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.