The C-word

Whaddya want, a medal? Hardly.

Through much of this wild gender trip of mine, I’ve been wrangling with and stumbling over this one word that other people throw at me from time to time but with which I truly have a hard time.

It’s my version of “the C-word.” In this case, thankfully, it’s not cancer. Nor is it the four-letter vaginal vulgarity that Brits throw around like coins but which makes most Americans blanch with horror.

But it is, indeed, something I’ve heard at times from the mouths and emails of friends and occasionally strangers. And it’s a good word, something they use in the most positive and encouraging way possible. However, it doesn’t mean I can’t feel uneasy about it.

Seven little letters. At the risk of sounding all Dan Rather on you, it’s “courage.”

*****

It will come up in conversation from time to time. A friend or stranger who’s asked me about this whole transition process of mine, or has heard my story elsewhere, will say or write something along the lines of “You know, it takes a lot of courage to do what you’re doing.” Or “I admire your courage. It takes a lot of guts to do what you’re doing.”

Well, I have had to overcome a lot of fear the last three years — of the unknown, of reactions from family and friends, of the possibility of violence — after suppressing myself most of my life, an instinct that also gushed from that very same fountain of fear. But here’s my hangup with the word, at least on a visceral level.

“Courage” is a word I reserve for people who put their lives on the line 24/7: Firefighters, soldiers, cops (at least the good and honorable ones). Me? I’m wearing makeup and cute shoes and, occasionally, a dress. What does one have to do with the other?

On a deeper level, I certainly understand what people are saying. And personally, while I haven’t experienced it — yet, and hopefully never — I’m well aware that anti-transgender violence is still a major concern. And that in the wrong time and place, I, or anyone else in my tribe, could end up like Gwen Araujo or Angie Zapata or Brandon Teena or the multitudes of trans casualties around the world that we never hear about. Or Chrissy Polis, the 22-year-old trans girl in the McDonald’s in a Baltimore suburb who was recently badly beaten by two girls while employees watched and, in the case of the video shooter, laughed.

(And both her attackers are black. Don’t these two girls realize how much violence and injustice their relatives and ancestors went through just because of the way they were born? The ignorance level astounds me and pisses me off …)

Well, I do understand the word in the context of the people who’ve put their lives on the line against the forces of ignorance and hatred just for living their lives freely, like anyone else. And as comfortable as I’ve become living my life out and very publicly, I still force myself to keep my radar up and antenna on, since you never know where violent acts will come from. (And maybe because I’m bigger physically than most girls in my tribe, someone would think twice before giving me a hard time to start with.) But again, I have a hard time with the C-word as it applies to myself.

But I have had some people give me pause about this line of thinking from time to time.

*****

In May of last year, a woman came up to me on the patio at the Landmark, my bar of choice in Fresno’s Tower District, one Saturday night. Mary, in her 60s, was kinda what Sissy Spacek would like like had she had plastic surgery on her eyes. And she said, “Excuse me, can I ask you a question?”

“You just did.” (I hate when people ask me permission to ask me something if they’ve just asked me something in the first place.)

“Well, another question.”

“OK.”

“Are you a homosexual?”

“Oh, jeez!” I said with a “What the fuck — are you kidding me?” tone. While the Landmark is extremely LGBT-friendly — hell, the daughter of the owners is married to a woman — it doesn’t stop people from asking dumb questions, like the drunk yuppie asshole who asked me a couple months later, “Whoaaa! Are youuuu a duuuude?” Plus, keep in mind, I’m in Fresno, where right-wing ignorance runs rampant in many quarters.

“No, I ask you because my daughter is gay. She’s been in the Navy 22 years, and she’s separating soon because of don’t-ask-don’t-tell.” She had knocked back a few at that point, and it bothered her deeply that her daughter had to leave the career she had devoted her life to because of others’ intolerance and because she couldn’t deny who she was anymore. And in her way, Mary was showing me support for being who I was. I got that.

“It takes a lot of courage for you to do what you do,” she said.

“No — courage is what your daughter does. She puts her life on the line every day.” (She was stationed somewhere off the Middle East.)

“No!” she shot back at me. “Courage is living your convictions, regardless of what people say.”

We hugged.

*****

A couple months earlier — an early Saturday evening at Veni Vidi Vici, one of the other restaurant/bars in the Tower. It was during the Rogue Festival, the city’s annual fringe performance fest, and my dear friend Blake Jones was doing a presentation on the patio about the history of Fresno alternative music. His equally wonderful wife, Lauri, was there as well, and we were catching up, as we usually do when we’re at one of his shows. I had told Blake about this wild thing I was going through, and while he had seen me as my Frannie self, I believe it was the first time that she’d seen me since I went full-on with the transition.

As we were sitting at the bar afterward, she had asked me to explain this whole transition thing to her, so I did. And she said the magic words: “You know, it takes a lot of courage to do what you’re doing.”

And I, predictably, hemmed and hawed and aw-shucksed and said, just as predictably, “Aw, Lauri. You know, that’s a word I reserve for soldiers and firefighters …”

And she cut me off and went somewhere I never saw coming.

“My brother Tim was an airman,” she told me. “He was my only sibling. He was killed in the bombing in Saudi Arabia.”

Capt. Leland “Tim” Haun, a native of neighboring Clovis, a navigator temporarily assigned from Campbell AFB in Florida, was one of the 19 airmen killed in the Khobar Towers bombing in June 1996. I never knew that. And I sat there with a “Boy, do I feel dumb” look.

“So I think I know a little something about bravery.”

And just how the hell do you argue that?

*****

It’s something that’s been said to me many times, many ways before and since, this C-word. But the fact remains that I’m still as uncomfortable with it as Charles Barkley is with being a role model.

I accept the compliment as graciously as possible, since I know, both deep down and on the surface, that it comes from a very good and supportive and welcoming place. But I truly don’t feel as if I’m anything more or less than one of the 6 billion of us trying to get by. I don’t feel as if I’m anything special — and actually, after two years-plus of unemployment, and over 300 rejections or non-responses to my resume,ย  I feel the world doesn’t think I’m worth shit, regardless of gender. So I carry on, live an honest life the way I best see fit, and the best way I can with next to no money at this point. And maybe one day I come to a resolution about this courage thing. Maybe not. Maybe it’s just something others can see but I can’t. Or won’t.

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7 Responses to “The C-word”

  1. Jay Parks Says:

    The part of the world I’m in thinks you’re great!

  2. Kelli Elam Says:

    Fran, thank you for this post. I feel much the same as you, about the “c-word”. And, I also receive similar “compliments”, not many(I don’t get out and about all that much, other than for essentials, work, etc.), but when received, I do thank them of course, while also letting them know whom I feel are truly courageous. So, maybe it’s best to try to compromise, some anyway, and accept others’ feelings about it, at least to a certain degree. And yes, it’s like you said, there are many transgender gals(and guys), who, given certain circumstances, really are courageous, or at least need to be more often than some. I’ve also been very blessed, so far(knock on wood), having not that many negative situations–probably helps that I’m not out at nighttime very often, but no matter what time of day or night, I always, at least try, to be “aware”, and careful of my surroundings. Anyway Fran, I just wanted to let you know(not that you didn’t know) that you’re not alone with such feelings, and I wish you all the best as you continue along your journey! And of course, continued good luck with the job search! I was lucky recently to find one–it’s not ideal, but “bucks is bucks” at this time, as I’m sure you well know. You have WAY too much talent, Fran, and I just know someday soon(ever the optimist!) someone very smart will notice that, and say those magic words: “You’re hired”!(I’d like to “fire” Dump Trump, but that’s another story ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) I look very forward to that Franorama World blog! ๐Ÿ™‚ Take care hon.

    (Hugs),
    Kelli

  3. Jordan Fitzpatrick Says:

    Hey! Thank you for posting this! I know exactly what you mean and how you feel! As you know, I am a gay female to male transsexual. I’ve had many reactions from people, and yes, probably the most confusing is the “wow, you are so brave” or “you are so courageous to do what you do”. I do not see it as courage. I see it as something essential for mr to continue living, because in my situation, there wasn’t really a choice other than – be myself or kill myself. I grew up in an abusive home with an alcoholic father who told me I was a worthless piece of shit, even before I came out to him. I was raised in a Catholic family and I used to pray God would give me a male body and that people would see me as a man. When I started going through puberty, I stopped believing in God, started using drugs, drinking, and cutting myself. I tried to kill myself so many times I lost count. I’ve been in and out of the mental hospital. Because of the environment I grew up in, because of the people who have stopped talking to me when I finally did come out (at age 18 when I was out of my father’s house), because of the people who attacked me and yelled at me because of who I am (including one man who raped me)(I lived in Greeley, Colorado where Angie Zapata was killed), I have lived in fear. Fear and very little self worth. I’ve always felt less than others. It’s hard to feel “brave” or “courageous”. Since getting sober though, I have found my own spiritual path in Buddhism, have made some close friends, become closer to my mother (my father hasn’t talked to me since I came out at age 18, I am now 22), and I am now back in school, majoring in psychology. In response to those that say I am going “against God’s will” or am “going to go to hell”, I tell them that I believe that everything happens for a reason. That reason isn’t always clear right away but it does eventually make sense. I tried to kill myself but wasnever successful. For whatever reason, I was kept alive because it wasn’t my time. I believe my purpose in life is to help others. I am majoring in psychology to become a clinical psychologist and use my experiences to help othres. I am slowly learning to love myself and be stronger but it is not easy. I love you Fran! You are a beautiful, strong person! Never give up!

  4. Jackie Connally Says:

    Why would we reserve courage for firemen and the military or police when there are so many single mothers out there facing unemployment and struggle to keep their family together against overwhelming odds? Why would only people who endanger their lives be considered brave, but not those who give their lives to others everyday? Why is it popular these days to ignore the bravery of non-conformism in the face of military power? Martin Luther King was brave but he wore no helmet. There are so many courageous people who face life’s struggles but rise above them, to live and to love others, and to place the needs of others above their own benefit. So many examples. And for those of us who choose to be ourselves despite hate and prejudice, we are courageous if we reach out to others and offer help, a path, encouragement.

  5. kelley Says:

    Dude, man, er … Ms. Mud

    That’s some profound and honest writing. You just keep on doing what it is you’re doing (and I know this might sound like some parent bullshit), but something good will happen. Cheers Muuuuuuuuuuuud!

  6. It's Drew! Says:

    There are many types of courage, and you certainly have at least one variation! More than one, come to think of it.

  7. Heidi Van Volkenburg Says:

    Hey Fran I started reading your blog and I like it a lot I will be back again and again. Great page Dear.

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