The Field Museum announced its iconic T. rex, Sue will use preferred gender pronouns they/them/their in an effort to honor Sue's identity and remain true to the lack of scientific data about the sex of the largest, most complete Tyrannosaurus rex specimen ever discovered.
When asked what's motivating this announcement, museum spokesperson Kate Golembiewski said, "It's a simple scientific fact. We do not know the sex of Sue."
According to Bill Simpson, head of Geological Collections and collections manager of Fossil Vertebrates for the Field Museum, most dinosaur skeletons do not have enough data to determine gender. Sue falls into this category.
Scientific discoveries have closely linked T. rex dinosaurs to birds. To identify Sue's sex, according to Simpson, a bone specifically needed for female birds to lay eggs would need to be found.
"If we were to find that bone deposit, we could then argue she [Sue] is a female," said Simpson, mistakenly calling Sue she out of habit. He quickly corrected his language. "I'm still getting used to referring to Sue as they/them. The museum has been calling Sue by female pronouns for 18 years," he said. Sue was named after Sue Hendrickson, the female paleontologist who discovered the T. rex in 1990.
If the sex of most dinosaurs are undetermined, then why give Sue gender preferred pronouns? "Sue is special and has a personality," said Golembiewski. "It wouldn't be fair to refer to Sue as an it either. Referencing Sue with they/them pronouns is the best way to convey what is going on scientifically with Sue."
The change is scientifically motivated, but the Field Museum understands the weight the statement holds. "I think it's important to give dignity to all segments of our population including people who do not identify with one gender or another. This is an easy way to do that by using Sue [as an example]," said Simpson.
Golembiewski added, "If this little representation of Sue using nonbinary terms makes a nonbinary person's life easier, or it gets people more accustom to using singular they/them pronouns, then that's great."
Sue is undergoing other changes these days, too. The Field Museum staff is carefully disassembling the T. rex throughout the month of February and moving them from Stanley Field Hall to a private suit in Evolving Planet. In Sue's place will be a cast of the world's largest dinosaur, titanosaur, a 122-foot-long Patagotitan mayorum from Argentina to arrive by June of 2018. Sue will reappear in the new accommodations with some dramatic scientific updates, such as the addition of the rarely preserved gastraliaa set of bones that look like an extra set of ribs.
The museum will be also be updating pre-existing exhibit labels, graphics, and videos to reflect Sue's new pronouns.
The Field has received little push back from the announcement. In fact, Sue's large fan base on Twitter ( @SUEtheTrex ) has been known to offer friendly reminders about Sue's preferred pronouns to followers who refer to Sue as she. "Fans are enthusiastic about the announcement," said Golembiewski. "Some have written to say it means a lot to them that the museum is using preferred pronouns for Sue."
Still, museum staff will also be participating in a training session conducted by Katie Slivovsky, exhibits director for the Chicago Children's Museum and presenter of the workshop 10 Easy Ways to Be LGBTQ Friendly and Why It Matters.
"Katie's been doing incredible work in terms of including the LGBTQ community within the museum world, and making sure museums are welcoming places for all kinds of families, parents, and people. It's the Field Museum's goal as well."
Visitors are invited to get an up-close look at Sue being taken apart piece-by-piece. Admission to the Field Museum is free to Illinois residents during February.
The Field Museum
1400 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, IL 60605-2496
( 312 ) 922-9410