One of the things I have to deal with as a result of transitioning, is people calling me brave. Brave for what, I wonder. It’s all very nice for people to give you complements, but what does this word ‘brave’ actually mean?
I read a blog by Anne Hathaway the other day, which said:
When my brother came out, we hugged him, and that was that…There are people who’ve said that I’m brave for being openly supportive of gay marriage, gay adoption. With all due respect, I humbly dissent. I’m not being brave. I’m being a decent human being. Love is a human experience, not a political statement.
It got me thinking again on the topic of what is brave. I believe most people see brave as someone doing something that they know is right, it’s hard, and they do it anyway.
The on-line Oxford Dictionary has bravery as – ready to face and endure danger or pain; showing courage.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary has – mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.
The on-line Urban Dictionary has the ‘top definition’ for bravery as:
to be able to look at your biggest fear and face it in the eye. What may be a challenge to one individual is unimpressive and easily overcome by another. A typical example of bravery is facing down an enemy in battle or facing death in the eye. Another example is to completely endanger your social standing and completely ignore all social implications and do whatever you want.
What about the opposite of courage? Wikipedia says that cowardice is – a trait wherein fear and excess self-concern override doing or saying what is right, good and of help to others or oneself in a time of need—it is the opposite of courage.
I personally have faced situations where I have demonstrated cowardice and backed down, as in refusing to fight a boy at school, or when I failed to help a friend in distress.
I have also faced situations where I might be thought to have displayed courage, as in facing down a bunch of guys with very big machineguns in Africa, or standing up to an abusive teacher on behalf of a weaker boy whom the teacher was intent on intimidating. My worry with these examples is that I don’t recall being particularly afraid…maybe a little. So, perhaps I wasn’t so courageous after all? I do recall being absolutely terrified of diving off the ten-metre board at a swimming pool in England…and doing it anyway…five times. So yes, I think I can safely say I have been both a coward and courageous in my life. I guess we all have.
So why now do I get called courageous just because I happen to have the luck or misfortune to be transgender? To be entirely consistent, people who now call me brave for coming out, must have thought me a coward all my life for hiding my true identity from the world: which is fair… to a point.
I had thought that I could carry out my role as normal cis-gender male for my entire life without ever disturbing the fabric of the universe by doing something silly like admitting I wanted to be…oh such shame…a girl. I thought I could save my wife and family the shame, let alone my own shame. I thought it was an interesting quirk of my nature and nothing more. I actually didn’t know what ‘transgender’ meant, or that it was even possible for me…ME…to transition. Yes, I had heard of transsexuals, and I vaguely knew that they changed sex through some rather painful mutilating surgery, and that they already made beautiful women the moment they slapped on a bit of makeup and a wig. In fact that idea is perpetuated through endless YouTubes of young people transitioning into beautiful women. There is nothing on-line about ugly old guys like me transitioning into ugly old gals. I wonder why?
I only considered the merest possibility of transitioning, of admitting to the world I was extremely socially odd, when the drive to make some sort of transition (I didn’t know what that meant to begin with) overcame my fear of exposure. I liken it to the feeling of wanting to sneeze or vomit – the power of that feeling overcomes all your defences at some moment, and you can’t stop yourself doing it. However, people don’t ever say – well done, you’re so brave for throwing up or sneezing.
What had I done to deserve the accolade of brave? I had satisfied the Urban Dictionary definition of bravery by – completely endangering my social standing and completely ignoring all social implications and doing what I wanted.
Did I show fear? Yes, of course I did – an inordinate amount of fear. All my masks, my protections were suddenly stripped from me, and I was exposed to ridicule…and boy, I got a lot of ridicule. It is the sort of thing people have nightmares about – to be exposed before your peers, as Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ would say. So I could be accused of courage by facing the fear of social destruction, and doing it anyway. Yet, I had no option. No more than if condemned to death by hanging, I was duly hung.
My wife, on the other hand, had no such compulsion. She could have chosen to react to my coming out in the way that her peers thought she should act – by leaving me. They were amazed when she said, no, it never crossed my mind, actually. She displayed simple human love, a normal human experience, and not a political statement. Her values were challenged, and she simply accepted those values and moved on…and that was that.
To be fair, the vast majority of our friends, and all our family members, demonstrated love and compassion, and never questioned my right to self-identity and self-expression. But what of those who sat back in their comfortable socially acceptable leather couches and proclaimed or implied their justifiable disgust at the whole thing? What about all those parents of transgender sons and daughters who disown their own flesh and blood for the sake of…what…social expectations? What of those wives and husbands of transgender people who suddenly find cause to leave their partners when they are bold enough to come out? How do they rate on the bravery scale...those who see what is wrong, it’s easy, and they do it anyway?