On Bravery

A response to Just Because I’m Transgender Doesn’t Mean I’m Brave by Bethany Grace Howe

The kind of bravery that people automatically assign to transpeople is the same kind that they assign to people with cancer.   We are facing something that scares them and not lying down, not rolling over, so we must be braver than they are.

The problem with that model, people bravely fighting cancer or people bravely being out and trans, is that it puts the “brave” ones on a pedestal, separating them from the normal people.

Everyone is a messy, fragile human struggling to keep it together while they do the right thing.

Do cowardly people, regular people, just curl up and die of cancer?   No, they face it in the best way they can, making the best choices.   You don’t have to be brave to have cancer flare up in you and you don’t have to be brave to be born with a trans heart.

I think you are brave, but I don’t think that bravery makes you any different than any other human who faces a challenge and makes the best choices they can to live well while facing it.

With cancer, that challenge is biological, facing something that no one has an easy fix for.

With trans, that challenge is social, facing something that lives in people’s training and expectations, something many people have gotten past.

When people believe that it is honoring someone to call them brave for facing the challenges in their life, they seem to separate out the brave from the normal people.   When we didn’t choose our challenges but were handed them, we didn’t choose bravery either, no matter how strong we have to be to make hard choices.

Having to be brave, though, not to face disease but only the internalized fears of people who cling to their binary expectations, people who want to maintain separations between good people like them and sick people like us, well, that’s just crap.

Pointing us out as brave feels like just another way to separate us from normalcy.   We are brave because we are broken, they seem to say, and we face that brokenness with the transcendent bravery of those who are screwed by nature.

Pedestals are just another way to keep us vs them separations, and while they may be comfortable to those who want to claim normalcy, it is precisely those damn separations that keep us down, keep us battered, and keep us wanting to hide under the covers rather than face their shit.

Everyone is scared and everyone is flawed and everyone is challenged and everyone is brave because everyone is human.

Separating me out just feels like demanding that I take the weight, take the load of your assumptions.   It feels like you are demanding that I do the brave thing to face fear and hate rather than asking the terrified people who attack me to do the right thing and follow the golden rule.

People who call me brave, I know, want to compliment me.   They don’t understand how putting people like me on a pedestal allows others to stay comfortably wallowing in the mud.

But from where I stand, the view is very clear.

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