written By: Vanessa Reich-Shackelford
The Transgender Day of Visibility was started by the group Trans Student Educational Resources (TSER), which is the only organization in the US entirely led by trans youth. It is a day to show support for the trans community. It aims to bring attention to the accomplishments of trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people all around the globe, while fighting cissexism and transphobia by spreading knowledge of the trans community. It is a day of empowerment and giving recognition that the trans community deserves, and takes place on March 31st of every year.
The statistics on the number of transgender people in the STEM fields is almost nonexistent, however, one can look to trans experiences as examples of gender bias in the workplace: many trans people stay in the same careers, and sometimes the same jobs, during and after their transitions. People who transitioned from female to male during their careers, such as Ben Barres (see his profile below), realized that there was an almost immediate difference in his everyday experience, as reported by Jessica Nordell for New Republic: "People who don't know I am transgendered [sic] treat me with much more respect." He stopped being interrupted in meetings, and another scientist actually said at a conference, "Ben gave a great seminar today - but then his work is so much better than his sister's." This person did not realize that Ben and Barbara were the same person. Says Ben Barres of this experience: "This is why women are not breaking into academic jobs at any appreciable rate. [...] I have had the thought a million times: I am taken more seriously." Another trans person who transitioned from female to male noted, "When I was a woman, no matter how many facts I had, people were like, 'Are you sure about that?' It's so strange not to have to defend your positions." These trans men were also able to suggest colleagues who were women for promotions because their advice was taken more seriously.
Shayle Matsuda, a Ph.D. student (see his bio below), writing for Wired, points out that science prides itself on objective analysis of the world, but identity drives what questions we ask, how we answer those questions, and how we interpret data. As a student at the California Academy of Sciences, Matsuda experienced being part of a team where the majority of lead researchers were white cis-gender people. Matsuda provides anecdotes of other trans students who experienced hardships. One worried about repercussions if her department found out she was trans, and another student postponed applying for a graduate program until he was able to start hormones and change his legal documents - "He wanted to avoid coming out on campus for fear of retribution and stigmatization." Matsuda also experienced practical challenges during his transition: the staff gender neutral bathroom was five floors up from his office, and living on a TA salary while spending money on hormones, medical procedures, reaquired therapy sessions, legal fees, and clothing was very difficult. And Matsuda found that campuses don't always provide gender confirming health benefits, gender neutral bathrooms, training on LGBT competency, or "active condemnation of transphobia."
More research must be undertaken to understand more about the experience of transgender people in the workplace, especially in the STEM fields. The Pew Research Center in Washington DC has undertaken research worldwide about homosexuality, but not about transgender people. Studies have tackled diversity in science, asking about women vs. men, but not about transgender individuals. The most common data about transgender people in the workplace and in STEM fields is anecdotal, such as the New Republic article above. Any future research must take into account that there is "no single story about being transgender that sums it all up, much like there's no one story about being Hispanic or blonde or short or straight that sums that experience up" (Katy Steinmetz, Time Magazine).
It is clear, however, that people who fall under the transgender umbrella can be found in all fields, including STEM. In the spirit of celebrating trans achievements in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, here are a few trans scientists who are making waves in their fields.