“Raison d’Être”

An Out4STEM student reflects on cadavers, safe spaces, and STEM

by Tosef Katriel

I joined Out4STEM because of the frustration and loneliness I feel as a queer person interested in science fields. It is the only science-oriented place where I feel safe, as a transgender person, to talk about my experiences in life. I feel angry and drained after most science classes because they offer out-dated information about things like gender and sex, or the environment of the class is simply unsafe for me to talk about my experiences without being sexually harassed because of my queerness.  For example, I have had biology professors ask me questions about my genitals and “biological sex.”  I have had nursing students ask me how many years I have to be on hormones before I start producing the right gametes.  I have had people insist I drop out of a STEM field and go to fashion school instead, because those people cannot see me as anything but a stereotype.  Overall, the curiosity scientists have towards transgender people is high, but I often feel objectified by their curiosity. Out4STEM is like a shining oasis in the desert.  I don’t have to worry about people degrading me because I am openly transgender. The environment of the program is one of understanding and sympathy.  I am never the only person in the room who knows what it’s like to be alienated because I am queer.  The people who attend the program are all dynamic and inspire me to work hard.

I have always had an interest in science, but Out4STEM showed me things I could have never imagined.  My high school couldn’t afford most labs, so it used old, broken lab equipment.  Going to the cadaver lab with Out4STEM was life-changing because I got exposure to what it’s really like being in medicine.  Suddenly, I can see myself becoming a doctor.  Before, the image of medical school that I had was that it would never welcome someone like me.  I thought that I was too poor, too queer, or too opinionated.  I never even thought to dream of becoming a doctor.  Now, I have a glimpse of the life of a medical student and I see that is something I could achieve.  The barriers I felt before no longer seem so imposing.

Everyone I’ve met attending Out4STEM has offered me great advice and carried the whole-hearted belief that I can do great things for the community.  Nobody doubts my ability, and everyone’s eyes light up when I describe my goals.  People see the validity of my goals – I don’t have to justify wanting to help marginalized communities.  The people in the room with me are the ones who will be impacted directly by what I hope to achieve.  It feels great to look at the other people in the program and know they will be my coworkers someday.  I can’t wait to someday work together with the people I’ve met at this program.