Starting my undergraduate degree was by fair one of my biggest life transitions that would lead to my actual gender transition. Not just because I was beginning my life as a young adult: away from home and from my family, but because finally I was taking the first step into becoming a scientist, as well as being, for the first time free to better explore my ever confusing gender identity.
My transition into becoming myself started with the usual changes: cutting my hair, changing my wardrobe, trying out new names and pronouns. Changes that felt small but were actually quite big looking at the full picture. I worked up the nerve to be open about being transgender right away to the odd 50 other students that called the university residential village their home. At first they welcomed me, asking the odd uncomfortable question or avoiding making eye-contact with me. But soon the curious questions turned to jokes at my expense, to name calling, to slurs, to threats of violence, to actual violence. I had only being living on campus for little under 5 months. It was this moment that put my transition on hold. It wasn’t until a little under two years before I finally worked up the courage to continue my transition.
When I wasn’t still dealing with transphobia from the people I lived with, I was experiencing it in classes. My science undergraduate degree let me feeling extremely isolated as a trans person wanting to pursue a career in science. I still remember distinctly one of my undergraduate professor’s repeating a slur directed at trans people repeatedly in a lecture. I never attended his other lectures after that.
Besides this there was always a distinct lack of queer content mention within these science units. There was never any talk of homosexual behaviour in animals, or any mention of significant LGBT scientists. As far as I knew science was a place unwelcoming to queer people like myself.
It wasn’t until I graduated, and starting my higher degree research that I discovered the very opposite. I first stumbled on Biological Exuberance by Bruce Bagemihl (published in 1999), a book detailing every scientific observation of homosexual behaviour in animals, all in one blue hardcover book. At that I finally started to seek out LGBT representation within science myself. From there I found Evolution’s Rainbow written by evolutionary scientist and transgender woman Joan Roughgarden criticising the ciscentric and heteronormative bias when it comes to looking at sexual reproduction and evolution in biology. To finally the late Ben Barres’s (1954 – 2017) The Autobiography of a Transgender Scientist (2018), that now as a scientist studying neurobiology, holds a very special place for me. It was through this research I was able to discover that, not only were LGBT people present in the current scientific community, but that we have always been here. For example: Alan L. Hart (1890-1962) an American transgender man and medical researcher who was one of the first transgender men to undergo gender reassignment surgery and who devoted much of his career to the research and treatment of tuberculosis. Or Magnus Hirschfeld (1868 –1935), although not transgender himself, he was a gay Jewish doctor that pioneered some the first ever scientistic and medical research into transgender people, now for it to be burnt by Nazi’s in 1933.
Representation like that of TDOV offer the visibility trans people so often never get. The chance to show what it truly means to be transgender, from transgender people. Breaking the narrative that we are only ever sad tormented people who “trapped” in our bodies, pretending to me something we know we’ll never be, when the reality is far from that.
The question I used to ask myself should have never been “do transgender people belong in science?” because transgender people have always already been a part of science. I was just never given the opportunity to see that. I hope wonderful LGBT science organisations, the scientific community and transgender scientists themselves continue to be vocal and inspire the next generation of future scientists with the open arms and acceptance we may never had ourselves.