Experts are pushing back against a campaign to turn SUE, a 40-foot-long dinosaur fossil housed at the Field Museum in Chicago, into a “nonbinary” and transgender icon.
In an article published Sunday by Arc Digi, Richard T. Pallardy asked paleontologists to respond to SUE’s popular social media persona adopting nonbinary “they/them” pronouns.
A 2018 feature in Them revealed that all signage related to SUE’s exhibit would be “updated to use gender-neutral pronouns, and docents will continue to be trained on fielding questions about the use of ‘they/them’ in reference to SUE.”
“Science is for everyone,” Kate Golembiewski, a public relations and science communications manager for the Field Museum, told Them. “If [using gender-neutral pronouns] makes one person more comfortable in our museum, if it helps people get more accustomed to using they and them pronouns, then it’s worth it.”
Thanks to @thmsngyn, I added pronouns to my bio.
– Science doesn't know my actual sex.
– If it helps one person feel comfortable, good. pic.twitter.com/7rkU6KtDjP
— Specimen FMNH PR 2081 🦖 (@SUEtheTrex) March 20, 2017
As Pallardy noted, SUE – named after famed marine archaeologist and paleontologist Sue Hendrickson – was for many years believed to be a female specimen.
But that changed in 2016 when SUE “came out” as nonbinary via a Twitter message, revealing a preference for gender neutral “they/them/their” pronouns.
Some experts doubt whether it’s even possible to accurately sex dinosaurs based on currently available paleontological classification methods and Pallardy conceded that SUE’s sex is “indeterminate.” But he took issue with what he characterized as Field Museum’s conflation of “the exclusively human concept of gender and the incontrovertible reality of binary sex.”
“The very concept of gender identity as distinct from sex was created to assert that human male, female, and other identity expressions were facts which were mental and social, not genital,” Pallardy wrote. “With apologies to SUE and her reptilian cousins, they simply don’t have enough going on in their minds to express gender non-binary identity.”
And while the museum has taken some steps toward distinguishing between SUE’s social media persona and the display of the fossil as a scientific specimen, Pallardy saw the move as a capitulation to the kind of wokeness currently en vogue in the culture.
“One sign does make the distinction between SUE the museum ambassador/Twitter star and the fossil itself, noting that the fossil is properly referred to as ‘it,'” he wrote. “But some of the rest of the signage uses ‘their’ pronouns and seems more interested in teaching museum-goers about the trendy movement for acceptance of non-binary identity than it does about paleontology.”
Peter Larson, a paleontologist who led the team that discovered SUE, responded to Field’s gender neutrality campaign by telling Palladry he was “a little disappointed that social reasoning took over for science.”
Does it really matter if a dinosaur becomes a transgender icon?
What’s at stake, according to Palladry, is the perspective that will win out in a broader cultural war to define sex.
The “people who most fervently promote this new conception of gender take it one step further,” he argued.
“It’s not that gender and sex are distinct concepts. They deny that there is a biological basis for sex in the first place. With that increasingly mainstream idea in mind, a tenuous analogy verges into false equivalence,” Palladry added.
“Gender identity is socially constructed, the line goes. Did T. rexes have such a thing as a culture? No, of course not. But instead of taking pains to disambiguate human, culturally-conceived notions of gender from the science of reptilian sex and its basis in reproduction, the Field appears happy to trade on the popular confusion that currently defines discussions about this subject.”