Featured

International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, & Biphobia

I have been pretty busy lately planning and organizing fieldwork coming up in a few weeks. Things are thankfully starting to come together. The funny thing about travel though, is that it’s one of the few times I really become aware of my identifying documentation. For instance, I’ve booked accommodation under my deadname and my driver’s license doesn’t reflect any changes (the wonderful combination of biking everywhere and efficient public transport means I only drive when doing fieldwork these days). I don’t think anyone looks very closely at these types of things, but I’m sure it will come up sometime in the near future.

Today is also International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia. For this occasion, I did an interview with University West (Högskolan Väst) about trans issues in Sweden and abroad. I struggled with how forthright I wanted to be for this interview (relatedly, something I also wrestle with in the context of this blog). I haven’t been in Sweden long, and as a non-Swede, I am especially cautious about offering honest feedback on trans issues in Sweden (and as an American – I have no room to talk!). But after chatting with a friend, I realized this is an issue of lack of awareness and that [some degree] of commentary could be beneficial for (especially cis) people to hear. Maybe I’ll get chased out of the country, hopefully not.

On a personal note, I ran my first trail race (Trailvarvet – 11.5 km through Änggårdsbergen) over the weekend (also first race since December 2019)! Incidentally, this was also the first sporting event I’ve competed in under the “male” category. I kept waiting for someone to call me out (despite the fact that it would have been distinctly unfair for me to compete as a woman at this point). No one did – it was a pretty awesome feeling 🙂

I didn’t get any pictures during the run, but here is one a few minutes after I crossed the finish line.

Been a little busy…

Oof, I have been busy lately and I’m realizing it’s been several weeks since I last blogged. Proposal season is in full swing (I just submitted my first “adult” proposal as PI!) amongst manuscript deadlines and planning multiple fieldwork excursions.

With numerous applications due, I’ve been encountering a common theme lately: what name and gender do I apply under?

An example: to register with the major research/funding application portal in Sweden, you need to add your Swedish social security number (personnummer). This number is used for pretty much everything in Sweden and has your birthday and (binary) sex coded into it. For instance, when I joined a gym in Sweden, I had to provide my personnummer and with this information, the online form auto-filled in my legal name, gender, birth date, and address. Generally speaking, it’s a beautiful system, but it doesn’t allow much give for people whose name and gender do not match their reality.

 -Thankfully- the support at Prisma and Formas has been super helpful and have confirmed that I can submit the application as a man named Tristan. This kind of flexibility I hadn’t yet experienced in Sweden and I’m very thankful for this. FYI – they are also allowing folks to apply as nonbinary (!)

I’ve also been applying for faculty positions and trying to reconcile my mismatched identity and experiences. First, I’m still waiting for the publishers to update my name on a few of my previous publications (so that is unfortunately inconsistent). As an early-career researcher, I really need to have all my research output reflected in my application. I have decided it is best for me personally at this point to add my deadname to my CV (“formerly known as”) to eliminate any uncertainty about my identity. Second, most of my experiences in STEM have been presenting as a woman or as nonbinary (which unfortunately most people still read as “woman”). While I’ve always been a man, it doesn’t fully encapsulate my lived experiences. One way I’ve been addressing this is through outing myself in my diversity statement – it’s not perfect, but I also acknowledge that there is a degree to which I need to lean into “being out and proudly trans”.

With all of that said, I’m optimistic that the uncertainty I’m experiencing with application processes right now will become more streamlined for trans* folks in the future. Society is increasingly acknowledging that things need to change for the better, and while it’s certainly an imperfect process, change is happening.

Keeping it together…

I will start by saying that coming to terms with my gender and pursuing transition has been the greatest gift to myself. The positives significantly outweigh the burden of stress associated with transition.

On its face, I have everything figured out. Complete composure. But there’s a lot that people don’t see.

For instance, I’ve dedicated many hours researching how to change my name and gender marker (legally, socially, professionally). The current societal structures make this unnecessarily difficult, and I won’t lie, there have been multiple times I’ve questioned if it’s actually worth the stress. I’ve come up with a very convoluted pathway to change my name and gender marker in both Sweden and the US, but I will be fighting government agencies the whole way within a narrow time window (because I also need to be doing research!)

One may wonder, why do this now? I am doing this now for several reasons:

  1. Because I can – I don’t know where I will be living in the next few years and it flatly may not be possible.
  2. Safety – not being outed by my ID.
  3. Sweden is frustratingly bureaucratic without compassionate flexibility.

What do I mean by this last one? My name and gender are linked to my Swedish social security number. This is linked to my employment (and pretty much literally everything I do in Sweden). For instance, at work, I have zero control over my name (i.e., sender name in emails; Microsoft 365 account, Zoom, etc.). I have found workarounds for most of these things (see Trans* Name Change Guide), but there is no option for a “preferred name” and no means to change it without a legal change. Same for gender and travel – all travel through work for some reason requires a Ms. In front of my name. I even attempted to see if they could just use Dr., but nope! It is Ms. or Mr. and it must match your legal gender. I’m not even going to begin to talk about the lack of nonbinary options here (what would they have done if I’d moved here with an ‘X’ in my passport?!) And trust me, I’ve tried, others have tried on my behalf to change this… And while individuals have all been all super apologetic and sympathetic and that they wish they could help, the system is so rigid in a way that is bluntly dehumanizing. On the other hand, I have found Swedish society very accepting of trans people and generally very safe. I like Sweden! But my experiences as a transitioning person in Sweden from a logistics perspective have been less than stellar.

And there is stress associated with transitioning itself – I’m changing not only my outward appearance, but also adjusting to changes in how my brain functions (it definitely feels more correct now). For instance, between weightlifting and the testosterone (I’m so hungry!), I’ve put on a little extra weight around my hips (still getting the feminine body fat distribution, hopefully this will change soon). Despite that this is nothing that anyone else would notice, I’m finding it harder to get dressed in the morning because of the more feminine shape. Another example – I find my voice is still too high. These are things that have plagued me for a long time, but that I’ve just sucked up. Yet now that I’m actively pursuing these changes, I find myself more bothered, less patient, and less compassionate for the person in the mirror. I have a tough outer shell, but these things take up mental and emotional space and time.

I was talking to a colleague this week and mentioned a few of these things, and his response was, “How are you doing all of this on top of your postdoc fellowship and still sleeping at night?” Truth is, I have no idea. And yet, I’m happier. I feel more me – which is something worth fighting for.

Trans* Name Change Guide!

First, an *announcement* – Version 1.0 of the Name Change Guide for Trans* Academics is live! I’ve been taking notes as I’ve been going through the process – I hope this can be useful for someone else. Feel free to reach out to me if you have questions, comments, concerns – or if you want to contribute to this guide or other resources in the future!

Otherwise, I will stick to a quick update this week – of course there is a lot going on in my life, both personally and professionally, but it’s mostly positive, so I will take that as a win. Amongst the positives in my life, I’ve been feeling a bit down this week because the changes are happening rather slowly and I’m impatiently waiting to move forward with my life as me. Yes, I know it’s a process and all part of the journey, but the desire for an overnight switch is definitely there. Fortunately, I got a boost mid-week when I learned my name on the first of my previous publications has been updated! Tristan is happening!

This was my first major publication (from my undergraduate research!), so it seems appropriate that it was the first one updated as well. I actually felt the same pride when I saw the name change as I did when I first published this paper. And as promised, there is no evidence of the change (correction notices, changes in publishing/record updated date, etc.) I have to admit, that felt pretty good.

More to come…

That In-Between Space…

I’ve been feeling like my life lately has been a lot of paperwork, logistics, and constantly having to put myself out there. I’m continuously coming out to new people and traversing this odd space of having two different simultaneous identities.

I’ve been working through changing my name on my previous publications – this has been a somewhat frustrating process. First, I want to say that I’m very thankful for the work done by the Name Change Policy Working Group, which resulted in trans inclusive name change policies by most major publishers in 2021. These policies are intended to protect the identity and safety of the author and allow for “silent” or “invisible” name changes, meaning no correction, corrigendum, or editorial comment is associated with the change. The online and PDF versions are edited, the doi remains the same, and the corrected metadata gets sent out again journal indexing databases.

Despite having a very direct approach to emailing journals about my request –

“Hi I’m trans and would like to change my first name from x to y “invisibly” on z publication according to your trans-inclusive name change policy (insert URL to publishers policy)…”

– I’ve found myself having to explain to journal editors their own policy. Multiple journals initially replied to me saying that it would not be possible to do without an editorial comment or corrigendum. But after I pressed further (and I assume my persistence caused the people I was emailing to check with someone higher up), I successfully convinced every editor of their own policy. I try to remind myself that because these policies are so new, this is probably the first time these editors are encountering this change. It’s been an exercise in patience and pausing before hitting send, but I’m happy to report that all my previous publications will reflect my new name very soon!

I can only speak for the experiences with the journals I’ve published with, but Wiley, Elsevier, Springer Nature, and PLOS did not require any legal documentation of a name change. Someone on Twitter recommended that for Elsevier journals to email the individual journal, not the email they provide for name changes, and I can confirm, this is the way to go. Weeks later, I have not heard back from that email address (I assume it’s un-monitored), but individual journal editors were on it within hours.

Why bother with changing my name on my publications?

I did consider not changing my first name on my previous publications, especially because my previous name and photos are everywhere – and that will be impossible to expunge. But as an early career researcher, I decided it would be best to have a consistent record for the most critical part of my academic identity. And on a personal level, while the change is subtle – it’s a single letter added to my first name – it feels affirming.

I’ve been also slowing coming out to various collaborators. I could just “not mention” I added an ‘n’ to the end of my name (a lot of people called me Tristan before anyway by accident or inattention) or changed my pronouns in my email signature and see who figures it out, but that leaves a lot of room for someone to wonder or make assumptions. My approach has been to address it head on by adding a short, but to the point, comment about it at the end of an email. It’s honestly terrifying, but so far, it’s going well? There’s no handbook for these things – I’m really just winging it at this point.

Amongst all of this, I’m keeping up with manuscript and grant writing, and my ongoing research projects. Sometimes I wonder how I can keep so many balls in the air at once, but in truth a good to do list really goes a long way. I’m doing it, pushing forward, and onward and upward!

That said, I am so excited for when this process is over – when I’m secure in my appearance and documentation and I don’t have to keep clarifying or justifying my existence. I’m looking forward for when I can just move through the world as me without explanation.

The days are getting longer again in Sweden and the sun is out! I’ll take this as a good sign that the future is looking bright!

Coming Out Professionally

It’s been a bit of an intense week both personally and of course on the world’s stage. Amongst this, I came out as trans on my professional Twitter account. And I was really astounded by just how many people reached out to me to show their support. My post kind of blew up on science twitter, which was completely unexpected. It’s also been really great to connect with other trans* folks in STEM.

Otherwise, my life is feeling very transitory at the moment, which I guess, it’s called “transitioning” for a reason… I don’t have major issues with my past self, but I’ve come to realize that “Trista” is everywhere. And so, while I’ll be unable to escape that, I am very ready to move forward as Tristan. Unfortunately, the physical and social changes don’t happen overnight. I think I’m increasingly skirting away from androgyny into more masculine territory, but I find myself unsure of, for instance, which bathroom to use in public, or which locker room to use at the gym. Just yesterday, I was heading for the locker room at the gym, and a guy ahead of me was holding the door behind him for me – and then I just walked past to go into the women’s locker room and I found myself in retrospect asking, “Why didn’t I just go in? What was I afraid of?”

I think it’s in part because the feminine aspects of my appearance still really stand out to me– in a way that I find myself feeling like I’d get accosted in male spaces. My legal identity is also still female, and I’m trying to avoid any confrontation about my gender. Honestly, I’m trying to avoid locker rooms and other gendered spaces as much as possible, but it’s still freezing outside here, so I need a place to at least put my jacket.

But clearly others are increasingly seeing me as male. In my Swedish class last week, we were doing an exercise with a partner where we would ask questions about the other person and then we had to report to the class what our partner told us. My partner referred to me using “han”, which is the Swedish equivalent of “he”, and I was like, so either you’ve gendered me correctly (if so, yay!) or one of us (could be me) isn’t remembering the correct vocabulary for pronouns. Generally though, I’d say most people in my life are using the correct name and have rapidly adjusted to using he/him pronouns for me (or at least they correct themselves immediately when they screw up).

I’ve also initiated the process of linking my research identity between Tristan and my previous name. I started by updating my name on my professional website, CV, Google Scholar, ResearchGate, and ORCiD, but I’ve learned my name everywhere. I’ve also reached out to journals about changing my name in my previous publications. I will be putting together a guide about the process – hopefully this will be up soon on this page.

Professionally, I’m feeling somewhat conflicted. For starters, I’m really coming to terms with the fact that restrictions around accessing trans healthcare and general societal trans-acceptance are new burdens I must carry in my life – there are places I won’t live anymore because it wouldn’t be safe. Given the scarcity of tenure track positions, I imagine this could hurt me career wise. But I’m also recognizing that my personal needs around accessing trans healthcare must be a priority. When I started hormone replacement therapy, it was as if a puzzle piece that had been missing from my body was finally in place– almost immediately my brain clicked in a way that said, “Yes, this is the right decision. How have I gone without this my whole life?” and this was even before any physical changes happened. Clearly, this is a priority for me going forward.

That said, I’ve been feeling unsure about my name professionally. First, I have to keep my previous name legally for a little longer. Name changes are very easy in Sweden, but because I need to manage it between two countries, there are additional logistics to work out. Unfortunately, Sweden is quite bureaucratic around names. For instance, I am unable to change my name on my university email address – it must match my legal name. The university did throw me a nice gesture by updating my email address itself, but I’m otherwise stuck with emails being sent from “Trista” and oddly having my email signature say “Tristan” – not very professional in my opinion. This is frustratingly just the way it will have to be for a bit.

I’m also wrestling with what name to put on job and grant applications. Should I use my legal name? The name I want to be called? The name that has a semblance of recognition and can be googled? Or does it change by country? I am concerned that it will be harder to find me online during this critical period where I am trying to build up my name and apply for permanent positions – a name is so critical in academia. 

I am thankful for having such supportive people around me. While there is a lot of uncertainty in my life right now and I’m feeling impatient that my outward appearance doesn’t yet line up with how I feel internally, there are also so many positives in my life that are really making this interstitial period easier.

I’ve also started a TikTok to reach a broader audience – I think there’s so much negativity around trans issues in the media or the legislature, that it’s important to show young people that you can be happy and trans, or you can be a scientist and trans. I just downloaded the app and clearly need to learn how to make my videos flashier, but we will get there!

Hi!

I am admittedly cautious about starting this blog and documenting about my experiences transitioning as an early career researcher in STEM. However, I have been struck by the sparsity of narratives from those in my position. Maybe there are not many of us… it seems most people either transition before publishing or after they have tenure. But one cannot always make the timeline of their personal and professional lives line up.

As scientists, we are taught that our personal lives have no bearing or “do not belong” in our professional lives. I (too optimistically, perhaps) believe this attitude is changing. Regardless, I don’t have the luxury of invisibility (or “erasing” my past self – and honestly, I don’t want to!) during this process. I would argue that accepting oneself as trans is the ultimate level of self-love and acceptance – there are no societal rewards for transitioning. In many ways, transitioning is a very public display of one’s most intimate and vulnerable self. My reasons for documenting this are in part personal, but along the way I hope this can be helpful for others.

For years I sought quantitative evidence that these feelings about my gender meant I “had to” transition. As a scientist, I took a very methodological approach by weighing pros and cons. In truth, my cons list was full of logistic burdens and external social factors and my pros were reflective of my inner experiences. Obviously, this was an impossible comparison, and the approach was inherently flawed. But eventually I came the realization that these feelings weren’t going away and that no pro/con list was going to solve my problems. I realized that there was a solution for relieving the amount of real estate these feelings about my gender and the aftermath of transitioning were taking up in my brain – I needed to transition.

A lot of my hesitancy around accepting myself and transitioning was external – trans people are currently a punching bag in the media and politics. I struggled to find examples of people initiating this process during my stage of life. I thought to myself, “well things are otherwise going great, so can’t I just keep going as it is? Why mess this up?” And things were going great for me – professionally, socially, and arguably personally. I would say I was overall a happy person, except for the nagging voice that would pester me from time to time saying, “Hey, this isn’t right”. This voice amplified with time to the point I could no longer ignore it (thanks, Covid-19 pandemic)!

And I was ecstatic once I reached this point of acceptance within myself – it felt like all those years of searching for answers finally had a solution!

Unfortunately, this initial joy was momentary, because it dawned on me that I wasn’t going to be able to hide this from others. I would have to tell EVERYONE… and how does one even do that?! Beyond my family and immediate circle of friends, there are multiple layers of acquaintances, professional contacts, and random people I had coffee with 6 months ago. It felt daunting. I’m still working on this process. Thankfully, a lot of my initial fears about not being accepted were unfounded and I’ve only received positivity and support. I’m very lucky in this regard.

Will transitioning negatively impact me professionally? Is this blog a good idea? I am unsure and I suppose time will tell. I am taking a risk here, but there are no rewards without risk. This blog is also a way to link my previous identity to my new one and hopefully this is helpful to someone out there. Going forward, I intend this blog will be in part logistics (i.e., my experiences with changing my name/gender in academia). I have also started a “Resources” page that I will update periodically and welcome any feedback, comments, or contributions. Let’s build something useful!

One of my goals here is to flip the script a bit about trans narratives – you can be both happy and successful and live a good life – before, during, and after transition. This blog is, of course, reflective of my personal experiences as there is no single trans narrative. I also must acknowledge my privilege in this situation: I am white, highly educated, and have an excellent support network, both personally and professionally.

My trans-ness does not change who I am as a person or a as a scientist or the quality of work I can produce. In fact, I’ve become more productive at work, and I feel more connected to myself in life. This period will certainly have its challenges, but I also hope to convey the inexplicable joy that transitioning has brought me personally.

Create your website with WordPress.com
Get started