Hero Dammit

It is heroic to stand strong, enter the fire and do the work.

That’s one thing people at the screening liked about Moira from Transparent, the fact that she was working hard to become open, exposed, vulnerable and transparent.   So brave, so powerful.

She is so strong that people can’t really imagine what they can offer her.   Sure, maybe they can take some strength from her, but what do they have to give?

And besides, she is so relentless, so dedicated to finding truth that she is a little bit off putting.   She isn’t so fun to be around anymore, after all, not so easy to just kick back with.

She is, well, really kind of scary.   I mean, it’s one thing for her to commit to getting better — more power to her — but another to use that damn therapy to x-ray other people, trying to hold them accountable or something.

Being heroic may be admirable, but heroic isn’t cozy, cute, accessible or fun.    Heroic is a code for people who stand apart from the mainstream, who have something that normal people just don’t have.

Heroic is, as you might have guessed by now, rather lonely.

One big reason people don’t do the work to heal is because they don’t want to be separated from their buddies, their friends, their community who aren’t ready to change and grow.    We know that moving beyond our peers requires either finding new peers or being lonely.

We know that there are few people who meet a hero and say “You are fascinating.   I need to know more about you, need to buy you another drink!”

Heroes — those people who take the hero’s journey — just aren’t everyone’s cup of tea.  Every hero comes back with a new and enlightened vision, a different way of seeing that challenges the traditional.    That truth is built into the archetype that Joseph Campbell found throughout human myth.

This leaves many people wanting to pay lip service to heroes while they work to discredit. co-opt and silence them.   The status quo is working quite well for many people.   If it wasn’t, change would be happening.

For example, many lesbian, gay and transgender people are really happy with binary visions of the world because they use identity politics to consolidate group support.  They resist embracing queer, individual empowerment as it threatens their claims of entitlement and erodes institutional power .  The heroes they need are the ones who are going to enhance organizational power, not the ones who would challenge it.

In the world of the mass, heroes who take an individual path of bold choices are an aberration that we can honour while still staying safe in our social norms.   They prove the triumph of the human spirit in a way that takes us off the hook for actually having to be personally brave. Instead, we just need to applaud and admire them as separate, unique, weird people.

To be seen as a hero is to be put on a pedestal, admired yes, but somehow held as essentially different.  It may be surprising to think that one of the most challenging bits of being a hero isn’t facing the demon but rather being brave enough to walk out of the comfort of just being one of the crowd, but it is true.

Heroes are best in retrospect when their sharp human edges are gone and they can just be used in comforting stories.  By then the change has happened and they look like kindly wise old people and not the challenging, cutting figures they were in life.

It is heroic to stand strong, enter the fire and do the work.   It is the right thing to do.

It is also a lonely making thing to do.   “What makes you exceptional, if you are, is also the thing that makes you lonely,” as Lorraine Hansbury said of James Baldwin.

You don’t become a hero to make friends.   You become a hero because you seek enlightenment as a man whose hair is on fire seeks water. You just have to do it.

And that means I feel deeply for Moira and all like her.