He’s Not There

He’s Not There (Part 1 of 2)

There are a number of good books on transitioning from male to female, including notable titles by Deirdre McCloskey, Jennifer Boylan, and Joy Ladin. Boylan’s book, She’s Not There is probably the best-known memoir of the genre. I do not have much to add to the discussion about pre-transition issues, but I would like to write about the trauma surrounding the post transition period. My working title would be, He’s Not There.

Early in the transition process I exasperatedly told scores, “I am the same person I have always been! Can’t you understand that? I am the same person!” However, I have learned it is not helpful to use that language. The vast majority of people do not see the same person. They see someone radically different. To most, Paul is not there.

Though I look out of the same eyes from which I have always viewed the world, the world sees with different eyes and those eyes do not see a man. Cathy does not see Paul. My children do not see Paul. My friends do not see Paul. They all see Paula. I was offended a year ago when a close friend said, “It’s a shame you can’t just have a memorial service for Paul and disappear into a new life.” I am beginning to understand the first half of his equation might not have been a bad idea.

People are mourning the absence of Paul. Even those sympathetic to my transition, maybe especially those sympathetic to my transition, are struggling to let Paul go. They loved and respected the person they knew. I had not shared my gender dysphoria with more than a handful, and for good reason. Just the information that one deals with gender dysphoria is enough to cause friends to scatter and work contracts to end. But it wasn’t just that I had not shared the struggle. The issue was exacerbated by the fact my looks and demeanor gave no clue I was trans. I hid it very well. For all of those reasons and many more, my transition was shocking.

I am no longer concerned about those convinced my actions were sinful, selfish, or self-indulgent. We are on such different wavelengths attempts to communicate are futile. However I am concerned about those who have been supportive of my transition. The euphemism we use for death, passing, is actually pretty descriptive of the experience most have had. Paul is gone. A friend and family member has died.

But of course, I am still here. Part of me is offended when people suggest Paul has died. I feel like Not Dead Fred from Spamalot. “I’m not dead yet. I can dance and I can sing!” I have all the knowledge Paul had, and more. But as I hear the same refrain, time and again, I cannot deny the feelings of many very good people. Paul is gone.

They are struggling because they were comfortable with Paul, even if I was alienated from myself. And the person before them bears no resemblance to the one they knew so well. I have learned that from the number of times circumstances have forced me to reveal myself unannounced to someone who previously knew Paul. Just last week Norma at the airline gate said, “Just show me your driver’s license and I can give you a new boarding pass.” “But you know me Norma.” “No, I don’t.” “Norma, I’m Paul Williams.” “No, you’re not.” “Yes, I am.” “No you’re not.” Then I show Norma my driver’s license and she says, “Oh my God!” It happens every week.

The truth is Paul is gone, and not only does everyone else have to accept it, I must accept it. My transition has disrupted life for a lot of people, and the tentacles reach far beyond my family. Maybe it would have been better if there had been a memorial service.

The most painful part of transition is how incredibly difficult it is for those I love. What I have to keep in mind is that the people closest to me saw my pain and feared for my life. And yes, it is difficult dealing with my transition. But they understand the other option was not having me at all. When one of my children was talking with a friend whose father had died, she spoke about the losses related to my transition. Her friend said, “With all due respect, I would welcome my father back in any form.” My daughter said that was a turning point.

This is all so difficult. Sometimes I think it is a wonder any of us are still standing. But one of the blessings of life is that we exist in time and space. Time is a great ally. And with the passing of time, friends and family can bring closure to the life we once lived, and move into a new era with a new reality.

6 thoughts on “He’s Not There

  1. Good Morning Paula,  A nice wake-up post.  Especially about your daughter’s friend and her taking a walk.  Stay well  Regards Jeri


  2. Given the time to do so, I feel as though I want to express my thoughts as a response to your post I read this morning.

    Paula, the Paul I knew would never disappear because the character he represented was attached deep within the person and cannot be separated out. That character was grounded in truth lived out objectively and subjectively. I say this having yet the opportunity to have lunch or dinner with you and talk face to face, but I feel it would be a tragedy for Paul to be buried and done away with. Yes, the juxtaposition of Paul and Paula is to be recognized and is something you have lived with your whole life. Now it is time for people who know you to join in the process. To those of us who know you and love you, it certainly pushes us to explore our deepest beliefs, perceptions, and understandings. In that process some immediately push away and others, like me, continue to be your friend for life! “For life”, not for death! Your line “We are on such different wavelengths attempts to communicate are futile,” seems to describe much of the experience you have had as Paula has been introduced to us. That is sad, but its also somewhat understandable, although much harder to understand when it is you that is the object of the discussion.

    As I grow older and more mature, I find that it is much easier for most to draw black and white lines rather than to confront the real issues so that we are always open to seeing our world through different eyes. I believe that is what Christ has called me to and I hope to be as faithful as possible in this regard. In the attempt to see the whole world as black and white, many times people are simply looking to justify their own bias and to pre-determine their own answers before being confronted with the question. This can lead to blindness, lack of acceptance, and in some cases a denial of the essence of the gospel. Our pursuit of truth is not only found in a book, in a tradition, or in the culture we live within, but it is found and proven to be truth in the living out of our lives and in our relationships, challenged and pressed against every day. A big difference and a process that scares many, especially those who have only two colors in their life’s palette: black and white. Declaring something is good or bad, sin or righteousness is not always the most prudent approach regarding many issues and is often simplistic since it does not allow for the reality and the nuance of living our lives in an honorable and holy manner confronted by the uncomfortable and the yet-to-be-known and understood.

    To suggest that Paul is dead in a spiritual sense does not make sense to me. That person we all love and loved, who was elevated into leadership positions, who spoke accurately and introspectively of the God he loved and served, and the person of Jesus whom Paul understood and knew intimately…is someone suggesting that was all false and is all discredited because of Paula? That is disturbing to me.

    And through it all the storm and conflict rages within. I am so grateful you are being so vulnerable and honest, even if that honesty causes many to push back hard, causes some to be restless, and causes some of us to continue to love and look for what is good and right while not turning a blind eye to an over-riding question; “How, then, shall we live?”. For those of us in that final group, we’ll keep walking this path with you, Paula, all of us looking for understanding, acceptance, love, respect, recognition, hope, and peace. Peace above all.


    • Bruce,

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. It is true that a number of people have not had a lot of difficulty integrating Paul into Paula or vice versa. For them it has been almost as natural as it has been for me. But I cannot escape the fact that for many others it has been a death – not a spiritual death – but a physical death. Just today someone said, “I do miss the gentle confident masculinity of Paul.” That one touched me pretty deeply because I knew exactly what he meant. That part left when the testosterone went away and I “crossed over.” Your final question is truly the one that matters for all, “How then, shall we live?”


      • I don’t know who said “I do miss the gentle confident masculinity of Paul” but that person speaks for many of us I am sure. I do not know what you are like now as I have not seen you nor spoken to you in 20 months but that quote defines Paul well. And I deeply loved and respected that quality. It is worth mourning if that part truly left. That is compliment of, I guess who you were, and not a criticism of you are.


      • Thank you so much Tim. I did DiSC stuff this week with the staff of the person who said that about my masculinity. The last thing he said when I left was, “I’m officially done mourning Paul and so legitimately happy you took the risk to let me and others meet Paula.” I think he and others have discovered that pretty much everything is there that was there before, with the exception of the “masculine” part. But I do understand it Tim, I do. And I do not take it as a criticism.


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