Òscar Aznar Alemany, also known as Lana Vuli when he transforms, studied chemistry and translation, and has always tried to mix both, whether collaborating with TERMCAT or in scientific translation. However, it was not until he began his doctorate in chemistry that he was able to test the idea of Science Queers at an international level, “whereas working with scientific texts helps me raise the profile of Catalan, which is another part of my identity, besides the LGTBIQA+ community, which usually bothers those who want to impose their normality”.
The union of science communication and the LGBTIQA+ community is key to Science Queers, they are drag performers and specialists in science from the community who offer shows and science micro-talks.
How did the idea of uniting science and the LGBTIQA+ community come about? Were they hard beginnings?
In 2015, while doing my PhD, I performed a Disney musical in a conference to talk about pesticides in salmon. It was a success, and it made me consider to explore the format further and take advantage of it to make the community visible. In January 2017, I did the first transvestite cabaret in another congress and that's how the adventure began.
For two years, the project was just me (or rather, Lana Vuli), and I took it to science conferences, scientific communication events, and to bars, nightclubs, and even a festival in the desert. In 2019, with the creation of the YouTube channel, I began to invite more people and, so far, more than 40 people, including drag performers, scientists, filming crew and various organisations, have collaborated with us, but it is usually a subgroup of a dozen people who are active depending on the actions underway. We always have the doors open to whoever wants to join!
It is not difficult for us to introduce ourselves to other people's event programs, and we have organized our own events in spaces that have the LGBTIQA+ community as one of their pillars. However, the project works as activism, which usually implies a lack of resources, which is why we have not yet got to do an event of our own in a non-queer venue. We lack contacts and need to knock on more doors, but the perception we have is that cultural centres, although some paint rainbows in the month of June or give talks about our community, have quite a few doubts when it comes to putting a group of transvestites in a conference room.
You are defined as a group that unites the LGBTIQA+ community and the scientific community, how do you do it? What do your shows consist of?
Performers and scientists from the community do shows and science micro-talks. We expect that people will come because they are interested in or affected by one of the two topics, and then will get exposed and learn about the other. Although the style is always informative, often fun, and the content is accessible to everyone, some content is quite specialized. What stands out is that everyone can understand what we communicate and that LGBTIQA+ identities are clearly visible at all times.
How have you managed to combine science with sexual and gender diversity in your work?
It is much simpler than it seems. It is enough to show yourself the way you are, which does not have to be as magnified as we do on stage, but just not hiding details of your personal life that cisheterosexual people do not hide. Furthermore, it is about normalizing our existence, getting people with normative identities used to seeing us and valuing our contribution like that of others (tolerating is not enough now).
You have a YouTube account where you upload different content dedicated to science: Pride in Science, Science Queers Academy, Science of the Month... What inspires you when creating content? Do you reach the audience you are looking for?
Each video must teach some science, whether it be a detail or a more developed topic, and must showcase the identities of the community, either with queer artists or with a scientist from the community. As for the audience, we have a slow but constant growth, and we choose to take a positive reading.
How important is scientific dissemination in relation to the other issues of the LGBTIQA + community?
Affective, sexual and gender diversity is often thought of as the rare exception that the LGBTIQA+ community is, but straight or cisgender people are simply one of several possibilities. We are all people, and we must be able to occupy the same spaces in the same conditions. We make our identities visible in the scientific community, but the same must be done in all areas of life because we continue to be considered less professional, we continue to be verbally and physically attacked in private and public spaces, we do not have the same rights by default, but the political elites debate them and feed hatred against us to gain power. Every time we go out in public we are (unfortunately) fighting the system, whether in a scientific context or in any other.
What are some of the problems you face when disseminating science linked to the community?
Unsurprisingly, sadly, the project works much better in one direction than the other. The live audience of our events is mostly queer. And we know that hundreds of cisheterosexual people know about us and receive information about our actions because, for example, we share them on the mailing list of the ACCC. These people who go to fairs with science shows and workshops, to science stand-up in theatres, and to civic centres with science talks; why don't they come to our shows, stand-up and talks events? If anyone has the answer, let us know and we're going to work on it, but the only criticism we've received so far points to the fact that the problem is who we are and not what we do.
At Way To Zero Waste we believe that everything that is personal is political. Would you see your project within politics? Do you think it should have a space?
What a sad species we are that we have a system for negotiating who deserves what. Our existence by itself is already political, unfortunately. Science Queers is unlikely to enter the institutional politics circuit, but our every action is a political manifesto. Luckily, there are some parties that already support us, although not enough.
“It's about normalizing our existence, getting people with normative identities used to seeing us and valuing our contribution as that of others”
Do you think you’re making an impact through your job? Do you think you are getting it? Or rather, due to the discrimination that the LGBTIQA+ community continues to suffer around the world, do you think that they put more obstacles for you when it comes to doing your job?
As I mentioned, the queer community welcomes science, finds it interesting and often fun. However, we believe that the organisations and the prople from outside our community do not quite connect, that they do not take us seriously, but we also understand that it is difficult to connect without coming to a single event to see what we do...
Does the scientific community leave enough space for people who are part of the community and also work in science?
It depends on which spaces we are talking about and how visible the queer identity of whoever tries to occupy them is. Sexuality is not visually obvious, therefore, there are those who can be saved from discrimination. People (especially men) who call themselves “discreet” (meaning that they hide their queer identity and act according to cisheteronormative stereotypes) can access the circles of power occupied by cisheterosexual men (and, in many countries, white). However, people who live their identity normally can hit a glass ceiling just like, for example, women. In short, if we are given enough space, it is because we are not read (too much) as belonging to the community.
Your project would be perfect to educate kids, do you see yourselves taking a drag show to a school to teach science with a queer perspective?
Yes, it is something that we have discussed several times and that we would like very much; but, like everything, it is difficult to organise without sponsorship, especially when we should ask for a day off at work to go to schools, which are open during working hours.
What advice would you give to those who want to get involved in LGBTIQA+ scientific dissemination or in the promotion of inclusion in general?
We would tell them to join us or some other ongoing project so that they can be a larger group with more strength, to prepare to work hard, to set realistic goals and not to compare themselves to others.
What projects do you have planned for the future, how do you hope to expand?
Before start new projects, we'd like to get more recognition for Pride in Science, as it's the event that best describes what we want to do. We believe that it would be crucial to co-organise it with a research centre, museum or university to make this leap. In fact, we have had meetings with the UPC for a possible action next year. Once this is done, we can think about new formats, going to schools, taking Pride in Science and Science Queers Academy on tour around Catalonia... For now, we often work in the wonderful Ateneu del Raval and you can find out about everything we do on our web, on Instagram, on Twitter and on LinkedIn.
Join our team, come to our events or interact on our social profiles: let's make noise so that Science Queers has such an impact that such a project is no longer necessary.