Despite seeing transgender (trans) women as a teenager, research scientist Dr James Dougherty didn’t realise trans men existed until one of his friends transitioned during grad school. Then he realised: "Oh, that’s an option."
James came out publicly as trans in October last year. He is proudly marching this year in the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade for the first time. He'll be one of 80 LBGTQIA+ identifying folk and allies joining the Team CSIRO float.
Sustainable future move
Originally from Florida in the US, James joined us, Australia's national science agency, in January last year working on sustainable livestock systems and the Future Protein Mission.
"In general, I use data analysis to help better understand sustainable livestock production systems, mostly focusing on ruminants like cattle and sheep," James said.
"My specialty is in protein metabolism and nutrition. Looking at these flows of nutrients through the system and back into the human food chain."
James’s unique skillset is what helped him get permanent residency in Australia. And he was careful in his choice of workplace.
"One of the things I knew was that CSIRO had a good reputation for LGBTQIA+ stuff. I had done my due diligence and I figured it seemed like a pretty safe bet," he said.
Takes certain guts to eat this meal
One of James' research projects is looking at the environmental impacts of feeding crop byproducts to feedlot cattle.
"Canola meal, sugar cane fibre, citrus pulp are the byproducts of things grown for human consumption that we can't eat, and they're incorporated in livestock feed," James said.
A kilo of canola oil produces a kilo of canola meal and, while this meal can be fed to chickens and pigs, it takes some processing to prepare it.
"Whereas cattle and sheep, you can just feed it straight off the processing machine," James said.
"There are savings there. It's freeing up resources we could use elsewhere, but there’s also the impact on water usage, on greenhouse gas usage, and all these other metrics.
"Cattle and sheep have such potential as recyclers, and we’re just improving on what we've been doing for thousands of years."
Trans in transdisciplinary science
Although he likes animals and agriculture now, it didn’t always feel like his calling.
"I am a city kid, and I got into this in a really roundabout route," James said.
"My dad is an engineer and I liked science a lot but wasn't sure what I wanted to do with it. So I started out in chemical engineering, but after a semester I realised I did not want to be an engineer."
His great grades in biology made him consider that as a possible career – and after his first semester in animal science, he was hooked.
With his role working across teams and scientific disciplines, James loves "putting the ‘trans’ in transdisciplinary."
Finding a safe space
Since coming out, James has found the CSIRO community to be very supportive and positive.
"Several of my colleagues tell me, 'if anyone has a problem with you, they have a problem with me’," James said.
"Even the workplace gender affirmation paperwork was relatively easy."
James said one moment has really stayed with him.
"It was when a work colleague said, 'there's already a James on this floor. Do you mind if we call you Jim just to tell you two apart? I said, 'that is totally fine... just maybe not Jimmy'."
Time to inspire others
Volunteering his time outside of work to help out with STEM teaching in school programs has been a highlight.
"My sister was teaching a class for future dietitians back in the States at the unit where she works. I'd give a talk about sustainability every year to her students, and I've made it clear there is a standing open offer, I'm always happy to come talk to people about science," James said.
"I feel like a common thing with scientists is we get excited about stuff. It's fun being the exciting person and getting people interested in science – and also being that openly queer, openly trans representation."
James fills up his free time with an array of activities – from The Queensland Spinners Weavers & Fibre Artists to playing Dungeons and Dragons with a tabletop gaming group. "Frog bard, nothing but chaotic vibes," he said.
James also knits while watching Netflix, which he describes as "productive fidgeting."
"I’m trying to knit a hat a month. I watched a bunch of Star Trek yesterday, but I also then got three inches of a baby jumper done for my niece," James said.
James' knitting came in handy when sharing it with two performers at a show.
"I knitted Sasha a bouquet of trans pride hibiscus flowers and I knitted Anetra a duck dressed in one of her outfits from a past performance," he said.
"I gave them to them as thanks for being such amazing performers and for inspiring me – especially Sasha who is a trans icon."
Pride in the parade
James is passionate about representation, and not only about being trans. He is also a person with coeliac disease.
"When I got diagnosed as being coeliac, I literally had scurvy because my intestines had just straight up quit," James said.
"Disability representation in science is important too. When you think about feeding people, you have to feed everyone. So I am out about that too."
James said joining Team CSIRO in Mardi Gras was a great opportunity, especially given the timing.
"I thought it'd be really meaningful, this being the first year I'm out as trans," James said.
"It means a lot to have a big national science organisation being so out like this. I feel like I really lucked out to be here."