I hate the word “hero”.
It seems like a nice enough word with a few uses, but I have come to hate it. A quick use of a Chrome extension shows me a quick definition.
A person admired for certain virtues or feats, seems like a broad enough definition. Lately, however, the word “hero” is being used like bullets to defame and degrade someone’s accomplishments.
Caitlyn Jenner may or may not be a hero. “Hero,” like most things, is subjective. I think she shows bravery by being true to herself, and bringing the trans* movement to the front lines of society and forcing it to be acknowledged by most people. Ultimately, I don’t think it really matters whether Caitlyn Jenner is a hero or not; she has been brave and continues to do so.
Several news articles and blog posts have called Miss Jenner a hero, and that just makes some people uncomfortable. Rebuffs pop up everywhere: “He’s not a hero, he’s just an attention whore!” (If they’re transphobic, they’re almost guaranteed to be an asshole too). “Only police officers/soldiers/firefighters, etc. are heroes! Bruce Jenner is just a freak!”
Let’s get a few things straight. We are a nation of selective hero-worship and our deity of choice changes with the wind. The more conservative parts of our nation will pick a golden calf to hold up whenever they need to degrade someone’s accomplishments related to human rights and dignity. The people they pick to idolize aren’t necessarily bad people, in fact many are good, honest, hard-working people. But pretending to care about these people whenever you’re too uncomfortable with someone’s accomplishments is clueless at best, malicious at worst.
Soldiers do important things. While I am a staunch pacifist, I understand many people’s deep respect for the military, but people can’t throw them up as idols whenever the current person in the spotlight makes people uncomfortable.
Bravery isn’t a contest. You don’t have to be the bravest to be considered on the list. Heroes don’t have to fit into narrow boxes. One person’s bravery and heroism doesn’t make another person’s invalid.
Sometimes a hero can just be the person who says no. Sometimes a hero is the person who stands up when everyone demands they sit down. Sometimes a hero is the person who refuses to hide for the convenience of someone else’s worldview.
Caitlyn Jenner is still a wealthy, famous and far removed from the vast majority of most trans* people’s experience, but she has given media attention to a group that is persecuted, beaten, disenfranchised, and murdered.
If that isn’t heroic, I don’t know what is.
Image; Flickr user Davidd