Associate Professor Eric Plemons joined Sean Tallman and Caroline Kincer, colleagues from Boston University’s School of Medicine, to write about the status of transgender people in forensic anthropological research. The new article is titled “Centering Transgender Individuals in Forensic Anthropology and Expanding Binary Sex Estimation in Casework and Research” (Forensic Anthropology, 2021; DOI: 10.5744/fa.2020.0030).
Abstract: Due to disproportionate violence impacting the transgender community, forensic anthropologists may encounter the remains of trans individuals; however, it is unknown how often trans individuals are represented in casework and if practitioners have sufficient knowledge about trans bodies. After contextualizing forensically relevant demographics for the trans community, this study uses survey data of forensic anthropologists to critically explore the collective knowledge of and experience working with trans individuals; practitioners’ perceptions of sex and gender; and potential opportunities for trans-oriented research. The results indicate that 28.9% of respondents have worked with trans individuals in casework, but most forensic anthropologists were unfamiliar with forms and evidence of gender affirming procedures. Additionally, the survey indicates that forensic anthropologists struggle with the binary nature of forensic sex estimation, with 42.4% agreeing that sex is binary and 56.2% disagreeing. Similar opposition was found with reporting gender: 39.5% indicated that gender should be reported in casework and 31.0% disagreed. Moreover, current sex estimation methods are: rigidly binary; not reflective of human biological variation; and inadequate for trans individuals as they are based on assigned sex. To dismantle rigidly binary sex categorization, we propose the adoption of a biocultural and queer theoretical approach to forensic sex estimation and in sexual dimorphism research that challenges heteronormative assumptions, questions typological two-sex categorization, and combats the presumptions that gender and sex are stable, independent entities that convey universal meaning. Relatedly, the expansion of trans-oriented research, which is supported by 95.8% of respondents, will further improve methodological accuracies.
Anthro News Digest date: 04/02/2021