My Story

A number of people have discerned I am in the midst of a difficult struggle.  This week I have written about the specifics of that struggle.

My Story

We live in an imperfect world in which everyone bears untold burdens. Some struggles are obvious to all, but most are privately endured. They are a part of what it means to be human and know suffering.

For my entire life I have had to contend with what is psychologically known as Gender Dysphoria. I was aware I did not want to be a boy from as early as I can remember, probably age three or so. As I grew through puberty and into adulthood, virtually no information was available on the subject. The silence of scripture was difficult. I wanted answers and there were none. I read every piece of information I could find that looked at the diagnosis from a biblical perspective, but little of it was helpful. When I chose to enter the ministry, which has been richly rewarding, I knew talking with anyone in the church could jeopardize my ministry, so only a handful of people knew.

Last year I realized hiding the struggle was no longer working. I am transgender. We began to tell a few more people, with the intention of eventually sharing the information freely. In telling my employers, one of their questions concerned my future plans. Not being certain of the course I would take, a separation was necessary.

Gender Dysphoria is a psychological diagnosis in the DSM V Statistical Manual.   It is unusual, perhaps affecting as few as three of every 10,000 males and one of every 30,000 females. Outside of the psychological community, most people do not know much about it. Unfortunately a lot of inaccurate information abounds.

Gender Dysphoria describes the struggle of a person who feels they are in a wrongly gendered body. There is incongruity between their perception of themselves and the physical body they inhabit.

No one understands the cause of Gender Dysphoria. Males whose mothers took DES (commonly given during pregnancy from the 30s through the 60s) have a much higher incidence than the general population. Some males with the diagnosis have a part of the hypothalamus that is female in proportion, not male. Studies indicate something happens early in development, around the time of the androgen wash, when a female fetus (we all begin that way) becomes a male. The truth is, none of the theories about its cause have been irrevocably proven to be true.

The commonly used term for individuals with Gender Dysphoria is Transgender (the T in LGBT). Transgender is an umbrella term encompassing all kinds of people – from cross-dressers to transsexuals to drag queens, although these three groups have little in common. Sexual orientation and gender are two separate subjects. Some transgender people are gay, some are straight. My sexual orientation has always been toward women. The vast majority of transgender individuals do not find sexual gratification by dressing in women’s clothing. Theirs is not a sexual gratification issue. It is a gender misalignment issue.

Gender Dysphoria is nowhere mentioned in Scripture. In Genesis we are told God made us as males and females, but that is a general statement that does not take into account people born intersex, or with Kleinfelters Syndrome, or a number of other gender related conditions. The Bible is silent on the subject, though it does show compassion toward those on a difficult journey.

It takes a tremendous amount of energy to battle Gender Dysphoria. In fact, 41 percent of those with the diagnosis attempt suicide. There is no cure, and for most the condition gets worse with the passing of time.

Until very recently only my wife and therapists were aware of my Gender Dysphoria. But carrying the burden alone has been too much to bear. Therefore we decided to proactively tell others of the struggle we have faced. This information was not “discovered.” We freely decided to share it.  My wife has been loving, graceful and understanding as she has dealt with this issue. Except for the help of therapists and our children, she has done it alone. Her conviction that God is busy reconciling all things to himself is what sees her through.

With Gender Dysphoria there are no perfect answers. Lots of folks are quite certain about what I should do, but I am the only one accountable for how I live my life. I value the counsel of those who have not walked a mile in my shoes, but then again, they have not walked a mile in my shoes. Ultimately I am the one who must struggle and decide. I am cognizant of the impact of the decisions I make. The burden is great. This much I know. I have lived my life with integrity. I will continue to do so.

I know many will find this news shocking. Because it is unusual and difficult for people to understand, it takes a long time to process. As you come to terms with the reality that I am transgender, I do hope it will not impact how you view my former employers or my family. How you choose to view me is, of course, your decision.

Thank you for taking the time to thoughtfully read this information. As I continue to search diligently for God’s direction, I will appreciate your prayers. My wife and I will also appreciate your respect of our privacy.

Paul

Copyright c 2014 Paul S. Williams. This document is not to be reproduced or conveyed in any media, neither print nor electronic, without express, written permission of the author.

 

 

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Yes Is The Only Living Thing

Yes Is The Only Living Thing

I realize I have written a lot about suffering. D. H. Lawrence said a writer sheds his sickness in his writing. You probably work out your salvation through it as well. I certainly hope so. So I keep writing about suffering, particularly the existential kind, the suffering Scott Peck had in mind when he started The Road Less Traveled with the words, “Life is difficult.”  From Scott Peck to Buddha to Jesus, there has been no shortage of sages who acknowledge life’s suffering. It is life’s given. How we respond to suffering? That is the question.

Psychologist Erik Erikson suggests we can respond to life, including its inevitable suffering, in one of three ways. We can respond creatively, by leaning in. We can respond neurotically, by retreating into isolation that keep us from the unpredictable life. Or we can respond by reframing, telling the world our retreating behaviors are very necessary in light of life’s harsh realities. As you might imagine, Erikson believes the first response, creatively leaning in, is the only healthy approach.

In earlier seasons of my own life I opted for Erikson’s third response. I did not see myself as the neurotic isolationist and in fact, I was not. But if I am honest, I did often reframe my decisions to retreat, telling the world (and myself) that the retreats were necessary in light of harsh realities. But of course, those words always had the musty aroma of falsehood. They were couched in convention, drenched in security, and packed away in a dark corner of my frightened mind, far from my willing heart. Eventually they began to eat away at my soul. I could continue to retreat or I could lean in. The choice was mine.

All the great writers agree with Erikson that creatively leaning into life is the only decent way to live. Poet Mark Nepo suggests we are eroded, worn to our beauty, one season at a time. Samuel Beckett wrote, “I can’t go on. I go on.” Wendell Berry said, “When you no longer know what to do, you have come to the real work.” E. E. Cummings said, “Yes is the only living thing.” I could go on, but you get the idea. Great writers know the essentiality of leaning into life.

So, I take Erikson at his word. Life is to be leaned into, with full-throated passion, steadfast mind, and wide-open heart.

 

This Is Very Hard Work

This Is Very Hard Work

I have done marriage counseling here and there. Couples come when they get stuck. They have usually been stuck for quite some time, but previously had not been motivated to do anything about it. Then something big happens and everything breaks apart and they call for an appointment.

When marriage therapy begins there is a lot of noise, replete with screamed accusations. There might even be hatred. Of course, hatred is not the opposite of love. You do not hate something unless you have a lot invested in it and care deeply about it. The opposite of love is not hate, it is apathy.  I am always concerned about the couples who have become apathetic. If condescension is also present in the counseling session, I know the marriage is in serious trouble. When condescension and apathy combine, you know Humpty Dumpty has had a great fall.

That is why I am surprised when, against all odds, some of these marriages make it. The healing happens slowly, almost imperceptibly. Mark Nepo says when things break apart, they do so loudly. When they come together, they do so slowly and quietly.  The changes usually begin when both spouses realize they have each allowed the relationship to become what it is. They have signed the contract allowing their dysfunction. The husband may be controlling, but the wife has not put her foot down and refused to be bossed around.

We all enter into these quirky contracts. That’s because we focus more on fitting in and less on belonging. We try to become what our spouse wants us to be, or worse yet, what our spouse’s family wants us to be. That might work for a year or two, but eventually you’d like to bring your entire self to the party. A marriage will not survive if one spouse is trying to fit in to the expectations of the other.

To belong is not the same as fitting in. To belong is to be accepted as your true self. No adjustments must be made. You are allowed to bring all of you into the relationship. No one is allowed to change you. You simply show up as you are. If you change, it is because you decided to change, not because someone forced it.

Once couples realize they have signed the “fitting in” contract, they gain the insight necessary to begin breaking old unhealthy patterns. They learn to live authentically, as a daily practice, in the presence of one another. Slowly and quietly things come together and hope is restored. If it sounds like hard work, it’s because it is. Breaking long-established patterns is hard. But divorce is harder.

 

A New Generation

A New Generation

Read the New York Times any Sunday and you will find a plethora of self-help books listed on the non-fiction bestseller list. Look at the titles and the definition of self-help narrows. The majority of the books are about finding financial and professional success. The assumption is that committing to the American capitalist spirit is the only meaningful route to a satisfying life.

I spend a lot of time in New York. It is not one city, but many. Head downtown on a weekday and all you will see are business suits and wingtips. Everyone is in a rush. There is money to be made, or lost, quickly, imminently, immediately.

Head a mile east and you are in Cobble Hill, or Carroll Gardens, and just a little southeast of that, Park Slope. These are Brooklyn neighborhoods. I once approved a single mom for adoption who had just purchased a brownstone in Park Slope for $90,000. It was 1983. It’s worth a couple of million dollars now. To say Brooklyn has become gentrified is a bit of an understatement. But the vide in Brooklyn is different from the feel of Manhattan. Boomers don’t live in Brooklyn. Millennials do. And they do not see success as an apartment on the trendy Upper West Side or exclusive Upper East Side. They want community, accessibility, friendship, and – well – a good life. They do not believe more is better. They believe better is better.

My son pastors a rapidly growing church in Brooklyn. It is externally focused, intent on reconciling the entire creation to the creator. The church serves the poor, teaches immigrant adults and children, counsels anyone in need, and fully participates in the life of the community. If you go to the tiny apartments of those who inhabit this church, you are not likely to find the latest treatise on “leaning in to work” or how to negotiate for success. You are likely to find the essays of Wendell Berry and the theology of Richard Rohr.

The generation inhabiting Brooklyn is growing, and it is a good thing too. They understand and appreciate the words of Parker Palmer: “There is no punishment worse than to conspire in our own diminishment.” This is a generation that watched their Boomer parents travel quickly from flower child to Wall Street tycoon. They sold out and it was ugly. These people do not want to do the same.

As I watched the Millennials migrate to Brooklyn, I questioned whether or not their generation would meet the same fate as their parents. I am pleased to observe they have not, at least not yet. They remain committed to family and community. They want to work hard, earn a fare wage, and participate in helping the world become a better place – really – they do. And that single mom whose brownstone is now worth a cool two million? Well, good for her. I have little doubt she will make good decisions about what to do with it.