Transition. From present to future. From possibility to reality. From man to woman. Transitions are a part of how we understand ourselves. Nietzsche was the first philosopher to seriously articulate the tension between the future of humanity and its past, writing “Man is something to be overcome” in his 1883 book Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Foucault considered his work to be direct continuation of Nietzsche’s philosophy, and I think he took this idea of transitioning seriously in his work as well as in his personal life. One of my favorite quotes from him is that, “The main interest in life and work is to become someone else that you were not at the beginning.” Nietzsche’s time was a time of social and technological revolutions, and his work was to turn the exhausted sigh of the old guard into an exuberant fresh wind. By the time of Foucault, the wind has died again, and philosophy feels resigned and pessimistic, two world wars having destroyed hope that humans could transcend themselves ethically. Transhumanism, the literal interpretation of the superman as humans merged with technology, has this ethical pessimism hardwired into its attitude.
But I still believe in possibility. In her book Undoing Gender, Butler says that possibility, or fantasy, is essential to human life. While her focus is on marginalized groups, such as those represented by LGBTQIA, she is making an existential argument. Humans need to believe that things will be better, that they will find a space within which they can express themselves honestly. These spaces are the gardens that give purchase to the very roots of our being, and without the hope of ever finding these spaces we wither and die. It does not require technology to create these spaces for humankind, although technology can be used to find virtual spaces, small plots of digital soil for the slow growth of new kinds of human beings.
I know what it’s like to live without possibility. I lived with neither hope nor expectation that I would ever be able to transition. I searched for ground that could support and nourish my being for decades, and eventually I gave up. I lived my life through the wrong end of a telescope, and always asking myself when the time would be to physically end the battle. I was 36 when I stumbled, numb and pessimistic, into a space that allowed me to be a transwoman, and it was a profound experience. I saw an entirety to my being, a depth and a beauty, that had been walled off one brick at a time. I saw the living, essential nature of myself that had never found purchase, but was still there, undeveloped and raw. A woman unborn.
I live now in the currants of transition and wind of possibility; it is both exhilarating and frightening. Certainly the social cost and backlash is scary, but even more so are the moments when I forget about possibility. When the certainty that is baked into society seeps into my thoughts, and for a brief moment I believe that there is no space for me in this world. That we have figured out what a woman is a long time ago, and I am delusional at best, and dangerous at worst. In these moments it helps me to think of how far we have come in ten thousand years. To see that we never knew what we could become or the new spaces we could create, both the terrifying and the beautiful, and that possibility is created as long as we are alive and humble. To quote Butler, “We don’t yet know what a human is, or what a woman is.” We have not discovered all there is to know about ourselves, and for me, that is hope.