Your “Comfort” Is Not My Responsibility: The Distrust of Difference

In a discussion I was involved in today about LGBTQ issues, one participant said that, when discussing the rights of transgender people to move in public spaces (i.e; use public restrooms that align with their gender identity and live in dorms that match their gender identity), one has to take into account the “comfort” of the people around them. My immediate response (albeit in my head, since it was a classroom setting) was bullshit. Here’s why.

“Comfort”, in my opinion, has become a euphemism for “prejudice.” People don’t want to say “I am prejudiced against transgender people & don’t want them in the same public spaces I operate in” so instead they say that they are uncomfortable. While still offensive, it is arguably less offensive and more socially acceptable than openly admitting you are prejudiced. But the reality is, this discomfort is, at its core, a function of the ingrained, internalized prejudice we have all been taught since we came out of the womb. We are constantly told by society that people who are different from us should be feared and distrusted. This leads to discomfort with difference- an incredibly problematic phenomenon that breeds hatred.

The problem with arguing that because of a cisgender person’s discomfort with a transgender individual, that transgender individuals should not be afforded the same rights as other human beings (such as being able to go to the bathroom and access public transportation) is that you can’t limit this to only transgender individuals. Where can you draw the line? What if we barred black people from using the same facilities as white people because white people were uncomfortable with these individuals who were different from them? (Oh wait, we did. It was called Jim Crowe.) What if we barred women from accessing education or jobs because males were uncomfortable with a female’s presence (Oh wait, we did. Women haven’t always been able to access higher education and well-paying jobs)?  What if we barred Muslims from being in the same areas as non-Muslims because of “discomfort”? (Oh wait, a presidential nominee believes this is a good idea…). It’s impossible to draw the line, because then anyone could claim discomfort and attempt to bar a marginalized group from access to certain places or rights.

The point I’m making is, this isn’t an issue of comfort. It’s an issue of prejudice and fear of the unknown. It is not a minority’s responsibility to make you feel comfortable in their presence, when they are doing nothing except existing. It is your responsibility to confront your prejudices and learn. Educate yourself! You don’t get to take away someone’s basic human rights to live freely and express themselves simply because you are “uncomfortable.”