Pride in and out of STEM: what we owe to each other
Ladies and gentlemen, lordies and gentlemaids, everyone in between,
We are getting to Pride day once again, after celebrating Pride month throughout June and seeing every brand's logo on Twitter wear their best rainbows for the occasion. After all that, sitting here in front of the blank page as a gay man willing to talk about Pride in STEM should be an easy task. But that is precisely the problem.
We have been bombarded with cute pastel-coloured pictures of diverse couples holding hands and the hackneyed mantra “Love is Love” for almost a month now – although thank Cher, also some dissenting voices arise ready to point out the true nature of Pride. In any case, the whole #LoveIsLove thing is at this point the immediate imagery in people’s minds when thinking about Pride. And it should not be.
Don’t get me wrong: the visibility these things provide to our community is important and as a person in love I relate to a lot of those images. But Pride is much more than that. Have you ever noticed the acronym LGBTQIA+ extends way beyond the L, the G, and the B? Trans folks, queer people and intersex people (there’s even a “+” there!), they’re not in it for the Love, from the very beginning. Their fight has always been a fight to BE, not to LOVE. And in all fairness, that’s the case for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and people on the ACE spectrum too. LGBA people that are not in love or do not want to be in love are still a part of our community; but capitalising on that is not as easy as doing it with romantic relationships. And please, don’t get me started on so-called “unconventional ways of love” (such as open or polyamorous relationships).
The fight of the LGBTQIA+ community, our diversity, it’s all a matter of identity, not of romanticism. It’s a matter of existing in a world that so often goes out of its way to makes us invisible, docile, grey. How could we love someone else if we don’t even exist?
That’s why we need to stand out for our right to be. And those of us who have the privilege to be a part of the less invisibilised and ostracised letters have the duty to fight for the rest of the community. To amplify their voices. To not let them be alone and in pain. We need to listen to them and their needs, empathise with them and make sure the World knows we are on their side.
Of course Pride is a time for joy and celebration. We should most definitely feel happy and proud of everything we have achieved up until now and I want to emphasise that too. We have gotten so far, and that very well deserves a parade, to remember everyone that we are indeed here and that we have travelled a long way. But we also need to look ahead, to everything still to achieve so as to not lose focus on the goal: authentic equity. And maybe more importantly, we need to look around and see –truly see – the people fighting side by side with us. Fighting for respect and validation, for solidarity and support.
This respect and validation, this solidarity and support, that’s what we owe to each other within the community too. We need to focus on our fight against those trying to silence LGBTQIA+ voices and stop creating and rekindling stupid quarrels between ourselves. And we need to be able to focus on that fight without losing who we are in the process of attaining privileges. To do so, it is essential that we keep an intersectional point of view that allows us to stand out for our siblings in need, reclaiming feminism, antiracism and antiableism too and always rejecting oppression and holding oppressors accountable.
We owe all of that to those that came before us and fought for the rights we have now. We owe that to those that come after us if we want for them the rights that have been denied to us. And each of us also owe to oneself the respect, validation, solidarity and support we want for the rest.
How do all this relate to STEM, though? Well, you see, I’m a scientist too. And to be honest, that should be enough to bring this fight into the STEM field. No one so much as blinks an eye when cis-heterosexual people talk about their private lives at work and we all of a sudden know everything about their husbands or wives, their kids and even the names they are considering for the cat they are about to adopt. But LGBTQIA+ people often live in constant hiding. Forcefully coming out once and again or having to come up with elaborated excuses not to answer some private questions. You don’t have to take my word for it, the data is out there, go find it!
That is absolutely not fair. There are a few people that, like me, have been lucky enough to find a lab where they can be themselves and not fear retaliation. But even us, the lucky ones, must endure occasional homophobic or transphobic remarks, or sideways looks when we dare to call someone out on a behaviour that may be offensive to some people. But, you know, it’s a small price to pay compared to what others have to live through. The point on that, however, is that we should have the right to be exactly like anybody else (or as different from them as we want), without having to think everything twice. Our very own identity affects everything we do, everything we say, think or live. As such, our identity should permeate through every layer of our lives. Being forced to avoid – and sometimes actively stop – that permeability takes a toll that is more often than not paid with our own mental health, affecting every other layer of ourselves.
My identity permeates. Because I’m a neuroscientist researching the mechanisms underlying Alzheimer’s disease. But I’m also a loving nephew, an Orphan Black enthusiast, a caring son, a passionate linguist-in-training, an amateur dancer, a supportive boyfriend, an avid reader, a Taylor Swift fan and a proud queer gay man. All these things are part of my Identity. And, just as any cisgender straight person that do not need to compartmentalise their lives, I want to be –no, wait, I have the right to be all those versions of myself at any place or time. And I want to magnify every version of every person I stumble across and make them feel valid and seen and valued. I want to reflect the gorgeous, breath-taking diversity around me. Like the mirrorball in Taylor’s song.
Daniel is a Spanish neuroscientist and member of PRISMA - Spanish association for gender and affective-sexual diversity. You can find him on Twitter @tomavitamina.