Intersections: Enough with the Bravery Thing

September 26, 2017 by Bill Ivey

(This post was written after encountering yet another courageous link admiring yet another courageous blog about the importance of courage. While that blog, and thus this post, is centered on the diversity of gender and sexuality, I want to explicitly recognize that many marginalized people have been saying exactly the same thing for years, be it non-white people on “courageous conversations about race,” disabled people on “inspiration porn,” and so on.)

It builds up over time. Sometimes, you ignore it. Other times, you shake your head. Or mutter, “I don’t think so.” Or suddenly close your laptop and jump up and stride away. And then, every so often, you crack.

It’s not that you don’t understand they mean well, or for that matter that there is indeed truth to what they’re saying. You remember the first time you wore a skirt in public, walking along in a sort of quick shuffle, head down, your heart beating itself out of your chest. Or the time you reminded someone of what pronouns someone else uses and were subjected to an angry mini-rant in response.

It’s also not that you don’t understand you live in one of the most liberal parts of the country (not to mention work in one of the more inclusive schools). You remember the time a trans woman in Oklahoma contacted a support site begging for someone to pass a note on to her estranged wife so she could die by suicide, homeless and jobless and with no place closer than 100 miles away where she could even think she might be welcomed and accepted. You don’t know, and probably never will, whether or not she took everyone’s advice to call the suicide hotline immediately. But you do know that this kind of thing is far less likely to happen where you live.

In the end, however, those understandings pale before one simple fact: we are talking about people. Human beings no less deserving of respect than any other human being. Many of them children. Is it really all that brave to make that affirmation?

Because if it is, God help us.

Of course, I don't really have anything against bravery and courage per se. Those traits are certainly to be admired, and it can be deeply moving to see people finding unexpected courage within when put to the test.

No, what bothers me is the way they're used and the context that creates it. Putting a framed wedding picture on your desk should be a way to simply share your joy with the world no matter your gender and that of your spouse. Wearing whatever clothing you want should simply be a method of self expression. A given person should alone get to determine their own identity, including their gender and romantic and sexual orientations. We have the ability to normalize these ways of being if we really want to.

But as long as we leave that work to the courageous few, that won't happen. As long as we passively allow a system to remain in place that upholds discrimination, that won’t happen.

So enough with the breathless declarations that someone is courageous for doing what any decent human being should do, or for simply going about their life like the privileged everyone else. Let's make that the new normal. Let’s ground our lives in love and respect.

And when we do? The bravery and courage will take care of themselves.

Written by Bill Ivey

A dedicated member of the faculty, Bill Ivey is the Middle School Dean at Stoneleigh-Burnham School. He teaches Humanities 7 and the Middle and Upper School Rock Bands. Bill is the advisor for MOCA, the middle school student government, and he coordinates and participates in the middle school service program. Among his many hats, Bill also coordinates social media for Stoneleigh-Burnham School.

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Filed Under: LGBT Support, intersectionality, Feminism, Intersections, Courage