Anthropology groups shut down sex discussion to protect transgender people

American Anthropological Association and Canadian Anthropology Society play the eugenics card to silence academics previously targeted for cancellation but won't say how many members complained about their sex panel.

Published: September 29, 2023 11:32pm

North America's largest annual gathering of anthropologists won't get to hear why sex remains a "necessary analytic category in anthropology," not replaceable by gender identity, because the idea is comparable to eugenics and would "cause harm" to everyone in the discipline.

That was the explanation the American Anthropological Association and Canadian Anthropology Society gave for canceling the session "Let's Talk About Sex, Baby" scheduled for their November joint conference in Toronto.

AAA President Ramona Pérez and CAS President Monica Heller provided few details in a Sept. 25 letter notifying the sexperts their session wouldn't happen, claiming the groups' executive committees received requests to review its content from "numerous members."

Their review determined its "ideas were advanced in such a way as to cause harm to members represented by the Trans and LGBTQI [sic] of the anthropological community as well as the community at large," the presidents wrote. "Going forward, we will undertake a major review of the processes associated with vetting sessions" at annual meetings.

The sexperts hit back in a public letter the next day, accusing the two groups of choosing to "forbid scholarly dialogue" by "an international panel concerned about the erasure of women." 

"What are they going to cancel next[,] teaching evolution?" pediatric gender clinic whistleblower Jamie Reed, who says she learned to "sex skeletal remains" as an anthropology major, wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

The anthropology groups escalated in kind, giving Just the News a statement Wednesday against "transphobia in anthropology" that accuses the panelists of making the same arguments used to justify "race science" a century ago. It did not specify how many members complained or what exactly they said, as the sexperts and Just the News sought.

Evolutionary biologist Colin Wright posted the letter the next day to X, prompting an exclamation-point response from platform owner Elon Musk.

Psychologist and bestselling author Jordan Peterson, referring to so-called gender affirming medicine, posted: "I'm not Transphobic[.] I just hate Butcher-surgeons And castrators."

San José State University anthropologist Elizabeth Weiss, one of the sexperts who posted the initial correspondence, told Just the News they didn't receive a response before AAA and CAS played the eugenics card.

"If the panel was so egregious, why had it been accepted in the first place?" she wrote in an email. "I do wonder if the issue is in part related to my other controversial stands against the reburial of skeletal remains presumed to be affiliated with Native Americans," Weiss said, referring to denunciations by her department, administration and activists dating to 2021.

She was the featured speaker at a National Association of Scholars event Friday on racial exclusion in science. The description says Weiss has faced "harassment, ostracism, and denial of access to museum specimens essential for her research work." 

At least two other panelists were apparently also previous cancellation targets.

The University of Alberta abruptly terminated anthropologist Kathleen Lowrey's administrative role in 2020 because she was "not able to be effective." Lowrey, the panel's organizer, told Edmonton Journal she blamed the boot on her "gender-critical feminist" views.

Harvard professor and testosterone researcher Carole Hooven quit after her own department's diversity task force director publicly trashed her for recognizing the sex binary, but joined Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker's lab as an affiliate. (She had to drop off the panel for unrelated reasons.)

Despite the denunciation from AAA and CAS, the panel description remains on Page 1,300 of the preliminary program, the only public catalog of conference content, as of Friday. 

"Contesting the transition from sex to gender in anthropological scholarship deserves much more critical consideration than it has hitherto received in major di[s]ciplinary fora," the description begins. Sex is indispensable to "hominin evolution … contemporary artificial intelligence … the anthropology of education" and "debates within contemporary feminism about surrogacy."

Weiss's presentation emphasizes that "skeletons are binary" – a helpful determination in "both criminal abuse cases and archaeological cases, such as in recognizing infanticide practices" – but "people may not be."

She said "anthropologists should be (and are)" studying how to identify gender identity in skeletal remains, in part because of the "overrepresentation" of transgender people as crime victims.

Autonomous University of Barcelona professor Silvia Carrasco was slated to discuss "the intriguing disappearance of sex in the education against sex-based oppression, violence and exploitation" in Spain. 

De Montford University professor Kathleen Richardson's presentation focuses on how gender ideology obfuscates "disparities between men and women in tech arenas." It says the academic managerial class and tech sector are the 21st century "incarnation" of literary critic Walter Benjamin's 1935 quote on fascism giving the masses "an expression while preserving property."

The sexperts' protest letter cited the qualifiers in the panel description about the relevance of gender identity to certain specialties in anthropology, but also the real feminist struggles that are compromised when gender replaces sex. 

The cancellation letter's stated concern for the "scientific integrity of the program," which "anathematize[d]" the panel, "looks very much like an anti-science response to a politicized lobbying campaign," they wrote.

Rather than let the panelists debate their diverse "political commitments," AAA and CAS declared "war on dissent and on scholarly controversy."

The anthropology groups reinforced that concern in their Sept. 27 letter by invoking "the settled science in our discipline" and the threat of dissent to "vulnerable members of our community." 

The boards accused the sexperts of "one of the cardinal sins of scholarship" by assuming that "sex and gender are simplistically binary," as reflected in Weiss's phrase "sex identification." At the same time, they declared there is "no single biological standard by which all humans can be reliably sorted into a binary male/female sex classification."

In perhaps the most incendiary comparison, the boards claimed that gender-critical scholarship serves the same function as race science, "to advance a 'scientific' reason to question the humanity of already marginalized groups."

AAA didn't respond to Just the News queries on its confidence that its membership largely agrees with its characterizations.

"This is a strawman argument and dishonest about our session and intent," Weiss told Just the News, noting that many anthropologists use "sex identification" rather than the boards' preferred "sex estimation," a term that acknowledges uncertainty, not gender identity.

It was particularly odd for them to single out her presentation because it acknowledges the importance of gender identity in criminal forensics, Weiss said. It can also identify "the harm transitioning does to individuals, such as abnormally osteoporotic bones in a young female who was on puberty blocking hormones and then transitioned to testosterone."

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