Intentional Storytelling - Paige Krystal Wilcox

This is a transcript of the episode. The full episode can be heard here.


I would like to show my respect and acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands, on which these recordings take place. I would like to respectfully acknowledge the Wangal people who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which I live and work.


Hi, I'm Prema, the host of this podcast - What Can We Do?

I started this podcast in 2019 because I was feeling overwhelmed and anxious

about issues affecting communities. There's so much going on in this world.

So much to address, so much to fix. Where’s the best place to start?


In each episode, I speak to someone or an organisation that's making impact. You will learn about the issue, why it exists the challenges, but most importantly how you can be a part of the solution. My hope is that you can take away two to three tips each episode that will support you in your helping journey.



Today I have with me Paige Wilcox.


My name is Paige Krystal Wilcox. I am in Brisbane on the country of the Yuggera and Turrbal people. I am an author, public speaker, corporate trainer, and also a student coordinator for medical students. I have primarily focused on writing books with an intentional storytelling style, which is stories that convey a specific moral lesson or belief. So it just goes beyond entertainment. And I also do a little bit of training on the side of teaching people how to use this, as well as connecting other authors, helping them to write diversity better. I guess it's appropriate, always appropriate to say that I'm a woman who was assigned male at birth. So about 20 years ago, I went through a gender transition. And that has also been another, very big part of my life.


So I guess what I want to talk about today was that you practice taking kind of power and agency over your personal story. And you do this so that you can control

the narrative and control misinformation. How did you get started?


Well, I learnt storytelling as a child, so that that was a big part of my upbringing. I was raised in a few different churches, and Bible stories were a big part of my life. But what I found as an adult was, especially with regards to parts of myself, like my gender identity,

where people didn't really understand all that well about my situation. I would get a lot of consequences for people who told my story, so they would give out my personal information without any involvement of me. And that would often actually just come back around on me.

So, you know, a stranger would come up to me and say, I heard this thing about you, and it was usually in words that I would never have used about myself. That got really difficult. And it was just all sorts of situations that even happened at work. And I thought, well, you know, I have this power in storytelling.

Having been exposed to stories my whole life and understanding a way of using storytelling that my family's religion used. Because they used they used storytelling to pass on specific morals, lessons and beliefs. I can use that same concept to help other people understand me. Blogs and videos at first and fleshed them out into fuller stories,

really thinking about the specific common things that people tended to misunderstand

about me and my experience.


When you started it to craft this story that you wanted to tell did you have to kind of sit down there and think, what are all the things people usually say and what is my message or my story to counter that?


Definitely. Definitely. So I call this form of storytelling intentional storytelling. And I firmly believe in being intentional about every single sentence and that's not for everyone. But specifically, it worked really well for me because I'm a spreadsheet person. I'm a structure person. All of my writing follows different writing structures. As an example, with my first attempt at memoir writing, I did it first as a blog, and I was 33 at the time. So I sat down and I plotted out 33 times in my life that I felt were a pivot point. There was something that happened around that time that sort of gently guided me

in a specific direction.

Once I had really those 33 events, each of those became a chapter, and I worked very hard at working out in each one, okay what in this is something that other people might know already. What have I seen out there along these lines that I have felt misrepresented by? And I actively included details that I thought would be helpful

for giving the information to people who I felt needed it, but also countering what I felt was misinformation that was out there at the moment.


Maybe we can take a few steps back because you referenced a book. Could you give us

a bit of a context of that so - that you've published some books? What the titles of those books are?


There's two different types of books that I've published so far. One is a science fiction

novel, and that that is still the intentional style, because I was trying to counter a lot of different tropes in in the science fiction genre.

I'll focus on the memoirs. So I did a five book series called the memorable series or memoir-able series, depending on how you want to pronounce it. So that the first three Outer Shell, Inner Demons and Synthesis. I wrote those three books at the same time

to either be read one after the other or spliced together for a different experience. So

it was kind of inspired by Choose Your Own Adventure. It was a very fun experience in some ways. Also very, very therapeutic and very painful as well, because to write in detail about anything that's true, you really have to confront everything.

You can't just write in detail about experiences you've had and not kind of be back there.

I don't necessarily see stuff when I write, but I definitely feel it in the times in the in the many times. And I wrote about a lot of traumatic experiences. But it still wasn't quite as bad as being there in the moment. And I do think it was helpful in getting me towards

a place in my life where I could actually accept stuff that had happened and move forward and not just be stuck reacting


There's so much to unpack. There's the point in life where we realise , hold on

where are our stories? There's the second point in life, there's a second point where you go, maybe I can tell this story , but do I? For me, at least, I always feel like am I allowed to tell the story? Like, you don't know, because you come with it with so much fear and this degree of imposter syndrome, like someone's going to pick at it, someone's going to say, actually, you actually don't know what you're talking about.

Could you describe what it was like before you started telling stories? I mean, as in was it frustration? Was it sort of a constant searching?


Frustration was there and hurt. A lot of the difficulty I faced, I felt, was because people didn't understand me and that representations in media of people like me, there there were absolutely none that were accurate to my own experience. They were predominantly negative, and I did feel that the way people reacted to me when they found out about my identity and the way they engaged with me, I felt was very much informed by exposure to that media.

So it was transgender people as like a horror, shock, disgust, punch line of oh you just found out that you got with a trans person. And to see myself reflected in that as if people find out who I am, they are disgusted or to be with me is like a thing of shame. I couldn't help but carry that around. As well as people coming into an interaction with me with that, I was also coming into the interaction with that.

So it was it every interaction is two sided and we can only ever know what the other

person wants us to or lets us know. We can never fully understand someone else's perspective.

But because I was so hurt and I felt so much like everybody just had a negative view of me, and that's really the only way to be loved or accepted really was to keep to keep that part of myself private and secret. That really made it difficult for me to open up to people. I was really quite closed off, but also immediately defensive. So it created this unsolvable thing for a while where this dynamic where I wanted people to understand

me, but I didn't want to open up. And because I didn't want to or couldn't

open up, people couldn't understand me, and I was kind of the only person

in a position to address that.

But emotionally, I couldn't. I was just I was traveling around with so much pain

and anticipating just more pain. So it was...


It's like a cycle


Yeah it kept feeding itself.


Was there a flick of a switch moment? Because you mentioned you started blogging first. So what was that sort of almost switch or transition where you went, you know

what, I'm just going to do this.


As with most things in life, I'd love it to be black and white and simple, but it's more complicated than that.

So the first thing first major thing was someone put my personal information on Twitter

and it was in words that I would not have used. It painted me as like someone who was shameful and deceitful, and that really hurt. It was in that experience, I'm like, you know what? I shouldn't have to be ashamed of myself, I shouldn't. It should not be a thing

that if someone puts this on Twitter, it's an issue.

But at the moment, it is because people see it as a negative thing. You know, so many people would be like, oh, I can't believe she's like that. And just, oh, it frustrates me so much, even just thinking back back to that. And I'm like, OK, so what I need to do is

I need to address that. And a way to address that is through storytelling.

I've always very much strongly connected with stories. I will put some information out there about myself and be shameless for want of a better word. I don't know if shameless is the right word.

It's kind of got negative connotations.




Unapologetic and unashamed, perhaps,

And through that, perhaps for future people, maybe they won't be in that situation

where if someone discloses their gender on social media, it will be a negative thing.

But something to keep in mind in that situation was that I was still carrying around

all that pain and I had that additional hurt of that situation, of my trust being broken

and having that information put out there in a way that I didn't want when I didn't want it. Just being very, very negative and what that meant was that I still didn't really open up,

There was a bit of anger that was informing my approach, and I was trying to assert that

people should just respect who I am. Without having any information.

It's a bit difficult to talk about this because I think I could be easily misinterpreted as saying that people need to explain their story and their experience, which I'm definitely not saying. What I'm saying is that people cannot understand if they're not given

the adequate information, and that's where we I think in a very tricky time in history.

Yes, there are people who don't want to learn. But there are people who do want to learn, but they don't know how to get that information. And unfortunately, a lot of people with lived experience are feeling pressured to do that emotional labour.

And that's where I feel that storytelling is so important, because you can have a story where it it puts different people in in a situation where someone who doesn't have that lived experience can learn about it.

And the person with that lived experience doesn't have to keep going through that emotional labour of educating the world about what their challenges are. Not even just their challenges, but what are their hopes and dreams. Because I certainly felt like I couldn't have hopes and dreams. I'm writing a romantic comedy at the moment for that reason, because I'm like, you know what? I just of a character like me who's

a central character in a romantic comedy. Yeah. As unrealistic as romantic comedies are.


If we don't give context, how do we allow people to understand? I know that sometimes when I've gone into a situation with low understanding, what happens is then

you don't even ask questions because you're so scared to say the wrong thing. But if there's a bit more information to work off, then you kind of know how to navigate that space. That being said, though, I think everybody needs to make an effort to learn more about someone else's experience.

Sometimes it's frustrating to think that so many years in, we're still at that stage where we're talking about the pain of the community or the calling everyone remarkable human beings when they're just trying to, you know, live their life.


Just went on the bus.


(Laughs) Very brave! That sort of stuff.

When you started putting your stories out there, was that part of you that was like... Because I'm just thinking about this from my own. If I put my story out there,

even when I started doing this podcast, there was this little niggling fear

that someone's going to say something and there's just going to be feedback

that do I want to let that into my life? What was that like for you?


That that is a terrifying experience. I can tell you, because any sort, any sort of art that you create is a bit personal. But when it's your own personal story and it's about your intimate experiences of life. Negative feedback feels a lot less about the writing quality or the quality of the art and more like a personal attack on you and your existence,

and certainly when you have felt criticized or unwelcome as a human being your entire life. To separate that is near impossible.

And for me, I found that very difficult.

I'm glad I did everything that I did and wrote everything that I did.

But I did feel this pressure to include more of the traumatic stories. Partly to say, look, this is how difficult it is sometimes for people like me, but also an additional layer

or motivation was maybe the backlash won't be so bad if they see me as a bit of a victim

and take pity on me. And I hate that I felt like that I left out quite a few happy stories

because I thought, well, nobody cares about the happy stories. They're not going to learn from the happy stories, trudge through the really dark stuff to get anything out of it.

That very binary pressure of either you're a tragic story or an inspirational story.

What if we're just average? What if what if we're just having average experiences?


We've talked about those challenges and those road blocks right. And I'm sure they will be there. What was the positive response like?


I have been really touched by the positive responses I've received, or random emails and and messages that I've received of people who really connected with different parts of my story.

And in particular, people who've had very different lived experience to me, as in they're not trans or they don't live in Australia who are like, oh, we actually have shared a lot of experiences. Mine are for different reasons. But I have gone through some of those things that you went through and through reading about that they have felt less alone.

And I think in the past year that has been incredibly important for a lot of people, is that

knowing that there are other people who've gone through things that they have gone through to take away that feeling of isolation.

I grew up feeling very isolated and I feel so far from isolated now. And a big part of

that is through writing these stories.


If there are three things that your journey into taking control of your story has taught you what would they be?


First of all, it's important if I want someone to understand me. I need to have some understanding of them in order to reach them with my message to to help them understand. Because you can't use the same approach for everybody.

So number two would be that nobody has to listen to you. And that was a very difficult thing for me to learn, because just because you have a platform, just because you have something to say, that doesn't automatically think that that that doesn't automatically mean that people will listen and I felt quite hurt early on by feeling like I had these really important things to say and putting myself out there, being vulnerable, and then,

not having everyone listen. Having those people that are like "Yeah, no"

Third would have to be around healthy boundaries. Part of my books was to help me

with healthy boundaries because I wanted to keep helping. But it was so painful.

For a while, I was getting up on stages in front of live audiences, speaking a lot.

And that was painful for me every single time because everybody wanted to know

about the really painful stuff. There's an unlimited number of people who are happy

to have people speak for free on their lived experience. And plenty of people have made money out of that, too, which I find. .ugh.

It’s important to consider healthy boundaries for yourself.

So healthy boundaries, knowing your audience. And people don't have to listen.

I think those are three very important lessons that I've learned through all of this.


If there was someone that you met today who is at a stage in their life that you were 11 years ago and they wanted to get started, how should they get started? What would you tell them?


I would tell them, first of all, to find as much detail about what's out there

now before you get started. Because it's likely that other people have been doing similar work. So it's important to know what's out there before you start trying to create

anything new, but also. Seek out connections, seek out a mentor or a trainer, someone who has had similar experiences in the past, who can. Guide you through. Nobody has to be alone. There is somebody there...


Did you look for a mentor when you started? Was there someone who was easy to access?


No. And I had a much more difficult ride because I was so insistent on being independent, seeing the seeking of support as weakness, which was one of many unhealthy, dysfunctional beliefs I held. Seeking help does not mean you're weak.

It means that you see how to stay stronger for longer.


I think this ties into the thing about- somehow when you feel different

and you think you want to do something that makes you stand out,

you feel like you have to be remarkable or super fantastic and you cannot show any sign of not knowing.

Is writing necessary for telling that story, for telling a story?


I think all humans are, in a way, storytellers. Conversation is storytelling, and different people have very different abilities when it comes to even conversation. I do believe that everyone can tell their story if they want to. Some people just will need up a little bit

more guidance in in how to do that. And books are not the only way. There are so many different mediums.

I'm not all that familiar with Tik Tok. I am happily old. That is just another form of storytelling. You know, it's it's getting an idea out there. Ted talks.


If you wanted someone to take away one thing from this interview, what would that be?


If you see yourself reflected in any form of media and you feel misrepresented, tell someone. Do not keep that in. Tell someone. Hopefully, you can tell a lot of people and eventually those people will start talking about it with other people, and maybe one of those people will actually be in a position to help you address it. As in if it lands on the right ears or if you get enough groundswell...


You might find out other people feel the same way.


Absolutely. Yeah. You may find out that you're not the only person who feels like this,

that nobody's been talking about it. You can also be very intentional about who you tell about it as well. I have found various social media platforms very good for connecting

with people like yourself who are a good person to connect with over that specific thing.


And what's what's coming up for you? I know you said you're working on a romantic novel.


I am working on a webinar at the moment, an intentional storytelling webinar that will be freely available for people that access. Just an hour. And it will take the participants

through my process that I use from beginning to end. So from that idea to that finished story, using a specific example of my fifth memoir, The Book That Lives and Bleeds

which was aimed at addressing a problem with the medical field.


How can people keep up with your work or get in touch with you?


Best place is just to head to my website,

I keep that updated fairly regularly, including the way my availability

for being contacted changes.


And do you actually mentor people?


I have in the past. At the moment I'm taking a break from that because I don't have

the capacity for it. I am working hard on maintaining my mental health.

But that may change again in the future.


All right. Well, thank you.

Thank you for sharing your story about sharing stories.

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