In this presentation, I provided a basic primer to Stoicism, focusing on the Enchiridion of Epictetus, which was really the only Stoic source that I had studied up till that time. I also explained how Stoicism can be very useful in dealing with the life-challenges that we transgender people face every day of our lives.
As for me – I was less than two years into my Stoic training. Needless to say, I was far less advanced in Stoicism than I am now. As a result, I very often behaved in a way that one might think uncharacteristic of a Stoic. (I still sometimes do today – but back then, I did so even more.)
However, as extreme a beginner as I was, the transformative power of Stoicism in my life had already begun to manifest. The practice of this noble philosophy had already saved me from death by suicide. Also, it had already given me the courage to begin my transition.
The transition that many trans-folk need to go through at some point in life is a process can be downright scary no matter where you live. But it can be especially frightening in East Tennessee, which is where I lived at the time. The transphobic attitudes of many people permeates the entire society – and threatens just about every area of life for whoever dares to transition. It threatens the ability to find the necessary medical care – especially, though not exclusively, for trans-specific medical needs. It can devastate any prospects of employment. It can affect the ability to form friendships – and even the ability to retain friendships that one had prior to transition. Not to mention that the risk of being killed just for going against the culture’s gender traditions is very real.
So what area of life is safe for a trans-person who dares to transition in such a hostile environment? For starters – there is the Inner Sanctum – a citadel in one’s own mind that through ascesis can be fortified against any external assaults. Stoicism helped me to realize this.
Also – though I could not assure in such an environment that I would eventually achieve bodily congruity with my brain-wiring, that really wasn’t mine to assure in the first place. Even in the most hospitable environment, the ability to assure that would be a mere illusion. Even cisgender people who are in that preferred state from birth are under an illusion if they believe that the Universe isn’t able to take that advantage away from them at any time. One serious car accident and the most perfect body can get so messed up that the bodily discongruities faced by trans-folk pale in comparison.
Also – though I could not assure that I would eventually achieve that congruity, I could conduct myself in the manner appropriate of one who prefers that. This is to say, even if I wasn’t destined to reach that goal, nobody could stop me from trying. Stoicism helped me to realize that what I must value there is the effort toward, not the attainment of, this bodily congruity.
Similarly, I could not prevent people from misgendering me or otherwise mistreating me. All I could do is calmly correct them when they mistreated me, and let the chips fall as they may. What mattered wasn’t being treated right by society – but doing my part toward that goal correctly. Stoicism taught to realize that. When I remembered this lesson, I fared well. It was at times that I forgot this that I fell into significant distress.
And with regards to all the challenges faced by trans-folk everywhere, but especially in hostile areas like East Tennessee – all those challenges can be hair-raisingly scary for the untrained mind. But Stoicism taught me that there was nothing to fear in any of these challenges – as long as what I value isn’t externals, but doing my part correctly.
Though I didn’t remember this wisdom all of the time, I remembered it enough of the time that I was able to get through the challenging period of my life that was my transition. And it was this wisdom that I tried to convey in the video presentation.
Both before and since, there have been plenty of presentations on Stoicism in various formats. The main significance of this particular video presentation was that at the time there was little or nothing written about how Stoicism could be applicable to transgender people. As a matter of fact, the general attitude toward trans-folk at the time in online Stoic discussion communities, and for that matter toward LGBT folk in general, was one of strong disapproval. This video showed how those attitudes reflected a sorely flawed interpretation of Stoic philosophy. It did so by outlining how the philosophy can actually be a source of great strength for a transgender person struggling to survive in a world that often is down-right hostile.
Transgender issues are still not something that is discussed much in Stoic communities. Furthermore, when it is discussed, it is often done in a manner that doesn’t reflect much understanding of what the transgender condition entails. I could be upset about this – or sad – or simply discouraged. Or – I could approach this issue in the manner that Stoic philosophy itself tells me to. I must not concern myself with externals such as whether or not the Stoic community’s understanding of transgender issues improves. Instead, I must concern myself solely with doing my own part correctly in this situation.
Let them keep on writing about transgender issues in a manner that doesn’t reflect much understanding of transgender issues. Every time they do that, it will provide me with an opportunity to rise to the occasion – a chance to present to them, or to anyone who may be listening, correct information. As the ancient Stoics relished the opportunity to speak truth to power – may I relish the opportunity to speak truth where it needs to be spoken as well.