Where are all the trans scientists?

By Dorieke Grijseels, University of Sussex

Today (March 31) marks International Transgender Day of Visibility. This day is dedicated to showing the incredible diversity of the trans community. This community is often lumped together with the other parts of the LGBT+ community, but is unique in its challenges and achievements, which should be celebrated. Although we’ve got a long way to go, more and more trans people are getting positive representation in the media, be that actor Alex Blue, writer Juno Dawson or model Munroe Bergdorf. The question remains, where are all the trans scientists?

A report from 2014 showed that about half of all trans students in university seriously consider dropping out, and many feel excluded or are even openly harassed. Many universities, including the University of Oxford, the University of Sussex and many more, are now recognising these problems and are implementing initiatives to be more inclusive. These initiatives include publishing guidelines for gender-inclusive language, providing gender neutral toilets or giving training to counsellors at the university. Unfortunately, policy makers often still have a very narrow view of the trans community, causing many members of the community to still feel unsupported. However, support does not just have to come from the university; anyone at the university can do their part to make trans people feel included and supported.

Trans terminology
In order to battle the narrow view of the trans community and make science more inclusive, it’s important to educate yourself and those around you. I will give a short overview on some trans terminology, but more information can be found on the Stonewall website.

First of all, trans is an adjective. Someone can be a trans man, trans woman or trans person. You could describe someone as being transgender. Just like in chemistry, the opposite of transgender is cisgender (or cis for short). This means the gender you identify with is the same as your assigned sex at birth. However, not everybody may identify within the binary system of female-male. Some might feel like they are somewhere in between (non-binary or genderqueer), do not fit on this scale at all (non-binary or agender) or may be fluid in their identity (genderfluid). They might also not wish to use the binary pronouns (he/she) but will go by singular they/them (e.g. they study biochemistry), ze/zir (e.g. that’s zir notebook) or one of the many other preferred pronouns.

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Top tips for trans inclusivity:

  • When speaking, whether at a seminar, a lecture, or writing make sure to use gender inclusive language. One of the easiest things is to drop the he/she and use they instead. Many universities have guidelines on this, and if not, you can always refer to the Stonewall guidelines.
  • When talking to or about people, it’s important to use the correct pronouns. Consider including your own pronouns at the start of a talk, even if you’re cis, this may make those listening or reading feel more comfortable sharing their pronouns. If you’re doing outreach you could wear a pronoun badge as a more subtle way to create a safe space for interested (trans) people to come talk to you.
  • Make sure to credit trans scientists where credit is due, in lectures, talks and outreach. This is an advice that’s often given in the context of other minorities, and also applies to trans scientists. Including a trans scientist in your talks does not only help them, but will also give aspiring trans students a role model. If you’re unsure about who to include, the LGBT STEM website is a good place to start.

About Me

I am PhD student in the 4-year Neuroscience PhD programme at the University of Sussex. I study hippocampal representation of virtual environments in Catherine Hall’s lab. I am also passionate about promoting diversity in STEM, and am active within the Out and About STEM initiative at our university. You can find me on Twitter!

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