She’s My Dad: A Father’s Transition and a Son’s Redemption
Author: Jonathan S. Williams (With Paula Stone Williams)
Published: November 8, 2018
Reviewed By: Jessica
Dates Read: February 10-17, 2019
Jessica’s Rating: 4 stars
Jonathan S. Williams was three months into pastoring a new, evangelical church plant when his father confessed a secret: he was transgender. His father, Paul, a prominent evangelical pastor, soon became Paula, and Jonathan’s life and ministry went into a tailspin. Feeling betrayed by his mentor and confidante and scared that his church would lose funding and support if Paula’s secret was exposed, Jonathan sunk into depression and alcoholism.
She’s My Dad explores Jonathan’s long and winding journey toward reconciliation, forgiveness, and acceptance of his father as well as his church’s journey to become one of the few fully LGBTQ-inclusive, evangelical churches in America. Jonathan and Paula offer insight and encouragement for those with transgender family members, empathizing with the feelings of loss and trauma and understanding that even being LGBTQ-affirming doesn’t mean the transition of a family member will be easy. Jonathan writes of his family’s continuing evolution, the meaning of remaining loyal to one’s father even when she is no longer a man, the ongoing theological evolution surrounding transgender rights and advocacy in the church, and the unflinching self-scrutiny of a pastor who lost his God only to find God again in his father’s transition.
These are the words that no one expects to hear from a loved one, let alone from a parent to an adult child: “I am transgender”.
She’s my Dad is the memoir of Jonathan S. Williams, whose father Paul ‘came out’ and confessed that secret to his family. She’s my Dad is Jonathan’s story of his shock, dealing with or the lack thereof the situation, and eventual acceptance of Paul becoming Paula. A confession such as this would be a shock in the first place, but what made Paul’s more complicated was both Jonathan and Paul’s occupation: evangelical pastors. Jonathan had also just started a new church plant a few months before Paul’s confession.
When we read transgender stories, we don’t tend to receive a family member’s perspective, just the one undergoing the transition. But it is not just the trans person that goes through transition: it is the whole family as they all have to go through countless changes. Jonathan and Paul’s story is compounded because of their occupations as they have to deal with many more consequences of this confession so Paula can be her true self. Every transition story will be different and important.
Most of the memoir discussed the church. For me, this seemed to drag on for a too long and I found myself skimming over the church mentions. Williams may have been trying to show how much Paula’s transition would affect everyone involved, but so much of it seemed like he was repeating himself. Williams had a very difficult time accepting his father becoming Paula and lamented to an extreme which included drinking. Unlike what many believe, pastors are human and are not perfect.
I did like that we got to also hear from Paula in some chapters in sections called “Paula Responds”. This way we get both sides of the story.
All a person who is undergoing transition wants is acceptance from themselves, their family, and even the church. Hopefully the church can be accepting to those who are transgender: They are people just like us. Think about it: If an evangelical pastor can eventually accept his father for who she actually is, maybe we all can.
She’s my Dad is recommended. I received a copy from Westminster John Knox Press via NetGalley. Thank you for my copy!