Making my own history.

When Alberto at Minority Postdoc emailed me to ask if I’d be interested in writing for the Pride edition of the Diversity in Science blog carnival, I initially said yes, that I’d be delighted to write a post. But then I had a great struggle finding topics to write about. Not because I don’t have plenty of experience being a member under the LGBT umbrella, but rather because I can’t think of ways that my bisexuality and my science have intersected or influenced the other. I have known that I wanted to be a scientist since middle school. I have also known (in some way, though maybe not always explicitly) that I was attracted to both of the normative genders* since middle school. Since then, however, it is hard for me to come up with examples where the two paths have crossed in any significant way.

On Twitter, Kevin Bonham posited that this may be a testament to the liberal nature of academia. I’m not entirely sure that that’s true, although I don’t deny that academia is one of the most accepting environments that I’ve ever been fortunate enough to belong to. I have always been “out”, but often people will subconsciously normalize me as being “straight like them” because the subject of my sexuality never has the chance or reason to come up. The people in science that I have had the opportunity to come out to have been overwhelmingly accepting, though.

One of the suggestions for the carnival mentioned talking about mentors. When I was in high school, I knew a woman who was a wonderful mentor to me. Her profession was in the life sciences, and through my interactions with her I fostered my love for zoology. I had always been a science nerd as a kid, but it was the work that I did with her that really solidified my desire to be an animal biologist, even if I didn’t realize it until halfway through college. This woman was absolutely stunning, smart, confident, liberal-minded, and a tad bit geeky. In short, she was everything I wanted to be at 17. I modeled myself after her in certain subconscious ways (I even picked up some of her vices in college), and there was a wonderful familiarity about her that I couldn’t shake. I admit it; I probably had an enormous crush on her. She was married, but she really struck me as the kind of woman who couldn’t have escaped college without having at least one lesbian fling. I think we tend to know our own kind, but she never came out and told me one way or another. My mind may be playing tricks on my memories, who knows, but I consider her my first and only queer science mentor. It almost doesn’t even matter whether she was actually queer or not. Like it says at the end of the movie The Watermelon Woman, sometimes you have to create your own history.

Actually this brings me to a good point, though, because women like me are sometimes hard to pinpoint. They say that gay people are an invisible minority, and I think that as a bisexual woman in a committed relationship with a dude, I might be the invisible-est. Like I said above, we tend to be able to recognize our own kind, but sexuality is such a private matter that it very rarely comes up in conversations with the people we do science with. My graduate school buddies all know I’m bisexual, but none of the faculty do, nor do my students. I can’t help wondering if maybe I was the unwitting queer science mentor to some other bisexual girl that I had in one of my classes. I’d like to think so. I certainly have gotten my share of strangely personal anonymous student evaluations. Who is to say that they were all from dudes?

The only place where I really feel like I have queer science peers is on the internet. A significant portion of the friends I’ve made through science blogging have come out to me as bisexual in private conversations, even ones I would never have guessed (married, babies, etc.). Part of me really wants to ask whether there’s something inherent about science blogging that attracts the queer girl demographic, or if we are just representative of a large silent minority of queer lady scientists that nobody knows about because we keep our shit to ourselves.

* A note on labels: Some people dislike the term “bisexual” because it imposes a false binary on gender, and prefer the term “pansexual” instead as a term that encompasses all gender permutations. I think this is a valid argument, but I still choose to use the term bisexual because my sexuality does fall fairly hard along the normative gender binary. I like feminine girls and masculine dudes, so classic gender roles are what I seek in my relationships. I do not deny the existence or validity of other gender permutations; they just don’t get my rocks off.

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