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Science July 11 issue cover

Science July 11 issue cover

Note: this is an updated version of my recent article at Autostraddle.

Update 2: I noticed that Science Careers editor Jim Austin has quietly deleted the most egregious of his tweets.  I take that much as a small, positive development.

One of the best known and most respected publications in science and technology chose to run a sexualized, trans-misogynistic photo for its cover this week, and when the editor was challenged on twitter for pandering to the male gaze, he responded that he thought it would be interesting what would happen when those males “find out” the women in question are transgender.

While the focus of Science magazine’s July 11 issue on combating HIV and AIDS worldwide is laudable, the editors unfortunately chose the route of crude sensationalism to present that story to the public. The magazine cover features a dehumanizing image of trans women sex workers in Jakarta that focuses on their bodies, crops out their faces and primarily centers on their exposed thighs. The text accompanying that picture says, “Staying a step ahead of HIV/AIDS,” as if trans sex workers are somehow an image that is naturally synonymous with this disease.

And while, yes, trans women globally, on average, do face significantly elevated risks, could you imagine how out of place it would be for Science to run the same cover text accompanied by an image of two men in a sexual embrace, and further only showed them from the neck down? It has also been pointed out that apparently Science has never previously run any similar cover image that crops human bodies in a sexualizing manner.

However, when one of the Science editors was challenged on twitter over this image, the situation worsened quickly. 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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