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.
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.
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.
40 thoughts on “My Story”
“I’ve learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow. I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. I’ve learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you’ll miss them when they’re gone from your life. I’ve learned that making a “living” is not the same thing as making a “life.” I’ve learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance. I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back. I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision. I’ve learned that even when I have pains, I don’t have to be one. I’ve learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back. I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn. I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ― Maya Angelou
It is never too late to be what you might have been. ~ George Eliot
There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. ~ Albert Einstein
There are times when it is hard to believe in the future, when we are temporarily just not brave enough. When this happens, concentrate on the present. Cultivate le petit bonheur (the little happiness) until courage returns. ~ Ardis Whitman
You and Cathryn are more today in my life than you were when I first met you and put you up on that ‘pedestal of greatness’. You are the true definition of AUTHENTIC, and the true example of GRACE. These are two things that this world needs more of, and these are two things that the church (especially) needs more of, but you have and you are. Stay true to this, don’t waiver, second guess yourself and never question that your future is still full of GREATNESS, INSPIRATION AND PURPOSE!
I love you more today and even more tomorrow!
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You are a true gem hidden among the stones of life. I am honored to call you my friend.
I admire your courage, honesty and your drive to live your life authentically. You have always been and continue to be a person of great love and acceptance for others. I’ve always admired that about you. I’m so thankful for the example you’ve shown me of how to live a life of compassion, grace for others and purpose. I am beyond grateful for you and what you bring to my life. I feel proud of you and proud to be your daughter. I love you.
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It’s awesome that you can live in your truth. I’m glad you will be and stay true to yourself. You are worthy, You are important, and You are the only person I know that blasts ‘The Gather Vocal Band”.
“Very few people do this any more. It’s too risky. First of all, it’s a hell of a responsibility to be yourself. It’s much easier to be somebody else or nobody at all.”
― Sylvia Plath
Think Ms. Sylvia Plath said it best.
Paul, thanks for being so willing to share your story. You have been a blessing to so many people with your speaking/writing/living! May they now become a blessing to you. May God continue to give you strength,guidance, comfort and peace as you continue to serve Him. Blessings to you both. Graham
Paul, I appreciate the courage and weep for the angst that I hear in your post. As the father of a Down’s man, I am very aware that things don’t always go smoothly in human development. I must say that I appreciate your almost silent suffering. For many years I imagined that at the resurrection, Jesus would heal Chris–and we would have a ‘normal’ relationship with him in heaven. Now I have come to understand that Chris is more whole than I will ever be. Perhaps Jesus will make me more like Chris at the resurrection! It is my observation that you have lived your life in a good and godly manner.
“Some nights in the midst of this loneliness I swung among the scattered stars at the end of the thin thread of faith alone.”
― Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow
“You have been given questions to which you cannot be given answers. You will have to live them out – perhaps a little at a time.’
And how long is that going to take?’
I don’t know. As long as you live, perhaps.’
That could be a long time.’
I will tell you a further mystery,’ he said. ‘It may take longer.”
― Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow
“What can’t be helped must be endured.”
― Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow
“You mustn’t wish for another life. You mustn’t want to be somebody else. What you must do is this:
Pray without ceasing.
In everything give thanks.”
I am not all the way capable of so much, but those are the right instructions.”
― Wendell Berry, Hannah Coulter
PS. Thanks for introducing me to the wonderful world of Port William!
Courage is the springboard of every good thing.
I see very good things in your future… (-:
I can’t imagine the bravery it has taken to share your journey with the world. Thank you for your authenticity. You are such a wonderfully gentle, brilliant, and welcoming soul – we feel blessed to call you a friend and to have had our paths cross oh so many years ago in the corn fields of Illinois! We have been and will continue to lift you, your wife and children into the ever graceful arms of Abba.
Thank you so much everyone for your thoughtful and touching comments. What you have written not only tells me I am loved, but loved by people of great depth.
How do we see the face of God? Look in a mirror.
You are loved by many. Even those, like myself, who have not seen you in years and years, but love you now as much as then.
I do appreciate the courage it must have taken to make this announcement. You are loved by a great many people which is also obvious.
I would challenge you to continue seeking God’s heart in this matter. Not many mere humans have walked a mile in your shoes so most of us will never totally understand what you have gone through in your life. Only God knows what you have gone through and only He can carry you through to completion of this difficult life here on earth. It’s not always clear how He will get us from point A to point B, but fully trusting that He will do it is what true faith is all about. He loves you and He created you.
That being said, I do not think that God made a mistake with you when He created you as a man. I think He knew what he was doing. There are numerous things that would never ever have happened if you were not a man. Most notably the existence of your wonderful children and grandchildren and all the future generations that have you and Catherine as their legacy. They all exist because you lived your life and raised your children with love and gave them an example to look up to. God gave you that blessing and He gave you your amazing wife as a partner to form a legacy with, by your side for 30+ years. That was not a mistake and would never have happened if you were not born as a man.
As a brother in Christ, I want to encourage you to consider the image of the life that God gave you that is bigger than you. The Bible clearly teaches that if we would follow Him we would need to take up our cross daily. Sacrifice. Jesus gave us the ultimate example. And now He is celebrating in eternal glory. He lived his life on earth and succeeded. We can too if we live according to His example.
You are who you are…gender confusion and all. God shows his strengths through our weakness.
You have a wife and God made the “two one flesh”. She doesn’t deserve to lose everything that God gave her through her uniting with you as her husband. I challenge you to question God on that one point alone keeping in mind that this life is only temporary.
God bless you Paul
I can’t even begin to imagine how much courage it took to click “publish” on this post.
I love you, respect you, stand by you and look forward to many more years of friendship.
Hi Paul. You’re in our thoughts and prayers. I did some extensive counseling last year with a Trans-woman who was attending our church. She was a professor at UK and married, with a wife and two kids. To say it was complicated is an understatement. She was doing hormone therapy and was in the Real Life Phase, with consideration of GRS. I couldn’t get my head around the situation in its entirety, but one thing I WAS certain of was her love for God. I know that’s true about you too and always has been. Let me know how I can help or pray as you navigate this journey. Hugs to Cathy as well.
We all have out “crosses” to bear in life. The Apostle Paul didn’t like his (2 Cor. 12:7-10) and I don’t like mine. But, God is Sovereign and we trust He has given us these “crosses” to help make us strong and show His glory to a dying world. Stay strong in His Word and He will see you through to the very end. Love and prayers –Syl
Good for you! All the best in this new, honest chapter of your life!
Friends for life, Paul.
As far as I’m concerned this doesn’t change anything. You are still my friend and brother in Christ. I expect that to continue. I am praying for you and your family.
God Bless you,
All of life is to shape us in to a more loving person. You have taught me so much in the past 10+ years, and with this post you teach me even more. May your character continue to reflect the heart of Christ, and may you continue to teach me/us as you grow & learn to love / be loved. I respect you and stand by you; I will forever be indebted to you and your love, and will forever be your friend.
I admire and appreciate your courage in telling your story – I can only imagine the fear and uncertainty you must have experienced in doing so. At times, our faith tradition does not handle these struggles with very much grace, but I pray that is what you will receive from people. I know it is what you will receive from God. We really know so little about transgender issues, and it is all too easy for people to make judgments based on fear, misunderstandings and half-truths. Life is messy sometimes, and it doesn’t always fit the neat little categories we expect or want, but it is also full of beauty and grace even in the midst of the messiness. My prayers are with you and your family as you try to figure out your future plans.
Prayers for you; may God continue to use and bless.
In spite of the years that have passed, I am immediately thrown back to 1967 and 1968, sitting in band class next to the nicest, sweetest, not boy friend, but…friend who was a boy.
My heart broke hearing the pain in your story, and because you have carried such a burden for all these years. To be honest, when you announced your last column for The Standard, I thought it was a little abrupt, but, not knowing your career plans, I just assumed you had been considering a change for some time, and the ending of your column was not really a surprise to those who knew you well.
I cannot imagine your struggles, and I won’t try to act like I can, but…I can tell you that I admire your courage and strength, and that of your family. No doubt, God has special plans for you, and your story may bring some light and hope to someone in ways you can’t even imagine yet.
For what’s its worth, you have a friend in good old Grayson, who admires you and supports you across the miles.
As you say, the decisions you make from this point on, are yours to make…but you have shown yourself to have the strength, depth of feeling, and intelligence to move forward in the direction best for you and yours.
If you make it to the ’69 reunion, I hope I get to see you…I may just have to crash the reunion.
Take care of yourself…
I’ve had the honor of hearing you speak in your wise, gentle, and steadfast manner. Beyond that, I spent years learning from men and women who were taught by you. Your generosity of spirt has reverberated through a generation of leaders, and we’re all the better for it.
I applaud your public declaration, and I trust you will see grace and love from those you’ve meant so much to over the years.
Peace be with you.
“Whatever happens, conduct yourself in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” (Phil 1:27)
You have lived that out for which I am grateful. Going forward this is still the standard for you and I….whatever happens.
I too appreciate your courage. I don’t begin to understand the issues you face but we’ve both been adopted into the family of God despite our dark past and present. We are brothers. Nothing has changed. We’re still unworthy. Nothing has changed. The ransom paid by Christ covers it all….nothing has changed.
I was at the CIY Move conference in Maryland last week. The entire conference came from churches in the East for the first time ever. It was a delight to see kids from the East Coast respond to the good news. I know the many years of seed planting in obscurity that you endured…….now look at the fruit. From Maine to North Carolina and many places between……the harvest is starting to show up. I am grateful for your work. I encourage you to be strong and courageous. I will walk with you on this journey.
Thanks for posting this very thought-provoking and personal essay. It takes a lot of courage to address those things inside of you, especially in the political climate of our time.
It strikes me as I read this how much pain there is in the world–pain that Jesus came to experience, identify with, and resolve. It is my hope that you find Jesus’ bride to be compassionate about the pain you have shared and to seek to identify with you as Jesus does.
I fear it will not. For what it’s worth, you have my compassion and support (though you do not know me!).
To one I deeply love and care for, thank you for your courage to speak up and to speak out. I have no idea the burden you bore growing up, but am thankful for your willingness to listen to your inner being and try to follow who you are.
You are my friend, and though we do not see one another often enough, one who has a profound impact on me and my family, as well as on the kingdom of God. May that impact never cease because you continue to lead well, listen well; and follow well.
Rainy days and tangled Christmas lights have never bothered me, but I have yet to have my luggage lost so I’m two- thirds sure I can handle some little stressors. In spite of or because of your major struggles, you have with God’s grace, mangaged to do amazing things in your life. I’m thinking our class of ’69 knew what they were doing when they voted you “Most Likely to Succeed!” Jennifer won’t have to crash the reunion because I’m inviting her. Paul, I’m so sorry for all that you and your loved ones have endured. May God continue to Bless you and give all who know you peace and understanding. Marilyn
Thanks Paul. It means a lot to me that you had the courage to share this. You wrote, “This much I know. I have lived my life with integrity. I will continue to do so.” There’s not a truer statement. I don’t think I know anyone, personally, who has struggled so hard to be true to who he is and so humbly open about that struggle. Your talks at Orchard retreats, which felt like fire-side-chats, shared your doubts as well as something deep within you that clung to faith. I’ve always appreciated that transparency. I didn’t learn much from your practical talks (may explain some things), but your words and example taught us to be the real thing. That’s what you are. The real thing. My opinion of you and respect for you has never been higher. It’s an honor to be on the journey with you.
To my new friend, I am so honored to know you although for such a short time. I have been involved with transgender people and the issues they face in this transphobic society for almost ten years now, and it is not surprising to me that you have walked in the gender footsteps of those who have gone before you with compassion, grace, love and courage. It is clear from this post that you are deeply loved as do I. Your journey with Christ, the Holy Spirit and the Church is not finished. There are many many churches that would love to hear your experiences, honor your journey and want to work together with you. We must continue the dialogue.
Reading this today made my heart break at the difficult journey that you and Cathryn have traveled, largely alone. You are no longer alone. You have ALWAYS been loved (and always will be by me). If there is any way that I can help to lighten your load, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
As a friend once told me, “God has used you (in this way) for a long time now; I don’t expect He’s going to stop all of a sudden, do you?” I’m excited to see how God will continue to use you (and your story) in the future.
Jeanne Fay (Sampsell)
Just in the few years I got to spend time with you at OG retreats you’ve inspired me, encouraged me and called me to be a more loving individual, a more generous individual and a more dedicated follower of Christ. I can’t imagine where my family would be without your influence in the north east and our lives over the years even before I knew you. Thank you for your courage and for your influence. We are with you in this journey.
To let yourself be seen is an act of courage, and finally, love. I think of The Skin Horse in The Velveteen Rabbit: “Generally, by the time you are Real . . . Your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
Thanks for being brave. It’s an encouragement to people like me who are learning to be more authentic and vulnerable.
“If we refuse to take the risk of being vulnerable, we are already half-dead.” ~ Madeleine L’Engle
Appreciate your transparency. I have Klinefelter’s Syndrome, one of the conditions you mention. It is a chromosomal condition but does not necessarily involve gender issues. Having gone through puberty in my late twenties, I have issues with my own masculinity, feelings of inadequacy and depression. I try to be content with the way God made me but feel I’ve never really matured emotionally. I recently published a memoir on Amazon.Com entitled “Lost Adolescence.” I am not working on a second part which details my marriage and church experiences. It is extremely painful as I feel like I was taken advantage of by fundamentalism. Well, again, thanks for your blog and I will continue to read it. Deano in Cincinnati
You have influenced me positively throughout my life from a distance; short conversations, suggested books, sermons and recommended therapy which I often took advantage of in dark times. I am forever grateful. I woke up one day in 2008 after another dark year and asked the question, “Who am I?” “I am?” In that epiphanic moment the question became the answer … “I am.” That is ALL that matters my friend. You have made me smile and even chuckle as I am reminded once again how we humans make such a big “to-do” over things so small.
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I “found” you yesterday. I even sent (or tried to) you a message to your email address. I never know whether that actually goes through or not. I have been reading your “blog”. I am so amazed at how our lives are so much alike.
Your writing and your experiences are almost identical to mine. I am strong on discernment and as I read your words, I realized that those were my words also – just a few years ahead of you. I am astounded that that we are so similar.
I am sorry that we did not know one another back before and when your transition started. I could have helped you so much – because it appears that we both traveled the same road.
Your writings tell me that you are still searching for meaning in what we refer to as “the what now” period. I have been there.
I do not mean to sound braggadocious, but you appear to be one of the few people that actually speak to me on my level. I existed in my closet for 65 years. And like you, I had hoped that I could somehow get to the end of my days without truly confronting my gender dysphoria. But that was not to be. I almost became part of the 41% in 2009. I was at the heighth (or was it the rock bottom) of my depression. Death almost won. The ONLY thing that kept me from suicide was my faith. As much as I wanted “John” to die, I realized that “JoAnne” was begging for a chance to live. During the latter part of the Fall of 2009, I decided to Transition. I lost my spouse, law partner, church family, 95% of my former friends??, and most everything else.
I would love to talk with you one on one.
JoAnne Wheeler Bland
Thank you so much for your words of encouragement, JoAnne. I really appreciate them. The response to the article has been pretty overwhelming, so right now I’m not scheduling any conversations with folks who have responded, primarily because of my speaking schedule over the next month. I hope you’ll understand.
I’ve always wondered how a transgender woman feels about the changes her wife will be experiencing on her own new journey, as well. You seem to be very thoughtful about how she feels. Thank you for addressing this.
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Thank you Hannah. It is always difficult for one’s family. Always.
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I can relate totally. I fought my dysphoria by doing everything I could to be the baddest I could be. I thought I could outrun my reality, but, if I couldn’t then no one would suspect based on my performance as a soldier and sailor.
I retired from naval service and continued to struggle. It became more intense as time went on and I tried the permanent solution to my problems three times. Luckily I did something I rarely did. I failed and thank God I did!
I admire your outlook and your perspective on good, the bible, and our shared condition. A Roman Catholic I’ve found little solace within the walls of the church, or between the covers of the bible.
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It’s a difficult journey, to be sure. May you find peace, Erica.