Celebrating Two Years of Community Building for Nonbinary Scientists

By Liz Schiavoni

“Yes, we exist!” Tweeted chemist Dr. Carolyn L. Ladd (they/xe), in response to the International Society of Nonbinary Scientists (ISNBS) celebrating its two-year anniversary on November 2nd, 2022.

The organization was started by biological engineer Riley DeHority (they/them) as a joke, but a growing community formed over the serious need for support and solidarity in STEM fields.

While celebrating over Zoom across time zones, continents, and nationalities, members of the group reflected on looking around the scientific community and not seeing other nonbinary people. Similarly, many members perceived a lack of scientists in the LGBTQ+ community.

“When science, identity, and relationships align, you build a powerhouse in which to cultivate new discoveries,” Tweeted engineer Braches & Bridges (they/them/Dr.).

Members of the 807-person group actively encourage each other on journeys of gender, science, writing, politics, mentorship, and art. The online space fosters incredible personal and professional growth for those who do not always find this space at their respective institutions.

During the celebrations, the group discussed workplace challenges, such as a lack of acknowledgement or respect for pronouns. Another issue some members face is being lumped in with women in science groups, despite being nonbinary. While some members lamented mishaps caused by the lack of social signifiers for nonbinary identities, others took joy in the confusion caused by their appearances.

Multiple participants anecdotally reported that the group empowered them to be out at work to different extents.

“Thanks to you, I’m as ‘out’ as I want to be at work, and I know whatever happens I’m part of global community of nerds who disrespect the binary (outside of computers, we love computers),” Tweeted audiologist Dawn Wickenden (she/they).

Oceanographer Dr. Dan(i) Jones (they/them) reflected on instances that their visibility as an established nonbinary scientist had provided comfort and inspiration to students and early career nonbinary scientists in the field. Members also discussed the privilege involved in becoming visible, emphasizing that “being out” will never be a prerequisite of ISNBS membership.

One area where many students and scientists need additional comfort is fieldwork, across research fields. Conservation scientist Dr. Ezra Jay Kottler (they/them) started the Transgender and Gender Nonconforming (TGnC) Fieldwork alliance to address challenges like gender-segregated dorms and queerphobic incidents in geographic isolation from support networks. You can learn more about this project at https://ezrakottler.wixsite.com/field.

Later in the day, attendees discussed controversies around gender data collection by the US federal government. Currently, new ways of quantifying transgender people are being proposed, and attendees traded stories about advocacy around gender data. 

Of particular interest to those gathered was the craft of storytelling. What stories are told about nonbinary people, or other lived experiences across spectrums of gender, sexuality, and romantic attraction? What stories are scientists telling about their work, and who are they able to reach with their writing?

One member, engineer and speculative fiction author Ava Kelly (they/them), tackled these questions in an all ages fairy tale book exploring Romanian folklore with LGBTQ+ characters: Alia Terra: Stories from the Dragon Realm.

For this blog writer, Liz Schiavoni MSc (they/them), learning about genetics and the natural world as a scientist smashed lingering perceptions of binary gender as a young adult, forever linking science and nonbinary experience.

If you have a story to tell about being a nonbinary scientist, tweet @ISNBS_ or connect through the website: https://isnbs.org/contact/. Your story is guaranteed to inspire and build solidarity with people across the planet.

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