Defining Heroism

What makes a hero? Seems a pretty broad topic–one certainly too expansive to cover in a blog post. I think most might agree, though, that heroism is an awfully subjective term. What I believe to be a hero may not necessarily be what my best friend believes to be a hero, etc. (As a side note, it was this article that inspired my own response. Read at your own discretion.)

It baffles my mind, then, to see so many people writing articles about how Caitlyn Jenner isn’t a hero. That she’s simply ‘lost’ and might eventually find herself again in her ‘real male body.’ I’m not going to get into the clearly obvious religious, transphobic overtones of such statements. I’d much rather hand over the mic to someone who is a part of the transgender community to speak for themselves. What I will say, is that such statements completely undermine Caitlyn’s abilities to define who she is by herself. As a third party perspective, you don’t get the right to determine when someone is ‘lost’ or ‘wrong’ about how they feel about their own body and self. So. Shut that down immediately.

Another thing to shut down immediately is the ridiculous notion that Caitlyn isn’t an appropriate heroic figure for people to look up to. Let’s pull up the definition of hero, shall we? (I’ll be using the OED.)

One definition is  “1. Classical Mythol. and Ancient Greek Hist. A man (or occas. a woman) of superhuman strength, courage, or ability, favoured by the gods; esp. one regarded as semi-divine and immortal. Also in extended use, denoting similar figures in non-classical myths or legends. Cf. heroine n. 2.” I think we can all agree that this isn’t the type of hero people are discussing when they say that Caitlyn can’t be a hero. In general, the topic of epic heroes doesn’t really come up. But, let us remember, that this is where the term really gained traction.

And: “ 2. A man (or occas. a woman) distinguished by the performance of courageous or noble actions, esp. in battle; a brave or illustrious warrior, soldier, etc. Cf. war hero n. at war” –Otherwise known as apparently the only appropriate way one can be a hero. Not to say that those who go off to war are not courageous–I, along with many others, thank them for their service. But, perhaps, this shouldn’t be the only definition we think of when we think of hero?

Because, there’s also this definition: ” In a particular context: an individual (usually a man but occas. a woman) or group lauded or admired by a specified person or group of people. Usu. with possessive pronoun or of. Cf. my hero! at Phrases 1.” We’ll ignore the ‘mostly male’ comment for another day, and instead pull out the fact that in this definition, the hero is something who is admired by a person or group of people. They stand as inspiration, as examples ‘epic’–for lack of a better term–feats. I’d say that finally being able to come to terms with you who are, finally being able to feel free in your own body, is pretty goddamn epic.

Why do this exercise? Why point out the multiple ways that hero can be defined? (And there are more aside from the three I’ve pulled out.) Because, and this might sound repetitive, but what is a hero to one isn’t a hero to all. Really. Can we take a moment to really let that soak in?

Labeling one type of person a hero doesn’t mean that other, different types of people can’t be heroes. Where is the rule that says that only one type of person–soldiers, for example–gets to be a hero? Because, I must have missed that memo, skipped over that section in my “How To Be A Good Person” guidebook.  For example, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr is a hero to all who were/are undergoing racist treatment based on something as minuscule as skin colour. So, then, why can’t Caitlyn Jenner be a hero to those who have felt trapped in their own skin? Those who know that they weren’t born into the right body? How presumptuous it is of people to believe that they have the right to define the term ‘hero’ for others. How presumptuous it is to say that this type of person is the only type of hero, and because Caitlyn hasn’t gone off to war, because she’s a ‘poor lost soul,’ she doesn’t have the right to be a hero towards other transgender individuals.

I’m waiting for the day when everyone in the world wakes up and decides to live their own lives without feeling the need to interfere in other people’s business or belief system. I think I’ll be waiting for a really, really long time.

You do you, y’all.


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