Wednesday, July 27, 2016

LGBT get-together at ICME13 #icme13

For most LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people born in the 20th century, "coming out" never ends. Of course, the first few people you tell may be the most difficult ones, but years later, meeting new people still involves small questions in the back of the mind: Should I be open? Will they mind? Should I use gender-neutral words ("my partner") to avoid having to face potential negative attitudes?

I still feel that way when meeting new people back home in "safe, liberal, politically-correct" Norway, but I feel so even more in international contexts, where people from the whole world sits around the same table. At international conferences, there is the added consideration: I'll only meet the people for a few days every few years, so why ruffle any feathers? Why risk causing someone to be upset? Couldn't we just stay away from "controversial" subjects such as the gender of my husband?

The concrete result of this is that I (and many others, I assume), feel less free to be ourselves, to mention my husband where it's otherwise natural in conversations and so on. I get (even) more reserved than I usually are. As a result, others get to know me a little bit less, and I get to know others a little bit less. (Anecdotal evidence: there are people who I've met and talked to at conferences over a period of ten years before we realized both were gay.)

This long preample is my answer to the question I asked myself when invited to a LGBT get-together at ICME. I thought "Cool. But why?" I thought it would be strange meeting people here based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and wondered what we could possibly have in common. Now I've realized that having such a meeting is just as silly an idea as having "gay pride" events: it is silly, but still neccessary, because not having such meetings means going on with the status quo, where everyone makes their own micro-decisions of not telling anyone so as not to cause (possible/imagined) offence.

The LGBT get-together was yesterday, and it was great. Surprisingly (?) I even met people interested in the same part of maths ed as myself. Many thanks to Pauline and Nils for getting the idea and making the idea reality, and to the HIV prevention center for the venue and help.

I hope I will see lots of the people who were there again, and that this event will contribute to a more inclusive ICME. I also hope these things will be repeated at future ICMEs, as long as neccessary. Silly or not.

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