BLOOMINGTON — The author of a book about a transgender child and her family challenged Illinois Wesleyan University students on Wednesday tell their stories and speak out, “even if sometimes you have to shout to be heard.”
Amy Ellis Nutt, author of “Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of An American Family,” said, “In today's world, we are all messengers of change.”
Directing her remarks at students attending the annual President's Convocation, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist said, “It is your generation in particular that is driving the pace of many good sociological changes we see today. … Diversity is the norm to you, not an outlier idea.”
She said social changes are coming because "brave people have decided to step out of he shadows and say, 'Look at us. We are not what we appear to be from the outside. ... The binary model is wrong because we're here to say it is."
Nutt noted that 72 percent of Americans favor laws barring discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. In one year, from 2016 to 2017, the percentage of people who said they knew a transgender person doubled from 17 percent to 35 percent, she said.
However, Nutt said, “ignorance is still the lazy enemy of truth,” and change isn't always moving forward.
She pointed to “bathroom bills” that would restrict which bathrooms transgender people could use bathrooms and other anti-LGBT legislation.
“Gender is not a choice,” said Nutt, adding that passing laws that discriminate against transgender people is a choice.
“The idea of someone being transgender remains stubbornly resistant to widespread understanding,” said Nutt.
But she sounded a hopeful tone in pointing out how once radical ideas have become the norm: We no longer think the Earth is flat or the center of the universe or that left-handedness is pathological.
Nutt is a neuroscience and mental health writer for the Washington Post. She received the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing in 2011 while she was a reporter for the New Jersey Star-Ledger for her series about the 2009 sinking of a fishing boat off the coast of New Jersey.
“Becoming Nicole” was chosen for IWU's Summer Reading Program for incoming freshman as part of the school's annual intellectual theme, “Changing Climates.” The theme calls on the campus community to examine and re-examine the world's racial, religious, environmental and economic climates.
IWU President Eric Jensen said the university is “a place that values diversity and inclusion.”
When she first heard the phrase “gender spectrum,” Nutt thought it was a “lovely” phrase while also being “scientifically correct.” She said, “That was eye-opening to me.”
The convocation is the traditional launch of the academic year at IWU. Students, faculty and staff filled Westbrooke Auditorium in Presser Hall.
Nutt told those gathered that “knowledge is rarely easy. … Rather, we have to slowly find our way in the dark.”
She concluded her remarks by saying, “Don't be afraid of the dark.”