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I’ve lived as a man & a woman — here’s what I learned | Paula Stone Williams | TEDxMileHigh


Translator: Leonardo Silva
Reviewer: Ellen Maloney 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.” (Laughter) I knew from the time 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. (Laughter) 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! (Laughter) 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. (Laughter) I have the unique experience
of having lived life on both sides – (Laughter) and I’m here to tell you:
the differences are massive. (Laughter) (Applause) So, I’ll start with the small stuff – like the pockets on women’s jeans. (Laughter) What! (Cheers) (Applause) (Laughter) I can’t put a phone in there. (Laughter) Paper clip, maybe. (Laughter) Or the sizing of women’s clothing. Do the numbers mean anything? (Laughter) What is a double zero? (Laughter) 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. (Laughter) Now, I get my hair cut
about half as often as I used to, but it costs tens times as much. (Laughter) So, I can go on vacation
or I can get my hair cut. I cannot do both. (Laughter) 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!” (Laughter) I just didn’t know what I didn’t know. There is 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 it
because it’s all he’s ever known, and all he ever will know. And conversely, there’s no way that a woman
can understand the full import of that because being a female
is all she’s ever known. She might have an inkling that she’s
working twice as hard for half as much, but she has no idea how much harder it is for her than it is
for the guy in the Brooks Brothers jacket in the office across the hall. I know! I was that guy! And I thought I was one of the good guys, sensitive to women, egalitarian. Then came the first time
I ever flew as a female. Now, I’ve flown over 2.3 million miles
with American Airlines. I know my way around an airplane. And American was great
through my transition, but that does not mean
their passengers were. The first time I flew as Paula,
I was going from Denver to Charlotte, and I got on the plane
and there was stuff in my seat. So, I picked it up to put my stuff down,
and a guy said, “That’s my stuff.” I said, “Okay, but it’s in my seat. So, I’ll just hold it for you
until you find your seat, and then I’ll give it to you.” He said, “Lady, that is my seat!” I said, “Actually, it’s not.
It’s my seat.” (Laughter) “1D, 1D. But I’ll be glad to hold your stuff
until you find your seat.” He said, “What do I have
to tell you? That is my seat!” I said, “Yeah, it’s not.” (Laughter) At which point the guy behind me said, “Lady, would you take
your effing argument elsewhere so I can get in the airplane?” I was absolutely stunned! I had never been treated
like that as a male. I would have said,
“I believe that’s my seat,” and the guy immediately
would have looked at his boarding pass and said, “Oh, I’m sorry.” I know that because
it happened all the time! The flight attendant
took our boarding passes. She said to the guy,
“Sir, you’re in 1C. She’s in 1D.” I put his stuff down in 1C,
he said not one single word, and of course you know
who was next to me in 1F. (Laughter). Mister “would you take
your effing argument elsewhere.” (Laughter) So, my friend Karen,
who works for American, came on the plane
to give the pilot his paperwork. She left and waved goodbye. 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!” (Laughter) Now, the truth is I will not live
long enough to lose my male privilege. I brought it with me when I transitioned. (Laughter) 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. (Laughter) 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. (Laughter) Either that or I’m as smart as I ever was, it’s just now I’m constantly
being subjected to mansplaining. (Laughter) (Applause) 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.” (Laughter) 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! (Laughter) 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? (Applause) 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. (Cheers) (Applause) 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 – (Laughter) 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. 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 – (Laughter) 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 – (Applause) As I stood to go, he said, “Paula” – He called me Paula – (Applause) 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. (Applause) (Cheers)

Robin Kshlerin

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3 COMMENTS

  1. MultiHugobugo Posted on October 29, 2019 at 2:35 am

    Amazing woman! Thank you so much for this talk ❤

    Reply
  2. Creative Picture Posted on October 30, 2019 at 4:48 pm

    ¬ Guys let's break this, Men want nothing from women and women want nothing from Men. Just pass the genes and keep the system going¬. Human beings are horrible in relationships. This is year 2100

    Reply
  3. Fides Et Ratio Posted on October 31, 2019 at 4:58 am

    He's a man.

    Reply
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