Where are the other queer ecologists?

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.



  1. Mike says:

    “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’ve never come out, so I can’t opine too much on that directly with any actual real lived experience. But what you wrote about attempting to bridge the gap between those in science and those in other areas is one I know intimately, even though I am not a scientist.

    Like yours, my interests have always been extremely expansive — more broad than anyone I know or have ever met in person, with the only exception now being, well, you. I can be found often enough doing something like reading a macro econ book, a book on the history of 19th century bildungsroman novels, and a textbook on how to use EEGs in clinical diagnosis — not one of which is a field I will ever work in, nor for that matter will I likely ever even speak to anyone who works in those fields in person.

    Those who I have known through my interest in art and photography are usually completely puzzled and sometimes bothered by my interest in science and economics — the idea of its oppresivity is probably not as embedded in these communities as it seems to be now in the queer/feminist community, but there is definitely the stench of it. I can’t make sense of it, so I don’t seek out or spend much time in those communities anymore.

    Of course, in the science community — at least in the CS/IT side, am not too familiar with other sciences — being anti-art, anti-history and anti-culture is also often de rigeur as well.

    And when I try to talk about gender, heteronormativity, polyamory or anything similar in either community — well, forget it. No one wants to hear any of that.

    People like me really have no place in either arena, and it is I am sure even more difficult if you try to present more identities that aren’t mainstream, as you do.

    Why people want to be so insular, so limited, and so closed to experience I can’t even begin to imagine. The world is so broad, so vast, and there are so many fun things to learn and to do that this self-limitation is beyond my comprehension.

  2. Theo says:

    At the risk of saying something not useful or wrong… Don’t feel too alone (said to offer hope, not judgement)? Maybe there aren’t the right people where you are now, but even in the small science community I’m a part of right now there are 2 grad students that openly identify as queer and are thoroughly accepted (to the best of my knowledge). I haven’t asked about it because I don’t want to be nosy, but I’m pretty sure at least one of them has interacted with/gotten guidance and support from an established faculty member in our department who lives with his long term partner. And my girlfriend’s PhD advisor is also queer. Maybe in your new community it will be easier to find the right people? And in the mean time, thanks for speaking for diversity and helping us try to see your world.

  3. I can relate, which is part of the reason for choosing this particular pseudonym. My department here has a couple of queers (including one totally out queer professor!), but we are underrepresented and it gets a little lonely. My girlfriend is in ecology (at the same school) and it seems like it is crawling with dykes! Maybe because she is friends with most of the other queers in her department so it’s not a representative sample. Still, I think that’s a good sign for your new department/city. Especially since your future city seems like a little bit of a queer mecca.

    The school where I will start my grad program in the fall has a group for queer grad students that I am pretty excited about. I do wish there was more explicit support and mentoring for queer people in science, especially (selfishly, I guess!) living breathing examples of people in senior positions. But a group of peers is a start, I guess. (Even if not everyone is in science. My future school has a huge bio/biomedical program so I’m pretty sure some of them will be in science.)

  4. joe says:

    hey, i just happened upon your blog!  we’re definitely out there!  are you heading to esa in portland this year???

  5. Tim says:

    We are definitely out there, and i to wish there were more queer scientists!!! To meet a partner that shares this passion would be amazing. I haven’t lost hope just yet!

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