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

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)

About the Author: Michael Flood


  1. I love this. I love Ms. Williams' father's response. There is the wisdom of a 93 year for the world! Beautiful. Inclusion is what life is all about!

  2. 5:58 at no point during that conversation did she pull out her ticket and show him.
    Telling someone "I said yeah actually its nooot" isn't going to convince someone that believes otherwise.
    Could've been solved way easier.

  3. When I get a woman on the line for tech support, I expect her not to know much about what we are talking about. And the case almost always turns out to be what I expected. I get a lot more help from men because, in general, they really are more likely do know what they are talking about. It's because they spend more of their own free time thinking about these things than women do. If women have to work twice as hard, its because men are already up to speed on the subject and women generally aren't. That's my experience.

  4. So on merchandise: it's marketing. They want to sell you handbags, so they give you small/no pockets. You are more than welcome to buy whatever clothing suits your purposes.
    On haircuts: mens haircuts are cheaper because they're quicker and easier, and men are less specific about how they want it generally.
    On jackasses: some people are just assholes, and they will be like that to anyone gentle enough to seem like a target to them. Be assertive.
    On apologising in the workplace: men do it all the time too. Its a sign of respect.

  5. If you are a young attractive woman however, you have all the privilege in society. With the exception of the corporate world, possibly.

  6. When people do stand up for their issues and fight for them, other organizations, women, men, and people in general in our society look down on it and might not take it seriously. Whether its women's issues, men's issues, or any other sort of movement, throughout history it's been a repeated pattern to disregard the issues we as individuals don't face. It's difficult to fight for something you believe in when you're constantly not taken seriously for it, and change takes time, which I feel many people need to realize. We as a whole really do need to look at our problems and come together to solve them, rather than fight each other over them. That's our best opportunity to end with both equality and equity as a unity.

  7. I haven’t talked to anyone in my family for over seven years because of my transition . And I am 50 years old and I have had to mourn my entire family’s passing in my mind . So for those who say this is a choice you are sadly mistaken. There’s not a day that goes by I wonder why.


  9. I often come to this talk to reunite strenght and inspiration from her words. Thank you, this is deeply touching and pure wisdom.

  10. I wonder what kind of people Paula is hanging out with or meeting. I recognize some of the problems and I am a man. Therefore, I wonder if there really is a gender-related problem. More a problem that some people are simply idiots.

  11. So your a man, you always were a man, you were never a woman, you believed you were a women. it's a shame you lost your job, I genuinely feel sorry for you. That being said, you are and always will be a man.

  12. Here's an interesting question for everyone: Across the entire planet….do you think more people transition from male to female, or female to male?

    Is there any doubt that more men transition into female? I don't have the exact numbers, but based on personal observation over the course of my life….significantly more men become women. Why do you think that is?

    Simple: It is more beneficial to be a woman in today's world. ESPECIALLY in Westernized societies. More perks. More privileges. More freedoms. More patience, pity, love, and kindness are thrown your way. It is truly a woman's world.

    If you disagree with this, why do you disagree with it?

  13. I was open and listening until you brought up the white male privilege because I don’t want to listen to someone judging me on the color of my skin while admonishing me in your assumptions of how I as a individual treat others with the great power my white skin affords me even though it doesn’t afford me anything. There is only 1 thing that decides if someone has any privileges and that’s money

  14. I don’t agree with everything that she says, but it’s very enjoyable and gives a lot of good things to think about.

  15. Consider: maybe a poorly passing trans female who's always banging on about her transness and the issues it causes has significantly different experiences than a "cis" female who just does her job. ::shrug::

  16. I’m a dude and I get treated like that too sometimes I know it happens a lot more to women but it happens to dudes

  17. You didn't live as a woman, you've only lived as a man and still lives as a man until you die. You're just a man in cosplay now.

  18. Hah… TED used to be inspiring not a place of "I am a victim" idiologies and glorification of mental disorders.

  19. Agreeing with or not with transitioning, you gotta admit that you get to hear both sides – a man's side and now a woman's side – from one human.

  20. My mother always told me 'there's no creature on Earth as strong as a woman'. I love her for always teaching me.

  21. The story that was told at around the 6:00 mark was entirely anecdotal, I am an American white male who has not flown nearly as many miles as was claimed by this person and I have had extremely similar experiences to this….as an American white male….this is not a "female experience"…….same thing with the story told immediately after that story, do they think that women are the only people who argue with mechanics (or other people in general) who think they know everything? Was this a serious Ted Talk? I mean this wasn't some sort of joke?

  22. Ya…. She has no Idea how easy life is as an attractive young actual woman. She missed that part that would have given her some better perspective. Her life isnt hard because shes a "woman" now.. it's hard because she missed all the privileged that came with being a young woman and all the benefits of having men give her things and opportunity to win her attention. She is treated poorly … not because she is a "woman" but because her choices alienate everybody around her.

  23. Title is misleading – you lived as a man then as a man pretending to be a woman.

    You are not a woman, you never were or will be.

  24. Oh its worse in the military. I had to go 4 rounds with my boss to save his job. He wanted me to place an engine online and I said no. 4 rounds later..he realized I was right. I was happy he apologized by allowing me to go home while he attached the starter that wasn't on the engine. Placing an engine online when a starter isn't attached would lead to a captain's mass. Women apologize for being right in meetings with men to deter the man spleening.

  25. I started to think about this the moment she said that's my seat that her voice sounds annoying. The I started to think why do I think its annoying the only thought I got was its the generic bossy women voice. The I thought of wait couldn't one reason why men don't take women seriously because its normally the women who raises the child and with in school its normal a women. So when you grow (at least from a guy perspective) you become your own free thinking person no longer needing to take orders from and sometime going against what was said before, so people might think a voice that use to give orders in the past as annoying since you're no longer in a position to take them since your no longer a child. It's just a thought that might be something or might not.

  26. I'm sorry for mansplaining here but, maybe the hormones normally present in women make them more aware of small social insults? I add the question even though I already know I'm right, because, you know, I'm a man.

  27. I get 'mansplained' at a lot, as a man. It's not just a female thing. You have to be forceful, you have to assert your status, not as a gender or identity, but as a knowledgeable person who wants to hear it straight. Don't let them baby you, don't play silly mind games and dance around the subject, just be straightforward. Sometimes you have to force someone to use the technical jargon, to not hold back and treat you like you know nothing. Because most technicians or service people are going to play it as safe as possible, and they're going to assume you know nothing until you demonstrate otherwise. Because they find that when they don't, they end up having to spend ages explaining everything from the ground up and getting nowhere.

    Bias obviously factors into this. People like that bike store worker haven't configured their internal settings, and they're going to let their biases affect their treatment of you for a lot longer than they should. If you have to get a bit rude, get a bit rude. You'll knock them off-balance and force them to adjust if you tell them to cut the BS. Assert yourself. You owe it not only to yourself, but also to those people. They're not going to stop that behavior if nobody ever calls them on it. You don't have to make some big scene about it – it's not some horrible crime they've committed – but they deserve to know what they're doing to you.

  28. There is male. There is female. Then there are mentally ill people who don't know how to accept what is in their pants. That's what it comes down to.

  29. While I agree with what she has said, I think she is not mentioning the things she has gained in transitioning that she would not have had as a man.

  30. You have the guts to say, "women get paid less then men while working harder"?
    Women get paid the same as men for doing the same job; while, men on average, work longer hours and more days throughout the year.
    I work in a factory where women and men do the same job. The only difference is that when a woman can't lift a box, needs a skid, or has to climb a ladder to grab cardboard from the shelf, she runs to a man for help. If it weren't for the women in my factory always asking for help; because, they can't do their job: my job would be a whole lot easier.
    The woman in this video apparently has never worked a hard day in her pathetic life.

  31. By far this is one of the most rustic things I've ever listen to,, and there clapping,,, 100% spiritual you are 100% a spirit but not a human spirit nonhuman,,,

  32. I, as a guy, probably would not ask the question about frame fatigue to a new bike shop employee, because I wouldn't expect most bike shop employees to know necessarily. I don't know that it's a male/female thing.

  33. I am a woman and I have NEVER experienced any of the things that Paula says. Sure, there are some men who are assholes, but the same can be said about women. I have been stabbed in the back more by women than men. In fact, I now avoid being friends with women. Don't want them. And based on my personal experience, it is women who are privileged, not men. I can get men do things for me that they would not do for a man. Sorry, Paula, but you are just entertaining the mob. Your words ring false to me.

  34. You know what is terrible about this? People clap and laugh because she was born as a man. If a woman was there, saying the exact same things, she would be overreacting, exaggerating, crazy.

  35. Try transitioning from a woman to a man. The experience will open your eyes in ways you never expected. The wheel turns in both directions.

  36. There are so many things wrong with this speech. Starting with: “men would never understand it” as if some how you, and only you hold the magic key as if you are in a higher level… If that is true then: Why should men bother to fit into your world/narrative? why bother if they are doomed from start according to you? (I’m rather tired of this manipulative tactics). And then you have: 14:40 …So that is what this is all about? your father’s power. If you want my respect as human being, you have it… but pal… stop with the victim-hood.

  37. She/ he is a liar, I say that in all truth unlike her being a religious person. She has went against the Almighty God. PLEASE DON'T BE FOOLED! HE'LL IS REAL….FOLLOW and Find out.

  38. How about we just abolish gender completely and stop assigning gendered roles that are “masculine” and “feminine” if we know gender is expression / performative then why even assign gender

  39. Although I do not agree with much se discusses, I find her a magnificent speaker. Very talented. I can accept you as talented Paula. I would rather not be told to accept you as anything else.

  40. got married, had kids, and now you're this thing up on a stage making your ex-wife and kids do a phenomenal face palm at how you lied to everybody! You're NOT a woman! You're a guy who has mental issues.

  41. I could make tons of money off my white male privilege! Any idea how? I need to know.

    Also she obviously forgot what it was like to be a man dealing with a women in logic and only focused on her own transition. Good for you. Be you.

  42. Paula never lived as a man. She is a woman who pretended to do so. It's impossible to live a lie and then govern it as "truth".

  43. I'm not proud of the beginning of this story but it will validate what she is speaking of. I am a 37, cis white male who's been in direct sales for over 20 years. I knock on people's doors for my renovations buissnes when I want to expand my work. When the woman of the household would answer the door I would be polite and explain why I'm knocking. However when her husband would enter the foyer my eyes would move to his and most of the time we would start talking leaving his wife there to just listen and eventually walk away. I conducted my canvassing in this way for roughly 15 years, but It wasn't untill about 5 years ago I decided to start to include women in the conversation, even if her husband was the one who generally looked after this sort of stuff. What I've found is women know a lot of things. They also appreciate being included in the conversation and in most cases bring up valid questions and/or ideas. They also want to learn if they don't know and they want the same respect their husbands get. I've noticed a rise in my sales and a better relationship with my clients since I've started making a habit of including women in the conservation. I've never been mean or ignored women, but I haven't been the best at including them either. My father left when I was 3 and my mom let, or ignored, my stepfather being abusive to me. I've never been taught how to act around women except from other guys and movies. We need men to start being better fathers, husbands, boyfriends, and friends. I can walk down the street and nothing bothers me. I can't wait untill women have that same luxury. My life moving forward has been about including women. I have 2 sales agents who are women and one even helps with the physical stuff. My buissnes wouldn't be as good as it is if it wasn't for women. So thank you to all the hard working women out there and to all the men that include them without a bias. The world needs better people, regardless of gender. This was an excellent TedTalk buy an extraordinary woman.

  44. Men and women that's all there is!! Most of the problems in society are caused by idiots thinking they are something else!!

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