A few weeks ago, a teacher at my kid’s school shared a bit of wisdom that has rocked my world. She taught the kids that there are four mental stages; feeling, thinking, planning, and doing. People can only be in one stage at a time, and people get frustrated when others are in different stages than they are. If you’ve ever had to bite your tongue while you listened to someone vent, you know this is true. If you’ve ever been married, you know this is true. If you’ve ever parented, you know this is true.
Recently, I joined the twitter world to exchange ideas (that’s the “thinking” stage, there) about the concept of Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria (ROGD) and the impact of this on teen boys. While many people have shared insights and resources, I’ve observed a typical accusation that certain trans-identified people toss out: “You are saying we don’t exist!”
At first, this struck me as a bewildering non-sequitur. Are they really saying because I have different ideas about transgender theories or gender identity, that I must think their bodies aren’t present in the world? How would I explain that their typed grievances are popping up on my screen? Must I subscribe to a complex superstition of phantoms in the machine? Debating the points of trans identity in fact implies the opposite: I don’t spend time arguing about the Loch Ness Monster or fairies or unicorns, because they do not exist.
On second thought, I utilized the old psychology switcheroo to better understand this: projection. This makes sense. These twitter people are actually questioning and barking about their own existence. Somewhere along the line they got stuck. They are frozen in the “feeling” stage, and are under impression that feelings = existence. And deep inside, despite their passionate feelings, they realize that an existence centered on feelings isn’t very satisfying. They worry that they don’t exist.
As babies, our first mental flickers are indeed feelings. Instinct and our reptilian brain process hunger, cold, discomfort, warmth, rough, cozy, full, poopy. Miraculously, within a few weeks, we begin to think: that face brings comfort. That food tastes good. Soon after, we get to planning: I want that Cheerio on the tray. Then action: I’m going to grab it and put it in my mouth.
Of course, as we all know, mastering this feeling, thinking, planning, acting process can be pretty complex. Impulsively, we leap before we look. We sink into the sandpits of depression. We fill our lives with meaningless activities without stopping to smell the roses. Getting everything right all the time is hard. This is human nature.
And within our lifetimes, we see a broader pattern of this story. Childhood is for mastering feelings. High school and college are for mastering thinking. In our twenties we learn to plan and act. Later in life, we circle around to better know ourselves; our feelings and our thoughts. To wisely evaluate the effectiveness of our planning and actions. To confirm our plans and actions align with our values (aka “thoughts”).
But development on both the individual level and the societal scale requires moving up this ladder from feelings to action. We do not beat the Nazis, cure polio, or reform the justice system by looking at our navels and wallowing. Feeling is just the first step. We think, plan, act. That’s progress.
This is what our parents, grandparents, and teachers have been telling us for years. Get off the couch. Get a degree. Grow that garden, write that book. Yes- your feelings show you are alive. Congrats – you exist just like everyone else. But your thoughtful, considered actions prove you are living. Your obituary will list the things you have done, the relationships you have built, not the emotions you have felt.
To these trans twitter activists, I urge you to pull yourselves out of your sink hole of emotions. You are more than your feelings, truly. Your dramatic displays of outrage may temporarily satisfy a primal itch, but true self-knowledge and self-actualization comes with some effort and work. It’s got nothing to do with your gender- believe me. Do not circle in that flotsam. No “gender feeling” will ever bring you meaning or true fulfillment.
The only way forward is through your brain — not your sexual organs. You got your “dysphoria.” Fine – that’s a feeling. Now start thinking: why would I suddenly feeling like I dislike my body? Is there something actually physically wrong with it? Is there something appealing about the stereotypes associated with the other sex? Is there some trauma I’ve experienced or observed associated with my sex? Would external changes truly affect my internal feelings? Am I actually trying to avoid sexuality? Or growing up in general?
It’s about your brain and your hands. Get out there and get to work. You’ll feel better, I promise, and you’ll stop wondering if you exist.