Cathy was speaking with a good friend whose husband passed away. Talking about the similarities between their circumstances, Cathy brought up an interesting point. She said to her friend, “But people remember and talk about your husband. They talk about your life together. They act like my husband never existed, and they never talk about our life together.”
I didn’t write much about this in my memoir, because I am always reminded of the words of D. H. Lawrence: “A writer sheds his sickness in his writing.” I didn’t want to work through my unresolved issues in a book. Chapter 15, Dying Before Dying, talks about it a little, but not the specifics Cathy was talking about.
People don’t want to talk with Cathy about Paul. Whenever Cathy has been with me at any of the churches in which I’ve preached, she has not been greeted as Paul’s wife, but as “the lovely person who didn’t reject Paula.” People do not want to talk with me about Paul. Outside of my children and David, my close friend, very few people who knew me as Paul stay in touch on a regular basis. With some of those folks, the fault lies with me as much as them. Maybe we all find it too painful to go back to Paul’s life.
The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the people who have a relationship with Paula also do not want to see or hear about Paul. And yes, I am aware I am referring to myself in the third person. It’s part of the dilemma. On more than one occasion, when they’ve seen a picture of Paul, or heard me sing a few measures in Paul’s voice, they let me know how disconcerting it is.
All of this is just another reminder that it is not easy being transgender or the family member of someone who is. It is one of the reasons I believe it would be wonderful if they could figure out the cause of gender dysphoria and treat it prenatally. Some trans activists do not like that perspective, but it does not mean I am challenging their narrative. It is just how I personally feel.
Once a few decades have gone by and we have a world in which gender fluidity is more common, it should be easier. Gen Z has a wonderfully open and expansive understanding of gender. Go into most any elementary school, and you’ll find children who shrug their shoulders when someone transitions genders or presents as non-binary. There is far greater acceptance of gay people today than twenty years ago. Maybe the next twenty years will bring about a similar acceptance of trans and non-binary people.
I would love it if my current friends were interested in the life of Paul, or the books I wrote and edited when I was Paul, or the television show I hosted. I would be thrilled if my old friends would embrace Paula. I got a note from a woman this week who had read my book. She knew me when I was Paul, and said she found a lot of Paul in the memoir. I loved her words.
It is challenging to live a life marked by discontinuity. I usually am not able to speak with people considering transitioning, but on the rare occasions I do speak with them, I urge caution, “Are you ready to lose your grounding? Are you prepared to lose your friends, church, social groups, and work? Are you ready to start all over again, knowing your obituary will mention nothing about your previous life, but will prominently note that you are transgender, as if it is the most significant thing about you?”
Don’t get me wrong. I do believe the call toward authenticity is sacred, holy, and for the greater good. I am glad I transitioned, and I am happy to be a public presence for the transgender community. But it’s not all sweetness and light. There are dark moments. I just want to be honest about them.
Life is good and redemptive and full of joy, but it’s not always easy. But then you already knew that, didn’t you?