My heroes have always been cowboys like Roy Rogers and The Lone Ranger and Sheriff Matt Dillon. I loved the good guys back in the days when they were easy to identify. Brave men who stood tall against villains with black mustaches curling oddly around snarling lips – those were the best. I wanted to be one of them. You could have your Superman with his Big S on his chest but seriously, who would go flying around in an outfit as tight as his? Come on, man. That wasn’t believable. Cowboys, on the other hand, rode beautiful horses and wore boots with their jeans or buckskin pants and had great wide-brimmed hats and no worries about kryptonite. Their pretty girlfriends knew who they were and were prepared to wait for them while they fought their battles in the dusty streets and sage-covered hills. They always won because they could outdraw or outsmart their enemies. It was a perfect world.
Sixty years later I still love my cowboys and living in Texas again is a strong reminder of their mystique in the Lone Star State of my birth. The folklore that surrounds them and the expectations of Hollywood happy endings in the midst of the vicissitudes of life have inspired me during good times and bad. Thanks, guys.
Life is about change, though, and I’ve had new heroes who don’t ride horses or wear six-shooters on a regular basis. The Famous Heroes are household names and not surprisingly for a lesbian: women. I could list fifty of them, but I’ll name ten. Susan B. Anthony. Gertrude Stein. Barbara Jordan. Gloria Steinem. Geraldine Ferraro. Ann Richards. Molly Ivins. Eudora Welty. Meryl Streep. Ellen DeGeneres. These are the activists and authors and actors whose courage stands out to me. The villains may not have mustaches any more but these women met them at some point in their lives and stood up to them through their words and actions. You’ll be able to name your own Famous Heroes if you think about it for a minute.
And then think about the Unfamous Ones – those heroes who are often unsung. You know them. They are the women and men who’ve lost children, husbands, wives, sisters, brothers and parents along the way and have kept moving forward in spite of their losses. They are the parents who’ve encouraged their children to better themselves through education and who’ve put their money where their mouth is and paid that costly college tuition and room and board and books and hoped their kids would have better opportunities than they did. The villains aren’t necessarily people any more, either. Cancer, alcoholism, drug addiction, Alzheimer’s, divorce, betrayal, politics at work, corporate greed, financial difficulties, the Me First Culture of selfishness and self-centeredness are a few of the villains we may face today. Our six-shooters don’t have enough ammunition sometimes when we fire away at these outlaws but our Unfamous Heroes don’t give up and find within themselves the strength to stand and deliver.
If you live long enough, you’ll figure out the world isn’t perfect and you’ll definitely meet some nasty villains, but remember you aren’t alone in the battles. Your heroes have gone before you. May the spirits of those heroes ride with you and give you comfort and encouragement in the showdown moments of your life.