Centering transgender personhoods in forensic anthropology and expanding sex estimation in casework and research
Kincer, Caroline D.
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Due to disproportionate violence impacting the trans community, forensic anthropologists may increasingly encounter the remains of trans and non-binary individuals; however, it is presently unknown how often trans remains are represented in casework and if practitioners have sufficient knowledge about trans personhoods. After contextualizing forensically relevant demographics for the trans community, this study uses anonymous survey data of forensic anthropologists to explore the collective knowledge of and experience working with trans remains; practitioners’ perceptions of sex and gender; and potential opportunities for trans-oriented research in forensic anthropology. The results indicate that 28.9% of respondents have worked with trans remains in casework, but 75.0% of forensic anthropologists were unfamiliar with trans-related surgical 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 and reporting are: rigidly binary; not reflective of human biological variation; and inadequate for trans and non-binary individuals. In order 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, trans-oriented research, which is supported by 95.8% of respondents, will further improve methodological accuracies.