It Is What It Is

It Is What It Is

The reasons were many for not telling the world much earlier that I am transgender, not the least of which was a genuine desire to remain a male and spare my family and friends great pain. At this point, however, all of that is so much water under the bridge. The truth is that shocking information was suddenly dropped from a great height. Lots of expectations, valuations and assumptions had a great fall. It is safe to say all the king’s horses and men do not stand a chance.

A lot of people, particularly church people, are struggling. Some have said I was their rock, their touchstone. After questioning the wisdom of anyone placing so much trust in a human, to those kind souls I would ask, “Was I your touchstone, or was my role your touchstone?” If it was my role as CEO or speaker or writer or pastor, then I might defer to the words of Jungian analyst James Hollis who writes, “I am not my roles; I am my journey.”

If it was my journey that intrigued you, then I might ask you to have patience. I know the realization I am now Paula has rocked you. But once the Mets have finished another losing season and the Knicks have yet again refused to play as a team, this information will no longer hold a place in your “I don’t know what to make of it” box. You will know what to make of it, and it will simply be what it is. And maybe, maybe not, but maybe you will see I am at my core the same person I was – a fellow human trying to live an authentic life in a problematic world.

Someone who met me not long ago said, “You look the same, only with makeup.” It was the first time I heard that! In reality it often takes people several minutes to believe I am really me. One neighbor kept saying I couldn’t be me and finally asked, “What’s my name?” When I answered correctly he said words I cannot print. So I am pretty sure I do not look the same. But my daughter had a suggestion, “Maybe this person thought they would not be able to find the person they knew in this new package, and they were surprised to find you very much there.” I hope my daughter is right. Those who spend a lot of time with me say I am definitely the same person, just a nicer version. (It’s easier to be nicer when you are not wasting valuable energy fighting who you are.)

Some of my work has ended. The truth is my interest in church planting and my enthusiasm for print media had been on the wane. On the other hand, my desire to mentor and counsel people in ministry has not abated. I have loved helping people discover the offering they might make to the world, and the vocation in which they are likely to excel. For the last decade or so it has been my most satisfying work. William Butler Yeats described the feeling it engenders in his poem Vacillation:

My fiftieth year had come and gone

I sat a solitary man

In a crowded London shop

An open book and empty cup

On the marble tabletop

As on the shop and street I gazed

My body of a sudden blazed

And twenty minutes more or less it seemed

So great my happiness

That I was blessed and could bless

I love blessing others. That many of those same people are now suffering because of me is difficult to accept. I have always been a person who wants to alleviate suffering, not be the cause it.

I have tried to make you aware of things pretty quickly after I have become aware of them myself. Since I have lived a public life I felt I had a responsibility to tell my story, though I knew it would not be well received. If I could have done it a little differently, I might have waited a bit to show you my picture. But I knew the whole difficult truth was not going to be real until you saw a picture of me, so I chose to post one. Some think that was wise. Some do not. Do I question the wisdom of it? I’ll let another stanza of Vacillation answer for me:

Although summer sunlight gild

Cloudy leafage of the sky

Or wintry moonlight sink the field

In storm scattered intricacy

I cannot look thereon

Responsibility so weighs me down

Things said or done long years ago

Or things I did not do or say

But thought that I might say or do

Weigh me down and not a day

But something is recalled

My conscience or my vanity appalled.

Even among those who have been very supportive, it is extremely difficult to make the transition to seeing me as Paula. It is ironic, because my new friends cannot believe I was ever a man. But if you knew Paul for decades, it is just not as simple as waking up one morning and making the switch to Paula. Some of you will never be able to do it. That is all right.

One person wrote, “I am not overstating when I say this has taken me to a place of doubt.” Maybe you feel the same. I am sorry, but that is probably not a bad thing. Tennyson said, “There is more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds.” The fear of doubt is not about doubt. It is about change. And changing one’s gender definitely qualifies as change. Maybe there is a part of my change that frightens you. We would all like to believe our ego is in charge. But the truth is that we only grow when the ego is brought down. You watch someone who had a healthy dose of ego (not to mention entitlement), and you see him (now her) willingly shed that ego, give up that power, relinquish that entitlement, it frightens you. You ask yourself, “Do I have to do the same thing?”

And here is the thing. You do. Of course you do not have to change your gender, unless you are one of the few, but you will have to give up something precious. You will either have to willfully shed it, or you will have to put yourself in a place in which it is taken from you. Then your ego will be defeated. You will have wrestled with God and lost, which is of course a good thing.

All of this is difficult. It reminds you this is an imperfect world. It tells you things are not always what they appear to be. It informs you there are complex and perplexing realities we do not understand. It causes you to question what it means to be male or female. It makes you wish God spoke more clearly on a plethora of subjects, this one included. It creates cognitive dissonance. It disrupts the status quo. You would prefer to have gone through life without ever having had to deal with it.

Arianne, my neighbor across the street, put it succinctly, “Well, I’m thinking this is a game changer for pretty much everybody in your life.” True indeed. Most real changes do not occur until there is a massive disruption to a system. When it comes to my family system, this has been a massive disruption. I did not realize it would be quite a bit of a disruption to my faith family as well.

To those of you afraid for my soul, please do not be. I appreciate your concern, but I do not share it. To those of you just plain confused, it is okay. This confuses pretty much everybody. To those of you who want to be supportive but just cannot quite get there, that is okay too. I have a lot of support. You do not know any of these people, but they arrived quickly, in great force.

So, life goes on. Every day I awaken with little idea what the day is going to bring. Sometimes it is wonderful. Sometimes it is decidedly not. But always it is the life I have chosen, and I trust God to see me through. And that is enough.


Copyright c 2014 Paula 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.

Our First Suffering

Our First Suffering

In his insightful book, The Middle Passage – From Misery to Meaning in Midlife, James Hollis says we acquire a “provisional identity during the first adulthood.” Early in life we need boundaries and the values of mom and dad. Without them we would be adrift in a vast ocean without a clue how to live.

There comes a time, however, when we realize our parents’ dreams for us were never our own. Novelist Colum McCann calls this our “first suffering.” He writes, “What is the source of our first suffering? It lies in the fact that we hesitated to speak. It was born in the moment when we accumulated silent things within us.” These silent things were actually within us from our first years.

In his autobiographical novel, James Agee writes, “All the large questions were asked by the child we once were, as we observed the big folk silently, as we lay in our beds at night, half-fearful, half-joyous to be alive. But the weight of the schooling, the parenting, and the acculturation process gradually replaces the child’s sense of awe with normative expectations and cultural certainties.”

Agee concludes by recalling how he was taken to bed when he was a child. He writes that he was taken to his bedroom by the big people, “as one familiar and well beloved in that home: but they will not, oh, will not, not now not ever, but will not ever tell me who I am.” No one can tell you who you are but you.

Fortunately life affords many opportunities to suffer and most of us are forced into a reluctant consciousness in which those ferocious first questions return, demanding answers. “Who am I?” James Hollis says, “If we are courageous enough, care enough about our lives, we may, through that suffering, get our lives back.”

Richard Rohr calls this “second half” the time when we become less concerned about being well known and successful, and more concerned about nurturing the soul. You are nearing a place where psychological wholeness and spiritual holiness come together. You are able to dialog with others because you can comfortably hold your own identity.

In this second half of life, with greater consciousness, your self-image comes from inside and not from the choices others make for you. You do what you are called to do and let go of the consequences. Sometimes what you must do may no longer feel like a choice, but a calling. Silence, poetry and story become your companions, not the community of strivers.

This second half is good. We settle into ourselves, our bodies no longer tools, but vessels that nurture one’s entire being.  Children and grandchildren are no longer accomplishments, but precious and mysterious gifts. With renewed confidence, this second half becomes a time when we do not hesitate to speak. We know the sound of the voice we hear, confident and clear. The voice is our own.

Acquainted With Loneliness

Acquainted With Loneliness

From deep inside the breast there is a loneliness that comes to all, a painful awareness we arrive and depart alone.  To be sure, there were those waiting on the platform when we arrived and there will be those waving wistfully as we leave.  Still, as Carl Sandburg suggests in Limited, one of his “Chicago Poems,” human existence is limited and most do not take the time to fully appreciate its brevity:

I am riding on a limited express, one of the crack trains

            of the nation.

Hurtling across the prairie into blue haze and dark air

            go fifteen all-steel coaches holding a thousand people.

(All the coaches shall be scrap and rust and all the men

            and women laughing in the diners and sleepers shall

            pass to ashes.)

I ask a man in the smoker where he is going and he

            answers: “Omaha.”

These days I hear the faint whistle of the train.  For most of my life I have not minded being alone.  I found myself to be tolerable, even pleasant, company.  When flying, I seldom struck up a conversation.  I enjoyed long silent road trips because they afforded the opportunity for rumination.  I was a public figure, speaking here and there, holding down multiple jobs.  The precious hours alone were cherished.  Back then I was alone but I was rarely lonely. Over the last several years, however, I have made the acquaintance of loneliness.  It leaves a stiff emptiness in the pit of your stomach, like going to bed without supper.

There is an old hymn that ends, “‘Tis midnight in the garden now, the suffering savior prays, alone.”  I spoke with my father.  He is 90.  He said, “Oh, I am lonely.  I wish you and your brother were here more, but I get by.”  I live 1,500 miles away.  My brother lives close but has a busy schedule.  I hung up the phone and thought, “So many lessons I must learn.” You have compassion for what you know. For the things you can only imagine, you attempt compassion and hope the attempt is enough. Sometimes it is.

On the subject of loneliness, I would prefer not to have made its acquaintance. It makes me very grateful for a few close fellow travelers.  When asked where they are going on the limited express, these are not friends who dismissively reply, “Omaha.”  These are friends who know where we are going, all of us.  At journey’s end they will run on the platform to the very last inch of pavement, waving and blowing kisses and holding my gaze into the fading light.

This post was written in 2013, but not published until now.  It was not written in response to my current circumstances.  To answer the question a lot of you have asked, I am not currently feeling lonely.  A lot of wonderful people have come into my life – Paula