He’s Not There (Part 2 of 2)
(In part one I wrote of the need to grieve the passing of Paul. After a brief interruption to respond to the Bruce Jenner interview, today I bring you part 2. I will write about additional changes that affect all of my family and friends.)
As much as I might protest that Paul is still very much here, the truth is I have changed. One friend said, “I was always comforted by your gentle and reassuring masculine presence, and now that masculine presence is gone.” He is right. In many ways I have brought myself with myself, but in many others I am a new person.
I will not suggest I am a more authentic person, because I am not sure there is any such thing as authenticity. We are constantly creating ourselves. What we call authenticity is an attempt to create ourselves with as few artificial encumbrances as possible, stripping off the layers until you find a core self, breathing, evolving, growing.
With every shedding of every layer a new self emerges. I have a different physical body, a different physiological and neurological functioning. I have a new social reality. As someone who for the most part “passes” as a woman, I am treated as women are treated. (And in American society the difference is massive.) I am happier, calmer, more peaceful, less hurried, more settled. I am a different person.
Another complication of my transition is the realization everyone close to me feels the need to reframe the past. I wish they did not have to do so. I am still Paul, right? As a matter of fact I am not. The reframing is necessary. Was I ever Paul? Looking at family photos is painful for everyone. Burying Paul and beginning a new relationship with Paula seems easier than reframing an entire lifetime of experiences with the person you thought was a male. I did not understand how very difficult this would be for everyone. My family and close friends have been wonderful, but it has not been easy for them.
I am sometimes asked, “Wouldn’t it be better if you had never married?” It is a fair question. First, though I knew at a young age something was wrong, I grew up in an environment in which discussing it, and certainly accepting it, were not options. I was without the knowledge, vocabulary or clarity to understand the gravity of my situation. Second, it was apparent to me I was attracted to females, so I thought, “If I try hard enough, I can become normal.” For decades I worked hard to convince myself I could “resolve” this and it would not have to be so disruptive.
Would anything have made it better? You bet! If gender identity and sexual identity could be freely discussed in a family and embraced without judgment, those of us who are trans or gay would never think of getting married with the hope it would make us “normal.” Thankfully that conversation is now happening in many places, but as Leelah Alcorn’s tragic story tells us, the church is not one of them. When your very identity is denied by your parents and defined as sinful by every authority figure in your life, it is a gross understatement to say it is not a conducive environment in which to come to terms with who you are!
But back to the question at hand. If I had known where this was all leading would I still have married? Some seem to think I am that callous. Those who know me best know that is ludicrous. But I discovered a long time ago I have no control over the projection of others. I have enough trouble dealing with my real issues to worry about those projected onto me. In the immortal words of Elsa from Let It Go, “The past is in the past.” The difficult truth is when I got married I had no idea where this was leading.
I am sorry everyone has to reframe their understanding of who I am. I wish they did not have to do so. But – I am. And everyone has a choice to either accept Paula or move on. It is clear most have opted to move on – parents, in-laws, long time friends, co-workers. It is painful, but not unexpected. I come from a world in which exclusion is easier than inclusion.
For all those willing to struggle through this change with me, I am deeply grateful. Every time someone decides to maintain a friendship, my joy is deep, my heart is full, and the love of Christ makes its way up through the cracks and fissures in the bedrock harshness of things.
And so it goes.