#5: Stoicism – Personal Power for Transgender Folk

IMAGE DESCRIPTION: A purple hollow-triangle with the extentions of the "mars symbol" and the "venus symbol" is featured in the foreground. This is one of the symbols of the transgender community. Behind it is the fire that represents the Logos. This image is for articles in this blog (virtualstoa.org) that pertain to transgender issues and how Stoicism applies to them.
One group of people for whom Stoicism can be a very powerful philosophy is those, such as myself, who are on the transgender spectrum.
This piece is Episode 5 of the podcast: Philadelphia Stoic Thouhts
Today is Friday, September 8, 2017, the second day of the Mazzoni Center’s 16th annual Trans-Health Conference here in Philadelphia. As such, this would be a good week to discuss the applicability of Stoicism to the transgender experience.There doesn’t seem to be to be very much written on this subject. This is ironic, as in many ways, the transgender experience is very much the kind of situation that Stoicism is designed for.

Folk on the transgender spectrum struggle over things that many people take for granted. For example, most people never even think about how the gender that the outside world sees them as matches the gender that their brain insists that they are. The idea that if one asserts the gender that their brain insists on, they might run the risk of being fired from their job, kicked out of their home, and even shunned by religious circles – most people would see that idea as being too ludicrous to even entertain the thought. The idea that one’s own family might disown then for such a thing even more so.

However, such concerns were until very recently universal among trans-folk who pondered the idea of coming out – and to this day remain the extreme norm. It is not at all uncommon for those fears to materialize. Even if they get through that hurdle, they face a lifetime of microaggresseons, discrimination, and increased risk of social isolation and even outright violence.

On the other hand, if as a result of these concerns they decide not to transition, this can put them at great risk of complications to their mental and physical health, some of which are life-threatening, all of which would damage one’s quality of life.

It’s a vast understatement to say that no matter what decision a transgender person makes, the possibility of an easy care-free life isn’t among the options that Providence has afforded them. In that sense, every transgender person is like Zeno of Citium when he was shipwrecked outside of Athens, overnight losing his entire fortune to the sea. Just as Epictetus was born into the institution of slavery, we are born into a situation of painful gender incongruity – and many of us, like him, don’t go up from that without suffering life-enduring injury first.

At any rate – the roadmap of life that a transgender person faces is almost always daunting. Some might even describe it as harrowing. This raises the question – how is a transgender person to cope with such an intimidating life situation?

The answer to this is in the Dichotomy of Control – the ancient Stoic teaching that we need, in any situation, to separate the variables that are truly ours to command from those that are not – and to stake our satisfaction not on how things turn out in the end, but on our proper care of the variables that are truly ours.

This approach can transform the bone-chilling situation that so many trans-folk face into a sure win. At no point can a trans-person assure that the external outcome of a situation will be favorable. That said, they can always make the right decision that makes the best effort to steer things in a favorable direction.

A trans-person can not assure that they will not be murdered for being trans, but they can take common sense measures to protect themself from that. If despite doing that they are murdered anyway, they will have still done their own part right, and that is the only thing that is truly theirs to assure anyway.

They can not assure that their friends, their boss, their religions community, or even their family will accept them when they come out. But they can come to terms with how those things are in other people’s locus of control and not their own. They can realize that the only thing that they can concern themself with is that they themself do the right thing.

Furthermore, there is no trans-person who can assure a brighter future in which people on the transgender spectrum are not mistreated as is too often done today. However, every trans-person (and every human being for that matter) has the option of doing their part, however large or small that the Universe gives opportunity, to aim for that brighter future.

And above all, even the most transphobic pocket of society can not deprive any trans-person of the option to see every obstacle and challenge that they face not as a curse – but as a test of their personal strength of character and as an opportunity to ace that test.

Epictetus asked what Heracles (known by many Americans by his Roman name, Hercules) would have been without the lion, the hydra, the stag, or the boar. It wasn’t how he handled being admired for his strength that made him the hero that he was. It was how he handled these challenges, the Labors of Heracles, that was the source of his heroism.

Likewise, if you happen to be transgender, you are given a series of labors of your own. If you handle them valiantly, the heroism that you can gain from them is no less significant than that of Heracles. Remember that next time you get misgendered, shunned, discriminated against, or even assaulted.

At any rate, Ryan Holiday discusses how in ancient times, people were well aware of the fragility of life and everything in it, but that in our modern society, we have deluded ourselves into thinking that we have conquered fate. However, even in this age of technological marvel, folk on the transgender spectrum live with no such delusion. There fragility of things that so many people today take for granted, including life itself, is something that is daily before our eyes.

However, the difficult situations that we face in life does not have to make us miserable inside. Rather than mourn what we don’t have, we can make the best with what we do have. And if we stand up to our challenges with virtue, we can be heroes, just like those of myth and lore.

“Life of Riley” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License

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