Most of my public speaking is on the subject of gender inequity. Working toward gender equity is a passion and a subject with which I am comfortable. Last week I was in San Diego speaking to a group of financial advisors. About 80 percent were male. The men were politely receptive, but the women were far more enthusiastic. It is what I have come to expect. It is difficult for men to grasp the extent of their privilege. Most would like to see gender equity, they just don’t want to give up their own power in order to make it happen. I understand. I once had a lot of power, and still retain a lot of power. Giving up power is never easy.
While I knew giving up power would be necessary when I transitioned, I had no idea how profoundly my life would change. I had a lot of ideas about what life would be like as a female, but ideas don’t fare so well in the face of reality.
I thought transitioning would solve all of my gender identity issues. While it did make my life more peaceful, meaningful and rewarding, I still feel as though I live in a liminal space, somewhere between male and female. The borderlands are my home. I will never have the experience of a cisgender female, and in many ways, I never had the experience of a cisgender male. We know from fMRI studies that the brains of transgender people, studied before hormonal treatment, function somewhere between male and female. I could have told them that long before MRIs existed. I never felt comfortable as a male.
Over the past few weeks I’ve had several opportunities to reflect on my life as a man. I’ve been providing pictures of myself as Paul to the producers of Red Table Talk. Looking at the pictures reminds me that integrating the two halves of my life continues to be a challenge. I’m not sure I’m any better at integrating Paul and Paula now than I was three or four years ago.
There was some progress at the beginning, when Paul was still fresh in my memory. Now, as my male life recedes from view, I am forgetting how it felt to be a guy. I still know all the things Paul knew, but there aren’t many people who would tell you I am the same person. I am not. I am fundamentally different. I keep finding myself speaking of Paul in the third person, as if Paul was a distant relative, not the person who shares my heart.
My friend Christy always affirms me when I use a sermon illustration about Paul. She says, “I like that guy.” Not many others talk about Paul that way. Usually when people make a reference to me as a male, it is to question the alpha-based actions they see at work. They say, “Whoa, is that Paula speaking or Paul?” I usually say, “Paula’s allowed to be an alpha human, you know.”
There are fine books on the transgender experience, but I can’t say any of them have helped me with the integration puzzle. It still feels like two different lives. I think it would have helped if we had memorialized Paul in some way. But back when that would have been helpful to my family, I wasn’t ready. I was way too excited about being in my new gender. (Truth be told, sometimes I think it might not be a bad idea to lock transgender people in a closet for the first year or so. Our giddiness in those early days does not match the pain made manifest around us.)
This morning our interview on Red Table Talk had its debut. I was very pleased with the show. It’s rare that you shoot a television show and you’re happy with the way it was edited. I thought the show was fair-minded and positive. I am grateful to Jada and Jack and Katy and Dena and Chelsea for making this such a wonderful experience.
There was a fair amount of conversation about the difficulty all of us have had integrating the two halves of our common family experience. It gets easier with the passing of time, but it will never be easy. I suppose that is how things are for those who blaze a trail. Not many evangelical pastors transition genders.
I’ve repeated the same three sentences in both of my TED talks: “Would I do it all again? Of course, I would. The call toward authenticity is sacred and holy and for the greater good.” I’m doing another TEDxMileHigh talk this fall (November 16), but I don’t think the line is going to fit in the new talk. I wish I could find a place for it, because living authentically is sacred and holy and for the greater good. But as many have discovered before me, few things that are sacred and holy and for the greater good are ever easy.