Reverend Paula Williams has known for almost her entire life that she was a woman.
For awhile she believed a "gender fairy" would come and change how the world saw her from boy, to girl. But the fairy never came, and Williams hunkered down in the lie.
When she did come out as a transgender woman, Williams lost her job, her TV show and her megachurch preaching gigs, not to mention friends and even some family.
But Williams has remade herself as a LGBTQ consultant for churches and an advocate for gender equity. A TEDx Mile High talk last year that went viral elevated her platform, and she now tours the world giving speeches and is even in the preliminary stages of having a movie made about her.
Having moved through the world presenting as both a man and a woman, Williams has a unique perspective on gender inequity.
"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 that’s all he’s ever known and all he ever will know," Williams said. "And conversely there's no way a woman can understand the full import of that because being a female is all she’s ever known. Well I’ve had the unique experience of living both ways, and the differences are massive."
Williams has been more aware of issues that affect all women — such as the pay gap and harassment — through her personal experiences in the workplace and in public spaces.
"I notice I am constantly having to prove myself all over again," Williams said.
Last month, Williams and her son, Jonathan, collaborated on another TED talk at TED Women. The speech will be posted online on Jan. 7, 2019. Her son is also a pastor, and removed himself from Williams' life for six months after she came out. Now Jonathan also works to make faith communities more LGBT-inclusive, and has written the book, "She's My Dad: A Father’s Transition and a Son’s Redemption."
"One of the things I discovered was that there’s no way a transgender person can understand the impact it’s going to have on their family. They will underestimate the impact because families try to be very gendered," Williams said.
At one point during their joint talk, Jonathan asks, "Had my father ever really existed?" He goes on to conclude that those memories are real and authentic. Williams herself is still working on connecting the distinct eras of her life.
"I must admit, trying to maintain the continuity between my life as Paul and my life as Paula is difficult," Williams said. "There’s still an integration piece for me, and I can only speak for myself, not any other transgender person, particularly as it relates to the parenting experience. My kids still call me dad. It does feel like two separate chapters."