Sunday the site Arc Digital published a piece about Sue the gender non-binary dinosaur. Sue is the nickname for one of the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus Rex specimens ever discovered. The skeleton was named after Susan Hendrickson who discovered the fossil in South Dakota back in 1990. However, no one knows if “Sue” was a male or a female because there’s no definitive way to tell. Some believe Sue was likely female because the skeleton was so large and T-Rex females are believed to have been larger than males. But the bottom line is that there is no DNA left to test so no way to know for certain what sex Sue was. And that’s where the museum that displays Sue decided she could become a gender non-binary icon:
It all started on Twitter in March 2017. Reacting to a comment, SUE tweeted that her sex was unknown and that, like human gender non-binary people, she uses “they/them” pronouns.
Tweeting about her gender identity might have been excusable: misguided perhaps, but pretty clearly separated from the Field’s presentation of SUE as a scientific specimen. However, in her new suite, some of the signage describing the fossil has adopted non-binary pronouns as well. 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.” 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. This is, at best, a solipsistic tribute to PR acumen.
According to an an alarming interview with online magazine Them, docents and other museum representatives now must refer to her using “they.” In that piece, the museum’s public relations director and social media manager lay out their case for SUE as a “non-binary icon.”
The article goes on to cite one museum-goer who advocated for the change as saying, “It’s so difficult to push back against people who cloak their anti-trans sentiment in intellectualism […] so having the consistency in just talking about a pseudoimaginary majestic murderbird’s pronouns gives me another piece of data that I can hold up to those people.”
But as the author points out, the actual T. Rex specimen is not the same thing as Sue the museum-run PR account on Twitter. The fossil on display in the museum was a real animal that had no concerns about gender identity whatsoever. What the museum has done is the trendy equivalent of suggesting that Sue may have been Christian or Muslim but since we don’t know we’re going to call her “Inter-faith Sue.” Such a suggestion has nothing to do with the actual existence of dinosaurs and really doesn’t belong in a museum.
Two weeks ago I wrote about a biology professor at Williams College who expressed concern that in the past couple of years her students had become so ideologically driven that they were now engaged in “biological denialism” on certain topics:
Biological denialism exists about nearly any observed difference between human groups, including those between males and females. Unfortunately, students push back against these phenomena not by using scientific arguments, but by employing an a priori moral commitment to equality, anti-racism, and anti-sexism. They resort to denialism to protect themselves from having to confront a worldview they reject—that certain differences between groups may be based partly on biology.
Sue the dinosaur seems like another instance where politics is crowding science in a way that science would never tolerate if the crowding were coming from any traditional religion.