A Stable Place in a Time of Transition: Steven Leigh Williams and Stacey Craig

April 23, 2015

This story is a part of the American Pilgrimage Project, a conversation series that invites Americans of diverse backgrounds to sit together and talk to each other one-to-one about the role their religious beliefs play at crucial moments in their lives.

“Every single human being is an expert in their own lives.” 

That insight isn't from William James, or Carl Jung, or Annie Lamott; it's from Steven Leigh Williams, who told his story to his fellow Unitarian Universalist church member Stacy Craig in an American Pilgrimage Project conversation in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 2015.

Williams is as expert in his own life as anybody could be. He first felt the call to the ministry at the age of twelve, shortly before he met Craig at church; but first, he had to deal with “the process of surviving [his] teenage years.” 

At the time, he was a young woman, and a seeker; as he tells the story, he is an adult man—a female-to-male transsexual—and a minister in the church. 

The difficulties Williams faced as a teen and afterward are sadly familiar: bullying, taunting, people yelling that they would “show [him] what a man really was.” 

But Williams's approach to those difficulties was far from typical. He sought, and found, sustenance in the faith community of the Unitarian Universalist church—a church long known for its progressive and open approach to religious doctrines and ways of life alike.

For this female-to-male transsexual, the church—a church, yes—was “the only consistent, stable place growing up,” as he dealt with experiences that were unexpected and unpredictable from day to day. 

Is Williams an expert in his own life? Is any of us? In one sense, we all are; and in another sense, we are all always gaining in expertise—for we are all always, in some ways, changing, even if in ways less dramatic than the changes Steven Leigh Williams faced.

The interview was recorded and produced by StoryCorps, a national nonprofit whose mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.

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