Episode 23: Gabi Fleury Returns! Being Non-Binary, Black, and Queer in Conservation
Image: Screencap from Disney’s The Lion King (1994) showing a line of Atta sp. leafcutter ants. (Source: Disney)
Our new episode is available from our Podcast host here: Episode 23
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For more from/about Gabi:
- Gabi was recently featured on the Forbes 30 Under 30 2021 list for science!
- For more on their research and other appearances, check out their website
- Gabi is a founder of Bright Frog Game Studios, which creates environmental education games
- And is also a member of the organizing committee for Black Mammologists Week
- They also have a YouTube channel, Breaking Bio, where they interview other biologists
Hello, this is Assigned Scientist at Bachelors, the only science podcast I know about with no cis people allowed. I’m Charles and I’m an entomologist.
And I’m Tessa, and I’m an astrobiologist.
And in this episode, we have returning guest, Gabi Fleury, to talk about specifically being non binary and trans in science. Gabi, hello.
Hi, thanks for having me on this podcast, it’s great to be back.
It’s great to have you back. I mean, we’re diverging from form a little bit in specifically talking about being non binary and being trans in STEM. So I would instead offer you the opportunity for any opening thoughts.
So just kind of a little context, I’m a conservation biologist, so a lot of the work that I do is in other countries, often countries where it’s not legal to be LGBTQIA, or it could be dangerous to come out. So a lot of my work and a lot of the complexities is trying to, especially as I work in communities so much is trying to navigate, how can you remain true to yourself, while also remaining safe in challenging situations – not, I guess, creating cultural clashes. So it’s been a really kind of tricky, tricky space to navigate.
And also, I came out in my early 20s and that was just when I started fieldwork. So I was actually discovering all these things about myself in the field. So not only was I thinking about gender, in terms of like how differently gender is perceived in different countries and dealt with differently in different countries, I was also, you know, realizing I was non binary, and then later identified as transgender. And I think kind of having to navigate that internally in so many different contexts abroad was really challenging, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
If you don’t mind, would you be willing to describe what the process of self discovery was like?
So my whole life, I always felt different, and I think that’s something that a lot of non-cis people can relate to. Some people know when they’re very young, I just kind of knew that something was different. I didn’t really feel like a girl… I didn’t really feel like a tomboy, either, because that was still a girl. But I wasn’t entirely sure, and I think I kind of pushed it down for a long time. Yeah, it was kind of, it’s always kind of like nagging feeling in the back of my head, but I didn’t really know what it meant.
And then yeah, go into the field, all I really knew was that she/her pronouns didn’t really seem to match me. And it kind of created like this weird dissonance in the back of my head. And there was kind of like a sense of dysphoria, but I didn’t really know like what I identified as, and it wasn’t until I really started doing some more research that I realized how diverse gender identities can really be. And I started feeling more comfortable with being non binary. And then as I continued on, I’m just starting to become comfortable considering myself transmasculine.
I’m still in the very early stages, even though I’m, you know, kind of late 20s, I’m still in the early stages of figuring out what that means in terms of the rest of my life. So it was kind of like a very slow, gradual process. And I think a lot of it was just trying to figure out, okay, like I have this career, how do I navigate my personal identity with what I want to do?
And how did that feel specifically trying to figure that out, while also knowing that the disciplinary requirements of your field include a lot of fieldwork and a lot of going a lot of other places?
It’s, again, it’s like this tricky sense of dissonance of like, you don’t know how accepted you would be. And there’s still people in the field, like, I have friends who don’t know – I’m not out to them. And I’ve been friends with them for years, because I don’t necessarily know how safe it would be. The way that I’ve kind of stayed kind of centered is either having a community online or having a community in person, but just having kind of a small LGBT-friendly community wherever I go, that I can kind of talk to and connect with. But a lot of it is hard, because, you know, you get misgendered in the field, and you can’t necessarily correct people.
I would be interested to hear you talk more about what you’ve mentioned before, which is the complexities of trying to navigate identity, specifically in the field and in these different environments.
Well, what’s really interesting is that, you know, when you work in different communities, there’s different expectations of what men do and what women do. And what’s been really interesting is because, coming to these communities… you know, I’m black, but I’m not from Africa, you know, I’m a foreigner. So coming in is really interesting, because they deal with you as a foreigner, so you’re already kind of considered other. So the cultural rules don’t necessarily completely apply to you.
For example, when I was working with the Maasai, I hung out a lot with the rangers and I was basically treated as one of the guys and what was really neat about that is that they had this rule where if there they were eating roast goat and they were kind of like seeing their circle, using a knife cutting off pieces of the roast goat and like passing around the circle, and they have a cultural rule that women, specifically like Maasai women, can’t watch them eat, I’m not entirely sure why, but there’s a cultural rule where that can’t happen. I said, like, should I? Should I leave? You know? Like, is it okay for me to kind of sit with you guys? And then they said like, Yeah, no, you don’t count – because I wasn’t wearing traditional dress, I wasn’t part of the culture.
So those kind of interesting, like blurring of gender roles, like coming in from the outside, you’re already seen as kind of different so you’re given a lot more freedoms that you wouldn’t necessarily be given. Another example is when I worked in Namibia, I was in Kavango West, which is up near Angola, so in in the west of Namibia. And it was really cool, because we were working with these farmers on human wildlife conflict mitigation, and they very clearly expected me to help them cook chicken, like the meal, which is like, you know, traditionally, that’s what they expect women to do. And my male colleague didn’t get asked to do that. And he was kind of laughing at me because I was just like, I’m not really sure what I’m supposed to be doing with this. And he was just kind of, like, they’re not gonna let me in the kitchen. So you gotta you gotta do it. So I did.
But when we ate, like, the men ate from a plate, and the women ate from a plate, and I got, like, my own little like to go box of gender ambiguity. They weren’t really sure where to fit me, like, within the culture, and so yeah, so it’s interesting, so even though they, they perceive me as female enough to fit me into the gender role of like, okay, you’re supposed to cook, they shooed the women away and then I end up talking with the men all night about science, because of my background.
So again, it’s kind of like this, by coming in from the outside, there’s this kind of this wonderful blending of being the middle step between these different gender roles and outside of traditional gender roles. But on the other hand, there’s kind of just the very real practicality of, you know, when I fly through the United, you know, Emirates to like, to Africa, I’m always just kind of like, Do I look heterosexual enough, you know what I mean? Like, so there’s, there’s that wonderful side, and then there’s also like, the sense of just kind of like, in the field, how safe are you and kind of like being very careful about what aspects of yourself you can show to certain people and what aspects you can’t.
It’s definitely worth it. It’s a, it’s kind of a sacrifice I do to be able to do what I do, but it’s tricky. And it’s hard when, when younger scientists asked me, you know, just kind of like, how do you is like, someone who’s LGBT navigate being in the field, it’s hard for me to have to say, sometimes you can’t be yourself. Sometimes it’s literally… like if you’re in Uganda, you can’t be yourself. Like, there are certain places where that’s too much of a risk, and it’s something that I think, you know, a lot of field biologists who are part of the community kind of have to navigate.
And one thing that is really important, that really hasn’t happened too much, at least what I’ve seen, is that there’s very little training about, you know, what do you do if you’re in a situation that’s dangerous? You know, there’s no like self defense training. There’s no even, just kind of like a lot of conversation about, you know, the particular challenges we go from the road, and a lot of it gets hand waved. And that’s something I’d really like to see changed is, that incorporated into academic programs, specifically, or sending people into the field, like you’re responsible for those individuals in the field and it’s important to have those hard conversations about how do you deal with things like discrimination or prejudice, or making sure there’s resources for people?
Well, then building on that, I guess, do you have any advice for people who might be in that situation?
It’s tricky, because all those situations are really different. I think my advice would be always err on the side of caution. If you’re in the field, scope out the room, get a sense to how people you know, who are LGBT are received in research upfront. I’d hate to say like, hide yourself, but there may be situations where caution is, is most appropriate, you have to make sure you’re safe first. And then my second advice would be try to find a community when you are abroad, whether or not that’s in person through like, maybe you’re studying abroad, or university or online and just try to find a community of people to talk to because it can be kind of difficult. Because I’m also pansexual, so that… there is also the aspect of, I actually bought a fake wedding ring that I used to wear in the field, and I still do sometimes I were in the field. So like if somebody, like, hits on me in a bar, I just have like this big, elaborate husband thing that I talked about, just like yeah, I’m totally married, and we have like seven children. And it was opening just to keep creepers from being weird.
I mean, it’s great to have your imaginary husband to take care, I presume, to take care of your seven kids while you’re out in the field.
I know he’s so, he’s amazing. He’s the best. No but like, you know, you come up with like these creative solutions. And there’s been a lot of really fun, fun moments. I had so many people propose to me when I lived in Kenya, and they would always do it very seriously. Because they’re dead serious. You know, they’re like Maasai herders. So they would literally come up to me and be like, Where’s your father? It’d be like, he’s in Brazil. And they’d be like, Oh, that’s too bad. I’m like, why, and they’d be like, because I want to ask him how many cows for you. [laughs] And I would always say, much more than you can afford. And they were always –
[laughs] I mean, I, I imagine that would be a tricky situation, but also probably a little bit of an ego boost.
I was about to say, yeah, it’s a little flattering.
It was, it was, it was, especially because like, you know, cows are a really big deal in the culture. And I was like, Damn, even if I’m worth one cow, that’s like a flex, you know.
Were you ever like, how many cows do you think I’m worth?
Nah, nah. It’s cool. One guy even said camels. And I’m like, wow, that’s like, that’s expensive.
Y’all hear about these camels in Australia?
Oh, the ones are like running wild.
They can live anywhere. I’ll never forget, like the first time I worked in Kenya, I didn’t know that they had camels up in the north, and I literally like left, I left, likke I went outside and there were just like seven camels eating from an acacia tree. And I was like, what? [laughs] What are these doing here?
Now I really want to talk about the ants that like live in Acacia.
Oh I actually, I actually – the, with the whistling acacias, I actually saw them.
That’s so cool.
If you poke the tree they like all come out. Yeah, it’s cool.
Ah, insects! I will say one final thing about ants, which is that in the beginning of The Lion King – the animated one, I haven’t watched the quote unquote live action one and I’m not going to…
Aren’t the leaf cutter ants from like Brazil?
Yeah, exactly! Leaf cutter ants, they’re like a neotropical phenomenon and yet they show them, like, walking across the screen at the beginning of The Lion King. It’s like you did all this research on like… you like a brought in lions! You couldn’t just like look up which ants live where? Come on.
E.O. Wilson is currently crying.
Well, you’ve mentioned finding the community in the places that you’ve been, and I’d be interested to hear more about that.
Yeah. Um, so one of the places I found that was in grad school. So, um, Cape Town, South Africa actually has a pretty active LGBT community. Cape Town is really great. They have a pride parade. It’s it’s a really, it was really cool. And I met a lot. I joined the club through University of Cape Town, so that was kind of a way that I was first starting to come out, I was able to get a little bit of support. In the field it’s harder, because you don’t really know who you can… this sounds horrible, but like you really don’t know who you can trust or how people are going to react.
I mean, yeah, I think that’s probably an experience that most people who listen to this podcast will be able to plug into in some way or another.
Yeah. Yeah, for sure. And a lot of that is just kind of maybe dropping a few hints and kind of just seeing how people react and then kind of adjusting appropriately
Ah yes – a familiar tactic.
Yeah, for sure a lot of people can relate to that.
It is such a weird. This is, you know, a warmed-over take. But it is weird… a lot of the time being gay or queer or trans or non binary, one of these things that, theoretically, for most people, you can dial it back enough that you can often just pass as not that. And so then it’s like, it’s very weird navigating something that is so important to your sense of self, but also can be completely invisible to people around you.
Yeah, no, for sure. And there’s also kind of like that weird sense of, people perceive me as something that I am not kind of thing. You know what I mean? They kind of like… weird cognitive dissonance that happens. Yeah, I think another really big challenge is that, no going forward, I’m kind of still figuring things out. But I’m just like, if I ever did want to physically transition in any way, I don’t know how that would work in terms of timing and fieldwork, because there’s a whole sense of like, again, safety concerns, if you are obviously queer, it’s not safe in certain places. So a lot of the way I’ve been able to stay safe is by essentially going undercover. And sometimes I wonder if like, I’m accepted, like… I think, I think people can read me as queer even even in other countries, but I wonder sometimes if some of the reason I’m accepted is because like, I’m cute and small, and like non threatening, and I always wonder… if any of that changed, how accepting would people be, you know what I mean?
Yeah. Well, I’m also interested how you’ve managed… like mentally, that feeling of dissonance, and like any feelings of dysphoria and trying to navigate external perception, while you’re out in the field, and among different communities of people.
It’s a challenge. It’s definitely… it’s one of those things that I’ve consciously decided to deal with to facilitate what I want to do, because what I want to do is really important to me, and I do see myself transitioning into doing less field work. I’m applying for a PhD right now and I have full fieldwork associated with that, which I’m really excited to do. I always will, you know, be traveling, I expect, and I want to be involved in African conservation issues for the rest of my life. But I think in the future, I’m going to be based largely in the States. So some of that will be I think, a little a little easier. It’s hard because… [sighs] I don’t want to say like how I manage it is, it’s just like I just push through it, but it’s kind of reminding myself why I’m dealing with it and having to kind of make that decision when I wake up every day of, this is a sacrifice for me to be able to do I do at this time.
Is there any component of like it being relatively easier to push through because you know that your relationships with the people that you experience… like, that you meet during fieldwork, are relatively ephemeral?
I think, I think it does make it easier, because you’re just kind of like, okay, like, let people perceive me however they’d like to perceive me because they’re not like my best friends or anything like that. And I see it as more of kind of like, it’s my way of kind of keeping, keeping the peace and keeping the cohesion of our relationship as a researcher and community kind of together. So yeah, I would agree with that. I think what’s harder is that if you have you know, friendships with other researchers, and you’re not really sure about what their you know, belief systems are or how they would react, you being LGBT, I think that’s, that’s trickier. Like I said, like, I have some friends who I haven’t come out to in six years, just because I just don’t know, I have no idea how they’d react.
I mean, that’s, I mean, there’s really nothing else to say about it except that that’s tough. And like a lot of the reason to, to bring it back to me – like I did, I didn’t make any friends the first two years that I was in university, because I had not really figured out how much I was willing to be out to people.
And now I’m very happy being just like, openly trans in the places where… like, if I know people consistently over a period of time, I tell them that I’m trans because it has, it’s such an important thing, to me and to my sense of self and to my history as a person that I feel like if I can’t tell somebody that I’m trans, that’s like a hurdle to intimacy that we can just never jump in.
And so I can imagine, like, it’s very tough to have these relationships with people for years and not know what about yourself, you can tell them
No, it is tough. I’m lucky that I have a lot of relationships that I’m, I’m very open to I’m out, you know, but the thing is, like, I think that’s why it took me longer to come out than certain other people. Maybe like, I think I if I hadn’t been in the field, I am, I might have come out a lot sooner, because I think I’ve had just kind of some, maybe some extra layers in certain places that I have, have had to kind of like, navigate. It’s tricky, but it’s something… it’s a challenge that I’m kind of, I’m up to the challenge. And I think… I hope that people are, you know, people who are trans or people who are non binary, or people who are, you know, just at all part of the LGBT community, aren’t dissuaded from going into field biology. But I do think there’s a lot of training that has to happen, a lot of conversations within academia or within industry or within work that kind of need to happen about how do we support people who are working in the field?
Do you have any ideas on how those conversations and guidelines etc, should go?
I think they’re just, it’s just not talked about? You know? I think there’s a lot of focus on sexual violence with women in the field, like how to avoid harassment and things like that. But even…
Augh! – just, what a thing to hear, you know.
No, it’s horrible. Like, it’s absolutely horrible. And I’ve had some pretty, I mean, nothing dangerous, but I’ve had a couple, you know, really dodgy interactions in the field. But at the same time, I think most, most people who are assigned female at birth have probably had that in the field, which sounds horrible, but like… most of the people I know who have worked abroad have been harassed in some way. So it’s one of those things where that’s kind of becoming more of a conversation about, what do you do and who are your emergency contacts and things like that, but I just don’t think there is almost any conversation about being LGBT in the field, you see stuff like, for example, like the Peace Corps, they actually say, you know, like, you may not be able to be out in the field, if you choose to do Peace Corps, like there’s little disclaimers and stuff, but there’s no resources about what to do.
It’s, it’s kind of daunting, a little bit. And I know that there’s some… there’s some work that’s been done, I think it’s called like Out in the Field. So there’s like a couple, there’s a couple like campaigns to try to change that. But I will say that, like, I’ve never had any kind of training or even been spoken to, even when I was out about safety concerns, or anything like that. And that’s something that I would have liked to have that. Not necessarily because I don’t feel like I can handle myself because I, I because I’ve been in the field so much, I feel quite comfortable about my ability to navigate these spaces. But when I think about somebody who’s just starting out, maybe and they’re like 22, and they’re in the field for the first time, like it makes me concerned for them sometimes. And that’s why to take on a bit of a mentorship role, when I can, to try to contribute in my own way, you know, with people who are just starting out.
Are you considering certain things either in transition or in career trajectory, more or less because of the other concern? If that makes sense.
No, totally, it’s like the forefront of my mind. Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. It’s one of those things where it’s like, I’m kind of shaping my personal life around my professional life at the moment, but, you know, I think that’s one of those things where I don’t think it’s impossible to navigate, but I’m giving myself extra time to navigate it because of the additional complexities around my job. But yeah, I definitely think it probably would have come out 10 years earlier if I wasn’t trying to do what I do. But yeah, I, I feel I feel pretty optimistic about the future, though, I feel pretty optimistic that it’ll all all those pieces will slot into place. But I think, because there are additional complexities, I’m just giving myself kind of that grace period and figuring things out.
Well, for yourself, and for other people who may be like… are there ways of getting involved in sort of conservation biology and conservation research that just don’t really involve going out in the field?
So there’s a lot of different things you can do. If you want to be a biologist is a little tricky, because you might not be working internationally, but you’re definitely gonna be doing some aspect of field work. But you can, for example, like when I think of it as a conservation nonprofit, there was like fundraising, being a development professional, communications, so working, you know, creating media outputs and things like that, for large conservation organizations. There are a lot of different aspects – I always say that, you know, if you have a skill set, you can apply it to conservation. Sometimes you don’t really need good field biologists, you need a really good graphic designer, or a really good, you know, accountant, because I think in my own company, you know, like some of the, you know, employees, we rely on the most are, you know, in HR, or in accounting, and they can contribute to conservation, but without kind of going the direct, traditional route. And I know a lot of people who end up in fundraising.
This just brings to mind that episode of Portlandia – and this will be relevant – where Carrie is dating a guy, and then he brings out like a bass and he’s like, I’m learning to play music. And she’s like, I’m just not into it. And he’s an accountant. And the capper on the episode is that instead of going and doing a musical performance, he’s like, at a bar and he he like talks about accounting, and everybody loses their mind.
Oh, my God. That’s awesome.
Like, imagine that, but for conservation.
Yeah, kind of. I mean, I’m trying to think like some other… environmental law is another one. Policy. Yeah, there’s a lot in advocacy as well. So if you want to go into more like environmental advocacy, there’s a lot of stuff of that as well. So I mean, I would always… I would encourage people, like, you know, field biology is kind of, that’s something I’ve always wanted to do, personally, and something that I’m devoted to navigating.
But again, like, the other thing is that as you get higher in conservation, you’re in the field less and less. You become a manager, and most of your life is spreadsheets. So that’s another thing, just to keep in mind. And that’s almost like, it sounds bad, but that’s something I’m almost looking forward to, because I can kind of navigate my own personal life a little easier when I’m less in the field all the time.
Yeah, I mean, you end up behind a desk, and maybe you go out in the field, you know, once a year to oversee some projects, and then you go back and you sit at your desk. I think the most active time period in the field is that when most people start out as like, for example, like biological texts, and they’re just out all the time. And that’s usually people, no other undergrad. And then yeah, you end up either working for the government or working in nonprofit or working in academia. And then it’s, it’s a lot more desk time, but that, that’s good for some people. And that’s… it sounds kind of bad, but like I’m looking forward to like the stage in my life where I’m in an office in DC, and, you know, go in the field once or twice a year. The other cool thing about all this, though, I will say, is that I’m looking forward to one day being able to be out, because if I end up kind of like in a higher position within an NGO, like the amount of representation I’d be able to bring the awesome like, that’s what I can do.
Yeah, I was about to say that the nonprofit sector definitely has a problem with that, unfortunately.
That’s kind of what I did a bit with the Forbes 30 Under 30 thing. I’m like, look like, I’m not cis, I’m not white, I’m in conservation anyway. It’s kind of the whole conversation of, I don’t think I was ever supposed to be allowed at the table, but now I’m at the table. I’m not gonna leave. This is my spot. I want to help open up doors for other people who might not fit the traditional view of a conservationist.
It’s a real bummer that the sort of image of a conservationist is so often a white person. Yeah, like, yeah, just Well, just looking at the demographics of the world. And looking at the demographics of people who are mostly messing up the world. And then the demographics of people who are being the most affected by it. It’s not like a great… what I’m saying is white people – as a, as a group, we don’t have a great history.
Yeah. It’s also problematic, because, you know, most of the people, most of the conservation work is happening in the global south.
And then you got people coming in, who are you know, not from the global south, basically telling people from the global south how they live their lives. I mean, I think my other interview, we talked about this, but there’s… yeah, a lot of problematic overtones with that. And that’s another thing that I’m really proud of is, you know, I’m a dual citizen, I’m Brazilian, I have a bit of a sense of, you know, in some cases, kind of like some of the prejudice that happens against people from the global south in the sense that we can’t run our own conservation work.
I mean, it’s not exactly the same thing, but it, it’s kind of related… my favorite podcast is a podcast called – this will become relevant – is a podcast called Flash Forward, which if anyone is listening to this, if you aren’t also a listener of Flash Forward, what’s wrong with your life, first of all. So the premise of Flash Forward is that Rose Eveleth, who makes the show, takes like a possible future scenario, like all the bees disappear, and then takes it very, very seriously and thinks about how would we get to that future? And then what would that future be like?
Oh, that’s cool.
It’s a great podcast. In the bees episode, people were like, We don’t… like don’t worry about honeybees, who cares? Worry about native bees. And I was like, Yes! I’m gonna leave all this in, because I love Flash Forward and I want people to listen.
Anyway, so one of the recent episodes that they did was Land Back. And it was talking about the land back movement here in what we call the United States and Canada and the return of stewardship… well, I mean, it’s a diverse, it’s a number of things, but the return of stewardship of land to the people who actually have a relationship with it, and have had a relationship with it for 1000s of years. And, you know, I think it gets back, this is a long tangent, but I’m gonna leave it in – to get back to that idea of, often the image of conservation is of these benevolent, mostly white people from, you know, elite universities going to different places, and telling people how to manage their own lives. And it’s like, yeah, like, obviously, scientific research is its own thing, and, and there is value to specifically, rigorously done and managed research. But there is also immense value in listening to the people who actually live in places and live with the biodiversity in those places on how to deal with it.
Yeah, and that’s something that definitely gets overlooked a lot. So I think, yeah, it’s, it’s one of those things of scientists… like I perceive my work in terms of, you know, working, working on the groundin other countries, as – I’m there as a specialist, I’m not the expert. I’m there with a very specific skill set that may or may not be helpful, and kind of I think it’s important for scientists to be able to, you know, humble themselves a bit and be like, you know, you’re never going to understand the system as well as the people who live there, and your goals cannot conflict with them.
Yeah, even broadening out beyond conservation this is a problem with… like, on disability twitter, a lot of people with chronic illnesses talk about their experience of going to the doctor, and just being talked down to and it’s like, okay, you have a medical degree, but I have 30 years of living inside my own body, like we both have expertise in this situation.
And I was just gonna say, of course, that also bleeds into a lot of trans people’s experiences as well of doctors, despite having an expertise, presumably, in medical fields, often not knowing a lot of what trans people experience, even from a medical point of view.
No for sure, I think it’s just important to listen to people and to just say, you know, like, everyone that you work with has a point of view and their own knowledge, you know, just understand that just because you come from a university, and you have a particular skill set doesn’t make that skill set more valuable than somebody else.
And I do hope, and I think within science, we are getting to a place more where it’s less a perception of scientists as being, you know, these experts from on high blessing the masses with their knowledge and more of a generally collaborative enterprise between disciplines and between experts and non experts, and in an appreciating that people from all over have valuable input.
Yeah, I definitely think it’s getting better in terms of training and things like that in terms of how to how to work with a lot of different disciplinary people. One thing with conservation in particular, though, is that for all the talk about diversity and conservation, which is fantastic diversity, equity, inclusion, conservation, we still have a lot of work to do. I always cite a University of Michigan study from 2014, well, percent of conservation leadership and all of the different organizations that they looked at so governmental, non governmental, or non white. So, for example, just from like, I mean, there’s a lot of different areas in terms of diversity. But in terms of like, from ethnic and racial diversity, it’s, it’s pretty dire. And a lot of it has to do with how conservation is set up – because of how underfunded conservation is, it’s very difficult for people to break into the field if they can’t pay their way in.
I mean, the perennial problem of science, right?
Yeah. But then you mix in all these international field placements, and it gets, you know, crazy expensive, and the only way that I broke in, and like I’m very open about this, the only way that I broke in was because I got a full scholarship to do my master’s degree at the University of Cape Town, that was the only I gotten like otherwise I would not be able to afford it because I’m lower socioeconomic strata.
Well, it does get into a general problem of… people really like to get up their own butts about how science is often a meritocracy and whatever. But there are so many different barriers to entry that people who don’t have to think about them… don’t have to think about and then often don’t make it their problem to become aware of. So the financial issue of having to do unpaid work to then get the experience to be able to do paid work, as well as, you know, the barriers of, if I am a certain kind of queer, and I can’t hide that, I, literally, for my own safety can’t go to a certain location.
Yeah, no, for sure. It’s, it’s really funny because I was I was actually, I was on another podcast, and I was chatting with the host, and he said, You know, like, cuz I was talking a little bit about a little bit about this topic. And he was just like, Wow, I’ve never, I never had to think of that. Like, I never thought that that like, I never thought about being unsafe. Because I’m just like, this is what we think about, like, all the time,
I can imagine if somebody… I think a bad faith reading of the conversation would be potentially us saying, here in the States, you’re all… you’re, it’s very safe for, you know, LGBTQ plus people, and whatever, and – but in Africa, that’s where it’s unsafe. And I would say there’s like, I mean, there are multiple reactions to that, right, one of them being that there are genuine differences between different countries, as well as I imagine there is a difference in experience between being like a marginalized or minoritized person in your home, where you have a community and where you know how your life goes, versus being a stranger.
Yeah, like I said, though, in some, in some cases, they’ve tolerated… I mean, I’ve been tolerated for my gender ambiguity, because I’m an outsider. So it’s kind of like this interesting thing of like, I don’t know if that is a good thing or a bad thing.
It’s certainly a thing. Yeah. And I think not to get too Gender 101, but I think it comes back to the idea also of how gender is contextual in a lot of ways. Where, I mean, that’s the that’s the whole that’s the whole conversation.
Is there anything we haven’t touched on, but you want to make sure that we touch on?
Um, I think that’s pretty much it. I just want to say that my DMs are open for anyone who has any questions about my experiences, or they’re trying to you know, break into conservation biology specifically or field work, and I would encourage, you know, these conversations around, you know, gender identity and safety and fieldwork and all this stuff to be more open. I think this is a great start. It’s great to have this out there and it’s great to get the conversation going.
Well, fantastic. If people want to dDM ou, where should they look?
You can find me @fleurygs. Definitely DM me, my DMs are open, and I’m available for any questions or conversations.
Wonderful. I am NOT open to conversations. No, I’m kidding. But I am on Twitter @cockroacharles.
And I am on Twitter @spacermase.
The show is on twitter @ASABpod and on our website where we post show notes and transcripts for every episode at asabpodcast.com
And until next time, keep on science-ing.