Field of Science

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.


  1. I resent my entire gender being labeled "dude." I grew up in california, have blond hair and am a surfer. I also call other males "bro," and even occasionally "Brah."

    I am a dude, but all those other dudes, I don't think so.


  2. I use the word 'dude' WAY too often anyway. I'm 27, I should start speaking like an adult! (Fat chance.)

  3. Blogger is being weird on my other OS and not letting me comment. :(

    "On Twitter, Kevin Bonham posited that this may be a testament to the liberal nature of academia"

    I have to disagree with him, too. Like you said, bisexual women are by and large invisibilized. When we come out, we're often fetishized, labeled attention-seekers and ordered to explain ourselves. To me it seems natural that many of us try very hard to keep our romantic lives private. People are reallllly creepy about bi/pansexual women. I know I don't talk a lot about my orientation for that reason (among others).

    I've heard a lot of homophobic stuff from science folks, mostly in the form of dudes who think it's funny to poke fun at other straight men by intimating they are queer. Yet these same people who try to use same-sex orientation as an insult will turn around and say they support LGBTQ rights. It's a very hypocritical kind of liberalism, and I don't trust people who do this kind of thing.

  4. And if you're at all a femme bisexual, don't count on having any validity in the gay community! I've had so many people tell me that they don't believe I'm really attracted to women. I'm "too pretty" to be gay. This wasn't even straight people saying it, either.

    I mostly haven't encountered any homophobic stuff in my program, although I wonder if that's due to the attitude difference between the people typically drawn to biomed programs vs. evolution & ecology programs? From my understanding, biomed programs are often full of jerks.

  5. I have not experienced much homophobia in my academic life, even though I am a jerky biomed type. I know I am lucky, and my experiences are not necessarily representative. At least IME, the academic world can seem more liberal than the surrounding area.

    As to the less-than accepting view of bisexuals in the gay community, I agree that is totally stupid. I don't really understand the underlying sentiments that lead to the bias. I think that there needs to be more awareness, for sure. But you are only as invisible as you let yourself be (at least that is how I try to approach these things-but I understand that is not always the best approach).

    also: PING!

  6. PS: I should have started out by saying that I really liked this post. Great job making mentors when you need them. Sorry for the poor manners ;-)

  7. hahaha, okay, I should have qualified that statement better. When I said biomed programs are "full of jerks" I just meant that they seem to attract a disproportionate number of jerks, not that everyone in biomed are jerks. A very large chunk of my near and dears (online and off) are from biomed programs, including the mentor in this post.

    Honestly, I wish there was an easier way to be visible. I never miss the opportunity to bring it up in conversation if relevant, i.e. "Oh, you're going to Denver? I went there once with my ex-girlfriend. We went to blah blah blah, it was lovely," but opportunities to do that are limited. If I was dating a woman NOW it would be easier to slip it in.

  8. I loved this post! I don't often comment on blogs, but this piece really resonated with me. Your mentor sounds a lot like my mentor. It is amazing to consider how an interaction with a single person can influence your education and shape your career.

    And, I totally hear you on the idea that it can be awkward to bring up an interest in the opposite sex of your long-term partner. I wish I could remember how I brought this up (in a recent conversation with my totes hot mentor/role model). In my experience, beers can facilitate this kind of discussion.

    I'm in a biomed department on the Left Coast and while there are no jerks at my workplace, I think I know the type you were alluding to. I have found the university to be a friendly and welcoming environment, but I've also noticed big differences between fields; my friends in medicine are on average several orders of magnitude more liberal than those in basic science research.

  9. Michelle,

    That's an interesting comment about female scientists and bi-sexuality. My father's family is full of scientists and lesbians/bi-sexual females. My mothers family has many mathematicians.

    All 3 of my kids, have LOW 2D:4D finger ratios also. My eldest daughter (7 yo) didn't make eye contact till almost 6 months old and is a both intellectually gifted and a tomboy. My 2.5 yo son has been diagnosed with ASD and PDD-NOS and Verbal Dyspraxia - though his vocabulary range is that of a 5 yo. My 4 month old daughter has the lowest 2D:4D ratio of the three, with the top of her index finger almost lower than the first joint of her ring finger - same as myself.

    What is you 2D:4D ratio like - if you don't mind me asking?

    More here:

    Curiously, my bisexual sister, has a HIGH 2D:4D ratio, is very feminine and emphatic and prefers effeminate men and very butch women - she once dated a female bodybuilder?!

  10. My ratio is very close to 1:1. My index finger is slightly longer than my ring finger but almost imperceptibly so.


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