“You’re so brave!”
As a trans woman, I often hear these words, and I’ve seen the phrase pop up a lot when folks are talking about Caitlyn Jenner as well. But this phrase covers up a lot of other stuff – and stops us from holding folks accountable in the pursuit of a better world for trans people.
What I really hear when people tell me I’m brave is I’m sorry society is so shitty that just living your life is an act of heroism. I understand the person saying it means well, but when they say it they’re taking the pressure off of problematic and dangerous transphobic behaviors and the individuals who perpetuate an anti-trans culture. Instead, it puts all the pressure on the person who has to hear this phrase repeatedly – who has to deal with the realities of society, and who now has to change society (because it is their duty and role as the “brave” one).
When we use this phrase, what we are doing is trying to empower the individual so that they can make a change in society. We’re making them the sole representative of their small inlet community, instead of sharing the burden’s of society’s past grievances and allying ourselves to work with them further. We put all of the pressure on the person who is already having to combat the cruelty and problems of society, without much help. We fail to acknowledge our own privileges, and we ultimately hurt the very person we’re trying to help.
Don’t get me wrong: Coming out is a brave courageous act, and often one of defiance to the societal and cultural norms that shape our lives. But coming out shouldn’t make you into an instant advocate, a representative of your community for everyone else, or even a warrior. You’re just doing you. You’re just being who you are. And even though that’s brave, it’s going to take a lot more than that to change the world – and it’s going to take more than just the people in our smaller and marginalized communities to make it happen.
This isn’t to say we should never say, “you’re so brave.” This isn’t to say it can never be told to people ever again, and that there isn’t a sense of courage and heroism in living your life as you are against all odds. It is just that I often see the phrase used to tokenize, fetishize, and make people’s lives who are deemed on the fringes of society more acceptable and more tolerable. And that’s bullshit.
Just because someone doesn’t fit into your definition of normal doesn’t mean you have to put them on a pedestal to respect them. Don’t do that. Be a friend. Be an ally. Be brave yourself and fight alongside us for a better world.