René Descartes, a French philosopher and mathematician who lived in the early 1600’s, coined the famous phrase. He is considered the father of modern philosophy and his concept of radical doubt was built on the idea that nothing that is perceived or sensed is necessarily true. To Descartes, the only thing that remained true was that there was a mind or consciousness doing the doubting and believing its perceptions. He also believed that the mind and body were two separate and distinct entities, but even the body itself was not as certain as the mind because like everything else in the world, the body could only be sensed because there was a mind to sense it. As a transgender person, the incongruence and perception of body and mind was always something I could relate to.
“ONE OF THE REALITIES OF BEING TRANSGENDER IS THAT AT SOME POINT WE WILL ALL FACE A DETRACTOR, SOMEONE WHO IS DEAD SET ON CHALLENGING OUR VERY EXISTENCE.”
One of the realities of being transgender is that at some point we will all face a detractor, someone who is dead set on challenging our very existence. It is as if we are on trial and have to prove who we are. We litigate the situation, armed with data, science, and facts along anything else we can bring to the table to foster acceptance. In most cases, these efforts fall on deaf ears. The reality is that these people will do anything to disprove your existence.
René Descartes (1592-1650)
When we come out as transgender, we also test the integrity of every relationship we have. We begin the process of speaking with everyone we know, we do the coming out tour, and with that there is the expectation that there will be some collateral damage. I often say if you want to know how someone truly feels about you, just tell them you are transgender. It is disappointing to find out that a person who if it came down to it, was willing to help you bury a body just 24 hours ago has now turned their back on you because of your gender. It may be a best friend or the spouse who vowed to love you “till death do you part.” It could be your parents, or even worse your children who turn their back on you. We all face some form of loss despite our efforts to educate those around us and create understanding.
The glaring reality is that this is all about perception. Most detractors are not really concerned about you at all; they are only concerned for themselves. Many people care about how others will perceive them rather than what you are struggling with. It is a hard pill to swallow, the thought that your spouse or a family member is really just worried about themselves, but a cold hard reality in some cases. In the instant you tell someone who you truly are, you often end up revealing the truth about the person you are speaking with. When things don’t go well we end up walking away with the thought that this person is evil, stubborn, or just plain ignorant, but the truth is they are just scared.
“THEY LOOK AT IT FROM THE ONLY PERSPECTIVE THEY KNOW, THEIR OWN.”
Most people care about fitting in. It is the same reason people follow fashion trends or want the latest iPhone. The detractor who doesn’t know you is really just out to protect what they perceive to themselves as normal. To them, to exist as transgender would be a choice because in their case personally, to be transgender would in fact be a choice. They look at it from the only perspective they know, their own. From those who are open to changing their perspective, you usually find acceptance. From those who aren’t open to changing their perspective, you find resistance. For some, changing their perspective would mean letting go of their routines and all that they know. It forces them to question their day-to-day lives, their perceptions of religion, and it complicates all that used to be so simple to them. You also have those who become detractors in order to hide who they really are. And this is usually done out of fear of being exposed.
For a transgender person it is not a choice. It is something that they must come to terms with before it destroys their very existence. However, the fact remains that we do exist no matter who tries to prove otherwise. The fact that we are living and breathing is all the proof you need. We exist, and we have always existed. With that existence, we deserve the same rights as anyone else that exists. This is something Descartes understood centuries ago. The Pope ended up banning his writings in 1663, but somehow they managed to survive throughout years despite all the suppression, and I am sure we will as well. I guess some things never change while others manage to still find a way to exist in defiance of all the detractors.
Stay safe and keep fighting for all of us!
Love and Peace,