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Being transgender and transitioning doesn’t make me brave or courageous

I hate to break it to you, but I’m not brave or courageous or any other similar such thing. I know, it certainly looks that way, what with the transitioning and deciding to live my life authentically and all that, but I’m not.

This is the most consistent response I’ve received over the last year and a half when telling people about my transition. Don’t get me wrong, I truly do appreciate the sentiment and, even more than that, I appreciate the support it typically comes along with. I also greatly appreciate people whom I haven’t spoken to in years, some not since high school, who have taken the time to message me their support.

However, the reality here is that I’m just not courageous. It wasn’t courage that helped me make the decision to transition. I didn’t bravely march into my doctor’s office and declare that I wanted to override my body’s hormones. I was scared out of my mind for a long time. I didn’t know if transitioning would make me happier. I didn’t know if the dysphoria would go away. I didn’t know if I’d be able to look in the mirror and be happy with what I saw or even if I could look in the mirror and simply not see myself as a freak. I didn’t know how my friends and family would react. I didn’t know if my marriage would survive this. I didn’t know how my job would be once I came out. I didn’t know if I’d even be able to leave the house safely without fear of being violently attacked by anti-trans bigots. I had more fears than you could possibly imagine. I didn’t stare those fears down and attack them. Not one bit. In fact, for more than a decade, they controlled me, kept me from transitioning.

A  year and a half ago, when I decided to transition I didn’t have any newfound bravery. I hadn’t worked up “the guts” to do it. What changed was that I found hope. I saw what gender dysphoria had done to my life and how miserable I was. I recognized that I could never picture a real future for myself. I admitted to myself I wasn’t happy and falling in love and getting married didn’t “cure” me as I had always hoped it would. I saw all of these things and I found hope they could be changed. I found hope there could be a happy version of me out there somewhere, one that didn’t think about suicide all the time and liked the person she saw in the mirror.

Having hope didn’t make the fears go away. I was still scared beyond all words. And I still doubted any of this would work out—I assumed it would be a disaster—but the hope I had and held onto finally presented another side to all of the fears. The hope represented the underdog, a long shot at a life worth living. It was an alternative to continuing to give into my misery. I didn’t have a choice in being transgender or the life I have, but I did have a choice in whether or not I was going to do something about it. I “chose” the underdog, the option I didn’t expect to pan out, because, when I looked at it, there was no choice. It’s not brave to do something when you don’t have a choice.

To put it a different way, imagine being in a dark cave and the scariest monster you can imagine jumps out from behind a pile of rocks. The monster starts coming at you and you turn and run the other direction as fast and cowardly as you can. You run and run for what seems like an eternity, but that monster, with its giant teeth, razer-sharp claws, and pointy horns, is still right behind you with every intention of turning you into dinner.

Eventually, as the cave opens up and you finally think you’re in the clear, you discover you’ve simply entered a giant cavern within the cave and…there’s a cliff. A huge cliff with a bottom so far down it can’t be seen. It might as well fall all the way to the center of the Earth. You stop, just barely not falling off the cliff to your doom. The monster slows to a slow walk as it approaches, its mouth drooling. You turn and look behind you at the cliff again. You could just jump, it’ll probably hurt a lot less than being torn apart and eaten alive. Instead, you decide that if you’re going down, you’re at least going to put up a fight.

You turn back to the monster and you charge at it as hard as you can. The monster is slightly taken back by this, but quickly sets and gets ready to shred you. Somehow, as you make contact, you take the monster to the ground. It wasn’t expecting the amount of momentum you built up in the just the ten feet you had. As it’s down on its back with you on top of it, you start hitting it with everything you’ve got. What else are you going to do? If you run, it’s going to keep chasing you. The monster tries to fight back, but you refuse to let up. After you’ve worn it down, you spot a small rock off to the side and grab it. You use the rock to start bashing the monster in the skull until it’s completely unconscious  Somehow, you’ve defeated this monster with nothing more than the will to not die without at least trying. Then, as the monster lays there, barely still breathing, you decide it’s not just good enough to win this battle. No, you’re going to ensure you don’t end up like so many victims in horror movies who turn their backs thinking their enemy has been defeated. No, not you. You drag it’s body over to the edge of the cliff where you were standing and contemplating jumping just a few moments ago. And then…you roll it off. You stand there and watch it fall down into the darkness and out of sight. You take a moment to catch your breath and realize everything that just happened. Finally, you stand up tall and walk out of the cave still alive and with a new outlook on life. You defeated this monster that was bigger, stronger, and faster than you. You should not have survived, but you did.

So no, I’m not brave, courageous, or anything else you want to call me. I’m just surviving. I had no choice.

I spent enough of my life pretending to be something I’m not and I refuse to keep doing it. I’m not special, I’m just a person.

14 Comments

  1. god damn i hate when people call me brave… thank you for this… i always tell them, its not bravery, its honesty

  2. I’m still working on it… Thank you for this, it gives me a little more fuel to my hope, I can see you and I share a very similar viewpoint… Objectively HRT will help me (starting in august), I know it will, all the evidence points but facing this all is scary. I don’t do this because I have deep fanciful desires to be a woman or look like a woman, I do this because I am sick of wincing in every mirror, I’m tired of feeling awkward all the time, and I’m tired of ignoring my inner child who has known about this since I was 5 or 6 and wanted to play with the girls and not the boys.

    I am doing this because I have to, not because I desire to. At one point I used to desire it but its gone on for too long and I don’t desire anything with real solidarity anymore. Never could see my future. Never saw my own importance beyond what I meant to my partners.

    I’ll be better. I will be better and I will shine

  3. I don’t mean to be contrary, but I’m not sure you fully understand what bravery actually entails, so I’m going to offer a sentiment created by an artist that fully captures what it means to be brave, and then perhaps you will see your slaying of that monster in a cave in a different light:

    “Bran thought about it. ‘Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?’
    ‘That is the only time a man can be brave,’ his father told him.” -George R.R. Martin

  4. To clarify my earlier comment I believe that you made a choice, one that wasn’t easy and one that frightened you. It was the same choice I made when I decided to transition instead of committing suicide. Anyone who has actually faced death up close and felt the overpowering desire to just end it all and managed to overcome that temptation by choosing to live a life that is HIGHLY contrary to what’s socially acceptable is someone who has exercised bravery. Bravery is something that must be ascribed to a person from an outside perspective. No one can claim bravery themselves, it must be given by others. Everyone who has ever been brave or courageous feels the way you do because the act of bravery or courage is a terrifying experience. That is the requisite for bravery, to make choices under terrifying or extremely difficult conditions to do what you feel is right or good.
    I understand your plight, because I hear the same thing myself and often wonder why people think that of me. I certainly don’t feel brave when everything inside of me is trying to convince me that I’d be better off dead than to go through the pain and social agony of transition. I didn’t feel brave when I came out to my wife, to my mother, to my father, to my friends, or to my employer; I felt scared beyond belief, but I still did it. I still chose to push forward despite the warning in my heart, and because of that, I, like you, have been described as brave.
    You must understand that bravery, despite being heralded as a great attribute of personality, is a burden upon the one who is brave, not a gift. People are awed by your resolve to push on despite all the potential consequences because 99% of humans never risk anything, let alone everything like we as openly transgender people do. By being openly transgender you are risking everything. You are risking your friends, your family, any romantic interests (husband/wives/partners, gf/bf), your employment, and your life. People kill us just for being what we are and they do it almost every single day. If you cannot see how choosing to risk all of that instead of choosing the easy way out (jumping off that cliff would have been a lot easier than slaying the monster) is brave, then I’m not sure you fully grasp how significant your decision to fight was.
    Can you imagine how people would have viewed you if that cave/monster scenario actually happened? If you’d returned from that cave, covered in grime and blood, with a steely resolve to live after having slayed such a powerful and terrifying monster, anyone who witnessed it would have been awed by your bravery. Most people would just allow the monster to devour them because most people wouldn’t be able to make the choice between jumping off the cliff and fighting for their lives. The fact that you stared death in the eye and said, “not today” says a great deal about your character and your inner strength.
    So, I’m sorry if it offends you, but I refuse to not see you as brave for what you have done. To do so, would be an insult to the depth of character you’ve displayed so far in your life. I know that monster, I ran from it for years and years too. I know that cliff, I stared over the edge of it just like you did. I know the strength of will it required to turn around and decide to fight instead of giving up or being devoured, and that strength of will deserves recognition, not for you, but for every transgender person out there who is still running from that monster. Accept the label of brave with honor instead of running from it, because there are people out there who need shining examples of bravery so that they may be brave too. Perhaps you are so selfish that you cannot see what kind of positive example you are presenting with your “forced” choices, but I desperately try to encourage you to look beyond your own ego to see what effect you might have on others who are secretly struggling with dysphoria. You say you found hope, well perhaps your example will inspire that same hope for someone else lost in a cave being pursued by a terrifying monster they cannot escape.

    • ^wow, Emma, well said. I too hate being called brave in response to explaining I’m transitioning but what you said makes me think of it differently and that makes me think of myself differently and more positively. So thank you.

  5. Amelia, I agree with Emma. Your story is one of bravery. As a parent of a transgender young adult, I am in awe of the bravery that it takes to be authentic to self. My definition of bravery is someone that faces their fears and slays their dragons. It doesn’t mean that you have no fear, it means that you choose to turn and take them on. I can’t put it better than Emma did. I can say that I stand in awe of all who choose to become their authentic selves because I know that society doesn’t always look at transgender people as normal and wonderful and that it isn’t an easy road to choose.

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