Brave. That’s what they like to call us, brave. What is it to be brave in the coming out, to express yourself, birdlike, soaring into the empty space where once was closet? Is it brave to self-accept and step one foot in front of another into an uncertain future? It certain is if knife and noose await. Yet, for me the word brave is freighted with so much meaning and potential as to become meaningless. It does take courage to self-acknowledge that internally you are not the gender you were assigned at birth, or the sexuality deemed “normal” by society at large. This courage is not because the decision and acceptance was hard; rather courage springs from the knowledge that to be yourself you have to fight against what others insist is normal, insist is rational, insist that must be followed on pain of potential death. It is brave not for the self-acknowledgement, but rather it is brave because others force us to be brave.
Our bravery is shaped not by the peace we accept within. Kissing that girl is a leap of faith, wearing that binder, shaving one’s legs. All externalising hope that acceptance will follow, that our normality will temper and shape others’ perceptions to bring it all into the wider mix; bravery is hoping that the mixer will shake us into the cocktail of life, and not strain us away as dregs. It is the knowing that at any point laws can change for the worse despite hoping they will change for the better. It is the knife’s edge when flirtation takes on a deadly form, that at any point he could explode in rage if the fullness of ourselves is revealed, and society will accept his defence as panic.
Brave brackets us as exceptional, as something to marvel at and pin medals on. Brave souls rescue lost causes, run into burning buildings, dare and do. If we are brave, then we are rescuing ourselves from the fires of despair, running out of societal fashioned closets too restrictive to hold our boundless selves, daring (hoping) that in the doing of coming out and existing as authentic selves we will be given the space to live. If to merely live is brave, what does that say about the wider world? For, if we are brave, then surely it is the world that is the burning building we run from room to room in seeking sanctuary.
We are brave because we are forced to be. Forced to bear crosses shaped by centuries of legal repression, of dogma, of revulsion. The scourges flay us in flesh and online, our identities the butt of jokes and curse words slung to wound. Of course, we are brave, for you see our very identities as brave, yet to us that bravery is your insights, not necessarily ours. Through our own lives we are Lilahs and Liams, Savanahs and Sung Yis, each as simple and complex as everyone else. We are only brave because you see our identities as heroic struggles, we simply see it as Sunday lunches, book clubs, driving to work, and feeding the cat.
There are many who have indeed be strung up simply for being themselves, who were executed, murdered, incarcerated, and shunned for loving, identifying, and existing true to their core being. Love, love of self, love of the other, love in all its forms, is codified in such a way as to abnormalize the queer experience, to make us things besides and beneath, under and hidden in the dark of clubs and apps. This shunting away, this tacit refusal to normalise attraction and identity, means that bravery is in the stepping foot outside, of simply existing. Yours in the label, ours is the lives. Ours is the bravery because you make it so. Brave, because you assume we must be.