As A Woman with Paula Stone Williams

As A Woman with Paula Stone Williams December 18, 2023

As A Woman with Paula Stone Williams

As A Woman with Paula Stone Williams
Photo by The Coach Space:


I was lucky to create a Leaning Forward conference with all these women and their wisdom!

Leaning Forward is the title of a book by Karl and Laura Forehand about moving beyond the confines of organized religion. It is also the title of an online conference we have hosted for several years. This year, we decided to host a series of podcasts primarily to help us understand religious trauma and how to move forward. We are also hosting an online conference with the understanding that amplifying women’s voices is probably the most important component.

This is a conference powered by women but designed for men and women who want to heal from trauma and identify ways to do better in the future!
Paula shared “As A Woman.

Preview – Transcript and Video Below

Transcript – Video Below 

As A Woman

by Paula Stone Williams

Leaning Forward Conference: What Women Know about Trauma

I’m Paula Stone Williams I am a transgender woman who transitioned about 10 years ago. I’m a pastoral counselor. I’ve been a pastor. I’m also a coach of pastors. I also am a coach for the largest TEDx in North America and work with them as a curator. I’m also a speaker and Ambassador for TED.

The Three Moral Standards

I think it’s important for us to understand that there are only three moral standards of our species. The first moral standard, the most ancient, is that is no greater moral good than to protect the Integrity of the tribe and that is still the moral standard of many developing nations.

The second moral standard, the second oldest, is that there is no greater moral good than to obey the teachings of the gods and this is the moral standard of all forms of fundamentalism wherever you find it in the world whatever the religion is all forms of fundamentalism there’s no greater moral good than to obey the teachings of the gods.

The third moral standard is the youngest. It is specific to the Western World and, in my opinion, is born out of the teachings of Jesus. It is that there is no greater moral good than to protect the integrity and freedom of the individual. This is what has developed the United States as a nation. It would be the major secular moral standard of our nation. It would be the moral standard of the East Coast, and the West Coast. It is not the moral standard of most forms of fundamentalism. Unfortunately, most forms of fundamentalism hold that second moral standard that there’s no greater moral good than to obey the teachings of the gods.

Key Social Units

So, we have to add to that one another very important understanding. Edward O Wilson was a sociobiologist who taught at MIT in Harvard and just passed away last year. He won two Pulitzer Prizes. His first was to identify that the key social unit for the human species is not the nuclear family. It’s the tribe!

His second Pulitzer Prize was for identifying that there were only nine species that were tribal species. Every species has what Richard Dawkins would call a selfish gene, but he states that these nine species also have a tribal gene. They will sacrifice themselves for the sake of the tribe. When the enemy comes into the camp they unite—they defeat the enemy—some of them die, but the tribe goes on.

He calls eight of these nine tribal species, eusocial species. According to Wilson, eight of the nine tribal species have evolved as you would expect. But the ninth tribal species have evolved in ways you would not have expected. That is the ninth tribal species that believes an enemy is necessary for the tribe to survive and where no natural enemy exists, they create one.

Wilson said that if we don’t get a hold of this, we lose that species and we lose the planet as we know it.

So, if you combine this tendency of that species, humans, along with that second of the three moral standards or the first of the three moral standards, you end up with entities that will create enemies that don’t exist and will believe that they must obey the teachings of the gods in their interpretation of those teachings. That is not at all compatible with the teachings of Jesus or the third moral standard where there’s no greater moral good than to protect the freedom and integrity of the individual.

Religion plays a major part in working against what the US Constitution is all about.

The Patriarchal Contribution and a Message to Paul

I’m one of the very few people out there who understands what it means to be a leader in the patriarchal world and also what it means to no longer have that position of privilege within the patriarchal world. And 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. Conversely, there’s no way for a woman to understand the full importance of that because being a woman is all she’s ever known. Now she might have an inkling because she’s working twice as hard for 81% as much. But she has no idea how much more difficult it is for her than it is for the guy in the Brooks Brother’s jacket in the office across the hall.

I know because I was that guy and if I could go back and talk to Paul, I think there are three things that I would say to Paul.

The first is to learn the value of deference. Women learn deference almost as a birthright. Men are taught that deference is a weakness. But until men can see the difference as a positive personality attribute, will never achieve gender equity. The beginning of deference is by being an ally. Saying to women, “I’m here—I’m with you— I’ll work for you—I’ll do what needs to be done is still not deference because, as an ally, the man is still the one in charge of what he is going to do or say. Deference doesn’t even begin until you move from being an ally to an apprentice. And still, until men are willing to work in the direction of the women in your world and say to them, “What is it that you need me to do?

I think the second thing I wish I had learned, as a guy, was the value of compromise correction, and collaboration. What is it that Germany, Norway, Finland, Iceland, Taiwan, and New Zealand have in common? All six of those nations did extremely well in the first year of the Coronavirus. All six also happen to have a female head of state. A head of state who worked collaboratively with health departments instead of seeing them as subordinates. A leader who was willing to compromise not for the best solution, but for a workable solution. My favorite was that they were willing to accept correction. Jacinda Ardern, in New Zealand, particularly adapted this if they went in the wrong direction, said “Huh, that didn’t work, let’s go this way.”

Now contrast that with the three countries that did spectacularly poorly in the first year of the Coronavirus: Brazil, The United States, and Great Britain. Do I need to say anymore?

The third thing I wish I could go back and say to Paul is to learn the value of truly, deeply listening. I’m a pastoral counselor and I work in what’s called person-centered therapy. It is a perspective that says that you as a counselor have no answers. Your client has the answers your job is to help them remove the obstacles that are stopping them from finding their answers. We can’t do that if you don’t truly listen.

A Message to Women

I wish I could go back and tell Paul that, but I also have to admit there are some things that I like to tell women that I think are pretty important. First of all, I discovered that women do not empower one another. Men do empower one another. Women do not. They see each other as a competition.

I understand the reason. The average woman earns 81 cents on the dollar of what the average white man earns in this nation. 5.8% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. 22% of senior vice presidents are women. 6.6% of Silicon Valley CEOs are women. 2% of directors, 11% of writers. 19% of producers are women. 47% of first- and second-year Law Associates are women. Only 15% make partner. 3% of venture capital goes to female-founded firms—I could go on and on.

I understand then why women tend to see the world from a lens of scarcity, but that does not help us achieve gender equity. I think we’ve got to empower one another. I was talking with KK Ottesen, who was a reporter at the Washington Post. I was there for an interview when my Memoir came out and I said this and she said on the first day of a two-day interview, “Well that’s not my experience. my experiences women do empower one another.” So I came back the next day for the photography part of the interview and she said, “I have an apology. I have to tell you I was talking to you. I was talking to Madeline Albright last night (as one does, I suppose). When I told her what you said, she said, “Oh yeah, don’t you remember all the times I’ve said ‘There’s a special place in hell for women who do not empower one another!’”

Second, I would say to women stop teaching our daughters to be perfect. We teach our sons to be confident. We teach our daughters to be perfect. We think we’re doing them a favor—we’re not! They get out into the workforce and their first corporate job position opens up in the company. The job has five requirements. They have four of the five requirements, but because they’ve been taught to be perfect, they think they cannot apply for the position because they don’t have the fifth.

We teach our sons to be confident. They see the posting. They know they have two of the five requirements, and they think to themselves, “I got this,” because they’ve been taught that they do. So, they apply for the job and get the job that the woman is twice as qualified for but wouldn’t even apply in the first place because she wasn’t perfect.

Stop teaching our daughters to be perfect. Teach them to be persistent!

Third, women stop apologizing and own what they know. The Imposter Syndrome is ubiquitous to the human species all of us experience it. Men are 75% less likely to admit it, but we all experience it. We all were created with a deep neurobiological need for human connection. Unfortunately, we all think there’s something about us that makes us unworthy of that deep human connection. And that is reinforced again throughout the growing younger years and really throughout life for women. It is not reinforced for men. I think I’ve apologized for myself more in the last 10 years than I did in the previous decades. I have to say to myself often, “You know Paula you don’t have to apologize for being right.”

There are plenty of things I say on both sides to men and women that will narrow the gap that exists with patriarchal leadership.

Toxic Theology and Trauma

Toxic theology is a theology that is confident in itself. Scott Peck used to say that 99.9% of the evil done in the world is done by those who are convinced they are 100% right.” Take a look at the power that Evangelical Christianity has, in the United States today, or Fundamentalist Islam has in the Middle East. You have one particular religion, not just one religion, but one particular interpretation of one particular religion, that ends up having incredible political power and that becomes very, very toxic.

LGBTQ and Trauma

Unfortunately, we don’t realize, in America, that 52% of Christians are supportive of the LGBTQ community. Only 48% are not. It’s just that that 48% are the most vocal, that is evangelical Christians. The truth is 72% of Catholics believe that marriage equality is appropriate for the nation. 62% of Mainline Protestants believe that to be true. 51% of historically African American denominations believe it to be true. However, only 37% of Evangelicals believe that marriage equality should be the law of the land. Interestingly however, 51% of millennial Evangelicals believe that marriage equality should be the law of the land so we’re seeing a shift.

One thing I think that needs to be said about the over 590 anti-transgender laws that were proposed and over 80 signed into law, just in 2023. Who’s driving those laws? Most people assume it’s Republicans. It’s not. 61% of Republicans in one study and 62% in another study affirmed that transgender people should have the same civil rights as everybody else. So, who then is driving these laws? Granted it’s Republican legislators passing these laws, but who is pushing them to? It is quite specifically Evangelical Christians, 87% of whom believe gender is immutably determined at birth. 67% of them believe we already give transgender people too many civil rights and yet only 31% of them know someone who is out as a transgender person.

So, it’s important to understand, that this is very specifically being driven by a small segment of the American population, Evangelical Christianity. But they have placed themselves in positions of power and that is hurting the freedoms of the rest of them.

Advocating for Abuse Survivors

I think the best way to advocate for an abuse survivor who’s coming from the LGBTQ+ environment is to fully embrace them and make as few references to their LGBTQ status as possible. Most of us don’t want to talk about the fact. We want to be known for all the other things we do. If you note when I talked about who I am and what I do I did not say that I am an advocate for the LGBTQ Community because that is not a primary goal or purpose of mine. I certainly am in a position to be able to do much for that community and I’m happy to do so. But I appreciate that in most of the worlds I inhabit, I’m just Paula!

I ran for public office, here in the town in which I live in Colorado. Now I serve on the town board and our mayor was talking, not long ago, about hoping that every one of us will run again next year and I said, “Well, I will but there’s no guarantee I’ll be elected. We are kind of a purple town and it’s a different world than it was last time around a lot of anti-transgender sentiment.” At which point, the mayor and three of our board members said, “Oh, that’s right, we always forget you’re transgender.”

That is what makes me comfortable. The church that I have been a part of for the last six years. It’s a church where it just never comes up who’s gay and who’s not—who’s trans—who’s not—who’s non-binary—who’s not. And that is how we want to be embraced just as a human where our sexual identity or gender identity is incidental.

Healing and Recovery

I think there are only two things that will break down the barriers that exist in the United States and are widening here and in much of the world right now. There’s such polarization and I think there are only two things that will break it and that is proximity and narrative.

I coached a speaker at Ted Vancouver in 2022, who teaches at MIT in Princeton and taught a course this spring semester called Proximity and Narrative. It is concerned with breaking down the barriers. We are a story-based species. We don’t sleep without dreaming. We don’t dream about mathematical equations. We dream in stories, and I believe that it’s primarily through story that we will change the narrative.

How did marriage equality come about and how did it happen so quickly? I think we actually can thank television for that and scripted television at that. I believe it started with All in the Family. Move from there to the scripted Ellen show. From there to Will and Grace and from there to Modern Family. In each one of those, there was a progression until we get to Modern Family where the fact that one couple is gay is incidental to what’s happening in that family. That is, I think, the most effective way to do it because scripted shows draw you into the narrative.

A year ago, this month, I had the privilege to sit down with about 60 Hollywood writers and talk about how they might be able to do the same with transgender people. And, of course, what we said to them was just to have us as characters who just happen to be transgender. That is how I think we can electronically create narrative and proximity. Ultimately it won’t happen electronically. it will happen when we make sure we’re in the same room together and we can listen to each other’s stories.

Just a few months ago I was coaching and MCing for a large TEDx and was working with a Republican district attorney. When I began working with him, I was suspicious of him and I’m quite sure he was suspicious of me. But as we began to work together, we developed quite an affinity and a good friendship. I knew, on our dress rehearsal day when he introduced me to his two young children, that everything had changed for both of us. I did not see him as a right-wing Republican from one of the most conservative counties in the state of Colorado. I saw him as Mike, and he did not see me as a transgender woman, he saw me as his TED coach. That kind of proximity, I think, is how we can bring about healing.

A Message to Men

I think that the single most important thing that I would say to men is to assume a woman knows what she’s talking about and treat her accordingly. That is first and foremost. Second, stop interrupting us! Men interrupt women twice as often as they interrupt other men. Women interrupt women twice as often as they interrupt men. So, stop interrupting us!

Also, I know guys that you’re working hard. I worked hard to get my education. I worked hard to get to the top of my field. I worked hard. What I never understood was I began closer to the finish line than anyone else. So, you’re allowed to own how hard you’ve worked. Just recognize you began closer to the finish line than the rest of the world.

A Final Thought

I think David White’s poem, Sweet Darkness, is a good way to close.

When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone,
no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.

There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your home

The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.

You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.


The complete version of Paula’s talk is on YouTube! 

Paula Stone Williams is an internationally-known speaker on issues of gender equity, LGBTQ advocacy, and religious tolerance. She has been featured in TEDWomen, TEDSummit, the New York Times, Red Table Talk, TEDxMileHigh, the Washington Post, NPR, and other media outlets.
To see other speakers and a few extras, access the following link:
The videos below are from the conference held on December 9th. They are free to access, but please consider donating to help offset expenses using the scan below.

If you share the videos, please use this page to share as it contains pointers to resources, etc.

As A Woman with Paula Stone Williams
About Karl Forehand
Karl Forehand is a former pastor, podcaster, and award-winning author. His books include Out into the Desert, Leaning Forward,  Apparent Faith: What Fatherhood Taught Me About the Father’s Heart, The Tea Shop and Being: A Journey Toward Presence and Authenticity.  He is the creator of The Desert Sanctuary podcast and community.  He is married to his wife Laura of 35 years and has one dog named Winston.  His three children are grown and are beginning to multiply! You can read more about the author here.

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