Saturday, 31 May 2008

The Law Is A Ass Dept.

The legal kludges in the USA and elsewhere to stop same-sex marriage lead to ridiculous results that bring the law into disrepute.
A woman with Swyer Syndrome and 46xy (male) chromosomes could get married to a woman in Kansas (by Kantaras vs Kantaras, male chromosomes == male), then move to Louisiana, and marry a man. Neither state would recognise the other marriage as valid, so there's no question of bigamy. Things would get very complicated if she became a surrogate mother, from an egg donated by her wife and fertilised by her husband.
As she well might.

I remind everyone that I have dual UK/Australian citizenship. Were I not married (to a woman), here in Australia I could only marry a man (as same-sex marriage is forbidden), and in the UK I could only marry another woman, again as same-sex marriage is forbidden. Different definitions, again.

Perspective and Politics

Read the whole thing. Some problems are bigger than others, even where we live.

Today's Battles

On An MMD forum, a blog whose author says :
"You know I sometimes have to keep reminding myself that I don’t have a down on people who’ve had gender reassignment or identify as transgendered. Because believe it or not I don’t."
Sure she doesn't. I might have believed that had I not seen her comments on other sites. It's worth reading her remarks despite that, even though I disagree strongly with her assessment of the evidence. She's intelligent, articulate, and raises some good points that deserve answering.

I left a comment at the Daily Mail, but they don't seem to publish ones that are inconvenient, so here it is:
"it is rumoured that it will top £250,000."


In fact, Jan has so far received nothing. Not a penny. So whence the source of this "rumour"?

How about this - not a rumour, but fact reported in some newspapers:

(Jan) said: “I was really disgusted to read these stories which are absolutely not true and what’s worse is nobody bothered to contact me about them.

“There is no £250,000 agreement, I have never sought £250,000 and neither would I accept it.

She added: “It is totally false and what has really got to me was the way some national newspapers have brought the families of those soldiers into it, those heroes who have suffered horrific injuries in the line of duty – at a time when these people should be left alone.”

You've been set up. Someone with an axe to grind has deliberately fed you false information - and you've swallowed it. What was previously reported as established fact is now mere "rumour", but the whole lede of the story goes against that.
The definitive story on this, with links to all relevant papers, is at The View From Abnormal Heights.

When I had my surgery, I met a girl in the UK armed forces there for surgery too. Not an officer, and not in the Paras or (Heaven Forefend!) the Guards. There are a number of them, one a Royal Navy Helicopter pilot in Iraq, IIRC. There are standard procedures for dealing with Transition. These were not followed, for reasons that can only be conjectured. But there's been dirty work at the crossroads since then.

And finally, a comment at the Washington Blade.

Friday, 30 May 2008

Perspective on Mars

When campaigning for Human Rights, or getting the rough end of Life's Great Pineapple, it helps to retain some perspective. When you feel hard done by, when you really are hard done by, it can help to realise that ordinary people who have had it far worse have coped, and sometimes coped magnificently. We as a species are extraordinary, and capable of great heroism and compassion as well as poltroonery and spite.

Another thing that can help is to step back and look at the sheer wonder of the Universe we live in. We can both measure the marigolds, and also see how beautiful they are. In fact, I believe that to truly appreciate their beauty, we need to measure them first.

In an earlier post, I wrote about the Phoenix Mars Lander being caught on film as it descended.

Here's what it looks like in perspective. (click to enlarge)

Now just try to tell me our Universe isn't a wondrous place!

Thursday, 29 May 2008

The Destruction of Marriage

A lot has been talked about same-sex marriages somehow devaluing, even destroying, the sanctity of marriage.

Marriage is a solemn vow between two parties. It is also recognised by the state as a contract, giving certain rights. Amongst them, the rights of inheritance on the demise of one partner, the right to pensions and superannuation entitlements. Now the marriage may be dissolved by divorce, or annulled as invalid from the start, but a valid marriage not dissolved by such means through the Family Court gives inalienable rights. Well, it does unless someone destroys the whole concept, making the whole thing meaningless, the license a mere scrap of paper.

From the latest edition of Polare (#75 not online yet), and a submission to the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunities commission:
To the Government, I am a married person of indeterminate status unless dead in which case I am not married and my estate may not be claimed by my wife.

To Medicare I am a woman.

To my wife's superannuation, I apparently am not a family member (particularly as it pertains to inheritance rights)

I am not married to my wife as I am a female, but I am not allowed a birth certificate as a woman because I am married.
My wife doesn't appear to have any rights as a married woman either - though she's done nothing wrong nor has she signed anything that may abbreviate or negate any rights as a married woman - this is an important point as it apparently discriminates against an innocent bystander.
And naturally she can't remarry while her marriage, a marriage now legally a shadow with no legal substance, remains undissolved. Here's another couple's testimony.
Neither of us is homophobic but we resent being classed and discriminated against by inclusion under the wrong label.

We are not Lesbians nor thought of as such in our local community that understands that my condition is both medical and mental and, after all other avenues have been exhausted, has resulted in me becoming a woman.

The Commonwealth and State Legislatures choose not to recognise our condition and strip us of all our human rights and equal opportunity before the law.

The Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission late last year identified over fifty pieces of State and Federal Legislation against "same sex" couples including transgender couples and transgender singles.

The following are just some that impact on Transgender married couples.

(1) By Medicare we are now determined to be a "Same Sex Couple" and lose our married status even though we are still married!

(2) (a) I cannot change the gender on my NSW Birth Certificate without divorcing my seventy-two year old wife of thirty-eight years.
(b) I cannot have an Australian Passport with the corrected gender on my new Passport unless I change the gender on my name-amended Birth Certificate.
(c) If I change my gender on my birth certificate then my wife loses her pension card as she is then classified as a "same sex" single person! As a married couple we are both entitled to a part-pension along with all the married pensioner discounts on utilities, travel on public transport etc
There is a general principle here: if Marriage incurs a responsibility, then the Marriage still exists. If Marriage gives any benefits, then it does not.

It would have been more honest to pass a law saying that such Marriages are dissolved by State Decree on the transition of one partner. But this is so repugnant to Australian mores, and our basic sense of justice, that it was unthinkable. Instead, a dishonest and despicable course of "white-anting", destroying the marriage by stealth, was adopted. While claiming to save marriage, they deliberately destroy it.

Well, they can do that to the legal part. They can destroy the contract, leaving only a hollow legal shell that is a mockery of marriage. But they can't destroy the love behind it.
The non-transgender wife/husband in the union is ignored and along with the transgendered person often suicides as a result of the treatment under legislation.
Thereby ceasing to trouble society, so it may be more of a desirable feature than a bug. I hope not, but having seen and experienced bureaucratic persecution first-hand, well, I honestly can't say that I can totally discount the possibility.

Now some of these persecutions may have been resolved. For example, the Passport situation may have been - or may not. You see, despite the
Abrams and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade [2007] AATA 1816 (28 September 2007)
case where the courts ordered in no uncertain terms that the Passport Office not engage in such persecution, well, they now send letters like this:
The Department will consider issuing a travel document in their reassigned gender in a limited number of compassionate circumstances, including where the applicant's circumstances prevent that person from obtaining an amended cardinal document (e.g. where the applicant is married).
But no promises - just "will consider". It's not as if it's our right or anything, or that they're legally obligated to. They might do, if we kowtow enough. Or might not.

In fact, in my own case, not only did they not grant a passport, they didn't grant it even though I had gotten my "cardinal document" changed, even though that meant contravening the provisions of the Administrative Appeals (Judicial Review) Act to do it. To break the law, in fact. And when finally, after 20 months, I received one, there was no written apology. "Compassion" when it comes to people like me is wholly absent there. They only obey the law when there is either the threat of, or actual legal action to compel them to do so.

Birth Certificates too are meaningless pieces of paper now. They prove nothing, as the Registrars are forced by State law in some cases to retain false information on them. That's been proven in court.

As for my own rights as a father to my boy, they are questionable. I think I'd be treated as any other father in any other marriage. My name's on my son's birth certificate as his father. But that could easily be rendered moot by act of Parliament, or even Ministerial whim. I could be given the same rights as a non-maternal lesbian partner (which I think means essentially, none) or those of an anonymous sperm donor with no familial connection (again, none). For as has been proven, when it comes to transsexual people, birth certificates and certificates of marriage are legally meaningless. I might have normal Human Rights, but unlike other people, I can never be sure. They can be withdrawn in an instant, as witnessed by the APO's recent policy of ceasing to provide limited validity passports for surgery overseas, a practice of longstanding, and one which was designed to protect Australian citizens from persecution. Now they encourage it. And this was not by Act of Parliament, but my Ministerial fiat, the deliberations (if any) secret.

I would be required to provide child support though. That's the way it works, only the rights have been removed, not the balancing responsibilities. That pattern in my experience has been Universal.

So am I a victim? Hardly. I have a partner who loves me. I have a child. I have a reasonable intellect, some legal knowledge, and I live in a place where persecution of any kind is socially unacceptable. Unlike most transgendered people, I'm not marginalised, or without resources to fight. Compared to others, I've been unbelievably blessed, and I know it.

I'm not in my 80's, and faced with a lifetime of struggle, when I'm just too frail to take that on. Suicide is not even a remote possibility - I have a son anyway, and he needs me, so even if I was at the brink of despair, I couldn't exercise that option. Besides which, people like me, people like us, have had many decades of ruthless Darwinian selection weeding out the ones who gave up just because the cause was hopeless. It just gets our dander up, and makes us fight harder.

For those in various Government departments who have been horrified at my treatment, and gone out of their way to help, I've sent letters of commendation to the appropriate Minister. You see, most people are basically good. I've been helped by many of them.

And for those who try to persecute me, and sometimes succeed, I intend to be their Worst Nightmare. People like me may not have much of a bite, but we just don't give up. We win by refusing to lose. That means submissions to Human Rights Commissions, commenting on blogs and at newspaper sites, blogging to bring this kind of thing to others' attention... I'll quote General Schwarzkopf:
We're going to go around, over, through, on top, underneath and any other way it takes to beat them.
How long will it take? No idea. We have victories in the courts, then get retaliation as the result. Sometimes one step forwards, two steps back, and sometimes tens steps forward and one step back. Progress worldwide has been steady, but that in the US and Australia, less so. We've gone backwards there over the last two decades, in some areas better, but in many others worse.

We're not going away though. And while victimised, we refuse to take on our assigned role of victims. We're also not alone, for many who are neutral in the struggle become allies when they see first-hand what's happening. Frankly, those opposing us don't stand a chance.

Did I mention I was born in England? We have a tradition of this kind of thing. Truth to tell, our guilty secret, we actually enjoy the "backs to the wall... fight them on the hills and in the streets, on the beaches and on the landing grounds" bit. Especially when we have more Allies backing us up than we like to think we have.
We shall defend our humanity, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight in the courts, we shall fight in the legislatures, we shall fight in the comments and in the newspapers, we shall fight in the blogs; we shall never surrender.
Now on to working on my PhD, because we also have lives too. We are, after all, human.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Thesis Proposal Accepted

Not that it's of any great interest to anyone else, but I've just been informed informally that my PhD thesis proposal has been accepted.

That's not the thesis itself, just the plan of what I intend working on, what I'm trying to find out, how I intend going about it, and a timeline when I expect certain milestones to be reached. All backed up by evidence that I'll be doing something no-one else had done before, and that it's worth doing, something creative and non-trivial.

Here's just a few of the references needed to back that up. They really should be in a standard format, and will be in my thesis, but this is good enough just for an informal document, a mere proposal:

Evolutionary Computation: Comments on the History and Current State
Thomas B¨ack, Ulrich Hammel, and Hans-Paul Schwefel

[2] David B.Fogel quoted at

[3] Evolution March 2007
Santiago F. Elena, Claus O. Wilke, Charles Ofria, and Richard E. Lenski

[4] Natural Computing Vol 1 No 1 2002
Evolution strategies – A comprehensive introduction
Hans-Georg Beyer and Hans-Paul Schwefel

[5] Antennas and Propagation Society International Symposium, 2000. IEEE , vol.2, no., pp.1034-1037 vol.2, 2000
"Optimum population size and mutation rate for a simple real genetic algorithm that optimizes array factors"
Haupt, R.L.

[6] University of WA Thesis Nov 2007
Optimising Evolutionary Strategies for Problems with Varying Noise Strength
Anthony Di Pietro

[7] Proceedings of the 2004 Congress on Evolutionary Computation June 2004
Applying evolutionary Algorithms to problems with noisy, time-consuming fitness functions
A.Di Pietro, L.While and L.Barone

[8] McGill University 2005 Masters Thesis at
Comparing GA population size and mutation rate
Rebecca Fiebrink

[9] Progress of Theoretical Physics Supplement No.138 (2000) pp. 460-461
Genetic Algorithm Parameter Analysis
Ernesto Belmont-Moreno

[10] IEEE International Conference on Engineering of Intelligent Systems, April 2006
Genetic Algorithms for Optimal Design of Vehicle Suspensions
Jingjun Zhang; Yanhong Zhang; Ruizhen Gao

[11] IEEE International Conference on Evolutionary Computation, Sept 2007
Portfolio optimization using multi-objective genetic algorithms
Skolpadungket, P. Dahal, K. Harnpornchai, N.

[12] IEEE International Conference on Automation and Logistics August 2007
Fast Genetic Algorithms Used for PID Parameter Optimization
Xiangzhong Meng, Baoye Song

[13] World Congress on Intelligent Control and Automation, June 2006.
Application of Self-Adaptive Genetic Algorithm on Allocating International Demand to Global Production Facilities
Rong-Chang Chen Shiue-Shiun Li Chih-Chiang Lin Tung-Shou Chen

... etc etc

Looking at it.. I've cast my net rather wide, haven't I? Antenna Design, Music, Vehicle Suspension Systems, Portfolio Management, Global Factory Allocation... all could benefit from the work I intend to do. Lots of people seeing different facets of the same basic issue, and finding optimal solutions for particular problems.

I'm good at insights, ideas, concepts. Less good at taking those concepts and putting in the hard yards to see them into fruition, but adequate for that too. Lots of people are, and I'm not amongst the best there. But imaginative concepts, yes, I'm unusually good at coming up with those. Usually ideas of astounding simplicity, so much so that everyone wonders why they didn't think of something as obvious as that before. I'm not bright enough to have complex ideas, I just have good intuition about how to make a complex problem simple.

Evolutionary techniques are great for solving problems where we have no real idea what the answer is, but know a good answer when we see it. The trouble is, we don't know how to go about making good evolutionary computation methods, we take guesses and refine them in particular areas, like portfolio management. In other words, when it comes to making evolutionary algorithms, we have no real idea what the answer is, but know a good answer when we see it. Hmmm... that sounds familiar...

So obviously we should use evolutionary computation to optimise evolutionary computation. That's the first insight. The second insight is on how to map all evolutionary computation methods into a genome, so we can use evolutionary techniques to optimise them. And that's so simple it's trivial.

In fact, it's so simple and obvious, I spent considerable time looking to make sure no-one else had done it before. And as you can see, I looked in a lot of places.

That's the 1% inspiration. Now comes the 99% perspiration. Because now my thesis proposal has been accepted as good enough to get a PhD if written, I better go doing some experimentation and gathering results.

Did I mention that this is fun?

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Phoenix Caught in the Act

That low-definition picture is of the Phoenix Lander, descending on its parachute.
It's the first time an extraterrestrial lander has been caught on camera by another spacecraft, in this case, the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

More at MarsToday

Monday, 26 May 2008

Transsexual, Transgender, Transvestite

I am not a lawyer. But...

It seems it's the fashion these days for unqualified people to give their opinions in newspapers, while those who know anything about the issues need not to be consulted. Case in point this story from
Medical ethicist Dr Nicholas Tonti-Filippini said the decision was astounding.

"I fail to see how it can be in the interests of a young girl to undergo treatment that will change her for the rest of her life," he said.

"Twelve is a time of great uncertainty for a young person . . . I would question whether the medical evidence supports treating (her) in this way."
What the journalists carefully concealed is
...Associate Professor Tonti-Filippini is the Institute Associate Dean (Teaching, Learning and Research)
Which institute? The John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family. From their website:
He is the subject co-ordinator for:

* JP502 – Philosophical Foundations of Bioethics
* JP540 – Foundations of Christian Moral Life
* JP543 – Theological Bioethics
* JP544 – Beginning of Life Ethics
* JP545 – End of Life Ethics
* JP546 – Current Controversies in Bioethics
* JP547 – Theology and Practice of Natural Family Planning
* JP564 – Educating in Sexuality, Marriage, Family and Life
Concealing his strong and fervent religious affiliation could reasonably be said to be "lying by omission".

While Dr Tonti-Fillipini no doubt knows a great deal about "the Unresponsive State and Comercialization of Human Tissue", there is no evidence that Dr Tonti-Fillipini has had any training, formal or informal, on gender dysphoria, effects of gonadotrophins, or has ever seen a single patient presenting with Gender Identity Disorder. Moreover, he is compelled by his Faith to follow the official Vatican line, regardless of the Science.

Moving right along... another medical practitioner was consulted.
Australian Childhood Foundation chief executive Dr Joe Tucci, a psychologist, said the issue was complex.

"But I would have thought that waiting until the child is older is a more prudent course of action," he said. "Kids can change their minds. Things that seem set in stone when they are 12 will seem very different when they are 18 or 19."
Quite true... which is why the court decision was to allow puberty to be delayed, so the child would be older before having to make irreversible and significant decisions that would affect their whole life. So why did Dr Tucci not realise this? Isn't he an expert on the endocrinology involved? Sadly, not as such... From his bio:
A registered psychologist and social worker, Dr Tucci is an accomplished practitioner-researcher with 15 years experience in child protection and working therapeutically with children and families. He is a Clinical Member of the Victorian Association of Family Therapists and a member of the Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW).
Dr Tucci has presented at national and international conferences on family therapy and child abuse, and his writing has been published in both Australian and international academic journals and the broader media.
From all accounts, he has extensive knowledge of dealing with the terrible consequences of child abuse. But as for Gender Identity Disorder, Neurology of the BSTc layer of the Hypothalamus and Limbic Nucleus... not so much. He may well never have seen a patient presenting with Gender Dysphoria, and certainly hasn't got a record of treating dozens or hundreds of them. He is exactly as qualified to comment as a neurosurgeon is to comment about dentistry.

Media Watch, please note.

So, taking these as precedents, I'm going to comment on a court case.

Stuck Between a Frock and a Card Place Nyuk Yuk Yuk! Oh well, could be worse. I'm an inveterate punster myself, and this at least shows some wit.

The issue at hand: what is "transgender"?

The relevant legislation is the NSW Anti Discrimination Act 1977, as amended.
38A Interpretation

A reference in this Part to a person being transgender or a transgender person is a reference to a person, whether or not the person is a recognised transgender person:

(a) who identifies as a member of the opposite sex by living, or seeking to live, as a member of the opposite sex, or

(b) who has identified as a member of the opposite sex by living as a member of the opposite sex, or

(c) who, being of indeterminate sex, identifies as a member of a particular sex by living as a member of that sex,

and includes a reference to the person being thought of as a transgender person, whether the person is, or was, in fact a transgender person.
Oh yes, and
"recognised transgender person" means a person the record of whose sex is altered under Part 5A of the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1995 or under the corresponding provisions of a law of another Australian jurisdiction.
Basically, a "registered transgender person" is a post-operative transsexual that has managed to get their Australian birth certificate in order. Transgender includes RTPs, but does not just include RTPs. Pre-operative transsexuals would be included, for example, as would severely Intersexed people living in one gender role, and post-operative transsexuals born outside Australia, so with no Australian birth certificate. It would include me too, though whether under section (a) or section (c) is arguable. I'd go with (c) myself.

Getting back to the case at hand...
"We were going into the main gaming room and a guard placed his hand on my shoulder and said: 'you are known here as a man, you are not appropriately dressed, I have to ask you to leave,"' Mr Hurst said. The pair were then escorted from the casino.

The conference in the tribunal's Equal Opportunity Division was called after Mr Hurst, of Coogee, who told Ms Hennessy that "I have always regarded myself as a woman and lived my life as a woman," filed an action alleging the casino has discriminated against him because of his sexual gender and was refused service and asked to leave.
After hearing that Mr Hurst wanted the matter to go to hearing, Ms Hennessy granted an order to obtain a copy of the casino's security video of the incident.

She also told Mr Hurst that under the Anti-Discrimination Act the tribunal can only hear transgender cases.

"The Anti-Discrimination Act does not protect transvestites, it protects transsexuals, but you said you live as a woman," Ms Hennessy said. "Before the tribunal can hear the case what you have to be able to prove to the court is that sexually you are a transsexual.
Neither of the words "transsexual" and "transvestite" appear anywhere in the legislation, so we have to determine to what extent Ms Hennessy is correct. What is a Transsexual? A Transgendered person? A Transvestite?

Given the print media's propensity to get gender pronouns wrong, to disregard style guides, to omit crucial information (see above) and generally get things hopelessly wrong, I give little weight to such statements as
Paul Hurst lives much of his life as a woman.... For years the transvestite has been known to friends and those who have seen him perform in Darlinghurst clubs as Anne-Maree.... he and a friend again frocked up...Mr Hurst
In order to prove the claim, Paul Hurst would have to prove that "his" life situation met the conditions of "transgender" given above. And contrary to Ms Hennessy's expressed opinion, this has nothing to do with sexuality. Then again, neither does Transsexuality, that's about changing body to match mind.

By "his" testimony, Paul Hurst both identifies as a member of the opposite sex, and lives as a member of the opposite sex. This would be enough to be considered Transgendered by 38A(a). However, mere testimony is not adequate to meet the burden of proof. "He" has not changed "his" name for example, by deed poll. And while some women may sometimes dress as men, say as a condition of attending a parents' funeral, or as a condition of being granted visitation rights to their children, such transvestitism is unusual. If Paul Hurst really identifies as a woman, then habitually wearing male clothing would be seen by "him" as habitually wearing drag. Some women do, but it's not exactly usual, and is strong (but not conclusive) evidence against a female identity.

The casino has the following defences open.

First, that Paul Hurst is not transgendered within the meaning of the act, as "he" does not live as a member of the opposite sex, merely playing at it sometimes, and discarding the role whenever "he" wants to. Now the act does not say that "living as a member of the opposite sex" has to be a permanent arrangement, that a transgendered person has to do that all the time. It is open to the Tribunal to find that as long as the person lives as the opposite sex sometimes, that is enough. That would not include Transvestite fetishists who only dress in private, and don't take on a opposite-sex role, but would include Drag Queens and "part-time" crossdressers who habitually (but not permanently) present as the opposite sex in public. I don't find that a particularly convincing argument though. The intent of Parliament seems quite the contrary. Still, Judges could reasonably rule otherwise.

The second defence is that even if Paul Hurst is transgendered, that the club did not discriminate on the basis that "he" was transgendered, but on the basis that "he" was not: that they had a belief that "he" was a man dressed inappropriately, not a transgendered woman. On the basis of what was said, I think this is proven, barring evidence against it.

However in order for this defence to succeed, they would also have to demonstrate that this belief was reasonable. One cannot justify, say, shooting Methodists simply because of a belief that all Methodists are axe-murderers and that it's self-defence, unless Methodists have a universal history of axe murder. A belief that Paul Hurst was not transgendered would be reasonable had "he" patronised the club as a male, or was known in the area as a male. Sexuality is irrelevant. Lesbians exist.

If it were me, then on the facts before me...

I would rule that Paul Hurst was not transgendered. That "his" appearance in costume was similar to a case of a professional clown appearing at the club in costume, and presenting with the attributes of his professional persona. The club had as much right to refuse "him" service as they would to say, Ronald McDonald or Constable Kenny Koala.

As an alternative, I would say that the casino was not acting unreasonably in the belief that Paul Hurst was not Transgendered, however mistaken that belief might be. That the discrimination was not because they believed "him" to be transgendered, but that they believed "he" wasn't.

I would then state Obiter, as a comment, that discriminating against transvestites goes against the grain for me. And that when no offence to propriety is intended or demonstrated, when it's just like Ronald McDonald attending in costume, the casino's policy, while legally permitted, is just a little bit silly, and shows a complete lack of sense of humour. That to use Australian vernacular, they're up themselves.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Thought for Today

Not an original one, I fear. But far too good not to steal.

It's from one of the handful of women who were able to get treatment in their later teens and early twenties, back in the early days. The late 60's and early 70's.
GID is like Diabetes - there are two types. The first (and the only one I had experienced in the 1960’s and 70’s) was “Juvenile Onset” - it struck early, hit hard, and required radical treatment if the person was to survive. The other was like Type II Diabetes - slow, insidious, creeping (progressive), and would eventually require medical intervention.
- N.J.
How dangerous is untreated Type I? Well, the only reason she's alive today is because the gun she'd put to her head misfired when she pulled the trigger. That dangerous.

Type II's no picnic either, but it takes several decades for symptoms to become as acute as they are for type I's while still in childhood. I never reached that point, my body transitioned under me long before that. Thereby sparing me more misery than I like to think about. Yes, I am thanking my lucky stars!

Thursday, 22 May 2008


Supernova, that is.

I'll just quote from the site:
Very, very cool news today: for the first time in history, astronomers have unambiguously observed the exact moment when a star explodes.

Read the Whole Thing.. It's not in Geekspeak either, it's well-written and understandable.

Despite the outer parts of the star being heated to several million degrees, this is indeed the epitome of Coolness.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Must... Resist....

Today's Battles.

At the Lone Star Times:
Laws should be changed so these doctors can be executed...

Needless to say, I disagree. Others don't.
The only surgical help these seven year olds require is for their parents to receive lobotomies.
The doctors and those at the hospital administration who signed off on this revolting perversion should be jailed for child abuse. And throw away the key. And no protection from the rest of the prison population either!!

The parents should be punished too - jail as well - they deserve to have their children taken away from them because by allowing this unnatural process they have demonstrated they are unfit parents.
Involuntary brain mutilation, Life sentences, incitement to rape... nice people.

And at Whizzbang :
But today, far from being a horror inflicted by a monster like Dr. Mengele, this is something our society is supporting. Parents are paying this man to barbarically mutilate their children.
The Doctor in question is merely putting puberty on hold with gonadotrophins, no surgery involved. But the commentariat and article author aren't interested in facts. They just want an excuse to kill and feel good about it. Think I exaggerate?
There is an action someone should take against the phony doctor, but it's still illegal to kill idiots so it's not recommended.
It's only the prospect of getting caught and punished that prevents them.

Now World On The Web, and the definition of Man and Woman. Rational, polite, no death threats, even humane. A breath of Fresh Air.

On to Fox News, and the usual reactions of disgust, "a sign of the end times", "God does not make mistakes" etc etc. Along with some counter-argument from a number of TS people. One comment tore at my heart. With just minor changes of wording, I've seen it dozens of times before. It must come close to being in 3 figures now. We're all so stereotyped. Only minor details change, it's the same story, over and over and over and over again. I hope she gets help soon, good, reliable and experienced help. When it gets that bad, it's soon do or die. Literally.

Now back to my PhD Thesis proposal.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008


Putting the New in Neurology.

A Sceptical look at Functional MRI, where the limitations are discussed.
Most neuromarketers are using these scans as a way of sprinkling glitter over their products, so that customers will be persuaded that the pictures are giving them a deeper understanding of their mind. In fact, imaging technologies are still in their infancy. And while overenthusiastic practitioners may try to leapfrog over the science, real progress, which will take decades, will be made by patient and methodical researchers, not by entrepreneurs looking to make a buck.

And talking about Magnetic personalities, How a Magnet Turned Off My Speech :
Disconcertingly for me (Prof Walsh seemed unconcerned), he had difficulty finding my Broca's and only succeeded after he called for a bigger coil to be used, as powerful magnetic pulses were delivered through my skull by his colleague, Dr Neil Muggleton.

I was reciting Humpty Dumpty and hoping that all the Queens Square's neurologists and all the Queens neurosurgeons would not have to put my brain back together again.

Finally he located my Broca's and the train of pulses stopped me in my tracks. I wanted to recite the rhyme but stumbled and stuttered as my speech area was disabled.

Intriguingly, I could still sing Humpty Dumpty as he buffetted my Broca's: it turns out that singing is controlled by the right side of the brain, the opposite hemisphere to the one he stimulated.

"That is why you can sing but not talk."

This is also why some people with stroke can sing sentences, even though they cannot speak.
Prof Allan Snyder, at the University of Sydney believes TMS can act as "a creativity-amplifying machine".

But Prof Walsh is highly sceptical. "Brain stimulation does not release hidden talents and when it is used to improve things in patients, it comes at the cost of blocking some nerve pathways to encourage others."

Finally some thoughts on neurology and.. well, the usual. Over at Bilerico.
That all human behaviour has a neural basis is a truism, but isn't useful. We need to distinguish between lower-level functions that are immutable or nearly so, and much higher-level functions which are utterly changeable as the result of day-to-day experience.

Examples of the first: sexual orientation, eyesight. Examples of the second: whether to vote Republican or Democrat, whether you prefer Techno or Classical music.

And of course, there's no neat binary. We can easily distinguish extremes at both ends, but in the middle it gets blurry.

Even the most basic functions are somewhat mutable. Case in point, a man who has woken up from a multi-decade coma. His neurology differs from any other human on the planet, with parts of the brain re-wired over decades so the speech centre isn't where speech is any more. Then there those who have suffered traumatic brain injury, losing over 40% of their brain mass, and much of the rest being disrupted. Some are still able to think in nearly the same way as they were before.

Against those handful of cases, and the much larger sample where some neural deficits caused by disease and trauma have been "wired around", there are tens of thousands where even small lesions in specific areas have caused devastating and permanent cognitive deficits.

In theory, it may be possible for even some basic injuries at the hypothalamic layer to heal, given time. But as such injuries often stop the patient from breathing, or having a heartbeat, they don't have the decades needed.

So although nearly everything is mutable in some individuals to a tiny extent, in practice, much is not, not at all, not in the slightest.

Gender Identity in those who are strongly gendered is very basic. In those who are weakly gendered, close to the line, whether they appear more F than M or the reverse is determined by progressively higher and higher level functions, and will need progressively less and less heroic measures to change.

Those with classic HBS in the strong sense, it's really basic. You can torture them, psychoanalyse them, give them aversion therapy (the full Clockwork Orange treatment), totally disrupt their neurology with psychotropic drugs, even carve out pieces of their frontal lobes, and you won't do a thing to it. And all have been tried at one time or another, this isn't theoretical, alas.

A good but imperfect metric for HBS is desire for surgery. It's imperfect because although body-image is closely coupled to gender identity, it appears not to be perfectly so, and this is where I differ from proponents of the strong form of HBS theory. Some who desire surgery will do so for legal reasons, or so they can be sexually functional, not because it causes great discomfort.

Others can be quite comfortable with a strongly gendered mind, but an ambiguous or cross-gendered body. They don't care what they have, as long as it works. Many Intersexed people are in this category. I suspect that many "non-ops" are too, but lacking data, this is a mere conjecture, as is much of what I'm saying.

There are people whose general gendering is significantly weaker, yet whose body image is so strongly sexed, they will move heaven and earth to have the right body configuration, one that matches their mind. This can easily be mistaken for AG/AA, but unlike a fetish, it's a product of deep neural processes, not high-level ones. To say that it's akin to apotemnophilia, the desire for limb amputation when the body-image is defective, is technically true, but highly misleading. So misleading, you can treat it as false.

A far more accurate view is to say that it's akin to the desire of an amputee or someone with a congenital defect to have the missing limb restored, so the body images match. It restores function, not removes it.

Whether apotemnophilia or its healthy converse is a low-level or high level function probably varies. A beggar in a 3rd world country may desire amputation in order to beg more effectively ("high level"). One in a modern country may just be psychotic (also "high level" if it's treatable by anti-psychotic drugs etc).

A desire for limb restoral could be not because of any inate discomfort, but because of the practical difficulties of wheelchairs, crutches, and artificial limbs (also "high level").

Many cases though are probably low-level, and in those rare cases of intense low-level apotemnophilia, amputation of a perfectly healthy limb may be justifiable on humane grounds. Some doctors seem to think so.

Those amputees whose intense discomfort with their situation results from low-level mismatch with body image, and who are unable with current technology to regrow limbs, often suicide, despite having an objectively reasonable life in most ways. The comparison with those with HBS is unavoidable.

Fortunately, those cases appear rare. The discomfort can be lived with, and with sufficient therapeutic help to accept the situation, the "higher level" functionality can to some extent mask the "low-level" discomfort, with coping behaviour. Such a conflict causes its own problems though, and again, you get the same kinds of thing happening with those who are not classically transsexual, but have "gender issues" and will never transition.

It all fits in a common pattern of informal clinical observations. But without harder data to back it up, all it's useful for is as the basis for research, or possibly treatment in areas where we don't have the faintest idea what we're doing and lack any other explanation.

About the only area where we do have data hard enough to be useful as the basis of a therapeutic regime is in classical HBS. And even then, some will deny that.

Monday, 19 May 2008

Let's You and Him Her fight

A hilarious piece showing that there's room for humour in US Politics. Sorry, humor.

And of course, he has to send himself up as well...

Sunday, 18 May 2008

The Three Models of Transsexuality

Over at Bilerico by Mercedes Allen, one of the writers on the subject I most admire. Worth a read, and the comments are as illuminating as the original post. Some even know what they're talking about.

And a post over at Bad Science:
What Sex are you? How would you react if someone told you you were wrong?

This is a post about sex and gender. It briefly describes some of the science, some of the junk science, and some of the exaggerations and occasional falsifications on all sides.

How do you define what is a man, and what is a woman? It would be useful if your definition didn't involve apparent absurdities like biological mothers being classed as men, and biological fathers being classed as women, but that's no insuperable barrier. It would also be useful if your definition included everyone (so everyone is either M or F, not neither), and no-one is both (so they're either M or F, not both). It is desirable that someone who was once M remains M, and someone who was once F remains F, but again, this is just a desirable property, not set in stone.

Whatever your definition, and whether it meets all or none of those properties, it's essential that it applies to everyone. No saying "Oh, but they're a tiny minority, we'll ignore them". The people concerned will object at this de-humanisation. It's also essential that your definition be humane, so extermination, exile, torture, or compulsory surgery to make people fit the definition are also right out.

It's my contention that no such definition with all the desirable properties above exists.

This post is too long, so I'll just finish up with some reading material that it's essential to look at before you can discuss this from an informed standpoint.
But you'll have to read the whole thing to see the references. Much has already appeared on this blog, but not the bit about Exorcism for example.

Friday, 16 May 2008

This Week's Battles

Let's see... a polite and rational discourse on GaySpecies, some mainly reasoned argument at Moonbattery - I quote "Thanks to you also for replying without hysterics or name calling" - calls for imprisonment of parents and school counsellors over at stop the ACLU, pointing out a few uncomfortable facts at Christianity Today, and Zoe shows her snarky side over at NewsBusters.

Meanwhile, Andrew Sullivan gets it, and lots of commentary goodness over at Dr Warren Throckmorton's, a man who I fear has been vastly misrepresented.

One who hasn't is Michael Bailey. But in a first, he says something that is calm, rational, and something I can agree with. Look, as as scientist, I don't care who utters a Truth, if it's true it's true, regardless of source. I'll quote him:
Children like Adam start showing their behavior early (Adam at 18 months). All evidence we have suggests that only a minority (20% or fewer) of boys like Adam become women eventually. But if parents let boys become girls at childhood, will this drive up the probability? It seems highly plausible that it would. Sex reassignment is not minor medical intervention. It involves major surgery and lifelong hormonal treatments. All other things being equal, sex reassignment is something to be avoided. Of course, not all other things are equal. If a 6 year old boy wants to be a girl, it will cause him more short-term pain to refuse than to acquiesce. The costs and benefits are hard to estimate, and Danielle has been frustrated in her search for data-supported answers. It would be a fitting reward to her admirable example if people could set aside their differences (and the government could uncharacteristically support research on a controversial topic relate to sex), and begin to collect and share requisite data.

In other words... we need more data.

The problem is that as far as I'm aware, there's only one group doing research on the topic in the whole of North America. And that is the group at Jurassic Clarke. There's a reason for this - we know that SRS and HRT work as therapies for adults, and so effort has been concentrated on proven, effective therapy rather than research on causality. Doing experiments on children is almost impossible to get past any ethics review too.

But the data is out there. Children are being given one of three types of therapy on an ad-hoc and unco-ordinated basis by individual therapists: coercive intervention, affirming intervention, and no intervention. The data on the effects isn't being gathered though. This should include long-term studies of not just presence/absence of GID, but also basic mental health. Sexual orientation too, if that's deemed important.

The only area of disagreement on this one that I have with Bailey is a small but important one: I would not consider sustained, prolonged, and systematic torture over most of childhood as being merely "short-term pain". The possibility of sequelae and side-effects such as suicidal ideation, debilitating depression, sexual dysfunction etc is so high in other "reparative therapies" that this should be our major concern here.

Finally, one more datapoint about transsexual neurology. From of all places, The Times of India:
After being trained in the basics of computer operations, Linux Operating System, spread sheets and browsing the internet, the twenty transsexuals, most of whom have never touched the monitor, got certificates from the government-run Electronics Corporation of Tamil Nadu (ELCOT) on Friday.

No group has ever scored such high marks,'' said ELCOT managing director C Umashankar. Ninety percent of them had scored over 90 marks and the lowest was 80 out of hundred. Remember, ELCOT has been training government servants for three decades. And, the transsexuals had not even touched the text books given to them.

The learners, mostly drop-outs from highschool with one or two graduates and post graduates, have lived most of their life in shadows, till they were spotted by Tamil Nadu Aids Initiative (TAI).
You know, it's almost as if they had some sort of unusual neurology, though it has to be said, the possibility of being raised out of the gutter is a powerful incentive to learn. Michael Bailey and Ray Blanchard think that it's just because they're festishists who want to look like women, and proficiency in computing is a reliable sign of that. Really. That's what Bailey says in his book. He doesn't say why, merely makes the remark based on observation. Older TS people tend to be good at computing, and as he insists they're all fetishists without exception, the deduction follows.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Sex and the Brain

Part of a continuing series.

Sometimes I get confronted with dogmatic statements of the form "Gender is a Social Construct!". Often stated with great conviction. This has elements of truth - Gender Role is a Social Construct. But Gender itself is not.

From Science Daily, based on the paper Sex Differences in Neural Processing of Language Among Children Burman DD, Talin T, Booth JR, in Neuropsychologia Neuropsychologia
Volume 46, Issue 5, 2008, Pages 1349-1362 :
Although researchers have long agreed that girls have superior language abilities than boys, until now no one has clearly provided a biological basis that may account for their differences.

For the first time -- and in unambiguous findings -- researchers from Northwestern University and the University of Haifa show both that areas of the brain associated with language work harder in girls than in boys during language tasks, and that boys and girls rely on different parts of the brain when performing these tasks.
Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the researchers measured brain activity in 31 boys and in 31 girls aged 9 to 15 as they performed spelling and writing language tasks.

The tasks were delivered in two sensory modalities -- visual and auditory. When visually presented, the children read certain words without hearing them. Presented in an auditory mode, they heard words aloud but did not see them.

Using a complex statistical model, the researchers accounted for differences associated with age, gender, type of linguistic judgment, performance accuracy and the method -- written or spoken -- in which words were presented.

The researchers found that girls still showed significantly greater activation in language areas of the brain than boys. The information in the tasks got through to girls' language areas of the brain -- areas associated with abstract thinking through language. And their performance accuracy correlated with the degree of activation in some of these language areas.

To their astonishment, however, this was not at all the case for boys. In boys, accurate performance depended -- when reading words -- on how hard visual areas of the brain worked. In hearing words, boys' performance depended on how hard auditory areas of the brain worked.

Iy would be fascinating to see an equivalent experiment involving children diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder. Adults and Adolescents too. It's my belief that for someone to be transsexual, only one part or complex of the brain need be cross-gendered. But it's probable that other parts will be too. I conjecture that the earlier the manifestation of symptoms, the more likely the brain will be more cross-gendered. I also conjecture that the cross-gendering won't be complete in the majority of cases: that the mind of a transsexual person will conform neither to a wholly male, nor a wholly female pattern, as a general rule.

The same probably applies to many in gender-atypical professions. Female engineers remain totally female, but I conjecture that parts of their brain to do with engineer-type-stuff (to use a technical term) would be somewhere near the middle, rather than at the far end of a "typically female profile".

It would fit. But many a beautiful theory has been slain by an ugly fact. Pending actual experimental results, such conjectures are only useful for suggesting areas of interest to concentrate on in experimentation.

Another area of research is not just to determine the facts, for the study is pretty conclusive to me. It's to find out the cause. Boys and girls of that age think differently, their brains are wired up differently. But why? How much is to do with socialisation and feedback mechanisms, how much is due to hormonal floods at puberty, and how much is pre-ordained in some unknown way by pre-natal factors, probably hormonal, going back to the first trimester?

In my view, the evidence that we have, scanty as it is, is that the latter predominates. How else to explain the 500-fold increase in incidence of transsexuality amongst genetic males exposed to DES in the first trimester? The evidence is that this inborn tendency is very strong in certain areas, and may even be nigh unchangeable in the area of sexual orientation. In Gender Identity, the situation may be more fluid, but even then, the conditioning required to cause the brain to develop in an un-natural fashion "against the grain" is the equivalent of producing bonsai children. Cruel, a low success rate, and with terrible side-effects in many or even most cases.

I wish researchers would do a bit less of the neo-Freudian psychological theorising, and a bit more measuring of how the brain works using fMRI scans. I just want to know, and not just for objective reasons. Let the cards fall as they may, but at least let's observe them, and not deal from the bottom of the deck. Then, armed with knowledge, we can address the moral and ethical issues with some confidence that we're not doing exactly the wrong thing due to the best of intentions.

Previous posts on Gender/Sex Differences in the Brain, and the use of MRI to detect them:

Brains, Genes, and Sexual Orientation in Men
Functional MagnetoResonanceTomography... and Transsexuality
A Reply from a Guy I used to know
Talk is Cheap
Thoughts on Gender
It starts with a kiss
Left, Right, Male and Female Brains
Brain Intersex
Brain Structure

That last one is particularly poignant. June 6, 2005. Only 4 weeks after the first symptoms of my spectacular change appeared. A time which was filled with endless tests and more tests, including an MRI scan. A time when I was finally able to search for data about transsexuality, not knowing whether to deny or accept, or even if denial was possible. It wasn't, of course. A time when the writing was on the wall, and I was summoning enough courage to read it, limiting myself to taking sneak peeks between my fingers. A time when I lay in the bath, observing the bodily changes, part of me terrified that my whole life to that point had ended, and that not only was there no return, but I desperately didn't want to go back into Hell even if that was possible.

My trip to the Gender Centre in Sydney was still two days in the future. There I would be told that my life story wasn't unique as I'd always thought, but utterly typical. I didn't know that. I'd learned a lot in 4 weeks, but there are limits! I was also told yhat changes like mine had happened to several other transsexual women. My first contact with a professional, an expert in the area of diagnosis, rather than treatment. I was TS, as I hoped/feared.

It was still three weeks before I started laser hair removal, and had my ears pierced. Nothing that couldn't be backtracked from, physically, though to me the decision to have my ears pierced was the decision to travel all the way to the end of the line.

To use a well-worn analogy, something of a cliche, I was no longer a caterpillar, but a chrysalis. Now a pretty butterfly, social or otherwise, was never me. It would have been nice in some ways, but really not how I saw myself. A particularly fascinating workaday moth, one not pretty, but possessing a certain beauty anyway, and far more interesting, that was more my style. Still is, come to think of it. I'm.... Happy. Me, Zoe. I hope my readers are too.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Unclear on the Concept

Aristotle, Socrates, Plato, Euclid. "There were giants in the Earth" in those days. Intellectual giants, anyway. Aristotelian and Platonic philosophies are those which we all can identify with, from common experience. They are the product of some very keen minds trying to find reasons for things, making observations, then coming up with ideas to explain why things as they are, and trying to determine what should be. The Socratic teaching method is one I use a lot, asking guided questions to let the student reason out the answer for themselves. And when I did my undergrad Thesis on Non-Euclidian Geometry, I was humbled by Euclid's intellect. With 4 simple axioms, and one complex and ugly one, he provided the basis for much of modern mathematics. He must have cursed at the fifth, messy and unaesthetic one, that lacks the simplicity and beauty of the other four, yet is necessary to make geometry work. It is to his credit that he didn't try to cover the messiness up, but exposed it for all to see.

Assuming that fifth axiom is false provides the basis for non-Euclidean geometry, extending the 2-dimensional realm of squares, circles and triangles from planes to the surfaces of spheres, and hyperspheres. Spherical geometry is particularly useful when doing long-distance navigation, so this Pure Mathematics has some decidedly Applied aspects too.

But... these giants, these scholars who are worthy of all the adulation they are given, are not unimpeachable. Sometimes they were dead wrong, sometimes in small ways, sometimes in large. Science must always question Authority. In fact, the whole intellectual structure of Academic discourse is based on the free-flow of ideas. When (as sometimes happens) the power-games of political ideology stifle enquiry, then
'tis an unweeded garden,
That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature
Possess it merely.

Weary, Flat, Stale and Unprofitable indeed. (Hamlet 1.2.131-61, Shakespeare)

Some are unclear on the concept. They may adopt the trappings of academe, the facade, but they are at best charlatans, at worst power-mad bullies.

Case in point, one "Dr" Priya Venkatesan, formerly of Dartmouth College. From the Wall Street Journal :
The latest spectacle is an Ivy League professor threatening to sue her students because, she claims, their "anti-intellectualism" violated her civil rights.

Priya Venkatesan taught English at Dartmouth College. She maintains that some of her students were so unreceptive of "French narrative theory" that it amounted to a hostile working environment. She is also readying lawsuits against her superiors, who she says papered over the harassment, as well as a confessional exposé, which she promises will "name names."
Ms. Venkatesan lectured in freshman composition, intended to introduce undergraduates to the rigors of expository argument. "My students were very bully-ish, very aggressive, and very disrespectful," she told Tyler Brace of the Dartmouth Review. "They'd argue with your ideas." This caused "subversiveness," a principle English professors usually favor.

Ms. Venkatesan's scholarly specialty is "science studies," which, as she wrote in a journal article last year, "teaches that scientific knowledge has suspect access to truth." She continues: "Scientific facts do not correspond to a natural reality but conform to a social construct."

The agenda of Ms. Venkatesan's seminar, then, was to "problematize" technology and the life sciences. Students told me that most of the "problems" owed to her impenetrable lectures and various eruptions when students indicated skepticism of literary theory. She counters that such skepticism was "intolerant of ideas" and "questioned my knowledge in very inappropriate ways." Ms. Venkatesan, who is of South Asian descent, also alleges that critics were motivated by racism, though it is unclear why.

After a winter of discontent, the snapping point came while Ms. Venkatesan was lecturing on "ecofeminism," which holds, in part, that scientific advancements benefit the patriarchy but leave women out. One student took issue, and reasonably so – actually, empirically so. But "these weren't thoughtful statements," Ms. Venkatesan protests. "They were irrational." The class thought otherwise. Following what she calls the student's "diatribe," several of his classmates applauded.

Ms. Venkatesan informed her pupils that their behavior was "fascist demagoguery." Then, after consulting a physician about "intellectual distress," she cancelled classes for a week. Thus the pending litigation.

From Gawker :
From: Priya Venkatesan
Sent: Friday, April 25, 2008
Subject: Class Action Suit

Dear Student:

Please disregard the previous email sent by Priya Venkatesan. This is to officially inform you that you are being accused of violating Title VII pertaining to federal anti-discrimination laws, by the plaintiff, Priya Venkatesan. You are being specifically accused of, but not limited to, harassment. Please do not respond to this email as it will be used against you in a court of law.

Priya Venkatesan, PhD
Yes, she sued her class. Or tried to. One can conjecture as to her understanding of the legal phrase "class action suit". It does not mean suing one's class, for example.

Moving on.. From the Concord Monitor:
Instead, she said, some students attacked the material "as if they were achieved scholars." The students were hostile, rude and abrasive, she said, and ignored her authority as their professor. "They were attacking thinkers that, even with my degrees, I would think twice about attacking," Venkatesan said. "I'm wondering why I was subjected to that behavior. . . . It was just a little disturbing that you'd get a student who'd come up to you after getting a reading assignment and say, 'So I underlined this. This is X, Y and Z why this statement is false.' . . . It consistently kept happening."

One example of the students' egregious behavior, Venkatesan said, was the time the students applauded in class when someone disagreed with her. She said she was lecturing on The Death of Nature, a book by philosopher Carolyn Merchant, and described Merchant's view that the emergence of science contributed to the marginalizing of women.
It can be, and has been, argued that the invention of the washing-machine was the greatest single step in the liberation of women from terminal drudgery. An even greater step forward than the contraceptive pill.

As one person of my acquainyance put it:
Miss Venkatesan, here is a small reality check.
Women were always marginalized in cultures in which greater physical strength was a decisive factor in earning and keeping wealth and power.
In short form, take that as "almost always, almost everywhere".
The emergence of science led directly to the perfection of the machine screw, which led directly to mass production.
Mass production led directly to an explosion of tools and techniques which rendered physical strength largely irrelevant in many jobs.
This led directly to an upsurge in viability for women in a broad range of non-domestic wage-earning careers.
In summary: Science is directly responsible for real liberation of women from their previously ineluctible role as domestic chattel.
Fucking deal with it, dumb ass.
This does not fit the narrative of unending and absolute Patriarchal oppression though, so to raise an ugly fact is not just rude, but a threat. Not just wrong, but Evil. To continue with the article in the Concord Monitor:
An anonymous review posted to a Dartmouth blog details some complaints: "If you decide to take this class, prepare to NOT be allowed to express your own opinions," the reviewer said. "We were forced to write an in-class essay on 'respect' (and how we lacked it) because we expressed our views on controversial topics and some did not agree with the views of 'established scholars.' "

Venkatesan said she's considering taking legal action against Cormen and other faculty. Cormen did not back her up when students complained about her, she said. "He did the academically questionable thing of not supporting a colleague," she said. "That's not academic de rigueur."
It's all about power.

A bit more about "Dr" Vasekaran's background. From the Dartmouth college website, which I expect to be updated soon:
Priya Venkatesan, Ph.D.

After obtaining a BA from Dartmouth College, I have an MS in Genetics from UC Davis and a PhD in Literature from UC San Diego. My first book, Molecular Biology in Narrative Form, was just released. My current position is as Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Medicine at Dartmouth Medical School, which will form the basis of my latest manuscript, A Postmodernist in the Laboratory.
That will be the one where she tells all, and names names.

As for her Magnum Opus, Molecular Biology in Narrative Form, or rather, "Molecular Biology in Narrative Form: A Study of the Experimental Trajectory of Science (Berkeley Insights in Linguistics and Semiotics)", here's the review:
Molecular Biology in Narrative Form is a groundbreaking, interdisciplinary study that shows a connection between molecular biology and French narrative theory, and, from a unique perspective, bridges the gap between two disciplines that seem mutually exclusive.
Ya Think?
With many new insights on the link between science (in the form of DNA, a set of codes) and literature (in the form of language, another set of codes), this book looks at modern experimental science within the framework of semiotics. Priya Venkatesan reveals the extraordinary parallel between the work of scientists and the work of narratologists who develop narrative paradigms and analyze literary texts. Molecular Biology in Narrative Form will be a useful resource for scientists and literary theorists interested in the epistemological workings of science, as well as, anyone that desires to explore the linkages between scientific theory and literary analysis.
I think that market is... limited. The scientists haven't swallowed the postmodernist claptrap, and the literary theorists aren't too sure if the Sun or the Moon is larger, and whether they go around the Earth or not. The intersection is a null set, mathematically speaking. Not even "Dr" Venkatasan. She's a literary theorist, and no scientist. The PhD in Literature from UC San Diego is, perhaps, understandable. The MS in Genetics from UC Davis is not, and they should have a good look at the procedure for awarding one, else it becomes meaningless.

Still, I've seen worse in Junk Science books on Transsexuality. Really. I wish I was kidding.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

The Dynamic Trio

I've just returned after a gruelling drive to Sydney and back. 320 km each way, call it 400 miles for the round-trip.

But worthwhile.

Grace Adams, Stephanie Imbruglia and I gave a lecture together, on TS-101 (with IS-101 to give it context), to a lecture theatre full of students at the Kingswood Campus of the University of Western Sydney.

It's no coincidence that all three of us were victimised by the Australian Passport Office. They get an A for consistency.

We have three rather different styles - Grace is the traditional Aussie Larrikin Sheila (and organised the whole thing), Stephanie is Studied Elegance, and I'm the not Studied but Studious Geek Girl Academic. We disagreed on just enough of the fiddly details to show that we're not part of some monolithic block, just... people. Normal. Women. Which was about the last thing the students expected. Not surprising, given the Jerry Springer Show, and for that matter, Janice Raymond's Transsexual Empire, whose nauseating stench odour of transphobia still permeates many arts departments and feminist courses.

Our three styles complimented each other, rather than clashed. It went well. In fact, in my not so humble opinion, it went very well.

We might even get our rather free-form and unpracticed presentation on video, and put it up on YouTube as a teaching resource.

Afterwards, a trip to Glebe Point Road, only a few hundred metres from Sydney Uni (my old stamping-ground in the late 70's), and coffee with Dr Tracie O'Keefe. Her court battle is still ongoing, and so is sub judice, but one thing I can say: At the last hearing, she was herself, all her opponents were themselves, and who was at least sane, and who were frothing-at-the-mouth loonies was pretty obvious. She's cautiously optimistic, as the sheer irrationality of her opponents caused a few raised eyebrows in court. You know what I said about Raymond's Magnum Opus? Well, those gals were full of it. In more ways than one.

Stephanie had a double-shot Latte, and the gorgeous sour-cherry-and-cream strudel. With cream. I had a single Earl Grey, and muttered to myself yet again about the sheer injustice of some with figures to die for (and she does, as does Grace) being able to eat such treats without effect, while I gain a kilo if I look at a lettuce leaf. There Is No Justice.

Then a nice, relaxing 4 hour drive home, avoiding the worst of the rush hour. Well, most of it. Driving at night beats the fog banks that I had to negotiate at 0630 that morning, anyway, much as having a tooth extracted beats having root canal therapy.

Now to put together a bio data pack, as I've been invited to join SAGE, Sex and Gender Education Australia. But not tonight. I'm shattered.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Candid Camera

Canberra has a reputation for being less than lively. Boring, in fact. Excessively so.

Here's something that happened at Fairbairn Airbase, part of Canberra Airport, that was nearly a bit too exciting. Note the typical laconic Aussie humour in the commentary from the control tower.

Oh, the title of this post? Those familiar with NATO codenames will recognise not just the aircraft, but the terrible pun....

Hat tip to Tex at Whacking Day. Even if he called it an Antonov.

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Square Peg, Round Hole

I didn't want to continue with yet another post on TS issues. This blog is intended to be a pot-pourri of issues, those of Science, and Space, and Sotware, and Serendipity. Brains too, of course.

I just read the full text of the paper I mentioned in the previous post. It's one of the benefits of being at a University, access to periodicals and journals through the library, and study of issues outside your particular speciality is encouraged. That's what Universities are all about, or they should be: they're not just glorified technical colleges.

I won't give a full analysis of the paper. It's well-written, definitely Good and not Junk science. The methodology is sound, as far as it goes, and the imperfections in the technique not plastered over, but there for all to see. It's what every scientific paper should be.

It takes as an axiom, an unspoken assumption, that all the people being studied are girls. Those men who are in the process of transition are referred to not as men, but as "girls with gender dysphoria". This assumption is questionable, and in one case, one of the study group that was "cured", is, I think, provably incorrect.

Four of the group of 25 were physically and unquestionably Intersexed. Their chromosomal sex wasn't reported, it wasn't regarded as important enough to mention, though easily capable of being measured.

Well, perhaps that's understandable. This is of course about Gender Identity, not extraneous detail that can be difficult to quantify. Except that more than half of the report is on sexual preference, something that is even more irrelevant to Gender than chromosomes, and notoriously difficult to nail down in transsexual people, whose orientation can change at transition.

One case though, we can be certain of. The one with "micropenis of indetermined cause". He has male chromosomes. He has to, or we'd know the cause.

Here's one view. There's considerable "reading between the lines" and interpolation from other evidence, but this is what the evidence strongly suggests may have happened.

Once there was a little boy. Now this little boy had an unfortunate medical condition. His penis was judged by those who had power over him to be too small. Boys in this parlous situation can still be fathers (though it takes technical help), and still derive normal sexual enjoyment. Anyone who thinks that the use of genitals are the only way to please a partner during sex really needs to do some study on the subject.

More unfortunate for him was that those who advised his concerned parents had strong views on this state of affairs. Feminists who believe in the concept of a Monolithic Patriarchy would suspect the advisors were all male. I'd go along with them in this case, not necessarily for the same reasons. We can't tell though. The report doesn't say.

It's likely that the advisors had heard all about the difficulties Intersexed people have at school. The persecution, the bullying. How locker-rooms would be nightmarish places to be avoided at all costs. I had a mild case, and I made sure I was alone when I took a shower after gym. It's not good even now, and at the time we're talking about for this boy, it was worse.

So it was decided to rear this boy as a girl. Now my own studies have shown that sometimes this will turn out well. A substantial proportion of people are just not strongly gendered either way, and could function as either. Not always though, and not even usually. You may hit the jackpot, and get someone who is transsexual anyway, and for them it would be perfect - but that's 1 in 3000. The trouble is, Surgical reassignment to a gender that is intolerable, the wrong gender, is a distinct possibility, and will result in Gender Dysphoria. In severe cases, this will be obvious at a young age, as it is with children born strongly neurologically cross-gendered, "primary transsexuals".

They castrated him.

They do that, you know, routinely to Intersexed kids. 5 times every day, an Intersexed baby is "normalised" by involuntary surgery, one way or another, in North America. There's a US-sponsored special exception to International Covenants against genital mutilation, just for them.

They removed any chance of fatherhood. Sterilised him. Made any hope of having an approximately normal life as a man remote, too. Not zero, for transsexual men do manage it, if they're strong enough. But what would have been easy and natural became vastly more difficult and complex. And they crossed their fingers that his brain was plastic enough to cope. Theory said it should be, no matter how many cases there were that it wasn't, not always.

This boy hadn't read the Theory. He wanted to play with the other boys. Gradually it would have dawned on his horrified parents that this wasn't just "tomboy" behaviour, but that their little girl (as they had to think of him for their own sanity) had a Problem.

So they probably took him to the Clarke Institute, in all probability the same people who had "helped" them before. What else could they do? Again, from memory the report doesn't say where he was taken, just that he had the Zucker Treatment.

So his pencil box had all the olive drab colours removed so he couldn't draw tanks, soldiers and aircraft. Instead, it was pink and purple pastels only. Playing with boys was forbidden, and it had to be Barbie not GI Joe in his toybox. Perhaps, as in many other cases, he hid his toy truck under his pillow, until that too was taken.

The previous post shows the kind of thing that happens. There's another post too, one I did earlier, showing the extremes in those days. I have no evidence whatsoever that the Clarke Institute engaged in this, I must emphasise. But I don't have any evidence that it was the Clarke Institute that gave the treatment, that's not mentioned in the report either. I'll quote from my earlier article, from this time last year:
Parents who brought their children to Rekers had to agree to participate in the "curing" of them. "Kraig," a four-year-old who participated in the UCLA Feminine Boy Project, was also monitored in the clinic's play-observation room. Only this time, it was his mother who wore the bug-in-the-ear, listening for her behavioral cues from the folks behind the wall. While playing, "Kraig would have seen her suddenly jerk upright, and look away from him toward the one-way window," Burke reports (based on transcripts of his case):

His mother was being prompted, through the earphones, by the doctor. She was told to completely ignore him, because he was engaged in feminine play. Kraig would have no understanding of what was happening to his mother. On one such occasion, his distress was such that he began to scream, but his mother just looked away. His anxiety increased, and he did whatever he could to get her to respond to him, but she just looked away. She must have seemed like a stranger to have changed her behavior toward him so suddenly and for no apparent reason . . . He was described as being in a panic, alternating between sobs and "aggressing at her," but again, when his distraught mother finally looked at him and began to respond, she stopped mid-sentence and abruptly turned away, as if he were not there. Kraig became so hysterical, and his mother so uncomfortable, that one of the clinicians had to enter and take Kraig, screaming, from the room.

Kraig's treatment continued in this vein. He was also put on the "token system" at home. Inappropriate, feminine behaviors earned him a red token, masculine ones, a blue token. Each red token earned him a spanking from his father. After more than two years of treatment, Kraig's behavior had turned around. He was now described by his mother as a "rough neck," and he no longer cared if his hair was neat or his clothes matched. But when he was eighteen, after years of being held up (under a pseudonym) by Rekers as "the poster boy for behavioral treatment of boyhood effeminacy," Kraig attempted suicide, because he thought that he might be gay.
The gender is opposite, but the story's the same.

After an unknown number of years of similar brainwashing, this boy-in-a-surgically-created-mostly-girl-body was pronounced "cured". Much to the relief of the parents, and the therapists, who might well have considered the consequences if he hadn't been.

Perhaps, and I would like to think this is true, Dr Zucker is correct. That despite all the counter-examples, despite the "gender dysphoria", this boy's brain was adequately malleable to make him into a successful woman. He's trumpeted as a success anyway, not at all gender dysphoric, no desire to change. And just as importantly (to them), Straight too, and not at all lesbian.

Failing that, I would like to think of him as cheerfully insane, much as I was. OK, that would mean being unable to access memories of childhood. For him, that would mean being unable to wear a man's shirt, or anything but the frilliest, most girly clothes he could get, just in case anyone suspected. Frigid, though yearning for love like anyone else, and capable of pleasing his male partner, who he loves dearly. The bit that says that this is all horribly, terribly wrong and perverse, safely locked away in a box in a safe in a room in a sunken ship under the ocean on a planet in a distant galaxy, so he almost never can hear the screaming in his head. No Gender Dysphoria, no siree, not for this guy, er, gal, the idea is absurd! Happy, for you can be in this situation. I know. I've been there. It's not that bad, really (so why are you crying, Zoe?). It doesn't feel bad at the time, anyway, that at least is unquestionably true. You can be highly functional, and no-one suspect, least of all you.

What I fear is that he might be on huge doses of anti-depressants, or alcoholic, or attempting to drown the misery in activities of one sort or another. Promiscuous sex perhaps, to validate his female identity. Suicidally Ideating perhaps. But again, no Gender Dysphoria, for if he showed that, the voices in his head tell him that no-one would love him. Her. Conforming, Bidable, and not standing out.

I don't know which of these is the case. It might be something else entirely. I don't know because it wasn't in the report. A study using basic tests for mental health would have told us about the last condition anyway, though the first two situations would have been indistinguishable.

But you see, compared to whether GD was still present or not, "happiness", "quality of life" or even basic mental health, wasn't considered important. Not worth measuring. And this is my main critique, why I'm inclined to take a very jaundiced view, not important even compared to sexual preference. It appears to be all about conformity.

Now remember just how much interpolation I'm doing. How much guesswork, lacking facts. Humans are good at seeing patterns that don't exist. I'm not objective either.

But it fits all too well. I hope I'm wrong, I hope my wild surmises and conjectures are nowhere near the actuality. I fear I'm right though. People like me are good at intuition. It also is consistent with every single one of the narratives I've heard from literally dozens of Intersexed people who went through the same kind of thing, and similar to the testimony of literally hundreds of TS people I've corresponded with.

I hope someone at Jurassic Clarke can show me that I'm utterly wrong, and it's vastly improbable that I have all the details right anyway. But I think, in the main, it's likely to be all too accurate.

I'm a boy, I'm a boy, but my Ma won't admit it
I'm a boy, I'm a boy, but if I say I am I get it.

Peter Townsend

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Mommy, don't take me there!

This one is difficult to write. I won't pretend to be properly objective as a scientist should be. I have a little boy, the same age as the child being discussed, and more than a Rocket Scientist, I'm a parent. This hits me where I live.

I refer to NPR's story, Two Families. It's about two very different approaches to the same vexed issue, one of them favoured by Kenneth Zucker, who I've mentioned in a previous post.

Now would be a good time for anyone with an ounce of humanity to grab their blood pressure medication, and a handkerchief.

First, a whole bunch of disclaimers, why my subjective assessment should be taken with the appropriate amounts of NaCl.
  • There's the problem of Projection. How do I know that what I felt 45 years or so ago is what this child is feeling? Every case is different.
  • I know Dr Zucker is acting out of the highest motives, and has far more knowledge than I do.
  • I know the parents are doing the responsible thing, getting the best professional advice, and sometimes you really do have to be cruel to be kind.
  • I of all people should know the price to be paid, the surgery, the sterility. Had my metabolism not gone weird, I wouldn't have put myself through it
  • As a right-winger, I consider NPR to be only slightly more reliable than Baghdad Bob. We're not getting the whole story, only carefully selected parts that fit the predetermined narrative.
  • The tears streaming down my face and onto the keyboard show my own objectivity is hopelessly compromised, so be careful of any editorialising I might do.
Now onto the story... you can listen to it here.
It does seem to be the case that, at least in the short term, Carol's son Bradley is struggling in some ways with Zucker's therapy. Carol says it was particularly hard at the beginning.

"He was much more emotional. ... He could be very clingy. He didn't want to go to school anymore," she says. "Just the smallest thing could, you know, send him into a major crying fit. And ... he seemed to feel really heavy and really emotional."

Bradley has been in therapy now for eight months, and Carol says still, on the rare occasions when she cannot avoid having him exposed to girl toys, like when they visit family, it doesn't go well.

"It's really hard for him. He'll disappear and close a door, and we'll find him playing with dolls and Polly Pockets and ... the stuff that he's drawn to," she says.

In particular, there is one typically girl thing — now banned — that her son absolutely cannot resist.

"He really struggles with the color pink. He really struggles with the color pink. He can't even really look at pink," Carol says. "He's like an addict. He's like, 'Mommy, don't take me there! Close my eyes! Cover my eyes! I can't see that stuff; it's all pink!' "

Still, Carol says, Bradley has made some progress. Today, he is able to play with boys. He has a few male friends, and has said that he now enjoys boy things. And there are other signs of change.

"I mean, he tells us now that he doesn't dream anymore that he's a girl. So, we're happy with that. He's still a bit defensive if we ask him, 'Do you want to be a girl?' He's like 'No, NO! I'm happy being a boy. ...' He gives us that sort of stock answer. ... I still think we're at the stage where he feels he's leading a double life," she says. "... I'm still quite certain that he is with the girls all the time at school, and so he knows to behave one way at school, and then when he comes home, there's a different set of expectations."

'Mommy, don't take me there! Close my eyes! Cover my eyes!

She's trying to be a good girl - or rather, a good boy.

I know I'm not objective, but how can anyone do something like this to a child, regardless of circumstances?

I confess I am too emotionally disturbed by this, too many really bad memories to be objective about it.

If I didn't know any better, I'd call this torture, child abuse, that will likely instill all sorts of nasty little neuroses in later life.

In my own situation, I can blame neither parents, nor therapists. I hid it from the first, and the second didn't exist back then. I did it to myself, unable to wear even the palest of pastel shirts because "boys didn't do that". I was investing so very much of my psychic energy into trying to be a boy because I looked like one. I tried to be good.

For forty-seven years.

I don't want other kids to be put through that.

In a follow up Q&A session Dr Zucker explains himself.
I've seen many kids over the years present with all the indicators of GID, and in terms of my quantitative measures they're very extreme. But the follow-up studies I've done, and others too, show [that] a substantial majority of kids seen for GID in childhood show desistance — that is, when they're older they don't want to be the other sex. We just published a study of 25 girls we first saw in childhood and found that only 12 percent seem to have persistent gender dysphoria when they're older. We find similar rates of persistence in boys.
The study is A follow-up study of girls with gender identity disorder. Drummond KD, Bradley SJ, Peterson-Badali M, Zucker KJ. Dev Psychol. 2008 Jan;44(1):34-45. From the abstract:
At the assessment in childhood, 60% of the girls met the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders criteria for GID, and 40% were subthreshold for the diagnosis.
So not 25, but 15 were diagnosed with definite GID. The study goes on to say that most of those who didn't remain Gender Dysphoric ended up as Butch Lesbians or completely asexual. And 20% went through Room 101 for nothing. Some of the cases were only 15 years old at follow up, with mean age 23.4 years, younger than many, perhaps even most, transmen transition, usually after living as Butch lesbians for years.
As his pile of toys dwindled, Carol realized Bradley was hoarding. She would find female action figures stashed between couch pillows. Rainbow unicorns were hidden in the back of Bradley's closet.
As opposed to a girl hiding her identity in a secret place in her mind.

Zucker's therapy sometimes works. But he's not just guilding the lilly with his claims, he's making 24ct gold statuettes. It's all about politics you see.
The therapists supporting a child's transition early, I have characterized them in a half serious way as liberal essentialists. On the surface, the approach comes across as very humanistic, liberal, accepting, tolerant of diversity. But I think the hidden assumption is that they believe the child's cross-gender identity is entirely caused by biological factors. That's why I call them essentialists. Liberals have always been critical of biological reductionism, but here they embrace it. I think that conceptual approach is astonishingly naive and simplistic, and I think it's wrong.
Well, I'm no liberal, Dr Zucker. I plead guilty to humanistic, accepting and tolerant of diversity though, as I see those as being more characteristic of the Right than the Left in practice, even if we don't say the Politically Correct things. We also have a greater commitment to evidence-based conclusions rather than things that are expedient to believe for our own comfort.

I don't claim that gender identity is entirely shaped solely by biological effects either. Torture, Rape, and other trauma can cause physical changes in the brain in some cases. The biology shapes the possible, and studies on Intersexed people who undergo a natural apparent sex change show there's a large group that can function well as either gender. Some people are just not strongly gendered either way.
I managed the Boy act for decades, after all. I was a tomboy, I liked the idea of being a boy. I just wasn't one. I had things nowhere near as bad as these children.

"Astonishingly naive and simplistic"? Not compared to ignoring the neurological evidence in favour of dusty old Freudian theory, and ideas that conformity to an average is a Good in its own right.

The American Psychological Association (APA) passed a resolution back in 1997 condemning "reparative therapy" .
Supporters of the resolution, which passed the APA Council overwhelmingly by a voice vote, believed that it was critical for the Association to make such a statement due to the questions of the ethics, efficacy and benefits of conversion therapy which are now being debated within the profession and within society as a whole.
The context was that of attempting to change sexual orientation in consenting adults. But it seems that when it comes to gender identity, and small children, the same techniques are quite permissible, despite even more questions about the dubious ethics, efficacy, and benefit.

What questions? Children saying 'Mommy, don't take me there! Close my eyes! Cover my eyes! for example. It all comes down to that. As a Scientist, I must take into account the evidence, the numbers. As a mother parent, those words weigh even more heavily in my decisions. Torturing children is wrong, even if, especially if, it's "for the good of society" or a political or moral principle. Such a society, such a political ideal, such a system of morality, is wrong and does not deserve to exist.

I remind everyone that Dr Zucker now chairs the APA's Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders Work Group.