Ten Lessons

Ten Lessons

Last week I wrote about my first full year as Paula. This week I write about a few of the most salient lessons of the past 12 months:

  1. Coming out faster is preferable to coming out more slowly. There were over 6,500 page views on the day I announced my transition. The hate mail was mean-spirited, but before long the firestorm settled down. People are busy. They move on.
  1. You cannot discern which friends will stick around and which friends will leave, but you can be sure a lot more will leave than will stick around. I also realized a number of people would see me once, and never again. If they wanted to maintain a relationship with me, everyone had little choice but to transition with me. For many it was too much to handle. It’s all right. I just have to let them go.
  1. No one is going to understand how much you suffered before you transitioned, or understand how staggering your losses have been since, so don’t try to explain it. Just say with Dag Hammarskjold, “For all that has been, thanks. For all that shall be, yes.”
  1. Being Paula has been the easiest part of the past year. Living as a female has been very natural, every minute of every single day, without exception. It has been quite a confirmation of the reality I am transgender.
  1. This journey has both broadened and deepened my faith. My strongest and most ardent supporters have been very wise and knowledgeable Christians. Their bold discipleship and passion for justice have stoked the fires of faith within my own heart and soul. I owe them a debt of gratitude.
  1. I will always be a third sex. In spite of my height, I am usually able to make my way in the world without people realizing I was ever a male. That has allowed me to enter the world of women in ways I never would have imagined. It also makes me realize the many ways in which I will never know what it feels like to be a natal female. That is something I grieve.
  1. It is hard to know when to tell people you are trans. Who deserves to know? Who does not? I’m pretty sure the agent at the American Airlines counter does not need to know. But what about my dentist, or the leaders at my church? It’s harder to figure out than you might imagine.
  1. Sometimes I have doubted myself. Time is a great healer and I forget how much I struggled before my transition. Yet I live in the midst of great existential losses. One of my therapists said, “Your doubts are understandable. I have been a therapist a long time and I have never had a client go through the unjust losses you have experienced. This was hard before so many people made it unnecessarily harder.”
  1. You never get over how much this affects your family. I knew my transition would be difficult for them, but I underestimated how hard it would be. They have shown incredible mercy, unending grace and great love. They still suffer, and I am aware of their suffering every single day. I never get used to it and it is never okay.
  1. I have learned Rilke is right when he says, “Winning does not tempt that man. This is how he grows, by being defeated decisively, by constantly greater beings.” The defeats have been humbling, but necessary. Living well means living with ever-increasing consciousness, learning to say yes to what is. I was called to say yes to my true self. When you answer a call, you pay a price. Every sage, prophet and poet knows that. It is the cost of living authentically. And, I believe, it is the only decent way to live.

And so it goes…

It’s Been One Year

It’s Been One Year

It has been one year since I came out as transgender. Many people have been supportive. Some have been critical while others have just remained silent. Fundamentalists have been my most vocal critics. The decision to write my blog was called narcissistic, exhibitionistic and immodest. All are words of judgment, something at which Fundamentalists excel. Nevertheless, you cannot hear such attacks without questioning yourself every now and again. But as I have written, embedded within my identity are responsibilities, and I believe it is important to provide an alternative picture to what the mass media portray about the trans journey.

To write this blog I have given up a few things. The most precious is my privacy. My readers have watched me trudge from denial to anger to acceptance. All I have written has been honest, but some of it has not been pretty. I have also given up any possibility of anonymity. I could have chosen to live a stealth life as Paula. There is a blessed freedom in the times I am able to move about in a world in which Paul was never known. But when I chose to transition publicly, I forfeited that opportunity.

I do find writing to be therapeutic. I have tried to maintain a balance between keeping readers informed and maintaining some modicum of dignity. When the subject is so deeply personal, however, it is difficult to maintain balance. Blogs, not to mention Facebook posts, can become little more than diarrhea of the keyboard, self-referential and superficial. While I have tried to avoid such self-indulgence, it has occasionally been present. I do appreciate your grace and forgiveness when I cross the line.

I do not want my trans journey to be the only thing about which I write. I wrote over 500 columns for Christian Standard magazine, and I enjoyed writing about all things theological and church-related. Some of my recent writing has returned to those familiar themes. I have always liked wrestling with life’s spiritual issues and the tribes they spawn. As time goes by I am confident I will return to those themes with greater regularity.

The vast majority of you, my readers, have been very gracious. Even when you have not understood my journey, you have given me the benefit of the doubt. You have been warmly encouraging, steadfastly loyal, and unendingly supportive. With all the difficulties of the past year, I do not know what I would have done without you.

Life is linear, not circular. As I continue this journey with its twists and turns, obstacles and opportunities, I deeply cherish your willingness to come along as fellow travelers. Your companionship will never be taken for granted and your love will never be forgotten.

I Let The Money Decide

I Let The Money Decide

We were hiring a staff member for a new church. My colleague and I already knew the candidate and the interview went well. After it was over, the candidate said, “You do know I am gay, right?” I replied yes and added, “As long as you are not going to be sexually active, we will have no difficulty.” After several years of good work, it was apparent the project he was a part of was not going to justify the continuation of his position, so we all knew his work with the project would have to end.

I didn’t want him to resign. He was exactly the kind of generalist we needed in our office. He was thoughtful, hard-working, intelligent, and an irenic spirit. But I did not offer him another job. Somewhere along the line he had told me his theology on LGB issues was one of inclusion and I made the assumption (accurately) that he was ready to look for a relationship. So I did not offer him another job.

If I had made that decision because I was convinced the scripture said gay relationships were wrong, I would have had less difficulty with my decision. But I already knew my theology was inclusive. I was not struggling over the issue. I knew where I stood. But I also knew the ministry I directed was not ready to be inclusive – not the board, not most of our ministers, and especially not our financial supporters. As a card-carrying member of a capitalist society, I let the money decide.

Now I stand on the other side of the silence. I observe as others make similar decisions about me. I understand their dilemma. “There are bigger issues here than one person.” It is true, there are. Some believe my transition is morally wrong, and they need to take their stand. I understand that. Others dance around a controversial topic to avoid offending any constituents, or question when the timing is right to initiate change.

Am I angry? Well if I am, I’d better include myself in my anger. I was guilty of the same pragmatism. This is one of the reasons the church is among the last institutions to accept cultural change. There is little question the Gospel calls for racial and social justice, but too often the church waits until the entire culture has shifted before it tepidly tiptoes into the waters of justice. It happened with slavery, interracial marriage, women’s rights, racial integration, and now LGBTQ rights.

When institutional health is at stake, pragmatism trumps ideology every time. But the Gospel is not built on pragmatism, but on radical love and inclusion. When neither is good for the bottom line, the problem is not with love and inclusion. The problem is with the bottom line.

As a long time parachurch worker, my friend completely understood my position, and was even supportive of it. When I talked about it with him recently, he said, “It wasn’t time back then.” My friend is very gracious. In fact he has been far more gracious with his former colleagues than I have been with many of mine. I am very grateful he is still a friend. In fact he was one of the first from my old world who embraced the new me. I will always be grateful for his love and encouragement during a difficult season.

As for me, I have had a hard time getting past the fact I did not offer him another job when the first one ended all those years ago. My pragmatism got the best of me and it still bothers me. Hindsight is always more clear when considering questions of character and courage. Truth is, I probably just need to give my self the grace my friend has given me, and move on.

And so it goes.

(This post has been altered from its original form. I had gotten some details wrong. This is my attempt to get the details right. ¬†Accuracy counts for somethin’.)


One Crazy, Holy, Evening

One Crazy, Holy, Evening

Humans have a lot of basic needs you wouldn’t necessarily think about unless someone pointed them out. For instance, humans need stories. We do not just like stories. We need them. We cannot live without sleeping. We cannot sleep without dreaming, and we only dream in stories. So you see, the need for story is downright physiological.

We also need people, tribes to be exact. The most basic social unit, the one that guarantees the survival of our species, is not the nuclear family. It is the tribe. Yep, being a Mets fan might be important to your survival. Well all right, that might be a bit of a stretch. But we do need to belong to a group of like-minded pilgrims.

I stopped going to church after I was let go from all of the Christian organizations with which I worked. (I call those days my “Once Before a Time.” This period of my life I call “Once Upon a Time.”) But in the process I lost my tribe. My first Sunday back brought great tears and satisfied a deep longing. We all need a tribe with a great story. Which brings me to Friday evening, July 24, 2015.

The people at Rebel Storytellers and Rebel Pilgrim Creative Agency are a varied bunch of wildly creative, intelligent outcasts, misfits, nerds, and the like. They are my kind of people. Among other things, they make videos and feature films, produce podcasts, run a delightful website, help corporations tap their creative core, and put on live shows. Their offices are on the 13th floor of the original Proctor and Gamble headquarters in beautiful downtown Cincinnati. Crisco shortening was dreamed up where they practice their art.

Last year they started doing shows with Joe Boyd, their CEO. From soap operas to sermons to improvisational comedy, Joe is a seasoned performer. He does one-man shows on books of the Bible. Not what you think. They are quirky and thought provoking and delightful. But last Valentine’s Day they invented a new kind of variety show – not exactly Ed Sullivan – not exactly Jimmy Fallon – something different. They did it again on July 24. This time the subject was Heroes.

The evening consisted of seven speakers, each with 10 minutes to tell whatever story he or she wanted to share. Interspersed were segues by a terrific band and three great improvisational sketches. Stories were about a dog named Miss Jackson, a bad uncle with a big heart, a father who put a lawn chair in a one-seat car, another father’s tribute to his remarkable daughter, a granddaughter’s memories of her grandpa, a Peace Corps’ worker’s moving tribute to her hero, and a transgender woman who took a big risk (that would be me.) The evening went from laughter to tears to laughter to tears to… you get the idea. No speaker knew what anybody else was going to do, yet it all fit together as though crafted by the Holy Spirit. Yeah, the Holy Spirit.

There was a bar and beer and people with various and sundry sexual and gender identities and when the whole thing was over, the only words I had to describe it were “transcendent” and “holy.” Brad Wise put the show’s sequence together, and his instincts were perfect. When the evening was over I told Brad and Joe how moved I was. Without the tiniest bit of irony Joe said, “It was church. This was church.” And you know what? It was. A group of people joined together in common cause to produce the miraculous. A tribe of outcasts creating an experience that was good and true and holy. ¬†I was honored to be a part of it.