Paula Stone Williams – TRANSCRIPT
I was the CEO of a large religious nonprofit, the host of a national television show. I preached in mega churches. I was a successful, well-educated, white American male. The poet and mystic Thomas Merton said, “It’s a difficult thing to climb to the top of the ladder of success only to realize when you get there that your ladder has been leaning against the wrong wall.”
I knew from the time I was three or four years of age I was transgender. In my naivety, I thought I got to choose. I thought a gender fairy would arrive and say, “Okay, the time has come!” But alas, no gender fairy arrived, so I just lived my life. I didn’t hate being a boy. I just knew I wasn’t one. I went to college, got married, had kids, built a career, but the call toward authenticity has all the subtlety of a smoke alarm. And eventually decisions have to be made.
So I came out as transgender and I lost all of my jobs. I had never had a bad review, and I lost every single job. In 21 states, you can’t be fired for being transgender, but in all 50, you can be fired if you’re transgender and you work for a religious corporation. Good to know! It’s not easy being a transgender woman.
People sometimes ask, “Do you feel 100% like a woman?” And I say, “Well, if you’ve talked to one transgender person, you’ve talked to exactly one transgender person. I can’t speak for anybody else.” I feel 100% like a transgender woman. There are things a cisgender woman knows I will never know. That said, I am learning a lot about what it means to be a female, and I am learning a lot about my former gender. I have the unique experience of having lived life on both sides – and I’m here to tell you: the differences are massive.
So, I’ll start with the small stuff – like the pockets on women’s jeans. What! I can’t put a phone in there. Paper clip, maybe. Or the sizing of women’s clothing. Do the numbers mean anything? What is a double zero? And ladies, I doubt you’ve thought about this, but do you know there is never a time in the life of a male that he has to worry about whether or not an article of his clothing is accidentally going to drop into the toilet? Not a long sweater, not a belt, nothing. Never even a passing thought.
Now, I get my hair cut about half as often as I used to, but it costs tens times as much. So, I can go on vacation or I can get my hair cut. I cannot do both. I keep bumping into gender differences everywhere I go! Sometimes literally. I’m walking down the hallway and I just bump into it. There’s nothing in the way, and I just bump into it. I think, “What’s that about?” And I know it’s going to leave a bruise because now that my skin is thinner I have bruises absolutely everywhere. How I experience my sexuality is profoundly different. It’s less visual and more holistic; less of a body experience and more of a being experience. I cannot count the number of times I’ve said to Cathy, my former wife, “I am so, so sorry!” I just didn’t know what I didn’t know.