Why science should get involved with LGBTQ+ communities
December 3, 2018 by Holly
Rachel Williams, neuroscience PhD student and producer of our London-based Queer Attraction Lab events, discusses why she thinks the project is important.
GS: What made you want to get involved with the project?
Rachel: I’ve hosted Attraction Lab events in the past and eventually, after staring into each other’s eyes, whispering into each other’s ears, and smelling each other’s armpits, the same question always pops up: “How does this apply to people who aren’t straight?”
Generally, the answer we’ve received has been that scientists just aren’t sure.
Everyone has questions about the mysteries of love and attraction – how does that magical spark happen? Do opposites really attract? Where am I going wrong? Science can be a source of wonder and reassurance in providing answers to some of the big questions in life, however, when you’re made to feel like an anomaly that effect can be reversed.
In a poll of over a thousand people in the UK, a whopping 23% identified as something other than 100% heterosexual on a sliding scale of sexuality. So, I wanted to know – is the problem that research on queer attraction doesn’t exist? Or just that we’re not talking about it?
GS: How did you develop the event?
Rachel: Guerilla Science has been running Attraction Lab, also known as Sensory Speed Dating, since 2013. Audiences are given the chance to explore the research through rounds of sensual challenges in pairs, each covering a different area of attraction. Queer Attraction Lab is inspired by the original, but focuses on science relating to LGBTQIA+ audiences.
I was lucky enough to be able to work with Viren Swami, Professor of Social Psychology at Anglia Ruskin University. I pored over his book Attraction Explained and made a note of all the research related to queer communities before trying to come up with new activities to add to Guerilla Science’s tried and tested format.
Together, we delved through the scientific literature and created rounds exploring the roles of factors such as proximity and appearance on attraction and relationship formation in queer communities. For example, if you’ve ever wondered what makes our use of dating apps so interesting, or why LGBT venues are so important, then there’s a round for that!
GS: What was challenging about developing the event?
Rachel: A challenging aspect of developing the event was scouring the literature for “good science”. Some studies put the entire queer community into one box or treat us as a homogenous group, meaning that nuances about our lives are lost. The good news is that showing scientists the gaps in our knowledge can change science for the future. To me, one of the best results of this event is the fact that Viren is now conducting research into queer attraction in his lab. In other words, we’re making good science happen!
GS: Why is it important for communities to have access to the science that affects them?
Rachel: From brain scans to activity trackers to decisions about the food we eat, science is a tool we use to understand ourselves just as much as the world around us. Ultimately, that knowledge is empowering as it can give us a sense of being heard and understood, while also helping us to make decisions on how we live our lives. The message of Queer Attraction Lab is that science tells us that the most effective thing you can do to find love is actually to be kind to yourself and others. And in a world that is filled with people preying on our insecurities and constant pressures on queer people to hide or change themselves, that’s a pretty powerful evidence-based message to send.