The Brave Little Faggot

I was sitting outside in the beautiful fall North Carolina weather (our first day of sunlight in two weeks), musing about the story I might write for NaNoWriMo…I have an idea, but is it enough of an idea–

And then, from a table near mine, “–faggots kissing.”

My head jerked to the right and I stared at them, two girls and a guy, and the girl on the left says, “You really need to stop saying ‘faggots.'”

“Yeah,” I pipe up, “it isn’t cool. You shouldn’t say that.”

I rather like the look of awkward terror on people’s faces when they’re called out in public.

I figured this was where things would end, and when I looked back at my phone I was on Facebook and thought nothing more of it.

Then another student walked past me and she said, “Thanks for being brave.”

I felt flustered and just barely managed to squeeze out a “thank you for saying that” before she was out of earshot (I’ve learned in all my years of futilely hitting on straight men that after giving a stranger a compliment without certainty of being well-received, the safest recourse is to physically remove myself from the situation as quickly as possible). But something she said bothered me.

Me? Brave?

I’ve never seen myself as a particularly courageous person. I do things because they need to be done, not because I’m not afraid to do them, but because I’m obligated to–by what varies, maybe it’s my own foolishness, or a higher power, or vague notions of responsibility I’ve had inculcated throughout my life. I’m put in a place to act, so I act.

I hadn’t felt brave looking over and saying he should stop saying faggot.

But being called brave made me feel brave, and feeling brave I stood up, walked over to their table, and asked, “Do you know the origin of the word faggot?”

Of course they didn’t know.

So I told them a faggot was the exact amount of wood required to burn someone alive. That calling someone a faggot is saying they deserve to be burned alive.

I said sometimes we say things with our friends without meaning what we say, but to those around us, our intent doesn’t always match our impact, that hearing this kind of language makes it a hostile environment to live in.

They probably didn’t need the vocabulary lesson, but they did need to hear why and how it matters. Words are like people: they have histories and hands, and taking them on our tongues continues the work these words began long ago.

Often this is work that should be set down, work that oppresses and silences and stomps out entire groups of people simply for who they are.

This is no work to take pride in, but if we live outside an issue, apparently unaffected by it, we don’t have the chance to gain insight into why it matters or why–or how–we could make it our own. Sure, they knew it was socially unacceptable to say “faggots,” but they didn’t know why: they hadn’t seen its character or looked it face-to-face.

Uncovering faces is brave–and I don’t mean lifting physical veils worn by others, but rather seeing something or someone at eye level, not for what we think about it or what we’ve been told about them, but for who and what they really are.

To witness is brave. To be present is brave.

To be vulnerable is to be brave.

We inscribe bravery on people as though it’s an inherent quality some people have that others do not. Harry was sorted into Gryffendor. Katniss volunteered as tribute. Tris chose Dauntless.

But being brave is no different than just being: fear exists in the future and the past, but never in the present–so if we can face the present, we can face our fears. And when we face our fears, we realize if there is love and intention, fear cannot survive.

I am not fearless, and maybe from time to time I can be a little bit brave, but it isn’t because I’m a brave person, but because I’m a person–and people are brave. It’s wired into our bodies and brains: how else could we have lived so long as a species, as a society?

I’m going to be a little bit brave every day, for a moment see the world just for what it is and nothing else, no more and no less.

Won’t you be brave with me?

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2 thoughts on “The Brave Little Faggot

  1. This is, once again, good writing. The form is simple but effective; and the substance is deep, multifaceted and multidisciplinary, like the human person with which it deals. Concepts from at least five disciplines were effectively used to bear out absolute truths above, these are: psychology, sociology, philosophy, theology and history.

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