TED Women 2018 – Showing Up

In two days Jonathan and I will speak for TED Women 2018 here in Palm Springs, California.  We’ve been preparing for months, with multiple rewrites and rehearsals.  The week has finally come.  Our flights arrived yesterday afternoon.

I don’t think I’m quite as nervous as I was last year for TEDxMileHigh, but I’m still plenty nervous.  I’ve gone over the talk so many times it has become pretty boring to me, but that didn’t stop me from forgetting lines twice in my first rehearsal after I got on site here at LaQuinta Resort.  I mean, there is a giant television production truck outside the auditorium, like it’s an NFL game or something.  And inside, cameras everywhere.  Yep, adequately intimidating.

It is true that I have been speaking for large crowds for decades.  But there is a reason you get to speak to large crowds. It’s because you prepare until you’re sick of preparing.  I know of no other way to put together a talk that does not waste people’s time. Winging it is not an option.  I’m not good enough to wing it.  And as today’s practice showed, I’m not even that great at memorization.

Jonathan and I are talking about my transition from Paul to Paula, and how it affected his life.  It’s not an easy talk, just as his book, She’s My Dad, is not an easy read.  But both are good, redemptively good.  I must admit, however, that telling the story over and over is not easy.  With each recitation of our TED talk, I am reminded how much pain my family endured, and still endures.

There is a line in the TED talk in which I say, “But the call toward authenticity asks you to trust that the truth will not only set you free, it will set everyone free.  I decided to stake my life on it.”  And so I did.  My family’s story is theirs to tell.  Jonathan told his story in his book.  I can only speak of my own life.

My life is not as easy as it was before I transitioned.  It is not as comfortable, and I am certainly nowhere near as financially secure.  But I cannot tell you how much it means to live authentically, especially when it comes to my spiritual life.  It’s like I used to see God through a glass darkly.  Now I experience the Trinity – the glory of God, the unparalleled love of Jesus, the mothering of Spirit, breathing hope into my renewing soul.  And then, joy of joys, I get to serve as a pastor, and work side by side with co-pastors who are in love with the same Jesus I adore.

I have a lot of readers who are astonished I am still a Christian.   I remind those people that I felt called by God to transition.  It was that call that gave me the endurance I needed to face the pain and rejection I knew I would experience.  And that call sustains me still.

Which brings me back to TED. As I watched the video crews scurrying about and talked with the TED staff yesterday, I thought, “And why am I here?”  “Who am I to receive this honor?”  Then I saw the welcome sign, reminding me of the theme of this year’s event, SHOWING UP.

Ah yes, that’s why I am here.  Because I dared to show up. And Jonathan dared to show up with me. We both lost our standing in the denomination of which our family has been a part for over five generations. But that was not our decision.  It was theirs.  So we moved on.  Being true to the call demanded it.

Thursday afternoon we will give our talk about the narrow path, redemption, love, and authenticity.  Jubi will be here supporting Jonathan.  Jen Jepsen will be here supporting me.  Cathy will be watching from Jonathan and Jubi’s New York apartment as she stays with their girls.  And if you are so inclined, you might offer a little prayer around 2:30 Pacific Time.  Because to the two of us, this thing is holy – all of it.

A Major Dilemma

Next week I speak at the TEDWomen 2018 conference in Palm Springs, California.  My talk is done and memorized to the point of boredom.  Tickets have been purchased, rooms booked, and prayers requested.  Only one thing remains.  What to wear?

When I did my TEDxMileHigh talk last winter I wore a pair of Old Navy Jeans and a red sweater to one of the rehearsals.  The curator said, “Yes, that!”  I paired it with a scarf Jen Jepsen got for me at one of her favorite shops in Gunnison.  I added my red Tieks (okay, it is possible I am addicted to Tieks) and that was it.  Nice and simple, like a Colorado female.

This time I’m not speaking in Denver.  I’m speaking in California.  And this isn’t TEDx, wonderful as TEDxMileHigh is.  This is TED, the mother ship.

I gave StitchFix a chance to choose an outfit for me, but I think my first stylist was 16 or couldn’t read or something, because all five pieces were the exact opposite of what I requested.  So I wrote a little note to the folks at StitchFix telling them how they’d blown an opportunity to be prominent at TEDWomen, and they promptly sent another fix.  The stuff looked nice, but didn’t fit.

So I booked an hour with a personal shopper at Nordstrom.  She had watched my TEDx video, so she knew what I was looking for.  Unfortunately, nothing fit.  Which was probably a good thing, because everything cost at least a half million dollars.  (I used to buy stuff at Nordstrom, back when I made money.  I forgot how good their cashmere feels.)

This evening, Cathy has agreed to go shopping with me.  Since we split up, we have both agreed that if any kind of major problem occurs, we’ll be there for each other.  Finding an outfit for TED is a major problem, demanding that she drop all other responsibilities, like counseling people in crisis, to deal with my crisis.  I mean, finding an outfit for TEDWomen is pretty much an existential crisis.

I am speaking at TED with my son, Jonathan.  He already has his outfit, a blue shirt and dark blue jeans.  Today he called and said Jubi suggested that maybe he should wear a sport coat.  He said he thought he’d wear his black one.  I reminded him that the camera does not like black, or white, or tight patterns. He said, “Forget the jacket, then.”  Jonathan can say that, because no one cares what a man wears at TED.

Last winter I did a little experiment.  I had a friend look through YouTube comments of four speakers from past TEDxMileHigh events.  Two were men and two were women.  One of the men wore a light tan sport coat and an un-tucked light blue shirt.  The shirt was kinda wrinkled.  The other wore a blue shirt that was one or two (or five) sizes too large.  There was not a single comment about what either man looked like.  On the other hand, fifteen percent of the comments about the two women were about the way we looked.  I never did look at the comments.  I’m not stupid.

Which brings me back to next week.  I’m really tempted to go with an Old Navy sweater I bought on closeout at the end of last winter for $12.99.  (I could have bought 30 of those for the cost of one sweater I tried on at Nordstrom today. Did I mention their cashmere is really nice?)  I’ll pair it with some dark skinny jeans and a pair of my Tieks and call it a day.  Or not.  I mean, it is TED.

There are a few people out there who insist transgender people choose “this lifestyle.”  Yeah, well, if I chose “this lifestyle”, then Donald Trump is the smartest president our nation has ever known.

And so it goes.

We Are A Very Serious Church

I am the Pastor of Preaching and Worship at Left Hand Church in Longmont, Colorado.  As you can see from the picture above, I am a force to be reckoned with.  Therefore, church members would never think of photoshopping a dressed-up dog into a picture of me preaching, and certainly would refuse to do so if it had been suggested by one of my co-pastors.  They know I am serious and in control, always, without fail. I never cry when I’m doing the communion meditation.  I’m as dispassionate and dissociated as a fundamentalist church elder.  After all, it’s just bread and grape juice.

At Left Hand Church, we do everything decently and in order.  Whenever Jen Jepsen, our Pastor of Reconciling Ministries, begins our services with a welcome, she never gets her words tangled.  Upon choking up with emotion, she would never say, “I’m not crying.  You’re crying.”  No, Jen is a professional through and through, always composed, reserved, serious.

Our Pastor of Executive Ministries, Aaron Bailey, would never roll his eyes when the Pastor of Preaching and Worship starts uttering curse words because she can’t figure out how to navigate through Slack or Google Docs.  No, Aaron always treats her with the utmost respect, because as I said before, she is a force to be reckoned with.  And oh yeah, she would never use curse words, ever, in any circumstance, and certainly not during a church service when one child is still in the auditorium.  She is a professional.

Our Leadership Council operates quickly and efficiently, even if one or two people are left behind.  If 10 people quickly reach a conclusion, you’d never find the 11th saying, “But I’m not sure we’ve thought about this one thing…”  And you would certainly never see the group reengage the conversation and after a long and heartfelt talk, reverse their perspective to agree with the 11th member.  No, they are more interested in getting stuff done fast, like a good board should.

And then there are those who do our communion meditations each week.  They are, above all, people who refuse to think on their own, and only repeat the words spoken by real Christians, like Southern Baptist executives and members of Trump’s spiritual advisory team.  They begin their meditations with phrases like, “God said it; I believe it; that settles it for me.”  They would never say things like, “Jesus welcomed everyone to the table, even the dumb ones, the ones who were clueless, and yeah, that funky one.”

Yessiree, we are a serious church, with serious pastors, serious leadership council members, and serious attendees.  Only serious Christians, who have never doubted the existence of God, come to our services.  We only have attendees who know exactly how much God dislikes LGBTQ people, refugees and immigrants.  Our members know it’s not how you live; it’s what doctrines you believe.  A hallmark of a Left Hand attendee is making sure you are good and terrified of hell.  If you say, “God is love,” our members know how to respond.  We say, “Yeah, but how can you be sure.”  We know to be suspicious of the notion God loves everyone, just as they are.

Yep, at Left Hand Church, we’ve got our shit  stuff together.  So you’ll never see a picture of an proud dog in a Cookie Monster costume photoshopped onto the stage of our auditorium behind our incredibly gifted Pastor of Preaching and Worship.  And it would never have been photoshopped there by the newest member of our Leadership Council.  Not ever.

And isn’t that the outfit the pastor wore at her TEDxMileHigh talk?  No, our pastor would never wear the same thing twice.  Because above all else, Left Hand is a very serious church.

Look What Slipped By The News Media!

Over the past month I have become frightened, first by the increasingly racially-tinged and divisive rhetoric coming from the White House, and then by a decision made by the Justice Department last Wednesday.

With Trump’s pronouncements coming at a dizzying pace, many quickly forgot that a few Sundays ago the New York Times reported that the current administration was preparing to pronounce that gender is determined at birth, and all accommodations for transgender people should be ended. Last Wednesday the threat became a reality when  the Justice Department took the first step, informing its employees they were no longer to protect the rights of transgender people on issues related to housing and employment.

That news got lost in the pre-election madness.  The Justice Department’s instruction was not just one more crazy idea tossed to the electorate by an unhinged president. It was the first step of a calculated decision to eradicate the transgender population, perpetrated by the Justice Department of the United States of America.

Now, let’s suppose the Robert Mueller investigation does find collusion or obstruction of justice, and Donald Trump is impeached and convicted.  That would not change the discourse on transgender people. Mike Pence is even more dangerous to the LGBTQ population than Donald Trump.  He is every bit as theologically conservative and morally self-righteous as Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  He would not hesitate to issue executive order after executive order to deny the basic civil rights of transgender people.

I am ashamed about how little I cared about civil rights before I transitioned.  I had all of the “right positions,” but outside of voting, I didn’t do much. I did not write my Congressmen or Senators.  I did not participate in demonstrations.  I did not testify against bills designed to limit civil rights. I was comfortable.  Now I know better.

Regardless of how today’s election turns out, I will remain frightened.  And as bad as it is for me, it is ten times worse for transgender women of color and transgender children, whose vulnerability is exponentially greater than mine.

Eight-four percent of evangelicals believe gender is determined at birth, and there are only two genders.  Sixty-one percent of evangelicals feel the culture has gone too far in accommodating transgender people.  Yet only one in four evangelicals actually knows someone who is transgender.  They have a strong opinion about a population they do not even know.  We have seen that kind of prejudice far too often in American history.  From Irish immigrants to Blacks to refugees from Central America, we reject those about whom we know next to nothing.

When I transitioned, I believed if people realized transgender individuals are as healthy as the population at large, we would be accepted.  The truth would set us free.  I was naïve. A lot of people do not care about the truth.  They care about power.

I am the enemy of those in power.  I am not deserving of compassion, understanding, or acceptance.  I cannot believe my sense of entitlement was so great that it took this long for me to realize just how much peril I am in.

Transgender people only have rights in 21 states.  With a federal government that wants to erase us from existence, we are only as protected as the state in which we live.  I am fortunate to live in a state that protects my rights.  Most transgender people do not.

These are trying times.  The hate and division are the worst I have seen.  I am frightened.  And even if today yields an election result in which one party is no longer in control of both houses of Congress, it will not change the fact that this administration would like to strike me from the face of the earth.

Please, write your Congressmen and Senators and ask them to speak out against the plans of the Justice Department to erase transgender people.  Our lives depend on it.