Over the last few weeks I have written with joy about my life. But it feels like time to speak about what lies in the shadows. An increasing number of my readers are transgender individuals who have not transitioned, and I want to be transparent about the ongoing difficulties of this transgender life.
As pleased as I am with the new opportunities in my church life, existential pain remains. Occasionally I can still be upended by stories about the denomination of which I was a part. A few dozen people have reached out to me in a positive way, and about 20 have actually met with me. But when I hear about the denomination, it can still trigger thoughts about the thousands of people who have remained silent. To those Evangelicals who are considering transitioning and afraid of losing almost all of your Christian friends, your fears are well founded.
I lost very few non-Evangelical friends. Their love and support has been unwavering. In countless ways these people who claim no special purchase with an evangelical God have been like Jesus to me. I have no explanation other than to know the Spirit dispenses her grace and kindness as she wills.
There has not been one single day in which I have regretted being Paula. It feels natural all day, every day, without exception. But for me, and I can only speak from my own experience, another shadow is that I exist and have my being somewhere in the liminal space between female and male.
Last month a University of Colorado student asked, “Do you feel 100 percent female?” I replied, “I feel 100 percent transgender female.” A few years ago a study was completed with transgender individuals who had not yet received hormone therapy. While processing various sensory stimuli, their brains were monitored by an MRI. The brains were found to function about halfway between those of the control population of cisgender males and females. That sounded about right to me. It seems I do function somewhere between male and female. There is a loneliness in that liminal space.
All other shadows pale, however, in comparison to the impact of transitioning on my family. I’ve thought long and hard about this subject, and I can sum it up in one single paragraph:
It is devastating to finally be the person you truly are and to have the capacity to love your family in the way you always wanted, only to realize it is not this new person they need that kind of love from – it was their dad and husband they needed it from. They accept and treasure the love from this new person, but to them it is, in fact, a new person.
No matter how loving and accepting your family might be, transitioning brings about a fundamental change in family dynamics that is permanent. What do you do with the memories you had with your husband or father? In what part of your heart do you store those memories?
I was called to be Paula. My life was at stake. All my friends and family will testify that I am happier, healthier, and more balanced. But I have paid a price, and my longsuffering family has paid a greater price. That is why I hope that one day researchers will find the cause of gender dysphoria and reverse the condition before it begins.
This is a broken world and through great joy and great sorrow we redeem it as best we can. Love makes the world go round, and that love keeps me on this journey, grateful for the family and friends who have dared to travel with me through the joy and the pain.
And this morning (Wednesday) I feel the need to speak about other shadows, the shadows of a nation divided. I am as stunned by the election results as you, my readers. And to be honest, I am frightened. But I do believe the only ultimate reality is relationships, and the most powerful relationship is love. Love makes the world go round, and we must have hope.
13 thoughts on “Shadows Remain”
Paula, thank you sharing this. As I reread it, I hope that I can learn to listen and love others better. I’m glad you posted this on Election Day, too. Such a reminder of our friends and neighbors – and that our vote matters to so many others, not just me and my privilege.
Thanks Annie. I mean, what do you write on this particular election day? So I decided to write about the reality that regardless of what happens today, life goes on in all of its joy and its pain.
I am so sorry for the shadows that remain. I love your writing. Always have.
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Your encouragement means so much to me.
Very well said. Your journey has not been easy and you are doing it so well. Our prayers are with you always and we look forward to seeing you soon
I miss you guys! I’ll be in Newark this weekend, speaking to physicians and therapists and families on transgender issues. Unfortunately, I won’t get to the Island this time.
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Paula Stone Williams, you rock! The Living Paula / Living Stone whom you are and keep becoming gives witness to the “cost and joy of discipleship” like few people I’ve ever met. Your honesty and clarity in person and in these pages is amazingly encouraging, real and nourishing. I’ve only met you once — when you spoke in Concord NH at a UCC ONA gathering last year — but since that day, and through every one of your postings, you are such a companion in Christ to me! God bless you! Barry
Thank you so much Barry. Your encouragement means a lot.
Thanks for helping me understand even more about what it’s been like for you and your family. Lately, I’ve been thinking more than usual about the kind of Christians I grew up with. If the polls are to be believed, many of them are abandoning their core values to support a morally-bankrupt presidential nominee who’s unrepentant and anything but Christ-like. Forgive me for making it political, but it’s something I’m grappling with! Being rejected for being gay by the earnestly devout is one thing, but then to see how far they will bend to get political power…is hard to take. I understand if this is too political to share here, but your post really got me thinking. This election has struck a very personal nerve for me! I need to believe we’re all better than this.
How far they will bend to get political power – exactly! Great thoughts Richard.
I am always moved by your honesty and transparency. I watched the video of your presentation with your son and I appreciated the way you both handled that discussion. I continue to read every word of your posts and think about them. Perhaps for some of us in your evangelical family, it’s the same as for your real family. It’s hard to see Paul as Paula. The church planter, editor, editorialist–now blogger, LGBT proponent, etc. We have to start over and get the know the new person. I probably didn’t express that quite right–I’m not as good with words are you are. I never did know you well, but I have not given up on understanding you now. Thank you for continuing to send out these posts.
Your comments are so thoughtful, as you have always been. Thanks so much.
Paula your one paragraph summary of the effect of transitioning on the family is stunningly clear. While not transitioning that paragraph is charged with meaning for me.
The only problem is we need our transness to be the people who can love and relate to our families. And most people can’t understand.
I hope your family have a chance to read that.
Maybe it might help explain the trans conundrum.
Thanks for sharing your wisdom with us.