Zen and the Art of Being Transgender
During my teens and early twenties I developed an intimate relationship with zen thought and eastern philosophy.
I fell in love with its simple objectivity. It helped me understand the world in a more accepting way.
It helped me appreciate the nature of Change, which I was heavily struggling with during that time- learning about who I am, losing loved ones, attempting to choose a path for my life, going to university.
One of the main derivatives of zen is how essential it is to live with and experience the world as it is.
When the prospect of transition manifested, I experienced a lot of internal conflict over this matter.
The months prior to starting transition were filled with apprehension and anxiety.
Like other trans people faced with transition, I was dealing with questions of social rejection, health issues, and general questioning of my reasoning.
But most difficult were my spiritual and philosophical questions.
I asked myself, what am I seeking to derive from transition?
Why can’t I find contentment in who I am now?
Why do I need to go through such a drastic change to feel content?
I had an internal conflict with my relationship to the ego and the physical body.
At the time, I didn’t understand how transition could be anything more than just physical.
If I lived by the philosophy of being content with things as they are, how would changing my body bring happiness?
I struggled to find answers, and became trapped in a thought loop that lasted for months.
I was torn between reasons not to transition, and an internal, unexplainable need to transition.
While my confusion and unhappiness grew, I realized I would find no answers by only thinking. To find answers, I needed to try something different than I was already doing.
I decided to move forward without reconciling it, but made it a point to find an answer.
Through the course of my transition I naturally learned that it is much more than just a physical process. There are more significant psychological and social changes that occur. Changes that, at least for me, brought the majority of the positive effects.
This helped me resolve my initial conflict of zen and gender transition.
Zen is a practice of contentment in what is.
Zen does not ask us to forgo food when we are hungry for the sake of contentment.
Instead it asks us to listen carefully to our needs, and if needed, to pursue those needs in a mindful way.
It does not ask us to neglect Change in favour of stagnation.
Rather, it asks us to fall in love with Change.
Zen doesn’t provide a roadmap on what to decide; that was never the intention of the philosophy.
Instead it discusses how to be when Change arises.
To be with Change wholeheartedly; to listen carefully.
And so I did; I listened carefully to the changes I was experiencing.
Only recently, almost two years into transition, have I come to an understanding of the role the ego plays in this process.
Bouts of confusion and regret, though less common now, do still occur. Feeling overwhelmed by the daily struggle to fit in, navigating complex psychological changes, and the want to return to being “the handsome, personable man I used to be”.
I am faced with the idea of detransition.
I have terribly conceited thoughts about how “attractive” I could be if I detransitioned, how more people would respect me, how I could intimidate people as a male, how successful I could be.
But I pause.
I listen to my thoughts.
I realize how superficial these wants are; an arrogant desire for others to perceive me in a favourable way.
Thoughts and beliefs steeped in the ego.
Without these thoughts, I am happier now than I ever have been.
I love more deeply than I ever have, and my relationships are deeper and more meaningful than before.
Detransitioning has become a remote consideration.
But there are days when this thinking prevails.
And I now realize the importance of zen in this process, now more than ever.
I dissect the thought processes that lead to my desire to return to the way things used to be.
I recognize the egoic patterns that are working to negate the positivity I have cultivated.
Recognizing our own patterns is the first step to changing them.
Zen can be used as a tool to navigate the incredibly complex changes transition brings.
Transition is a unique journey that most trans people experience only once in their life. It’s incredibly important to develop the skill of listening to those changes carefully.
Zen can help deal with the challenges transition brings, the loss of our life before transition, and, in some cases, the loss of the person we used to be.
But perhaps most importantly, zen reminds us to enjoy the journey regardless of the outcome. After all, that’s the point of transition- to be happy.
We are more than just the story that represents us.
It’s about enjoying the journey, not where we arrive.