Just Frustrated

Just Frustrated

Okay, previously it has been amusing, but now I am just frustrated. Since I became a woman, no one takes me seriously!

Last week I was in my Denver bike shop when a summer employee offered his assistance. I asked if an aging Gary Fisher Hi-Fi Deluxe frame could flex enough with age to cause a rear disk break to rub. The young man began to explain why rear disc brakes usually rub. I told him I know why rear disk brakes usually rub; that wasn’t my question. I was asking if an aging aluminum frame could flex too much. He proceeded to tell me that my brakes needed to be adjusted periodically. I told him I knew that, and in fact did my own adjustments. He said the rotor was probably bent. I told him the rotor was not bent; I had checked it. I said, “I was not asking if my rotor was bent. I was asking about frame flex.” With condescension he replied, “Well ma’am, what do you want me to do?” I said, “I want you to answer my question.”

Finally the owner of the shop stepped in. He said, “Yes, that is more than likely exactly what is happening. Are you only getting a chirp when you pull hard uphill?” I told him I was, and he kindly explained that the problem was likely to continue until I got a new bike. The problem is frame flex caused by metal fatigue. That is all I wanted to know! But no!! Mr. Summer Employee had to treat me as though I had never been on anything but a flowered banana bike with a basket on the front bumper.

Evidently, I have become stupid. Estrogen has stripped my brain of the number of cells necessary to function as a full human, and now I must be “mansplained” to until the good Lord calls me home. Well, here is what is going to happen. The next male that mansplains to me is going to be prematurely called home. I am going to grab him by his golf-shirted collar and lift him into the air like a side of beef. Then I am going to throw him against the wall and inform him in no uncertain terms that I know what the *$%# I am talking about, and that if he doesn’t know the answer to his question, he needs to admit it. Then I will tell him that admitting I might know more than he knows will not make his penis shrink; it will just make him human.

So there is a deeper problem developing. The more I am told I don’t know what I am talking about, the more I question whether or not I do, in fact, know what I am talking about! I understand a woman’s tendency to doubt herself. After millennia of being told they didn’t know better, it is hard for women to realize that they almost always KNOW BETTER.

I do not claim membership in the club of cisgendered women, those who have unfortunately been subjected to this mansplaining madness since their earliest days. In fact, according to a reliable source, my former wife, I was guilty of mansplaining. What I do know is that after several years as Paula, I am amazed, completely amazed, at the way I am routinely treated by men.

Most men have no idea I am transgender. Unless they know my story, they assume I am a tall post-menopausal woman. In other words, I am of no interest whatsoever to them. I may as well be a frog on a log, croaking into the night.

I wrote on Facebook about my experience at the bike shop and received over one hundred responses. I think three or four were from men. The rest were from women, most of whom have decided to ignore the incessant mansplaining and just move on.

To all of you who knew me as Paul, I AM SO SORRY if I ever mansplained to you. I owe you a great debt of gratitude for not baking me a pie with ingredients that included organic matter.

As for the owner of the bike shop who finally answered my question, God bless you, my son. God bless you and your children and your children’s children. May your family rise up and call you blessed.

And so it goes…

What Am I Missing Now?

What Am I Missing Now?

Eugene Peterson has gotten himself into a bit of a bind. His interview with Jonathan Merritt was wonderful. On the other hand, the retraction had dollar signs and power struggles written all over it. Peterson is 84 and he’s done so much for so many. From me, he gets a free pass. I’ll still read his books.  As for LifeWay and the other Evangelical power brokers who gave him a very, very bad day, there will be no free passes. They are but one of the reasons I am no longer an evangelical.

For years I lived on Long Island, where there are exactly 12 evangelicals and four million Catholics. From the time I arrived in the spring of 1979, all of my friends would screw their faces into contortions when I attempted to explain “who’s in and who’s out” in the world of evangelicalism. You had to be an expert in theological mazes to decipher the code. My Long Island friends weren’t having it. I thank God for them. Their cognitive dissonance was the beginning of my journey away from the machinations of evangelical Christianity.

As for LGBTQ issues, the kind that got Peterson in trouble, for years I kept my mouth shut. I gave no interviews and made no pronouncements. I approved lesbians for adoption in the secular casework I did on the side, but in the evangelical world I avoided the subject. I thought I was doing the right thing. We were doing important things that needed important dollars to bring about important results.

Yeah, I was wrong.

It is my privilege to serve on the board of the Gay Christian Network. I read Justin Lee’s wonderful book, Torn, when I was still Paul. I have seen the thousands of gay Christians who grace our annual conference, and I have heard their stories of rejection. Just last week I had dinner with a therapist who told me of two suicides of young adults the therapist had heard about recently, both former transgender clients. The hatred wore them down.

Christianity is all about flesh and blood and bones and sinew. It is God-breathed flesh and blood beings who die when we tell them they are going to hell because of our interpretation of a few sentences in a series of 66 books of which we don’t have the original copy of any. To an outsider it looks like ancient words on a written page mean more than incarnate humans. It looks that way because it is that way.

The work we were doing that needed important dollars so we could bring about important results wasn’t all that important, because it did not affirm the love of God for all people. On this subject, it is painfully difficult to admit my own failure.

Ironically, I am now doing the same work I did before I transitioned, but with pretty much no dollars. I am not worried. The church we are planting and the national church planting ministry we are starting will welcome all people. LGBTQ leaders will be at the forefront. No evangelical dollars will flow to these ventures, and that is as it should be. The necessary funds will come appropriately, from the heart, beyond the reach of the evangelical gatekeepers.

In my earlier life I was willing to ignore what my heart knew to be true because it was expedient. Knowing that truth, how on earth could I hold any animosity toward Eugene Peterson? It is not Eugene Peterson I am worried about. It is Paula I am worried about. I know what I missed before. What am I missing now?

What Now Do You Ask of Me?

What Now Do You Ask of Me?

Two nights ago I was clearing files from my Macbook when I found three videos of my days as a television host.  One was a show on which I was an executive producer.  The second was an outdoor video we shot at Canyonlands National Park.  The third was a show about classical music shot in an empty concert hall in Knoxville.  In all three I was the on-air host.  Watching the videos put me in a reflective mood.

Our national television program was on the air from 1992 through 2013.  During most of those years we were in 70 markets around the nation.  I loved my time in television, particularly the 15 years I spent on air.  I loved the challenge of shooting in nature, where it was imperative that when there were finally no external distractions, the host better nail the “read.”  The days were long and hard, but incredibly satisfying.

After enjoying  the videos, I started thinking about the person who appeared on camera.  I know that man.  I have warm feelings toward him, and the life he lived.  I know how hard he tried to get it right, and how often he missed the mark.  I like that man, but I do not want to be him.  I know how hard he struggled.  And I know that man was called to move on.

Still, I was proud of the work I had done.  Yesterday morning I showed one of the videos to two of my coworkers.  One recognized in short order that the video was of me.  He has seen pictures of Paul.  The other wondered why I was showing her a video about Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.  She’s not seen a picture of Paul.   To be known only as the woman I am is gratifying.  But there was an ancillary sadness.  I was proud of that work, yet my friend did not know it was me on camera talking about Beethoven’s Ninth.

I puzzled over my feelings for the remainder of the day.  Late in the evening I called my friend Jennifer who lives on the left coast and was still awake.  I told her of my struggle and identified it as an issue of transgender integration.  That is not where her thoughts took her.  Jennifer talked about Genesis 12:1, when God called Abram to leave his old life and enter a new land, “I will show you.”

As soon as she referenced Genesis 12:1, I knew the truth of her words.  Yesterday’s struggle was not about integration.  It was about call.  The call of God is always from something comfortable and known to something unseen and unknown.  God did not say to Abram, “Come to this land that is right here on the other side of the fence.”  The call of God is always to a land yet to be seen.  And often, traveling to that land means leaving a good life behind.

In yesterday’s case it was good work once seen by thousands (if not millions) but now sitting in a videotape canister God knows where.  Good work from a previous call, but not my current call.  The work of this call is still in production, unedited.  The land to which I am called is barely in view, and only through a glass darkly.

I was called to be Paula.  I was called back to the church.  Now I am called back to ministry in the local church.  I also feel strongly called to stand in support of the women (and men, but mostly the women) who will bring the heart of Christ and wisdom of the Spirit back into the life of the church.  The church desperately needs their female guidance.

When Odysseus returned to Ithaca he did not get to remain for long before he was called by a blind prophet onto another journey, inland this time, with nothing but an oar for company.  Apparently this is the way of those willing to accept the call of God.  (For we are all called.  That is not the question.  The question is whether or not we accept our call.)  There will not be just one call.  There will be more.  Sometimes I wonder if they are even bound by time.  I do not wonder, however, about the proper response:

“Yes, God, what now do you ask of me.”

On Wings of Eagles

On Wings of Eagles

It is the day before July 4. I am sitting on the back patio of our beautiful Colorado home where I have been watching a golden eagle soar high above the ridge behind the house. I marvel at her beauty and grace as she rides the currents, eyes fixed on the ground below.  This is the first season I have seen her on the ridge, bringing her serenity into my busy life.

Since the recent articles in the New York Times and Denver Post, I could use the serenity.  It’s been quite a whirlwind.  Of all the emails and messages I have received, I am bothered most by the accusations I have abandoned my faith. The truth is my faith is stronger than ever, riding the currents of hope, love and compassion. I have not left my faith, but I have declared my independence from evangelicalism. When a certain brand of Christianity reviles you for being who you are, you are inclined to examine its doctrines and practices. I had begun that process before my transition. It accelerated after I was expelled from within its ranks.

I bristle when people say I am no longer a Christian, for my belief in the message of Jesus is unrelenting. Not only do I believe in Jesus; I believe in the church. In fact, I believe in the church so much I am going back into local church ministry.

I made my way to Highlands Church in the summer of 2015. That first Sunday I knew I was home. For the next two years I began to unlearn what an evangelical male pastor knows. I began to understand what it means to be a woman in ministry. To put it mildly, the difference is massive. When your entire career is spent with no women in leadership (how many places is that true nowadays?) you don’t exactly learn to see with a feminine eye, or become aware of the extent of your misogyny. It’s not that you’re a bad person. It’s just that you don’t know what you don’t know. I had a lot to unlearn. Still do.

About a year ago I began leading the Highlands church planting team, doing what I had done for decades. When it was time to hire pastors for a new church Highlands was planting in Boulder County, Mark Tidd, our founding pastor, said, “Paula, it’s not too late to put your name in the hat.” I cried for a while. In fact, I believe Mark might have gone home, had dinner and returned before I stopped crying. For the third time in my life, I knew I had been called.

So, I am joining my two good friends, Jen Jepsen and Aaron Bailey, as pastors of a new church. Aaron, a successful entrepreneur and member at Highlands, sold his company and began looking for the next big thing. Little did he know God would tell him the next big thing was planting a church! Jen Jepsen, a former member of the megachurch where I once preached, found me after I transitioned and said, “I think I am supposed to plant an open and affirming church in Boulder County.” Even though I discouraged her because of the massive amount of work involved, I knew she was called, and I knew God had sent her to inform me that I too had been called.

Now here we are, the three of us, getting ready to launch a new church. (More staff will be hired in the future.) We’re already holding dinners, starting study groups and joining social justice teams as we look for a place to meet on Sundays. Weekly services will begin next spring. The last time I planted a church was in 1984 in Brooklyn, New York. I was twelve. (Yeah, I’m goin’ with that, twelve.) And here I am again, feeling the call of God so firmly I can hardly contain myself.

Life takes twists and turns and doubles back on itself often enough. It is the way of the Spirit. In my previous life I turned down offers to be the senior pastor of more than one megachurch. Now here I stand, ready to join Jen and Aaron and the people at Highlands in starting the opposite of a megachurch, a new church. Only God knows what is in store.

If you live in or near Boulder County, Colorado, and you are looking for a church that is a truly welcoming place for all, get ready, it is coming. On wings of eagles, it is coming.

 

Flesh Touching Flesh

Flesh Touching Flesh

When the New York Times writes about you, there will be angry responses. Mine started arriving last Tuesday in the form of a phone call from someone in California at 3:45 AM. Emails and comments on this blog came the next day. I traced the source of most of them to a Christian Internet news site that had run a supportive article. About a dozen conservative Christian sites picked up the story and turned it to their purposes. Those articles became the source of much of the unwanted correspondence.

The people who wrote do not know me. We have had no personal encounters. Yet they fear me. They are frightened of being forced into close proximity with me. Of course, what they do not realize is that they are already in close proximity to transgender people. Since the article appeared, scores of closeted transgender fundamentalists have contacted me. Their stories leave me in tears. Several are pastors.

When humans organize in tribes, we behave in ways in which we would never behave as individuals. We can be goaded into seeing an entire people group as a threat.  It takes a tribe to create a cosmic malevolent force sufficient to deny the humanity of a fellow human.

Tribal behavior is maintained when left or right wing media keep their audiences isolated. The isolation is essential to their agenda. There were scores of comments on these right-wing sites, all of like mind, condemning the New York Times and condemning me.  There were no voices of dissension.  The arrival of the Internet has made the world smaller, but ironically, it has also made us more isolated from one another. When our only interaction is electronic, and limited to those we believe are like us, our humanity is diminished.

Prejudice dissipates when knowledge is disseminated, stories are told, and flesh touches flesh. That is the ministry of reconciliation to which we have been called. That is the responsibility we have as followers of Christ. The evangelical church has become a choir without a melody, repeating one single note – to save people from hell.

The hell people need saving from is not on the other side of death. It is here on earth, where tribes create enemies that do not exist and scapegoats whose only crime is to be different from those in power.

The ministry of reconciliation is about reconciling humans here and now. It is about putting people together, two at a time, who have no agenda other than to get to know one another. It is about laying aside our smartphones and eating a meal together. It is venturing beyond the boundaries of our own tribe to find the individual precious humans around us.

To all those who have written to express their anger that I exist, come and sit down with me. Do not bring your agenda and I will not bring mine. Maybe we can talk about our favorite teacher in elementary school. And maybe we will come to know the healing power of our mutual humanity.

And so it goes.

Surrendering a Secret

Surrendering a Secret

Our marriage therapist, Mike Solomon, had great wisdom. On his final day before retiring, we were Mike’s last clients. I think we might have contributed to his decision to retire.

In an earlier session, Cathy and I had talkedabout the decision to withhold information from our children about my gender dysphoria. When I was convinced I could get through my life without transitioning, it seemed the best course of action. Once I knew that was not possible, it felt like a foolish decision. It takes a very long time to prepare your children for the news their father is transgender – a lifetime maybe, or even longer.

Mike talked about the difference between a secret and what is private. Most people with good boundaries know the details of their sex lives are private. It is no one’s business what turns you on. What surgeries people have had is also private, which makes it fascinating that no one seems to have any difficulty asking me what gender confirmation surgeries I have had. (If it’s a male asking the question, I often ask if he has prostate trouble. If it is a female, I ask if she has her period. They usually get the point.)

Mike suggested what is private is just private. A secret, on the other hand, is information that if it becomes known, is likely to alter the course of one’s life. Some secrets hold moral implications; others hold societal implications. All are kept under wraps for a reason beyond mere privacy.

Jennifer Boylan, the author of She’s Not There, said the biggest change in the life of a transgender person is not their change of gender, but the surrender of their secret.

I thought of her words Sunday when the article about Jonathan (and by extension, me) was trending in the New York Times as the second most emailed article of the day. Both Jonathan and I have heard from people we hadn’t heard from in years. As the day came to a close, I thought, “Well, if there was anybody left who didn’t know about my transition, they surely know now.”

The surrender of a secret can be dangerous, even life threatening. It calls forth judgment and invites condemnation. Tribes have never tolerated members who speak unpleasant truths. They are commonly scapegoated and sometimes killed.

But a secret gnaws at your soul, even when you know there are no moral prohibitions against it. My secret was neither right nor wrong, but it was a great burden. I knew the friends who would depart if my secret became public. I was correct in my knowing. The rejection by the church was swift and almost universal.

I chose the terms of my surrender. I never placed myself in danger. Three people on earth knew of my dilemma. Two were therapists. The third was my spouse. I knew how to be self-protective. But holding the secret was on its way to killing me. It is not all right to deny who you are. I wrote a lot of poetry during that time.  Most of it will never see the light of day, but a few lines from one of the poems is illustrative of how I was feeling:

So what about this calling

When it seems anymore

That no road leads home and

Every path’s become a thicket

 

The soul with its voice barely heard

The heart whispering for its time

Soft and quiet yet strong to bear

Scant hope of ways unseen

Secrets obscure the path forward. Shedding a secret lifts the fog and throws some light. Is it worth it? Most days, yes. Some days, I’m not so sure. Secrets surrendered have tentacles that ensnare the people you love. You might be able to breathe again, but now your loved ones cannot catch their breath. It is excruciating to watch.

I will tell you a secret. Coming out is not for the faint of heart. It has been harder than I expected, and I expected it to be hard. The pain it engenders is staggering. But it is the truth, and if we deny the truth, what do we have, really? I mean, look at our current cultural dilemma, in which a president lies with impunity and venerable media outlets are accused of delivering fake news. No society can long sustain the denial of truth. Eventually life crumbles from within.

I am staking my life on the veracity of Jesus’s words that truth sets us free. I trust that the surrender of my secret will bring about more redemption than harm, more reconciliation than alienation, and more hope than despair, especially in the hearts of those I love the most.

And so it goes.

 

This Is Why I Speak

This Is Why I Speak

I was featured in an article in last Sunday’s Denver Post.  (There is a link at the end of this post.)  For the most part, I was pleased with the article.  The reporter captured the essence of our conversation.  But as with most newspaper articles, there were mistakes.  The reporter wrote “anthrobiologist” instead of “sociobiologist.”  She wrote that I had said change would come to the church on LGBTQ issues within two years.  I said 10 years.  Two years would be great, but it’s way too optimistic.  There were a couple other mistakes, but I’m not complaining.

As for the picture, that was a different story.  They probably took 50 pictures.   I remember when the photographer took that particular picture.  I thought, “Well that’s gonna show every pore.  Watch, that’s the picture they’ll use.”  Uh huh.

As the Post article was being read in coffee shops, I was preaching at Highlands Church in Denver, where a New York Times photographer was taking pictures for an article that will go to press later this month.  Why am I willing to be profiled in the Denver Post and the New York Times?  Why do I take every newspaper and television interview I am offered?  Why do I accept every invitation to speak at Christian universities, even though I pay my own expenses?  Why do I travel the country to speak at GCN, PFLAG and Pride events, often for remuneration that does not cover half of my expenses?

I have already spent decades building kingdoms and slaying dragons.  I am not building a brand.  I do not need attention.   I do not relish the emails, Facebook messages and newspaper comments that arrive every day from an assortment of naysayers.  Nor do I have a masochistic spirit that requires regular doses of sarcasm and vitriol.  So, why do I choose to live such a public life?

The reason is simple.  Lives are at stake.

I will never forget the transgender teen who talked with me after I spoke at my first public event, a PFLAG conference in Boulder.  The boy’s name was Nicholas, and we realized we had been in court on the same day, when our names were legally changed.  His parents were incredibly supportive, unlike the parents of Leelah Alcorn, who ended her life on the very same day Nicholas and I changed our names.  Leelah’s unsupportive parents attended a church that taught them not to accept their daughter’s gender.  It cost them their daughter.

Transgender teens with unsupportive parents have a suicide rate 13 times higher than their peers.  They are the most at risk group in the nation.  Most of those unsupportive parents are Evangelicals.

Nicholas and Leelah are why I live a public life.  Since transitioning I have spoken in 18 states.  I have been in personal contact with thousands of LGBTQ individuals and their families from seven countries on four continents. Almost without exception these souls are Christians who have been ostracized from their churches and/or families.  They always ask the same painful question, “What do I do now?”

I feel the weight of the responsibility.  In my previous work, I hoped to save people from spiritual suffering.  In my current work, I hope to save people from dying.

The pain experienced by these precious souls comes from a church more interested in abstract truth than in the incarnational truth before their eyes – embodied souls who have been driven to the edge of despair by people who use an abstract idea as a very real and dangerous sword.

The truth is, I do not care about their brand of orthodoxy.  I have no interest in debating it.  It is of little interest to me.  However, I do care about their orthopraxy, how they practice the Christian faith.  I find it lacking.  I find any religion lacking  that leads with judgment instead of leading with acceptance and love.

I do believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the hope of the world.  But it is a Gospel not based on exclusion and judgment. It is good news based on the earthly journey of a member of the Trinity.  It is based on the Jesus who came to assure us that God loves us, just as we are.  Did you read that?  I meant what I wrote.  God loves us just as we are.

This is why I speak.

http://www.denverpost.com/2017/06/11/paula-williams-evangelical-trans-rights/