Bravery Is As Simple As Being Yourself

This post was originally posted on The Good Men Project which you can check out here!

Unless you have been living under a rock you have probably heard and/or seen Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover. Caitlyn is finally living a life that feels authentic to her. In the article Caitlyn is quoted saying,

“If I was lying on my deathbed and I had kept this secret and never ever did anything about it, I would be lying there saying, ‘you just blew your entire life. You never dealt with yourself,’ and I don’t want that to happen.

So what is happening with Caitlyn? Many are confused about what it even means to be transgender. Caitlyn is a transgender woman. She was, “assigned male at birth but identify and live as a woman.” Identify how? For many this is the part that gets confusing. Caitlyn’s gender identity, the deep sense of her gender, female, did not match the sex she was assigned at birth, male. Now on the cover of Vanity Fair Caitlyn has matched her chosen gender expression, her name, hair, body, etc. to match her gender identity. This article does a much better more thorough job at breaking down different terminology relating to this issue.

The reactions to Caitlyn have ranged from supportive and loving to judgmental and just plain mean. Conversations surrounding trans issues have been flooding social media. Important pieces of writing have pushed me to learn more about this issue.

Laverne Cox wrote a beautiful piece about the lives that people like her and Caitlyn Jenner get to live are not the reality of most trans folk. Cox states, “Now, there are many trans folks because of genetics and/or lack of material access who will never be able to embody these standards. More importantly many trans folks don’t want to embody these standards.”

She went on to talk about how she loves, “working a photo shoot and creating images for my fans, for the world and above all for myself. But I also hope that it is my talent, my intelligence, my heart and spirit that most captivate, inspire, move and encourage folks to think more critically about the world around them.”

Jon Stewart expanded on these ideas saying, “It’s really heartening to see that everyone is willing to not only accept Caitlyn Jenner as a woman, but to waste no time in treating her like a woman.” Stewart bluntly pointed out that as a man we talked about Jenner’s Olympic athleticism but as a woman we will really just talk about Caitlyn’s looks.

Meredith Talusan of The Guardian pointed out that, “the way in which socially progressive, cisgender people—who are otherwise critical of conventional beauty standards and economic privilege—give themselves permission to talk about trans women in aesthetic terms reveals a certain truth that sometimes feels insurmountable to trans people: affirming trans women’s attractiveness also often affirms our sometimes limited understanding of the gender binary.”

These statements make me stop in my tracks and realize how hard it is to celebrate someone’s particular uniqueness while not perpetuating stereotypes.

These statements make me stop in my tracks and realize how hard it is to celebrate someone’s particular uniqueness while not perpetuating stereotypes. The reactions that keep weighing in are moving this important conversation forward, forcing us to talk about people like Caitlyn who are finding ways to live authentically.

For as many positive thought-provoking pieces on Caitlyn Jenner there were nasty ignorant responses. One reaction that I truly could not get out of my head was one of Terry Coffey.

On June 1st Coffey posted a photo on Facebook of two soldiers fighting in combat. His words that accompanied the photo were, “As I see post after post about Bruce Jenner’s transition to a woman, and I hear words like bravery, heroism, and courage, just thought I’d remind all of us what real American courage, heroism, and bravery looks like!”

I started seeing people share this on all arenas of social media. It made my blood boil. This cisgender man who seemingly has not dealt with any issues close to what Jenner has dealt with felt he should call her not brave. Who are those people to decide what bravery is? Why can’t bravery shine through in multiple places?

A friend of mine pointed out that the simple definition of bravery is the quality that allows someone to do things that are dangerous or frightening.

In that definition there is nothing about occupation, gender, etc. that dictates just what bravery is. Is fighting for your country brave? Yes. Is coming out as transgender in a society that still shames this title brave? A society that still allows transgender women to be one of the most vulnerably affected by violence. A society that still uses harmful language to talk about Caitlyn Jenner. A society that discredits this experience by saying Caitlyn is not brave. Yes yes yes.

Bravery looks different to different people.

The next day Coffey learned something surprising about this photo. Coffey said he chose that photo after a quick Google search. But he soon learned that the photo was from a documentary that was created by a man who was beaten for being a cross-dresser. Talk about irony. I thank Coffey for admitting this find; some may even call him brave for that.

I hope that Coffey and all of us can learn from this incredible moment in history. Hate fuels hate. Love and understanding leads to more love and further understanding. And most importantly there are many ways to be brave.

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