I never thought being queer impacted my professional life as a scientist. I was wrong.
For years, I’ve been quite frank and open on social media (mainly Twitter) about a lot of aspects of my life and professional career as a scientist: How having a physical disability has impacted things, my experiences with harassment that nearly drove me out of the field, making the shift from academia to industry, and more. But my gender identity and sexuality are never things I really touched on directly because I didn’t think it affected my professional life—and the things I had made the decision to talk about on social media were pretty much all related to my career. When it came to my personal life in terms of things like my family or who I dated, I very intentionally kept that separate because none of those people had signed up to be in a public spotlight the way that I’d chosen for myself.
It’s not something I ever kept secret, mind you. I just felt like if it didn’t impact my professional life the way it might have for some other people who were more publicly and vocally out, then those were the people who could speak to those experiences better than I could. While being queer didn’t feel like it directly impacted my daily life in a professional sense, I did recognize that I wasn’t able to fully relate to some of the experiences of women in the field. (Note that I’m only referring to my personal feelings here, and *not* generalizing this to the queer community as a whole!)
It wasn’t until an emotional discussion with a trans attendee of our second annual Women in Space Conference that I worked up the courage to simply add a rainbow flag to my Twitter bio. That small act felt like such a big step. But I still didn’t talk about it directly.
Everything changed after I was asked to give the opening keynote speech for the annual SpaceVision conference in late 2019, held by the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS). Originally I planned on giving a talk entitled “More Than Martians,” about why exploring Mars is important beyond just the search for life. Mere hours before the talk was to begin, I randomly bumped into an old friend in the…