I Do Not Like Rollercoasters

When I was a kid we took a trip to Lake Chautauqua in Western New York.  After lazily lying by the lakeshore for a couple of days, we headed to a small amusement park in town.  While the other kids were excited, I was not.

There was a children’s rollercoaster that was probably no more than 50 yards long and 50 feet tall, but I steadfastly refused to climb aboard.  My friends thought I was being ridiculous. I knew otherwise.  I was saving myself from imminent peril.  I do not like rollercoasters.

I was sharing my last couple of weeks with my therapist (yes, we therapists usually have a therapist) and she said, “You do realize your life is an ongoing never ending rollercoaster, right?”  To have someone speak the words aloud was both comforting and frightening.  “Oh!  So there is a reason I feel like I’m flying up and down and flung all around!  It’s because I am!”  Let me illustrate.

Through the generosity of delightful a new friend, last week I was in meetings with some amazing corporate leaders.  When the afternoon was over I was in a rather melancholy mood.  I felt I could have done better in my presentation, and I was feeling inadequate.  It was the first time since I transitioned that I have been in a room with people at that level of corporate leadership.  Paul had no trouble fitting into those environments.  Paula struggled.

On my way home, as we sat on the tarmac waiting for the ramp to reopen after a thunderstorm, I called my co-pastor, Jen.  She talked me off the little ledge on which I had placed myself. Later that night she wrote these words: “Unfortunately I think your level of frustration and pain is commensurate with the level of comfort you felt as a powerful white male.  I’m not sure how to comfort you other than to say you’re doing very important work and I’m really excited to see where it will all lead.”

I don’t walk into any room with a leg up.  First, I arrive as a woman, and every single day I am reminded that women have far less power than men. Second, I am transgender, and even those who are supportive are usually a little wary upon first meeting a transgender woman.  My degrees, my 35 years of non-profit leadership, my breadth and depth of experience – once people know I am transgender, they are all discounted like a penny stock.

I have been toppled from my perch in the rarified air of white male power.  I have no doubt that cisgender women say, “Uh, huh. Now double that and you might understand my experience.”  People of color might suggest I triple or quadruple it. All of this is appropriately humbling, but it is still a rollercoaster.  And did I mention I do not like rollercoasters.

The fall from the peak of male privilege to being rejected by those you loved and worked with for years is gut wrenching.  No amount of harnesses or lap bars can keep you in your seat.  You hang on by your fingertips.  And then it keeps happening time and again.

With over 1.5 million views, my TED talk has been popular beyond my wildest dreams.  I receive wonderful emails from all over the world, followed by terrible emails from all over the world (well, mostly the nasty one’s come from the United States.)  In the past week I’ve been answering between 10 and 15 emails a day.  (I do not answer the nasty ones.)

My son’s book is done.  The book is entitled, She’s My Dad.  It’s Jonathan’s book, but I wrote responses to five of the chapters.  It’ll be out by the time we speak together at a big event later this fall.  I got the final edits last week.  It is so raw, and difficult, and painful and beautiful.  I had to read it in small snippets.  There were just too many emotions.

If you are transgender and trying to figure out if you should transition, be careful.  It is a road full of fallen branches and stones, and you must traverse it in the middle of a massive storm on the darkest of nights. It is not a journey for those who have not been called.

I suppose narcissists can travel it without too much trouble, because they don’t give a shit what other people think. But if your heart is easily broken, then prepare for it to be broken into a million tiny pieces.  Then, as you ride the transgender rollercoaster, those pieces will be thrust up into your throat and then down into your gut and then up into your throat. Over and over again. And did I mention, I do not like rollercoasters?

17 thoughts on “I Do Not Like Rollercoasters

  1. Paula – I hope you get it that many of us are people who really not only see every other person as an equal – but are wholly inspired by those like yourself who make choices that require bravery – action beyond what ordinary folk can carry out (I can say this because I am a qualified ordinary folk) – You are respected and I bet by more than disrespect you. I also do not fully understand your world ( how could I ) – but you open me up to listening.

    I am starting to think you should move in to circles where you are not disrespected – I am starting to understand why the church and Christianity is weakening – so many inappropriate people in positions of power – start your own church – create your own companies and show people how it is done. I am starting to worry for you as your confidence seems to be waning, I hope you are OK , I know a lot of people from the LGBT and none expressed better than you your observations and feelings that I now share about equality … you are changing perspectives everywhere.

    You are not on an easy road – I share you and your video to all sorts of people – you have exposed to me my bigotry I didn’t see – very transformational.

    I am not a good writer and sometimes I get lost in my thoughts. If you came to any of my meetings you would be there as you and you would not be in the room because of any orientation the same or different in the room, you would be there for the value you would add to the gathering. From me it has always been this way as long as I can remember ( I had a good upbringing I think)

    I am sure I am not the only person who mixes with people not colour/creed/designation ( sorry if I have missed anything out)

    I hope there are more good stories to come .

    And I hope you start to feel more like the powerful person you are if that is how you want to feel.

    You’ve already earned the title !

    (ps: If I’ve written anything wrong please delete – I am struggling to say something – something to get the right people in the right roles – something to stop hearing about colour/creed/designation as us and them wars and us and them conversations)

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Oh love. It sounds like it’s really really tough right now. May there be more unexpected llove and support in places you didn’t dream of coming up for you, and may you self care and be rested away from the fear that others are energetically pushing on you at present. With life and laughter ❤️

    Liked by 2 people

  3. You are honest, you are true to yourself, and you are a beacon. Those who cannot open their eyes, who are not ready for the light to pour in, they will do whatever they can to protect themselves and hide themselves away in the darkness, even if that means lashing out and hurting those who bring the light. You bring the light. That makes you a target for them. But, you are, have been, and always will be, you, whatever skin and form you wear. And you are precious. Lovely. Shining. Powerful. Perhaps not always in the ways you once were, but powerful and strong nonetheless. It takes enormous strength and courage to do what you have done. And you carry that courage with you every day, every step of your journey. That courage shines out over those of us lucky enough to have our eyes open to see it. And at the same time, the light of that courage chips away at the darkness that still exists in the world. Those who are ready to receive that light have their eyes opened to the nuances and the layers and the privileges that exist still. They become aware of those differences, and they add their own light to the world even if that is “merely” by increasing their own awareness of their own actions and words in the world. Thus it begins. And thus it continues. Light will be spread, and yours is the spark for so many people. You have touched many. And I hold to the hope that one day, some day, the darkness will be chased from your life along with so many others’.

    Thank you.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Your warning about making decisions concerning transitioning hit home with me, Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was a written test or even better a blood test to positively prove that your answer is clear ! yes you are or are not transgender and yes or no you should transition. I have been driven to make the right decision, what I know is as you say its tough being transgender, I often wonder where the benefit-effort matrix can be found. What I know is this YOU are the only one that really knows the answers, I have been in public service for many years and have absolutely no doubts that when I come out my life will at least start to be a living hell, I find that sheltering myself with good HONEST friends or colleges is the best way to deal with the emotional pain of rejection, You Paula are a good women, bring your friends close. Thank you for all you say and do

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m not transgender, not considering transitioning. Not a Christian. I am an ordinary American white female, trying to do the best I can in a difficult situation of my own choosing – my calling, if you will – and your stories give me strength to keep going. I am living with my 86 year-old mother, caring for her as she is not well. I’ve put my life on hold and moved in with her 6 years ago. Even though we’ve had a tempestuous relationship all my life, I felt it was the right thing to do. It’s been very, very, very, very hard. There are many days I feel like I can’t go on, and I just want my life back. None of that changes the fact that it’s the right thing to do, probably the most important thing I’ll ever do on this planet, and that I have grown as a human in the past 6 years immeasurably more than I did in the previous 50. You remind me that life is hard, but that’s okay cuz doing the right thing matters. Being true to yourself and your beliefs matters. On the surface we would seem to have very little in common, yet your experience informs mine, and your telling of it helps me keep going. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Dearest Paula,

    I always felt ashamed in my peer group as a child whenever we went to the amusement park because I didn’t want to ride the roller coaster. One time was enough for me. I was the only one who was extremely uncomfortable, and I was ridiculed for feeling this way.

    As I read your heartfelt words here, I am beginning to understand what it is about roller coasters that I don’t like. I feel trapped in that chaotic zone between falling and flying; holding on and letting go; feeling unsafe and safe. I lose trust as I’m thrust into this overwhelming situation, completely lost without wings or feet. And, I have no control over the g-force of the situation.

    I cannot know the emotional landscape of those experiences in your life where strapping in, during extremely trying moments, still leaves you groundless and alone. I do know, first-hand, your gifts of resilience and resolve. I also know your heart, its magnificent wing span, and the immense value of your story.

    Thank you for the sacrifices you continually make as this rolling ride of your lifetime unfolds. Those surges, hesitations, peaks and valleys that contour your days will never match the steadfast love you bring to this world.


    Liked by 1 person

  7. Paula,
    What you write and how you write it has made it easier for me to understand a transgender person. At 64, I’m more concerned about who a person is than what sex they are. There were difficulties and discrimination (job wise) when I was growing up as a straight white female but nothing like other folks experienced and still experience. Anyway, I always learn from your blogs so thank you and hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

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