I used to think I didn’t get attached to places. The past was a haze, an awful mystery I yearned to escape. My heart was not heavy when my family moved us from New Jersey to Florida when I was 10, and it was lighter still when I finally left Miami to seek my fortunes in Ottawa, Canada. I had much to flee. It was only later that I found something to mourn.
I didn’t grow up with the word “dyke” meaning anything to me. The dialects of Spanish that were my first language don’t have ready equivalents for it, preferring euphemisms that only become offensive in certain tones. I don’t know if the people I came from use “perica” or “tortillera” for themselves, or if they borrow the more evocative slurs used for gay men, or use some other language entirely. My mother preferred to stammer out her disgust in English half-syllables whenever she had to mention queer women, and that sense of wrongness stayed attached to those words in my mind. I was closed to this part of myself in those days, unaware of my queer heritage even as I found no room in my heart for their contempt. The queer community where I finally found myself speaks primarily English, and it’s here that I finally met proud dykes.
This year will most likely be the last year that I attend the Ottawa-Carleton Institute of Biology’s yearly symposium. This small-scale conference is advertised internally, and draws its attendees almost exclusively from the two university biology departments that comprise the OCIB. As a graduating Ph.D., I’m unlikely to either get those advertisements or have the open schedule required to be present on subsequent occasions. It has served as a way for biology students at the two departments to meet and get to know one another, for people to become familiar with the research going on elsewhere at the Institute, to practice for higher-stakes presentations at larger conferences, and to attend curated talks from well-credentialed and diverse researchers in various related fields. I have never found attendance at the OCIB Symposium to be wasted, not even the year where they got that weirdo suggesting we start using Aristotelian teleological models to better understand parts of biology.
(For those not in the know, those models also underlie much Christian philosophy and therefore Intelligent Design.)
This year, though, was marred by two instances of tone-deaf, science-illiterate microaggression that only get to keep the “micro-” qualifier because I’m not prepared to accuse these two speakers of deliberately attacking the autistic and transgender communities. Yet.