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In response to racist police practices and ongoing police violence against Black folks in the United States, a group of physicists have come together to petition the American Physical Society (APS) to release a statement in support of Black lives and to acknowledge the impact on Black physicists by these issues. You can read and sign the petition here:

Letter to APS:

As APS members, we recognize that racist police practices ranging from profiling to violence represent psychological and physical harm to physicists from communities of color, and particularly Black physicists. Furthermore, we recognize that such practices could very well impact Black physicists, for example, when traveling to an APS meeting. Given the particular context of numerous recent high-profile police killings of Black people, we consider with fear the possibility that this violence may impact our Black students, colleagues, or supervisors.

With these concerns in mind, we call on all physicists to co-sign our letter to APS requesting immediate engagement with the issues raised by the Black Lives Matter movement. People who are APS members are especially encouraged to sign, though signatures from allies who are not members of APS are also welcome.

We further wish to acknowledge that this letter was written by a group of white queer and/or genderqueer physicists, most of whom are women, in solidarity with Black physicists and others who experience racial oppression in the physics community. We ask that you read and sign the petition today.

Read and sign the letter to APS here
View the letter here


Nicole Ackerman (Assistant Professor, Agnes Scott College)

Dimitri Dounas-Frazer (Postdoctoral Research Associate, University of Colorado Boulder)

Michael L. Falk (Professor, Johns Hopkins University)

Savannah Garmon (Assistant Professor, Osaka Prefecture University)

Renée Hložek (Assistant Professor, Dunlap Institute and Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of Toronto)

Elena Long (Post Doctoral Research Associate, University of New Hampshire)

MacKenzie Warren (Postdoctoral Research Associate, Michigan State University)


Note: This statement is cross-posted at the following links

View at

Hi everybody, this post was originally intended as a personal update about my arrival here in Tokyo following my departure from Toronto, but it’s been delayed a lot just because so much has been going on and I’ve been trying to do a lot with my time here (posting also got delayed in part due to some drama, followed by more drama ha!).  I have visited Japan previously, although the last time I was here was almost seven years ago, and I’ve been looking forward to returning for a long time 🙂

Notably, perhaps, the previous visit was before transition; in fact, it was during my time in Japan in 2006 that I finally decided that I could no longer put off dealing with my feelings about my gender. When I returned to the U.S., shortly afterwards I began coming out to friends and family and, not long after that, took the first steps of physical transition.

Now I’m glad to be back in this country, feeling like I’ve moved forward in so many ways and I’m in a much better place with myself. Not that I didn’t enjoy my time in the country the first time around, but sometimes it’s difficult to engage when you feel like you’re holding back such an integral part of who you are. And in fact, I remember having fun during my first extended stay in Japan, but I remember feeling a lot of loneliness as well.

So far has been pretty good. I’ve started working with my new research group here (I’ve known my advisor for years and he has always been really supportive of me) and I’ve got a lot of interesting new physics problems in mind that I’m looking forward to working through. I’ve felt especially productive since I arrived.

Foreign language has always been difficult for me, but I’ve taken a short class and studied some on my own since I arrived so hopefully I can gradually improve a bit. I’ve always thought that the writing system is very beautiful, so that is one fun motivation… although there is a lot to learn!

The Japanese writing system is fairly complex, being divided into three main scripts, which are called kanji, hiragana and katakana (though arguably romaji based on the Latin alphabet represents a fourth).  The kanji script consists of borrowed Chinese logographic characters, although of course there have been some modifications. The interesting thing is that China’s influence on the Japanese writing system is largely  an historical accident. In fact, China’s complex symbols are perhaps somewhat of an awkward fit for the  more polysyllabic Japanese language. Hence the Japanese devised the other two alphabets, hiragana and katakana, as simplified extractions of the original Chinese symbols. (Hiragana is then used for native Japanese words while katakana is primarily used for non-Chinese foreign loan words, or for emphasis.)

Meanwhile, I’m also look forward to learning more about Japanese culture and politics. I have no idea if I would be able to get involved with trans politics in any meaningful fashion here in Japan or not, but I am certainly hoping at some point I can meet some trans women in the city and get to know the local situation better. I did come across this unfortunate story recently, according to which a Japanese trans man was not allowed to register himself as the father of the child his wife (a cis woman) recently had via insemination, which is clearly a case of discrimination given that sterile cis men are often allowed to register themselves as the father under similar circumstances.

As for my time in Japan so far, I feel that I’ve settled in nicely and I’ve enjoyed seeing a bit of the city so far. One thing I enjoy about my office is that I have a nice view from an the upper floor of my building. Here is a picture of the sun setting on the city that I took from the balcony. You can see Mount Fuji quite prominently as the sun is setting almost right behind it:

Sun setting behind Mt. Fuji

Sun setting behind Mount Fuji

On the other hand, it took me a while getting used to the earthquakes (being on the upper floor in a tall building means that our office will feel the quake more strongly than someone standing at ground level). About once a week we get a small tremor that is noticeable from our building, and it took me a while to adjust just to those. I remember that for the first couple of weeks while I was adjusting to all of this, I started to imagine the ground was shaking even when it wasn’t. Then in early December we had an actual small earthquake. It was still only a level 3, which isn’t all that strong really, but I admit it’s pretty disorientating to feel the entire building shaking around like that!

One fun thing out of this however would be the earthquake drill we had at my dorm, which was part of a larger safety education demonstration that was put on for us by the local fire department. Read the rest of this entry »

Note: This is an archival post of my recent article at Prettyqueer.

After graduating from the University of Texas in 2007, I entered one of the most complex periods of my life. Since childhood I had consistently felt more like a woman than a man, but growing up in a small town in rural North Carolina I had always been terrified to express this to anyone. By the time I entered college (still in North Carolina), I had some rough idea that maybe there was something I could do about the situation, but I told myself that obtaining my Ph.D. and getting a start on my career in physics should be my first priority.

However, deep inside what I really feared was that nobody would ever take me seriously as a trans woman in physics. I didn’t know any trans women in my own life— much less trans women successful in science— to whom I could look up as mentors. Not to mention that I had few reliable sources of information about my own situation in general terms; in fact, I wasn’t even familiar with phrases like “gender identity” or “trans woman” at the time I made that decision.

Luckily, by the time I received my Ph.D. in Texas I had done a lot to educate myself. I still wasn’t sure how transition would impact my career, but I came to a point where I couldn’t put off dealing with it any further. Hence I started coming out to friends and colleagues while working on the physical aspects of transition (e.g., hormone replacement therapy).

Somewhat to my own surprise, my experiences from this were mostly positive. Broadly speaking, I think physicists are a bit more open than we usually get credit for, and almost certainly the general societal progress that occurred on this issue in the ten years that I delayed my transition benefited my situation (although it wasn’t an easy decision).

However, not everything worked out quite so well. Discussing the issue with my family was more difficult. In February 2008, I was offered a one-year postdoctoral research position in Paris, which I accepted. Before I left for Paris, I journeyed home from my place in Texas to my parents’ house in North Carolina; real problems developed on this journey and during the short time I spent at home before departing for France.

Read the rest of this entry »


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