HeroicStories #131

In April 1999, I started a sister publication to This is True called HeroicStories. The idea was actually more of a spinoff of the Honorary Unsubscribe, which had started in January 1998. My concept: talk about cool people who didn’t have to be famous (and die!) to get some recognition.

HeroicStories logoIt wasn’t long before there was a bit of a controversy. This page used to reside on the HeroicStories web site, but when I passed it on to a new publisher, and then it moved a another new publisher after that, it dropped off the HS web site, so I’m moving it here for the record (if you will).

First, let’s start with the story in question.

Reaching more than 24,500 subscribers in 106 countries:

Ain’t for the Likes of Me to Judge

by Paulette S. Menard
Massachusetts, USA

I am a male-to-female transsexual and have successfully transitioned fully to female. In the course of my transition, I had let slip many friendships due to many factors, among them fear of non-acceptance.

Emil is a friend who owns a motel in the next state. He moved there because it was getting too crowded here in the “flat lands”. We became friendly when I first stopped at his motel many years ago because we had been from neighboring towns. It was a chance for Emil to reconnect with his roots. I visited him two or three times a year as a male.

I hadn’t visited Emil throughout my transition because he can be rather conservative in his politics, is a lifelong bachelor, and is rough as a corn cob. After my surgery and living my new life for a while, I felt it was time to try to connect with him again.

I went to Emil’s motel and registered, and asked the desk clerk if Emil was around. She said he was at his cottage. After putting my things in my cottage, I walked over to visit him. I could see him watching me walk up and there was no recognition in his eyes.

I said hello and could see him working hard to place me. Suddenly his eyes lit up and he said “Well, hi yourself. Come up and sit yourself down here. Want a beer?” He looked me up and down — I was in a dress and he only had known me as man. His next words to me were, “Look different, don’t ya.” I smiled, laughed and agreed. We chatted about our respective home towns and other things for most of the afternoon. All the while I felt he was carefully avoiding asking any questions about what had happened to me. It got on to dinner time and Emil said, “Don’t suppose you’re hungry? Got a roast in the oven for tomorrow, but you’re here today.”

During dinner I asked him why he hadn’t asked any questions about how I looked. “Fig’red you’d get around to telling me sooner or later,” he replied. So I told him about the reasons for my transition and the forces that led up to it. His only question was “Are you happy?” I replied yes, and as far as he was concerned that was that!

After dinner as we were sitting and talking I asked him what he thought about my transition. His response was “Ain’t for the likes of me to judge one way or t’other.” It’s funny, but sometimes those you expect to have an adverse reaction to such a major life change are the first ones to accept. Even now, a few months after this happened, I still get misty-eyed when I think of how accepting Emil is. I find this whole episode to be amazing. You just can’t tell a book by its cover.

The “Publisher’s Note” that Accompanied the Story

I thought long and hard before publishing this story, but decided that it was important: in my experience, people don’t know much about transsexuals, and fear them. It is, I think, a fear of the unknown; part of my goal with HeroicStories is to show that people are people, even if they are different than you are. (This, for instance, is why I try so hard to get This is True stories from countries other than USA; I want readers to see the humanity behind who they might consider “enemies”; it’s very much harder to drop bombs on people you have some understanding of, and empathy with, than “enemies”.)

As a “sanity check”, I ran the story by the subscribers of the “Hero Talk” discussion list. At the time, there were about 140 people on the list; I asked if this was too controversial for HS. The reaction was very strong: they argued forcefully that I should run the story. With the permission of the people quoted, I’m including some of their comments here.

Andrew in B.C., Canada:

“Paulette’s decision to risk ‘coming out’ to a close friend, after letting many other friendships fall by the wayside, is a heroic breaching of her comfort zone. Emil’s lack of reaction is heroic; I’d venture to say that most, if not all, people would exhibit at least a modicum of shock, if not open intolerance, and I very much doubt you could find a large number of people who would be as hospitable as Emil was. Heroism often lies in jolting people out of their complacency, and this story certainly has the potential to do that in spades. If we’re on the front lines against prejudice and intolerance, we daren’t shy away from a potential victory because we fear the backlash from the prejudiced and intolerant.”

Paul in Colorado:

“The hero accepts and demonstrates unconditional love. That was Jesus’ message. How wonderful it got through!”

Beth in Michigan:

“I think it’s good to get people out of their comfort zone and expose them to new things. Sure, you may offend some, but you may open some eyes and make people more tolerant, too.” Caroline in California: “After all of the hate-crimes of the past months, I wish everyone would follow the lead of the woman’s friend and realize the people are people — no matter what sex, race, age, or belief system.”

David in Illinois:

“Paulette, though, had held prejudices about Emil, being very confident that he would be reluctant at best, perhaps totally closed-minded about her. His accomplishments were not only that he resisted falling into the prevailing prejudices about transsexuals but also that he dispelled her preconceptions about him.” Good point: prejudice held for “a good reason” is indeed still prejudice. Obviously, Paulette learned something from this encounter too, and perhaps she will reconsider letting some of her old friendships “slip” for “fear of non-acceptance”.

And Jutta in Germany:

“Thank you very much for this story, please run it! Emil reacted in a very heroic way, or maybe better said a very commendable way. Most people, and even those who pride themselves in being open minded, would not have reacted in such a non-judging way as he did. Reading through the story, I initially thought that Emil was confusing Paulette with somebody else, since he reacted without even questioning. This shows even more strength to wait for Paulette to initiate the conversation about her transition, and treating her as a friend, like nothing had changed. WONDERFUL!!!”

The Readers Comment

(Published 17 March 2000)

No surprise: the story brought a bit of mail. About half of the “anti” letters are included, and less than a tenth of the “pro” letters.

Tim in North Carolina was one of the first to comment:

I admire you for running the story. People must understand God commands us to love one another. He does not say we have to like or accept what others do he says we must love them. Too many times people will let their ‘religion’ get in the way of the truth. I have heard to many times “God does not love ‘those’ type of people.” Sadly they do not realize that in hating a person they lose a little of the relationship they have with God. How can you love someone you can not see when you can not love someone you can see? So keep on posting stories of ‘different’ people. In one way or another we are all different — we just do not realize it.

Allen in Korea:

I thought the story was great, one of the best, but I also see how much need there is for this ‘project’ of yours. It’s sad to think that someone who is just willing to accept others is such a rare creature in our world. Yes, I agree that Paulette also has her prejudices, understandably so. Having lived outside the comfort zone of the US now for several years and experiencing many different cultures, I can definitely relate to the core element of this story, acceptance, and a non-judgmental approach to life. I hope the bulk of the readers also appreciate your decision to run the story and realize that its not about transsexualism, but it is more about how we treat each other as humans. I’ve never really thought of myself as prejudiced, but this story has made me a bit more aware of my own little prejudices as well. My marriage is an inter-racial one, I’m American and my wife is a Korean national, and I have to admit to a few experiences of excluding or shying from people who I think might be disapproving. I’ll try to rectify that. No, I will rectify that. Cheers to both Paulette and Emil.

This is one of my favorite letters in the batch. Allen believes in being non-judgmental. But like virtually all of us, he harbors some prejudice. Yet when he realizes one, he doesn’t react violently and deny it, as many people have (see below): he simply pledges to fix it. A story changed his life, just a bit, and made him appreciate others just a touch more. That, in a nutshell, is the power of HeroicStories, and why I felt it was important to run Paulette’s story.

John in California:

Being heroic frequently means doing something because it’s *right*, not avoiding it because it’s controversial. Certainly Paulette’s story should have been told. Just as certainly, some people might be upset that you included it. So what. Perhaps you remember that we have corresponded before, sometimes in violent agreement, sometimes in harsh disagreement. I’ve long believed that if two people agree on everything, then one of them is unnecessary. If some of your readers couldn’t handle that story, then why are they reading your stuff anyway? I suspect most of them have become heroic enough in themselves to handle it. Glad you thought so too. I keep on enjoying your stuff, Randy. I enjoy it much more than I agree with it. I’m sure you wouldn’t begin trying to please everybody. Just keep playing the part of yourself, and that’ll be just fine.

I certainly would never expect everyone to like, or agree with, every story I publish. Of course some stories are meant to challenge people, to expand their minds and vision, and to see other points of view! Of course I hope to get people to see beyond their own biases, prejudice, and limited views of the world! What’s the point in publishing if you cannot bring more understanding and thought to the world?!

Doug in Texas:

“Ain’t for the Likes of Me to Judge” says it all! If more people in this crazy world of ours would heed this very simple advice, we would soon see an end to racism, gang fights, and blatant prejudices in general. It certainly helped me to recognize my own obvious apprehensions to reading the story at all, and hope others will eventually view it as I did.

A newspaper editor:

When I saw the subject material, I found myself immediately repulsed by it and unable to see any opportunity for heroism. I’m glad that you included the comments of your ‘board’ — it was only after reading what they had to say that I find myself seeing the heroism in Emil’s conduct. Still, I think you are going to get a lot of grief from this item. And yes, I can see the personal bravery in Paulette’s choosing to face a difficult situation — but I note here that everyday individuals make brave relationship choices every day. Paulette is no different, but her act isn’t heroic.

After sending in his note, this newspaper editor was among several to sign up to publish HeroicStories in his paper.

(True site posting note: At the time, HeroicStories syndication to newspapers was available, and free.)

Ray in Ohio:

Thank you for having balance in the stories you select. The balance is essential; because you are not beating a single drum, you reach people on many levels. Your basic theme — heroism — is excellent. I appreciate the care with which you choose stories. ‘Nuff said.

Kay in Florida:

Thank you so much for sharing this courageous transgendered woman’s story! I can’t even put my relief and gratitude into words, that the entire world does not condemn Those Not Like Them to silence and invisibility and the death of oppression. My hope for the future — a live & let live future — is renewed.

Caryl in Illinois:

I know you will get a lot of comments on this one, but I had to let you know that if it were not for the words of Paul in Colorado: (“The hero accepts and demonstrates unconditional love. That was Jesus’ message. How wonderful it got through!”) I would have cancelled my subscription. (Thanks for the reminder, Paul) Unfortunately, the message you are sending with the story the way it is written is that it is a great thing to be a transexual and anybody who has a hard time with it is somehow a “bad person.” This story, unfortunately, is too one-sided. So what if Emil had had a hard time with it at first? If he had been confused, or upset he would be a bad person instead of the hero? How wrong!

The opposite of “hero” is certainly not “a bad person”! And how can anyone think that anyone feels it is “a great thing to be a transsexual”? Why would anyone choose to be completely at odds with everyone and everything — from their own body to the entire world?! They wouldn’t! No one would choose such a fate!

I said with the story that most people have no understanding of the issues transsexuals face. Many of the negative letters (below) prove that without a doubt, and reinforce the reason why it is so important to present a tiny, really very non-threatening, fact: that transsexuals are people. Yet even that simple message is rejected by so many. That is what I find “wrong”!

Cathy in Texas:

I noticed that some of the comments you printed SEEMED to refer to people who feel differently than the writer does as “prejudiced and intolerant.” (If we’re on the front lines against prejudice and intolerance, we daren’t shy away from a potential victory because we fear the backlash from the prejudiced and intolerant. — Andrew in B.C. Canada) I’m tired of being told that I’m intolerant and prejudiced because I have firm beliefs and stick to them. The truth is, it’s those who INSIST that I accept anything and everything as OK, who are intolerant. If I don’t do exactly as they want, I’m labeled and reviled. They insist that everybody be tolerated, yet they refuse to tolerate me! Their religion, so to speak, insists on tolerance, yet that is the one thing they are unwilling to afford to those who disagree with them. I view this as total hypocrisy.

This follows exactly Caryl’s reaction: the opposite of “people who feel differently than the writer” is not “prejudiced and intolerant”. Andrew knew from experience that there would be “a backlash”. And if you take the time to read this entire page, you’ll see there is one — and many are indeed from people who are “prejudiced and intolerant”. Does that include you? It doesn’t seem so to me.

No one is arguing that every one and every action should be tolerated — that would of course be ridiculous. However, if you are intent on becoming a better person, on embracing others, on being a positive force in the world rather than a negative one, then yes: I “insist” that you at least attempt to understand that Paulette is a human being worthy of consideration as a human being, and one with feelings. She has a problem, and whether you agree that the problem is a mis-wiring of her brain vs. the body she was born with or not, she does not deserve being “labeled and reviled” any more than you do.

Pam in Idaho:

This story is about more than one “unconventional” decision. I married a man 30 years younger than I. This has been a match made in Heaven. We have a good, strong marriage and are happy as can be. We were careful about who we told — people can be so self-righteous and judgmental, and frankly, we weren’t very interested in negative comments. It continues to be a challenge — we have found out who our true friends are. [and aren’t!] For some reason everyone wants everyone else to be happy — but only if their choices agree with their own perceptions of “normal”. Thanks for a great story!

Ray in Luxembourg:

Wow. I have to say, given my own experiences, I don’t understand this idea of a woman trapped in a man’s body, or what would drive a person to undergo surgery to remove bits and pieces with which I would never consider parting. I also don’t understand tattoos and body piercings. But I try not to project my own experiences on other people, as they are different people with different experiences, which I could never hope to completely understand. I would expect that Paulette thought long and hard about what she was doing, and the consequences, especially with friends who might not understand, and in the end would respect her decision.

Joel in Florida:

I am writing this note to accompany my request to be removed from all of your mailing lists. The cause for my request to leave was due to your recent e-mail sent to my home containing sexually explicit and perverse dialogue. This is not what I expected from heroic stories and I am still upset that you would take such careless liberties to send things of that nature into peoples homes where their families will be exposed to it. The man in your story who encouraged this man in his trying to become a woman is no more a hero than a person who encourages a drug addict to believe that he does not have a problem. Please honor my request to be removed from your mailings, I no longer feel that I can trust your organization and allow heroic stories in my home.

Joel, there was certainly no “explicit” dialogue in the story, sexual, perverse, or otherwise. This may be a shock for you: children old enough to read are old enough to know there is a difference between boys and girls — and I’ll bet they know more about such issues than you think. That you’re this reactionary about such a simple and sweet story of human kindness makes me sad for your children. Of course you can (and did) unsubscribe — and it’s your loss. I’ll have more to say about this below, too.

Jay in California:

After many months of reading your ‘This is True’ and ‘HeroicStories’ controversial editorial opinions and no holds barred stances, I must say I am very disappointed in you for ‘having to think, long and hard’ about publishing this story. I believe you have just shown yourself to be slightly narrow-minded yourself. I cannot fathom a good reason to even stop and reconsider publishing a story that involves all the elements that you require.

That assumes the story did involve “all” the “elements I require”, but the reason I have to think long and hard is, I care about what I publish. I think about all the stories, and make decisions about what to publish, every day — all writers, editors and publishers do. I don’t want to upset my readers, and I don’t want to be barraged with hundreds of e-mails over a single story, but I knew from more than five years of online publishing experience that this story would do both — as we see by the very existence of this page.

Knowing those negatives would occur, it then becomes a decision of, in this case, “is it worth it?” The answer is an obvious yes, but that doesn’t mean the decisions like this that publishers have to face are always easy. I don’t think having to make those kinds of decisions shows me to be narrow-minded, broad-minded, or anywhere in between; it’s irrelevant.

Carol in Texas:

Thank you so much for sharing the story about Emil’s reaction to Paulette. My 17 year old child came to me two years ago and told me that since before the age of 4 she felt at odds with her biological gender. This is a medical condition known as Gender Identity Disorder and there is no cure. The treatment is transitioning to the proper gender, gender reassignment surgery and the appropriate hormones. As a child she suffered in silence because of the prejudice of people that do not know the facts about this condition. So by you telling the story it shows that yes others may be different but they are human and deserve all the respect and rights that others take for granted. It was heartwarming to read that so many people were encouraging you to go ahead and tell the story. I thank each and every one of them. Yes, this story really does belong with the other stories in your HeroicStories Collection. It is a wonderful lesson of tolerance and true friendship. Thank you for all the stories and the people that share them with us.

This is just one of many such letters. It is amazing to me how many readers wrote to say that they have direct experience with this issue within their own families — from an audience of just 24-and-a-half thousand readers. This is not an issue that just touches a tiny number of people! Like many issues forced into hiding by bigots, it’s a bigger issue than the public thinks.

And the last word on the “pro” side is this, from HeroicStories’ consulting pastor, the Rev. Rus Jeffrey of New York:

This comes at a very interesting time in light of a conversation I had with someone today. We were talking about “why” people say things. We were talking about this as a result of a book I’m reading right now where the author says, “To really allow God to stretch you and teach you new things, you must allow Him to totally blow any and all theological assumptions you may have out of the water.” We then talked about a professor of mine at the World Prayer Center in Colorado Springs who likes to say things to “blow people out of the water” and make them think. I too am one who likes to do that. And you do it well. So I must say that I applaud your move of “blowing people out of the water” Randy. It’s interesting to note that simply because your ran the story, people assume you embrace the lifestyle without any regard to tolerance. Tsk, tsk.

As you know, Rus, I neither embrace it nor condemn it — I do not know enough about transsexuals to judge them, and I’m not interested in doing so in the first place. As far as I can see, transsexuals are no more sexually deviant than, say, priests — I’ve seen dozens, if not hundreds, of newspaper articles about priests raping children, and I don’t recall even one about a transsexual raping anyone, child or adult. What does that prove? Absolutely nothing.

Just because some priests rape children doesn’t mean they all do, or that even a large percentage of them do. And even if I had found an article about a transsexual raping someone, that would say a lot about that individual, but nothing about transsexuals in general. What it shows is we need to base judgments on what we do know, and the first thing we know about Paulette is that she is a person with feelings.

What we don’t know is her sexual feelings, interests or practices, since that was not an issue and wasn’t even brought up in the story. If your philosophy — religious or not — demands that you treat people as you wish to be treated, then you must respect Paulette, and people like her, as a person. The essence of the story is that a lot of people don’t, yet Emil did, rising above the average person in her life. That’s pretty much the definition of a “hero”.

The Other Side of the Coin

Heather in Texas:

i wish i had a long time to explain why i am unsubscribing. its not that i judge paulette or have a specific problem with this story. i agree with the comment about being unconditional like Jesus. however there are differences between accepting and loving people (being unconditional) and tolerating. my world view is based on the Bible. i believe it is absolute Truth. i enjoyed heroic stories for the sweet, heart warming stories that caused me to tear up but i do not want to spend time reading stories like this one.

Let me get this straight: you think you can love someone while simultaneously being intolerant of them? I couldn’t quite come to grips with that, especially since your intolerance is, by your statement, “based on the Bible”. I asked the HeroicStories consulting pastor, the Rev. Rus Jeffrey (also quoted above), how someone who believes in the Bible could love someone and be intolerant at the same time.

His reply:

“They can’t. Many times people will use examples from the Bible for issues they don’t agree with, but will totally ignore the same principle when it comes to an area of their personal life.” [Yes, she already ignores that pesky “Judge not” stuff, doesn’t she?] “I’m sure the person who wrote these comments to you does have sin in her life, but since what was written in HeroicStories does not relate directly to her life, it’s easy to pass judgment. I’m left to ask the question — I wonder what would happen if she discovered someone from her family was a transsexual?”

Enrique in Puerto Rico:

I am sorry, but HeroicStories # 131 forces me to leave. Although I sympathize with the plight et al, this should NOT be the place for this. It goes completely beyond the supposed scope of this newsletter. I regret having to do this and wish you to the best of luck.

I’m sorry too, but your action demonstrates that you indeed do not “sympathize with the plight et al” (how banal!) The “supposed scope” is publicly posted in the HeroicStories manifesto [copied below]. Did you read it? I doubt it. And if not here, where? If not now, when? Even you admit there is a “plight” here; Emil responded to it, and beautifully. That pretty much defines why the story ran: there was a need; someone saw it; that person filled the need without question, despite social convention. It’s perfectly within the “scope” of HeroicStories.

Daweena (no location given):

I am thorougly disgusted by the sick and twisted story you ran about the transsexual. You write people don’t know much about them??? Well, what’s to know?? They are against everything that the Lord stands for. They are as far away from God as they can be. They are in great need of mental help. I now believe that you are too, as you must condone there actions by running that trashy story. I am not judging them. I don’t hate them, but I certainly in NO WAY condone their actions nor would promote them by running a story by them……….I don’t hate gay people either, but I certainly wouldn’t promote their ill actions, nor would I promote gay rights or anything to do with helping to promote something that the Lord is so against. All I can do is simply pray for these problemed people, and YOU as well.

What, exactly, is “sick” and “twisted” here? That someone was in great need of help? There certainly are no sexual acts mentioned in the story; for all anyone knows, Paulette is completely celibate, so what, specifically, is sick and twisted? Nothing, so far as I can see.

What “actions” did I “condone” by publishing her story? None: she took no action in the story. Where’s the perversion of which you speak? There is none! Using surgery to change her body? Then I assume you also condemn people who have had face lifts. I assume you have not mutilated your own body by piercing your ears. If you have, then aren’t you, by your definition, sick and twisted? No? Then why is Paulette?

Perhaps what you say is correct: worst case, she has a terrible mental problem. That makes her “sick” and “twisted”? Is that what God teaches you — to condemn those who are ill? Is that what Jesus did — turn His back on the ill? No, I don’t think Paulette is sick. But people who stand behind the Bible to justify their hatred, insisting there’s nothing they need to know? That’s worse than hypocritical; that sounds very sick indeed.

John in Washington, D.C.:

To quote a noted British statesman, Edmund Burke, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”. When I signed up to subscribe to “HEROIC” Stories, I expected manly, inspirational sagas of dangerous, sometimes lonely, struggles against overwhelming odds, conquering raw wilderness, battling evil and tyranny, and daring last-second rescues. Instead, I just see more of this fashionably trendy “politically correct”, “revisionist history” (concepts that are Satanic and Marxist in origin and application) government-approved, Hollywood-promoted propaganda. While the majority may applaud the contemporary idea of a man eschewing his manliness, it is condemned by the HOLY BIBLE, and I choose to stand with my God on this issue, come Hell or high water. We, as individuals, ARE supposed to judge. It’s our duty, part of daily living, and cannot be avoided, but merely temporarily shirked. For the good of society, we MUST have hard and fast standards of right and wrong. Any man or woman who so hates their own body or their own selves, that they would choose such drastic action, has serious personal problems which we need to address and redress. They desperately need our help, not our justification for perversion. “Tolerant”? That is a too-frequently misused word which has become nothing more than a codeword for acceptance of evil.

The concept of “judge not, lest ye be judged” is not mine, John. I do believe it’s in that Bible you’re trying to hit me with, unless — as it seems — your copy has a lot of things crossed out. (And what a laugh! Anyone who insists I’m trying to be “politically correct” sure doesn’t know me very well!)

Yes, I can believe that your concept of “heroism” only involves men fighting communists — preferably hand-to-hand. How trite. How boring. And what a narrow view of humanity. Evil? There is no evil in this story, just a person who is trying to find herself and a man who steps forward to help in a non-judgmental (there’s that Biblical ideal again!) way. I don’t know where you’re standing, but it certainly doesn’t look like it’s “by God”.

Richard in Texas (converted from ALL CAPS for easier reading):

Sorry guy’s but I do not accept anything that is perverted as normal. We have come a long way in accepting people as they are, (race) but when we as humans accept perversion as a normal or even heroic way of life what then do we call right and what would be called wrong. By using words such as “fear them” and “they might consider enemies” is a poor choice of words describing someone who believes that perversion is wrong. I have no fear of them nor do I consider them to be my enemies, I feel sorry for them and for what they do to their families. It makes me sick to think that the behavior that is portrayed in H.S #131 is considered heroic in any manor. Emil along with you Randy has no backbone, and chose not to call what is right right and wrong wrong. A little compassion on his part to find out why someone can think that they can be changed from a man to a women and be happy would have at least salvaged your respect with me.

Accepting people for their race is not the last step, it’s the first. Keep working on it: you have a long way to go.

Mary in Wisconsin:

I’m sorry but I think you should have checked with some other people other then the ones you did on this disgusting article. I thought your Web sites were above that sort of stuff. I didn’t really appreciate it at all.

You thought my “web sites” were above what, pointing out that people who have done nothing to you and are oppressed, reviled, and hated for it are indeed people? You indeed didn’t “appreciate” it, Mary.

Judy in Louisiana:

First of all, it is not my intention to hurt anyone. In fact, I’m sure Ms. Menard has had more than enough of his/her share of pain and grief. I certainly do not want to add to that grief, and to be honest with you, I find the whole situation a very sad one for this individual. However, I fail to see where Ms. Menard’s transition story would qualify as an act of “heroism” in the real essence of the word just because he/she decided to “come out.” Now, I know this comment alone will be enough to incite a defensive stance by the folks who think that it’s wrong for anybody of a different point of view to dare say such a thing! But if we are confident that we stand in the Truth, there’s really no reason for anyone to become defensive.

A surprising number of “anti” people came to the rather interesting conclusion that the “hero” of the story is Paulette. Yes, it takes a lot of courage to undergo such a surgery, and to face the world with such a problem on their shoulders. That’s not “heroic” in my book, but it is obvious to me that Emil is “heroic”!

It’s so obvious that the story is not “about transsexuals” but “about” someone rising above bigotry and acknowledging someone as a person — and being concerned for their happiness. Many simply freeze at the sight of the word “transsexual” and then apply labels such as “sick”, “twisted”, “deviant”, “disgusting”, “evil” and more, and forget in their righteousness what they’re applying those labels to — a human being. It’s “not your intention to hurt anyone”, yet you are being hurtful.

Pastor Rus Jeffrey again:

One of the common lines in the category of “I don’t like the story” goes something like this: “I love HeroicStories, but I don’t want to read stories like…” The way I look at it, God invented the “delete” button for this very reason. For crying out loud, can’t these people just delete the message they don’t want to read? Let’s spin this thinking out a bit here. Let’s say one night I’m channel surfing and discover a skin shot on a TV channel. Do I suddenly call up the cable company and say, “Disconnect my service because I don’t like what I saw on TV tonight. In the past, I’ve had no problem with the programming on this particular channel, but tonight you crossed the line!”? Of course not!

Yep, I’ve said it before in the publisher’s note: I don’t expect every person to like every story, but I know every story will be loved by many readers. If you don’t like a particular story, fine: there will be another one in a few days. Two things really bother me: one was the theme, “If this is the direction that HeroicStories is going…”, then they don’t like it. When I ran several “broken down in my car” stories, people didn’t wonder if we were “going in the direction of” all travel stories, all the time.

And second, rather than just say “I don’t like this story” and hitting delete, as you suggest, it does bother me when people “unsubscribe”. They loved previous stories and they’re going to deprive themselves of future stories they would love because they’re too afraid to acknowledge their own bigotry and think about changing, so they can be part of the best of humanity rather than the worst? Very sad, but it’s their choice — and not getting the stories they love is their very great loss, not mine. There were few such defections, however: there was no noticeable reduction in the subscriber numbers, and the growth rate after the story ran is normal.

My Conclusion

HeroicStories readers, almost by definition, consist of a wide cross-section of humanity which hopes there are still good people in the world, or embraces the fact that there are. Yet some of you are quick to label a human being as “perverted” or worse, despite the fact that she has done nothing but her best to solve a serious problem that has been thrust upon her. She did not choose her fate, as no one would choose such a problem, not even the worst masochist ever born. She bravely worked to solve it the best way she could, even though she knew she would face discrimination, hatred, and misunderstanding.

While it is indeed heartening to see the large outpouring of support (happily, the selection of letters on this page is not representative of the letters I received, which was about 85 percent “pro” and 15 percent “anti”), several HeroicStories readers were quick to condemn her. Imagine, then, how much worse the prejudice and intolerance is in the general population! We have a long way to go indeed.

Special kudos go to HeroicStories managing editor Kit Riley, who championed the story and performed its initial edit, and to the HeroTalk members who helped with their insightful comments before publication.

Randy Cassingham
HeroicStories Publisher

The HeroicStories Manifesto

The founding Manifesto of HeroicStories was included on its web site before publication even started, and I ran it under these ideas for the entire time. This text has never been updated since then, but is no longer on its site. Thus, it is copied here for

Manifesto — n. A public declaration of principles or intentions.
(American Heritage)
The “news” concentrates on “newsworthy” things, which is practically defined as the wrong, the bad, the horrific, the tragic. In life, those things are the exceptions — that’s why they’re “news”. But fed a steady diet of the negative, people have started to believe that news is life. The wrong, the bad, the horrific, and the tragic seem normal, but they are not. Good people are normal. Life is normal. Lending a hand to others is normal. People must be proactively reminded of the normal to regain their balance and regain a realistic view of humanity.

At the same time, many people wait for someone to do something about things they don’t like. People must realize that they can “do something” themselves. They can say something, they can tell someone, they can act by themselves. They do not have to sit and watch injustice.

One person can change the world. One act can inspire others to act. Martin Luther King’s “Dream” lives on decades after his death. A lone Chinese man blocking a tank on Tiananmen Square sent a powerful message to the entire world. Reading about regular people in HeroicStories doing something sets an example and can change people’s lives. HeroicStories proves that individuals matter and do change the world.

“It is better to give than to receive.” The people that are on the receiving end of a “heroic” act often get something they desperately need, even though the “hero” may not even realize it. But the hero often also gets something: a smile, a thank you, or a simple realization that they are part of the solution, not part of the problem, making the act a win-win occasion.

The media has an incredible power to change the world, but it barely even tries to tap that power. Celebrities are rarely heroes. The sports and TV stars kids look up to one week may be under arrest the next week — and the response of the media is to slap the celebrity down just as hard and fast as they held them up as paragons. Kids deserve better. We all do.

The commoditization of culture is the dumbing down of our entertainment — TV slated for eighth-grade educations, magazines feeling they must create celebrities to put on the covers to attract readers to the introduction of the next manufactured celebrity. But what kind of readers do they attract? There is of course room for all sorts of publications, because there are all sorts of readers. I want readers who can think and are willing to act.

The Internet allows an incredible reach — not only out to readers, but in — bringing in authors and stories, as well as feedback from readers. Those stories can then be held out to a worldwide audience that might never have heard them otherwise. HeroicStories not only speaks to the world, but also actively solicits stories from the world. As the Internet, and readership, grows, I expect more and more of the authors will be from outside the USA.

Because the Internet allows anyone to post anything, readers want an editor — a “gatekeeper” — to select gems from the noise. The editor can also give the author a helping hand, making things smooth and readable. But the editor can also get in the way, making diverse voices homogenous. A good editor can accomplish the former and avoid the latter by being aware of the danger and working to avoid it.

“Humans are story-telling animals,” as a friend of mine likes to say. From the beginning of language, we have sat around the campfire and told stories. Made up explanations of what the lights were in the sky. Told of bold exploits. Regaled with tales from afar. TV is a poor substitute, which is something that kids know instinctively: after a day of watching TV, they don’t want to go to sleep until you tell them a story. Adults get too busy to remember the simple, good things of life, but people young and old need stories; it’s part of our very being.

HeroicStories’ plain text format forces readers to make up their own pictures. The people in the stories are, for the most part, free of race identification. They could be white, black, Asian, or anything else. They could be tall, short, fat, skinny, blind, deaf, disabled, rich, poor, young, old. Christian, atheist, Islamic. The fact is, it doesn’t matter. They are, quite simply, people. We can get as much from each story as we wish — as much as we’re willing to imagine.

People from all over the world read HeroicStories — it’s part of the power of the Internet. With over 100 countries represented among the online readership, the penetration is enormous. Yet some of the readers consider some of the other readers their “enemies”. Wars have been, and are being, fought among them. Yet they can all appreciate the power of the stories they read together. They can be inspired by the acts of “heroism” displayed, and of the long-lasting effects they brought. They can learn that no matter where the story is based, the people involved are, indeed, people. It’s much harder to drop bombs on people than “enemies”.

HeroicStories are most powerful when they relate a simple incident from long ago that had life-changing impact. What makes those stories powerful is the illustration that a small gift of time, or effort, or self can have profound, long-lasting effects on others. What might have seemed “nothing” at the time might have been something very big indeed.

People not only want to hear stories, they want to tell them. HeroicStories not only gives people an opportunity to tell their stories to the world, but readers are specifically allowed to share the stories by forwarding them to others. There is no charge for this — in fact, subscriptions and newspaper syndication contracts are free — but the copyright notice insists that when readers forward stories to others that they be left intact. This not only allows particular stories to spread to a possibly huge audience, but also allows people down the line to understand the stories’ origin, to connect with that origin, to get their own free subscriptions, and to learn how to share their own stories.

The copyright on the stories allows the force of law, ethics and morals to control this expansive distribution. It enables the rules that the stories must be forwarded intact on the Internet, and that print publications must agree to the rules of access. And the authors deserve the assurance that the stories they contributed will be used for the intended purpose. The rules keep distribution under control so that others cannot improperly profit from the work done to bring the stories to the world in the first place.

There are plenty of places to find religious stories; HeroicStories is not one of them. We’re not “anti-religion”, but rather we are out to show that people are good, whether or not they adhere to any particular faith. We reject the notion that the “heroes” depicted in our stories are “angels” or the result of some sort of divine intervention. Such a concept is saying, essentially, that good acts must have been performed by angels since people are not that good. If people can’t be good, why should anyone try? Such an attitude must be rejected; it’s quite simply wrong! And our stories prove otherwise — each one shows people at their best, and shows why we should try to make the world better.

Thus, HeroicStories’ mission is to use the power of the Internet and existing media to bring diverse, international voices to the world to explore the idea that people are good, that individuals and individual action matter, and that regularly showing examples of people being good to each other will inspire similar actions in others.