I am 38 years old, but vividly still remember how it felt to be 12 and suddenly gay. Don’t get me wrong, I was always kind of a “sissy boy” and constantly teased for being “gay,” but I don’t think anyone seriously thought it. I definitely didn’t. I always thought I was “normal.”
I grew up in a really “normal” neighborhood, full of only “normal” people, which meant that everyone more or less looked the same, dressed the same, and talked the same. I think that as kids we were only vaguely aware that different even existed, maybe in movies or in some faraway country. It was not something tangible. So when I started having feelings for men it was no surprise that I felt like I was trapped in a body that wouldn’t yield to what I knew as normal, and so I believed I was not normal.
For the next five years, I resisted, refusing to accept what and who I was while debating the situation only with myself. I just couldn’t confide in anyone before I was sure that it was not going away. Those years were probably the loneliest years of my life even though I had the most friends.
How I finally came to terms with my identity is too long of a story to tell, but having questioned everything I knew about myself, and having ultimately learned how to embrace who I was, was one of the strongest identity shaping journeys of my adolescent life. I sometimes wonder how this journey shaped my life’s trajectory, and how it still manifests in everything I do and in how I think.
I often realize that this journey never really ended. It was, and still is, a series of eye-opening moments, with every prejudice, stereotype, and bias (some of which are self-inflicted) leading to further reflection and growth. In time, I came to appreciate the quaint parallelism between social and biological heterogeneity and the significance of diversity to creativity and innovation.
Twenty-six years later, I am head of the membrane architecture and dynamics group at the Weizmann Institute of Science, I work with an international and interdisciplinary group of incredible people, and I come home to a wonderful partner and our adorable twins, whom I love beyond words. Becoming a parent has definitely been one of the most transcendent and motivating experiences of my scientific career.
I joined ASCB’s LGBTQ+ Task Force because I wanted to be part of the movement making science more diverse and open. Having been blessed in my scientific career by great mentors, I simply feel there are ways to contribute to the scientific endeavor both on and off the bench. I believe that as scientists we are all public servants. Even when our research is not aimed at finding solutions to the problems of the day, we must be the agents of change.
About the Author:
Ori Avinoam is head of the membrane architecture and dynamics group at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel.