Pastor Paula Williams is the latest person to join Jada Pinkett Smith, Adrienne Banfield-Norris and Willow Smith at the table. On Monday's episode of Facebook Watch’s Red Table Talk, Williams opened up about risking it all — her family and faith — to live her truth as a woman.
"I knew that I was a girl when I was about 3 or 4 years of age," Williams said. "I fought it for decades. I had spent my life wanting to be a loving husband, a loving father and for a long time I thought I would make it through my life without transitioning."
Williams was married with three children when she transitioned from male to female in 2012. She was formerly known as Paul Williams, an evangelical pastor.
"I realized I no longer had a choice [but to transition]," Williams exclaimed. "I felt like I was dying inside. It was a feeling of desperation and deep sadness because I knew what it would do to my family."
Williams's three adult children, daughters Jana and Jael and son Jonathan, all participated in the episode.
"Transitioning is not an easy process," Williams declared. "It was the hardest decision I've ever made in my life."
She said living life as Paul "was tough."
"I didn't hate being a boy, I just knew I wasn't one," she explained. "But the longer life went, the more it’s like, 'I don’t want to do this to my family,' but it was a call."
Williams knew she had been "called" by God to live her truth, "and you reject a call at your own peril." She first shared her decision with her wife.
"It's been the hardest part," she said, explaining it was her wife's choice to ultimately end the marriage. "I would like to have remained married. We had the world's best marriage therapist and he said, 'What makes this so tragic is you're a lesbian and she's not.' She's not attracted to women. That was her decision it was difficult for me and this for her has been devastating."
Or course, her decision also had immense impact all of her children, too. In a pre-taped interview filmed in Denver, Jana and Jael opened up about what it was like when they found out about their father.
"I was truly excited for her," Jana, Williams’s youngest daughter, emotionally shared. "But she's not my dad. That was hard. ... Although it wasn't a betrayal it felt like one. Like, if you knew this all this time how could you not have told us? I felt like I had been lied to. I had been daddy's little girl and now you're not daddy, you know?"
"I feel like it was immediate worry for what life will be like for my father," Jael added.
Williams became visibly emotional watching her children. "It's still hard," she said. "They lost their dad."
Jana and Jonathan joined Red Table Talk live for the rest of the sit down.
"I think for me, it was more of a process of relearning how to have a relationship with my dad," Jonathan, who is also a pastor, admitted. "I didn't see this coming at all. ... I'm like, 'OK, was my whole life a lie?'"
He added, "My dad was my God and so it was like, 'OK, my God is gone.' ... So there's a lot of anger, you know, around losing that North Star."
Williams said that she didn't fully comprehend how much her kids would miss Paul the first year after she transitioned.
"In the first year you're just so happy to be in the right body, you're so self-absorbed," she admitted, joking, "Maybe they should just lock us in a room the first year."
The discussion turned to religion, which was a staple in Paul's life. Paul was prominent in the evangelical Christian world, spending years as chairman of an organization that started independent churches around the country. (One of those churches was Jonathan’s, a new congregation called Forefront Brooklyn.) Williams said that "in the religious world," many people create "enemies that don't exist."
"That's what they've done with the LGBTQ community," Williams stated. "I didn't know how bad it was going to be."
Williams said she was "gone from all of my jobs within seven days. I lost the church, lost my friends, lost my pension, I lost everything. The next few months were hard to even survive. In 21 states you can't be fired for being transgender, but in all 50 you can be fired if you’re transgender and work for a religious corporation."
"The same organization that Paul worked for, that's the organization that hired me to start this church," Jonathan shared. "I cried upstairs every Sunday."
While Jonathan was "quietly affirming of the LGBTQ community" he realized he couldn't preach in a congregation that wasn't outwardly supportive. He wanted to publicly support his father. "We lost thousands of dollars and a lot of people walked out our doors and it's the best decision we ever made," he said. "Estrangement [from Paula] wasn't an option."
Williams also talked with the Smiths and Banfield-Norris about recognizing the privilege Paul had of being a white male after her transition. She said she watched her "power disappear" after becoming a woman. It's something she bonded over with her adopted daughter, Jael, whom the family agreed was the most accepting of her transition from the start.
Williams also noted how being feminine was "easy" after her transition, which was shocking as Paul was "a guy's guy."
"That's not always true for transgender women a lot of them really have to work hard, but in my case I didn't," she explained.
For more of their candid conversation, view the entire episode on Facebook Watch.
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