By Mark McNease
Wonderful connections are often made out of the blue. I recently had another of those serendipitous moments when I corresponded with Grace Anne Stevens, author, educator, Huffington Post blogger, mover and motivator. Grace’s most recent book, No! Maybe? Yes! Living My Truth provides more than a memoir – it gives readers a first-hand tour of change, renewal and authenticity. Following are Grace’s in-depth answers to ‘6 Questions,’ answers I think you’ll find as educational and informative as they are encouraging for anyone wanting to live their truth. – Mark McNease/Editor
MM: It was so nice to connect with you. Let’s start with your book, No! Maybe? Yes! Living My Truth. What was the genesis for this book, and what can readers expect to find in its pages?
GS: Thanks so much, Mark. It is such a great pleasure to connect also, and thanks for all of these great questions.
My book was birthed as a result of a few independent paths/forces coming to a point of intersection in the spring of 2014. First, when I came out to my adult children as being transgender in 2009 (well before I knew I was going to transition) my youngest – who was totally accepting, kept encouraging me to write a book. Although even back then, there was just the beginnings of the “tell your story” movement in the trans community, I thought that the world really did not need another trans memoir. A few months after I came out, my youngest son called me and shared that he did not think he was living his own truth and at only 26 may not be on his true path. I share more about this in NMYLMT. It made me realize that not following one’s true life is not just an issue for trans or LGB people, but is far more reaching. This planted a seed in my mind, as to how I may be able to help or encourage people to learn it is ok to live their true life, before they get “stuck” in a life that does not allow them to be the best person they really are. I had no plan, or way to do this, but the seed was planted.
After I transitioned, I started to take some improvisation classes, as I thought that this would help me find Grace’s “voice.” It was difficult at first but over time, I learned to let some of what was in me flow freely. Once I did a monologue about a young girl being born and realizing something was wrong….when it was announced “it’s a boy!” This improv rocked me, and a few days later, “she” was still with me and “forced” me to write the story down as a blog – something I had not really done before. I shared this with some people and continued to share it over time. (This has actually become the first chapter in my book.) Late in 2013 I had lunch with a new friend (a therapist colleague) and I read her the story. Her response was strong and immediate! She wanted to hear more. She wanted to know what happened next. Of course, I responded with the immediate NO! She would not accept that from me, and something in me really needed that encouragement.
I wondered if there was more to the story. I wondered if I cold tell the story in a way that is much more than just a trans memoir? Could I teach, could I encourage others to follow their own true paths? Could I tell a story in a way to allow people to enter the framework with their very own story and help them change their own lives? I have received a good deal of feedback that this has been the experience for many readers. For those who are trans, they have said I have articulated the inner feelings that had never been able to put in words. For non- trans people they have said that they too are encouraged to live some parts of their lives that they have hidden and held back from others.
In the spring of 2014 I sat down and in about 6 weeks, I had about 50,000 words and this book. I am not really sure how this happened.
The question as to what readers can expect from my book is very interesting to me. When I told people I was writing a book I was always asked what genre it would be in? I always struggled with this question. I think for some people, this is a trans memoir; for some it may be a self-help book; but to me, I think of it more as a love story – how I learned to love myself. My hope is that each person who reads it may just get at least one thing that they need, at this moment in time.
MM: You write and present about living authentically. What does that mean for Grace, and how would you encourage others toward a life of authenticity?
GS: What I have learned on my life’s journey is how we, as human beings are challenged in how to keep a balance between our uniqueness and differentiation to be ourselves, and our human need for connection and belonging. I call this the balancing act of Being Me:Being We.
How often do we compromise ourselves? Who we truly are in order to keep our relationships? We are in fear of loss and disconnection and will give up our own authenticity. We may feel trapped, and yet we do it. Until a point that we can no longer do this, and the relationships may blow up without any understanding of the root cause.
My sense is that we really do not learn that relationships need to allow people to follow their own truths and we need to accept them for who they are, not who we want them to be.
I know that I was lucky, in that when I transitioned I really did not lose my family. I know many people do. My choice to live my truth has inspired each of my kids to feel better about living their own truths too.
The fear of disconnection looms large and for many the disconnection occurs. I feel there is so much to teach the world about relationships.
MM: You transitioned your gender at 64. What led to that, and were there any additional obstacles or challenges for you at that time of life?
GS: There have been so many changes in my life as I entered my 60s. When I went back to school at age 58 I had no idea, or plan that I would complete it and actually earn a MA in Counseling Psychology. I was a Type A engineering manager who may not have been the greatest listener. It was a pretty big stretch to learn that counselors do not fix people, and that I just might have the internal resources to let go of “control” and listen and be supportive to others. I joke that I do not know if learning these skills or switching my hormones from testosterone to estrogen had the bigger impact on how I deal with people.
I think that many of my new challenges are about accepting that I am discovering who I am and be willing to reinvent myself on a daily basis. I can let go of letting my history as an engineer or as a therapist define me. Today I am a writer and a speaker. I have no idea what tomorrow may have in store for me, but I look forward to the adventure.
MM: Quite a CV you have! 40 years in high tech, with Director and VP positions, returning to school at 58 and getting your MA in counseling at 62. Bravo! Most of our readers are in that age range. Tell us some about your journey, and if you have any specific advice for people who think they can’t keep pursuing their goals as they get older.
GS: Age is a funny thing. When I worked in a substance abuse clinic I facilitated groups for First Offender Drunk Drivers. There would be people of all ages in these groups. I had groups with teenagers and septuagenarians in them. I think there are few opportunities where people of these varied ages are brought together – and I was lucky enough to get them for 2 hours once a week for 16 weeks. One thing in common across all the ages was a belief that they were stuck where they were and could not accomplish something new. There were teens that had dreams and thought they could not go to college. There were young adults at age 30 who thought there life passed them by and they could not go back to college. There were people my age and older who felt hopeless.
I used myself as an example that it is never too late to both follow your dreams and even create new dreams. I have learned from my own personal work that the universe rewards action. We each have a choice in each moment to take action, or allow ourselves to be a victim of our circumstance. It is hard enough to keep our bodies in good condition as we age, and we all know that physical exercise is the way to deal with that. I encourage everyone that we also need to prevent our minds and our dreams from atrophying. Taking action is the exercise for this. We get to take action in each and every present moment! It does not even matter if we achieve our dreams as I am a firm believer that the journey is truly the destination.
MM: Relationships: you do public speaking on this. What are some of the things you tell listeners, and can you expound on the meaning of relationships in the work you do?
GS: When I ask people about their relationships they will often forget to mention the relationship they have with themselves. Following up on what I said earlier, the struggle of Being ME: Being WE may be well what keeps most therapists in business.
Our cultures reinforce the ways we are supposed to be; supposed to grow up, get married, raise a family. Our cultures seem to have little tolerance to variations from the norms. We learn at a young age both explicitly and implicitly to hide parts of ourselves so that we will not be shunned, disconnected, or even excommunicated. We learn to live in fear. In fear of who we truly are and the cost is the relationship wit ourselves.
Here is a slide that talks about the fear…
I am presently focusing my speaking on the idea that unless you have a solid internal relationship, it will negatively impact your performance in all aspects of your life. If you are hiding, or holding back some of who you truly are, it is always interesting to see the impact that has on how you relate to others. Here is a quote from my book on this point:
I have learned that Truth is not competitive.
Our acceptance of others for whom they are can create a better and stronger attachment and belonging than ever existed before.
Accepting our own truth builds the nursery where love can grow.
It is only when we have a loving relationship with ourselves, we can then have enough love to share and give to others. After all, we cannot give away what we don’t have.
MM: Lastly, you do Gender Variance Education. What are some key points you touch on when you’re doing this work, and what are some of the most common points of education you find people need and benefit from?
GS: The cognitive/factual pieces on gender variance are pretty straightforward. I have learned to pretty much sum it up in 1-2 slides. Here is one of them:
This is important, however the bulk of the time I spend in trainings is working with groups on the emotional/feelings level. This means I try to provide a comfortable setting where they can understand the feelings of what trans people have dealt with all of their lives. What it must be like in living with confusion, shame, and fear. When I am successful people can have empathy for the experience of others. I also will help facilitate the feelings of the people present in what the news of a coworker or someone they know transitioning brings up in them. My being trans, and willing to be vulnerable in these setting is usually helpful in allowing people to risk being vulnerable with their own feelings. This is when the true teaching and learning moments can occur. Having experience in facilitating groups in discussing emotional issue has also been important in the manner that I teach groups about this often challenging subject.
There are so many different ways people respond to this. One of the important although perhaps unmeasurable pieces is that I with my varied experience as a transgender woman appear in front of them as not only knowledgeable, but as a person who is happy in her own skin, with nothing to hide. I think that this also makes a big difference.
One of my own learning’s as a therapist is that part of what we do is to be a “hope merchant.” I always try to keep this in mind as I appear before people.
Thanks for this opportunity to share much of myself with this group.
Also, fyi, my next book, Musings On Living Authentically, which is a compilation of my HP blogs from 2015 with some extras, will be available late in the spring. I am also presently working on a children’s book called The Alphabet of Self, which will introduce the Internal Family Systems (IFS) model to children of all ages, and teach how to speak for our feelings rather than get overwhelmed by them. I hope to have this out by the end of the year. The adventure continues.
Grace Stevens is an inspirational and motivational speaker specializing on intra and interpersonal relationships to improve individual and group performance in all aspects of people’s lives.
With her careers in corporate technical management, individual and group counseling, author and speaker, Grace has made a difference to people world wide.
Grace’s skill of simplifying psychological concepts mixed with sharing personal stories provides a unique and lasting experience for her audience.