This article was published on October 20, 2021

Social media’s ‘queer tax’ is exhausting, unfair, and unavoidable

Walk a mile in our shoes and then we'll see who's really sensitive

Social media’s ‘queer tax’ is exhausting, unfair, and unavoidable

A colleague recently sought my advice on covering a queer-related tech topic and I’m not ashamed to admit I advised them against it.

I’m queer. I made the decision to come out in my professional life after a lot of consideration and long discussions with my family.

In the time since, I’ve learned that millions of people who’ve never met me hate me. They despise me for existing. They think I should go away, shut up, and stop being who I am. I offend them.

That’s not something I experienced before I came out.

And if you ask me those people are too sensitive. Don’t worry about my queerness. Think of it like a joke.

When I got up today, I was excited to write about this incredible press release from the American Institute of Physics.

Researchers believe they’ve managed to quantify all of the information in the known universe. It’s potentially groundbreaking.

I would absolutely love to spend the next 800-1200 words telling you about the potential implications for this research. But I’m tired… I’m exhausted. It’s barely lunch and I feel like I’ve been through the ringer.

A certain streaming company is currently involved in a kerfuffle around a popular entertainer and an employee protest. I’m not here to talk about that.

But I can’t avoid it! It’s on every news aggregator. It’s all over the most popular internet forums. My entire social media feed is full of commentary on queerness right now and it all sucks.

And, for the record, I spent a decade in the military during the longest war in US history and I talk a lot of trash about big tech on the internet — I’m pretty sure I’m not sensitive.

I’m not personally bothered by what a comedian says about queer people. What bothers me is knowing that trans women in 2021 are among the most at-risk groups in US history. They’re killed at a higher rate than any other identity group — with 350 known murders in just 2020 alone.

What bothers me is that I’m a US citizen who fought in a war only to come home to a country where it’s legal for businesses in several states to fire me for thinking dudes can be hot.

Thank you for your service, but I disagree with your lifestyle.

I don’t want to deal with any of that. But I’m forced to. I have to reckon with the fact that I’m incredibly privileged. My employer won’t fire me for this article. I’m one of the few queer people with a platform and, because of that, I have a responsibility.

But, damn it, I wanted to write about something I love today. I wanted to share my exuberance for physics and this amazing universe we all call home.

Yet here we are. Netflix and millions of “comedy fans” are out militantly defending their right to hold the existence of queer people in contempt.

And it’s unavoidable. I can’t just keep my head down and do my job. I can either hide my existence or be a target. It’s the closet or the grinder.

They comment on my work when it has nothing to do with queer issues. I get emails and DMs condemning me for queer ideas I’ve never espoused. They don’t care what I have to say. I’m just another member of the “Alphabet People” with a rainbow flag and a check mark on Twitter.

Every single time I publish anything related to queer issues in STEM, I’m exposed to hate. I know that I’ll get emails and comments filled with hate speech the moment I publish this. And trust me when I tell you there’s a difference between hate mail and mail that contains hate speech.

I get paid the same whether I fight this fight or avoid it. I know what it means to make these choices.

And I’m not even a queer journalist or a queer activist. I’m just a regular tech journo who happens to be queer. The people staging walkouts, leading activist groups, or even just writing for queer-centric media outlets are on the frontlines taking the brunt of the nastiness and bigotry. They’re immersed in it.

There’s just so many bigots in STEM that nary a day goes by where I don’t catch some secondary hate.

Days like today it’s nearly impossible to do my job without compartmentalizing. One moment I’m researching quantum physics and the next I’m reading a physicist’s commentary insinuating that being queer is a choice (and a very poor one) and that people like me are a distraction.

Some days you show up for work and millions of people are pissed off that you exist; that you have the audacity to think differently than them. And nobody gives you an extra break or compensates you.

And, when they attack me, I’m just supposed to prove them all wrong by doing my best work, by outclassing them. By being better than them.

I’m supposed to work twice as hard as them under circumstances that would make most of them crumble.

Under these conditions, it’s easy to see why queer people are underrepresented in STEM and why so many choose to remain closeted. Why so many quit and leave the fields they trained for.

Luckily there’s a simple solution. Pay us for that work. Compensate us for the extra taxes we endure just by existing. Recognize that queer people wade through a river of bullshit just to get through the door every single day.

It’s time for big tech to put its money where its mouth is. Because next June you can be assured that Netflix and similar outfits that struggle with diversity issues will be sporting rainbow logos and releasing self-congratulatory diversity reports.

Thanks but no thanks. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I believe most of us would rather get a pay raise or a promotion than be subjected to another round of fake, performative allyship from a company willing to both-sides issues of bigotry and hate.

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