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Just a Wee Drop O’ Courage

Some of us tend to get, well, a little snippy when someone calls us courageous. I’d like to talk about that for a second. A great many of us have written about the whole courage thing, how cisgender allies like to paint us as individuals who soar where eagles and angels fear to tread, and how much that notion ruffles our feathers. Yeah, it does, but it shouldn’t.

To anyone trans who might be reading this; you know what I’m talking about. A trans writer I deeply admire. Natalie Reed,  put if best in her epic post 13 Myths and Misconceptions About Trans Women over on Skepchick and Queerika. She likened us to someone running through a dark and stormy night, chased by wolves, finally making it to the safety of a well lit cabin and once inside, breathless from the terror inducing flight, are told how brave we are. The point is that very few of us perceive ourselves as brave. We usually transition because we are at the end of a pier that’s in the process of burning down, so the water suddenly looks really inviting, even if we think we can’t swim. We do what we need to in order to survive and continue living a productive life with at least a chance of happiness and fulfillment. We all understand that.

We use a lot of pretty language to describe our feelings; lord knows I never shut up about it, but attempting to convey our experience to the cisgender world is basically for naught. They are never really going to get it, nor should they, anymore then we really understand what it’s like to be cisgender. It is very validating, however, when they try, and that is what I think our focus should really be on.

When someone cisgender gives us credit for having great courage, it’s really them trying to put themselves in our shoes. If I understand correctly, the very notion of leaving the house presenting as the gender opposite as that they were born into is anything from uncomfortable to icky to terrifying. In trying to imagine that, they are attempting to visualize our experience and having the reaction appropriate to their own identity. Speaking for myself as someone afraid of heights, I find the notion of climbing up on the high board at the pool and voluntarily diving head first from it very naary and have a hard time understanding how a high diver, called to do this unimaginable thing for some reason, can. Frankly, I think it’s pretty awesome for them to try and we should recognize the empathy and support they are showing in this. It’s the thought that counts, and I for one am grateful.

We don’t see ourselves as brave because we are both in a “have to” situation, and at the same time are doing for ourselves to achieve peace and happiness. That said, let’s be honest. Who here prior to embracing their identity didn’t think that if they were caught in daylight cross-dressing they would instantly die. I certainly did! Peering out the front window for a safe time to run to the car, sitting in the car outside Wegman’s trying to psych myself to go in, teeth chattering and knees knocking. Even after the incredibly empowering experience of being in the Pride Parade last June, I found myself scared shitless walking a mile to my car alone because I stupidly asked to be dropped off in the wrong place. Sure it all seems silly now, but we all have to overcome some degree of fear to begin living our lives.

Whether these things make us incredibly brave, insanely foolish, or apathetic to negative societal opinion and danger I don’t know. Probably a little of each. It’s not always a warm and cuddly world out there for trans people, and we are well aware of that. The option to hide is there, but we push ourselves anyway. The dangers are real, but we face them. Maybe there is something to notion of trans-courage after all, even if we do acknowledge that we had to do it. I’m very certain that even as I write this, someone is hanging lifeless at the end of a rope, unable to face what lay before them, leaving all around them to wonder why and never know. If our friends and allies want to recognize that because their heart is in the right place, I’ll graciously let them and thank them. We just might deserve it, just a little bit.

About michellelianna

I'm a transgender woman now in the maintenance stages of transition having all the electrolysis and surgery one can reasonably be expected to undertake. While busy exploring my new world, I took to blogging about it with dubiously popular results. I don't have quite as much to say as I used to, but I'm not quite done yet either.

11 responses »

  1. Pingback: Welcome to the Trans Lantern Corp « Michellelianna

  2. As one who has bristled at being called brave, what I have finally come to realize is exactly what you said about people wanting to project their own desire to feel brave on us and in a lot of ways, is precisely the reason why I have bristled in the past. That fact is that it never occurs to the person that maybe we don’t want to be put on a pedestal, just as some of us don’t want to be looked at as transgender and simply want to be seen as the gender with which we identify rather than the one assigned to us at birth. To me, it is no different than to expect a man to be cognizant of the fact that if they borrow the use of a woman’s toilet, that they should remember to put the toilet seat back down as it was when they found it.

    • I think you hit it right Deanna! People often treat us as if we are making a show of personal strength rather than being driven to being ourselves or else. The inaccuracy is bothersome, but still better than the “what a perv” response we sometimes get.

  3. Pingback: Happy Anniversary | I Hate Roller Coasters

  4. Well stated 🙂 Very good perspective!

  5. Well now I need to find a new topic for my post today. You said what I was planning to say, only much better. I agree with you, including the part at the end where you acknowledge that maybe we are a little courageous after all.

    • Sorry Becky! I hate that I stole your topic, but many thanks for the shout out in your blog, which I have just subscribed to. Comments coming sweetie. 🙂 I must beg to differ that I say anything “better” though; your words and your voice are lovely.

      • Flattery will get you everywhere. 😉 I don’t really mind that you got to the idea first. I’ll talk about it some other time. For me it is nice to acknowledge that others are having similar experiences and to be able to link into their ideas. It’s the academic researcher in me. The more views you bring in, the more you validate your own. I just try to avoid a trend that I see among bloggers where one writes about something and within the next two days, four others write on the same topic. I’m big on originality and crediting others when my idea isn’t original.

  6. What makes me a little more than snippy is for anyone to tell me, ” I’m there for you” I just know that these people are the ones that will give me the most greif and has. I have some very good friends not many but their truly there for me as I am for them. I don’t need pity, this is not a horrble thing that has happen to me, it’s simply who I am, Transexual. “Courageous” thats over done, I think their trying to be supportive but I would rather be treated like another person and thats it. I think we make the mistake of talking about being trans to people that don’t care, don’t know what to say, don’t want to know and don’t approve, Were really better off keeping this to our own and just transition. I had someone I work with say to me, Why don’t you come clean! So I let it fly and at the end said, Now its your turn. I was very nice about it, someone else told me he told them what I said and I told them, people should respect another persons privacy, unless you know me well you shouldn’t ask me questions like this and if you did know me you wouldn’t need to. The bottom line is alot of people don’t even know themselves their more insecure than most of us we need to not let that rub off onto us. Don’t be mad just be yourself.

    • So true sweetie, as always! I have given up the expectation, at least for the time being, of being treated like just another person. It’s OK, I’m fine with it and prepared myself last year when I made the leap forward. I knew normal life was over, that I very well might lose absolutely everything, but had to anyway. I made it though, and as a result, I just can’t get upset with some misguided kindness thrown my way, even if it’s BS. 🙂


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