Apples to Apples
Last week I finally had a chance to compare apples to apples. For most of my new life I have felt disconnected from my past. Last Monday I did a 2 1/2 hour interview with the NPR show, Radiolab. (I’ll let you know when it airs.) The interviewer was intrigued that I always refer to my male self in the third person.
Shortly after I transitioned I protested to my son that I was the same person I had always been. I have rarely heard him speak more forcefully. “No! No, you are not!” And sure enough, I’m not. Ever since I grasped that difficult truth, I have talked about Paul and Paula as if they are two different people. In the future I hope I feel more integrated, but it’s been hard. My almost complete ostracism by the evangelical church is a factor, but I am discovering it goes far deeper.
Last week I had a few days that resembled my past life. It was a rare moment when the worlds of Paul and Paula were similar. I was one of the leaders of a retreat of church planters, my first in five years. The retreat was much like scores of retreats I have led over the years, but for me the experience was profoundly different.
Two of the attendees were at retreats I led in the past. One talked with me toward the end of last week’s retreat. He said, “You look 10 or 15 years younger than you are, and if you sense that your presence does not carry the same weight it once did, you are correct.”
Is it that I look younger, or that I am a woman, or that I have not led my current ministry for over a quarter of a century, as I did in my last job? Truth be told, it’s probably all three. And there is no denying the reality of his words. My presence does not carry the weight it once carried.
So when you try to lead from a place of memory and your world has changed as drastically as mine, the results are less than stellar. I called on Paul’s presence, knowledge and background, but it was not even remotely the same experience. I was comfortable with the 10 women in the room, but I felt at a distance from most of the 20 men. I imagine it was mostly inside me, but I was not comfortable throughout the entire retreat.
Right before my Radiolab interview I spoke with a film production company that is interested in my story. I watched one of the movies they made. Minnie Driver and Paul Adelstein played the lead roles in a story of grief and pain through difficult transitions. Sean Hamish, who wrote and directed the movie, understands the subtleties of redemption a long time coming. I am very favorably impressed with the company.
Should a movie be made, who would play me? I would say no to anything resembling Jeffrey Tambor being cast as the transgender woman in Transparent. No man should play a transgender woman unless he’s been on anti-androgens and hormones for years. Whoever plays me, it will still only partially feel like my story. That is because my entire life feels like a character in a novel that has not yet been fleshed out, so why would a movie be any different.
So much of my unsettled nature seems to be gender related. I know. You are thinking, “Duh!” But let me explain. From my high school years on, I was one of the cool kids, smart, popular and powerful. Today my unique presence in the world still affords me a position of privilege, but primarily as an observer. I do not fit into any specific world. I no longer feel comfortable with the cool kids, but the group with which I feel most comfortable is a world I will never fully understand.
I feel at home with the wise and weathered mothers of the world. They have known pain in their bodies that causes them to ponder things in their hearts that I will never know. But I want to learn from their wisdom, to take in their fullness.
When they talk about their experience of life, sometimes I have this notion that I’ve lived before and given birth. Is it what Jung would call the collective unconscious, or the cellular level at which we are all connected? Hell if I know. I just know that through a fog somewhere I have a notion of things both behind and before me that hold all of us in the same magnetic field.
What does it mean to be transgender? What does it mean to be male or female. I really don’t know. But I do know what it means to be human. It is to understand the interconnectedness of us all. I struggled to feel that interconnectedness last week, and that’s all right. We all have our shitty weeks. But I am committed to walking in the shoes of all the people God brings into my life, to see life through their lens. It’s hard work, but after so many have done the same for me, how could I choose to live any other way?
12 thoughts on “Apples to Apples”
Paula — profound as always, and even more so. You are a blessing. Thank you.
Oh Carol, thank you so much!
Paula, every coin has 2 sides. Also consider the “other side of the coin”. There are/have been/will be situations where your influence and contributions will be greater, more significant than they would have been before these years you now live. Also consider that we cannot always know or measure the value of our contributions in situations from a strictly human perspective. Certainly your contributions in this venue are valued greatly by most of us who read them, Thank you for taking the time to post here. I hope you continue. I always read your articles first before reading any others in the evangelical magazine for which you once wrote.
The gravitas of being male is indeed lost in transition to female. For me it was very much ok as I never thought I carried it off well anyway. Most men don’t curry well to a woman’s leadership as they have been trained all their life, whether they are conscious of it or not, that a man’s leadership is the natural state of things. I think transwomen feel that more keenly than anyone since we lose that male privilege to a great extent. I’m sure though that your years of practiced ‘muscle memory in leadership’ held you in good stead and you came across better than you thought.
I agree with your son that we are not the same person after transition or even during it really. I think we at our core are the same person, but with hormones, the shedding of the male skin and faux male mentality, we become a whole person. The male construct that existed before was never whole or authentic. Unfortunately for a lot of our family and pre-transition friends the faux male us is their preferred reality.
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You know Terri, I always say when you’ve met one transgender person, you’ve met exactly one transgender person. I would never say I felt inauthentic or less than a whole person as a male. It didn’t feel like a faux male mentality. Now does feel more in touch with my soul, whatever that means. It’s an interesting journey for each of us, I am sure.
I cannot imagine all your sufferings and pain during your transition. You seem to be a very strong woman and of course Your faith is your power. I really admire You. I’m not a religious woman but if i lived where You preach, I surely would come and listen to You. I wish You all the best.
I’m honored to have meet you in San Diego Mission Gathering Church revive your workshop.Thank you for educating me in the most sincere and honest way. YOU changed the way I view the transgender community for ever, I’ll never be boxed in again. I’m watching your website and emails with great exciment, I know you were anointed a long time ago and a movie on your life will help educate the world.
Perhaps your presence is not what it once was (I didn’t Paul). But your presence is exactly what I have needed many times since I met you. Your presence is as it was always meant to be. The presence of a woman may be more subtle, but it is often more graceful and more helpful. I’m so glad you’re you.
Thank you so much Kate!
Dear Paula, I only just accidentally found your TEDtalk, looked for you online, and now found your page here. I felt so blessed listening to you, that I just had to say thank you.
And if I may say something about the “different weight of your presence”: I am not part of any church, so maybe such a comment implies something that I am not able to understand. But has not the presence of women been underestimated for too long, by holding us up against a constructed norm of androcentric notions of charisma? You have an incredible presence. It has blown me away within minutes. Thank you again.
All the very best,
Thanks so much for writing and for your encouraging words!
Thank you so much, and thanks also for your thoughtful comments on charisma.