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We’re Here, We’re Queer, We’re Engineers

Computer Science is a slay subject and I am slay for studying it. Or at least… that’s the mantra I tell myself when I’m on my third coffee, barely surviving in the labs, one hour left before the coursework deadline, and having an emotional breakdown over some code that refuses to compile because I forgot a semicolon somewhere. It is usually by this point that I resort to staring into space wondering why I didn’t just do a humanities subject. “I like writing, I like reading, I picked Philosophy modules here and there… should I just switch my entire direction in life and do something like that?” Then, I manage to find where that semicolon needed to go, and suddenly I love life and everything is perfect.

The first time I encountered programming was at age 14, during some sort of STEM-themed school trip. We used a BBC micro:bit to program a tiny robot to move around and display certain little messages. Up until that moment, I had been somewhat overwhelmed with the idea of coding, simply because I didn’t know what it entailed, and I was too scared I’d break a computer or download a virus if I tried to learn. To find out that the basics were actually much simpler than I expected made something click in my head, and I knew that Computer Science was what I wanted to do.

I’m not sure what that click was or what exactly it is that draws me to programming. I love the process of turning ideas into tangible programs, and I love thinking about the effort that goes into the development of games or the problem solving skills that go into designing solutions. I also know that at some point my mind found the distinct on/off, true/false binary immensely satisfying (a phrase I realise radiates so much queer irony). Comp Sci is applied maths and logic, which itself has the beautiful characteristic of having hardly any confusingly ambiguous answers - euphoria for neurodivergent brains. However, at the risk of making this blog post sound like my personal statement or scaring any more gays away with phrases like “maths is beautiful” (genuinely, my sincerest of apologies), I’ll try to restrain myself. My point is: even when I’m silently crying inside over missing semicolons, I really do adore what I do.

Studying Comp Sci before university was certainly an interesting experience. Not only was I the only AFAB person in my A Level class, but I was also standing out as one of the handful of “out” people in my school. To say that some of my classmates didn’t underestimate me or my abilities would be a little bit of a lie. It never really put me off the subject, though. If anything, it motivated me even more. It motivated me to keep at it, to not give up chasing what I enjoyed over a fear that I’d be the odd one out in every STEM situation I might find myself in. The one female. The one queer.

Coming to St Andrews was the most refreshing experience of my life, academically. While the ratio of females to males in STEM isn’t yet perfect, let alone the LGBTQ+ representation, it is decidedly so much better than my hometown. To this day I still remain a little bit surprised that I actually have female friends in my subject, to be surrounded by the most accepting and lovely people (who will also take every opportunity they can to comment “slay” into my code when I’m not looking). On the flip side of that, I was also pleasantly shocked to find that even in queer spaces, there are loud and proud STEM students. The overlap is overwhelmingly more prevalent than people think.

There is no way I can talk about this overlap without also mentioning Alan Turing, the father of computer science. While Turing’s story isn’t exactly a happy or reassuring example of a queer scientist, it would be impossible and almost silly to overlook just how influential LGBTQ+ people are and have been in the development of STEM. Turing’s most well-known work included his invention of the Turing machine and his code breaking at Bletchley Park during WW2, helping to develop strategies for cracking messages encoded by the Enigma machine. It was predicted that in doing this, he shortened the war by around two to four years. Decades after his death in 1954, society (thankfully) conceded that the treatment he experienced due to being gay was, to put it simply, abhorrent. He has since been given the recognition and gratitude he always deserved, and has even now appeared on the new English £50 note. For those of you who haven’t seen it, I would also recommend watching The Imitation Game, which is a dramatised movie retelling of Turing’s story. Not all the facts are accurate, as with most of these types of films, but it is absolutely beautiful nonetheless.

Having spoken to a fair few students on my course, it’s obvious that we still feel a modicum of imposter syndrome simply for being AFAB and/or queer and pursuing a STEM degree. Whether that be a lingering aftertaste of what we experienced in our pre-university years, or a looming anxiety over what might be waiting for us in the industries we aim to work in one day — at this point it is a fact that while great strides have been made in terms of acceptance and diversity, work still needs to be done. Regardless, queer scientists will always be here, and we always have been. Apparently some of us are actually quite good at maths!

So, to anyone queer and/or AFAB and feeling drawn to Computer Science (or similar), and unsure of whether you want to go down that road: don’t worry. You will not be alone. You won’t stick out like a sore thumb. You’ll just exist as the incredibly slay gay scientist you are, and there will be people who accept you as exactly that.

Plus, there is another reason for why Computer Science is intrinsically queer: array rhymes with gay. And, if you learn how binary works, you’ll eventually find out that 01110011 01101100 01100001 01111001 represents the word “slay”, which is a fact that you can obnoxiously bring up at every possible opportunity. Or… write on yourself in eyeliner for the annual CS Ball. Not that I’d do anything like that…

Also, as you embark on your journey down the STEM path, just remember: include your semicolons.

Freya (she/they) <3



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