I have received a lot of correspondence since our family was interviewed on Red Table Talk. It’s taken me back to pondering the ins and outs of my transition.
I was grateful no one on RTT asked me the obligatory transgender question, “Did you feel like a girl stuck in a boy’s body?” That is a common narrative regarding transgender women. While I am sure it is descriptive of some people, I do not know of a trans woman who uses that language to define her childhood.
I usually say that I knew from the time I was three or four that I was transgender. It is a simplification. I was about that age when I realized I could not choose my gender. Until then I assumed gender was a choice that needed to be made sometime before school started. When I realized gender was not a choice, I was not so much devastated as embarrassed. Why had no one told me? Once I understood the truth, living as a boy was not a terrible thing.
I liked boy “things” more than I liked girl “things.” Earth movers and backhoes and machinery of all types interested me, as did team sports. I loved playing with girls, but I was not into dolls and such. Occasionally I would pray for my gender to change, but it was not a nightly occurrence.
What I did know is that I was never really comfortable in my male body. Something just did not seem right. And when puberty arrived, nothing felt right. That is the first time I truly hated the male experience. During my high school years I came to understand that I wanted to date girls, but I also wanted to experience life as a girl. I was sure it was a secret I would take to my grave.
I loved being a father, but I did not like being a man. Fatherhood agreed with me. Maleness did not, though it served me well, as a pastor, CEO, public speaker, and all the other professions I crammed into my active portfolio. I had an alpha personality and was driven to excellence and achievement. In that regard, the privilege and entitlement of being a white male worked in my favor. But I never felt at home in the world of men. It felt like I was in a never-ending play with no final curtain. I could play the part well, but I would never have given myself rave reviews. I would have said, “He seems a little wooden in the role, as if he thought the role had never been expecting him.”
As I have said on many occasions, I felt called to transition. I might (or might not) have been able to remain in the male role for the rest of my days. There are differing opinions about that. For the sake of my family, I would love to have been able to do so. But the call to become Paula reached into the farthest corners of my being. I paid a great price to get here, but you reject a call at your own peril.
Given that reality, you might be surprised to learn that while I definitely prefer life as a female over life as a male, I still cannot say I am completely at home in my female body. But then are any of us ever really at home within the confines of a human body? As embodied souls, it seems like we were made for more than this.
I live in the borderlands. With its rocky shores, brambles and bindweed, it is not easily inhabitable. Every foray into the realm of males or the realm of females is a journey to another land. I am comfortable living and breathing within the realm of females. There is never a day I do not want to visit that land. But it does feel like I am visiting – an extended visit maybe, with voting privileges, but always as an ex-pat from another land. My home is in the liminal space of the borderlands.
I am not saying women do not welcome me in their land. They have been wonderful, far more accepting than I ever imagined. But though I understand the language of women better than the language of men, neither feels like my native tongue. It’s like I speak Latin in a world in which every tongue is derived from it, but no one speaks it anymore. The language I speak sounds familiar to both women and men, but opaquely. The whole world sees me through a glass darkly.
I do not miss my past life, though I am proud to be the person who lived it. I am comfortable where I am now. It is home, and it does look like it had been expecting me. And that is good enough.