(Inspired by Audre Lorde & Janet Mock...)
I can’t remember exactly when it started, but it seems over the course of the last few years every random act of anything has been labeled “brave” – from Sara Bareilles poppily singing about expressing yourself (although disclaimer: I find her song kind of charming and it is allegedly about encouraging a close friend to come out of the closet, but the visuals in the video just link the idea of being brave to simply dancing in public, which is kind of a snooze for me because after all, I’ve danced in public a few times and been called a lot of things – none of which was brave!) to Anne Hathaway being paid millions of dollars to cut her hair and lose weight for a role in Les Misérables (and another disclaimer: I find Anne Hathaway charming and think she gets a bad rap). At any rate, it seems the word “brave” has been emptied of all political efficacy and import. What happened to major political statements like All the Women are White, All the Blacks are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave?! Brave is now every actress who decides to cut her hair and lose stupid amounts of weight for a role – or on the flipside, gain weight and make herself less attractive. Brave is every musician that takes a risk and makes music that doesn’t completely resemble – to the point of imitation – their previous efforts. To hear the media tell/sell it, every single non-celebrity that appears in a reality TV show is the epitome of brave for baring their soul (read: mundane life) on camera for all the world to see, damn the consequences (although paradoxically those consequences usually equal a catapult into fame). Well, I’m fucking sick of the cooptation of the word “brave.” Some of us really want – and NEED – it to mean something.
Not all of us have the choice to be brave. For some of us, simply opening our eyes every motherfucking morning (or any point in the day) is an act of bravery. For those of us who face the world and society every day as an oppositional force, bravery isn’t a conscious decision. Courage is the clothes we put on before we leave the house; and sometimes courage is what we clothe ourselves in as we step through the spaces we call home. Our survival is steeped in bravery. Our survival includes but also obscures and eclipses bravery. If we choose to live, we must wade through the muddy swamp of public opinion; we find ourselves mired in the muck of moral indignation; we must bear the brunt of your jokes. And to be sure, not all of us ultimately choose to live. But that refusal to live is also brave. After all, as Audre Lorde taught us, “we were never meant to survive,” and some of us simply can’t make sense of a world that was set up to oppose them every step of the way. But some of us do survive. And all of us are brave.
For those of us that do endure, I want to re-claim BRAVE. It’s a word I’ve recently incorporated into my identity based on my experiences growing up gay/queer in the ultra-conservative and Mormon enclave of Utah, while rejecting their conventional beliefs and finding a passion and commitment to justice and equality for ALL people. But still, I’ve never been in a Hollywood movie. I’ve never taken a risk that has been deemed important enough to warrant national attention. So I’m not sure I fall into the mainstream definition of brave these days. But, in the culture of “It’s Get Better,” where choosing to wait it out and hope that it does definitely get better is pervasive, some of us have just kept going no matter what – whether it feels better to us or not. And for all these reasons brave is a word I feel has been taken away from me. And yet it’s a word I have tattooed on my chest – where I can see it every day – along with Audre Lorde’s words: “we were never meant to survive.” These words remind me consistently that being brave is constant, continuous struggle. Etymologically, the word “brave” can be traced back to Medieval Latin meaning “wild and savage.” I suggest we reclaim these wild and savage aspects of “brave.” Because we are wild and we are savage – we will relentlessly ensure our own survival, and it may very well be at your expense if you oppose us. We will not be swept aside. We are brilliant. We are bold. We are brave.