When did math and science become cool? It certainly wasn’t when I was going to school. Back then the only role models for kids who enjoyed science were nerds like the two high school protagonists in the movie, “Weird Science”. They couldn’t get dates, so they conjured up the perfect woman to satisfy their perfectly straight libidos. At least they had a goal. Other movies portrayed scientists as half-crazed eccentrics, like the character of Doc Brown, played by Christopher Lloyd in “Back to the Future”.
The modern image of mathematicians and scientists has changed and it’s now cool to be a science geek. Last year’s Oscar race even included two nods to actors playing scientists. Eddie Redmayne, who portrayed physicist Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything” and Benedict Cumberbatch, who played the gay mathematician, Alan Turing, in “The Imitation Game”.
As a teenager, I was labeled a queer. And while I enjoyed the sciences, I wasn’t about to risk being labeled a nerd and un-cool, too. So I decided to be one of the artistic kids, someone who discovered the world through the arts.
I willingly stayed away from the sciences, playing into the prejudice that science and math was for the privileged, white, and straight male population.
Then, in the late eighties (seemingly by popular demand) it was decided that society’s prejudice was a problem. That it hurt society to deny some of the world’s brightest and most productive minds from doing what they did best, simply because they weren’t the right race, creed, or sex.
The National Science Foundation picked up this cause by funding children’s educational television shows that emphasized multiculturalism, and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights even produced a hundred-page study on how to encourage minorities to pursue scientific careers. Unfortunately, sexual orientation or gender expression didn’t enter into the progressive’s thinking back then.
But slowly science and math shows on television, particularly PBS, became multicultural and even included women and girls. Miraculously, the list of minority scientists started to grow.
Today, the person who is perhaps making science most accessible to minority Americans is a black man, Neil deGrasse Tyson. He’s the Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space at the American Museum of Natural History. He’s quoted as saying, that as a child he’d never seen an interview with a black person whose expertise was anything other than being black. “And at that point,” he said, “I realized that one of the last stereotypes that prevailed among people who carry stereotypes is that…black people are somehow dumb.” In order to counter these stereotypes, he decided he had to be visible.
In “Lethal Elements”, I wanted to portray a strong, intelligent gay male who was also a scientist. The story centers on geologist Tom Burrell’s relationship with his husband, Roman. It’s on rocky ground, so when a mysterious company asks Tom to perform mineral studies in the Adirondack Mountains, he jumps at the chance. But before he can finish his tests, he finds himself lost in the wilderness and chased by a hired gun. Now it’s up to his husband, Roman, to rescue him.
But in order to succeed, Roman must first piece together the missing elements of Tom’s disappearance and discover the secret goals of the company that hired him. If Roman fails, Tom will die and one of the nation’s most unique ecosystems, the Adirondack Mountains, will be in danger.
I hope the characters of Tom and Roman defy stereotypes. Not because they’re gay and heroes, but because they both rely on their natural talents to make a difference in the world.
If you’re interested, you can peruse a growing list of real-life gay and lesbian scientists at http://www.noglstp.org/publications-documents/queer-scientists-of-historical-note/
Joel Gomez-Dossi started his career as a theatrical stage manager, but he spent most of his working on the Emmy-award winning PBS series, “Newton’s Apple”. In the late nineties, he turned to freelance writing, working for regional publications across the country. He is the author of three novels published by Bold Strokes Books, Pursued, Deadly Cult, and Lethal Elements. You can reach Joel on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/JoelGomezDossi or on the web at http://www.JoelGomez-Dossi.com.