Oh, The Things I See…

In a Q&A session after a keynote presentation earlier this month, I was asked about my personal discoveries related to gender inequity.  Off the top of my head, I could not formulate a list.  It did not take long to do so afterwards.  In no particular order, here are 12 of my discoveries:

  1. In a business meeting, the best ideas are not necessarily chosen. The most powerful person’s ideas are chosen.

When you are in a business meeting, a female quickly realizes the best ideas are not necessarily chosen.  The most powerful person’s ideas are chosen.  When you are the most powerful person in the room, it is easy to assume your ideas are the best ideas.  Most people are not inclined to challenge you, and your ideas prevail.  If you are an older woman, your ideas will rarely be seen as the best ideas.

  1. I am judged on my most recent performance, not on the aggregate of my past performances. I am always proving myself anew.

I have over 40 years of non-profit experience.  I have been a chief development officer, a president, a CEO/Chairman and a non-executive chairman.  Nowadays, most of that knowledge is not acknowledged, nor is it sought after. I understand this may be more complicated than gender inequity.  It may be because my body of work as a male is generally unknown. Nevertheless, even when only taking into account my work as a female, I find I am judged on my most recent performance, not on the aggregate of my past performances.  I am always proving myself.

  1. My age used to give me an edge. My age now costs me my edge.

When I was an older white male with salt and pepper hair, my presence in a room gave me a gravitas I did not fully recognize.  People assumed I knew what I was talking about.  Now, as an older woman, my age puts me at a deficit, time and again.  It is important to note, however, that I do not experience that in primarily female environments.

  1. In settings dominated by males, I am discouraged from thinking out loud. Speaking up is affirmed only if my thoughts are withheld until I can speak them clearly and concisely. 

As a male of some standing, a room tended to become quiet when I began to speak, and remained quiet until I was done speaking, even if it took me a while to find the right words.  As a woman, I am expected to speak only when my thoughts are well formed and concise. I also am interrupted and talked over twice as often as I was as a male.

  1. I am judged on my looks, and more so by women than by men.

I rarely thought about what I was going to wear when I was a male.  Now it is always on my mind.  Back when I was still looking at comments about my TEDxMileHigh talk, I noticed that about 15 percent of the comments were about my looks. When I compared that with two men and another woman who spoke at the same event, there were absolutely no comments about the men’s looks, and 15 percent of the comments about the other female speaker were about her looks.

  1. As a female, women see me as a threat more often than I ever experienced from other males when I was a male.

This is a puzzle to me.  It may be because most corporate systems are patriarchal.  They do not include many women at the top leadership levels.  (Only 22 percent of Fortune 500 vice-presidents are women, and only 4.8 percent of CEOs are women.) Therefore when women do find a place at the leadership table, they are less inclined to empower other women who come along behind them.

  1. A lot of my time is spent listening to men explain things that I know far better than the man doing the explaining.

Men assume I am less knowledgeable than they are on virtually every subject.  However, if I point that out, I am seen as too aggressive.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a mechanic at a bike shop, or a gate agent at an airport, or the CEO of a non-profit half the size of the one I used to direct.  I am constantly talked over and talked down to.  Mansplaining is a real thing.

  1. I receive fewer work-related compliments than I received when I was a male.

I imagine this has as much to do with positional power as it does with my gender.  But I always received a steady stream of verbal compliments about my work as a male.  As a female I am complimented about 60 or 70 percent as often.  Interestingly, I notice that to be true with my preaching more than in any other setting.  I find that fascinating, since I am pretty sure my preaching as a female is stronger than it ever was as a male.

  1. Regardless of the social setting, I am apparently invisible.

I cannot count the number of times a female flight attendant in first class has leaned over me to refill the glass of the male sitting in the window seat, while ignoring my empty glass.  This does not happen with male flight attendants. Thank God free upgrades are based on miles flown, not gender.  If gender was a factor, I’d never be in first class.  ( I know.  First world problems.)

  1. If I am seen as too feminine, I am ignored. If I am seen as too masculine, I am too aggressive, or I am seen as a transgender woman who “is really a man.”

Until I suggested they stop, some friends would ask, “Was that Paula who showed up at that meeting or Paul?”  I told them that being forceful did not mean I was reverting to my life as a male.  It meant I felt passionately about the subject.

  1. Women with whom I work who do not lead in a typically male manner are ignored in meetings dominated by men.

Brilliant ideas that have been collaboratively created by women working together are not considered unless I use my alpha leadership abilities to champion the cause of the women who are the geniuses behind the ideas.  Otherwise, the ideas of those women never find a hearing.  It makes me wonder how often that happened in my past life, when I did not have eyes to see the non-alpha women in the room.

  1. Sometimes I don’t get the contract, not because I am a female, but because I am transgender.

The most surprising aspect of this observation is the places in which it happens.  I know radical feminists are sometimes resentful of transgender women.  They feel we are just one more example of males usurping power.  But I did not expect to find it in other typically liberal settings. Liberals want everyone to know they are supportive of transgender people, but I believe there is an implicit bias that causes them to see us as less qualified than others.  If I listed these 12 items based on how often they are experienced, I am afraid this would be listed first.

It only took me a couple hours to come up with these 12 observations.  I stopped at 12, but I could have kept going…

Sometimes, People Are Stupid

I would like to write about the way last weekend’s snowstorm robbed my little village of its short season of fall color.  I would like to write about playing with my granddaughters yesterday, as they took on convincing British accents and pretended they were royalty.  I would like to write about how wonderful Jen Jepsen’s sermon was on Saturday evening, as we continue our series on the ethos of Left Hand Church.  I would like to write about anything other than what I feel the need to write about today. But thanks to the current administration in Washington D.C., that is not possible.

Yesterday the New York Times reported that the Trump administration is preparing to defy the conclusions of the medical and psychological communities and declare that transgender people do not exist.  If current estimates are true, and .58 percent of the population is transgender, then in one stroke of a pen 1.88 million Americans will be erased from existence.  A few weeks ago, I would have trusted our nation’s courts to overturn such a misguided policy.  Today, not so much.

Let me spell out some practical ways in which this might affect me.  I might no longer be able to travel outside the United States, because my next passport renewal would list my gender as male.  I might lose medical coverage for a plethora of conditions, because my federally guaranteed health insurance would list my gender as male.  I might lose all guarantee of access to medications and surgeries that are gender confirming.

I would lose all federal civil rights protections related to housing, employment, education and medical care.  Religious institutions already have exemptions from providing these rights. That is the sole reason I could be dismissed by all of my employers just for being transgender, not even for actually transitioning.

I ask my conservative acquaintances, most of which are evangelical, what do you hope to gain from the enaction of this policy?  Do you think it will force me transition back to the male gender?  Do you have the misguided notion that would be a good thing?

We do not know the suicide statistics for those who transition back to the gender on their birth certificate.  It happens so rarely that no clinical studies have been done.  The latest study indicates 96 percent of those who transition genders are happy in their new gender.  But a few do transition back, which is what those supportive of this decision would expect all of us to do.

How would those people do?  While there are no statistics on the subject, when I looked at something easier to determine, I was shocked.  When transgender women who are as well known as I am have transitioned back to their birth gender, 100 percent have ended their lives.  I am not surprised.  I cannot begin to imagine how impossibly difficult that would be.

So, if you are in favor of this new policy, and you expect all of us to de-transition, you really only have two options.  You are either going to have to confess your ignorance, or you are going to have to accept that you want all of us to die.  Yeah, well, we’re not going to die.  We’re here to stay.  Got it?

One of my granddaughters happened by my computer yesterday when it was opened to the front page of the New York Times.  She saw the word transgender, and being the inquisitive child she is, asked what the article was about.  I told her, and she wanted to talk about it.  Two of my other granddaughters were present and I explained as simply as I could, “Well, the president wants to make the nation pretend that transgender people like me do not exist.”  One of the twins said, “But Gramma Paula, if they knew you, they wouldn’t be afraid of you.  They would like you.”  “Yes, ” I said, “That is probably true.”

All three started coloring again, and one of them casually said, “Sometimes people are stupid.”   “Indeed, they are,” I replied.

Or maybe they are not stupid.  Maybe they know exactly what they are doing.  Maybe they want to see how the nation reacts to eradicating the rights of a very marginalized group to see what will happen.  If nothing happens, they will know they can move on to larger groups.  But there’s no historical precedent for that, right?

Where I Belong

Last Friday it was announced that Jonathan and I would be speaking next month for the TED Women 2018 event in Palm Springs.  We have known we were speaking since July, and we’ve been working on our talk since August.

Last year I had the privilege of speaking at TEDxMileHigh, one of the largest TEDx events in the world. (TEDx events are licensed by TED, but independently organized.)  That video has been viewed over 1.5 million times and has brought a lot of speaking opportunities all over the US and Europe.  It’s been a whirlwind.

All of the attention I am receiving has been a bit disruptive to my equilibrium.  It feels like one day I was ostracized from my lifelong religious communion, and the next I am speaking for TED.  It’s a little much.

Last week I had a wonderful time lecturing at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, a state university about an hour northeast of Pittsburgh.  IUP was the site of the event that got the attention of Fox News last spring.  The students, faculty and administration were warmly welcoming.  Though I spoke for a lot of hours over two days, I was energized by the refreshing questions and genuine appreciation expressed by so many.

Since I’ve written pretty openly about my pain of late, and the whirlwind being what it is, more than a few folks have asked if I am all right.  Yep.  I am.  My life is often difficult, but so is yours.  We are all just trying to get by.  A few have asked where I find my grounding.  The answer is that I do everything I can to make sure I am home every weekend. My grounding is with the people of Left Hand Church.

The folks at Left Hand don’t care whether or not I am speaking at TED, or getting a movie deal, or traveling the world.  We just do life together.  We meet on Saturday evenings in a borrowed sanctuary that has quickly become my sanctuary from the buzz and hum of a world addicted to speed.

I love the few minutes before services start, when I have time for a brief chat with the people who have come to worship.  Pretty much every week, as one of our members does the communion meditation, I lean over to Jen and say, “I love this church.”

Aaron and Jen, my co-pastors, are also a grounding force, as we learn to be pastors together, following our Trinitarian-inspired leadership model.  We laugh and cry and puzzle over things pastors puzzle over.  It is good work.

In his book, The Righteous Mind, Jonathan Haidt says religion is here to stay.  It is how humans learned to cooperate beyond the level of kin.  Astrophysicist Owen Gingrich says this is a universe that was expecting us.  And I might add, expecting us to form spiritual communities.

When the co-pastors gather, Jen laughs a lot and says brilliant things I have to write down.  When I get an idea, I stare at the corners of the ceiling and Jen and Aaron wait patiently as I try to find words for my thoughts.  Aaron, with his reserves of kindness, rolls his eyes in a way that says, “You guys are crazy, but I can’t help but love you.”

Heatherlyn, our worship minister, brings her generous spirit to the conversation and Kimberly our children’s minister, brings her steady confidence.  Jason makes it so we never have to think about tech, and Vernon keeps the teens wanting more.  We are blessed, abundantly blessed.

Left Hand Church grounds me in the way Highlands Church grounded me before, and before that? Well, come to think of it, before that I never had the kind of spiritual grounding I have received at both Highlands and Left Hand.

How can a church barely nine months old be such a place of comfort, encouragement and joy?  It’s pretty simple.  Humans were made for spiritual community.  That is where we find our calm in the midst of the whirlwind.  It is where we catch those glimpses that confirm to us that the moral arc of the universe is long, and that is does bend toward justice.  Left Hand Church is home, and home is where I belong.

From The Other Side

I began losing power five years ago, when for the first time as an adult I was unable to control the course of my own life.  I’m pretty sure the lesson is embedded now, so I wouldn’t mind if the gods let up a little, though I don’t see that happening anytime soon.  Apparently there are remnants of privilege that still need to be rooted out.

I was a bright kid. I did well in school and grew up on the right side of the tracks.  Teachers nurtured me; colleges competed for me.  I was 27 when I was first offered a CEO position in a large non-profit. Though I turned it down, I was confident they made a good decision when they offered it to me.  I accepted a CEO position in my 30s.  In the world I inhabited, that was right on time.

I had no idea. I mean, seriously, I had no idea.

About 10 days ago I saw powerful white men behave in ways that would have disqualified a woman on the spot.  Their privilege was being challenged, and they did not like it.

I do not personally know any women who have a lot of respect for those men.  I am sure there are plenty of women who are supportive, but those are not the women who are willing to be friends with me.  Hence my rather insular world of incensed females.  It’s fine.  The women I hang out with are teaching me a lot.  I mean, a lot.

One of them wrote last week to, I dunno, tell me what was on her heart, I guess.  She expressed a lot of frustration with her lot in life as an alpha female in an evangelical world.  Somewhere in the middle of the email she dropped a line about having felt dismissed by me back in the day.  I wrote and apologized.  I always thought highly of her, though apparently I was dismissive of her, as I am sure I was to a lot of women.  Not because I was an asshole, but because, well, uh, nope,  maybe I was an asshole, just like the men who threw tantrums.

All these men are clueless about their entitlement, especially the evangelicals and politicians.  The evangelicals because God told them they are in charge.  They’ve studied the Bible.  That’s what it says.  Just ask them.  And the politicians?  The politicians because absolute power corrupts absolutely.  But enough about evangelicals and politicians.  Back to me.  Because hey, I was a man for a lot of decades and I know how to make it all about me.

I have been a female long enough that I am starting to get the truth.  Powerful white men are not interested in what I say.  As a transgender woman, they really don’t care what I say.  Like my two male neighbors who refuse to acknowledge that I exist.  It is fascinating to see how hard they work to avoid sharing space with me.

White men throwing tantrums is disturbing.  To see them get their way is really disturbing.  To see a woman of incredible courage and bravery mocked by the President of the United States is more than disturbing.  It is evil.

Which brings me back to my diminished power.  Yeah, I have a platform.  A few thousand people a week read my blog.  And I get to speak about gender inequity to sizeable crowds every month.  But in a lot of ways, I’m still not sure I should be the one with a platform.  In some ways I’m just another white dude telling women what I know.

It is true that women almost never tell me that. Some of the reason is because they really do want to hear my unique “from both sides” perspective. Some of it is because I am learning a lot and starting to see the ubiquitous nature of misogyny.  And some of it is just because women tend to be more generous.

Everything I was scheduled to do this past Sunday cancelled, so I never left the house.  I worked out for an hour and listened to music. I booked a trip to London to speak at a conference in March, and worked on a talk I’m giving at a cool place I still can’t tell you about because it hasn’t been announced yet.  But for a lot of the day I just sat and wept.  You should have seen my eyes Monday morning.  I had to take an antihistamine.

I will vote on November 6, but so will a lot of the women who are not friends with me. And they have a different agenda than my friends.  I am afraid they may be more motivated to vote.  They are not as cynical about our democracy as the rest of us.

But this is a long haul, and I choose to believe what abolitionist Theodore Parker wrote back in 1853, that the arc of the moral universe is long, and that it does bend toward justice.  I believe there is a God, and I believe She is crying with us.  That’s not just a semi-cute cliché.  It is my abiding hope.

Just Collateral Damage

That was quite a week.  It began with me preparing a sermon about doubt being an essential part of faith. I rode my mountain bike Monday and Tuesday, and ran on Wednesday and Thursday.  The most exciting thing that happened was a couple of rattlesnakes on the trail.  Then Thursday came.

I survived the morning, profoundly changed by the courage I saw in Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. But then the afternoon happened, and I realized the truth.  The Republican Senators had not seen Dr. Ford.  Not really.  If the tables had been turned, I’m not so sure the Democrats would have either.  The focus was not on Dr. Ford.  It was on the locus of control.  Who held the power?

It was a Monday, December 16, when I was summoned by email to a meeting with the executive committee of the board of directors of the ministry I had directed for more than two decades.  I was to meet them at a hotel at the Denver airport two days later.  We met in one of their rooms, where Cathy and I sat on a couch looking up at them, as they all sat in the desk chairs they had brought from their rooms.  For a couple of hours I talked about my gender identity.  They were warm and cordial, as they had always been.

Afterwards we went to dinner at the Ruby Tuesday’s next door.  We laughed and talked about our families and ministries.  When we left, Cathy asked how I thought it had gone. I told her I trusted those men.  I would be given the time I had requested to wind down my ministry.  Except, I wasn’t.

Thirty-six hours later I was called and told that if I was willing to resign immediately, I would be given a severance.  If I did not resign and word got out that I was transgender, there were no guarantees I would receive anything.

I had been with the ministry for 35 years.  I had never had a bad review, but I was given no other option.  There was no law stopping them from letting me go.  If you work for a religious corporation, there are no laws protecting you from being fired in any state.

I have never written specifically about that day.  It was traumatic.  When I saw the confidence of the Republican Senators last Thursday, I realized the truth.  It did not matter what Dr. Ford said.  Their minds were already made up.  It did not matter what I said in the hotel at the Denver airport that night.  One way or the other, my employment was already over. I could not admit I was transgender and expect to survive.

I imagined how Dr. Ford might feel, realizing her heartfelt words did not matter in the hearts of those powerful men.  They were doing what they thought they had to do.

And what did both groups of men “have” to do.  They “had” to preserve the power of their tribe, because they felt the integrity of the tribe was at stake.  In one case the Republican Party.  In the other case, the ministry I had once directed.  The humanity of a single person was secondary to the integrity of the tribe.  And that was all right, because their tribe was the group that was really looking out for the best interest of all people.  They were sure of that.  And sometimes a single person has to be sacrificed for the good of all, right?

The Republican lawmakers held no ill will toward Dr. Ford.  Our board held no ill will toward me.  We were collateral damage.  Minds were already made up before either one of us spoke. She would not be believed.  White men seem to have a hard time believing that one in three women in America has been sexually abused.

For me the problem was not that I would not be believed.  The problem was that being transgender was unacceptable to the tribe.  You’ll get a nice severance.  But the work you have loved for 35 years will be taken from you. It’s sad, but necessary.

Yes, I was triggered last Thursday.  I wept and wept for hours.  The memory of that week in December is vividly lodged in my hippocampus.  It is a scar now, no longer an open wound.  But Thursday brought the memories back to the forefront.  It was obvious the same was true for Dr. Ford.

The Republicans will do what they will do this coming Friday, just as our board did what they chose to do less than 36 hours after hearing from me.  No hard feelings though.  It’s just collateral damage.  The work our tribe does is important.  When it’s all said and done, we’re saving America.  Right, Paula?  Right, Dr. Ford?