By all outward appearances it was a successful life. I ran a growing nonprofit, served as an editor for a venerable magazine, taught courses at colleges and seminaries, preached in the rotation at two megachurches, hosted a national television program, wrote a few books and did a lot of other stuff befitting a Renaissance person at the turn of the Millennium.
But my life was not my own. It was handed to me in the cradle, developed in Sunday School, honed in Bible college, and encouraged by a lot of good people who would have panicked if they had ever encountered the real me. How do I know? Because they panicked when they encountered the real me.
A few years ago my long-term therapist said, “This one thing remains. It is time to find someone who specializes in its treatment.” In my first session with my new therapist someone in the room said, “I don’t think I want to transition to live as a female, but I do think I need to go on hormones.” I looked around and no one was there but the two of us, so I knew the person talking must’ve been me. A threshold had been crossed. Two years later I was on spironolactone to block testosterone and estradiol to give my body the estrogen it craved. My physician said, “Your body has great estrogen receptors. It’s been screaming for this stuff.” I had heard the screams since adolescence.
So, in the summer of my 63rd year I became Paula. I did not want my descendants to come to my grave and read, “Here lies someone who never showed up.” I decided to show up.
I knew a lot of people in the church. In the four months after I incorporated Paul into Paula, exactly 18 of those people got in touch to show their support. I’ve met face-to-face with 8 of the 18. Eight of the maybe 6,000 church people I spent four decades getting to know. Doing the math, it seems I have heard encouraging words from roughly three-tenths of one percent of the people in my Christian Church world. As I said, I had good reason to keep the real me under wraps.
I have received a few other messages that were well meaning, but not exactly encouraging. One minister of a large church wrote, “I have to be honest. I would have preferred that you kept this private to your grave.” Another said, “It’s a shame you can’t have a memorial service for Paul, then just disappear.” There were a number of responses along those lines. These were all good people, overwhelmed, afraid maybe, concerned for me in their own way.
I find it ironic that I received a decidedly different response from my friends who are not affiliated with the church. Every single one of those people has chosen to accept the new me. Every. Single. One. I will let you draw your own conclusions.
In spite of the upheaval of the last year, my life is good. I am calmer, happier, no longer depressed. I still have my moments, particularly early in the morning. Poet Fleur Adcock wrote, “It is 5 A.M. All the worse things come stalking in and stand icily about the bed looking worse and worse and worse.” When those moments arrive I know I am abiding in fear, not hope. Fortunately a good cup of tea and a bowl of Cheerios and I am back in the land of hope, ready to begin a new day as me, Paula Stone Williams, pilgrim on the human journey, recipient of grace, Ambassador-at-Large in The Kingdom of Showing Up. All things considered, it is a good kingdom in which to dwell.
You can read more from Paula—including her reaction to Leelah Alcorn’s tragic suicide—on her personal blog.
Photo (Flickr CC) by Oliver Weinitschke