Alright so I can’t be nice about this. I tried. I worked on this post all night until about 3am. I wanted to somehow convey that I understood your weird, deluded sense of heroism and American exceptionalism. But then I saw someone post pictures of previous Arthur Ashe Courage Award winners with the hashtag “#boycottESPN” and I lost my fucking mind.
It looks like we all need a little refresher in – not political correctness – but just basic correctness, in regards to the new lady-star, Caitlyn Jenner and our weird obsession with war and veterans. Maybe we need to take a nice, long, good look in the mirror and ask ourselves why someone’s journey is so viscerally unacceptable to us. (When I say “us,” I most definitely mean you.)
So you don’t think she’s a hero? That’s okay. You think veterans are heroes? That’s cool. Maybe you should build a company and create your own made-up award for something as intangible as “courage” and then you can give it to whoever you want. Probably shouldn’t give it to yourself though, because there’s nothing courageous about refusing to adopt empathy.
Personally, I think it’s wonderful when a high-profile person comes out with some big, progressive, self-affirming action and the collective mindset of the ignorant masses just basically explodes in misguided cries of injustice and unnecessary (and slightly confusing) patriotism. Like, you could not be more mad that Bruce is Caitlyn and Caitlyn is alive, because America.
There are many things I need you to stop saying in reaction to Caitlyn’s debut. I need you to stop saying “he.” I need you to stop saying, “I like gay people but….” I need you to stop saying things like “cross dresser.” I need you to stop saying “THIS IS WHAT A REAL HERO LOOKS LIKE” because a hero is a made up and subjective thing. I need you to read articles about everyday people who experience similar transitions and understand that even as a transgender woman who has dealt with suicidal ideation, Ms.Jenner lives a very privileged life. And not because she’s not a veteran who lost her limbs, but because she’s white and wealthy and famous. And yes, she was part of a very annoying reality show for a very long time. And that doesn’t negate from the societal impact of her transition.
Here’s a pro tip: If you’re going to criticize someone for being themselves, the more educated you are on them, the more people will take you and your opinion seriously. And, coincidentally, the more educated you become on this thing you’re criticizing, the less you’ll probably criticize it because you’ll no longer be an ignorant asshole.
Even when you pretend you don’t care about Caitlyn’s gender transition by lacing in phrases like “do whatever you want” and “you can choose to be a woman if you want,” you accidentally reveal yourself as ignorant by accidentally continuing to write your opinions on social media. Just always stop writing things. That should be your new goal. (But, obviously, never mine.)
The number one thing that’s really started to bother me over the last week though is this obsessive need to classify Caitlyn’s “worth” of the hero title compared to veterans and active duty soldiers. What a twisted way of saying someone is less than. She might not be a hero to you, though many young people in similar situations may disagree with you and that’s fine. But it seems like there is almost a compulsive need to prove that she isn’t a hero because her story is less terrible than someone else’s – she is less deserving because you don’t view her experiences to be as worthy as someone else’s.
We do this, of course, all the time. We are adept at ignoring natural empathetic urges (unless you don’t have them, in which case let’s have another discussion about your personality and please, don’t adopt any pets) in order to give ourselves reason to criticize someone else. When someone comes to us with a problem that we think is minute, we tell them to man up and get over it. Pull up your big girl panties. Get over it. Stop crying. And you now what? Sometimes they deserve a reality check, I agree. But it isn’t exactly a coincidence that we trivialize people’s problems by gendering our speech. And now we have a man who was, at the height of his career, the ultimate example of masculinity, and he has become a she. She not only refused to accept her masculinity, she disposed of it. I think deep down that’s why you’re so angry. There is nothing worse to a man than another man who refuses to… be a man.
But contextualizing your interpretation of masculinity by utilizing pictures of war and battered soldiers is so unnecessary and – honestly – strange. (Don’t even get me started on why the idea that all veterans are automatically heroes makes no sense, because that is clearly a conversation you aren’t ready for.) Your weird hero-porn hard on is making me uncomfortable. It’s super aggressive and I just don’t like it. It’s staring at me with its one eye and its undeserved sense of injustice.
What is it about the word hero that has everyone so upset? More than one kind of person can be heroic, you know. It’s not like if we start calling too many people blonde, whether or not they are actually blonde, it will detract from the real blondes out there.
I kind of get it in a linguistically reasoned way. Like Louis CK who talks about our overuse of the words “amazing” and “hilarious,” we have the tendency to label everything in the best terms, at the highest standard. So yeah, not everyone is a hero. But you know what? Who cares?
Someone being proclaimed a hero does not detract from anyone else being heroic. The idea of a hero is not exclusively reserved for people who lose limbs in war or people that have somehow earned your approval. In fact, you don’t have to think Caitlyn Jenner is a hero, but you can’t use the “she’s not a veteran” reasoning as the basis of your opinion.
You do know that some veterans are transgender right? You know that veteran and transgender are not two opposites on the spectrum of “things that deserve your attention”? Not all transgender individuals come out in a magazine spread. Some look exactly like their birth sex, and yet they identify as something else. And they aren’t doing that just to rape you in a bathroom, okay Mike Huckabee? They just don’t identify with heteronormative interpretations of outwardly appearance. And that’s okay. In a society when people tell you that’s bad, it seems pretty courageous to me.
Are you so narcissistic that you can’t imagine why someone who is revealing themselves as a different gender after years of agony and secrecy could possibly be considered heroic to generations of people that have been struggling with similar issues? Is it so hard for you to imagine something that isn’t in your direct social circle that you have to combat it with pictures of WAR?
Nobody is saying Caitlyn Jenner is a genius, or made great contributions to the field of cancer research, or should get a medal of honor for her duty in Afghanistan. We are acknowledging the fact that a person has chosen this time in their life to reveal themselves as their true identity. That is awesome and wonderful for her, is it really so bad for you? Honestly, how does it even affect you at all? How can it affect you so much for you to disagree with it? Are you that important?
Going forward, since everyone has so many issues with the word, I’ve made this list of rules for heroism:
1. Just because someone isn’t relatable to you, does not mean they are unrelatable.
2. When someone fights really hard to be themselves, against all obstacles, that can be considered a heroic act.
3. If you are so angry that they are considered a hero, you are probably one of those obstacles that person is facing.
4. When you say only veterans can be heroes, it makes you sound really stupid.
5. You will never, ever, ever be a hero. To anyone. Ever. Even if you save your kid from a burning building. If you weren’t in uniform, I will always be waiting in the shadows, on your quietest nights, screaming IT DOESN’T COUNT.
6. What if you know a soldier who’s an asshole? Is he still a hero?
Some of those aren’t rules, they’re just things I was thinking just then.
I believe that deep down, people are really uncomfortable with the idea of someone turning away from being a man, when being a man is seen as the most powerful thing in the world. Transgender people face higher rates of abuse, sexual assault, criminal involvement, drug use, and suicide than any other group. From what I’ve seen in the criminal justice system, transgender women are more likely to enter prostitution and deal with the kinds of assaults that accompany that profession (perhaps, in an effort to punish someone for refusing to be male, we make them really understand what it’s like to be a woman). While Caitlyn Jenner is living a privileged version of a life like hers, she is still dealing with the backlash that comes along with society’s impressions of gender, worth, and – for some reason – patriotism.
How can that not be considered brave?
How is that not courageous?
How – if she has the opportunity to stand united with other people struggling – is that not, in at least a small way, heroic?
And if you say one more damn time that it’s because she’s not a soldier, I ask you to stop waging war against people that are different than you. Her battle is simply different than yours. And that’s okay.