Episode 56: Paula Stone Williams, Prominent Evangelical Pastor and Transgender Female
Paula Stone Williams
Paula Stone Williams was Paul Williams for 60 years, the married father of three and a prominent evangelical pastor. Paul came out to his family as transgender and soon after, became Paula. In this episode, Paula speaks with Karen about her transition and personal experience as a woman.
Dr. Paula Stone Williams is an internationally known speaker on gender equity, LGBTQ advocacy, and religious tolerance. She has been featured in the New York Times, TEDWomen, TEDxMileHigh, the Denver Post, New Scientist, Radio New Zealand, The New York Post, NPR, and Colorado Public Radio. Paula has spoken at Europe’s Retail Week Live, Upside Travel, Sparkfund, PointClickCare, Bank of the West, the Environmental Protection Agency, the State of Oregon Diversity Conference, the University of Colorado, Western Washington University, and many other government agencies, corporations, universities, LGBTQ advocacy groups and religious conferences. Her recent TED talk with her son, Jonathan, has had over one million views, and her TEDxMileHigh talk on gender equity has had over two million views.
Intro Voices 00:04
Where do I go? It only happened once. I think I was singled out. The phone calls began about one month ago. What is hazing? Something happened to me when I was younger. I'm worried about my safety. He said he was sorry. Can someone help me? Where can I get help? Can someone help me? This is You Matter, a podcast for the NYU community developed by the Department of Public Safety.
Karen Ortman 00:36
Hi, everyone, and welcome back to You Matter, a podcast created to teach, inspire and motivate members of the NYU community who have been victimized in some form or fashion and to identify resources both on and off campus that can help. I am your host Karen Ortman, Associate Vice President of Campus Safety Operations at the Department of Public Safety, and a retired law enforcement professional. Today I welcome Paula Stone Williams, who for 60 years was Paul Williams, a married father of three and a prominent evangelical pastor. Paul came out to his family as transgender and soon after became Paula. Paula went on to co-write a memoir with her son Jonathan, She's My Dad: A Father's Transition and His Son's Redemption, which details her family's experience with Paula's gender transition. Paula, welcome to You Matter.
Paula Stone Williams 01:36
It's good to be with you.
Karen Ortman 01:38
Can you describe for our listeners, your life as Paul, a married father of three, and a very prominent pastor?
Paula Stone Williams 01:51
Yeah, you know, basically, it's the story that a lot of well educated white men can tell, but none of us realized is that we actually got a head start, we thought we ran fast and hard to get where we were, and we didn't run fast and hard. It's just that we started a whole lot closer to the finish line than anybody else. I was one of those people. I grew up in the right side of town, in Ohio first, and then in eastern Kentucky. Pretty much from the time I was in high school on, everything I touched turned to gold. I was quite successful. I was Renaissance person. I was the CEO of a large religious nonprofit that was New York based. I was the editor at large for an international magazine. I was a host of a national television show. I was the president of a corporation that operated homes for individuals with mental retardation. I was an adoption caseworker. I've always been a little bit of a renaissance person, so I was doing all of those things.
Karen Ortman 02:53
You had it all.
Paula Stone Williams 02:55
They were all quite successful. In fact, at some point or another, I have actually preached in three of the 10 largest churches in the United States, which means that I've preached to, like 20,000 people on a weekend before. So yeah, that was all in my previous life.
Karen Ortman 03:13
And while you were preaching, you were married, and you had three children.
Paula Stone Williams 03:19
Sure did. I still have three children.
Karen Ortman 03:22
Yes, you did. So when did you realize or recognize that the gender assigned to you at birth was in fact incorrect?
Paula Stone Williams 03:39
Yeah, thanks for using appropriate language. I knew that by the time I was probably three or four. There's no time that I don't remember knowing, so it's whatever my earliest memories are. I thought I got to choose, it seemed to me- and I think this also is quite male entitlement - it seemed to me that you would be able to choose your gender because so many other things were available to you. To me, the idea was that somewhere before kindergarten, a gender fairy, what I envisioned would arrive and say, okay, what's it going to be? And I would tell her what I was and when it did not happen, I wasn't devastated. You know, you talk to some transgender people who talk about when they realized that they couldn't be the gender they wanted to be they were suicidal, even as children. I never thought that way at all. I didn't hate being a boy. I knew I wasn't one. That's all.
Karen Ortman 04:35
What is your earliest memory? realizing that you were not a boy, even though you were gender assigned a boy.
Paula Stone Williams 04:48
Yeah, I think it actually the earliest memory that I have, is actually the one I just described. It was seeing myself as not gendered. I think that's how I first saw myself. I saw gender as something that would be chosen. I just finished my own memoir, as a woman. It'll be published by Simon and Schuster this coming June.
Karen Ortman 05:13
Paula Stone Williams 05:15
When I was writing about this, I was just going through the last changes, last week. What I wrote is exactly what it was; it was kind of simple, I just thought that the gender parity was going to arrive. I just assumed that that would be the case. The very specific thing that brought that to mind was actually thinking to myself one day, well, before long, I'll have to decide whether I'm going to stand or whether I'm going to sit down when I go to the bathroom. So, you know, since I'm going to sit down, maybe I'll go ahead and stand now to take advantage of that while that's still possible. I mean, that's how I...
Karen Ortman 05:57
How old were you?
Paula Stone Williams 05:59
I think I was either three or four.
Karen Ortman 06:01
And did you have conversations with your parents? I don't know if you have siblings. Did you have conversations with siblings, with parents about this?
Paula Stone Williams 06:09
Oh my god, no. No, my father was a fundamentalist pastor and my mother was twice as conservative as my father. Nobody knew anything about that. Back at that time, nobody ever talked about it. You never met anyone who was transgender. I never even heard about it until I was a teenager when I saw Christine Jorgensen, famous early transgender pioneer on the Merv Griffin show, and I was in high school, At that point, I really knew nothing about it. I didn't talk with my brother, my brother was four years older than I was and we were always kind of ships passing in the night. So, he's not someone I ever would have shared that kind of information with.
Karen Ortman 06:51
So you talk about being a small child, but then you got older, you got beyond the elementary school years into middle school, high school. By the time you got to high school, what was your thought process with respect to your gender?
Paula Stone Williams 07:13
In junior high, it became a problem, really a problem that grew exponentially into high school house, I hated the changes taking place in my body. That was the thing, my body was changing in ways I did not want it to change. I probably had an equal number of male and female friends and my female friends were - their bodies were all changing in a way I wanted mine to change - so I was very jealous of them. They, on the other hand, were embarrassed by the changes their bodies were going through, and I was like, well fine, then let me be the one who's going through those changes. I was not at all happy with the arrival of testosterone, to me, testosterone was awful.
Karen Ortman 07:55
Yeah. How did that impact your social life and your just your experience in junior high, in high school, and into college?
Paula Stone Williams 08:10
I don't think it really affected it at all. I was, like I said, I was quite privileged, and there was never any time of suicidal ideation during that timeframe at all. I knew I was attracted to girls, so that made that part easier. My problem was, I would date a girl and I would want to be the girl I was dating. That was a problem. Probably, the biggest impact it had is, I got a job as a disc jockey at a radio station, a commercial radio station in Eastern Kentucky when I was 16. I was interviewing our congressman and doing a play by play in regional basketball games, and newscasts, and I was the first one to break the news on the air that Bobby Kennedy had died or that Martin Luther King Jr. had died.
Karen Ortman 09:03
Paula Stone Williams 09:04
I really was in this very privileged position, and because of that, I was given a scholarship offer in broadcasting to a State University. I absolutely would have taken it except for two things, one, was the Vietnam War was very strong at the time and I had a low lottery number, at that point I was, in my late years of high school, they were even taking college grads and drafting college grads, I was very opposed to the Vietnam War, so that was part of the issue. The other part was, I knew I was transgender. I thought that going into the military as a transgender person would be absolutely awful. My family had always had a close connection to a Christian University in eastern Kentucky. My uncle was the president, so I took a scholarship there instead, I would not have taken that scholarship if I were not transgender, and the Vietnam War was not going on at the time. I would have taken the scholarship in broadcasting.
Karen Ortman 10:11
So you said you knew you were transgender, even when considering college, but you weren't living as a transgender person.
Paula Stone Williams 10:19
I was totally hidden,completely in the closet. In the evangelical world, it is extremely difficult even to this very day to be out as an LGBTQ plus person and in 28 states, of the United States, the major teaching is evangelical Christianity. A lot of us on the coasts don't recognize that because evangelical Christianity does not have much of a stamp from Washington to Boston, same thing from San Francisco to Washington, other than around Sacramento, so you don't recognize just how strong that conservative Christian perspective is in Middle America, particularly in the south. There was no way that I was going to talk with anyone about it or express it, that would have been pretty much the end of life as I knew it.
Karen Ortman 11:12
How did you live your life with any semblance of normalcy knowing that you were transgender, and having to live with that knowledge hidden deep in your soul? How painful was that for you?
Paula Stone Williams 11:35
You know what I think about it, I think it was less painful than my son in law, who grew up as a black man in Bed Stuy, or my middle daughter who grew up as a brown child and Indian child in a white world and a white family in a very white part of Long Island. I'm in a really racially prejudiced part of Long Island. I think their experiences were far more difficult than mine. This was the only major problem I faced and in every other way my life was quite privileged. Yes, it was an ongoing issue. It was something that caused me to enter psychotherapy when I was 33, but it was not ever something that was hindering my quality of life until much later.
Karen Ortman 12:25
Tell me about your wife. When did you meet her?
Paula Stone Williams 12:29
We met when I was in college and she was still in high school, we started dating when she came to the same college I attended. Again, evangelicalism is quite a bubble, and living within that bubble, I was quite convinced that once I got married and was able to have sexual relations, that being transgender would go away. I did not tell her before we married because I was convinced that whatever feelings I had in that direction would disappear with marriage. When they didn't, I knew I was in trouble. It was just a few months after we married that I told her, but again, we both came from an evangelical world, we didn't really know what it meant. I thought it was cross dressing, that's how I identified it to her was as cross dressing. I don't think we ever saw that it would become the kind of problem that it eventually became in our relationship.
Karen Ortman 13:27
So you told her early on in your marriage...
Paula Stone Williams 13:29
Karen Ortman 13:30
...that you were transgender. What was her response?
Paula Stone Williams 13:35
She said, it's okay. It's something we'll work through together. Neither one of us knew anything. It was very definitely something that if we were to, either one of us, talk with anyone about it, I would lose my job. I was in ministry. I was ordained right out of seminary. All of the jobs that I had were related to ministry, so there really was no one with whom we could speak until we both started therapy. That same year, is the year I turned 33 and she turned 31.
Karen Ortman 14:08
And how long were you married at that point?
Paula Stone Williams 14:11
We've been married. Well, we were married at 21 and 19. So now we're in 13 years of that.
Karen Ortman 14:16
And how old were your three children? Or were they all alive at that point?
Paula Stone Williams 14:23
The kids were born in the 77, 79 and 80. My youngest turns 40, well, in three days.
Karen Ortman 14:34
You tell your wife early on in your marriage. At what point do you share with your three children?
Paula Stone Williams 14:44
Not until we knew it was likely that I was going to transition. I was always convinced I'd be able to get through life without transitioning, which I wanted to do primarily for the sake of my family, secondarily, for the sake of my employment. At the time that I did come out, in 21 states you couldn't be fired for being transgender. Now, in all 50, you can't be fired for being trans, but back then it was 21 states. The two states in which I worked, Colorado in New York, were two of the states where you couldn't be fired. But -to this very day, in all 50 states, you can be fired if you're trans and you work for a religious Corporation, so I knew I would be fired if I came out. And so my desire was to not come out. Once I realized that it was beginning to look probable that I would have to come out, that was the point at which we told the children. Up to that point, the only people who knew were Kathy's therapist, my therapist, and one of our mutual best friends, who was also a therapist. It was only therapists who were aware at that point, besides the two of us.
Karen Ortman 15:52
Did therapy help?
Paula Stone Williams 15:53
I think therapy helped me because I was so cerebral. I needed to understand its genesis, and what the real likelihood was of it being managed. I'm a believer in psychotherapy, period. I mean, my former wife and I are both therapists, we're still in practice together. Obviously, as a therapist, I believe in the value of therapy. I generally personally use Person Centered therapy, which is that the answer is that the person is looking for, is within themselves. Your job as a therapist is just to help them remove the obstacles to getting to their own answers. I think somewhere in the process I began to realize that there was no external information that was going to save me, I was going to have to figure this out on my own and figure out a course on my own. At one point, my very good New York therapist, kind of a stereotypical New York therapists, psychoanalytically trained, at one point, she said, you know you're about as individuated - if you want to use yoda language or as differentiated - if you want to use family system languages in a climate of our hand, but this one thing is getting worse, it's not getting better, so what are you going to do? That was the point of which I realized decisions had to be made. I knew 10 years ago, this winter, that I was called to transition. It was two more years before we told the children, and another year before I actually transitioned.
Karen Ortman 17:37
What do you mean called? Can you explain what that is?
Paula Stone Williams 17:40
It is religious language, but I don't think it was a necessarily a religious experience. I think that it actually is more common to Joseph Campbell's description of the hero's journey. An ordinary citizen is called on an extraordinary journey under the road of trials. Initially they reject the call because they're not stupid, it's the road of trials, and they are now miserable because they know they've been called. So, a spiritual guide comes into their life, a Yoda, if you will, it gives them the courage to accept that call. In my case, it was it was typically a baby boomer type of experience, I was watching television, my favorite television show of all time, Lost and there comes a point in the final season where the protagonist of the show, Jack, if you're a lost man, recognizes he's been called by the god figure Jacob to die. I realized at that moment I had been called figuratively todie. I literally sobbed all through the night, all the way to dawn because I knew for the first time, it was no longer, how do I get through life without transitioning? It was, how do I figure out how to transition? So that was the shift.
Karen Ortman 18:55
When you think back on that moment, how would you characterize that event, if you will?
Paula Stone Williams 19:09
The language that feels appropriate is that sense of call, that what we commonly refer to even if we're not Christian as, the come to Jesus moment.
Karen Ortman 19:19
Was it happy? Exhilerating? Oh, my yes. Was it a scary?
Paula Stone Williams 19:24
I don't think a call almost never comes as a moment of - Oh, joy! Or is experienced as a moment of joy. It's not your call, it's somebody else's call. A call is I think virtually always experienced as an - Oh shucks moment. I think it's not something that's welcomed. It's a recognition that you aren't, in fact - it is Campbell's language, called under the road of trial. There's a recognition that something beyond you, greater than you is calling you forward. It's a critical moment in your life. I think it can be cathartic if you say yes to the call, it can be devastating if you reject it. For me, as with most, I initially rejected the call, but then the next year and a half is when I did in fact become, well, I had some suicidal ideation. I was never in danger, I think, but there was definitely some sense that I wasn't sure I would make it if I didn't transition.
Karen Ortman 20:38
Even though you came to this point in your life where you knew you had to do this transition, did you still have a desire to maintain your marriage with your wife?
Paula Stone Williams 20:52
Sure did. I thought that it would remain. I thought there was no question that it would remain. We both were still occasionally in therapy with amazing therapists. Kathy's therapist, at one point said, I think it'd be good if you and Paul go back to marriage therapy. Kathy looked at her, as if to say, seriously, do marriage therapy together? The therapist said, yeah, there is this one man and his name is Mike Solomon. He was an elderly gentleman here in the Denver area and once we met him and had a session or two, it was like, oh, my God, this guy is amazing. I think we both learned so much about how to do therapy. He retired after we'd been seeing him for maybe a year, 18 months, two years, something like that. We just happened to be his last clients on his last day.
Karen Ortman 21:46
Paula Stone Williams 21:48
I just asked him, I said Mike, how many couples are willing to work this hard? He didn't hesitate, he said, what percent? I said, how many couples get this far in working through all of their stuff? And again, he didn't hesitate, he said, 1%. And then he said, which is what makes this so tragic because you're a lesbian and she's not. I think for us, that moment, was the clarifying moment. For us, it's like, oh, yeah! If I'm asking you to stay with me, I'm asking you to deny your own sexuality.
Karen Ortman 22:21
Paula Stone Williams 22:22
I think that was the point of which we knew that our marriage, we wouldn't survive. Certainly, our friendship and our business relationship does.
Karen Ortman 22:31
Wow. That must have been a painful moment.
Paula Stone Williams 22:37
Oh, it was awful. That entire experience was awful, because you're trying to figure out a way to stay together in something that is fundamentally not compatible if, in fact, you are each willing to look out for the best interest of your own growth. You know, too often, we see ourselves as a half in a relationship, we even use language, my better half is here or there. That's not what a marriage is. A marriage is two whole people coming together and creating a third entity in the relationship that has to be nurtured and cared for without denying the individual integrity of each part of that relationship, both as spouses and as individuals.We just recognized that if we wanted to be whole as individuals, then that relationship needed to end.
Karen Ortman 23:29
Can you talk about the transition process? You've now decided that this is a calling, this is something that you must do? How did the changes affect the person you became or we're becoming? Did your personality change significantly?
Paula Stone Williams 24:00
Yeah. Those are two different questions so I'll take them in sequence. The first, how did that transition occur or what happened in that period? I had found a physician who specialized in cross gender hormone therapy. I liked her a lot because her perspective was that she had a number of patients in circumstances like mine, people who were quite well known nationally, and in very powerful positions, who really needed not to transition if they didn't have to. She said she had discovered that for a lot of those people, a low dose of estrogen and anti-androgens would be enough to kind of settle down the brain. We tried that and I went back in after starting on estrogen anti-androgens and about 90 days later, when I went back, she came in and started her examination and then just said, oh my, you're not going to be able to do this because your body is changing extremely rapidly. Even on this very low level or hormone therapy, it's changing like I would expect a 13 year old child or child's body to change. As you said, you're going to have to decide whether you can do this or not because clearly your body has been craving this stuff and if you don't stop, your body is going to change and people are going to start seeing the changes. You've got to decide. I think, was the point of which I knew, because there's no way I was going to stop. Yeah. I knew then that it was inevitable, and that's when we told the children.
Karen Ortman 25:43
How old were they?
Paula Stone Williams 25:44
At that point, this was just eight years ago, so they're between 40 and 44 now, so... Yeah, and grandchildren were all between six and two. I have five granddaughters and they're all now between 10 and 13 years of age. Telling them was the first difficult step. Then there was a year in which I was kind of back and forth living privately as Paula, publicly as Paul, I came out at work, this was an organization I had been the CEO of for 35 years, I'd taken it from a little tiny mom and pop organization that worked in Suffolk County, Long Island to a national and international organization, from a budget of $100,000 to $4 million, from a staff of three to a staff of over 100. When I came out to them, I was gone in seven days, I'd never had a bad review, and I was gone in seven days.
Karen Ortman 25:52
So in their 30s. And what was the reason?
Paula Stone Williams 26:58
That was utterly devastating.
Karen Ortman 27:00
Did they tell you why they were letting you go?
Paula Stone Williams 27:02
It was strictly because I was coming out as trans. At that point, when I came out to them, I said I'm not sure I'm going to transition, it looks likely but it's not a guaranteed thing. I was asking to be employed there two more years, hence that I wouldn't transition until that two year time period was over, but I was gone within seven days. I was gone from every one of my jobs within seven days.
Karen Ortman 27:26
Paula Stone Williams 27:29
Yeah. Not only that, but they had about a half million dollars of my own money on loan that they did not want to give back. I had to actually get an attorney and threaten a lawsuit to get my own money back.
Karen Ortman 27:39
And I'm hoping that happened.
Paula Stone Williams 27:42
It did. I mean, I needed to because I earned more in my last two months as Paul than I earned total in my first four years as Paula, so if I had not gotten that money back, I would have been in kind of big trouble.
Karen Ortman 27:58
How did your children respond to Paula?
Paula Stone Williams 28:07
I sent the chapter that talks about the transition to them for their final approval last week. All three of them agreed with me when I said that at the time it happened, I think we thought that probably it would be a five year process of adjusting beginning to end, and what we've come to realize, now six years into the transition, and eight years into them knowing, is that it's a 10 year process. My son kind of took his leave early on, it was very, very difficult for him. We were very close. He was gone and writes about it in his book. He's he's taken a lot of hits in his book because he people say he was too tough on me. I don't think he was, I mean, he just wrote his story, and it's quite well done.
Karen Ortman 29:01
And this is the book we referenced earlier. So She's My Dad, A Father's Transition and a Son's Redemption.
Paula Stone Williams 29:07
Right. I wrote responses to five of the chapters there. The next one, the memoire that will be out in June, when I sent it to the to the kids, they said yeah, that is a really painful chapter because Jonathan disappeared for about a year and a half, the girls stayed close until they knew I was okay and then each one of them kind of took their leave. Shana, my youngest, just kind of stepped away for about a year and then JL, my middle daughter stepped away for about a year. They had to do it in their own time because you really explode a family narrative. I mean, it's very, very difficult.
Karen Ortman 29:57
How hard was that for you? Those years where they stepped away?
Paula Stone Williams 30:01
It was awful, because you're not really sure you're ever going to be okay as a family again, and we were a very, very close family. I'm speaking next week for a conference of physicians call the end of life conference. I had to record the message a couple of weeks ago. I watched it once after I was done and I don't know that I gave it a title. If I would have given it a title, it would have been, What Do You Do About This Dying Before Dying, because none of us know what to do with Paul. We don't have any pictures of Paul laying around and we didn't memorialize Paul It's like there are these two different halves of life and discontinuity.
Karen Ortman 30:54
I was gonna I was going to ask you. You spent 16 years as Paul, where are the photographs? The wedding pictures, the you know, the documentation of your life in photos? What have you done? What is your family done with them?
Paula Stone Williams 31:15
Yeah, it's all downstairs in boxes. Last year my kids and I were on Jada Pinkett Smith's TV show, RedTable Talk, which is on Facebook and has a large audience that is not all that well acquainted with transgender issues. Most all of my TV shows, radio interviews, podcasts are about gender equity, the difference in experiencing life as a male and as a female, and it's not all that common. I talked about my transition and so they wanted lots of pictures. They wanted way more than any of us were willing to give them. The kids are pretty protective of me and I'm pretty protective of myself in that regard. We did finally relent and give them photos of the past. Looking back on it, it's an amazing show. It's extremely well produced and Jada and her family are wonderful.
Karen Ortman 32:24
I agree. I like it, too.
Paula Stone Williams 32:25
Yeah, but I wasn't sure even after the fact. I'm still not sure really how I feel about the number of photos of our earlier life that was shown. It feels still a little bit like an invasion of privacy.
Karen Ortman 32:44
Tell me about your grandchildren.
Paula Stone Williams 32:48
Five granddaughters who, for them, the two youngest don't remember me is a male. The other three do but they were all six and under when I transitioned, and children six and under - transition is quick, it's fast, it doesn't take long. It was really a matter of less than an hour, really, with all of them in terms of the adjustment. I'm very, very close toall five of them.
Karen Ortman 33:23
Do all five, now that they're older, understand that their grandmother Paula used to be a male.
Paula Stone Williams 33:34
Yeah, I mean, it's very, very freely talked about. It's it's just it's a matter of life. For kids at that age. It's nothing. I mean, they've got friends in school who are trans. So, you know, it's really freely talked about. I was trying to put a toy together for one of them one night, I said, I've got this Y chromosome and she said wisely, you know, a Y chromosome does not necessarily mean you're mechanically inclined. As I was taking an inordinately long period of time to put together the toy. But you know, that's the kind of thing.
Karen Ortman 33:44
What do they call you?
Paula Stone Williams 34:17
Gram Paula, G -r-a-m-p-a-u-l-a?
Karen Ortman 34:19
I like it.
Paula Stone Williams 34:21
Karen Ortman 34:23
Tell me about your parents.
Paula Stone Williams 34:25
My parents both passed away in the last 12 months. They were very resistant to seeing me or having anything to do with me once I came out. On my father's 93rd birthday, I called him and he took my call. We talked for about a half hour and I called up about a month later and asked if I could come for a visit, he said yes. He called back and said that my mother, who was in a nursing home at the time, that they agreed to bring her to the house that day and I met with them for about three hours, it was really quite wonderful. She still was very resistant, but I very quickly said to her, look, we're not here for you to challenge me about this, we're here just to talk about life. My father was wonderful that day, as I got ready to leave, I said this in my first TED talk, he said, I don't understand this, but I wanted to try. He called me Paula for the first time, which is what he called me for the remainder of his life. He, he passed away at 96 last May, and my mother about a year ago right now at 94.
Karen Ortman 35:41
Is it painful for you to think about your parents and their resistance to accepting you, as you are intended to be, which is a woman?
Paula Stone Williams 36:02
Right. Most of my life I've lived within that evangelical bubble, and so I understood the environment in which they functioned. Those people still will have nothing to do with me. I knew probably five to 10,000 people by name, and my denomination, I was one of our national leaders and I've met 20 of those people post transition, six more than once. To that world, I am anathema. They would have nothing to do with me. So, I understood where they were coming from.
Karen Ortman 36:39
Do you think that will ever change?
Paula Stone Williams 36:41
Oh, yeah. Well, when we take a look at religion in America, most people assume that Christianity on the whole, as opposed to the LGBTQ+ population, but it's actually 48%, of Christianity, that has been opposed and that number has dropped consistently so that now 36% of evangelical Christians are supportive of marriage equality. That's up from 26% just eight years ago. We are seeing a shift. I think it'll take place in the next 10 years or so, where that world becomes supportive of the LGBTQ+ community?
Karen Ortman 37:25
I hope so. Can you describe how your life has changed, now that you have transitioned?
Paula Stone Williams 37:34
My life is actually a life of far greater peace, and much more joy. I wouldn't say it's necessarily happier, but happiness and joy are very different things. I, in many ways, brought my privilege with me. I still enjoy a lot of the privilege that I had before. In a lot of other ways, life is far more difficult. As I said, on the first TED Talk, the one that's been viewed over 4 million times, there's no way a well educated white male can understand how much the culture is tilted in his favor, there's no way he can understand that because it's all he's ever known, and all he ever will know. There's plenty a woman can understand the full import of all that. It's hard. It's hard being a female in a male dominated patriarchal world. You're always up against issues that I never faced when I was a man.
Karen Ortman 38:35
Now, you said there was a difference between happiness and joy? What is the difference?
Paula Stone Williams 38:43
Think happiness comes pretty much when you expect that your plane lands in Hawaii for a two week vacation and you're happy, you get a better bigger tax return than you expected and you're happy. This comes pretty much when you expect it. Joy has a mind of its own. I think joy can come even in the midst of great sorrow. There can be a moment of redemption or a moment of an incredibly moving emotional experience that you would have to describe as joy even though it's coming in the midst of sadness. So joy, I think is a deeper sense that life is redemptive. When the day is done, even when everything seems off that there is, in fact, a light at the end of the tunnel that is not an oncoming train. That's joy.
Karen Ortman 39:45
Thank you for that. I understand that you have created a new, inclusive church.
Paula Stone Williams 39:56
I have. People often ask, how can you still be a part of the church when you were treated so horribly by the church? That's really a fine question. I believe we are a spiritual species and a grand narrative based species. If you think about it, we don't sleep without dreaming. We don't dream in mathematical equations. We dream in stories, we dream in narratives. The need for narrative is downright biological. When you look at our species and its evolution, we didn't really take off as a species until we move from the level of blood kin to the level of tribe. What was it that brought us from only congregating with blood kin to congregating with tribe, and what brought us together as a tribal species, which is when we kind of took off as a species. It was not the need for safety, as a lot of people think it was, in fact, man's search for meaning. What brought us together beyond the level of blood kin was our common search for meaning, and that is, in fact, spiritual. That's our spirituality. I believe that spirituality is something better worked out in community than worked out within the confines of our own flesh, and bones. I believe in spiritual communities. I actually happen to love the music and the style of evangelical worship. The 100 largest churches in the United States are all evangelical churches with contemporary music, non-liturgical services, and practical messages. They're obviously quite popular. That's why the 100 largest churches in the US, the US has, at this point, over 2000, mega churches, churches that average over 2000, in Sunday attendance, all of them have that style, what secular people might call a great show. The problem is that all of those churches, like all 100 of the largest churches, are not LGBTQ+ affirming. They'll not tell you that, because they know that culture has moved on, but they are not affirming. I really wanted to be a part of starting a church that had that same style; great music, great programming, great messages, but was a place that was not built on doctrine, so much as it was built on learning to love your neighbor, and love yourself, so we started a church here in Boulder County, Colorado, Lefthand Church named after the canyon and the creek that runs through the whole county, because we didn't want it to be seen as a boulder church or as a Longmont church, but as a countywide church. We started that just three years ago and we have a delightful group of people who are just trying to figure out man's search for meaning together.
Karen Ortman 42:53
I love it. Say the name of the church again.
Paula Stone Williams 42:55
It's Left Hand Church.
Karen Ortman 42:58
Left Hand Church?
Paula Stone Williams 42:59
Yep. We've got a sizable audience online, we have about 1500 people watch our services every week, you can find all that stuff at lefthandchurch.org.
Karen Ortman 43:08
Okay, that's great to know. If you could address any misconception regarding the transgender community what would it be?
Paula Stone Williams 43:22
I think it would be that we're a community. I said in my very first TED Talk, when you've talked to one transgender person, you've talked to exactly one transgender person. We are as different as night and day and the male transgender experience is very different from the female transgender experience. We are pretty much as varied as the rainbow, so it is kind of tough to put us in any one group of people, if you will.
Karen Ortman 44:01
Well, I think that's a great response, particularly for listeners who do not know much about the transgender community. I love that response that if you've spoken to one transgender person, you have spoken to one transgender person.
Paula Stone Williams 44:17
Yeah, I found out after I did my TED talk that it wasn't original with me. I don't want... Oh, really? ...Jenny Boylan, who was one of the first well known trans people of this century. Jenny had said that on, I think, Oprah at one point.
Karen Ortman 44:35
I listened to the to your TED Talk. And I do recall you saying that and I remember smiling. Any regrets?
Paula Stone Williams 44:45
No, I transitioned when I was ready to transition. I wish I could have gotten through my life without transitioning just because I would rather have not put my family through all of that, but I do believe that the call toward authenticity is sacred and holy and for the greater good. I believe that answering that call is critically important. So no, I have no regrets. I mean, I have plenty of regrets of decisions I made in arts of my life. I definitely wish I had left evangelicalism sooner. I thought I could change it more from within, then I was able to change it. Now that I'm on the outside of it, I realized how much damage it does in America. I wish I had, I wish I had left.
Karen Ortman 45:39
Well, you're you are doing great work, and it is such a pleasure to speak with you today. It's been a pleasure to meet you. I admire you tremendously. Thank you. I miss New York! I don't blame you. It's, I love it in New York.
Paula Stone Williams 45:58
I spoke at Rutgers on March 8, and that's the last trip I've taken. Every bit of my speaking since then has been virtual. I can't wait to get back to New York. My ublishing house is in New York, Simon Schuster, my speakers agency is in New York. My son and his family are in Brooklyn, Clinton Hill, they just move from Carroll Gardens. So yeah, I miss New York.
Karen Ortman 46:24
I don't blame you. You have to let me know when you come to town. Okay, is there anything that you would like to add that I have not asked you?
Paula Stone Williams 46:33
No, nothing, I don't think.
Karen Ortman 46:35
Paula Stone Williams 46:36
It's been enjoyable talking with you.
Karen Ortman 46:38
It has. And thank you to my guest, Paula, and to all of our listeners for joining us for today's episode of You Matter if any information presented was triggering or disturbing, please feel free to contact the Wellness Exchange at 212-443-9999 or NYU's Department of Public Safety and their Victim Services Unit at 212-998-2222. Please share, like, and subscribe to You Matter on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Tune in or Spotify.