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My CUH Story - Jay Miles

To celebrate International Non-Binary Day we spoke to Jay Miles.

Jay, a Trainee Clinical Bioinformatician, identifies as non-binary and uses the pronouns they/them. Jay shares their CUH story on International Non-Binary Day.

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Jay Miles

Hi my name is Jay and I’m a Trainee Clinical Bioinformatician in the Genetics Laboratory at CUH.

I’m currently in my second year of the Scientist Training Programme and I’m part of the Bioinformatics team who develop, use and maintain software to process the data produced in genetic testing. As a trainee, my role is mostly about learning how things should be done properly, but I’m starting to be able to contribute to some of the team’s routine work.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

Finding a role where I could use science to help people has always been the dream!

In terms of the work, I particularly like programming or data analysis, things which involve logic and problem-solving. One of my favourite aspects of the job is that work tends to be organised around projects, so I can get really involved with a piece of work for a few months until it’s complete, and then start something new which might be completely different.

What are your experiences of being non-binary?

In some ways, I’m very lucky – my family are open-minded and have always supported me, and since coming out as non-binary I’ve never faced discrimination. But I’ve only actually been ‘out’ for the last five years or so. Not because I was consciously hiding anything, but because I was totally unaware of the term ‘non-binary’. Perhaps that sounds unlikely to some. But at the risk of showing my age, things like unlimited internet access and global social media networks just didn’t exist in their current form when I was growing up. From very young, I knew I didn’t like being described as female or a woman/girl – it just didn’t feel like it fit right. On the other hand, I didn’t feel like ‘male’ would fit any better. But because I never encountered much discussion about gender or sexuality, I grew up thinking that maybe everyone just felt like this – or worse, that they didn’t. This impacted my mental health a lot during my teens and early twenties.

When I finally came across the term non-binary, I realised that not only did it fit me perfectly, but that there were thousands of other people everywhere who felt the same.

Understanding this made such a positive difference to my whole life, and just goes to show how important education and representation are in helping people understand themselves and others. Working here at CUH is actually the first time I’ve been open about being non-binary, and everyone has been so supportive.

I’m very grateful to all my colleagues who have made the effort to ask for and use my pronouns.

What does international non-binary day mean to you?

On a personal level, I’m glad for the reminder that there are people all over the world who I have a shared experience with even if I never meet them. But it’s also a reminder that being non-binary isn’t always easy. At the extreme end, 13 countries actively criminalise trans people. Even in the UK, although it’s possible to change your legal gender, non-binary isn’t a recognised option for legal documents such as passports. If you ever want to register for something online, odds are that you’ll only be able to select ‘male’ or ‘female’, and that a gender-neutral title such as ‘Mx’ won’t be an option. This might seem a small thing, but exclusions like this alienate people and reinforce the idea that non-binary isn’t ‘real’. International Non-Binary Day is a chance to raise awareness and educate people that we are just as real as anyone else, and hopefully bring progress towards acceptance and equitable treatment.

Tell us a bit about your CUH journey.

I joined CUH in September 2020, moving to Cambridge from Leeds during the pandemic lockdowns, and starting my training while working from home. Having completely virtual training was a strange experience, but the team here are great, and although I wasn’t in the office I never felt isolated. One of the main reasons I enjoy working for CUH is that everyone has been so supportive, especially my training officer, who has really gone out of her way. I’m really glad to work with a team who are so friendly and approachable.

Tell us something about your role that really stands out to you.

When I first started this role and was learning more about the human reference genome (what patients’ samples are compared against to identify genetic changes), I remember being shocked that the vast majority of the reference genome comes from one single person! Between any two people in the world there are thousands of differences, so using a single person’s genome as a reference means so much of the normal genetic diversity in humanity is missed. Fortunately, this is a known issue, and the scientific community has put a huge amount of work into addressing it.

How do you feel your role benefits our patients?

Working in Bioinformatics is an odd sort of position in that you’re unlikely to be involved personally in specific cases, beyond checking any issues with data quality. For me, that’s another reason why it’s so important that we remember why the role is there - that the data we deal with isn’t just some sort of intellectual exercise, it represents real people, and what we do with it has real consequences. People might be undergoing genetic testing for various reasons - seeking a diagnosis, information for managing their treatment, identifying their carrier status for a specific condition, or to inform their reproductive choices. In each case, bioinformatics enables us to analyse a patient’s genomic data, and hopefully provide them with the information they need.

Tell us a bit about you and your background.

I’m from the Peak District in Derbyshire originally (Cambridge’s flat landscape still feels odd), but have moved around the country quite a bit for work and education. Hills or no hills, I still love going out walking, and looking for wildlife as an amateur naturalist. This extends to home where I have a tendency to be growing far more plants than space allows.

Are you involved in our staff networks?

I haven’t been very involved before now, but I’m hoping to start taking part in the LGBT+, Neurodiversity, and Open Minds Networks.

Knowing that there are staff communities for people with shared experiences is another of the things I really appreciate about working at CUH.

I also recently became Equality Officer for the East of England Healthcare Science Trainee network, and I want to use this to help support our trainees and increase awareness of marginalised groups.