April 9, 2024

Anthropologists cancel panel discussion on sex binary over ‘transphobia’

The American Anthropology Association, together with its Canadian counterpart, has cancelled a presentation at its November conference in Toronto because the speakers planned to affirm the existence of two sexes.

Organised by Kathleen Lowrey, of the University of Alberta, the event was titled: “Let’s Talk About Sex Baby: Why Biological Sex Remains a Necessary Analytic Category in Anthropology.” Several speakers were scheduled, but the panel was abruptly removed from the conference programme.

Why? The two organising groups released a statement to the media explaining entitled No Place for Transphobia in Anthropology.” They said that the session had not been cancelled because the organisers wanted to exclude dissenting scholars, but because the idea was clearly ill-informed and wrong. “The session was rejected,” they said, “because it relied on assumptions that run contrary to the settled science in our discipline, [and it was] framed in ways that do harm to vulnerable members of our community.”

Furthermore, said the organisers, “Around the world and throughout human history, there have always been people whose gender roles do not align neatly with their reproductive anatomy. There is no single biological standard by which all humans can be reliably sorted into a binary male/female sex classification.”

The widely-reported cancellation has provoked outrage and bemusement. Even Elon Musk made a comment on X (formerly Twitter).

FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression) published an open letter from scores of prominent scholars, including Harvard’s Steven Pinker and Princeton’s Robert P. George. They said: “The cancellation of this panel sends a chilling message to all social scientists that scholarly debate on complex issues of sex and gender is no longer free.”

Bioethicist Alice Dreger, an expert on intersex issues, supported the cause of free speech in a guest post at Retraction Watch:

“Cardinal sin” is an appropriate choice of language here, because Pérez and Heller are working from dogma so heavy it is worthy of the Vatican. They act as if anytime someone considers the categories of male and female as worthy of study, they must be denying the existence of trans, gender nonbinary, and intersex people. That’s just silly. That’s like saying you can’t compare tangerines and grapefruits because tangelos also exist.