I was recently asked to select a superhero who best defines my character. Like many, I have a favorite hero, but the challenge was exploring why I felt a kinship with that champion. The hero I chose was Buffy the Vampire Slayer and what I discovered during this exercise was an opportunity for self-empowerment as I defined the hero within myself. Growing up I always felt disenfranchised no matter what ‘community’ I tried to fit into. I realized early on that I am a unique individual and rejection was all too familiar. I had my bouts of angst and depression – and I know these things are common – but what I took from Buffy’s story is that it does not matter how the world sees you, or if anyone praises you for what you have done. What matters is what you are willing to fight for your convictions. I have faced demons in my past and I consider myself to be an ever-evolving human being. There will always be figures in the shadows waiting to pounce. I have accepted that as the nature of the world.
Ultimately we must face them, conquer them, and the spoil of war is growth. That is why I connect with Buffy. I see every challenge as an opportunity for growth and I know I cannot do it if I do not believe in myself.
Today’s campaigns challenge us to stand up against bullying, band as one to fight marriage inequalities, and occupy the streets to combat economic disparities. The strength of these campaigns are derived from the fiery passions of the number of individuals they can galvanize for their cause. Effectively each of these individuals are powerful beings and certainly heroes in their own rights. In fact, any one of us who stands for justice is a hero but where do we find our strength?
As a fan of all things Buffy I really connected with her story as a teen. On the surface Buffy represents the typical victim (she is a petite blond female and seemingly vulnerable) in a universe full of devils, demons, witches and human predators; in a horror film she would be ideal prey. But as we know appearances can be deceiving. Buffy is truly the strongest person on the planet, gifted with the power to overcome any and every obstacle or villain. Her tale is really a coming of age story and one huge allegory for the demons we face in real life. Her character matures from being the naïve captain of the cheerleading squad to accepting her destiny as the “chosen one.” Though her friends and family aid her, her strength lies within her self-determination and will to live. In moments when Buffy stops believing in herself the world literally begins to crumble around her. Victory comes when her faith in the fight against evil is restored: even if she is fighting for those who would not fight for her.
Here, at Compass, we are assembled to diminish stereotypes and challenge long-standing misconceptions about the character of the LGBT community. We empower each other, ourselves and define our heroes within. By summoning the hero that lives in each of us we become stronger individuals and as strong individuals we build powerful collectives that can create groundbreaking movements. Count yourself among a league of heroes as you break the silence against bullying, walk for AIDS and race for the cure for cancer. March hand-in-hand for same-sex marriage and be the voice for those who have yet to find their own. But first I extend this challenge to everyone: who is the superhero that best defines you?
Julius White is an HIV Case Manager at Compass. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.