A hot gay mess.
That is the state of my head right now- and how some fanfic writers may describe it. I have no quibbles with that. But what am I wittering on about?
A young high school student from NYC wrote to me, thanking me for being an out lesbian
of colour in Science. Having found my profile on 500 Queer Scientists, she said she hadn’t known being gay was possible when younger. And knew no south asian lesbians in STEM. The complete lack of role models was isolating and stifling for her. Her email sparked this post.
Most of my life I’ve kept my personal and professional lives separate. Or so I thought.
The reality is when you spend majority of your waking hours and most of your cognitive energy on work, this separation becomes artificial and synthetic. Coming to work and having to pretend to be something one isn’t or having to hide some salient aspect of one’s identity takes emotional, mental energy. It is draining to the point of being dangerous for one’s well being. It also means one is still carrying one’s personal life in to work- only that it is largely demons. There is little good in it. The time that could be spent 100% focused on Science becomes splintered with worry about being unsafe/outed/not being accepted and other feelings of anxiety. Many leave STEM.
Like many others I have been guilty and victim of splitting my self into many bits and pieces, each bit smoothed and rounded to fit some segment of work/society. For example, there is racism is the gay community and that can be as horrible to navigate for LGBTQIA+ people of colour as homophobia is for any queer person. In the end where one begins and where ends, or what one’s self really looks like gets lost. The trauma of living with a personality and life divided into boxes is very much a road to perdition.
And the only reason it persists is the persisting vestiges of narrow mindedness. Especially in STEM.
The cis gender normativity and heteronormativity that pervade STEM makes it difficult to see it as a welcoming discipline for LGBTQIA+ people. There are few to no visible role models, certainly none from communities such as people of colour. At our conferences and events we talk about our Science (an essential part of us) but there is no mention of who we may be. Sexual orientation is a dirty word. To feel safe, professional, accepted as “real” scientists – take your pick, many of us hide our identity or subsume it.
It also means that the upcoming generations go through the same torment.
What is the point of progress if it doesn’t change our discipline for the better?
That is where organisations like 500 Queer Scientists and the new Queer in Science initiative in Australia are so important. We need to come together and make visible role models for our discipline. We cannot keep driving away people from STEM because they don’t fit the stereotype of a STEM professional. Nor should we allow or contribute to making people feel they must contort their psyche to fit into STEM. Especially in regions where LGBTQIA+ rights are not well established.
It is within our power as LGBTQIA+ individuals, cis/straight allies to blow this stereotype business to bits. We need to act.
We have a better alternative: not simply queer STEM but to open it up to reality and real people.
Some other LGBTQIA+ STEM/ethnic minority focus organisations:
Feel free to email me links to other groups and I will add them to this list- it would be great to have resources for all parts of the wold!