Queered Science is a series of profiles meant to highlight queer science and tell you what you need to know about it, for your intellectual edification and so you don’t feel excluded from a major and predominantly heterosexist subset of academia and industry.
Header by Rory Midhani
We’ve been talking recently about how it feels to be queer in the sciences, and in particular, a queer woman in the sciences.
And you guys had awesome comments of your own, so now we have a whole space to talk about just these things! We’re going to have a few different open threads, each on a different sub-issue of being queer in the sciences. I’m excited because I always have so much to say on this topic, but not a whole lot of people to say them to. From your comments, it looks like you all have things to say too! Like many of you mentioned, I often feel like I have to keep my science self and my queer self separate, but this is the perfect space to merge them.
First, one of the most basic questions: Are you out to your co-workers/ peers/ advisors/ bosses/ important people?
Like I’ve already mentioned, I wanted to come out for a while, but it never quite felt like the right time. I mean, when is the right time? We all know how uncomfortable it is when everyone else can effortlessly talk about their wives/kids, or at least have their presence assumed, and we have to sit quiet like the weird kid with no friends in the corner. But how do you casually interject a comment about your sexuality at the work party?
For me, it was a slow and gradual process, one co-worker at a time, either in the lab or in the field, and each conversation had my heart beating so hard it practically fractured my sternum, a huge rush of adrenaline and weak knees for an hour or so afterward. I didn’t come right out and say it, but a quick correction of their pronouns was usually enough to catalyze a discussion.
Then again, like I mentioned, I work in an accepting part of the world. Not everyone even feels safe about being out – the potential awkwardness involved isn’t even part of the equation. Many of the comments so far have mentioned feeling legitimately worried about losing jobs, opportunities for promotion, grants, or future projects.
So. Are you out professionally? If so, how did you do it? We all know that coming out isn’t a one-time ordeal, but kind of a constant coming out or being out – every new person you meet, you have to re-introduce your queerness into the discussion. What is your favorite coming-out story? How were the reactions?
If you’re not out, why not? What are your thoughts on the topic?
In my experience, the more casually I mention it, the more casual the response. If someone asks what I did for the weekend, and I mention that my girlfriend and I took a trip somewhere, or had a date night, or whatever else, without turning it into a larger conversation, most people don’t give much of a reaction (which is exactly how I think it should be).
However, I also live and work in a fairly liberal city, where most of my co-workers are between the ages of 25 and 35, so I don’t know whether my experience is the “norm.”
This is EXACTLY my approach. In engineer-y situations and everywhere else in my life. I even did this to tell my mom. (“Oh, [Ladyface] and I are trying to pick a city to visit together. It’s our six month anniversary. Of dating. Eachother. What city should we visit?”)
I only have to worry about peers and professors right now, but it’s not really a thing I bring up. There doesn’t seem to be any natural segue between looking at blood smears and telling everyone you’re queer. Also, it’s sort of tiring and annoying to be in a perpetual ‘coming out’ process.
Then again I’m typically the only one in the lab who is heavily tattooed, sports alternatively colored hair, and gets contentious when someone says something totally unsupported or generally stereotype-y. It might not be that difficult to glean my queerness.
I guess you could say I’m in the sciences — I studying Psychology and Biology in undergrad, worked in a Cog Neuro lab for 2 years, and then taught Science to 6th graders for 3 years. Now I’m back in grad school, in a less “hard science” discipline.
Coming out in undergrad: didn’t. I kept myself busy as a lab rat so I didn’t have to think about how confused and miserable I was outside of that.
Coming out in lab: I came out to a few closer friends, and once I was dating and in a relationship, I dropped that knowledge slowly and surely. Wasn’t a big deal, but I was in the liberal NE.
Coming out as a teacher: I didn’t directly to my 6th graders, although there were 7th and 8th grade English teachers who came out in personal narratives (not really a space for that in Science). I did, however, go to all of the GSA meetings and asked to be included in a public board along with other teachers and queer celebrities of color. Again, my school was super supportive, actively working to stop homophobia, and had a pretty large number of queer people as teachers/staff. The kids (mostly Hispanic and black), 7/8th graders in the GSA, were really inspiring – really open and about 50 of them (in a school with 150ish 7/8th graders total) showed up at the first GSA meeting. Made me tear up when I thought about my own GSA experience in high school (tried to start one with a friend, signs ripped down and written over, 4 people showed up, pretty much cemented my thoughts about staying closeted/feeling abnormal and alone).
When I applied to grad schools, queerness was part of my application, openly in the narratives, and often as part of my interviews. After arguing for openness and acceptance among my students for so long, I couldn’t been anything but open myself.
And… I sort of got tired of the whole “assume she’s straight” deal when I got to campus, so I just queer hair cutted it.
Between being queer and being brown (but not Indian, as everyone assumes) I feel like I just need wear a shirt with all of my identities all of the time. Other times, though, I’m really happy for the conversation and interest.
I just started a new job in the social sciences and I am not out to any of my co-workers yet. I would have no problem with it if it came up in conversation, but I am also trying to feel out whether or not it is safe to do so given the lack of anti-discrimination laws in Indiana. Everyone at work seems pretty chill, but so far no one has set off my (slightly dysfunctional) gaydar. As for former professors and classmates, again I would not really have a problem telling them now if it came up, but I didn’t say anything at the time because I was still figuring it out and the psych department tends to be a pretty gossipy place.
I’m a PhD student in geophysics and beginning to look for a job in the energy industry (among others). I have to say I have been pleasantly surprised by the (sometimes lack of) reaction every time I come out. As a caveat, I identify in ways that are easy for cis*gendered heteros to understand (I am cis*gender and legally married in NY living in TX and so I am not particularly ‘challenging’ in anyway to the patriarchy etcetc). But when I tell recruiters that I’d like to be placed on the eastern seaboard north of VA because my marriage is not recognized in TX they smile and are completely sympathetic to the cause. So these reactions give me hope. [We’ll see if I get any jobs however ;) ]
But generally as a student (even among the oil boys) the response has been a positive and warm reception or sometimes naive curiosity. Again, my little anecdote may be unrealistic because I can respond to questions about weekend activities by saying “well the wife wants to…”
I just act as if everyone already knows I’m gay. If mentioning my partner or that I went to Pride over the weekend comes as some huge shock that alters their perception of me, that’s on them for assuming everyone’s straight.
I love this idea and I’m going to steal it :)
on our first time at the pub as a research group i started explaining to everyone the power of the clam and they found it really entertaining actually!
i always assume that since we’re all educated people it would be much more detrimental for someone if they were branded a homophobe rather than a queer. so i don’t really ever come out, it just pops up in conversation. there’s plenty of queer people around and everyone is comfortably out but then again we are the psychology department. it has been the same at the food technology and nutrigenomics labs i’ve worked at the past though, only with less queers.
i never had not even a remotely bad experience. once someone pointed at me and said “fagash” but there was indeed fagash on my shirt.
“I always assume that since we’re all educated people it would be much more detrimental for someone if they were branded a homophobe rather than a queer.” Yes. I love this idea.
I’m so happy for this column! I don’t know any other queers in science irl, so it’s so nice to have proof I’m not alone!
I came out to my lab group pretty early, when I was still a degree project student (now PhD student). I live in Sweden which is very queer friendly, but we are a quite international group representing several different cultures, so I wasn’t so sure how everyone would react. Even so, I didn’t want to be closeted or avoid mentioning my girlfriend. I casually mentioned her to some of my co-workers and they reacted very casual.
After a few months, my Professor also got to know I had a girlfriend, and reacted very casually as well (sometimes, I think he was happy to hear I won’t accidentally become pregnant in the middle of a project). We all work a lot together and are quite like a family, so it’s very nice to be out and not have to hide anything. Also, I can bring my girlfriend to lab dinners and bar nights :D
Sometimes, I feel a bit concerned about how things will be in the future, when I go abroad to work as a post doc, or even if I will set up an own lab and apply for grants. But since I spend most of my days (and nights) in the lab, I don’t want to live closeted. I guess it will have to work somehow, even if I have to work harder for grants or miss out on positions due to homophobia. And hopefully, things are getting better!
Seriously! I mean I knew I couldn’t be the ONLY one… Now to arrange some type of mass lesbian-scientist gathering.
I am not out at work. I am a nanny. When I took this job I was 19 and very very very closeted (like dating men so people wouldn’t ask questions kind of closeted) and never thought I would be out to anyone at 22. However, being out at work is not an option. I work for very lovely, smart, but conservative parents. I love my job, but I often wonder if tomorrow will be the day that I lose my job because they heard I am gay.
THIS! I end up pronoun switching just because I wouldn’t ever want to make the parents uncomfortable (with breast feeding in close quarters, etc) but it makes me feel SO wretched…
Not to derail this thread about the sciences, but now I want an open thread about coming out while working with other people’s small children… My wife just got frustrated that I wasn’t comfortable outing myself to the parents, but we talked about it. She accepted that I’m uncomfortable and that she doesn’t want me to feel forced to out myself.
I just leave autostraddle up on my computer and go to lunch. Done.
I transitioned while working on my PhD and working at a government research center so I pretty much had to come out to my advisor, my dissertation committee, my boss, my research group and everyone else in the lab in one fun-filled day. I was pleased that everyone was supportive. In retrospect I think that for many scientists – at least the one’s I work with – if it doesn’t affect their research it really doesn’t matter much to them. Later I came out to a broader group when I spoke about being trans in the the sciences at the research center’s Pride event. In terms of my sexuality I don’t really make an effort to come out, I just am out. I talk about my wife and what we did over the weekend or when I’m chatting with colleagues about whatever is in the news I bring up LGBT issues. It’s just part of who I am.
In my old department, I brought my gf at the time to the first group social event where so’s were invited. My advisor’s wife pulled me aside to say she enjoyed meeting her and was glad I felt comfortable bringing her. I’m starting in a new lab soon, and I’m already out to my new advisor. I find that people gossip a lot anyway, so once you’re a little out in the community, you’re all the way out.
So, I’m still at grad school, and the faculty seem like they’d be really accepting, but it’s mostly male students right now and they’re not all that … civilized? Enlightened? Cosmopolitan? One of those words. They’re very young and very Utah and very boorishly loud, and I am very, VERY disinterested in having a Coming Out moment, especially since I am both defending in December and single. There’s no casual way to come out when you’re single (and if there is, please tell me, even my roommate has no idea), and I don’t want to deal with being even more the weird lady for the limited time I have left.
As far as future work, like LCL I’m going into energy, but I haven’t had quite the same experience with recruiters etc – I imagine some of that is school location? But since I’m aiming for Texas, it’s not a subject I bring up. I look into partner benefits, discrimination policies, and internal employee networks to get a feel for how the company is as a whole, but I’m not going out of my way to ask around.
(Some of this, of course, is that I’m barely out to anyone *at all.* There’s you guys, and the LGBT student groups on campus, and my therapist, and one other online group, and that’s it. No family, no outside-queerdom friends. I just don’t know how to do it, and if my advisor and roommate don’t know, why does a recruiter/some guy in the grad office need to?)
(TEALDEER VERSION: I SUCK AT BEING OUT)
“There’s no casual way to come out when you’re single (and if there is, please tell me, even my roommate has no idea)”
I wish I had a better answer for both of us, though.
I quite like to use my ex-gf as a way to casually come out when single. Maybe it’s just me, but I find there are a surprising amount of ways in which to bring an ex into conversation.
Workmate telling a funny anecdote? “Oh this one time something similar happened involving MY EX-GIRLFRIEND in some way.” Workmate complaining about something? “Oh I know right, I feel the same way about MY EX-GIRLFRIEND.”
Works like a charm.
That or just casually mention how much you like boobs.
Or your copious celebrity crushes.
Or how you’re SUCH a lesbian/queer stereotype because you love cats and/or wear plaid.
Go forth and come out casually oh single ones!
Ah HAH. The ex route should work! (Boob-approval seems to have gotten me nowhere – what do I need to do, paint my face rainbow on Fridays?)
It’s true, straight girls talk about boobs way more than any lesbian I’ve ever met.
I am able to throw in the word “girlfriend” when I want to do the nonchalant-coming-out thing, but there are still people who interpret “girlfriend” as “close female friend” so that doesn’t always work. “Ex-girlfriend” is much more explicit, but I don’t have one of those (and hopefully never will?).
“It’s true, straight girls talk about boobs way more than any lesbian I’ve ever met.”
My wife has a straight coworker who is forever pulling up her shirt to show my wife her boobs.
Or what about casually mentioning Pride, or generally queer things that you did over the weekend, or…this column!!
I am so there with you about the boorishly loud young guys! I’ve worked with them a lot in the past, seemingly in every outdoor-related job setting I’ve found, and they’re always very nice and friendly and welcoming, but the lack of any mention, ever, of anything vaguely social-justice related makes me unsure how much of my actual personality is a good idea to bring up. (That said, I heard myself say that, and another side of myself was like, who cares about their opinion, just be yourself and they’ll get used to it. And then the other side of myself said that no, it’s a really important thing to be generally liked at your job/school setting.)
On a more pertinent note, though, I’m interested in hearing more about your roommate and what the deal is there. Have you known each other for a while, and what’s the reason you haven’t come out? I guess the reason I’m asking is that when I was not out yet but going in that direction, I really struggled with telling my roommate because we’d been friends since birth, and we’d lived together for awhile, and I didn’t want her to feel like she’d gotten the rug pulled out from under her from our entire years of friendship. I don’t know if that’s you, at all, or not, and of course in the end it was a total non-issue between us, but the mention of your roommate struck me.
I totally hear you on the two sides, I feel exactly the same. Plus I don’t have the emotional energy right now to have that be the focus of my relationship with them.
I’m having trouble answering the roommate deal without writing you a novel about everything that goes into it? There’s lots of ‘things it comes down to’, like our friendship which is close in some ways and totally shallow in most others, and me still having trouble coming out in contexts where it’s not already assumed I’m some sort of queer, and other things, but what all THOSE come to is I just don’t express my Actual Feels. It’s chicken-and-egg whether it’s lack of practice or low ability/recognition of emotions (I can’t even use the WORD half the time). And that bleeds over into not talking about Important Personal Things and Being A Private Person. It’s not a good reason, but at least it’s honest?
(a lesser but perhaps easier-to-relate reason is for ages I didn’t know she had a boyfriend and so I was like ‘AWW YISSS’ except no. damn. living together has cured me of THAT, we’d be horribly wrong together, but THERE YOU ARE.)
I know some people come out by mentioning their exes (if they’re same-gendered). But yeah, I guess you’d have to have a very specific kind of reason to just casually bring up your ex.
I would say celebrity crushes might be a casual way to come out to friends/roommates. Like “Hey I’m so stoked Raven Symone is queer, too bad for me she’s not single!”
I read this from the archives a few weeks ago: http://www.autostraddle.com/you-need-help-lesbian-back-to-school-edition-106256/ and it might be helpful.
Quote from it: “Normally I obvs think honesty is the best policy, but I think some fudging is okay here if it makes your life/this conversation easier. For instance: the ex-girlfriend here does not even need to be real? Or it’s cool if you talk loudly about going to the Radical Queer Womyn’s Consciousness-Raising Coffee Hour but don’t end up going. You’re trying to get a point across. That’s all.”
Also, because I’m a dork, I’ve been thinking a lot about signifiers and what they mean — like I cut my hair asymmetrically recently and fellow queer ladies who wouldn’t give me the time of the day before are coming over to chat (YAY, but also, hmm…). So if you don’t want to COME OUT come out, like in a Power Point presentation or whatnot, you can do other things to signify your queerness. Unfortunately these tend to fall into stereotypes (Tegan and Sara shirts, mentioning obsessive watching of The L Word, slam poetry), but perhaps a few of these are also your actual interests. The stereotype can lead to a hint or understanding of “oh, so this is where this person fits” and can lead to a larger discussion.
That being said, some oblivious people want to be oblivious and and you might have to hit them in the face with a giant pillow that says “I’m QUEER”.
I’m a Ph.D. student. I’m out to all the students in my program. My girlfriend and I are listed as “in a relationship” on Facebook for all to see. I don’t care who knows, and have encountered zero homophobia or problems with my peers.
I am not out to any of the faculty, including my advisor. It’s one thing for my peers to know, but I feel really awkward about it with professors, even those I work closely with. I have mentioned having a “significant other” when relevant, but don’t use pronouns or get more specific than that. I suspect that some faculty might know (esp. since a faculty member friended me on Facebook…whether that prof told others or not I have no idea). If lots of faculty do know, no one has indicated that they do, so, *shrug*?
I don’t really like that I feel awkward about my homogayness with professors/important people, and I’m not the first student in my program who is queer (or queer and out about it). But I do, and I don’t see myself being comfortable being out to faculty anytime soon.
I just finished my master’s in environmental conservation at a university in a super liberal area..but coming out is still hard! Especially since I’ve been single most of grad school. I came out to my advisor during a discussion about our research trip to Uganda. He asked if I had reservations about traveling to a developing country..nope.. but I said “there’s a lot of homophobia there, so I’ll have to be careful”. Annnnd that was it (and he watched my back in Uganda). I think for other colleagues and students I just talked about girls, roller derby and feminism, and relied on my haircut. I’ve been lucky and definitely deliberate about coming out, for the first time in my professional life. I hope to carry that into my new job…
Also, there’s always the annoyance of my not feeling comfortable being out with new students until I get to know them a little better. I typically don’t reference my significant other for a while, or talk about my “significant other,” and then after a time will start saying “my girlfriend.”
Coming out all the time is not very fun. ughhhhhhh
I want to second that: coming out all the time is so annoying. And in a place like a university, where people are constantly coming or going, there are always new people to be coming out to. I wonder, though – what is it about some situations that make you uncomfortable not being out right away? I mean, I’m absolutely the same way, I get it, but – it’s an important question and I struggle with it all the time. I usually feel this discomfort with people I respect – like your profs – or people I’m unsure of – like your new students. And why? Is it because I’m afraid of them thinking less of me? I mean, if they do then they’re idiots anyway, right? Do you think you would ever get to a position of sufficient authority in your institution that you would feel comfortable being out to faculty and new people?
Yeah, I totally get what you mean. I know I’m uncomfortable, and recognize/empathize with that same discomfort in others, but have always had trouble articulating what, exactly, makes me feel so uncomfortable.
I don’t think it’s so much that my professors would lose respect for me. I live in NYC, which is pretty darn queer-friendly, so if they’re homophobic, they prolly have to spend a LOT of energy on that, and that’s their problem. I think it’s more this: It’s awkward having an identity that centers on your sexual attraction, and therefore, on who you have sex with/what kinda sex you might have.
Like, I think I get freaked out just because I’m like, Oh god, now you’re going to have these mental images of me in your head forever, and you’re my boss, and now I just want to grab the nearest Erlenmeyer flask and guzzle it down as fast as humanly possible.
If being out was only about, “Oh, you’re queer, whatever,” it wouldn’t feel as uncomfortable for me to tell profs, but since sexual orientation hinges on attraction, the next logical mental leap is, “Oh, this person gets down with girls, huh,” and I just can’t deal with it. (Also, this is not totally accurate because hello, beautiful asexual people, but asexual erasure is unfortunately standard practice.)
I think that’s my biggest reason. With new students (or if I was comfortable with profs in general, I guess new profs/profs I didn’t know well), it’s not as much the mental images thing, but I want to feel out if they seem like they’re open-minded and not homophobic, because I frankly just don’t have time and emotional energy to come out to people who are gonna be assholes about it, ya know? I need some earned trust before doing that.
I don’t think I would really be comfortable being out with faculty until I was nearly graduated, or until I’m a postdoc/professor somewhere – i.e., until I’m closer to being/am a peer, and not only their student. But the major conference in my field is hosting their first GSA, more or less, and I’m going to go to the meet-up, so I might be coming out to more faculty sooner than that? Haha, we’ll see how that goes.
I agree. I don’t want to be unprofessional by discussing my sexual orientation. I won’t hide it either, and would be more open about it if I become a professor, but i don’t want my coworkers to think about me as a sexual being.
Then again I don’t want to picture any of my coworkers having sex. I just pretend everyone’s too socially awkward to ever have sex or get naked, and it works pretty well.
Can I also just say that I love this thread exists? I have been having a lot of feelings about this. Way to make a space for us straddlers to talk about it, Vivian! (:
I just started grad school (PhD in physics represent) four weeks ago, but I moved here at the beginning of the summer. Pretty much all the students in my lab know and I think my advisor might know but I’m not sure? I know he gossips occasionally and I also originally came out to everyone while drunk at his house. He wasn’t in the room but I feel like I might have been screaming? Also we go to happy hour at a gay bar every Friday. So yeah, my lab is cool, despite it being in a state with no lgbt protection laws. That being said, I’ve been single since I moved here so I haven’t brought a girlfriend to any department events. But one of the other students brings his boyfriend so I expect it to be fine if I do.
yesss, gay bars with colleagues! And you feel comfortable being gay with them there?
You reminded me, I was going to write this somewhere and I forgot – just a few weeks ago one of my co-workers texted me and was like, hey we’re going to Charlie’s [gay Western bar near my house] do you want to come?
I was a little surprised and a little nervous, because even though they all know I am gay, I am definitely more flamboyantly out at bars and a little more straight-laced at work, and I didn’t know how it would go to have friends who know very different sides of me mix. But I went, and it was really fun. They were totally respectful of the gayness of the bar, and it turns out they just go all the time because they think it’s legitimately the best line dancing in Denver. So, super cool.
A GAY WESTERN BAR
WHERE IS THIS HEAVEN?
lol it’s in Denver. And indeed it is HEAVEN.
do health professions count as being in the sciences? obviously the work environment is extremely different even though I identify as a sciencey person. I need to know before I start confessing :(
yes they totally count!! Absolutely start confessing :)
ok sooo i actually feel quite uncomfortable coming out at work (i’m a dentist in a small private practice). i think partially it’s my own need to be intensely private, but also there are few people who are my age/peer group and i get the feeling that the assistants (mostly women in their 40s-50s, there is a weird dynamic where i am half their age but they defer to me in almost everything) are generally conservative. one of them in fact told me that she was worried that her teenage daughter who is somewhat sporty etc would turn out ‘like you’ but i didn’t push her on what she specifically meant by that. i do however make a point of calling colleagues out when they are using offensive language to talk about trans* patients in particular.
professionalism/my privacy also dictactes that i don’t really come out to my patients or discuss my personal life in any great detail. however i always enjoy seeing lgbt patients and will sometimes drop hints or in-jokes.
I’m a nurse. I’ve always been out to my friends at work, because we hang out in the real world, too, and they know my life. I was outed to my managers by a new coworker from tumbleweed Texas christian college, who was “uncomfortable working so close to somebody like [me]” after overhearing a conversation I had with a coworker about what my then-girlfriend and I had done over the weekend. (Also, the answer was: aquarium and mexican food. Not, like, fisting and scissoring or something).
I’m not out to my patients, because I don’t discuss my personal life with them. I’m with you on LGBT patients, though. I always wanna be like HELLO I AM YOUR FAMILY but obviously that would be a little much…
“I always wanna be like HELLO I AM YOUR FAMILY but obviously that would be a little much…”
This is how I feel anytime I see any queer-looking person ever.
also i didn’t really come out to many people in medicine/dentistry while studying because it seemed to me like many people are religious and i have hangups with automatic prejudices (on both sides of the coin). however i have had no issues with the religious friends in med/dent who i have come out to and in some cases was actually very pleasantly surprised.
I live in QLD Australia, which is a pretty conservative state, so I’m out because someone has to be, but it sucks every time it happens. Like I tried the being casual at work thing and just mentioned that i spent my friday night at the beat (local lgbt club) and was grilled for the whole coffee break with ‘so do you kiss straight girls’, ‘I don’t know if I like that’, and ‘I have loads of gay friends, me and my friends love to hang out in gay bars.’ I could not face palm enough.
I do a law/science double degree and I find the law students are far more accepting. The tutor, who I’m really sure is straight, called a student out for saying gays shouldn’t be married and I’ve never seen that happen before! And LGBT issues are always spoken about very liberally. But in the science degree the students are always joking about gays, even the tutor made a joke about volcanic dikes for the amusement of the class. And I guess I’m still out in both of my degrees, in the sense that I’m femme and no one would ever know unless they asked because I’m not going to bring it up. But it’s definitely easier in the law degree….
I’m not in the sciences, but I love coming out stories so I’m reading this anyway, and though I’d chime in because I study law in Brisbane. I sort of hide in my liberal bubble most times — I flat out said I was gay in a pols science tute the other day while we were discussing activism and I was ranting about the successes of Healthy Communities and the bigoted blindness-to-the-fact-ness of the Newman government.
But hey! It’s a small state, you probably go to my uni.
I’m a science student, but I haven’t come out to any of my peers. I live in a conservative-majority area, so being out could cause issues I wouldn’t want to bring on myself. I would rather have their focus be on my ability, not my sexuality.
Great series, thank you!! I finally signed up just so I could be part of it.
It’s hard to talk about my experiences with this, without also talking about being a POC (with light-skin privilege), and class. I’m currently completing a MSc in an obscure and competitive field. I’m the only queer, the only POC, and the only working class person in my programme (and probably, in the entire field in this small country).
I don’t even know where to start with this messy, complex topic. But, I do know where it ends (for now):
Two weeks ago, I had a job interview over Skype, for a position in a more liberal city than I am currently in. When they asked me what I knew about the city, I said “my partner grew up around there, and….”
And what? And, I suddenly got so tired of outsmarting the English language with my stealth avoidance of pronouns when talking about, you know, MY EVERYDAY LIFE. Oh, the skills we develop.
It was like the weight of these past two years living (hiding?) in this extremely conservative city just came and plunked itself right into my heart and said “dude, ENOUGH. Just be you.”
I don’t know if the glitch in my answer was perceptible to the interviewers, but in that split second I made a big and scary decision that just felt right in my guts:
“And… she… used to go to the beach with her uncle, absolutely loves it up there.”
They didn’t blink, didn’t get flustered, just carried right on with the conversation, “yes, that beach is very beautiful.”
And you know what? I got the call. For the job. And it’s a good job. Best of all, I won’t have to hide at work any longer.
cool, awesome story. I’m so glad you signed up and shared it. This is the epitome of what we all go through, and what we imagine as a perfect outcome. Putting so much energy into not letting it come up, doing that crazy gymnastics around pronouns, and then – once we just have had enough, we let it out one day. And no matter what the response, at least it’s done – it’s over, and they’ll know and you’ll know they know from now on. Awesome. And you got the job!!
I just commented on the original article, but just to reiterate, I am out at work to anyone who is paying attention. Most of the management just don’t ask about anything you don’t volunteer about your personal life because that’s rude, but I talk about my girlfriend (who is a pediatrician) all the time so the under 45 yo set gets it and the over 45 yo set either gets it or is clueless. I work with a bunch of old white dudes.
I actually came out to myself about 5 years into working at this company I’ve been at for 8 years now (and my FRIEND WHO I FELL FOR AND REALIZED I WAS A HOMO was a woman who I worked with) and it was just one of those things where I sat everyone down that mattered, and then just owned my queerness to everyone who didn’t. Haven’t looked back and I haven’t gotten any kickback from anyone, even the guys I used to lead Young Life with. Chew on that for a second.
I should mention I work in the Oil and Gas industry in Houston, TX as a geologist.
I know a bunch of other queer ladies and dudes who are in the sciences but most of them work for Chevron, as they’re by far the best LGBT-friendly oil company.
Every time I interview with Chevron I feel like they would like me if they just KNEW. I had an interview with Exxon a couple weeks ago and it about broke my soul. I’d totally say yes if they offered, but just knowing how they destroyed partner benefits after the Mobil merger kills me.
But, er, point being that I am super glad there is a Houston/O&G/geo/LGBT intersection out there and I won’t be totally adrift when I finally find work!
Once I came out to my family, coming out at work (re: school) was super easy. I mention that I have a girlfriend quite frequently, and since we moved across the country, that is seriously the easiest way to come out – just by mentioning that I UHauled with my girlfriend. We’re both in anthropology which is probably the queerest program to be in, and I have had zero problems coming out in either of my programs. We also met at school, so beforehand people would already know who we were and that we were together.
I also had a depressed semester in my first year of my MA program because I was dealing with my failed hetero relationship and finalizing my coming-out process (which I underestimated as actually being a big deal in terms of emotional energy?) So because of all of that, my supervisors found out about my unleashed sexuality and were supportive.
I live in an incredibly progressive and supportive environment, so I have had absolutely no qualms coming out. Beforehand, when I was in a hetero-presenting relationship, I was definitely closeted at work and at school, but having a girlfriend with whom I’ve moved, as well as having her be in the same academic field makes it soooo easy. (It’s easier to namedrop someone whose work is related to water-cooler conversations rather than someone who would otherwise be obscure to casually introduce in those settings.)
Just for the sake of sharing a coming-out story, one of my favourites is how my professor found out about my relationship with my girlfriend. (This professor taught two classes where I met her and our friendship/love blossomed.)
About a month before I finished up my thesis, I was talking about the impending move while using “we” constantly. This professor asked who I was moving with, and when I answered, she said: “Oh! That’s nice, you two are rooming together?” “…yeeeaahh…’rooming’………” “…. OH GOD! I had no idea you two were together!! I’m so oblivious sometimes, I swear! I just, wow, how did I miss that? I guess I haven’t seen you two in the same room for quite awhile.. Oh wow, I’m so embarrassed!”
And then she went on to praise my girlfriend and congratulate us, telling me how important it is to have a supportive partner while doing graduate studies, etc.
(Other anecdotes include my professors using me as a middle-person to inquire about the progress of my girlfriend’s thesis because we had the exact same supervisors for our theses. Yeah. We’re a tight-knit group…)
Paper0Flowers, we might just be the same person. Same discipline, dating other (awesome) lady scientists in our field.
ISN’T ANTHROPOLOGY JUST THE BEST
Sometimes I think it’s just hard to be a feminist in the sciences, or just female. At least in computer sciences. So many white men fancy themselves to be unbiased wells of objective, logical conclusions like: “Poor women have more children because of government incentives, whereas having children is cost prohibitive for middle class women.”
Yes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve overheard comments like that – or had them directed at me. Because they don’t realize that there’s anything wrong with that kind of logic. I also am really introverted out in the (non-written) real world, and I have a stupendously hard time addressing those comments when they come up. I just sit quietly and stew, and then feel terrible afterward.
I am involved with disability advocacy. In the bible belt. I am not out to more than a handful of people in the very homophobic state where I live. But this is going to change in a big, big, big way soon and it’s been a very long time coming. [Pre-run-on-sentence-deep-breath]I am working on a little PSA-type video for National Coming Out Day on behalf of a wonderful local LGBT rights group and I am going to be IN that video because I am going to COME OUT and I am going to post that 2 min piece of film featuring lesbian:queer women from my community everywhere it is permissible to do so INCLUDING Facebook in front of 600 peers and “friends” and for the love of all that’s holy that video is going to live forever on youtube and I couldn’t be more relieved and happy. /jumpingforjoy
yes that’s so awesome, good for you!! You should post the link here too so we can see it!
Hey Vivian — I posted in this thread up there ^^^ about a video I was making on behalf of a local/state LGBT group for Nat’l Coming Out Day (Oct 11, yesterday) — and I was finally going to come out myself.
And so I did! Feeling proud, wanted to brag. I’m the blonde with the glasses…
I love it! What kinds of reactions did you get, if anything?
Thanks! It was great. All the girls were proud to be in it, I think. And we were just blown away by the support we got from the Black Keys — we were thrilled they let us use their song for our video.
We have had just 1,000 combined viewings (youtube & vimeo)so far and I’m hoping to get the word out about the TN Equality Project and the work they do for the LGBT community in our state.
Friends of mine whom I was out to before loved the video and everybody else… well, most were silent but certainly no unfortunate remarks, thankfully. I’m just glad it’s done, I’m out, I don’t have to worry about it anymore. It is such a great feeling… like exhaling.
completely awesome, yeah would love to see your video.
Wow, nice topic. I’m very out at work, it’s hard to work in an environment where I’m in the closet and feel like I can’t be myself. As far as I can remember I’ve been out to classmates, co-workers, my close cousins. Parents and the older adult population is like a whole category where you have to tread carefully because they think it’s just black and white with no gray in between.
IDK how I even came out at work, (I’m a nurse btw) I guess when I was asked if I had a boyfriend I’d just say ‘Nope, I have a GF’ and pull out this amazing picture of the love of my life. I think I was almost the same way in school, all I said was I liked girls and it seemed like most people either masked their disgust or masked their acceptance. Eventually, I found TRUE friends who have never judged me. My co-workers on the other hand all seem to be okay with it, they always ask how the love of my life is doing etc and constantly ask when I’m bringing her to the USA.
My fave coming out story is probably…..hmm. Well, back when FB was VERY NEW and I had an aunt who found me and my profile pic happened to be me and my GF. At one party she asks me who it was and I admitted to being a lesbian then she goes on to tell me she’ll find me a BF. WTF look. And to this day when she sees me she says “so how’s our young man?” WTF look again and I told her I’m a girl to which she laughs to. FACEPALM. There was also a time a came out to a person and I remember them saying “are you sure??” O.o
I’m in the medical field and I’ve found it incredibly hard to come out to anyone at work. I never divulge much information about my personal life when I start something new just because I want to get a feel for people’s attitudes first – I want people to form an opinion of me, as a doctor (or student, or researcher, or resident, etc), before they get a chance to have an opinion of me, the LESBIAN doctor. That just doesn’t jive with me. I love my job and I love my coworkers. We’re all really close, mostly because of the nature of ERMED and the environment we’re in day to day. It’s just…different. Most of my coworkers are conservative and religious, which is very much NOT me. The team has a social event coming up and I’m planning on bringing my girlfriend. I’m pretty nervous about it, but I think it’ll go over well.
The worst part isn’t my coworkers, though – it’s the patients. I obviously have no obligation whatsoever to tell them anything about myself, let alone my orientation. But, like, when I have to do a pelvic exam I ALWAYS make sure I have a nurse in with me, even if it’s not technically required for a female caregiver. It just terrifies me that a patient will find out somehow and I’ll get fired for ‘taking advantage’ of them or something, which is obviously something I’d never do. It’s just a crazy world out there, you know?
Semi-related TMI story: Once I had a super SUPER hot doctor do a pelvic exam on me and I was just like oh god this is so awkward I’m so attracted to you and you’re currently being very clinical with my vagina.
“I’m so attracted to you and you’re currently being very clinical with my vagina.”
Comment award, omg
Totally get what you mean. You just don’t let your patients know certain details about yourself. I hate the labeling thing too. I sure as hell wouldn’t want to be known as the LESBIAN (insert profession/occupation here).
I just finished my M.Sc. in biology. I came out to myself and everyone else while in grad school. (I don’t recommend combining grad school with coming out. Too much angst!)
Biology is a fairly liberal field because most of us are non-religious. After I’d finished coming out to all of my close friends and family, and I was dating a woman, I did a coming-out and relationship status announcement on Facebook. So all of my fellow grad students found out that way, and everyone’s been cool about it. I don’t think anyone was too surprised. And now they don’t try to set me up with dudes at parties anymore, so that’s nice.
I’m not out to any of the profs, though. It feels like too much of a risk – you never know who’s going to end up on a committee that determines your future in some way. And some of the profs are in their 60s and above, so it’s harder to be sure that they’d be okay with it.
Some of them probably know anyway. People talk. I’m fine with that – at least two of the profs in the department are gay, so no one’s super-homophobic. But I have no plans to announce it to anyone unless they directly ask.
“(I don’t recommend combining grad school with coming out. Too much angst!)”
I can second this. I nearly failed grad school because emotional angst was too much.
I ‘ripped the bandaid off’ by wearing my ‘Legalize Gay’ t-shirt to work on national coming out day. Boom, done.
It took me over three years to work up the courage, heheh. Then I had to rip the bandaid off again by liking and posting queer stuff on FB. It was hard at first but now I enjoy being a big flaming gaymo.
I worked in the outdoor/conservation industry, with a focus on youth development. When I had a designated office, i made a ‘safe space’ sign and put it up on my door. When i no longer had a door and just had a cubicle, i put the sign up on the side people approached me by. This was both for my benefit, and their benefit. It was not a proclamation of my own queerness, it was better than that. It was my way of letting everyone around me know that a) i would not entertain any queerphobic derisions b) if they needed a safe person to talk to i was there c) they could eventually find the strength to take a stand in a peaceful way. (the sign never hurt anyone, it only started some really great conversations)
I worked as an undergrad in an environmental lab this summer, and am in my third year of a really small program. I came out to my classmates relatively early in knowing them – I have a rainbow pin on my backpack, along with one with a penguin that says “save the ta-tas”. BIng-bang-boom. I’d had my boss as a professor before, and she’d seen me wander around campus holding hands with the couple of girlfriends I’ve had. The only “difficulty” I’ve had was with one of the grad students I did some work for this summer, and it’s not even like it was that awkward for me to come out. A small group of us were out kayaking, and she mentioned how she would rather be sailing, and I responded with something along the lines of “oh, the girl I dated last summer was really into sailing”, then started asking her about what type of boats she had sailed, etc. She got really weird after that, and I’m still pretty sure she doesn’t like me very much/at all. I do enough work for other people that it wasn’t a big deal.
That being said, I also can’t imagine feeling like my job or my respect at my job are on the line just because I’d like to come out/had come out. From my experience with environmentalists, many/most of them (us) tend to be liberal, and it would probably be a bigger deal if I drove a truck with a V8 engine (oh the gas!) or stopped using my re-usable coffee mug than if I wandered into a post-work shindig with a girl in tow.
I’m completely out at work, and in my professional life in general. I started out by coming out to friends I worked with – pretty much a set of casual conversations over drinks in the pub. Then I dated a woman at work, so that was pretty much cat out of the bag time, for most people I had daily contact with. I ended up totally outing myself at work when I sent an email to the entire building asking people to please go to the Safe Zone training being organised by our workplace and explaining how it would make a difference, not only to any LGBTQ students wandering round, but also to me. Finally, I’m now out to pretty much my entire profession, thanks to working with our professional organisation’s LGBTQ working group, and helping to run the Facebook page for our field of science.
I’m extremely happy to say that it hasn’t made one iota of difference to my professional life, other than the fact that I’m now happier and more comfortable in my own skin than ever. I don’t think twice about mentioning exes, or (when I’m dating someone) what we’ve been doing that weekend. It also frees me up to advocate 100% for LGBTQ issues at work and in our field. I realise I’m very lucky, and it helps that my colleagues and managers are awesome human beings, but after experiencing the freedom of being myself without having to be at all guarded, I can safely say I will never be anything other than 100% out. To me personally, no job would be worth having even half a foot in the closet ever again.
Of course, I acknowledge that I have the relative socioeconomic freedom right now to only work in places where people are ok with me being gay. I recognise many people don’t have that kind of freedom.
CHIMING IN. I’m in a PhD biology program at a Catholic school. As biologists tend to be fairly liberal, even at said Catholic school, I don’t give a fuck. I’m a 50 footer anyway, I have super gay hair and visible tattoos. But I came out to my advisor by asking her to send me some neat videos of our bacteria rocketing around in a host cell so I could show my girlfriend what I do. She didn’t react, except to be really supportive when I was going through some kind of shit with my family.
My colleagues don’t care, although I’m not so sure our Cameroonian postdoc knows? He’s a little on the oblivious side (100% into his research, all the time) so I don’t see that he would care.
Apparently I got a nasty look while holding hands with a cute girl the other day, but that was because it was game day weekend and rich alumni come back and shit like that.
… I feel like we have the same life, minus the part where my school isn’t Catholic. But I share an office with a Russian postdoc who is sometimes oblivious and obsessed with his research and football weekends are the worst.
I am currently in my last year of undergrad at a super progressive small liberal arts college. In my major (chemistry), I have been out to everyone since I got here. There’s no way around it, because I am SO obviously gay and it would just be awkward to not acknowledge it.
How does my department deal with this? Well, my professors don’t acknowledge it but I know they know and they know I know they know, etc. so it’s fine. Nobody talks about their personal life in classes! My friends are super open with me and I’ve never felt awkward or uncomfortable talking extensively about my girlfriend or our life together. I frequently reference my house full of lesbians as a significant and different part of my life and they respect those differences.
My advisor is great – I have said directly to her in a group meeting that I’d like to talk about the realities of life as a gay woman in the chemical industry and she’s more than amenable (“Oh please, I lived in the bay area, there are WAY more gay women in science than you might think,”)
So basically I think I’m super lucky. My girlfriend visits me in our office and my labmates are perfectly pleasant to her, my advisor is so down to talk about my gay, and my friends are straight up (forgive the pun) not homophobic in any way, shape, or form.
I’m just going to chime in with my bisexual problems.
I’m totally out in the veterinary medicine side of things (officer of our LGBT club and travel for LGVMA meetings), but not on the research side of things (except I might be).
My research advisor is in a cover band and when they perform everyone from the institute comes (he’s a major PI) and everyone from the vet school comes (he’s a professor). So I brought my gf at the time because vet school life. They play a lot of dancey music so I was dancing with my gf w/ some other lady couples when my very religious lab manager came over to dance w/ her friend (she’s not gay, for a fact). I said hello and made small talk, but was in my opinion very obviously WITH my girlfriend. I mentioned to my gf later that I wasn’t officially out at work. She apologized, but I was fine with it. Since then my lab manager has never asked about my social life, but I also don’t talk about my life at work.
My bisexual issue is now I have a boyfriend so I am still reluctant to talk about my personal life/relationships because I hate when people assume I’m straight or just the best ally ever. It’d be really awkward to talk about my boyfriend while also trying to bring up my ex-girlfriend.
No solutions or suggestions– just all the feels.
I personally identify on the gay side of bi, and I always describe myself as “queer”. And I’m really outspoken in terms of rights, getting info about resources to *everyone* in my department, etc. And in the time I’ve been at my university (first as a grad student now as staff), I’ve dated both men and women. People are damn confused, or they think I’ve finally “figured myself out”. It’s SO ANNOYING. Like they never consider anything other than the binary as anything legitimate.
Geologist here. I sort of take a “not really out but not really closeted” approach. If the topic were to come up I might mention it or allude to it (like if it was the Monday after Pride weekend and someone asked me what I did), but I don’t make a point of telling people. I look pretty gay (short hair, semi-masculine style), and have a much more masculine personality and interests, so I figure people assume.
Most of the people I’ve worked with in a “professional” capacity as a scientist (so, this includes graduate school) are pretty open and accepting of gay people. If I wanted to bring the girl who I dated for a brief period while I was in my MS program to an event, they would have been totally fine with it.
In my current job (non-science), I’ve actually witnessed way more homophobic comments (not directed at me personally though) than in my experiences as a scientist. I’d say the majority of people in this job (wildland firefighter) don’t have much education beyond high school, and that’s wherein the difference lies. Obviously it’s not a hard-and-fast rule, but there’s a certain amount of maturity that educated professionals have that the tobacco-chewing, football-watching, country people of wildland fire don’t.
I’m a mechanical engineer. At my last job (working for a company which designs automotive parts), I was slowly ostracized after coming out. My colleagues stopped inviting me to social events which involved bringing partners. People stopped joking around with me, and only talked to me about work related issues.
It felt so terrible, not only being the only woman who worked for the company outside of the 3 secretaries, but being cut out for being gay. And I thought I lived in a pretty accepting area of the world. Not in my field I guess.
I’m not out at this job and don’t want to be. Part of it also has to do with the standard reaction I get: you must be in engineering because you are gay (and therefore more like a man). I don’t need that bullshit in my life, so I would rather keep it strictly professional and in the closet.
I’m currently a PhD student in the drug discovery field – basically I do a mixture of mol. cell biology, biochemistry, and biophysics. It’s actually quite an interesting situation for me, because my involvement in my field and coming out actually went hand in hand.
The quick answer to your question is that I am out to everyone who cares to ask me about my personal life. This means virtually everyone I work with and interact with. Most of my coworkers found out by the phrase “My ex… she.” If they cared to follow that up with the subsequent questions I would tell them that yes, I date women, yes, I’ve dated me, no, I don’t intend on going back to men.
I don’t think that it is a necessity to be out to your coworkers. I just think that many of mine are my friends, and I do think it’s necessary to be out to friends. I also find it very liberating to be able to talk about certain things without censorship. I have never felt any prejudice from anyone – and I have quite a few very conservative coworkers (as is a strangely common occurence in the sciences). One of the favorite memories I cherish was when my extremely conservative/religious boss asked me one day why I was smiling. I replied with, “Oh, I just met someone this weekend and they texted me.” She only paused for one second before saying, “Cool! I hope she knows you’re a slave to the lab.” It wasn’t ever discussed again, or even brought up ever. But that comment and that moment made every struggle I’ve gone through coming out worth it.
Question (I hope this doesn’t veer too far from the topic)– there are a few people here who are not out in their department… is there something you’d wish to see from people in your research group/department/lab?
I’m trying to think if there’s anything I can do, as an out person, to help those who aren’t. I know it’s not realistic for every person to be out in every situation, and coming out isn’t *always* the right decision. Since my job, funding, and home situation is not affected by my…uh…outness(?), I recognize I’ve got a lot more latitude than others might. I would never, ever out anyone, and whenever I talk about resources and equality I always try to mention that there may be folks who for whatever reason are not able to be out. But is there something that might be helpful to people who aren’t out? Or who are questioning?
I was working as a government research technician prior to my admission at medical school. To be perfectly honest, my experience there actually helped me to understand my own feelings and come to realize that it’s okay for me to not be strictly hetero. My direct supervisor, a well respected PhD, is married to a woman and quite proud of her amazing relationship.
I am veryyy recently cognisant of the fact that I am bisexual (if not lesbian… a different discussion, for a different time…still figuring it out) but the male-dominated research industry makes it fairly difficult for that type of workplace to be a progressive area. I am so blessed to have worked for a woman who was brave enough to be as open and out as she is.