If you’re a person who frequents social media, no doubt you would have heard of Paul Wolscht, the 52 year-old transgender man who left his wife and children to live as a seven year-old girl.
And no doubt you have read the story with a mixture of shock, horror, disgust, sadness and disbelief, as I have.
This isn’t a story that sits comfortably with me. The idea that a grown man would leave his wife and—more so—his children to live with another family and have make-believe tea parties with his adopted mummy and daddy. I cannot even imagine the issues his children will have and the way their lives will suffer at the loss of their father under such bizarre circumstances.
For days now, I’ve sat back and watched people post the link to the story and with it, attach their comments of judgement, condemnation and hate for this man, and have felt mixed emotions over the whole situation. But today I found myself in a heated discussion with others who judged this man not just on his choices, but also on the abandonment of his children.
And I understand, I really do. I have lived without a father and I know firsthand the wounds that have been inflicted on me because of that; not only on the child-me but also on the adult-me who still suffers feelings of rejection and abandonment amongst other things.
But today, I felt the need to defend the underdog. Because how can I sit back and judge another person for leaving his children when there was a time some years ago that I nearly left mine?
This was during a time in my life when I was spinning out of control. When the past I had been so fiercely running from collided into my present, and I self-combusted. I made bad choices. I hurt people I loved. I had no idea who I was or what I wanted. I just knew I had to get away from the pain at whatever cost. I spiralled downward through my journey of self-destruction and everything in me believed I was not fit to be a mother. I honestly believed my children would have a better future if I wasn’t there to mess them up with my own issues. I looked at my husband and the amazing father skills he has that I was in awe of, and felt unworthy and unable to measure up to that. I believed the biggest sacrifice I could make for my children was to leave and not give them the dysfunctional upbringing I’d had. And so I walked out the door with the belief that I was actually doing the best thing for my children.
Obviously I came back. I wasn’t gone for long before I knew I couldn’t live without them—and I got my life together for their sake.
But during that time of complete unravelling, if I had left for good, would anyone have believed I was anything other than selfish? Would anyone have searched deeper to seek out my suffering, my heart, and to realise that as screwed up as it may have been, I truly believed I was doing for my children what I thought they needed most—giving them the life I didn’t believe they would have if I were to stay with them?
And so the more I have thought about Paul Wolscht, the more I have realized how easily we judge. How good does it feel to read a trashy news article and embrace our righteous opinion based on our own moral compass? We judge based on whether we agree with a person’s choices or not. We judge based on not knowing anything about them, or their life, or their past, or their story.
But Paul Wolscht is just an example of what we humans love to do. We love to jump into a person’s story at any random chapter and think we have the right to judge the entire story. When the thing is, we don’t even know the story. We have not walked with that person from beginning to end, and so it can’t be our place to pretend we know what even drives their choices, let alone pour our condemnation upon them.
If you met me today, you would probably think I was a person who had it together. You may even want to be my friend. Unless you had read my earlier blogs and knew what a screw-up I actually was, and then I wouldn’t judge you for walking away.
But if you’d met me during my darkest hour, how would you have judged me? Would you have seen my self-destruction as the symptom of a deeper pain and as someone in need of love, or would you have condemned me based on what you saw before you’d even taken the time to get to know my story?
It is never our place to cling tight to our moral compass and use it as the standard by which we treat others. It is never our place to form an opinion of a story based on the random chapter we have opened to. And it is never our place to judge another person when we do not understand their past, their pain, and why they make the choices they do.
No, we must not condone actions that are harmful or hurtful. However, we must be humble enough to dismiss our own egos and trade our self-righteousness for empathy. We must see beyond action and instead search for reason. We must learn the entire story before we can understand. And only when we understand, can we begin to help.
Mercy triumphs over judgement. These words were spoken by the One who sees our entire story. May we, too, seek out each other’s stories and lay our judgement down for the sake of mercy.
Because only then, will we begin to heal a broken world.
Author: Kathy Parker
Editor: Caitlin Oriel