Saturday 6 July 2013

Interview with Paula Nielsen

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Sister Paula Nielsen with whom I would like to discuss the role of religion in the life of the transgender community. Paula is also known as America's foremost transgendered evangelist. She was born in Portland, Oregon. In the 1980s, she performed a regular nightclub act at the legendary drag club, Darcelle XV in downtown Portland.
After starting her career as "the world's first trans-evangelist", Paula was invited to a series of television shows including the Joan Rivers Show, The Daily Show with Craig Kilborn, and Saturday Night Clive for the BBC. Her Sister Paula Show was also seen on cable access stations in Seattle and Los Angeles. She is the author of The Trans-Evangelist: The Life and Times of A Transgender Pentecostal Preacher (2012). Hello Paula!
Paula: Hello Monika!
Monika: You have just published your autobiography titled “The Trans Evangelist”. How would you recommend the book to the readers of this interview?
Paula: It is a chronicle of seven decades. The 1940's through the 2lst Century. What it was like to grow up trans in the 1940s and 1950s when the word trans was unheard of. It has a history of religious movements and the changing explosive times throughout the decades.
Transitioning my identity to Paula in 1963 was much different than it is today. I am hoping that future generations of trans youth will appreciate what trans pioneers went through to pave the path for them.
Monika: You have been having quite a colorful life…
Paula: You've got that right. In my book, I tell of my sins and mistakes, right along with the spiritual victories and accomplishments. I prove that one can be an entertainer and a preacher as well.

Monika: You became a born-again Christian when you were 12. How has your faith been evolving since then?
Paula: My entire life experience hearkens back to that day in 1950 when I accepted Christ as my personal Saviour and Jesus became my best friend. Along with my born-again experience came the call to do the work of an evangelist. God, who knew that an innately effeminate boy would transition to living as a woman 13 years later, accepted me exactly as I am.
Monika: Why is God so merciless towards transgender people, placing their minds in the opposite gender bodies?
Paula: My knee-jerk reaction to this question is -- I don't know. I do not have all of the answers and I am afraid of folk who do. In this finite capacity, we "know in part" and "see through a glass darkly".
I do not believe that God is merciless. When I cross over into the realm of the Infinite, I will ask God why I was born a transsexual. Until then, I have total faith in a loving and merciful God who makes no mistakes.

The book is available on Amazon.

Monika: In one of my previous interviews, Lisa Salazar indicated that transgender persons are said to be some of the least likely to become involved in religious institutions (like church) since most have been rejected and judged by their Christian families, friends, and faith communities. Would you disagree?
Paula: I understand where Lisa is coming from -- however, I respectfully disagree. I am a part of transgender Christian groups on Facebook -- there always have been, and always will be, trans people involved in all churches, both clergy, and laity; whether they are open about it or not.
Speaking for myself, even though I may have been rejected in some religious circles, my friendship with Jesus who does accept me grows stronger than ever.
Monika: What is the general attitude of the Christian religion to the transgender phenomenon?
Paula: The Christian religion, as we know it today, is split between liberal and conservative theological viewpoints. Many do not understand transsexuality; on the other hand, many in Christian circles either accept it or are exploring the issue.
Monika: Is there any reference to transgenderism in the Bible?
Paula: Of course not -- they didn't know about transgenderism 2,000 to 4,000 years in the cultures when the scriptures were written. The Old Testament prophet Daniel predicts an explosion of knowledge in our dispensation -- that increase in knowledge would apply in the arena of human sexuality issues as well. In both the Old and New Testament, it is hinted at with eunuchs being accepted into the Church. Jesus mentions those who are born eunuchs.
Monika: How do you perceive the attitude of the administration of President Obama towards transgender Americans?
Paula: The attitude of the Obama administration is definitely a step forward in the right direction.
Monika: American politics is based on the interaction with different interest groups that wish to pursue their specific goals. How successful is the transgender community in this respect?
Paula: Slowly, progress is being made. Political activism is moving forward with unisex bathrooms -- and, most important. personal ID issues for trans people. The paradigm of male and female needs to be deleted. Trans people should have the gender they identify with on birth certificates, driver's licenses, and whatnot. 

Monika: The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBT communities? Being the last letter in this abbreviation, is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBT group?
Paula: Yes, definitely. "Trans" as an umbrella term, blankets the various labels. whether a person wants to be called transvestite, transsexual, transgender, or whatever. The acronym includes trans people as part of the community wherein oppressed minorities band together.
Monika: What is your general view on the present situation of transgender women in American society?
Paula: It is improving, and with enlightenment, it will continue to get better.
Monika: Do you think that in our lifetime we could live until the day when a transgender lady could become the US President?
Paula: No, not in our lifetime. In 2008 I said I will live to see Hillary Clinton become our first woman President, and I still feel that way. In future generations, as more and more minorities occupy the White House, a transgender lady could very well become President. 
Monika: At what age did you transition into a woman yourself? Was it a difficult process? Did you have any support from your family or friends? Did it have any impact on your job situation?
Paula: I was born in 1938 -- transitioned in 1963 at 25 years of age. (This year celebrating my 75th birthday and my 50th year living as Paula). At first, I had very little support from my family, although that is not the case today.
Surprisingly enough, I had more support when I transitioned in 1963 from straight friends than from gay and lesbian friends. Today, trans people transition while on a particular job. In 1963 that did not happen. One had to pass as a woman in order to hold down a job in that identity. 

Monika: At that time of your transition did you have any transgender role models that you could follow? What was your knowledge about transgenderism?
Paula: My role model was Christine Jorgensen. In 1952 when her story hit the news media, and I read her story in the newspaper, it was like I was reading about myself. At that time I knew nothing about transgenderism.
Monika: Throughout the 1960s, you were a patient of Harry Benjamin, MD. Dr. Benjamin has been long recognized as an expert on sexology and a leader in transsexual treatment. How do you recollect him?
Paula: Dr. Benjamin was a very caring and compassionate man.
Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Paula: That was not difficult for me. I first made my transsexuality public in 1976 when I became involved with Metropolitan Community Church in Portland.
Monika: Have you ever been married? Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Paula: I have never been married. As Sophie Tucker said in one of her nightclub routines -- "I'm a single bed one pillow mama". My love life is checkered throughout the years with unrequited love. I have been on both sides of the aisle, and have never enjoyed a two-sided romance.
When I see problems that married couples (gay, trans, or straight), I am glad I am single. I grew up with the idea that my "Prince charming" would come and sweep me off my feet, and that we would live "happily ever after". For me, that did not happen. 
Monika: Could you say that you are a happy woman now?
Paula: Oh yes -- very very definitely. I am who I am. I have made mistakes throughout my life journey, but transitioning to becoming Paula is not one of them.
Monika: Paula, thank you for the interview!

All the photos: courtesy of Paula Nielsen.
© 2013 - Monika Kowalska  

No comments:

Post a Comment

Search This Blog