Spring 2024 Debate: Is Sex Binary?

Debate: Is Sex Binary?

April 17, 2024

On April 17, the MIT Free Speech Alliance hosted the third in our series of campus debates at MIT. As with our previous debates, we partnered with the MIT Sloan chapter of the Adam Smith Society to present this program to the community, and we were joined by more than 20 additional co-sponsoring organizations. The following resolution was on the table for debate:

Resolved, That sex is biological and binary and gender identity is no substitute for sex in social policy.

Reprising her role as debate moderator was Nadine Strossen, Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, New York Law School Professor Emerita, and Past President of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The Affirmative Team was Dr. Alex Byrne, Professor of Philosophy at MIT and author of Trouble with Gender: Sex Facts, Gender Fictions, and Dr. Holly Lawford-Smith, Associate Professor in Political Philosophy at the University of Melbourne and author of Gender-Critical Feminism.  The Negative Team was  Dr. Alice Dreger, American historian and journalist, a Guggenheim Fellow, recipient of the Heterodox Academy’s Courage Award, and author of Galileo’s Middle Finger and Aaron Kimberly, a trans man, mental health nurse, Director of Public Engagement with the LGBT Courage Coalition, and co-host of the Transparency podcast.

The debate was recorded and livestreamed, and posted to MFSA's YouTube channel. The recording can be viewed below. 

Debate photos

Debate recording


Alex Byrne is a Professor of Philosophy in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a founding member of the Academic Freedom Alliance. His main interests are the philosophy of mind, epistemology and metaphysics, and the philosophy of sex and gender. His books include Readings on Color, volumes 1 and 2 ( MIT, 1997; co-edited with David Hilbert); Transparency and Self-Knowledge (Oxford, 2018); The Norton Introduction to Philosophy (third edition in preparation, co-edited with Gideon Rosen and others). His most recent book is Trouble with Gender: Sex Facts, Gender Fictions (Polity, 2024).

Holly Lawford-Smith is an Associate Professor in Political Philosophy at the University of Melbourne. Her most recent books are Is It Wrong To Buy Sex? (2024), Sex Matters: Essays in Gender-Critical Philosophy (2023)and Gender-Critical Feminism (2022)She also writes regularly for Quillette and Fairer Disputations.

Alice Dreger, PhD, is an American historian and journalist, Guggenheim Fellow, and author of Galileo’s Middle Finger, published by Penguin Press and named a New York Times Editors’ Choice. She served as President of the Intersex Society of North America, and her work on intersex includes three books plus a TEDx talk viewed over a million times. Her bylines include the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, WIRED, and the Atlantic. The Heterodox Academy bestowed on Dreger its inaugural Courage Award for her championing of free speech and open inquiry, and she now serves on that organization’s Advisory Council. 

Aaron Kimberly is a female to male trans man with a rare ovotesticular DSD who lived as a masculine lesbian as a young adult, prior to legally changing sex in 2006. He’s been a nurse with a specialization in mental health since 2008, working in various inpatient and community settings, including the BC Provincial Tertiary Eating Disorders Program, and Foundry, an integrated, multiservice centre for youth. In 2021, he cofounded the Gender Dysphoria Alliance and in 2022, the LGBT Courage Coalition. He cohosts the Transparency podcast, a compassionate yet heterodox conversation on the topic of trans.

Nadine Strossen, the John Marshall Harlan II Professor of Law Emerita at New York Law School and past President of the American Civil Liberties Union (1991-2008), is a Senior Fellow with FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights and Education) and a leading expert and frequent speaker/media commentator on constitutional law and civil liberties, who has testified before Congress on multiple occasions. She serves on the advisory boards of the ACLU, Academic Freedom Alliance, Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism (FAIR), Heterodox Academy, National Coalition Against Censorship, and the University of Austin.