Continually having to explain yourself

You’ve always wondered what it’s like to be transgender and non-binary in paleontology, right? Right? Well now you get to find out.

Riley Black, who came out as transgender and non-binary this year, describes the challenges of cultivating diversity in a discipline with an ‘Indiana Jones’ image.

I’m all agog. Here I thought paleontology had to do with studying fossils, but that must have been completely wrong.

I’ve found a ubiquitous part of the trans experience is continually having to explain yourself to the world at large. Why change? Why now? What’s going to happen? At times it feels like the best solution would be to write a frequently-asked-questions pamphlet, kept readily at hand for the next Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting. Even when questions are meant well, the persistent queries can turn into an endless grind: I wind up feeling like I’m being asked to justify my existence.

Maybe so, but the reality is we live in the world as it is, not in a different world where humans have no sex or gender and so the subject just never comes up. People who say they have a special bespoke sex [“gender”] can’t reasonably expect no one to wonder why and what that means and how the rest of us are supposed to act.

Even if not actively hostile, palaeontology presents queer people with terrain as challenging as any fossil-flecked desert. It’s easy to feel invisible. Although queer people in palaeontology are raising their voices and supporting each other, the fact is that the field might as well be frozen in the nineteenth century when it comes to representing and honouring the diversity that already exists in it.

Oh come now. The trans cult didn’t get going in 1900. People who take female and male for granted aren’t throwbacks to the 19th century.

This discipline, like many others, is still struggling even to find equity between cisgendered men and women.

Indeed, and the heavy breathing about special bespoke genders is only getting in the way of that…but he’s a male so he doesn’t need to worry about gender equity. Can we please talk about him from now on?

A lack of inclusion, and understanding, has real consequences. For transgender palaeontologists, maintaining mental and physical health is absolutely essential. Being trans is different for everyone, but therapy, hormone replacement and surgery are common parts of transitioning and as important to our health as are annual check-ups and other essential medical procedures. University hiring committees and researchers taking on graduate students, among others, need to know these facts.

So that they can decide not to take them on? Extra health needs are not an inducement, you know. If the hiring committees are wondering if young Angeldrawers is always going to be taking a week off for more essential medical procedures, why wouldn’t they move on to the next candidate?

None of this is frivolous. Looking in the mirror and not being quite pleased with who you see is a common experience, but imagine living in that space — feeling that your body isn’t right, not representative of who you are — every day.

It may or may not be frivolous, but what about the possibility that it’s self-absorbed and unrealistic? Any chance of that at all? I think lots of people, maybe most people, don’t feel that their outward appearance is “representative of who they are” – but they also know it’s kind of an adolescent thing to spend too much time on, so they shelve it and think about more important things.

And everything our author has said so far has led me to think he is in fact self-absorbed and unrealistic. This whole thing is as if designed for people like that. They get to talk about themselves! Endlessly! They get to make demands on the rest of the world, and be applauded for it! It’s a gift to narcissists. Our author talks like a narcissist. Maybe he isn’t one, maybe that’s just how this brand of activism is, but…I doubt it. Having a bespoke gender isn’t particularly appealing to non-narcissists. It’s embarrassing to demand all that extra attention, and reasonable people don’t want to do it.

In reaction to my first piece under my chosen name, which was critical of macho palaeontological tropes, I was accused of having an axe to grind against cisgendered men because I’m different. But the entire point of this transition is that I no longer want to be defined by other people’s expectations. Piece by piece, I’ve been removing the overburden of my past and digging into my true self. It’s a process carried out through therapy, prescriptions and introspection rather than through hammers and plaster, but the end result is much the same. I want to uncover the nature of myself as much as that of any dinosaur.

Yep. Still sounds like narcissism.

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