Ep #8: Biology vs the Binary, what does science say?
Hey, Cis! is a weekly head-on conversation about current affairs and gender-based issues affecting trans and non-binary youth, students and adults within our Maritime community.
We take on difficult topics; breaking us out of the binary, smashing stigma and fostering greater connection between our cisgender community and trans, gender creative and non-binary community.
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Cisgender is someone whose gender identity aligns with their sex as assigned at birth.
Cisgender is someone who has the ability to make the world safer, brighter and more inclusive for trans people young and old. Cisgender is someone who needs to be an intentional part of the conversation -- so let's talk.
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'I think a lot of entomologists kind of identify with the minority
or side of diversity of people.
People don't understand you...right...so we have to help you understand us in order to appreciate it in the diversity that exists,' says Aaron Fairweather, PhD Entomologist, University of Guelph
As an openly trans scientist, it's not all about the food... but when it comes to diversity, University of Guelph is multi-faceted.
Source: Aaron Fairweather
(University of Guelph is rated #1 in Canada for having the best university food engulfing student stomaches.)
During our conversation, Aaron shares their account of 'coming out' throughout their journey undertaking multiple degrees at U of G.
And Twitter played a positive bridge at one point of the journey.
'It happened that my advisor was paying attention to the hashtag,' and said, I'm not going to share this but I saw this and I'm here for you to talk to me. I'm here for you to be yourself; if you have a name change or you want your new pronouns used on my website, I'm here for you.'
Aaron says this was their biggest mentorship moment that helped them feel like it's just going to be OK.
Aaron (they/them) is completing their PhD and studying at University of Guelph in Ontario.
They are currently working in environmental sciences studying ants in agriculture and how ants interact with crops in Ontario.
Let's ponder that a moment...
Specifically, their current field of study involves looking at the diversity and ecology of these ants with a perspective on ecotoxicology and how pesticides interacting with the species is impacting what we grow and eat. Like bees... and just as impactful.
They say there are around approximately 27 species of ants associated with 37 crops in Ontario.
Aaron's journey with sciences has been a long one that began when they were about the age of 2-years-old and fascinated with caterpillars; raising them, documenting them and cataloguing them while watching them turn into butterflies.
It was a book written by Author and Professor Steven Marshall that inspired their journey to University of Guelph.
In our conversation, Isaac brings up how the smallest species can be often be overlooked, yet they're so important; for food and agriculture. Of course we had to parallel the life of ants and small species with the way marginalized communities experience being invisible.
Is it possible we can take a lesson in nature on the value of diversity?
Aaron recalls hearing remarks from others like, 'You're working with this gross thing' or 'You're gross for with working this gross thing...'. As an entomologist, they say, they can identify with this. It resonates.
'Minority... the side of diversity of people... people don't understand you, so we have to help people understand us and the diversity that exists.'
'The University of Guelph has supported that quite a bit, specifically the environmental sciences Department,' regarding new hires, grant and support chains and the BIPOC community. They say many conferences they have attended has had gender neutral washrooms, women in STEM and other aspects of inclusion that they haven't seen at other conferences outside the insect world.
'I found Guelph to be one of the most inclusive spaces of all (universities and places)...I've travelled to,' reflects Aaron. '
Challenges faced as a trans scientist?
The biggest challenge, Aaron says, is the lack of effort on some faculty around supporting events, helping with the use of correct pronouns at conferences.
They suggest faculty could do better at helping to correct when someone mispronouns someone, ensuring pronouns are added to name tags, etc.
The onus has to fall on the faculty and staff to help push for change. 'Those who are making the push
for inclusion and diversity, generally tend to be those who have a vested interest,' says Cynthia referring to profs who are already teaching courses like Gender Studies, Women's Studies, Human Rights.
But it has to be consistent across all departments. Advocating has to go beyond those within the LGBTQ2+ community.
Advice from the field:
Find someone who will champion you and speak up on diversity. Someone who will have your back around pronouns. They can be an amazing role model for other cis people to take on more of leadership role around diversity inclusion.
Biology is complex and goes way way beyond two simplified gender binary boxes. Aaron was part of compiling comprehensive literature based on scientific studies exactly on this topic. There is this huge body of scientific literature that supports gender diversity and 'there are so many facets to biological sex and gender...really blocking people into these blocks,' they say is outdated and unnecessary, aside from being false information.
Spotlight on Aaron Fairweather:
Fave Food: Sushi!
Cats of Dogs? expanded for all animals: Lethocerus Americanus, a.k.a. Giant Electric Water Bug. This is largest insect found in North America found commonly in ponds. 'It's my most nostaligic feeling of like my introduction to biology...as a kid."
Follow Aaron here: @insectaaron on Twitter