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.