Opinion

Becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable

In recent months, the debate over which bathroom facilities transgender people in the United States should use in public spaces has become one that has divided Americans. States such as North Carolina have already made up their minds on the matter, and have passed legislation preventing transgender students from using restrooms and locker rooms that do not match their biological sex. Even here in Wisconsin, bills similar to that in North Carolina have been proposed, and the discussion over them is widely thought to be opened again when session begins again this fall.

In 2016, we as Americans will encounter a number of major events: There is a presidential election just a few months away, we are still without a ninth Supreme Court justice and the world has already experienced one major terror attack, with the constant threat of others always there. Yet, with all of this to face as a country, we remain with a heated and difficult discussion over something that will only make the lives of certain Americans more difficult. The targeting of transgender people through legislation is something that I find unacceptable, for I believe that we, being the United States, are supposed to be the welcoming home of all people, regardless of sex, race, sexuality, religion and or any other factor. Making life more difficult for people who are widely oppressed socially already, is something that I believe to be wrong. 

However, I recognize that bathrooms and locker rooms are dangerous places. There have been numerous instances in recent months and years that have shown this to be true. But these locker room and bathroom dangers are present regardless of one's sex or gender identity, and to generalize an entire population as "dangerous" because they may not be the same biologically as the other people in a restroom is something that I cannot accept. I am well aware of the startling statistics concerning sexual assault and rape in the United States, and for this reason I am not going to throw them at you in this piece. I would like to approach this topic from a different view,in terms of progress as a nation.

The Daily Show's Trevor Noah recently shared his thoughts on these bathroom bills, and in doing so he brought up a point that has resonated with me. Noah acknowledged the dangers of bathrooms and locker rooms. He recognized that this is a situation and a topic that makes many people uncomfortable, and he certainly did not deny people their right to their beliefs, but his resonating point was that progress is something that always makes people uncomfortable. In his segment, which lasted a little more than seven minutes, he used a mix of comedy and seriousness to get his point across. And it is upon this point, that I would like to build.

Imagine it is July 2, 1964, one of the most important days in American history; Congress has just passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, outlawing discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. No longer were schools going to be segregated, nor the workplace nor public facilities. This was a day that had to have made every American a little uncomfortable. Regardless of whether you supported the act or not, everyday American life was changing in almost all aspects, and this is something people are never totally comfortable with. But as a society we became comfortable with it, and because of our comfort with the uncomfortable, our nation flourished and grew into the great country we now live in.

Go back even further, to Aug. 18, 1920. The 19th amendment was ratified on this day—42 years after it was originally proposed by Sen. Aaron A. Sargent—preventing any U.S. citizen from being denied the right to vote based on sex. Our country once again found itself in unfamiliar waters. Women now had the power to participate in a world that once only belonged to men: the world of government. And this has been proven to be, yet again, a most important day in American history. Sargent overcame his discomfort, and we as a society overcame our discomfort, and we are only better because of it nearly 100 years later, as women serve as some of our most important and best political officers.

You should not ignore the statistics about sexual assault and rape. Nor should you disregard the dangers of locker rooms and bathrooms. But you should allow yourself to have an open mind. Think back to a time in your life when you were uncomfortable. Think about how good it felt when you got past it. Now try to imagine what it would have been like to potentially live in constant discomfort because of who you are. Imagine not being able to go to the restroom without having at least a hint of doubt or worry about doing so. I'm not asking you to change who you are. I'm asking you to remain open-minded. To not make the lives of transgender people any more uncomfortable than they may or may not be already. I'm asking you to show your true colors as an American and support all people of this nation.

My point is this: Become comfortable with the uncomfortable, because it is the first step toward progress.

Jack is a sophomore intending to major in journalism and political science. What are your thoughts about the "bathroom bills" states have been penning across the country? What do you think is the true meaning of making progress as a nation? Let us know at opinion@dailycardinal.com. 

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