4 mins read 16 Jun 2021

Standing Proudly During Pride in Academia

June is Global PRIDE month, where the LGBTIQA+ community is celebrated, including within the space community. Astrophysics PhD Student, Kat Ross, talks about her own experience of identifying as queer in academia.

Credit: Kat Ross.

I’m Kat Ross, I am a 3rd year PhD student studying the variability and evolution of baby black holes.

I’m Kat Ross, I’m bisexual and genderqueer. I’ve been openly and happily queer for many years with my family and friends. 

2 introductions. 2 separate parts of my life. 

For so long, I had two versions of me, two sides of myself that didn’t interact. For my whole life, I’d heard of people having a “professional life” and a “personal life”. I assumed my sexuality and gender were part of my personal life and there could be zero overlap between the two. 

But there’s a difference between investing in your hobbies and interests in your private life and hiding a part of yourself from people you interact with on a daily basis. Setting healthy boundaries does not mean feeling a sense of dread or fear that people in your work life will learn of your “personal life self”. It should not mean having two entirely separate versions of who you are. 

If I’ve learned one thing from Hannah Montanna, it’s that maintaining two lives and two personalities is exhausting and unsustainable. 

After a long time of living like this and keeping those strict boundaries, I started to see others who were openly queer in their workplaces. At first, it felt unnecessary. Being bisexual and only recently questioning my gender has meant it is very easy for me to appear as a straight cis-gendered woman. So why would I feel the need to go out of my way to tell people I’m queer? 

Beyond that, how will potential future employers or supervisors respond? Will I be unable to apply for certain jobs because it would be “known” in my professional world that I was queer? Worst of all, what if my colleagues do not respond as I expected? What if they verbally or physically attack me? Bully me? What if our relationship permanently changes because I am no longer the person they knew?

Is this what it means to be queer in academia? 

Feeling the need to break yourself into smaller palatable pieces is a feeling every queer person is familiar with. 

It’s one thing to accept yourself and your sexuality and gender identity, but to have the environment and space to also feel like you can express that acceptance in ALL aspects of your life is another thing entirely. 

I have only recently begun to feel comfortable merging my “personal” self into my “professional” self. It is by no means a quick or easy thing to do. I wish I could simply duct tape myself together again and pretend I never had to hide who I was in the first place. But this is a process of unlearning, a safety response to protect myself from potential harm and it takes time to undo. 

I am slowly bringing all the pieces of the separate parts of myself together and each day I feel more and more whole. More myself. 

Having an environment where people have made it clear they openly welcome the entirety of a person has provided me with the space to feel comfortable to BRING my entire self. Piece by piece. 

I’m Kat Ross. I am a 3rd year PhD student studying the variability and evolution of baby black holes and I’m proudly bisexual and genderqueer.