A Crazy Couple of Months

The past two months have been a whirlwind of activity as my book, As A Woman, What I Learned About Power, Sex, and the Patriarchy was published. The activity began with a slightly weird interview with LitHub, followed by a probing one with People Magazine. All told, there were about 35 interviews in 50 days. The most recent was a talk and Q&A at the Longmont Public Library.  It was very enjoyable, with lots of thoughtful questions. There are a few more events scattered from August through November, but the daily media push is pretty much over.

Many of the interviews were stimulating.  KK Ottesen’s conversation and photo session for the Washington Post showed why she is one of the best. Jenn White at 1A was another favorite, as were Kate Archer Kent at Wisconsin Public Radio, Kerri Miller at Minnesota Public Radio, and my favorite, Ryan Warner with Colorado Matters on Colorado Public Radio. Several other conversations were notable, including my time with Lisa Kennedy for Kirkus Reviews, and Mary Elizabeth Williams for Salon.

Writing the memoir was a raw, gut-wrenching experience. It is understandable that after 45 days of interviews, I am having a vulnerability hangover. This was a lot. Throughout my adult life I have suffered from occasional bouts of benign positional vertigo. (And yes, I know about the Epley Maneuver, and yes, it works.) I haven’t had a bout in six years, but a spell of vertigo arrived with the release of the book.  It is understandable. We are psychosomatic creatures, and this has been emotionally and physically dizzying.

Neither has it been an easy time for my family and close friends. They played a significant part in my story, but in the interviews about the book, I was the only one doing the telling. Every line in the book had been approved by family and close friends, but they had to trust I would be fair and accurate and protect their privacy in the interviews.  There were a few tense days, but we all survived.

After the biggest rush of interviews and appearances had been completed, Jonathan and his family arrived for their annual summer visit. That brought all three of our children and their families together. As is the case most summers, I had all five granddaughters for the better part of three weeks, which was delightful. My grandchildren could care less that I was in People Magazine or on Good Morning America. Now, if I had been a TikTok sensation, that would have gotten their attention.  I took about 10 pictures of my granddaughters on the couch the last day they were here. The one above is the only one in which multiple children were not making funny faces.

I am ready for life to get back to normal, or what passes for normal in my busy life. I am ready to return to my speaking engagements, counseling clients, and pastoring with Left Hand Church. The church has been my grounding throughout the writing and publishing process. For that I am grateful. Kristie, Nicole, and John, my co-pastors, have been wonderfully accommodating, tolerating my tardiness on projects and the occasional need to shift meeting schedules.

While the past two months were taxing, they were also important. I want to make a difference in the world. I want to make the path easier for those on a journey similar to mine. I want to lessen suffering in the world, and sow seeds of understanding, love, and tolerance.

I also want to continue playing hide and seek with my granddaughters, and taking them tubing on the river, and going to multiple ice cream shops on the same evening, just to satisfy their varying tastes. It is their affection that brings me alive. It is the respect of my children, the love of my close friends, and the satisfaction of good work that keep me moving forward.

I want to live with gratitude and continue bringing offerings into the world. I want my story to play a small part in enhancing the journey of others. I am humbled by the abundance of opportunities that have come my way. I want to be worthy of having been given such a platform.

It makes me happy that my place of gladness has been able to touch the world’s deep hunger. It has not been easy, but it has been good.

My Op-Ed on CNN

On June 2, CNN published an op-ed in which I wrote about the tragedy of the current spate of laws being enacted against transgender adolescents.  Here is that op-ed:

From the time I was 3 or 4 years old, I knew I was transgender. I didn’t know it in those words, of course. In my naivete, I remember thinking I could choose my gender, that maybe a gender fairy would arrive and say, “OK, what’s it going to be?” Of course, I would choose what I understood myself to be — a girl. But alas, no gender fairy ever arrived.

As the child of an evangelical pastor, I knew telling my family what I knew about myself was out of the question. It was the 1950s and not much was known about gender dysphoria. The word transgender did not even exist. Nevertheless, I was certain I was supposed to have been born a girl. I was equally as certain that if I told anyone my secret, I would be in big trouble.

I did not believe I was a girl trapped in a boy’s body. I just felt I was supposed to have been born a girl. When I realized that was not a possibility, I did not despair. I just went about my life.

Puberty was when my real problems began. My body changed in ways I despised, while my female friends had bodies changing in all the ways I desperately wanted mine to change. I hated my body, but I had nowhere to turn. I lived in a conservative area of the South and was immersed in an evangelical subculture that kept a powerful hold on its adherents.

Following in my brother’s footsteps, I attended a Christian college, married, had children and built a career. I ultimately became the CEO of an international Christian ministry, the editor-at-large of a national Christian magazine and a regular speaker in some of the largest churches in the nation. While I was hiding my true self, at least I was providing for my family.

After our children left home, my gender dysphoria returned with a vengeance. When I began to contemplate ending my life, I knew I had to act.

I began a low dose of anti-androgens and estrogen, hoping it might somehow assuage my longing to transition and allow me to continue living as a male. It did just the opposite. The hormones convinced me I needed to transition. My wife and I decided it was time to tell our children and several months later, I told the Christian ministries with which I worked.

Within seven days I lost every single one of my jobs. I was abandoned by my evangelical community and unable to find work. I earned more money in my last two months as a man than in the next 48 months as a woman.

Had I not found a wonderful new affirming church, I do not know if I would have survived. Three years after transitioning, I was asked to speak for TEDxMileHigh, followed by TEDWomen and other TED events, which led to a full speaking schedule on issues related to gender equity. I now serve as a pastor with Left Hand Church in Longmont, Colorado.

I brought a lot of privilege and skills with me when I transitioned, and the post-transition opportunities that have come my way have left me in far better circumstances than many.

According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, 54% of transgender people with unsupportive families have attempted suicide and 29% live in poverty. Transgender women of color disproportionately face the interconnected threats of poverty, violence and bigotry.

For transgender children, the statistics are even more disturbing. According to a 2018 study, female to male transgender adolescents attempt suicide at a rate of 50.8%. Male to female trans adolescents have a 29.9% suicide attempt rate.

The Legislative Tracker of Freedom for All Americans indicates there are dozens of bills across multiple states focused on prohibiting transgender athletes from competing in interscholastic sports or focused on denying gender affirming care to transgender adolescents. Arkansas House Bill 1570, enacted over the governor’s veto, made that state the first to outlaw such care for minors, endangering the lives of adolescents in the process.

A recent PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist Poll indicated that two-thirds of Americans of every political ideology and age group oppose laws that would limit transgender rights. If this is the case, what is driving these legislative actions. According to research from Pew, 84% of White evangelical Protestants say that gender is determined by sex at birth.

In my memoir, I grappled with these driving forces, writing that over recent decades, White evangelicals have focused their political energy primarily on two social issues — abortion and LGBTQ+ rights. As someone who has lived with White male privilege, I find it particularly interesting that they have staked so much on two debates that cost their straight male leadership almost nothing.

Focusing on other issues — systemic racism or wealth inequality — might require making changes in their own lives or altering their own sense of power. Instead, they target the rights of transgender children, one of the most at-risk groups in the nation.

To my White evangelical friends and former coworkers, I implore you, leave transgender children alone. Your misguided activism is putting vulnerable adolescents at risk.

I can handle your rejection. These children cannot. They do not bring years of privilege and experience with them. They do not have the resources that I have to withstand your attacks. Research suggests that only 25 percent of you know someone who publicly identifies as transgender. Acquaint yourself with transgender people before you decide that you know what is best. Leave the decisions about medical treatment to the medical professionals. Educate yourself about the causes and complexities of gender dysphoria.

The lives of many hang in the balance. I am lucky that mine is not one of them.

Here is the link to the op-ed on the CNN site:




A Very Good Trip

My father passed away in May of 2020, the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic. I had visited him the previous January, just a few months before he passed, and knew it wouldn’t be long. Because of the pandemic we were not able to hold a funeral, nor was I able to travel to Kentucky for his burial. Finding closure was difficult.

Last week, on the spur of the moment, I decided to fly to Kentucky for two days. I did not tell my brother I was coming, nor my cousin, both of whom would have come along had I asked. I did not tell any of my few remaining friends in town that I was there. I needed to make the trip alone.

I always enjoyed a good relationship with my father. Even after I transitioned and my mother demanded that he disown me, Dad and I stayed in touch. When I was finally allowed to visit, Dad was the one who said before I departed, “Paula, I don’t understand this, but I am willing to try.” What more could I have asked?

My father was a good and gentle man who took delight in me, and I knew it. His love sustained me through difficult times with my mother. I hated not being able to be with him when he passed. The trip back was for me, and for Dad.

I usually fly into Cincinnati, Lexington, Huntington, or Charleston when I go back to Grayson, but there is a serious rental car shortage in America, and Louisville was the only place I could find a car. I landed around 5:00 and drove the two and a half hours through Bluegrass country into the hills and hollows of Carter County, the place I’ve always called home. Though I only lived there from the ages of 15 to 22, it was the place of grounding for our family. Mom graduated from high school in Grayson and both of my parents attended the college in town. Not only are my parents buried there, but my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousin are also buried there, nine relatives in all. My grandmother’s home was at the edge of the cemetery. We used to picnic there while Grandma Stone sang songs and dished out blackberry cobbler and generally took delight in her grandchildren

I arrived at 8:30 in the evening, before the sun set. I drove through the campus of the college where I received my bachelor’s degree, then drove down Landsdowne Avenue to the cemetery, parking about 30 yards from where my parents are buried.

When I got to the graves, there was a problem. My parents had their headstone and footstones in place before they died. The footstones were about 18 x 12 x 4 inches and were recessed into the ground. When they dug the graves, they unearthed both footstones and dumped them to the side, where they remained until I arrived. Mom’s footstone says, “Teacher,” and Dad’s says, “Ordained Minister, 1946.”  You could not tell on whose graves the footstones belonged. Mom’s was closer to Dad’s grave and Dad’s was between their plot and the next graves over.

I immediately thought of how upset my mother would have been. Not only were the footstones out of place, but no sod had been placed on the dirt above their graves. Only dry Kentucky clay covered both graves. I got down on my knees and started tugging at the footstones. They wouldn’t budge.  I positioned myself on the upper side of the plot and dug into Mom’s footstone with all of my might. After several minutes of struggle, I wedged my hand beneath the far side of the stone and began pulling it toward me. I slowly got the footstone on its side, then lifted it to stand on end. I walked the stone to its proper place at the foot of her grave and put it in place.

Dad’s footstone was more difficult to move.  I tugged and pulled and cried.  I needed to get it in place. I had to get it to its proper place. It could not wait. It had to be done before nightfall. I finally wedged three fingers beneath it, right where the word “Minister” was carved into the granite and pulled it onto its side. Then with a burst of energy I got it on its end and started walking it to the foot of his grave, crying the whole time. I had walked my father’s legacy back to its proper place and I could leave for the night. Once I got to the motel I went for a nighttime run, savoring the moist Kentucky air, remembering the lazy evenings of my youth.

The next morning, I headed to the local Wal-Mart and bought a small rake, trowel, and grass seed. Then I drove back to the cemetery.  On my knees I began digging several inches into the hard Kentucky clay, leveling out the dirt and preparing the soil for seed. I planted the seed, gently raked the clay and tamped it down, and prayed that the forecast that said rain was on the way was accurate.

I gently sat down on the gravestone of my grandparents, just a few feet above my parents’ graves. A lawn maintenance worker came by on his riding mower. I gave him the implements I had used, and told him I had mowed the cemetery with a hand mower when I was in college. I earned $1.60 an hour. I began mowing each Monday and finished on Friday, only to begin again the following Monday.  I told him my grandfather had mowed the cemetery before me. I showed him his grave. When I mowed the cemetery during the summer of 1972, my grandfather was the only family member buried there. I used to eat my lunch beneath a nearby oak. The oak has now returned to the earth, nourishing a new generation of trees that live their entire lives in just one place.

Stones moved, grass sown, and soil raked, I began wandering around the graveyard. There were over a hundred people I knew buried there – the man who sold me my first new car – the grave of my high school friend’s parents, two of the kindest people I have ever known. I saw the grave of the news director at the radio station where I worked. He knew everything that had ever happened in our little town. At the foot of his grave was the grave of his son, lost to Covid-19.

There is no other cemetery on earth in which I know as many residents, all nestled there on a hillside across the lane from the college campus, next to the land where my grandmother kept the most beautiful garden. Because it seemed the right thing to do, I began quoting aloud Mary Oliver’s poem, Wild Geese.

You do not have to be good

You do not have to crawl on your knees

For a hundred miles through the desert repenting

You only have to let the soft warm animal of your body

Love what it loves

Tell me about despair

Yours and I will tell you mine

Meanwhile the world goes on

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of rain

Are moving across the landscapes

Over the prairies and the deep trees

The mountains and the rivers

Meanwhile the wild geese high in the clean blue air

Are heading home again

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely

The world offers itself to your imagination

Calls to you like the wild geese

Harsh and exciting, over and over

Announcing your place in the family of things

I was amongst people who had found their place in the family of things. On account of their religion, most of them thought they did have to be good and walk on their knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting. They hoped God would let them in through the back door. These were good people. I doubt they were prepared for the wonderful welcome they received.

After driving around town, I headed back to Louisville. I did not cry until I returned to Denver and stopped at the home of one of my dearest friends. As soon as I felt her touch, the tears flowed freely. There is warmth and safety in the touch of someone who loves you. I cried and she held me and asked, “Was the trip good?” “Yes, very good,” I replied.  “Very good.”