If you’ve ever stumbled upon a TikTok video of a chemist in a rainbow-hued lab coat voguing down a school hallway, please know that you’re witnessing the multiple talents of Andre Isaacs (better known as @drdre4000).
In one of my favorite recent TikToks, he and two of his colleagues do a hand performance, duck walk and dip in lab coats to Azealia Banks’ “I Rule the World.”
Isaacs, an associate professor at College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, has been cuntifying all of our timelines — turning the sterile, whitewashed academic halls of his institution into a rainbow runway. The scholar, who came to the States for college after growing up in Jamaica, gets his colleagues and students involved too, and he has become a powerful advocate for the LGBTQ+ community on his campus.
While queer joy for the masses is always worthy of celebration, Isaacs’ online persona is particularly noteworthy when we consider respectability politics. So many of us are expected to tone down our queerness at work and in other professional settings.
“For many marginalized people in STEM, it can be a really toxic environment,” Isaacs says, using the abbreviation for science, technology, engineering and math. “And the heteronormative culture is so dominant and alienating for a lot of queer folks.”
But most of us recognize by now that “professionalism” is a word very closely tied to cishet whiteness, and whenever we express ourselves fully, it can be seen as unseemly or even abrasive to others. For that reason, many of us learn to code-switch in certain academic and corporate settings that don’t allow us to cultivate the most authentic versions of ourselves.
From his online presence, you can tell Isaacs is ready to disrupt all of that by balancing his scholarly performance and devotion to his students with active, visible queer joy every day.
“There’s a part of me that always feels nervous posting, even now,” he says, acknowledging his large and supportive fan base. “I do have my own fears of being ostracized. But I always remember that I’m doing this for students who email me from high schools and colleges, and tell me that this is important to them.”
Hiding parts of our identity can be damaging to our mental health — and probably decreases the quality of our work, too. One of the major reasons so many people get burned out is because they feel unsupported in the workplace. In fact, a recent study found that queer people, especially transgender people, who didn’t feel supported at work struggled with their mental health and were more likely to use drugs to cope.
This discrepancy is even starker in STEM. One survey published in the journal Science Advances found that LGBTQ professionals in STEM were 27% more likely than their non-LGBTQ counterparts to have experienced minor health issues in the preceding year, and 41% more likely to have experienced insomnia. The study also found that queer people in STEM were more likely to feel socially excluded from their peers and devalued in their expertise.
“I would love for young students to see STEM as a place where they can bring their unique talents and skills, and not be worried about how their identity will impact how they’re seen or prevent them from getting opportunities to pursue science,” Isaacs says. “And actually, showing up as who you are is critical to the advancement of STEM.”
Isaacs is right. Scientific advancement is how we’re able to live longer, healthier lives. Twerking along the way makes that life worth living.