The Result of My Convictions

Speaker Community Castle Tour and High Tea at TEDSummit: A Community Beyond Borders. July 21-25, 2019, Edinburgh, Scotland. Photo: Bret Hartman / TED

I’ve just returned home from the TED Summit in Edinburgh, Scotland.  The summit was comprised of about 100 past speakers, including seven of us who spoke at TEDWomen 2018, and about 800 other TEDsters, including TED Fellows, TED Translators, TEDx Coordinators, and TED staff.  Jonathan was there too, which was wonderful!  The Summit was one of the most inspiring events in which I have ever taken part.

It took a couple days before I was not completely overwhelmed and intimidated by the people I was with.  It will be several more before I come down from the high.  Since the Summit ended, there has been a steady stream of comments on the TEDConnect app from those of us in the Speaker Community.  We are all feeling grateful.

The preconference began on the 20th with a guided tour of Edinburgh Castle, followed by afternoon tea.  That evening all the speakers gathered at the Playfair Library at the University of Edinburgh for a delightful evening meal, followed by a full morning and afternoon of activities for the speakers on Sunday.  The full summit began on Sunday evening and concluded Thursday afternoon.

The first session was at 9:00 every morning and the formal program ended at 10:00 each evening.  We were busy!  I did a short talk for the speakers on Sunday morning, led a Discovery Session for speakers on Sunday afternoon, and two Discovery Sessions with Jonathan on Monday and Wednesday.

The TED Summit was comprised of a diverse crowd of 900 people from over 80 countries representing a plethora of fascinating professions.  At one point I was in a conversation with an astrophysicist and a stem cell researcher, then literally turned around and had a conversation with an improvisational comedian and a well-known musician.  I talked with movie producers, filmmakers, government officials, political cartoonists, Broadway actors, and choreographers.  More than once during the week I thought, “What the hell am I doing here?  I’m a pastor from Colorado.”  I had to think about that.  A lot.

The attendees reminded me that I am a pastor, and more.  They see me as a refugee from religious intolerance and a champion for the rights of women and LGBTQ people.  The affirmation was humbling.  I always say the people of Left Hand Church are my grounding.  But I discovered something important at the Summit. The servants of humanity at the Summit are also my grounding.  They ground me in the other half of my calling, reminding me I have been given an international platform from which to fight for equity for women and minorities. I sometimes want to minimize that part of my work.  I suppose that is the universally experienced (well, except for narcissists) imposter syndrome.  How did I become a voice for so many people?  I was reminded time and again that my international platform is an important part of my calling.

I never saw any of this coming.  Not in the slightest.  In the first year after my transition I interacted with a handful of people.  Jen Jepsen, Mark Tidd and Highlands Church started me down the path I travel today.  Jeremy and Helena and Briar and Nicole at TEDxMileHigh catapulted me onto the international scene and TED brought me to the Summit.  All I knew was that living authentically was sacred and holy and for the greater good. The rest is the result of that conviction.

I loved being with Jonathan at the Summit.  He also left a life of comfort to sail uncharted waters.  I listened Wednesday as he talked with Anthony Veneziale and Amanda Palmer.  Anthony is co-creating the Broadway show Freestyle Love Supreme with Lin- Manuel Miranda.  Amanda is an amazing musician with an international following who has a powerful commitment to social justice.  Jonathan appeared to be completely comfortable with the two of them. He seems to accept that he belongs in this territory, with the other risk takers and change makers.

I loved the evangelical world I inhabited.  Edinburgh is the birthplace of the Enlightenment, and Scotland was the early home to so many of the pioneers of the Restoration Movement, the Enlightenment-inspired religious community in which my roots run deep.  I would have been content to remain in that world for the remainder of my days.  It is filled with good people.  But that world decided I was no longer good company and I was forced to leave.  The world I now inhabit is broader, deeper, richer and more diverse.  It is also filled with good people.

Before the conference began, I spent an evening and morning with friends who remain quasi-connected to the religious movement of my past.  We talked of the world from which we came, and the people we love who remain within it.  They are able to move back and forth freely in that world. I cannot.  But I have found a new world.

My new world is the pilgrims at Left Hand Church who have joined together to follow Jesus wherever he leads us.  It is the people at the Summit who love me well and encourage me to keep up the good work. It is my agents at the Outspoken Agency, who help me spread my message throughout the world.  It is my family who remain by my side, doing the hard work of redemption and reconciliation.

I am profoundly blessed.  I thank God I found the courage to live authentically.  I chose the road less traveled by, and therein lies the difference.

Yeah, But What Am I Supposed to Wear

I’ve only been posting every other week this summer.  I’ve been preaching a lot and I’m headed to the TEDSummit in a couple of weeks.  Those two things have gotten most of my attention. At the TEDSummit I’m doing a short talk and leading a discussion for the speaker’s pre-summit on the 21st, then Jonathan and I are leading a discussion for the full summit later in the week. Plus, oh yeah, I have to write another speech for a women’s event in Manhattan on July 18, right before I leave for Edinburgh.  I’m feeling good about the speeches.  I’m not feeling so good about what I am going to wear.

It feels like I’ve been here before, like maybe right before TEDWomen last fall.  Then I tried the personal shopper at Nordstrom’s and a couple of expensive boutiques for tall women, but ended up with stuff I ordered from Amazon.  I never order clothes from Amazon.

Half of the clothes I own are from Stitch Fix.  The speech I’ll be doing in NYC will be delivered right after the CEO of Stitch Fix delivers her keynote.  So there’s that.  And then I leave for Edinburgh, where the high is going to be about 62 degrees each day.  I don’t think sleeveless tops are gonna work in Edinburgh.

You know, there are people who say we choose to be transgender, because it’s so much easier than life as a man.  Uh, sure, right, yeah.  I can tell you what I’d be wearing if I were still a guy.  I’d be wearing jeans, khakis, a blue sport coat, and a few button-down collar shirts.  That’s all I’d be taking to New York and Edinburgh.  But no.  Life is not that simple anymore.

Everything I own is tailored for life in laid back Colorado.  Semi-formal here means a sleeveless summer dress and sandals. Every time I go to New York City, I feel like most women on the streets are thinking, “Honey, you can’t wear that here, or anywhere east of the Hudson River.”

I am extremely fortunate I can buy clothes online from major retailers.  To be honest, there is something wrong with that, because that means those retailers are making clothes that fit the frame of a 6’1” person with no hips, waste or curves.  In other words, they are making clothes for tall thin men.  I can buy 10-tall jeans from just about anybody and they’ll fit perfectly.  I don’t tell women that.  They get angry.

I did wear size 10-tall Old Navy jeans and an Old Navy sweater for my first TED talk, the one that’s been viewed over two million times.  The people who comment on YouTube can be cruel, but nobody criticizes those clothes.  They cost me about 45 dollars total, including tax and shipping.

I do wear expensive Tieks shoes because most women’s shoes are designed to be worn by manikins, not humans.  So when you find something that works, you stick with it.  I have lots of pairs of Tieks.  I mean, lots.  Women come up to me in the airport and say, “So, how many pairs do you have?”  It’s like a confessional for Tieks wearers. When I tell them how many pairs I have, I can always tell they feel better.  They go home and tell their partners, “You think I’m bad!  I met a woman with xx pairs of Tieks.” (Nope, I’m not telling you how many pairs I actually have.)

I am surprised at my style.  Before I transitioned, I had an idea about how I might dress.  I don’t dress that way.  I dress comfortably and if I could, I’d live in workout leggings.  But as my friend Kristie says, “Leggings are not pants.”

But back to the people who think we actually choose to be transgender.  Yeah, right.  You’re going to choose to switch to a metabolism that causes you to eat one potato chip and gain three pounds.  You’re going to choose to add 15 minutes to your morning routine just to do your makeup, you know, the stuff that cost you a thousand dollars at Sephora.  And don’t even get me started on skin products and the price of a haircut.

I’ll probably end up speaking to the CEO of Stitch Fix in jeans I got from Old Navy, and to all of those swells at the TEDSummit in an outfit I buy at the last minute from Amazon. This female stuff is not easy.