I’ve Lived as a Man & a Woman – Here’s What I Learned: Paula Stone Williams at TEDxMileHigh (Transcript)

When I got to Charlotte, she called me. She said, “Paula, what happened? You were as white as a sheet!” I told her and she said, “Yeah. Welcome to the world of women!” Now, the truth is I will not live long enough to lose my male privilege. I brought it with me when I transitioned. A lot of decades of being a man. But that doesn’t mean I don’t see my power diminishing.

Let me tell you another thing I’ve observed. Apparently, since I became a female, I have become stupid. Yeah, I guess it’s the loss of testosterone and the arrival of estrogen that has caused me to lose the brain cells necessary to be a fully functioning adult human. Either that or I’m as smart as I ever was, it’s just now I’m constantly being subjected to mansplaining.

So, I was in my local Denver bike shop and a young summer employee said, “Can I help?” And I said, “Yeah. Can the frame of an older Gary Fisher mountain bike start to flex and bend enough that it causes the rear break to rub?” He said, “Well, disk breaks need regular adjustments.” I said, “I know that, and in fact I do my reg break adjustments.” He said, “Oh, well, then your rotor’s bent.” I said, “Yeah, my rotor is not bent. I know a bent rotor.” With condescension, he said, “Well, what do you want me to do?” I said, “You could answer my question.”

At which point Kyle, the manager of the shop, stepped in. He’s such a sweetheart. He said, “I think you’re probably right. Let me ask you a question: Do you only get a chirp coming from that rear break when you’re pulling hard uphill?” I said, “Yes, exactly!” He said, “Yeah, that’s frame fatigue.” I wanted to fall at the feet of Kyle and call him blessed! Someone was taking me seriously! This happens all the time now. I have to go three or four rounds with someone before I get a direct answer!

And there’s a deeper issue: the more you’re treated as if you don’t know what you’re talking about, the more you begin to question whether or not you do in fact know what you’re talking about, right? I understand the woman’s tendency to doubt herself. Do you ever notice if a woman is in a meeting with a group of men, and she knows she’s right, she apologizes for it? She says, “I’m sorry, but I don’t think those numbers add up.” You know, you don’t have to apologize for being right.

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Since I’m new to this gender, I asked my good friend Jen. I said, “What are women looking for in men?” She said, “Women are looking for men who will honor our uniqueness, who will realize our gifting is not lesser, it’s not weaker, it’s just different, it is in fact more comprehensive and it’s essential.”

Now, of course there are men who do honor women, lots of them, like my good friend and fellow pastor, Mark, who always draws out the best in me and then seems to take pleasure in watching me lead. We need more men like Mark, who are willing to honor and empower women. I know I’m going to keep bumping into additional differences on this journey, but let me leave you with this. To the women, I offer my heartfelt thanks. I often feel like an interloper, a late arrival to the serious work of womanhood, but you show me grace and great mercy. I want you to know you are far more capable than you realize, you are more powerful than you know and you reflect the best parts of what it means to be fully human. And to you guys who are probably feeling more than a little bit uncomfortable right now – I do understand. I never thought I had privilege, but I did. And so do you.

What can you do? You can believe us when we tell you that we might, we might have equality, but we do not have equity. It is not a level playing field, it never has been. You can be a part of the solution by elevating us to equal footing. You uniquely have that power. And to all of us, do you know who I think about a lot? I think about my brown-skinned daughter, and my brown-skinned daughter-in-law. What do they know that I’m clueless about? What do any of us really know about the shoes in which we have never walked? It’s hard being a woman, it’s hard being a transgender woman.

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As a man, I just didn’t know what I didn’t know. Would I do it all again? Of course I would, because the call toward authenticity is sacred, it’s holy, it’s for the greater good. For 45 years, my father was a fundamentalist pastor. My mother is even more conservative – When I came out as transgender, they rejected me. I thought I would never speak to them again.

Last January, I took a chance and called my dad on his birthday, and he took my call. We talked for about a half hour, and about a month later, I asked if I could come for a visit, and they said yes. And last spring, I had a delightfully redemptive three-hour visit with them. I’ve met with them twice since. But that day, toward the end of the conversation, that first day, my father said a number of precious things. As I stood to go – he said – As I stood to go, he said, “Paula” – He called me Paula – He said, “Paula, I don’t understand this, but I am willing to try.” My father is 93 years old, and he’s willing to try. What more could I ask? I hugged him so tightly. One man willing to give up his power because he knew what he knew, that he loved his child, and he was willing to do whatever it takes to honor the journey of another. Thank you.

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