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  • Annie-Ève Collin

Love Me Gender: Activism on display at Quebec's National Museum of Civilisation

Updated: Feb 18

By Annie-Ève Collin with Bellatrix Bells

This critique by Annie-Ève Collin was originally published in Les Sceptiques de Québec (Revue 2023-112-26). 

This version was adapted for Gender Dissent from the original translation by Bellatrix Bells.

 

A show to raise the eyebrows of any skeptic


The Love Me Gender exhibition (Unique en son genre in French), currently on display at the Museum of Civilisation in Québec City, Canada until April 14, 2024, should raise the eyebrows of any skeptic.


Ostensibly providing visitors with factual information, the show is instead blatant in its ideological bias. Sponsored by TD Canada Trust and UBISOFT Quebec (a video game company), Love Me Gender peddles objectively false information, distorts the meaning of several words, makes fallacious use of biological facts and offers twisted re-interpretations of the lives of historical figures by portraying them as "trans," when there is no valid reason to consider them as such. Love Me Gender is made even more problematic in that it is offered for view in a government-funded, public institution—one that should serve an educational, not an ideological, purpose.


Love Me Gender: Activism on display in Quebec's National Museum of Civilisation Guide title page
Title page of the English version of the exhibition guide.

Title page of the English version of the exhibition guide. Prepared by Quebec sexologist Myriam Daguzan Bernier, who, according to her bio, “recently trained in polyamory and BDSM,” and GRIS Montreal, a community organization working in schools to “promote knowledge of sexual and gender diversity and to facilitate the integration of LGBT+ people into society.” https://mcq.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/06/guide-love-me-gender-english.pdf



The creative team: activists not experts


Marie-Philippe Drouin, aka “Philie” Drouin, director general of Divergenres (1) was lead writer ("scénariste") of the exhibition. Divergenres is "an intersectional feminist community organization, by and for binary and non-binary trans individuals'' operating out of Quebec City,  Throughout the exhibition, Drouin advocates for the adoption of queer ideology and imposes its related lexicon into common use (2,3).


Love Me Gender: Activism on display in Quebec's National Museum of Civilisation Marie-Philippe Drouin profie
“Marie-Philippe, who everyone affectionately calls Phillie, has been a community organizer and trainer on LGBT+ issues since 2016. They have numerous skills in community development, project management and strategic planning. They are passionate about advocacy, social movements and queer parenting.”

The “scientific committee” behind Love Me Gender is composed of:



Love Me Gender: Activism on display in Quebec's National Museum of Civilization Sponsors, creators and communities
The exhibition’s sponsors, creators and committees. Photo: Annie-Ève Collin 

While the exhibition is expected to present biological and historical facts, one can’t help but notice that its “scientific committee” includes neither biologists nor historians. Geoffrion is the only member who might be considered a scientist. It’s easy to conclude, then, that this scientific committee is actually a group of activists lacking in socio-political diversity.


Being an activist and defending socio-political issues is legitimate. What is not legitimate is presenting a discourse as factually informative, even scientific, when it is obvious that said discourse is instead activism advancing an ideology.


The fallacy that newborns are assigned boys or girls


The entire exhibition promotes the idea that the division of society into two categories, men and women, is a social and legal system imposed by western colonial societies and is therefore not an objective and accurate categorization. 


The first thing one sees upon entering the exhibition space is a video in which Phillie Drouin pronounces that sex is assigned at birth. She describes assignment of sex at birth as a legal maneuver that medical professionals perform by looking at an infant’s genitalia: an “M” box is checked if the infant has a penis, and an “F” box is checked if the infant has a vulva.


All of this seems to be roughly in line with reality, if we set aside the fact that a baby’s sex is often observed long before birth. To be accurate, sex is not “assigned” but “observed.”


Drouin goes on to address intersex babies. Some babies are born with ambiguous genitalia—which according to Drouin supposedly means that the aforementioned legal system is “not without flaws.” 


It is difficult to see how the existence of anomalies constitutes evidence of flaws in a "system" that is, in reality, simply the practice of noting the condition of those who do NOT exhibit an anomaly. The great majority of babies are born unambiguously male or female, while a small minority present with such an anomaly that one is uncertain of which sex they are (4). This does not  change the fact that the physical condition of a newborn is simply observed.


Immediately after stating that the system of sex assignment is flawed, Drouin adds, “the human body is a thing much more complex than only two types.” 


To conflate a false statement with a true statement that is very different from the first is a fallacy. Drouin tries to convince us that sex, as a binary system, is a socially constructed idea that doesn’t align with empirical reality. She goes from claiming that sex is assigned according to a flawed legal system, to asserting that there are more than two types of human bodies. Two completely different statements, of which the first is false while the second is true. 


Obviously there aren’t only two types of human bodies. Newsflash to no one. Even without considering the occurrence of intersex, everyone knows that human bodies, even within one sex class, are not identical. That being said, the fact that there are only two sexes remains, and so does the fact that they are not assigned, but merely observed.


As recently explained by biologist Richard Dawkins in an essay published in the New Statesman, while it is true that we often create two distinct categories in order to classify objects that exist on a continuum, when it comes to sex, there really are only two categories. He writes that the existence of disorders of sexual development, which are rare, in no way undermines the assertion that for the majority of species, including humans, there exist only two types of gametes: male or female. The human body is designed to produce one or the other. 


In other words, our species can be objectively divided, independent of cultural interpretation or legal boundaries, into only two sexes.


In the exhibition video, Drouin proclaims that by using the words “girl” and “boy,” one speaks not of sexual characteristics “but of the social ones we impose on children.” 


This is a false statement. The show’s intent is to make everyone believe that “gender”—understood as a set of social norms or stereotypes of femininity and masculinity—has always been a shared sociological reference. It tries to convince us that people have always used the words woman, man, girl or boy to refer to humans according to their gender. False again. These words have always served, and still do for the majority of people, to refer to people in regard to their sex—save for some English speakers, who, for reasons of social politesse, use the word “gender” as a synonym for “sex.” 


To reinvent the meanings of words erodes common understanding, hinders the acquisition of knowledge and impairs critical thinking.


What makes someone trans or non-binary?


One exhibition poster defines gender identity as “the private, deep and personal feeling of belonging to a gendered social group, for example, men, based on the common characteristics of that group. A person’s gender identity does not necessarily match the sex and the gender they were assigned at birth. Some people don’t identify exclusively with either the women group or with the men group; these people are non-binary”(5,6)


Love Me Gender: Activism on display in Quebec's National Museum of Civilisation
Photos of self-identified non-binary teenagers who are supported in their belief that they are some kind of entirely different human being. Source: https://www.teenvogue.com/story/what-it-means-to-be-non-binary

It continues to explain that people whose gender identity matches their “assigned” sex are called “cisgender,” or, “cis” for short, and that the other people are called “transgender,” or “trans,” if their gender identity is woman while their assigned sex or gender is man, and vice versa.


The poster suggests that gender identity is a feeling of belonging—that “cis” people have the feeling of belonging to either the women group or the men group in accordance with their sex. 


But not having a feeling of belonging with people of the same sex, or having a stronger feeling of belonging with people of the opposite sex, does not make someone “trans.” Some people have an atypical personality, or have atypical tastes or occupations for their sex and have more of an affinity with people of the opposite sex. This does not make them “trans.” 


Moreover, no one has feelings of belonging exclusively based on sex. Sex is binary, feelings of belonging are not. We have feelings of belonging based on family ties, on professional occupations, etc. For example, a female police officer may feel a stronger affinity with a male police officer than with a female hairdresser or a female teacher. I might feel a stronger affinity with my brother than with a random woman who has nothing in common with me besides our sex, and so on.


Furthermore, the feeling of belonging, as used in the show, is not in relation to one’s sex, but to a “gendered social group,” meaning that the group’s common characteristics are not the features of one’s sex, but of masculine and feminine social norms. 


But wait. While a male individual might not identify with every masculine stereotype, he can still acknowledge himself as a man without identifying as a woman or as non-binary. Likewise, a female individual might not recognize herself in every feminine stereotype but can still understand that she is a woman, without seeking to be viewed as a man or as a non-binary person.


In essence, the exhibition fails to clarify what objectively constitutes the difference between trans and non-binary people from those it labels cis or cisgender. This is a major shortcoming of the exhibition, as one would expect this to be one of the key concepts to be explained in a show about gender.



Rewriting history: "transing" the dead


Love Me Gender also presents historical characters as trans—characters for whom there is no reason to believe they would have identified as such. 


But let’s first attempt to define what a trans person even is, given the confusion that the show creates around the concept. 


One can define trans as a person who so strongly identifies with the opposite sex that they wish to become a person of the opposite sex or be recognized in society as such. This condition is called “gender dysphoria.” Trans also refers to someone who attempts to change their appearance by various means in order to resemble a person of the opposite sex as closely as possible. Gender dysphoria is not merely about a desire to do things socially associated with the opposite sex—it’s about wanting to be the opposite sex. 


The deliberate conflation of gender non-conformity with gender stereotypes and “being trans,” as entertained by the creators of the exhibition, leads them to introduce historical female figures as “trans men”(7) because they fought the sexist restrictions of their time, or, in some cases, had to pose as men in order to achieve their goals.


Consider the case of one exhibition subject, Margaret Ann Bulkley


Bulkley was the first British woman to have studied and practiced medicine but who posed as a man under the name of James Barry in order to enter medical school. There is no proof that this woman suffered from gender dysphoria. It is far more likely that she posed as a man for practical reasons rather than because of an identity disorder.


Love Me Gender: Activism on display in Quebec's National Museum of Civilisation
A portrait of Margaret Ann Bulkley presenting as James Barry  

The exhibition similarly “transes” a number of other women who defied the sexist social norms of their time. The show also suggests that some men were trans when they were most likely either transvestites or drag queens (8).


We reach the pinnacle of audacity, however, with a poster that asserts that tracing the history of these people poses a great challenge because “the manner of describing trans realities changes from one era to another,” and because their  history was written by people who did not recognize transgender individuals. In other words, according to the creators of the exhibition, it isn’t they who are biased and see trans people where there are none, rather, everyone else is biased because they don’t see them at all.


Love Me Gender is not historical, scientific, or sociological. It presents an entirely subjective view—which the creators of the exhibition are free to hold—but that should not be promoted as delivering objective facts and information.


Fallacious use of biological facts


Even while biologists are absent from the exhibition’s scientific committee, a large part of the show is about biology. But the biological concepts raised in the exhibition are used as premises to reach conclusions they do not support. Of note is the division of the human population into two categories, men and women. Love Me Gender suggests this categorization is based on a social construct influenced by Western colonialism.


In one section, there is a focus on hermaphroditic animals, on animals that can change their sex, and on species in which sexual dimorphism differs from that found in humans, others for which parental roles differ from those for humans and other primates, and intersex people. 


It’s all very interesting but none of it proves that the human species cannot be divided—independent of cultural interpretations of reality—into two sexed categories of male and female. It doesn’t change the fact that sex in the human species is immutable, nor does it change anything about the sexual dimorphism that characterizes humans.


Highlighting the degree to which biological facts are interpreted and not simply presented in this exhibition, one must acknowledge the absurd extent the creators go to support their interpretation of biological reality. Another poster explains that, in fact, the penis and the vulva are not so different:


“Vulva and penis…not so different! When an embryo develops, it is first undifferentiated, meaning that everyone starts with the same genitals, made up of a glans and a slit. As development occurs, these organs begin to differ from each other. We can see that the same elements will become the scrotum and the labia majora; the glans of the penis and that of the clitoris; the labia minora and the raphe.”

While we’re at it, then, why not also argue that since a frog embryo and a human embryo are virtually identical at a specific stage of development, the difference between frogs and humans is socially constructed? 


That the differences between a vulva and a penis appear as development occurs, rather than being present from the embryonic stage, in no way negates the fact that sexual differences exist and are obvious.


This exhibition is not informative. Rather, it reinterprets biological facts in a seriously questionable manner.

Love Me Gender: Activism on display in Quebec's National Museum of Civilisation  Photographs comparing the cell cleavage stages of a human embryo to a frog embryo
Cell cleavage in human embryo / Cell cleavage in frog embryo

Cultures that recognize a third gender


Without dwelling extensively on the subject of “other genders” (those that supposedly exist in addition to male and female and that are recognized in other cultures while we Westerners are unaware of their existence), let’s simply point out that for all of the examples presented in the exhibition, we inevitably come back to the same two sexes: boys/men and girls/women. 


That some individuals can behave or appear atypically for their sex and be socially accepted in several cultures is neither surprising or notably different than in Western cultures.


The supernatural beliefs of some First Nations are raised, specifically the concept that some people are “two-spirit.” This is clearly a metaphysical concept, invoking the dualistic notion of mind and body. Metaphysical beliefs, no matter by whom they are held, are not historical, sociological or scientific facts.


Love Me Gender: Activism on display in Quebec's National Museum of Civilisation
A Two-Spirit (2S) and intersex variant of the Progress Pride flag.



Projection of minority concepts onto the broader culture


According to the exhibition, we live in a cisheteronormative system which refers to the predominant societal belief that a person’s external genitalia is what determines their gender identity, their social role and their interests.


It argues that it is a “common belief” that a child born with a vulva will grow up and identify as a woman and occupy a feminine role in society. In reality, the great majority of people believe that a baby with a vulva is a girl—a prepubescent human of the female sex. And that this girl will become a woman—an adult human of the female sex. There is no assumption that she will subjectively “identify” as a woman, but that she will simply mature and grow into a woman. The word woman does not refer to a subjective idea of how one feels inside, but to an objective, physical, state. 


The concept of gender identity, however, is not a common social reference point. People don’t assume the gender identity of a newborn since most people don’t even think about the concept.


Furthermore, no one says that one’s genitalia determines one’s social role and interests. Whether one is conservative or not when it comes to social roles that one should take on according to one’s sex, people are generally aware of the diversity of roles that can be assumed by either sex, and of the diversity of character and interests that all people can have.

Love Me Gender: Activism on display in Quebec's National Museum of Civilisation
"Queer" as defined in the exhibition guide.

Finally, one is confronted with another wildly absurd claim. So absurd that it rivals the previous one whereby the vulva and the penis are essentially the same thing. The exhibition attempts to disprove the so-called “myth” that “only trans people resort to surgeries in order to affirm their gender identity.” It’s said that “cis women constitute the social group that is most likely to resort to gender-affirming surgeries, including breast augmentation surgery.” (Remember that the concept of “cis woman” refers to women who do not claim to be men or non-binary).


Stating that women turn to breast augmentation surgery in order to express their gender identity is quite the stretch. Women are far more likely to resort to breast augmentation in order to correspond to common beauty standards, which has nothing to do with “affirming one’s gender identity.” 


Once again, this exhibition is not “informative.” This exhibition is a subjective, ideological/socio-political exhibition created by activists to advance gender identity ideology. 


Conclusion


From a skeptic's standpoint, the solution to the criticisms raised in this essay is not to ban the Love me Gender exhibition, but to modify it in one of the following ways: 


  1. present it as it is—a presentation of a subjective worldview, replete with socio-political orientations and metaphysical beliefs, or;

  2. modify it to include different socio-political orientations (including opinions expressed in classical liberalism, conservatism, and radical or universalist feminism) so that the viewer may compare them with those presented. 


Were it either way, the show could actually be informative. It could educate audiences of the various socio-political movements that currently exist in our society regarding issues related to gender roles. It could examine whether it matters that people be identified by their sex at the institutional and societal levels. It could look at norms of femininity and masculinity, and how to socially address individuals experiencing gender dysphoria and those asserting a gender identity.


Notwithstanding a different approach, it would be necessary to eliminate the misinformation included in this exhibition.


Sex does not exist on a spectrum.


And Margaret Ann Bulkley was not a man. 


 

(1)  “Divergenres” is a wordplay achieved by combining the words “diversité” and “genres” (diversity and gender) to create a name that sounds like “divergence.” It alludes to the idea that “gender diverse” people diverge from the norm. Divergenres’ mission is to educate the “entire population” about the plurality of genders, by offering services to questioning or transitioning people and providing accessible and safe spaces to trans people and their loved ones.


(2) In another book by Philie Drouin, Des mots pour exister, queer ideology is presented as a vision of the world in which, among other things, the categories of woman and man, masculine, feminine as well as heterosexual and homosexual are based entirely on social constructs. They are considered artificial categories forced on individuals who sometimes do not neatly fit into these “artificial” distinctions. Not only can one be situated anywhere on the spectrums of sex, gender or sexual orientation, some individuals can actually fall outside of these spectrums. Queer ideology decries these categories as oppressive, as they supposedly erase the existence of those who don’t identify themselves in either binary category.


In Des mots pour exister, Drouin argues that the new words introduced by queer ideology serve to put terms on realities that are ignored within the traditional binary.  Where, in fact, she distorts the meaning of certain words, and some of the words she suggests be adopted actually prevent many people from accurately referring to their own characteristics, notably their sex and their sexual orientation.


(3) It must  be remembered that French is a gendered language and that a gender-neutral vocabulary would be virtually impossible to implement without changing the entire structure of the language.


(4) Further into the exhibition, ethical issues related to intersex individuals are raised: what’s to be done if a child is born with ambiguous genitalia? It’s not a bad question, the human rights of intersex people are a valid cause. However, one can respond to it without arguing that babies are “assigned” a sex at birth.


(5) Note that the words “man” and “woman” are presented in this case as referring to gender identities, while in common usage, these words refer respectively to an adult human male and an adult human female – words conferring sex, not gender identity.


(6) The word “binary” is also used improperly. It should qualify a system which is composed of only two elements. It is not the elements with which the system is made that are binary, but the system itself. Even if one were to believe that the concepts of man and woman are elements of a binary system, a man would not be “binary,” he would be part of a binary system. Consider as well that the concept of a non-binary person is specifically used by people who insist that the “system” is not composed of only two elements. But logically, if other elements exist in the system outside of man and woman, then that system is not binary: "man” and “woman” are not parts of a binary system. It is nonsensical to speak of binary vs non-binary in this context.


(7) According to the ideological lexicon employed by the creators of the exhibition, a “trans man” is a person who was “assigned female at birth” but whose “gender identity” is masculine. In terms that are not defined in accordance with queer dogma, a trans man refers to a person of the female sex who has gender dysphoria and therefore changes her appearance in order to look like a male.


(8) Transvestites and drag queens are men who wear feminine clothes and accessories as costumes, in different circumstances and for different reasons. This is contrary to men who have gender dysphoria, which they seek to alleviate by “transitioning” (trying to resemble a person of the opposite sex). Transvestites and drag queens do not seek to change their bodies nor be recognized as women. These terms add to the confusion created throughout the Love me Gender exhibition concerning words and expressions, including the term “trans.” (It should be noted that cross-dressing/transvestism and transitioning are not always mutually exclusive, but the concepts themselves are separate ones.)



 

Annie-Ève Collin advocates for freedom of expression and for the primacy of the scientific approach.


Bellatrix Bells works under pseudonym on the topic of gender and women's sex-based rights for reasons of professional security.






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