On Bravery

Many moons ago, far more than I wish to admit on most days, my hunger for watching war films was insatiable. My preference rested on films set during World War II; however, most any war story was capable of appeasing my ferocious appetite for a time. There was something about the idea of men rushing into a hail of gunfire to obtain victory, even though it might cost their life, which intrigued me. And yes, the contemplation of a character’s death captivated my thoughts as well. The characters were firm in their convictions, and showed no fear as they faced an uncertain, but hopeful end. They were brave.

It seems fitting to confer such a characteristic on one who carries on valiantly through combat, and that honor was something I desired to have placed upon my own character. But I was not brave. I was more inclined to run and hide. Decades  of my life were spent living in a gender not my own, working hard to satisfy societal expectations, all the while hiding my true identity. Among the long list of characteristics I was willing to claim, bravery could not found. Then, perhaps two or three years ago, quite some time after I had begun my transition, a stranger approached me on business and said that I was a very brave person.

I knew he had noticed the smaller evidences of my ongoing transformation, and was implying that I demonstrated bravery in transitioning. I flatly rejected this notion. I was not brave; I was scared. For years I have maintained that my decision to proceed with transition was a simple matter of survival, not bravery. It was a simple, but difficult decision to live rather than realize my suicidal intention.

In the years following, I have had the ability to socially and medically transition. This journey is not made overnight; the process is slow and arduous. Though most of my interactions in society are now enjoyed without question as a woman, it was not always this way. That’s why it’s called a transition. It’s often an awkward process that calls for one to maintain the courage of his or her conviction while others look on in amazement, disgust, curiosity, and awe. But wait! Did I say courage? How can that be? Courage is the essence of bravery itself.

The journey that transgender individuals must make when transitioning fully will force them to face many obstacles. Family, friends and acquaintances will eventually be informed, which may meet with widely varied responses. Transgender persons must accept that any or all relationships could be severed, rendering them alone, at least for a time. They have to come to grips with the reality that they may lose their job or suffer sexual harassment and discrimination. If they are in school, their peers will present as a constant force to be reckoned with because unlike family and friends, fellow students are compelled to be with one another – they are not afforded the option of abandoning a particular student’s presence. And this is just the start.

Obtaining medical treatment can prove quite difficult. Depending on location, there may be very few doctors or psychologists in the area. It may require regular travel a great distance to get the necessary treatments. Those treatments may also be cost prohibitive. There are now several health insurance companies in the United States that have come to recognize the necessity of medical treatments for transgender individuals, and are willing to extend their coverage to include them; however, for most transgender men and women, medical treatments remain out of reach.

Other hurdles that are regularly encountered include housing discrimination, violence, jumping through incredible hoops to secure proper identification, and navigating all sorts of public spaces (including the dreaded restroom; @LaverneCox simplifies the issue bit.ly/2leJijg). This partial list reflects only the external struggles one must overcome. There are just as many trials that must be faced internally. It may begin with a look in the mirror at a body that does not fit,  and extend to cognitive dissonance surrounding any number of areas. Religion may have to be battled in the mind and heart, societal values challenged, and a new set of societal expectations must be navigated due to living in the proper gender after years of reverse conditioning. Acculturation difficulties are sure to bring many uncomfortable moments in each day’s activities, even if only at home. All of these things and more must be confronted with courage.

Although I initially rejected the idea that I was brave, it seems as though evidence to the contrary has been piling up all along. I have been able to reflect on all the ways I demonstrated courage, showing no fear, even when I was utterly petrified inside. I  have contemplated the occasions in which I had to confront something unpleasant or potentially dangerous, and emerged victorious despite any wounds that may have been dealt me. All of these things stand as evidence of my bravery, a characteristic that I have learned to accept for myself, and will continue to help others realize as well.



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