In the current issue of Science, Rackham student Bec Roldan, a doctoral student in the U-M Department of Chemistry, shares their powerful account of coming out as non-binary in graduate school, and how that has impacted their journey as both a student and a person in our community.
Their account begins below:
My hands shook as I sat down to write the email. “I wanted to let y’all know that I use they/them/theirs pronouns,” I typed. “I know that gender-neutral/non-binary pronouns are not a common staple in our language, but I ask that you please do your best to respect them.” Proclaiming my identity—one I had still not quite figured out yet—to a group of co-workers made me feel incredibly vulnerable. But I knew that if I wanted to survive graduate school, I needed to be open with my labmates, no matter how scared I was. After a few anxious moments, I clicked “send.”
During the months leading up to graduate school, I had been exploring the idea of using gender-neutral pronouns. I didn’t know whether they’d suit me; I just knew the words “she” and “woman” didn’t feel quite right when they were used to describe me.
I had come out as queer during my last year of college, thanks in large part to support from the tight-knit queer community I’d discovered there. Starting graduate school at a new institution, I wouldn’t have that support system. I feared I’d be navigating my journey to discover myself completely on my own.
Those fears evaporated when I learned that roughly one-quarter of my Ph.D. cohort identified as LGBTQ. We gravitated toward one another, and I decided to come out as nonbinary to some of them. From then on, whenever our small group got together, my friends would say “they” when speaking about me. The more I heard that word roll off their tongues, the more I felt at home in my own body.”