Author: Annie Trussler – Contributor
“The Real Heroes are ______.” is a sentence that ends any number of ways on any number of social media platforms. The “Real Heroes” are soldiers fighting for freedom. The “Real Heroes” are those suffering with terminal illness. The “Real Heroes” are the police, firemen, war victims. If the demographic you can think of has suffered in any way, by any oppressor, for any amount of time, they are “automatically” more deserving of “hero” status than Caitlyn Jenner. The correlation between Jenner, and the soldiers in Afghanistan, as you might have assumed, is near non-existent. The only similarities between the two are the battlefields they face and impressive athleticism. Still, social platforms are plagued with comparisons devaluing the personal struggle of Jenner while underplaying the massive importance her presence plays in Trans* communities. Of course, the sixty-five year old is not a military commander, nor does she suffer from any terminal illness, but her heroism is not to be underrated.
Now, what constitutes a “Real Hero”, and when can heroism be compared? The modern “Hero” is a concept so easily and commonly misconstrued, as many treat “Hero” as a multi-purpose term, used to embody all acts of bravery enabling comparability across all fields. A veteran has not fought the same battles as a terminal cancer patient, nor has the wounded police officer faced the same adversity as the Transgender public. Despite these obvious differences, advances in Trans* activism are overshadowed by the Universal soldier, as clearly, because Jenner has not faced a barrage of bullet fire, there is no possible way her “bravery” can be considered heroic. If bravery is defined wholly by military prowess, the media ought to be highlighting Napoleon Bonaparte. But, like Bonaparte, these comparisons are irrelevant in our present century.
Despite the arguments of closet transphobes, the meager light shed on queer activism in recent years has not erased the struggle of queer and trans* people. Titles that spring up when Google searching “Trans* Women Death Rates” read, “List of Unlawfully Killed Transgender People…”, “A Transgender person is being murdered every 29 hours…”, “Where does the 1-in-12 murder rate for Trans* people come from?” To be Trans* is to live under threat, constantly afraid of the group of people down the street, around the corner, in the supermarket. To be Trans* is to fear that your significant other may eventually turn a gun on you, or that your parents may never welcome you into their home again. So easily, the right to one’s own gender expression is taken for granted, for many cisgendered people often forget that such an expression is something that would ever have to be fought for.
Jenner, much like Orange is the New Black Trans* actress, Laverne Cox, are stories of Trans* victory. Jenner and Cox live and thrive with positivity, influence, and power, but they stand for far more than the light at the end of the figurative tunnel. They stand as voices, symbols of transgender authority that call for justice, and beg for recognition of those who did not make it quite so far. Jenner is a symbol of Trans* magnificence, an example of the unfathomable beauty in the hearts and minds of all Trans* people. Jenner is the stolen future of Trans* youth, abused and neglected into suicide. Jenner is the wit of Leelah Alcorn, a young Trans* woman murdered by her parents’ prejudice and hate.
Jenner has not served the impoverished in Iraq, nor has she battled terminal illness – but she has become a symbol of hope for the otherwise abused, neglected, murdered, ignored, dehumanized public of unrecognized and silenced transgender citizens. Despite the incessant need to fill an unnecessary blank, Jenner, alongside Cox, and other Trans* media figures, are undeniably the beginning of a revolution. The relentless desire for the uneducated and prejudiced to quiet their voices means only that Trans* voices are now loud enough to be heard. You do not have to be a soldier to understand suffering. You do not have to see the fields of Afghanistan to know war. You do not have to wear a purple heart to be a hero.