Here is the full transcript of entrepreneur Ashley Clift-Jennings’ TEDx Talk presentation: Have You Met Your Soul Mate? at TEDxUniversityofNevada conference. For more details about the speaker, read the bio here.
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Ashley Clift-Jennings – Entrepreneur
Well, hello. So I’m going to start with just asking you guys a really simple question that may take a little bit longer than two seconds to answer: Have you ever personally met your soul mates? I hear some yeses, not reallys. Yeah, they’re pretty hard to come by, right?
So now think about what made that person your soul mate? Was it the way they looked? Was it the career that they had? Was it the way that they connected with your soul? Was it the fact that they were also in the same religion? There’s a million different reasons, right, why we feel connected to another person in that deep way.
So I grew up in a Christian environment and I was dead set on finding my soul mate. So I knew I wasn’t going to find this person in a bar or at a club. I knew this person had to have really high character, had to have respect for women, had to be good-looking, and had to love me for who I was, because I am kind of a unique character.
So I went along life, went to an Ivy League school, played soccer, achieved whatever I could achieve and grass fed at that moment. But one thing that always lingered is that I really wanted to find this one thing, which was my soul mate. So I’m like 24, 25 years old and by this time in the Christian community it’s like your eggs are probably getting like cobwebby. Now we think 25, that’s not too old but back then I felt old.
So one night I was browsing on the internet and then I’m really into the Myers-Briggs personality test. So I was looking up, I wanted to find a guy who was an INFJ male. So I just typed into Google INFJ (introversion, intuition, feeling, judging) male, right? And there were two results and one of them happened to be my future spouse. So I had reached out to him, we met up, I happened to be doing social work in Pasadena, he happened to be a software developer working for a start-up in Pasadena but living in Reno. And we had this amazing connection, we had this whirlwind courtship and within six months to all of our families’ dismay we were married. But it made sense, like our families they got it, like they saw us together and they understood, these two people are super compatible, they have a tremendous amount of respect for one another and they literally make each other better people.
So he was like the yin to my yang, he was a developer — software developer, super, just chill, relaxed, goes at a slow pace but a steady pace and then I was just crazy erratic, creative. And it just worked like lock and key, just so so so seamless. And this went along for — I moved to Reno, dropped out of grad school, moved to Reno, started working in startups and started doing startup things with my new husband. And every night we would go out to restaurants or bars and just talk about ideas, it was like TED Talks all the time, we just really enjoyed each other’s minds. And we were soul mates, literally.
And so this went along and we’ve been married now nine years and so this went along for a good while. And it felt like the most peaceful time in my entire life. I felt like I had a home inside this person’s soul and this person lived with me, we worked together, oftentimes we did projects together, we dreamed together, we bought a house together. I helped him raise with my step-kids together. And everything just seemed — it seemed like I had won the lottery, like I could check that box off, like found my soul mate.
And so you can imagine, one day I was told something that would change my life. I was told that my spouse was transgender. You could probably hear a pin drop right now. And my response was interesting. My first response was you’ve got to be fucking kidding me. My good response was OK, tell me more, you know like what does this mean for us? And where – what do you have to do to feel whole and to feel like you feel good in your body? So this was about three years ago now and we are now in — we are still married and this took me through this process of really researching what does it mean to be transgender.
For my spouse, it meant that she was not comfortable in her male body and that she needed to medically transition. Now for me, if you are — anybody out there is thinking shoot, like you’re looking at your partner right now, I mean — like are you going to drop this bomb on me? It’s an interesting — it’s been an interesting journey. I would love to say I was — I was always very PC and very open minded and very encouraging of her transition. She did give me the option, she said you know if this ends our relationship I will not do this. And I just had a tremendous amount of respect for how much she respected our marriage and me as a human.
And so it’s like I had all this respect for her and I wanted the best for her and I wanted her to be whole and at the same time I couldn’t put words to it but I was feeling like somebody was dying, you know. It was like somebody that I knew was going away and there was a new person coming in, and part of these — part of my struggle is really real and it’s really just the natural progression of how one would feel when their spouse transitions.
And then there’s another part of it which is more like around 60% of my reaction and that’s what is known as internalized transphobia, and I didn’t even know I had it. It’s very much Alexis talked about programming and what men have been programmed — boys have been programmed to think about women and sexuality. And I think as a society we’ve been programmed to think that people that don’t fit into the binary who aren’t man or woman or who were born as the sex that they don’t identify with, that those people are different or weird or strange.
And so imagine when I had — I know this person inside not — I’ve been married to this person for six years by this point and I adored every fiber of this person’s being, so you can imagine that me of all people would understand and realize that like this is a normal person who has a very serious condition that is treatable. But it was hard because I still felt like this sense of embarrassment a little bit, or shame that we were now different, right?
So I had to go through my entire process, you know this has been three years. But I’ve had to do a lot of hard work on what is — what does it mean to be married to somebody who is transgender, what does that mean about my sexuality, doesn’t mean that I’m now a lesbian, because when we go out of course people see us and they just think that we’re a lesbian couple, that’s not entirely accurate. What does it mean, you know, we go to the gym and we go to the locker room together and we swim together and all these things lead us to interactions with people that could or could not be understanding of our situation and that was hard for me. It was hard for me to go from having all this privilege as the white middle class female who feels okay being a female, who’s married to a male who — so I was in a heterosexual relationship and I had all this privilege that I didn’t even know that I had.
And so as we’re going through this journey, it’s like we’re learning new things every day and I’m learning what words to say, what words not to say. I’m learning what works in the bedroom, what doesn’t work in the bedroom, right? I’m relearning all sorts of things but what I’m learning the most is that a lot of my fear about my spouse changing was really imposed from the outside, it was really my fear of what other people would think.
And so now I stand here today, I’m the proud wife of a transgender woman and she is still my soul mate. And I could — I would know she’s my soul mate if this room was dark right now, I would know how to find her in this room. And I think that’s the lesson to take from all this is that people have a patina, they have a presence in the world, they have a look or they have a job or they have all these things that are outward facing that everybody identifies them by and puts them into boxes, that’s how we categorize people and we get to know them. But underneath there’s a soul and that soul is so much deeper and stronger and so much more identifiable than that patina.
So my challenge to you today is do you know — would you even know how to recognize your soul mate? If you’re going out in the world right now would you know what you’re looking for?
Thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure.