The rebellious existence of being QTIPOC in STEMM

Queer, trans, intersex people of colour (QTIPOC) or my people are my roadmap to how far we have come in when we talk about diversity. This is not because other groups are not important but because if we imagine the journey to diversity and inclusion as an interstellar train where the platform of arrival experiences immense time dilation such that what is perceived as seconds in the first carriage is years at the last carriage. To put it simply QTIPOC are in the last carriage of this interstellar train of diversity and inclusion.

The culture of ‘sameness’ in STEMM

In STEMM like many other fields there is an inherent bias towards being cis, straight, white and man in varying degrees; class comes into this is as well. For example, if you are on the upper-middle to upper class socioeconomically you would be “allowed” to be cis, straight, man and none white or cis, straight and woman etc. You get the idea.

Generally, it is easier to communicate and be social with people who are similar to you. This is an act of exclusion not because it’s malicious but because it robs STEMM from the growth required to communicate and collaborate with a diverse range of people of diverse cultures, socio-economic background, genders, sexes, sexualities, abilities and any form of otherness. It also limits the diversity that can overcome this overwhelming bias that opposes growth and change.

Diversity can only be a win-win scenario in the long run.

Why is the existence of QTIPOC is a form of rebellion?

The simple answer to this is that being a QTIPOC individual is the opposite of sameness and it comes against any normative ideas of the collective.  Add to that that general trends indicate that QTIPOC oftentimes come from middle to low socioeconomic backgrounds and QTIPOC having higher homelessness rates and you end up with a system that is both surprised, unprepared and sometimes unwilling to welcome QTIPOC.

The progression and regression of passion in STEMM

STEP ONE is an Interest in a career in STEMM ideally comes from the fascination in any aspect of STEMM. This interest comes from curiosity, engagement and encouragement with STEMM fields at very young age. This is where most QTIPPC are disadvantaged from the start on any given STEMM journey. Whether it’s socioeconomics, identity, culture or race. There is an undeniable disadvantage at the very beginning.

STEP TWO is high performance in STEMM beyond error. Say a QTIPOC cultivates an interest and they start to progress in their journey in STEMM, the would need to continue to perform higher than their peers in all metrics to be on the same footing. Even then, last minute bias tips the scale against them when it comes to opportunity.  At this point in the journey there is no room for much error or mistake because no systems capture the complexity of arriving at this intersection as a QTIPOC.  Having simple ‘merit-based’ systems inherently favours individuals who are guaranteed and expected to be in STEMM because they are hand-picked and nurtured thought ‘sameness’.

STEP THREE is continuous survival. Say a QTIPOC makes it past the first two steps, they will have to ‘survive’ in hostile environments and go back and forth between STEP TWO and THREE until either they achieve a leadership position against all odds or abandon the interest they cultivated from a young age.

Concluding remarks

Being a QTIPOC is an act of rebellion that STEMM critically needs because we should not shy away from growth but embrace it and the world will be better for it.

QTIPOC should have the RIGHT to dream without bias, discouragement and ‘reality checks’ rooted in oppression and the unwillingness to change when benefits you.  

“We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.”

-James Baldwin

About Dr. Mohammad Taha

Dr Mohammad Taha (They/The) is the co-chair of the Victorian chapter of Queers in Science, a researcher at the Melbourne School of Engineering and a non-binary queer person of colour.

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