Being a queer scientist in the world of academia is a lot easier than being queer at my old tech support job or in the rural south where I grew up. By and large, the scientists around me are kind and accepting. Most scientists care a lot more about my statistics and ideas than they do my lovers. Some are eager to hear my thoughts on our (very limited) scientific understanding of non-hetero sexualities. I love talking to other scientists about queer and gender theory and about what our disciplines could learn from each other. Biologists also have a fantastic sense of humor about sex and gender.
That being said, things aren’t perfect.
Though many of the things I struggle with are not unique to the science world, like the exhaustion of constantly outing myself, the assumptions and invisibility that come with a femme identity, and worries about health benefits and security for my future partner(s), other issues are definitely related to being a scientist.
I often feel like I’m straddling a fence between being a scientist and being queer – and it’s not at all comfortable.
One of the best things about being a scientist is the other scientists. I’ve met many of my best friends at conferences, workshops, and in tough science or math courses. A large part of my social life revolves around the biology department I work in. In many ways, this is great – I love hanging out with smart people who enjoy speculating about climate change and species distribution models or arguing over who has the most plant families in their spring roll.
But I love my queer community, too. I love being around people who don’t assume I’m straight, who really know what it means to come out, who’ve thought deeply about gender and sexuality, who deliberately perform or choose gender, who aren’t deeply suspicious or entirely ignorant of poly relationships, who acknowledge privilege and reject heteronormativity, who recognize and fight against oppression.
I’ve tried to bring my two worlds together – my queer friends from the gender studies, art, and anthropology departments and my math and biology and chemistry friends. It usually goes badly. They speak different languages. As time goes on, I feel like I am speaking a different language than my queer friends. Many of them view science as a deeply flawed way of knowing, and they are uninterested in the workings of the natural and physical world. Despite my fairly broad interests, it’s become harder and harder to maintain relationships with people who believe my intellectual passion is at best boring and at worst oppressive.
I want to meet other queer scientists, people who think about performing gender, power dynamics, discrimination, AND about how homosexuality may have evolved and what science could contribute to queer theory or the gay rights movement (and vice versa). I know some of my problems will be solved by moving to a bigger city, but scientists have to follow the jobs, which are often in small places with very small queer communities.
I wish queer scientists were more visible. I wish there were older queer scientists I could go to for advice. I wish there was more recognition of the value of different perspectives queer scientists can bring to the table. I wish ESA’s SEEDS or other scientific societies’ diversity programs more explicitly recognized and supported queer scientists.
NOGLSTP has an impressive list of goals that I’d love to see met, but they’ve got a long way to go. Where is their booth at conferences? Why aren’t they reaching out to queer organizations on college campuses? Why is their website so old looking? Why did I only hear about them last year after actively searching for an organization like them for some time prior?
I think science should be doing more to recruit young queer students. So many queer students major in gender studies or queer theory because those subjects help us understand ourselves better, validate our experiences, and focus on making the world a better place. But science can do that, too! Science says a lot about who we are and where we come from, and still has a lot of unanswered questions we could – and should – help answer.