I Did Not Know What I Did Not Know (Guest Post)

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You are in store for a treat today. My dear friend Paula Williams has a unique perspective on the differences between males and females. You see, Paula used to be Paul. She is an accomplished pastor, teacher, counselor, parent and spouse, writer… to name a few. Please read this – you will be grateful you did. Paula blogs regularly at www.paulastonewilliams.com

I have always been a bit of a Renaissance person. At one point I was taking home paychecks as a television host, adoption caseworker, non-profit CEO, Evangelical megachurch preaching pastor, operator of homes for individuals with mental retardation, seminary instructor, and magazine editor and columnist. I loved the challenge of mastering a plethora of responsibilities. Well, that, and I happened to be running away from myself. But that’s not the subject of today’s post. And besides, I’ve been writing about that for a while now. We’re probably all getting a little tired.

When I look back there are a number of threads running through those varied jobs, yet one stands out. I did not understand its importance until my life took a major turn. These jobs were all handed to me – a tall, successful, well-educated, white American male who was clueless just how entitled he was. Oh, I worked hard, but given my privilege, that hard work sent me to the top of the class.

Because I’ve flown well over two million miles with American Airlines, I know a bit about airplanes. Over the years, on a rough flight I might comfort a seatmate by saying, “There’s nothing to worry about. This is a DeHavilland Dash-8 100 series turboprop, one of the safest airliners in the sky.” People believed me because I acted as one with authority. I can’t tell you how many times a seatmate, or even a flight attendant, would ask, “Are you a pilot with the airline?” I looked like a pilot. I looked like the host of a national television show. I looked like the preaching pastor of a megachurch.

But that was then.

Last month I was on a very turbulent flight from LAX to Honolulu. The woman seated next to me said, “I can’t remember a flight this bad.” From my frequent flyer bag of tricks, I replied, “Well this is an A321, and it’s actually a little underpowered. When it has a full load of fuel and every seat is taken, it can’t fly above the weather.” The woman did not ask if I was a pilot for the airline, she just glanced as if to say, “You should keep your thoughts to yourself.” She asked a flight attendant why the flight was so rough. He answered, “We can’t fly over the weather.” She thanked him and settled less nervously into her seat.

I thought, “How on earth could this woman be so dismissive of me? I gave a more thorough answer than the flight attendant, but she acted like I was an idiot. What’s up with that?”

Of course I knew good and well what was up with that. The same thing has been up with that everywhere I go, from the airport to the car repair shop, to the hardware store. My bachelor’s degree, two master’s degrees, doctoral degree, and three page curriculum vitae stand for nothing. I am summarily dismissed for one single reason. I am a woman.

I do have a little sympathy for successful, straight, white American males. No matter how hard they try, they will never understand how much the world is tilted in their favor. Short of changing genders, race, or sexual identity, it is impossible for them to know. Cisgender females cannot truly comprehend how difficult it is for them to be heard. What they have experienced is all they know. It is all their mothers knew, and their mothers before them. They were enculturated to accept flippant dismissal.

For every woman with whom I have ever worked, I am so, so sorry. I thought I was one of the good guys. I did not know what I did not know. If you thought I was aloof, or arrogant, or dismissive, it is because I was. I was ushered into that entitled existence by an education system and church that elevated me above you. I am deeply sorry. I ask your forgiveness.

And now, a word about the church that entitled me so.

I have preached in three of the 12 largest churches in America. Today I would not be allowed in the pulpit of a single one. Not only would I be barred because I am transgender, I would be barred because I am a woman. The irony is the things I know now make me twice the person I was before. But women’s voices remain silenced while churches stumble in the dark with a leadership blinded by its own entitlement. It has made me into something I never expected I’d be – a feminist.

Just yesterday I was speaking with three Christian women I deeply respect.  I would consider each a strong feminist. I said, “Now that I live and breathe among you, I realize I am still far from an essence you gracefully carry. Maybe it is because you are mothers, and ponder things in your heart that accumulate toward wisdom. Or maybe it is because you process not in part, but the whole. Or maybe it is because you stand there with your defiant nevertheless, born of love but refined by fire.”

As we parted ways I looked at these powerful women and thought, “The day will come when the walls of Jericho fall and the church becomes whole and love wins. Maybe I won’t get to preach in those churches again, but these women will.” And so, I pray, it goes.