There Must Be a Pony Somewhere

On Thanksgiving morning, for the second time on a holiday, I was greeted with early morning hate texts from evangelical Christians. The texts seem to be coordinated, though I can’t be certain. What would cause people to work so hard on a holiday to find my cell phone number and send hateful messages? Yet again, I had to remove my phone number from all public sites, including my counseling practice.

I have received thousands of hateful messages, texts, comments, and phone calls since I transitioned. The biggest waves of nasty mail came after my New York Times article, my first TED Talk, and the release of my memoir. Positive correspondence is about ten to one over negative correspondence, so you don’t need to worry about me. My soul is fine. From the time I transitioned, I knew that embedded in my identity were responsibilities. I could not slip off into the night. I had to speak out. I knew I would be a lightning rod for the naysayers.

Recently, however, the tone of that correspondence has been darker and more frightening. We have to monitor our live Left Hand Church services on Facebook every week, because we have been attacked by groups of fundamentalists who storm our site and disrupt the online service. Since 2016, it has gotten worse, as those on the extreme right have been empowered to publicly express their hatred.

I am not the only one receiving hate messages. Just last week I talked with a brave person trying to navigate the waters of evangelical hate. This week I spoke with another. The calls are getting more frequent from good-hearted souls with their eyes steadfastly focused on leaving a world they know is too small for them. But on their way through the restrictive city gates, they are attacked by people terrified of trusting the truth inside their bones, people who turn their fear outward and project it onto those with more courage than they can muster.

My greatest concern is that virtually all of this vitriol is emanating from the religious right. An article a few weeks ago in the New York Times said Americans are increasingly equating evangelicalism with right-wing Republicanism, as if the two terms were synonymous. I see no evidence to refute that perspective. The utter confidence with which these fundamentalist Christians make their attacks is alarming. They do not exhibit one ounce of doubt about the rightness of their conclusions. I have no idea what the more moderate members of my former denomination are doing to combat these vigilantes. I’m not sure they feel capable of doing anything, since the extreme conservatives are getting the upper hand in most evangelical denominations.

But here’s the thing. We’ve been here before. This is not America’s first time at a chaotic rodeo. We’ve always created enemies that don’t exist, vilified those newly arriving on our shores, turned our neighbors into the opposition, and generally made a mess of our democracy. And somehow, we have always been able to right the ship.

Nevertheless, I am frightened. This is the worst I have seen the ship listing during my lifetime. It feels like one rogue wave could finish us off and send sober minded citizens scrambling for the Canadian border. Yes, we are in a crisis, and what we do next will determine if our democracy survives.

How do we stop the madness? I know of no other way than to love those frightened souls. I think of a counseling client I had years ago whose political views and perspectives were the polar opposite of my own. I wondered if I could truly help my client. It wasn’t long, however, before I came to truly love the client. To my shock and utter surprise, they remained with me after I transitioned. A bond had been formed, and the client was able to look past their fears to find the common ground in our professional relationship.

Yes, it was a professional relationship, not a friendship. But it is a model that plays out every day in companies, government entities, schools, health care institutions, and other environments in which people from opposing views are brought together. The norm is not Congress. The norm is not the church. The norm is ordinary people brought together in the public square.

Most of my public speaking is in the corporate sector. I talk with the employees of corporations and offices across our nation. I find an openness to the message I bring that I would never receive in a church. I see it in the eyes of the audience members. They begin skeptical, but the longer I speak, the more I see their resistance fading, “She seems relatively normal – at least as normal as I am.” I know when they reach that point that the battle is over.  Yes, I am the same as you – bone and sinew and neuroses and complexes and prejudices and blind spots – in a word – human.

I focus on those positive encounters. I do not answer hate mail. I encourage those receiving hate mail to block the senders, have their correspondence vetted by allies, and above all, to never ever read one single hate message. No one is strong enough to endure a steady stream of vitriol.

But if you can see the larger picture, and understand these people are terribly frightened souls, you can protect yourself when you are being attacked, but also look for opportunities to reach out in those environments in which both sides come together. At work, or on the soccer field, or at the baseball game, you can take the common ground you share, and leverage it to see the precious human hiding behind that harsh facade. If we can learn to do that, we can save our nation.

In my soul I am an optimist. I believe we can right our ship. I believe if there is a pile of excrement, there must be a pony somewhere. I am determined to find the pony. I know there’s a pony.

31 thoughts on “There Must Be a Pony Somewhere

  1. I can’t even imagine how it feels to get hate mail, let alone an abundance of it. How sad our society has come to the a point in time that people feel this is okay to do. Would they have chosen to say these things face-to-face, I believe the vast majority would not. Keep up your strong attitude, your fight for change in our society and please don’t read the hate, bask in the positive.

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  2. Once I came to terms with the fact that what others think of me isn’t my business, ignoring the hate became much easier. Not to say it doesn’t still get me sometimes, but more often than not I can delete and move on without much spiritual disruption. It can be scary though. I’m so proud to know you and be part of this community with you. You give me hope, strength and courage to keep my head up and keep walking forward knowing that I am loved by the Creator just as they made me.

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  3. I don’t usually go out of my way to write positive emails. I will guess this is true for another 10:1. So, if you’re only seeing 10:1 hate mail, you probably have 100:1 support. You can probably multiply by another 100 for people that just aren’t involved. I believe you are beautiful, and I envy how well you transitioned. But if you’re having this much trouble, I hope you can imagine the trouble around someone who is a non passable part time cross dresser.

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  4. Dear Paula,
    I hear you and feel with you. Please keep standing up and speaking out. Please keep on being who you are.
    Warm regards from The Netherlands,
    Kim

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  5. Keep looking for the pony, Paula. This new conservative/evangelical religion is not a church – it’s a cult. It has nothing to do with the love of Christ or any type of compassion. “I trust God to protect me from the virus.” And when I point out that many good and loving Christians have died, I get no response. When I also point that Christ didn’t throw himself off a cliff, because you shouldn’t tempt God – well, I don’t think the argument is comprehended. How did it get this bad?

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  6. Paula: I have never received hate mail, but I am aware of it and the people behind it. It’s a shame that such people have hijacked Christianity. They completely ignore the teaching of Christ, that we are to love one another. If there’s any consolation, it’s that I will not have to deal with them in Heaven since I don’t expect them to be there. It’s truly unfortunate so many of them will miss the boat, but it’s their choice. My choice is to love God and His Christ, and to be thankful He chose me for this journey. Seeing life as both a male and a female tells me that I am special to God. After all, He doesn’t let just anyone make this journey. I suspect you’ve had the same experience. For now, keep your chin up and know that I’m in your corner. Stay well, and God bless you and your family. Susan Calvin

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  7. At 67, I have learned a lot over the last 50 years. Back then, I was raised in a conservative ELS family (then again, I don’t know a liberal ELS soul). While conservative, my folks were well mannered and taught me to value others for their kindness and goodness. I do know that good manners apparently no longer exist, more so in conservatives. I have learned a lot from your blogs, your book and your sermons about true Christianity and charity. I am sorry that those who fear and hate so much feel that they have to attack good souls such as yourself. I attend Left Hand Church on YouTube (I live in Washington) and it provides me much solace and enrichment. Thanks again.

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  8. Thank you for your words, Paula – another quiet supporter here.

    It seems like our country is divided between those who accept that change (social, economic, climate, technological, generational) is inevitably happening and those who will do anything in their power to deny that reality. The latter group is so terrified of being forced to adapt that they’ll react with violence to commonsensical health measures that address a problem that didn’t exist a few years ago. Unfortunately, social media with its optimization for “engagement” only reinforces such destructive beliefs.

    So how do we help them understand that change brings both loss and new opportunities? That no secret cabal is trying to force them to be different, but that civilization itself is always evolving on its own? Hopefully answers will emerge sooner than later.

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  9. Thank you for such a well written post about such a sad subject. I have been fortunate that I have not received any hate directed toward me since I began my transition. If I have, at least it has not been to my face either written or verbalized. However, as a retired deputy sheriff, I have received more than my share of hate both during my career and now since the tide of hatred toward the police is the norm nowadays instead of the exception. I know it must be ignored, but sometimes it is so hurtful that it is very difficult to ignore. However as difficult as it is, we must do so. To me, what is so troubling, is the hatred in this country starts at or near the top, and up until eleven months ago, it did start at the top. I say this a lot, “Why is it people and groups can’t live and let live.” I don’t get it. What is it about people just wanting to be happy and be themselves that others just can’t accept.

    You are such a wonderful woman, Paula, and a huge role model for me as a transgender woman. I can only hope I can be as wonderful a person and woman as you are. Merry Christmas to you!!!!

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  10. We are truly sorry for the pain you have endured. Although we do not understand your experience, you are our dear friend, and WE LOVE YOU!

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  11. I am almost 70, a Viet Jam veteran, a nurse, farmer, animal lover, and conservative but an independent person in both voting and personal life. I wish people would stop trying to label and take the rights of mine and others. I wish others would also leave me alone to live my life as the way I want to! I hurt no one but still jailed for riding my horse in a bad ditch, because I don’t fit in the party that run this county. I wish you luck and Blessings that one day you will be able to be the one you want without recriminations. My grand mother’s favorite saying: ” Who has a better right! “. She was saying that up to being 98. Then I took over the attitude. Love to all, Thea.

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  12. Conservatives [the church] versus Liberals [progressives] is a very old debate…

    >> With its “Syllabus of Errors” of 1864, the Church sought to combat the new ideologies, condemning as false some 80 philosophical and political statements, mainly the foundations of the modern nation state. It rejected outright such concepts as freedom of religion, separation of church and state, civil marriage, sovereignty of the people, liberalism and socialism, reason as the sole base of human action, and in general condemned the idea of conciliation with progress. The announcements included an index of forbidden books. <<

    Evangelicals are returning us to the 1860s? And I used to be one…

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kulturkampf#Background

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  13. I know it’s easy to say, but don’t listen to them. The hate is I think born of fear. That their narrow, bigoted view of God and the Bible is wrong and then what? They are terrified to go past that first adulthood you spoke of and truly grow up.
    Definitely have someone else pre read your mail. But also know that you speak directly to my soul as no one else does. You have been given a platform unlike any other. In many ways much bigger and more influential than you had as Paul. Keep preaching and teaching. For what it’s worth, you are one of the very few whose faith I respect.

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