Hi BAS, Happy Pride!

30 June, 2023 Diversity in UK Polar Science

Megan Monkman (she/her) is an Energy and Carbon Analyst at British Antarctic Survey working on decarbonisation and net zero projects. Here she writes about her experience in the gay community, why Pride matters and how we can all be allies to our LGTBQ+ friends and colleagues. 

Happy Pride to all my guys, gals and non-binary pals around BAS! For those who have yet to meet me and for those who have but have somehow have not clocked, I Megan Monkman am a gay.  As such I was asked to write a few words on Pride and why it is important.  

I’ll start by saying I found this an incredibly difficult piece to write. Partially as I’m only 23 so I am very much still figuring this whole sexuality and gender thing out. June has been a fabulous month of conversations with friends starting to break down what gender is, how much is influenced by society and how much is genetic. I’ve also thought about what makes me a woman, my sexuality and how much that has been influenced (am I actually bisexual, or have I been conditioned to assume I am attracted to men?). It’s thinking about comphet (or compulsory heterosexuality – the pressure from society to conform to heterosexuality). 

Megan Monkman hugging her mum at her graduation
Megan with her Mum at her graduation. She wrote a poem when Megan came out.

I don’t have all the answers (except I KNOW I like women) but one thing is for sure — it is a difficult and confusing topic for us all to start trying to break down and define when you don’t sit neatly at either end of the spectrum.   

But that is part of the beauty of this month. It acts a prompt to start thinking about these things as well as celebrating how far society has come whilst still acknowledging there is further to go.  

So, what you’ve all been waiting for: what am I doing for Pride? Tragically I had to miss Cambridge Pride this year as I had a concert with choir, which has its own queer energy but isn’t quite the same. I will be having a mini-Pride with my cousins this summer baking cakes while listening to Girl in Red and Padam Padam by Kylie Minogue. Slay. In a less fun vein, I will try to have some frank conversations with my extended family on why their casual homophobia really isn’t okay. Not so slay. Sadly, my sister can’t join me this year but below is some of the beautiful art she has made me which I love. 

A picture of art made by Megan's sister entitled 'Lesbos'
The art Megan’s sister made her which she proudly displays in her room!

How to support Pride 

It was also suggested that this would be a good opportunity to share some tips on how to be an excellent ally both at BAS and at home.  

Numero uno is to educate yourself: dive into LGBTQ+ history, the Stonewall riots, Harvey Milk, decriminalisation starting in 1967, marriage equality victories stating in the 2000s, and so much more.  

Secondly, learn terminology. There is a rich history surrounding lavender language and queer argots, the complex and often secret vocabularies of LGBTQ+ communities. Labels in the queer community are also extremely important and are not to be mocked, they can help to provide a sense of identity and help individuals find and connect with others who share similar experiences, creating a sense of belonging and community. Something many queer people cannot find from their family/hometown. I have provided a short reference sheet to get you started below.  

Thirdly, listen to diverse voices, read LGBTQ+ literature and watch queer content. I’m loving Heartstopper (a British coming-of-age series) and season 2 is coming out in August! 

Please use this month to amplify LGBTQ+ voices. Please, please, please practice respect and use appropriate language. If someone has expressed that they prefer different pronouns, then use that individual’s pronouns and gender identity. If you slip up, people won’t mind as long as they can see you are trying. If you hear someone accidentally misgender someone, just let them know. It happens to me too and we understand that it is hard to retrain the human brain when it has been conditioned to think a certain way, but it is so important to keep trying.   

Just a note on the “they/them is plural and so not grammatically correct” line of thinking. I am dyslexic so grammar is not my forte, but what pronouns do you use when you are referencing someone whose gender you don’t know and can’t assume? I might say something along the lines of “The receptionist said the tour guide would meet us here, but I can’t see THEM do you know where THEY could be”. This really helped a relative to understand recently. 

If you do witness homophobia or transphobia, say something, particularly if it’s casual. To quote the iconic Hillary Duff public service announcement, you shouldn’t say somethings gay when you mean it’s bad. Do not insult people for dressing in a way that doesn’t conform to gender binaries. If you hear anything overt then challenge stereotypes and misconceptions about the LGBTQ+ community whenever you encounter them.   

If you are unsure about anything related to Pride, let’s try to be kind to each other. People having a different sexuality or gender identity to you doesn’t hurt you or affect you in any way. So again, can we please just treat each other with some kindness and compassion  

So, let’s celebrate LGBTQ+ Culture, attend Pride events, watch LGBTQ+ films, and support LGBTQ+ artists, businesses, and initiatives. It is so much fun and we are so much fun. Happy Pride Everyone!

A Little Gay Dictionary  

I apologise for the lengths of the definitions, but I adore semantics and etymology: 

AllyYou hopefully! But in all seriousness a (typically) straight and/or cis person who supports members of the LGBTQ+ community. 

Asexual – A person who does not experience sexual attraction. Some asexual people experience romantic attraction, while others do not. Asexual people who experience romantic attraction might also use terms such as gay, bi, lesbian, straight and queer in conjunction with asexual to describe the direction of their romantic attraction. 

BisexualBi is an umbrella term used to describe a romantic and/or sexual orientation towards more than one gender. Because like, why limit yourself?  Also, to all my sweet and wonderful monosexuals (heteros and homos) out there that still struggle with the bi concept could we stop with the biphobia? It is getting better but bisexual people still get told to ‘pick a side’ or that ‘it’s just a phase’ and it really isn’t. 

Comphet “Comphet” is short for “compulsory heterosexuality,” a term coined by Adrienne Rich. It refers to the societal expectation that individuals are inherently heterosexual, which can lead to the suppression or denial of non-heterosexual attractions and identities. Comphet highlights the pressure to conform to heteronormative standards and explores the impact on individuals’ self-discovery and relationships. 

Gay – I hope you know this one. Gay typically refers to a man who has a romantic and/or sexual orientation towards men. It has also evolved into a generic term for lesbian and gay sexuality – some women define themselves as gay rather than lesbian. Some non-binary people may also identify with this term. It is one big umbrella.  The word dates back to the 12th century word “gai” in old French which meant “full of joy or mirth.” It was used for a long, long time, centuries in fact, to mean happy carefree and bright.” People then decided fun was a bad thing and it evolved to imply that a person was unrestrained by morals and prone to promiscuity which then grew to mean homosexuals.  I love the word Gay, It is just such a good word.  

IntersexA term used to describe a person who may have the biological attributes of both sexes or whose biological attributes do not fit with societal assumptions about what constitutes male or female. Intersex people may identify as male, female or non-binary. 

Lavender Language – Lavender language, specifically Polari and queer argots, are forms of coded communication historically used within the LGBTQ+ community. Polari, primarily spoken in the UK, originated in the mid-20th century and included terms from various sources like Italian, Yiddish, and Romani. It allowed LGBTQ+ individuals to discreetly express their identities and navigate a hostile society. Many words are still used today such as camp, butch, ogle and naff to name a few. Similarly, queer argots developed in different regions worldwide, incorporating slang, coded words, and unique expressions. These languages provided a means of communication, solidarity, and self-preservation for marginalized individuals. While less prevalent today, they hold cultural significance as reminders of LGBTQ+ history and resilience. 

Lesbian – A woman who has a romantic and/or sexual orientation towards women. Some non-binary people may also identify with this term. The word comes from the name of the Greek island Lesbos, where Sappho was born. She was an ancient Greek woman who wrote poems that included homosexual themes. The term “sapphic,” named for this poet, also refers to female homosexuality.  Despite being told otherwise my grandma still thinks the hama bead plaque my sister made for my ex and I reading “Lesbos” is referring to the island, which I have never visited, and is not my sexuality! 

QueerQueer is a term sometimes used by those wanting to reject specific labels of romantic orientation, sexual orientation and/or gender identity. It can also be a way of rejecting the perceived norms of the LGBT community (racism, sizeism, ableism etc). Although some LGBT people view the word as a slur, it was reclaimed in the late 80s by the queer community who have embraced it.  This pattern of taking insults and reclaiming them is common in the queer community with terms like poof, twink, homo, limp-wristed, dyke, alphabet mafia, fruity, queen and many more. The key thing to highlight here is who is using them and what is the intention. It is still the case that if a homophobe used any of these they would still be offensive. But using them within the community signifies an acceptance, an energy that says “Yea I’m queer what’s wrong with that?” 

SlaySlay transcends translation  That said this any much of the queer vocabulary we use today originates from drag and ballroom culture. These phases date back to the 1970’s and most of these phrases came from the African Americans and Latinx of Harlem who were members of the LGBTQ+ community. Words and phrases like (Throwing) shade, reading, voguing, realness, Yaaaaaas. 

TransAn umbrella term to describe people whose gender is not the same as, or does not sit comfortably with, the sex they were assigned at birth.  Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935) the famous German Sexologist, has coined the words transvestites and transsexuals in the beginning of the 20th Century. He established Institute for Sexual Science in 1919 at Berlin, which was destroyed by Nazis in 1933 (It is interesting to recall that he himself was a homosexual). Later Dr John Oliven wrote using “transsexual” to describe someone who had a desire for gender-affirming medical intervention was incorrect. He said “transgenderism” should be used instead because sexual played no role in people’s internal gender. Lots of other incredible and fascinating people popularised the term but this definition is already too long. This is why you’ve got to read up on this stuff folks, it is so interesting! 

WLWWomen loving Women, could be lesbians, bisexuals, pansexual just referring to all female relationships/attractions.

2 Spirit“Two-spirit” refers to a person who identifies as having both a masculine and a feminine spirit and is used by some Indigenous people to describe their sexual, gender and/or spiritual identity. As an umbrella term it may encompass same-sex attraction and a wide variety of gender variance, including people who might be described in Western culture as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, transgender, gender queer, cross-dressers or who have multiple gender identities. 

This is an intro list and barely scratches the surface so go and learn more, I’m still learning every day and I am loving it so once again I shall say, Happy pride month to all the Queens, Kings and those in-betweens at BAS! 

Find out more about equality, diversity and inclusion at BAS, including the Diversity in UK Polar Science Initiative.