Keeping My Thoughts to Myself

Keeping My Thoughts to Myself

Another thing about being female.

I used to strike up conversations with strangers about all kinds of subjects, sometimes substantive, other times esoteric. I might talk with a flight attendant about the clash of cultures when airlines merge. I might speak with a television executive about how disruptive we thought cable was, not realizing the real threat to broadcast television was the Internet. I might talk about the effects of global warming on the severity of hurricanes in the east. Once, I would have struck up a conversation about just about any topic.  Not anymore.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I do not like to talk. I do. I do like to talk. I have amassed information about a lot of stuff. I don’t forget much. I like talking with people about what they have learned, particularly when my conversation partners can increase my knowledge base. The problem is not that I do not want to have a conversation. The problem is that I cannot find anyone who wants to talk with me.

Last week I tried an experiment on my flight from Charlotte to Denver. It’s an 8:20 PM departure American Airlines brings back every summer, and they can never figure out what to serve in first class. One year it’s a full meal. The next it’s nuts and a chocolate chip cookie. This year they changed the service yet again, to what they call “Lite Bites.”

A few years ago I had a conversation with two flight attendants about the problem with the 8:20 flight. They suggested I write the people at Chairman’s Preferred and suggest a solution. I did, and heard back from a company executive who said they had decided to return full meal service to the flight. Because two flight attendants and an in-service executive took me seriously, I was heard and the problem was solved.

So, after using the restroom on last week’s flight, I spoke to two flight attendants in first class and asked, “For the last couple of years this flight has had full meal service. I wonder what made them downgrade it to “Lite Bites?” Both shrugged and didn’t even look up. As I returned to my seat, one dismissively said, “No, this flight has never had full meal service, not ever.” And with that, the conversation was over.

And there you go. That is why I do not speak up anymore. I figured it out about a year after transitioning. People no longer care to hear what I have to say. So I keep my thoughts to myself. It’s not nearly as fun, but it beats being summarily dismissed by a young flight attendant who knows better, even though I’m the one who has been flying 100,000 miles a year since before she was a sparkle in her parents’ eyes.

Then again, who am I to complain? At least I am still getting my free upgrades to first class. I mean, they could be saying, “We’ve decided to save first class upgrades for men only. You know, people who know things.” In fact, come to think of it, that’s what society did say for several thousand years. Huh! How come I’m just now realizing that?

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Oh, The Things I Did Not Know

Oh, The Things I Did Not Know

Who knew I needed to become a woman to become more like Jesus!

Well-educated, successful white men have a power they do not recognize and from which it is difficult to escape. To explain, I am going to limit my comments to the good guys, not the narcissists we see on stage, the rapists who escape unpunished, or the mass murderers. I’m talking about the good fathers, caring husbands and thoughtful leaders we encounter in our ordinary days.

These are men who want to get it right. They do not want to lord it over others, muscle through an agenda, or wire a deal. Still, these good and generous men do not know how much American culture is tilted in their favor, and most are not likely to go through the pain necessary to bring about that awareness. That would require placing themselves in an environment in which they are the minority, and at a distinct disadvantage in being heard. It does happen, but those men are the exception, not the rule.

The problem is exacerbated within the Evangelical church, primarily because their scriptural interpretation leaves only men in power. No wonder the Evangelical church is painfully silent on issues like spousal abuse, equal pay for women, parental leave, racial and social justice, and a plethora of other societal ills. Men know these issues are important, but they do not personally feel the impact. It is hard to muster passion for an issue that does not hinder your own agenda.

I have been a female (or more accurately a transgender female) for a while now, long enough to have been made profoundly aware just how entitled I was. What is even more disconcerting is just how entitled I remain. I brought my cocky confidence with me.

For those who never knew Paul, most will tell you I was one of the good guys, sensitive and thoughtful. I wanted to hire women as senior pastors, and championed their presence on the board of the ministry I directed. And yet, every additional week as Paula makes me increasingly aware how misogynistic I remain. While in some ways I have always been Paula, in others I will always be becoming Paula. It is going to take a while to move beyond my privileged past.

I do not remain close with very many straight white men. There are a thousand reasons; one is because when I am among the more powerful, my default mode is to resurrect my entitlement. I do not find it becoming, nor do female friends who happen to be in the room.

I so wish I had known this sooner. Certainly Cathy tried to tell me – for decades. But through a lifetime of socialization, re-enforcement, and success, I did not hear her. As she watches my “Aha” moments multiply, I imagine it is all she can do to stop from slugging me.

For me, it is humbling, and properly so. I am grateful for the friends and co-workers who gently guide me into deeper awareness of my privilege, and I pray I will be able to repay them for their grace.

Some people are fixated with the causes of gender dysphoria, and whether or not it is right to transition. Frankly, I am tired of that conversation. I am more interested in the fact that transitioning has made me a better person. And who knows, maybe it is even making me a little more like Jesus. Now that would be worth a long conversation.

And so it goes.

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Tired, Yet Amazed

Tired, Yet Amazed

I am tired.

I am tired of the Evangelicals who now say their prayers are with us.  If they weren’t with us before, except in their pleas that we fundamentally change who we are, I don’t want them now.  There are millions who truly feel the impact of this tragedy, who did not judge us before, and they do not judge us now.  Their prayers are coveted.

I am tired of those Americans who are not losing sleep over the worst mass shooting in American history.  Some of you feel removed from the tragedy because you think these victims are not like you.  Well, the truth is they are not like you.  They understand prejudice.  They understand what it feels like to be ostracized for nothing more than being who you are.

I am tired of hearing all of the NRA activists spouting bullet points from their marketing department.  Your words are being used for evil.  When it is easier to buy an assault rifle than get on an airplane, we have a massive problem.  What part of that do you not understand?

I am tired of politicians who will not do what they know to be right because they are terrified of the gun lobby.  For God’s sake, grow some balls.  If you can’t grow your own, you can have the ones I don’t use anymore.  But do the right thing.  Ban assault rifles and the ammunition clips that have no purpose other than to wreak havoc.  Well, that and make the men feel better who apparently lack the body parts already referenced.

I am tired of Donald Trump not being held accountable for his hate-filled rhetoric.  Do you really want his to be the public voice responding to tragedy?  And I am weary of the Evangelicals who know good and well they are going to vote for Trump, but do not have the guts to publicly say they are going to vote for a narcissistic, misogynistic, bigoted, bully.

I am tired of all the people who can manage to build up some rage if they think this is an Islamic based terror attack, but have already moved on if it is “only a hate crime.”

I am tired of the people who create enemies where none exist, banish scapegoats whose only crime is to be different than those in power, and only believe in a God who craves power, a loving God having been found lacking.

I am tired of living in a nation in which the late night comics have better things to say in response to this tragedy than pastors and politicians.

But then come to think of it, I am also amazed.

I am amazed to live in a country in which Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert can speak spiritual truth with power.  It’s amazing to live in a place in which Anderson Cooper can break down in tears and the cameras do not cut to a robotic anchor with no opinion on the matter.

It is amazing to attend a church in which our founding pastor can call for a minute of silence before his sermon begins, and you are paradoxically filled with profound sorrow and overwhelming pride, because you know from the tone of his voice and the power of his own story, that this is a man who knows suffering, and knows how to redeem it.  And you know he will preach a sermon of stirring passion and love that replaces the stench of gunpowder with the sweet aroma of compassion.

It is amazing to hear the stories of 49 people who faced great trials, yet found a way to dance, because resilience had taken root in their hearts, hearts now welcomed into the arms of God.

I am amazed when I hear the words spoken and written by my own children, who preach love and acceptance, when they could be bitter and angry, because they have decided that when the tears have been shed and the sentences handed down, love still wins.

I am tired, but I am grateful to be alive in such a time as this, when I can join with other pilgrims on the fitful train of halting progress.  I am grateful I can look unto the eastern skies, and know this world can be redeemed by a 2,000 year old metanarrative that still flows forth from a crucified scapegoat and those dreamers and visionaries who follow him.

And so it goes.

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Living With Character

Living With Character

There are a host of difficulties that accompany a gender transition, from tiny annoyances like needing an extra 30 minutes to get ready in the morning, to significant issues like losing your career and having to craft another. As a public figure I thought it was important to write openly, painfully, and honestly about the process of becoming Paula. Out of respect for their privacy, I have left my family out of the public conversation.

Recently I had to submit a biographical summary for a conference for which I am speaking. I realized while I still believe it is important to protect my family’s privacy, it is time to communicate more clearly on one issue that has actually been determined for some time.

Cathy and I no longer consider our selves to be married. We are no longer husband and wife, neither are we wife and wife. We are companions with a deep love and respect for each other. We enjoy our children and grandchildren, serve together counseling clients at RLT Pathways, and work together to bring healing to individuals who have been traumatized by physical, sexual, and spiritual abuse, justice to victims of discrimination, and a listening ear to those navigating through life’s difficulties.

This is a long and arduous journey. I am deeply grateful our family has remained unified and steadfast through this difficult time. I have written before that when it comes to family, there are no good choices. Either you lose a husband and father through death or a troubled existence, or you lose a part of that person through transition. Neither is okay, but most conclude one is preferable to the other.

Not long ago one of the early transgender pioneers, Dr. Renee Richards, reflected on her life as a transgender woman. She said, “If you could prevent the condition from ever getting started, that would be desirable.” Current studies point toward prenatal causes for gender dysphoria, but it will be a long time before exact causation is understood, and longer still before prenatal intervention is possible.

I agree with Dr. Richards. No one would choose this. If we could help future generations avoid being transgender, it would be for the best. In the meantime, we must play the hand we have been dealt, and try to live authentically based on the choices available to us.

I know some of you have additional questions about the relationship Cathy and I have today. However, I am sure you will understand this is not an issue for public discussion.

For all of us, life is difficult. How we choose to live in the face of life’s challenges is where our character is defined, for better or for worse. The character shown by my family has been extraordinary, as they have neither acquiesced to, nor rebelled against the expectations of others. They have made their own decisions, in their own time, with integrity. What more could one ask?

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