It keeps their base frightened and loyal. They know we are not afraid enough to truly unite to end their reign. So we will mourn for a few days, complain for few more, and Vegas will happen again.  I do not mean to sound callous.  I am just reporting an undeniable trend.

Here is what bothers me the most. Many of the frightened Americans who continue to allow these assault rifles to be painfully easy to acquire, as well as those who continue to deny civil rights to people of color, LGBTQ people, immigrants and refugees, are members of the fundamentalist and evangelical churches of which I was once a part. God forgive me for not speaking more strongly against their unjustified fears when I had the platform to do so.

And so it tragically goes.