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Scientific Pursuits

CULTURE | OPINION

Written by Chris Murphy (he/him) | Contributing Writer



What are queer people supposed to be like, especially at university? When I first graduated from high school, it seemed to me as if gays only studied things like journalism, criminology, psychology, wokeness, or pronouns! Only straight boys did the real subjects; engineering, mathematics, science, technology, wearing lab coats, staring at beakers, pointing at charts! Gays can’t do math! Our brains are too small - that’s just a scientific fact. Well, that’s what I thought anyway.


It sometimes annoys me when I see queer people making jokes about how they’re stupid, or can’t do math, or whatever. I know it’s a joke, and I’m not going to write a 500 word essay about why it’s problematic if I see it on your meme page - but it still irritates me. Especially because it always reminds me of what I hate most about science education in schools; it’s for the smart kids, and it’s boring. We’re always led to believe that it’s too difficult, or some people are just naturally too dumb to understand it. Queer kids tend to be pretty insecure about their academic abilities to begin with (I mean, so many of us are also neurodivergent, but that’s a whole other conversation), so I think hearing that people like us are just not as smart as their peers makes it more likely that they just won’t bother. I think it’s why I’ve felt that a lot of queer people I meet think that science and maths aren’t cool. It’s probably in my head, but I always think that I’m silently being judged by art gays when I say that I study “STEM” subjects. But, I would remind all the arts bottoms out there that without science, we wouldn’t have PREP, we wouldn’t have poppers!


Even if it’s a joke, I think the queer community’s tendency to stereotype itself is unhelpful, and often leads to even more isolation for some people. It’s strange when you feel like an outcast, but also can’t fit into another group of outcasts. I think I spent a lot of my life concentrating on other people; on other queer people; what they were doing, and what I was doing differently. I felt so insecure around other queer people because their interests so often did not align with my own. I always felt different, but then I would look at other people who were different and they didn’t feel like me either. I spent years twisting myself into knots, trying to be someone I wasn’t because I was conditioned into thinking my authentic self wasn’t interesting or cool. I now know that it doesn’t matter. No one is cool; people are just people.


But, I neglected my interest in the sciences for so long because I didn’t see queer people doing science. I thought we were too dumb! Now I get incredibly excited when I meet other queer scientists. I can be myself and talk about random, nerdy interests. I think that’s one of the best things about the queer community (especially at university) - while you may have to search for it, there will always be a niche for you.


Queer people are everything; office workers, tradies, artists, journalists, biologists, filmmakers, engineers, doctors, physicists, writers, educators… We can do anything. We are people who are engaged with ourselves and therefore engaged with ourselves, and therefore, engaged with the world. Science, for me, is the deepest possible engagement one can make with the world. Seeking to understand how the world functions in an objective and fundamental way may seem cold and calculating, but I truly don’t believe it is. The insights you can gain about the universe and about yourself, by studying science, are deep and often spiritual. I think the most profound fact for me is how little difference there is between things on a basic level. There are only a handful of fundamental particles that make up everything in the cosmos and they can create seemingly infinite variations of matter and energy. Any two humans share over 99% of their DNA; all life shares between 60-70%. So, when you look at it from that perspective, it seems pretty silly that I was ever worried about how other gays perceived me because of what I study. At the end of the day, we’re all just some slimy, wet cells, made from a collection of atoms that collided in some cosmic furnace billions of years ago, that then crawled out of the primordial soup a few aeons ago, and now we can think, feel, love, create, be anxious, and even be gay. I think that’s pretty fucking cool.



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