Discrimination in the workforce. Relocation after graduation. Lack of spaces for queerness in science. Over the last three weeks, this column series explored these challenges faced by the LGBTQIA+ community, all of which stem from erasure.

These are a subset of issues I chose to explore because I am a graduating queer woman in STEM, and this series is just cutting the surface to discussing systemic problems. In the U.S. alone there remain institutional barriers to housing, banking, healthcare, expression, love, safety and representation in positions of power.  

Erasure of LGBTQIA+ identities is a theme to these challenges and lack of representation that came up frequently across this series. Damaging stereotypes and images of queerness are also perpetrated when there is a lack visibility. Ninety-two percent of LGBT youth report hearing negative comments at school, on the internet and from peers about being LGBT, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

There is erasure in the workplace when co-workers make it uncomfortable for queer and trans people to talk about their personal life at work, or perpetuate discrimination. Science fields don’t make space for queer issues, and when they do, they’re often criticized for having a bias.

Erasure not only affects the public visibility of LGBTQIA+ communities, but how we internalize our own identities.

UCSC alumna Sami Chen struggled with feeling queer enough based on the  the assumptions people made about her bisexuality. While Keira Delaney, neuroscience student, holds tightly to her trans identity, she has struggled with feeling trans enough because she still rejects binary standards.

The beauty of LGBTQIA+ identities is the diversity in expression, meaning there isn’t just one way to be queer. But as a femme presenting person, I’ve struggled to come to terms with my pansexuality because of what other people have told me about my identity. People assume that because I am femme presenting and have a history of dating cis, straight males, they can define my identity.

And after they find out I have a female partner, they assume I am experimenting, lesbian or bisexual, none of which are my identity.

These assumptions are partially due to lack of public education surrounding queerness, but mostly a reflection that as a society we are socialized to think about gender and sexuality as binary categories. Gender and sexuality are spectrums, and we as humans should be allowed to be as complicated as we are.

I recognize as a cisgender white women, I have many privileges throughout this world, including being perceived as straight person in certain spaces. But it can still be a double edged sword to have this straight presenting privilege, and experience erasure of my pansexuality.

I feel erased when people categorize me based on my past or current partner or make assumptions about me based on my presentation. Generally, I feel invisible because the majority of society doesn’t know what pansexuality is.

No, pansexuals are not attracted to pots and pans, it is not the same thing as bisexual and we are not attracted to everyone we meet.

When I was 19 my best friend told me she was pansexual. “I’m attracted to a person because I like them, gender isn’t a factor.” Instantly, it clicked. That is exactly how I feel, and the relief that I could finally put a word to my emotions changed the way I look at the world.  

But it took me a few more years to be open about my sexuality because of internalized fear of not being queer enough. When people assumed I was straight, sometimes I wanted to believe them, because it would be easier to act straight than explain pansexuality. It was especially hard when queer people assumed I was straight, because I felt like I wasn’t queer enough to be a part of the community.

Over time I have learned that while it is exhausting, my visibility is ultimately up to me. This is another topic that came up for the voices in this series — it is tiring for LGBTQIA+ people to always be the ones educating others about queer and trans issues, at the cost of being open about their identity.

Generally there has been more visibility for lesbian and gay folks in the last few decades, but there remains a misunderstanding about the BTQIA+ communities. In the U.S. 1 in 2000 people are born intersex, and parents are not allowed to leave the hospital before checking male or female on the birth certificate. My friends who are asexual have found most of the information about their identities from youtube channels, because yes there is a difference between sexual and romantic attraction.

Throughout this series, one of the most rewarding parts was the conversations about queerness and trans issues that I got to engage in with members of the LGBTQIA+ community.

It is so important to have conversations with cis, trans, queer and hetero communities to break down stereotypical images of LGBTQIA+ identities.

As we parade into pride month, we can think about simple ways to promote inclusivity. Even the language we use can make a difference. Getting used to using they/theirs pronouns when you don’t know someone’s pronouns and using “partner” when referring to a person’s dating life are small ways to promote inclusivity.

To really look toward a more inclusive society, we all need to break the habit of immediately making assumptions about other people’s sexuality and gender identity based on how we have been socialized to think about queerness. Appearance and dating history are not grounds for making assumptions about one’s sexuality or gender identity.

The way I present myself should not dictate my sexuality, and my queer identity is not only valid, but unique.