She’s My Dad (Book Review)

I have to be honest: when the invitation to read this e-galley popped up in my inbox, my very first reaction was that I wasn’t interested. Why? For the boring reason that I don’t know anyone who has transitioned gender, so I didn’t think it was something I needed to read.

My next thoughts countered my initial reaction: I needed to become a more diverse reader. I needed to read more books that were completely outside of my personal experience and outside of my comfort zone. I needed books that challenged my pre-conceived ideas, my natural aversions to certain subjects, my tendency to read about subjects I felt familiar with. So I accepted the invitation to read She’s My Dad: A Father’s Transition and a Son’s Redemption by Jonathan Williams with Paula Stone Williams.

Right away, I realized I did have something in common with the author and his father. They came from an Evangelical, non-denominational church culture that took the Bible as objective truth and considered it the Word of God. This was the culture I was steeped in my whole life until just a few years ago.

This culture said they loved the LGBTQIA community, but because of a handful of Biblical passages, considered the queer lifestyle sinful and wouldn’t allow anyone in the LGBTQIA community to join the church, serve in the church, be baptized, etc. Does that sound like love to you? Nope, I didn’t think so.

This story is centered around an Evangelical thirty-something pastor, Jonathan, and his dad, Paul (also a pastor). Paul comes out to his family and tells them he’s a woman. He changes his name to Paula, begins hormone therapy, and begins to act and dress as a woman: hair, makeup, clothing, etc. He loses his job as a pastor and has to start his life over.

Although the book is interspersed with a few chapters from Paula’s perspective, it is mainly about how Jonathan, as a son, deals with his father’s gender transition, both internally and externally.

He has to grapple with the grief, anger, denial, and the decision whether or not to accept his father as woman. He has to deal with the effects of the rejection his father experiences once his transition becomes public. He has to decide what to do about the church network he’s a part of that does not welcome gay or transgender people. He has to look at the Bible in new ways and think long and hard about theology that he has always believed to be true.

As so often happens when I read or listen to the story of the “other”, someone who seems so different from me, I discovered common ground. In addition to growing up in a similar church culture, I also experienced rejection from the church as a result of my decision to divorce. Whether it was letters and “return to God” messages or the “Great Silence” that accompanied disapproval, disappointment, and an ineptitude for dealing with someone who stepped out of the box, I experienced rejection as well, although on a much less dramatic level than Paula and Jonathan.

I am glad my better nature won the day I was deciding whether to read this book. It has been helpful for me to learn about gender transition and to think about how much of the Christian church has failed to show love, humility, and grace to those it doesn’t have a doctrinal box for. And how parts of the church are showing up and just loving people no matter what. I’m grateful that Jonathan shared the journey of how he dealt with his dad’s transition. If you are interested in transgender issues in the Evangelical church, I recommend She’s My Dad by Jonathan Williams.

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