This year, I’ve been extremely grateful to have been awarded a Diversity in Science grant from the Biochemical Society to help facilitate the launch of an engagement and advocacy project that’s been brewing in my mind for a long time. It’s a podcast called Querdy (a mash up of the words Queer and Nerdy), which aims to showcase queer scientists, researchers, and specialists with the help of nerdy performers and comedians.
As a queer person going into research, I never expected to feel like ‘the only gay in the department’ but, for a lot of my career, that’s exactly what it felt like. It wasn’t until I decided to seriously up my Twitter game that I actually became connected with and met so many other queer scientists from across the world. For this, I’m really glad I ignored my mother’s advice to never meet strangers from the internet.
So many of us had really similar experiences, and it seems that a weird culture of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ existed in many research environments, where certain aspects of personal identity (i.e., gender and sexual identity) were deemed so unimportant to the ability to do science, that they were strictly never mentioned.
And there-in lies the problem! LGBTQ+ researchers are making fabulous contributions to the world of science, but we rarely hear about them. How would anyone know that there’s really cool LGBTQ+ nerds out there working on amazing projects, when we never openly talk about the fact that people with these identities exist in science at all?
You may be thinking, ‘but what does your gender or sexuality have to do with being a good scientist?’, and it’s a fair question. The answer? It shouldn’t matter, but it really does.
To paraphrase a good friend of mine; while some science takes place in a physical vacuum, no science takes place in a social, historical and cultural vacuum. As scientists, we’re all still complex human beings who are products of the societies we exist in, and naturally we bring a lot of that with us into work. This means that as queer scientists, we bring the reality and experience of being queer in a straight world with us. Homophobia, transphobia and negative attitudes towards LGBT+ people are still real issues to be dealt with, and sadly that reality isn’t something that can be swept aside just because you put on a lab coat.
From personal experience and from my work in public engagement, I know how important it can be to see yourself represented in places that you thought you would’ve been excluded from otherwise. Wanting to bridge this gap is the main driver of my own personal Queer Agenda, and I’m really glad that I’ve now got the opportunity to queer the world of science through stories, research, and questionable comedy.
A footnote on quingo, a.k.a. queer lingo:
Nowadays, queer is a positive umbrella term commonly used to refer to LGBTQ+ people. LGBTQ+ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, Queer/Questioning and more. Yes, the ‘+’ is important, because sexual and gender identity is a lot more complex and nuanced than a few letters might indicate. However, as queer folk, we decided at a recent Gay Agenda meeting to stick with just LGBTQ+ for now, to prevent the acronym from getting out of hand.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Matt (he/him) is a neuroscientist in the death rattle stage of his PhD at the University of Nottingham, and a professional science communicator with extensive experience in making a fool of himself on stage for the sake of science. Matt is also a trustee for the charity Pride in STEM, which works to support LGBTQ+ people in STEM sectors. To find out more, visit www.prideinstem.org.