Maya Angelou was clear. To her, courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.
Because courage is an individual value, every human has to decide what it is worth being courageous about and where they can just go along with the group, just play nice, keep their voice down, getting along.
We are never courageous when we just fit in, just do what is expected, just do what everyone else is doing. We are courageous when we stand up for what we know to be right, when we stand out, go over and above, and practice the virtues we value even we know there is risk and danger involved, know we are putting ourselves on the line between normal and exceptional.
To claim the truth of your own heart in a society that wants to value you based on the shape of your body, the colour of your skin or the story you were born into takes everyday acts of grace & courage. Your smallest choices, from the restroom you use to the way you speak up are made political and challenging by those who want to enforce some fundamentalist status-quo, those who resist conflict and challenge by trying to use the momentum of the group to crush deviance.
Being labelled rude, overwhelming, deviant, disruptive always hurts as people try to separate you from the group, acting without compassion to remove your standing to speak, refusing your gifts, and separating you out so you have to develop alone and isolated, without mirrors.
This, though, has been the requirement of people who claim their own gender truth beyond convention, pushing through walls of stigma and resistance to claim the truth of their hearts.
Emergence beyond expected gender norms is, always, a courageous act, the grace of one person to express their own deep, valid, powerful and queer truth in the world.
We feel the risks on our own skin, the years of being seeded with fear and promises about what will happen if we expose ourselves, about how those who go beyond the normative set themselves up for abuse, humiliation, rejection and even grievous physical harm. We are told these people are just getting what they deserve for not giving into common sense, to conventional wisdom, to the way things are and always have been, the way things always will be.
Every one of the people we remember today shares at least one thing with every other trans, gender variant, queer person: the personal courage to boldly claim their own heart in a society that doesn’t want to be challenged with overwhelming demonstrations that the convenient shorthand of separating people into groups, dividing between us and the other based on simple characteristics of body, ethnicity, history are just false walls creating false comfort.
The courage to emerge as an individual, no matter how much that breaks conventions, stirring up the emotions of others and exposing conflict, is at the core of trans truth, at the core of trans truth telling.
“In cultures where gender is rigidly bi-polar, rituals of gender crossing remind us of our continuous common humanity,” said Anne Bolin, an anthropologist who studied gendered behaviours.
Reminding people of continuous common humanity, though, offering reflections of truths that have been filtered out by group belief systems, is challenging. It can even be very threatening, so threatening that others feel entitled to destroy the truth teller rather than to examine their own beliefs, rather than explore their own feelings.
The only way to emerge as trans is to take an inward journey, going beyond the beliefs repeated into you to listen to that small voice inside which says that your truth exists beyond the simple binary of us and them. The only way out of hell is through, entering your own pain and contradictions to dismiss the intrusions and discover your own truth.
The courage of going beyond conventions, even the conventions that others around you hold as walls, is breath taking. It removes you from machine made wind to demand you claim your own breath, your own spark, your own flashing truth. There is little help to be had for this journey beyond your own fears, as others will quickly try and impose their fears on you, keeping your flame down to a level they find tolerable, to a level that doesn’t illuminate the truths in them that they find scary, the truths they don’t have the courage to engage.
How many of those who have a shimmering truth created inside of them have been scared off from investigating, exploring and claiming that truth? How many of us have suffered as we have striven to deny what was in our heart, staying immersed in the fear fed to us to keep us small, normative, and nonthreatening?
Today, though, let us remember those with the courage to put their own social standing at risk to claim that beauty in their heart, to express that essential truth that reflects our continuous common humanity. Even those who have lost their lives, have been physically or emotionally injured by others who lashed out, trying to silence them, have not only gained from their revelation, but also have served as examples of elegant, messy and human courage to the rest of us.
Courage may be a personal expression, but it is an infectious one; when we see other courageous people doing the right thing beyond stigma and fear, we are inspired to summon our own courage, encouraged to stand for our own inner knowledge.
When we remember those who have been courageous and taken a hit, even the loss of their human life, we are warmed by their actions, enlightened by their bold, brave, queer, courageous choices.
Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. Honouring those who have been here and shown courage, we are called to our own courage, to the courage to go deep, move beyond convention & comfort, to explore our own truth and stand, celebrating continuous common humanity.
Remember courage by remembering the courageous. And remember that you share that essential human courage inside of you too.