Thanks to everyone who sent in a question. I know there are a quite a few more who were also interested in the responses. While the Google form is now closed, you can always leave questions anonymously in the comments below, or find me by email or twitter.
Like I mentioned originally, my reason for doing this is because it’s something *I* wish someone had done for me, so I assume that at least one other person will find it useful. And I think the calibre and breadth of the questions bears that out.
So without further ado, on to some questions (and answers)!
We have two young people in our extended family who are transgender. I am completely accepting of this however there is a small part of me that wonders if they are too young (15 & 17) to fully understand this major decision. Did you know and understand at a very young age?
First and foremost, I’m not trans. I’m as cis as they come so I have no concept of what it feels like to have one’s assigned gender not match up and how awful that must feel. There are trans voices out there (though beware some pretty awful articles, often written by cis men), and I’d encourage you to seek them out.
I identify predominantly as gay, occasionally queer. I knew I wasn’t straight when I was 12 or 13. This was in the mid 1990s and I grew up in a pretty off-the-beaten-path place in eastern Canada where there was no exposure to LGBTQ+ culture (aside from one seedy bar). So I think I didn’t “understand” until years after I came out. The one thing that is (and was) painfully obvious is that LGB and particular TQ folk don’t have it easy, and I don’t know anyone who would have willingly gone through the internal (and often external) pain and suffering on a whim.
I wanted to ask if you’d be willing to elaborate more about how professional societies can engage with their LGBTQ members. Specifically, I (a queer woman) am involved in the organisation of a small, Europe-based scientific society, and we do have a (very) modest amount of funding and of platform. Any ideas for best practices or suggestions of what I can read to find out more?
That’s great news! My first suggestion is to ask around and find out what your LGBTQ+ members want. What would make the biggest difference to them? An event at your annual meeting? Pieces in your newsletter? It’s quite common for professional societies to really get this wrong, in my experience, or to not even care. I put together a quick list of questions you can ask to figure out what it is you could/should be doing.
How advisable is to be out to one’s co-workers in an EEB university setting in northern/western Europe, and how does this vary with the career stage of the co-worker (eg. supervisor to fellow PhD student to supervised BSc/MSc student), and that of the outee (eg. as above)? What’s the best way to go about it?
Deciding whether to come out at work can be a huge step, and everyone’s experiences are different, so I don’t want to be prescriptive. I’ve been out for about 13 years now, so I don’t think twice about it. All my immediate colleagues, and all of my co-supervised students know I’m part of Team Sparkle. Heck, I mentioned it in my job interview. But I knew in advance that it would be a largely friendly audience.
It can get more complex when there’s a power dynamic. As a PI/supervisor, you can signal your outness in several ways (rainbow sticker on your office door, family photos on your desk, mentioning the gender of your spouse if you’re in a same-gender relationship, for example). If you have regular lab meetings, bring up diversity topics. if you have a swipe card/keys on a lanyard, why not consider wearing a rainbow lanyard?
Looking the other way (which is something I do have experience with), much of the same applies as above. I came out to my PhD supervisor in SeaTac International Airport when he saw my wedding ring, and asked what my wife did. “Husband. He’s in electronics sales” was my reply. It obviously becomes easier the longer you’ve been out in other contexts, but you can foster a lab/department/school environment in which folks will feel comfortable being out. I’ll flag in particular the Department of Chemistry at the University of York in the UK as one amazing example. Their webpage has a page specifically for LGBT+ information, they had rainbow flags up during Pride, and have guidance for using preferred pronouns.
How do you deal with papers, work, comments, etc from people that is not wholly objective but actually discriminatory? For instance, we know now that the “older men are attracted to young women because of fertility” is false and that it lacks any genetic proof, as well as ignores LGBTQ people. Yet I continue to see people cite it. How do you deal with people, research, etc that just straight up ignores you under the guise of science and objectivity?
I’ve not been personally affected by papers or science that ignores LGBTQ+ folk beyond a bit of frustration (perhaps driven my complacency?). I have, however, been told that being LGBTQ+ has no influence on one’s science, and shouldn’t because science is objective and based on facts and emotionless. That idea is something I disagree with strongly. I think the topics I study, how I study them, and who I study them with are influenced, at least in part (and maybe even unconsciously) by my being gay. It’s a hard one to communicate, though, because it’s not that obvious. But I tend to have a high proportion of women coauthors, and several other LGBTQ+ coauthors. I strongly advocate a way of queering science that’s encapsulated nicely in this Queer Science Manifesto. Anyone who says their science is done in a vacuum without emotion and is entirely objective is deluding themselves.
I just got a tenure track faculty position that I am very excited about. I am queer, out and proud in my personal life, but how do I let students know this? I want to be visible and serve as an example of being queer in STEM. However, I don’t present as visibly queer. I’m trying to figure out the most appropriate way of communicating this information and could use some tips! Thanks for doing this!
I think some of this can also be covered by one of the questions above. Rainbow stickers on your door, a lanyard, etc can be powerful symbols. It can be more difficult when one doesn’t present as queer (I know several bi friends in mixed-gender relationships who have this issue of erasure).
The easiest thing is to talk about it. Bring it up in the context of talking about diversity in science, initiatives you want to see from professional societies, local pride parades. I don’t have much experience in a teaching context of student interactions, but there can be ways to incorporate queer material into the curriculum (people, ideas, ways of doing science).
Have you ever encountered a situation where another gay, or bisexual, or just curious, man propositioned you, whether it be in the lab, or field, or elsewhere in your professional environment? How did you react? Or if it has never happened, how do you think you would react? Any recommendations on how to handle such a situation?
I haven’t (thankfully). Harassment is most definitely a problem in science (see this paper by an amazing team detailing issues of harassment and assault in the field, for example), as well as in the LGBTQ+ community. Same-sex sexual harassment is also certainly a thing, but one that, so far as my googling has found, isn’t well studied (though I have it on good authority that something is in the works and will hopefully be appearing soon!). The recent US National Academy of Science report on sexual harassment of women, though, found higher incidences of assault and harassment in queer women in STEM.
As for how to handle it, I think the same advice as for mixed-sex harassment applies – make yourself safe, and then talk to someone. Stonewall UK has some resources for the harassment side of things that might be useful, as does the HRC.
What is your advice for young LGBTQ researchers working in a place where no one is openly part of the LGBTQ community?
I’ll take this to mean in a professional sense. My guess is that there are indeed other LGBTQ+ folk at work, but they aren’t out, or at least out to you. Sometimes all it takes is sticking one’s head above the parapet, however briefly, to draw them out. But I totally understand the situation; I didn’t meet other out scientists until I had been in research for nearly a decade.
I found a community through social media and blogging, and eventually we started meeting in person at conferences or when travelling. It’s been a journey, though. But knowing other LGBTQ+ folk in science is incredibly important because, though they might try, straight colleagues are starting off in a very different place and need to be brought up to speed on some of the things that I certainly wanted to discuss.
I get at an email or message every couple of months from an LGBTQ+ person in STEM who just wants to chat, and needs a friendly ear. And if there’s one thing the queer community has a lot of experience in, it’s creating our chosen families. I was helped, and now I’m paying it forward. If anyone wants to, drop me an email or get in touch.
I am a heterosexual male that wants to ensure that people of any gender or sexual orientation feel completely welcome, comfortable, and accepted. Do you have any tips on how to best achieve this?
Yeah, basically that. The thing about unconditional support is that it doesn’t have any, well, conditions. Talk to your institutions diversity/inclusion office if it has one, check out training or events that can help you engage in more allyship (like this one from Stonewall UK, or this from the HRC). Not to be too modest, but check out my list of things I wish I could instantly transfer into straight folks’ brains.
From another standpoint, look at your lab/institution and think of how it might be unfriendly to queer folk. This can be particularly challenging in jurisdictions that are hostile towards queer folk, where institutional or legal support/back-up isn’t there. Do you have gender neutral bathrooms/toilets? Do you parental leave policies apply to same-sex couples? What resources are in place for someone who transitions? Be familiar with what resources are there for queer folk institutionally and locally.
Speak up and counter anti-LGBTQ+ crap regardless of whether you know any LGBTQ+ folk present.
(and thanks to Nasi for permission to include that tweet)
Is it important to come out to my boss? I know they won’t care but I feel like it breaks down the professional barrier between us.
That entirely depends on the nature of your relationship with your boss. I have been out to all of my supervisors/line managers, and it didn’t affect the professionalism of that relationship, but your mileage may vary. From a management perspective, it can be good to know because it can help them be more accommodating if needed. It also doesn’t have to be a “Hey X, I’m gay” or whichever is more applicable. It could be signalled through strategic rainbows for example!
How do I find a queer-friendly place to volunteer? I love science and nature, but I’m too old to afford university to get the degree needed to work as a professional. I want to go back to uni but multiple admissions have turned me down and one even laughed in my face. My grades suffered and I eventually dropped out due to queer-related issues that may or may not arise again. Otherwise, I had mostly A’s and a few B’s. Am I doomed to be a hotel maid forever? Even my co-workers keep telling me that I belong in school, but I don’t know how to get back there.
I guess in a sense that depends where you are. If you know some queer folk on the inside, you could chat with them. Otherwise, it might be a bit of a Goldilocks scenario (try one to see if it fits, if not move to the next). Many places now also support flexible schooling (in the UK, check out Open University), though cost could still be an issue. That said, many places do have scholarship programmes, so if you’re not keen on relocating, perhaps arrange a chat with one of the admissions folks from your local university?
How do you get over the constant worry that even if you know your colleagues/boss/institution are totally fine with your sexuality, that they’d prefer you to be less obvious about it?
Fuck ’em. Until they stop putting photos of their opposite-sex significant others, talking about their husbands and wives at social or professional gatherings, or using mixed-sex couples as examples for universal issues, you can blast rainbows as far as the eye can see.
I’m totally fine with straight folk expressing their sexuality, though I often wish they were a little less obvious about it 😉