For me, a hero is someone who pushes past their own comfort and self interest to bravely do the right thing rather than just doing the easy thing.
Clearly, someone who puts their own life on the line to bravely save others from an attack meets that criteria. They are a big old hero.
Heroism, though, comes in many forms and in many ways.
Decoration Day, Remembrance Day, Armed Forces Day, and others are all great days to remember the heroism of those in the military who gave their lives in service to the country. They may have paid the ultimate price or just have been ready to do so, doing the hard work, but they all deserve our respect and thanks, even if we had political objections over what the government ordered them to do.
Independence Day, however, seems to me a time to honour heroes who did the right thing rather than the easy thing right at home. People who joined the school board, taking their time and energy to work for our children rather than doing something more comfortable, show patriotism, civic responsibility and some level of heroism.
Valuing people who do the right thing beyond ease, comfort and self interest is something every community has an interest in doing. We want people to stand up and do the hard work, struggling to serve the group rather than just to promote their own desires and priorities. For example, volunteering is heroic, in its own tiny little way, and we need to value that to get more of it happening in the world.
No human is completely selfless. We all have needs and dreams, beliefs and interests. Our motivations for any choice are never pure but always a mix of what we believe is good for us, what we believe is good for our family, what we believe is good for our economic future, what we believe is good for our standing in society and what we believe is the right thing to do in the world.\
It’s hard to call someone a hero. Many of their choices will always be rooted in their own self interest. Lives are big, complex, nuanced things, and no life is just one thing or the other.
It is much easier to identify heroic acts, to see moments when someone put that self-interest aside to do the right, brave, bold and selfless thing.
Is coming out as transgender heroic? Does just doing it make someone a hero?
And if emerging as transgender makes someone a hero, does staying hidden make them something less than heroic, a kind of coward who, when the pressure was on, did not stand up and do the right thing?
For so many transgender people, they have seen the heroic choice, the selfless choice, the right choice as keeping their transgender nature hidden and being there for their family. They have struggled in the role of father or mother, putting their children’s needs ahead of their own.
When transgender is stigmatized and oppressed, is there a choice that doesn’t take some level of self denial, some price of pain to just exist every day in the world? We paid the price of self denial or we paid the price of being visible.
Both in and out had costs and benefits, both could be seen as heroic choices, fighting against our nature to serve the world, fighting for our nature to change the world. Both in and out could also be seen as self-indulgent choices, staying hidden to stay comfortable, being visible to indulge our own selfish erotic desire in front of the children.
For me, it is the moments when transpeople came out of their comfort zone to do the right, brave and bold thing that they showed flashes of heroism. Being of service, standing to support and embrace choices that they would never make for themselves, being beyond self-interest are the moments when they made heroic choices.
Coming out of your comfort zone and coming out in the world, though, are not necessarily the same thing. Chasing long held fantasies does not necessarily make one a hero, as you can ask any of the self described sissies who got themselves outed with dirty photographs on Tumblr.
Too often, hero is bandied about as a term for someone who did something that you would be too scared to do. Hero becomes a code to separate someone from who we are, to put them on a pedestal and dehumanize their choices, leaving them isolated and distant.
A hero is a human. They are not set apart by their heroic acts, but instead remind us that being a good human requires more than comfort and self-interest, requires us to be willing to give to our community, sometimes even our very lives.
I know transpeople who have made heroic choices that inspired and challenged me. They have stepped up, stepped out and made a dramatic difference in the lives of people around them. They did it not for recognition and the rewards that come from fame, but because they wanted to be of service to the world, to people like them, and to the generations that come after them.
These heroes didn’t want to be the new face of anything. Instead, they wanted others to feel safe, empowered and strengthened, opening possibilities for those around them.
To be a hero requires pushing past your own comfort and self interest to bravely do the right thing rather than just doing the easy thing. That right thing is being of service to others.
Let it be a challenge to you, too.