Caution: long-ish rant follows. Lighter content will resume tomorrow. Thank you for your patience.
‘Tis an interesting question, that. What is courage and what constitutes bravery? I ask, because things I would call “odd” or “routine” are called brave, and courage is applied to behaviors that strike me as more pathetic than heroic. I should clarify that I am talking about moral as opposed to physical courage (like pushing open the door of a burning house to save a stranger), although the two can and often are intertwined. Physically standing up for a belief, or taking an action far above and beyond the call of duty, requires determination and a long string of earlier decisions and beliefs that we might not even realize that we have made. But I am interested in those decisions and words.
I’m not a philosopher. For that I recommend John C. Wright’s blog (www.scifiwright.com), or Grim’s Hall. You might disagree with their basic moral premise or Classical foundations, but they both weave tight philosophical arguments. My mind does not work like that. I tend to be concrete. I know what I believe, and what I see, but as to how I know what I know? Sorry.
I do know that in my world, the definitions of “courage” do not include complaining because my feelings were hurt. It is not “brave” for a grown man with a family to declare that he really is a she deep down, and a 6-year-old she at that, and to abandon his family in order to “be true to himself.” My response to that bit of information was a blend of disbelief along the “this has to be from the Onion” lines, followed by a touch of pity and a large slug of dismay bordering on disgust. If this individual really, truly, suddenly feels that he is a completely different, and totally dependent, person, he needs medical help to determine what is going on and what can be done to stop or reverse it. If he is acting out of the desire to chuck his responsibilities in a quasi-socially-acceptable way, that is not acceptable, not by my idea of how the world works. And to call him “brave” and laud his “courageous” decision to live as a 6 year-old girl? No.
I know people who are locked at age 8, or 12, or 14 by accident of birth or medical problems. A distant, much older cousin had the mind of a rather nice 5 or 6-year-old in the body of a six-foot tall man. He spent most of his adult life in a Texas State home because his parents could not keep him from wandering. He never meant harm, but if a large man suddenly appeared in your backyard, or came running up to your children wanting to play with them, what would you do? And Aunt E. could not overpower him when he lost his temper and had a tantrum. He did not intend to break things or hurt people, but it could happen all too easily. He was happy at the State Home, and safe. The family visited him often, and he came home on holidays, but he did better in the sheltered environment.
That is what a 6-year-old in an adult body is like. It is not an adult man who decides of his own volition to live as a child, cared for by others. Especially not a man (or woman) with a family and duties to others. If someone wishes to renounce the world for whatever reason, and takes care of their responsibilities and family, has their agreement, or waits until the family is no longer dependent on him or her and her spouse is dead or otherwise has released her from the bonds of marriage, then I have no problems with that choice.
Likewise the people who believe that their lives are ruined and health (and sometimes even physical safety) are threatened by microagressions. I’ve been beaten up for various reasons, and bombarded with rocks and ice-balls because of what I was/am and my refusal to kowtow to popular opinion. There was nothing micro about that. I’ve heard a lot of comments I disagreed with, or that knocked my world-view around pretty hard. I found a safe space in my writing, and if I retreated from reality for a while, I also came back meaner than ever and more willing and able to stand up and throw the rocks right back. That’s not brave, or especially courageous, that’s just me being stubborn.
I’ve been watching the tantrums, and watching the people coming out as gay, or transgendered, or other things, and my feeling is “and?” or “so what?” or “That’s nice but you still have finals.” In my world, deciding that you are really X even though your genetics are Y or Z is not justification for claiming special rights and privileges. Nor does it make your utterances holy writ and inviolable. Likewise if you ancestors were held in bondage/transported/abused/discriminated against. So were mine. So were probably everyone else on the planet unless you are a member of House Habsburg or the House of Windsor/Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Hint hint: the Mongols carried off Poles, Russians, and White Russians, Germans and others by the hundreds of thousands after especially large raids, all to sell as slaves or hold for possible ransom. The Arabs did likewise to Europeans and Africans. Go read and seriously study history, world history, and then come back and explain how your particular group/faith/tribe were especially oppressed.
I am aware that some people face major problems from their families and associates when they make public their sexual identity. But in teh western world, someone coming out as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or another sexual identity will find considerable support either through organizations like the Pink Pistols and P-FLAG or on line. Not so a gay man in Russia or Iran or Saudi, or parts of Africa and Asia. We don’t throw people off of buildings or bury them alive for getting the warm fuzzies for someone of their own sex.
To scream in a professor’s face is not “brave.” To bait the police is not “an act of courage” at least not in the US. Go try it with the German motorcycle police, or in Russia or Turkey, and I will admire your guts even as I shake my head at your foolishness and offer you bandages (but not bail money unless I know you really well.) To camp out in a college administrator’s office and then criticize her for not responding to an incident on campus before she was informed of that incident (Lewis and Clark College. I’m still trying to figure that one out)? Nope. Not brave or heroic or courageous.
Go talk to Yazidi or South Sudan women about courage. Or to an openly gay man in Iran or ISIS-held territory. Or interview the pastor of one of the non-governmental churches in China. Or someone trying to make an honest living in Zimbabwe, or an opposition activist in Venezuela or Cuba. I think you’ll see how I define courage.