Story Written by Ren Weinstock
When I think about where I am right now, in this moment, sitting in a cafe (the only working cafe within half an hour of my new temporary home), writing this blog that’s supposed to summarise who I am and how I got here and where I’m going – all in a way that’s hopefully both relatable and shows some sense of accomplishment for my own sanity – I’m overwhelmed by the layers of dichotomy that appear to obscure my path. I’m both acutely aware of how young and inexperienced I am in this field, yet I know that my journey through this field is going to be unlike the vast majority others.
The cute, one sentence summary I usually share about my journey with extended family, acquaintances, or colleagues is:
“I graduated almost a year ago with a degree in Biology and have since taken a number of seasonal positions that have led me to be somewhat specialised in coastal and marine biology, particularly sea turtle conservation.”
So neat! So packaged! So palatable!
In reality, that’s just the surface of it. I’m non-binary, and my pronouns are they/them/theirs. I’m out of the closet as much as a nomadic non-binary person can be, which has meant that because of the ephemeral nature of field jobs, I’m constantly in the process of coming out. Every time I move to a new, remote area to start a job, I also have to come out to my coworkers and my supervisors. Best-case scenario, they’re open and accepting and are willing to use my pronouns and support me. Worst case scenario, they’re transphobic (overtly or covertly) and make me feel unsafe, or fire me. Usually, it’s a mix of the good and the bad. Usually, people are open to supporting me but aren’t familiar with gender non-conforming people, and thus I have to teach them how to use my pronouns and gender-neutral language when talking about me. While perhaps this doesn’t sound all that bad, it is time-consuming and exhausting. More often than not, much of the friend making-period is filled with me internally battling the balance of making friends and calling people out on using the wrong pronouns/committing other microaggressions.
I think the often physically isolating nature of field-positions makes all of this particularly hard. Our communities become our coworkers, and while we may have friends and family that support us, not having them with us makes feeling that support harder. For me, there haven’t been many queer or gender non-conforming people in these positions with me, making it difficult to find allies and people to relate to. Furthermore, the STEM field lacks comprehensive representation of LGBTQ+ folks, making moving forward in the conservation field scary. How do I become a successful non-binary person in this field if I don’t have any role models? How can cisgender and straight people be allies in the conservation field if they don’t even know they need to be allies? Visibility is the first step to acceptance. So here I am, trying to be my own representation, my own role model, my own little, tiny bit of visibility.
I’m sharing my story not because I think it’s unique, but because I know it’s not. I know there are other trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming individuals out there who have had similar experiences in this field, and who, like me, are looking for and failing to find the representation they deserve. I’m sharing because the more of us who share our stories, the more we can make known our needs in this field. Being queer does not hinder my ability to succeed in this field; being oppressed does. Oppression comes in many forms, and as a white, able-bodied, affluent person, I am privileged to not have to face racism, ableism, or classism in my day to day life. But I would say right here, right now, the burden I bear is being called upon to tell this particular story, to do this labour, again and again, when there are so many other stories I want to tell. Being queer and genderqueer is an important part of who I am, but it’s not the only facet of my identity for which I have pride or that affects the way I want to move through this world. There is so much more to my experience, so much more to who I am than just these words. But I know that right now, this is the part of my story that needs to be broadcast the loudest. I do not and cannot speak for all genderqueer folks, however, I hope they find solace in a shared experience, and that you, whoever you are, reading this, recognise the importance of the role you play in allyship toward us.
For me, right now, the answer to everything I’m feeling and facing is to just keep going. Keep coming out, keep reaching out, keep being myself, keep doing things I enjoy, keep trying to build community, keep taking chances, keep moving forward. As I try to make sense of everything and process all my experiences, I’ll keep processing out loud, and with any luck, you’ll join me and we won’t be lonely conservationists much longer.
PS: Wondering how to start being an ally?
• Educate yourself! Google is your friend!
• Add your pronouns to your email signature (even if you’re cisgender)!
• State your pronouns (even if you’re cisgender) when introducing yourself! This normalizes it and makes it easier for trans and gender non-conforming people to do it as well!
• Don’t assume someone else’s gender before learning how that person identifies!
• Ask your LGBTQ+ friends and coworkers how they want to be supported!
• Check in with your LGBTQ+ friends and coworkers!
• Uplift the voices of LGBTQ+ folks in STEM! Especially QTPOC in STEM!
For more of Ren, check out their Instagram @thequeerbiologist