The session was also attended by five role models who travelled from across various parts of the country to contribute to the discussion. You can find out more about some of these role models in our role models’ biography section. The young people gathered again in small groups to establish an array of interview questions for the role models.
What is it like being a trans person working in the professional fields of physics, science and engineering?
Experiences of being trans, like anywhere, is dependent on where you work and what work colleagues are like. Having a trans status doesn’t undermine what you’re doing, although different issues occur when you’re coming out. One guest claimed that “after coming out there’s more time to focus on work.” So things can be better. It was noted that it was probably helpful to be able to lead companies and department on trans issues and point them in the right direction in how to support the trans employee/ student. Like many places employers and colleagues don’t know enough about what it means to be trans. Teacher, Karen Fields claimed “Equalities legislation protects trans people at school and physics teachers are welcomed whoever they are due to the shortage!”
Karl said “from a practical point of view, post-doctoral contracts are short term contracts. You can spend a couple of years in one place and then moving somewhere else. Going to different PCTs can mess up treatment when your undergoing your gender reassignment. As a result I have chosen to work in a bank, where I have more stability. I miss physics though and will definitely go back once I’ve transitioned.” Alternatively, M* transitioned prior to starting his PhD and colleagues are not aware of his trans history. He has chosen not to disclose as he doesn’t wish to be treated differently. Being stealth has occasionally affected things for him when he has feared being recognized by someone from his past.
It was generally agreed by the role models that they had not experienced transphobia in the academic or industrial worlds of physics, science and engineering, but rather there is more likely to be sexism, as well as gender and hetero normativity. “I think there’s more of a difference between whether you’re seen as male or female than whether you’re trans or cis”, said one of our guests. There are often only very small numbers of women in physics departments and when asked why this might be so, we discussed how gender stereotypes are used to pigeonhole people. For example, women can be encouraged into the more ‘compassionate’ side of sciences such as medicine and health.
One trans woman claimed that “male-dominated groups may brush the views of women aside and in moments where a woman might asking for feedback, that is seen as being unsure. Instead women might find themselves having to force their ideas through. In this way women are expected to be 2 or 3 times as good as men in order to be equal.”
If you did a PhD, did you feel being trans affected your placement applications?
The guests unanimously agreed that being trans didn’t affect their placements. Equalities legislation protects trans people and most places are keen to embrace equality and diversity. Sebastian stated “I wouldn’t wish to go somewhere where I wasn’t accepted. Even if it was scientifically a first choice – being accepted is important.”
How are non-binary people treated in the workplace?
Sebastian said “it is difficult when you don’t know exactly how you want people to see you. For the main part people rely on visual cues to understand a person’s gender identity and that it’s hard to consciously stay in the middle ground. I would like to be asked more about my gender identity, but people don’t really ask questions because they lack certainty and don’t want to offend me I suppose.”
What are the students’ reactions to teachers who are trans?
Teacher, Karen Fields said that in her experience students are a lot more accepting than you would think. Also some students are even questioning their own gender identity and it is important for them to see trans people around them. Karen hasn’t always been open about being trans but she has noticed that her presence as a teacher has had a positive impact. “It may be that the students might find a non-binary teacher quite difficult to begin with”, she said, “but this is creeping in more and more and may be something that is dealt with soon.”