Monday, 31 January 2011

Genetic Algorithms in Action

See BoxCar2D

Genetic Algorithm Car Evolution Using Box2D Physics (v1.2)

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Version 1.2 is up!! Press "R" to reset and "P" to pause. Use the UP/DOWN buttons to vote for cars.

HINT: Try upping the mutation rate, and increasing max number of wheels...

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Putting a veil on Egypt

From Phyllis Chessler at Pyjamas Media:

Cairo University Class of 1959

Cairo University Class of 1978

Cairo University Class of 1995

Cairo University Class of 2004

Cairo University Class of 2015

Females not permitted on campus by order of the Muslim Brotherhood

"Islam is dogma and worship, a fatherland and nationality, religion and state, spirituality and action, the Qur'an and the sword"

For a guide to what's happening in Egypt, see the events of 93 years ago.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Useful USB Devices

A USB charger that is a Perpetual Motion Machine of the First Kind

And just as useful, a USB Pet Rock.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Wine and Superconductors

From io9:
Yoshihiko Takano and other researchers at the National Institute for Materials Science in Japan were in the process of creating a certain kind of superconductor by putting a compound in hot water and soaking it for hours. They also soaked the compound in a mixture of water and ethanol. It appears the process was going well, because the scientists decided to have a little party. The party included sake, whisky, various wines, shochu, and beer. At a certain point, the researchers decided to try soaking the compound in the many, many liquors they had on hand and seeing how they compared to the more conventional soaking liquids.
As you do.
When they tested the resulting materials for superconductivity, they found that the ones soaked in commercial booze came out ahead. About 15 percent of the material became a superconductor for the water mixed with ethanol, and less for the pure water. By comparison, Shochu jacked up conductivity by 23 percent and red wine managed to supercharge over 62 percent of the material. The scientists were pleased, if bemused with their results.
The data comes first. Explanations afterwards. No, I haven't got a clue why this should be so either. We need to repeat the experiment to make sure the effect is real - and if it is, do some serious thinking. That's Thinking with a "Th" not a "Dr".

Thursday, 27 January 2011

White Matter and (Trans)Sexual Differentiation

From New Scientist:
Transsexual differences caught on brain scan

Antonio Guillamon's team at the National University of Distance Education in Madrid, Spain, think they have found a better way to spot a transsexual brain. In a study due to be published next month, the team ran MRI scans on the brains of 18 female-to-male transsexual people who'd had no treatment and compared them with those of 24 males and 19 females.

They found significant differences between male and female brains in four regions of white matter – and the female-to-male transsexual people had white matter in these regions that resembled a male brain (Journal of Psychiatric Research, DOI: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2010.05.006). "It's the first time it has been shown that the brains of female-to-male transsexual people are masculinised," Guillamon says.

In a separate study, the team used the same technique to compare white matter in 18 male-to-female transsexual people with that in 19 males and 19 females. Surprisingly, in each transsexual person's brain the structure of the white matter in the four regions was halfway between that of the males and females (Journal of Psychiatric Research, DOI: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2010.11.007). "Their brains are not completely masculinised and not completely feminised, but they still feel female," says Guillamon.

The articles are:

White matter microstructure in female to male transsexuals before cross-sex hormonal treatment. A diffusion tensor imaging study Rametti et al Journal of Psychiatric Research, Volume 45, Issue 2, February 2011, Pages 199-204

- which I've blogged about before, and

The microstructure of white matter in male to female transsexuals before cross-sex hormonal treatment. A DTI study Rametti et al Journal of Psychiatric Research, In Press, Corrected Proof, Available online 30 December 2010
MtF transsexuals differed from both male and female controls bilaterally in the superior longitudinal fasciculus, the right anterior cingulum, the right forceps minor, and the right corticospinal tract.
Our results show that the white matter microstructure pattern in untreated MtF transsexuals falls halfway between the pattern of male and female controls. The nature of these differences suggests that some fasciculi do not complete the masculinization process in MtF transsexuals during brain development.

While we're on the subject, another good article.

Sexual differentiation of the human brain in relation to gender identity and sexual orientation, Savic et al Progress in Brain Research, Volume 186, 2010, Pages 41-62 (Chapter 4)
There is a vast array of factors that may lead to gender problems (Table 1). Twin and family research has shown that genetic factors play a part ([Coolidge et al., 2002], [Gómez-Gil et al., 2010a], [Hare et al., 2009] and [van Beijsterveldt et al., 2006]). Rare chromosomal abnormalities may lead to transsexuality (Hengstschläger et al., 2003) and it was found that polymorphisms of the genes for ERα and ERβ, AR repeat length polymorphism and polymorphisms in the aromatase or CYP17 gene also produced an increased risk ([Bentz et al., 2008], [Hare et al., 2009] and [Henningsson et al., 2005]).
Abnormal hormone levels during early development may play a role, as suggested by the high frequency of polycystic ovaries, oligomenorrhea and amenorrhea in female-to-male (FtM) transsexuals. This observation suggests early intrauterine exposure of the female fetus to abnormally high levels of testosterone (Padmanabhan et al., 2005 V. Padmanabhan, M. Manikkam, S. Recabarren and D. Foster, Prenatal testosterone excess programs reproductive and metabolic dysfunction in the female, Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology 246 (2005), pp. 165–174.Padmanabhan et al., 2005). A recent study did not confirm a significantly increased prevalence of polycystic ovary syndrome. However, there was a significantly higher prevalence of hyperandrogynism in FtM transsexuals, also indicating the possible involvement of high testosterone levels in transsexuality (Mueller et al., 2008). A girl with congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), who has been exposed to extreme levels of testosterone in utero, will also have an increased chance of becoming transsexual. Although the likelihood of transsexuality developing in such cases is 300–1000 higher than normal, the risk for transsexuality in CAH is still only 1–3% (Zucker et al., 1996), whereas the probability of serious gender problems is 5.2% (Dessens et al., 2005). The consensus is, therefore, that girls with CAH should be raised as girls, even when they are masculinized (Hughes et al., 2006).

Epileptic women who were given phenobarbital or diphantoin during pregnancy also have an increased risk of giving birth to a transsexual child. Both these substances change the metabolism of the sex hormones and can act on the sexual differentiation of the child’s brain. In a group of 243 women who had been exposed to such substances during pregnancy, Dessens et al. (1999) found three transsexual children and a few others with less radical gender problems; these are relatively high rates for such a rare condition. On the “DES” (diethylstilbestrol, an estrogen-like substance—see later) children’s website they claimed that transsexuality occurs in 35.5% and a gender problem in 14% of the DES cases (links [Gender Identity Research and Education Society] and [DES Sons’ International Research] webpages). This is alarming, but needs, of course, to be confirmed in a formal study. There are no indications that postnatal social factors could be responsible for the occurrence of transsexuality (Cohen-Kettenis et al., 1998).
And rather a lot more.

We're now no longer answering the question "is cross-sexed neuro-anatomy causal of transsexuality?", we're identifying exactly which bits of the brain are affected, to what degree, and with what effects.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Australia Day 2011

Or "Invasion day" as some of the more politically correct call it.

For those readers not from Australia, it's our equivalent of July 4th. The day the first fleet landed.

I think it right that it should be both mourned and celebrated. That an act of theft can't be undone, so all we can do is make sure the ultimate outcome for the descendants of the victims is better than if it had not happened.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Turning a Man

This one's about the Sambia tribe in New Guinea.

From DISCOVER Magazine in 1992:
When I began to work in the New Guinea highlands nearly 30 years ago, the highlanders were just emerging from Stone Age conditions of incessant intertribal warfare. Even more startling to me than the stone axes and heavily armed men that I met were the hostility and rigid role divisions between the sexes. Women served as beasts of burden, while unmarried men lived homosexually in communal houses to which the women only brought food. The most feared warriors, whose territory was still closed to outsiders during my early visits, were the people I’m referring to as the Sambia.

It’s an exquisitely cruel irony that one of the world’s largest known concentrations of 5AR-deficient pseudohermaphrodites, characterized by ambiguous gender, occurs among the Sambia, whose culturally imposed differences between the sexes are among the sharpest of any human society in the world. Sambia men function as fighters and hunters, women as gardeners and mothers. The men do not participate in onerous gardening work, believing that possession of a penis makes them unable to grow edible sweet potatoes. Not only are there separate footpaths for men and women within the village, but also separate living spaces for husband and wife within their small hut, marked off by planks on the floor. Children’s play after the age of about five is segregated by sex. Eventually, boys are forbidden to talk with or even glance at women, who are regarded as dirty polluters. (They have that vagina, something truly no good.) The sole acceptable position for intercourse is with the man on top, so that he can get up immediately upon ejaculating to reduce his exposure to the polluting vagina.

Alas, only women can secrete milk and grow sweet potatoes, so the Sambia father has no choice but to entrust his sons to their polluting mother’s care during early childhood. At the age of seven or so, men are at last able to take over responsibility for their sons. That’s done by forcibly initiating young boys into life in the communal men’s house, where boys and bachelor men live as a group, and where women are banned. In lieu of mother’s milk, young boy initiates are told that daily consumption of the bachelors’ semen is essential to their growing big, becoming men, and living long. Young boys fellate older ones daily until puberty, whereupon the fellators reverse roles and are fellated by the next crop of younger boys. The punishment of death is threatened for those boys who reveal the secret or those women who stumble upon it. The young boys are taught that women are harmful, so there is no room for dating or other premarital heterosexual involvement. Other unacceptable practices include male self- masturbation (semen should be ingested, not expelled, they believe) and homosexual anal intercourse.

In the absence of dating, marriages are arranged, often at birth, and consummated when the girl has her first menstrual flow. At that point the young bachelor undergoes a shock rivaling his forcible initiation into the homosexual men’s club years earlier. Heterosexual procedures are at last explained to him, and he is told to initiate them with his bride, possessor of that vagina, something truly no good. (For a look of embarrassed horror, I’ve seen nothing to rival photos taken of highland bachelors listening for the first time to an older man’s graphic explanation of sexual intercourse.) Once a man’s first child is born, homosexual activities are considered as dangerous as heterosexual activities were before his marriage. Despite this extreme flip-flop in male sexual orientation, Sambia men still manage to make the readjustment and perpetuate their tribe.
Then comes what I think must be one of the great understatements of all time:
Not unexpectedly, pseudohermaphrodites, with their sexual ambiguity, don’t fit easily into Sambia life, with its sex stereotyping.
In contrast to the lives of the Xanadu pseudohermaphrodites, those of their Sambia counterparts are not stories with happy endings. Most Sambia pseudohermaphrodites are raised as boys; it’s unclear whether the Sambia label such babies as boys with birth defects, or actually assign them to a third sex, called turnim man, which starts out female but is anticipated to become male. Some of the boys are rejected by their fathers or viewed with shame by their mothers. They are sometimes teased, humiliated, and subjected to cruel gossip by their peers (You don’t have a penis! Go play with the girls!). Once those who have been raised as boys are initiated into the communal men’s house, they serve as fellators but, either by choice or out of embarrassment, never as fellateds. A few obtain wives, but in at least two documented cases the wives described them as not sexually satisfying. In one study of ten adult Sambia pseudohermaphrodites, only five were married, and one committed suicide.

A few Sambia pseudohermaphrodites are identified at birth as girls and reared as girls. Two of them were even married to men, but both were rejected in rage by their husbands after attempted intercourse. One such woman was named Moragu. On the first attempt at intercourse, Moragu’s new husband was able to penetrate only one to two inches. Similarly frustrated on a second attempt, the husband pulled back Moragu’s skirt for a closer look and was scandalized to discover testes and a small penis within the labia. After the enraged and publicly humiliated husband threatened his mate with murder, Moragu left the Sambia homeland to make a new life elsewhere.
Of course, we're more civilised. For some value of "civilised".
The pseudohermaphrodites themselves are made to feel like pariahs, mocked to their faces and whispered about behind their backs. Nearly 40 years after graduating high school, I still cringe to recall how my schoolmates stared and laughed at one unhappy classmate with ambiguous genitals whenever we took showers in the locker room. His life must have been daily torture. Nowadays there is much sympathy for patients with other types of genetic defects, but not yet for pseudohermaphrodites. The harsh fact is that gender ambiguity does arise occasionally, and it presents itself in a wide range of forms. I hope that as our scientific knowledge about pseudohermaphrodites advances, they will meet with the sympathy they deserve.
That article, I remind you, was written in 1992. 19 years later, there has been little change, and what change there has been (in the USA at least) has been retrograde more often than not. Not just in the US though. From the Albury-Wodonga TwinCityFocus some three weeks ago:
Lavington: On Monday (Jan 3) Donna Macklan went to visit a friend. Two people in their twenties viciously assaulted Donna, knocking her out of her wheel chair and hitting her with a shovel.

Whilst they were doing this they screamed “you hermaphrodite”. There is a full report in today’s Border Mail.
The victim is technically TS rather than IS. But bigots make no such fine distinctions. And national media, which would normally wax lyrical in their condemnation of such a brutal attack on a wheelchair-bound victim, is unaccountably silent about it when one of "those people" is hospitalised.

Saturday, 22 January 2011


1.6 million to 2.8 million:
The estimated number of homeless youth in the United States.

20 to 40 percent:
The portion of the homeless youth population who are gay or transgender, compared to only 5 to 10 percent of the overall youth population.

320,000 to 400,000:
A conservative estimate of the number of gay and transgender youth facing homelessness each year.

The average age that lesbian and gay youth in New York become homeless.

The average age that transgender youth in New York become homeless.

58 percent:
The portion of homeless gay and transgender youth who have been sexually assaulted, compared to 33 percent of homeless heterosexual youth.

44 percent:
The portion of homeless gay and transgender youth who reported being asked by someone on the street to exchange sex for money, food, drugs, shelter, or clothes, compared to 26 percent of straight homeless youth.

The average age gay and lesbian youth now come out after self-identifying as gay or lesbian as young as ages 5 to 7.

62 percent:
The portion of homeless gay and transgender youth who experience discrimination from their families, compared to 30 percent of their heterosexual peers.

42 percent:
The portion of homeless gay and transgender youth who abuse alcohol, compared to 27 percent of heterosexual youth.

62 percent:
The portion of homeless gay and transgender youth who attempt suicide, compared to 29 percent of their heterosexual homeless peers.

8.4 times:
How much more likely gay and transgender youth are to attempt suicide if they are rejected by their families in adolescence compared to if they are not rejected by their family.

They are also 5.9 times as likely to have experienced depression, 3.4 times as likely to have used illicit drugs, and 3.4 times as likely to have had unprotected sex.


Friday, 21 January 2011

Mistreatment of Intersexed People in the USA : 1620-1966

The official title is Impossible Hermaphrodites: Intersex in America, 1620–1960 E.Reis Journal of American History Sept 2005 pp 411-441, but it's a sordid tale of consistent mistreatment over centuries. In fact, Intersexed people were in many ways treated more humanely in 1750 than 1950.
This essay explores the changing definitions and perceptions of “hermaphrodites” from the colonial period to the early twentieth century.3 Over the course of the three centuries, most medical observers would have agreed that hermaphrodites did not exist in the human species and that patients with confused or ambiguous external and internal reproductive organs were not really hermaphrodites, but cases of “mistaken sex.” Indeed, by the mid-twentieth century, “corrective” surgery for such anatomical ambiguity became routine in this country, to make infants’ genitalia look “normal” and match their supposed “true sex.” But this essay is concerned less with the medical history of surgical procedures or the professional history of doctors than with the cultural history of how American doctors and laypeople regarded bodies and identities that fell outside their conceptual boundaries of normal female and male categories. What did it mean to be male or female? Who had authority to answer that question, and what were the criteria?
A question that still remains open today.
Sex is social and historical, in large part a construction whose contours and boundaries have been imposed rather than simply discovered. Consider the analogy of race. Just as we think about race in black-and-white terms in the United States, so too we think about sex in exacting binary terms. African Americans, for example, have been considered “black” on the basis of the “one-drop” rule (any known African ancestry), which sought to define and police the boundaries between blacks and whites in the interest of white racial “purity” and supremacy. Although racism and discrimination persist, the one-drop rule has disappeared in the face of more just attitudes and practices, as Americans have redefined the color line in the United States in the previous half century. Today “multiracial” is an accepted identifier employed by increasing numbers to add nuance and complexity to our formerly rigid understanding of race.
Will a more complex understanding and classification of sex find similar respectability?
How distinct are the boundaries of sex? And how should those with nonconforming bodies be treated? How small must an infant’s penis be before a doctor decides the child should be surgically remade as a girl? Does an unusually large clitoris transform a girl into a boy? Is someone with a penis and a uterus male or female? What about a person with breasts and testicles? Where do we place those who have both XX and XY chromosomes in this rigid taxonomy of sex? Intersex bodies have always existed, but they have been rendered invalid and invisible historically, for the boundaries of personhood have forced them into a conventional bipolar male/female division
I identify as female and always have. Biologically problematic, more F than M (with the medical reports to prove it), but much as I would like to be 100% F, I'm not. Biologically. That's me though. There are many IS people who do not identify with either sex (and quite a few non-IS people too). Just because I fit neatly into one binary box (psychologically anyway), I don't see why others should be compelled to when it's not appropriate for them.
The insistence on a strict male/female dichotomy should not be understood as a medical conspiracy, though doctors played an enormous role in delineating the boundaries between the two sexes and bestowing on that division the imprimatur of science. Those living with ambiguous bodies generally shared the binary ideal and sought to blend in, if only because survival demanded it. Forced to choose a sex, however, they did not always adhere to the sex they chose. Nor did they always endorse or accept doctors’ suggestions for surgical correction, particularly when such surgery required an adult to change gender.
Many children thus altered never felt at home in their assigned sex. Some never knew their medical history, as doctors advised parents and relatives to keep the matter secret. When they found out, some changed genders as adults. Others struggled to accommodate life with surgically altered sexual organs that had been severely compromised as well as with a deep sense of shame induced by enforced secrecy.
Intersex activists are currently challenging Money’s presumptions and protocols about “normalizing” procedures. As Alice Dreger, chair of the Board of Directors of the Intersex Society of North America (ISNA), put it, “Why perform irreversible surgeries that risk sensation, fertility, continence, comfort, and life without a medical reason?” ISNA’s efforts are making headway, but they are far from complete. At a recent meeting of the Section on Urology of the American Academy of Pediatrics, several leaders in the field cautioned against invasive cosmetic surgeries, while others continued to advocate early aggressive operations
ISNA disbanded shortly after this article was written. Some pediatricians continue to advocate for early intervention, due to the stigma, bullying and persecution those with visibly different bodies endure in childhood. Those who object to their arbitrarily assigned sex are labelled "mentally ill" so can safely be ignored, as well as ostracised and castigated as morally corrupt by much of organised religion.
Using as guides both Jewish Talmudic law and canon and civil law influenced by ancient Latin sources, early European medical manuals typically addressed the legal issues that hermaphrodites or their parents might have faced. All such precedents required that a hermaphrodite choose one sex. For example, the 1741 English treatise A Mechanical and Critical Enquiry into the Nature of Hermaphrodites, by the physician James Parsons, outlined the standard regulations. Despite his contention that human hermaphrodites did not exist, Parsons listed each possible legal question, from whether a hermaphrodite should be given a male or female name at birth to whether or not a hermaphrodite should be allowed to marry or divorce. The answers to most questions required that hermaphrodites choose one sex. Parsons stated unequivocally: “Predominancy of Sex . . . ought to be regarded; but if the Sexes seem equal, the Choice is left to the Hermaphrodite.”
Unlike later medical practitioners, Parsons was willing to entrust this vital decision to laypeople
See what I mean when I said "Intersexed people were in many ways treated more humanely in 1750 than 1950". I meant it. It's literally true.

In previous posts, I've mentioned 5ARD and 17BHDD - both of which can cause an apparent "natural sex change" in some cases. Such changes do not alter gender identity, so transsexuality can either be cured, or caused, by such a change.

I've also mentioned Vitiligo, an auto-immune disease that attacks melanotic cells, leading to skin bleaching. The most famous (though not well-known) case is that of Michael Jackson.

There's still a marked resistance in the USA to the idea that such things can be. Ask nearly anyone, they'll tell you that Michael Jackson voluntarily changed his appearance, though if you ask them how skin can be bleached like that, they can't tell you. Because no such medical procedure exists.
As if individuals’ shifting back and forth between the genders at will was not bad enough, doctors reported startling cases of people suddenly, and involuntarily, changing their sex. In 1850 a Boston medical journal reported the case of a fourteen year-old who had been born female and christened Rebecca, but whose body altered into that of a boy. His father successfully petitioned the court to have the child’s name changed to William. Similarly, the Medical Examiner in 1839 reported the mysterious masculinization of an eighteen-year-old woman. At her birth, there had been some doubt as to the girl’s sex, but the “gossiping females” present at her birth decided that her organs of generation looked more female than male. Although as a child she engaged in “manly sports and the labours of the field,” she wore female attire and lived as “Elizabeth.” When she turned eighteen, however, her body changed. She was nearly six feet tall and had begun to grow a beard. Old enough to make her own decisions about sexuality, she abandoned her old name and female identity, lived as a man, and married a woman.

The unnerving possibility that individuals could suddenly change sex paralleled the early national preoccupation with race, racial categories, and the possibility of changing racial identity. In the early republic, as Americans sought to find social and political order in their unsettled national life, the potential transmutation of race raised serious questions. In 1796 Henry Moss had become a celebrity widely recognized in print as an American-born man of African descent who in middle age somehow turned white. Another man, James, from Charles County, Maryland, lived for fifteen years “a black or very dark mulatto colour,” and then white spots began to appear. Gradually increasing, the spots grew until he had become entirely white, except for a few lingering dark spots on his cheekbones. His child, the article duly noted, was born with white spots, suggesting that the offspring’s transformation might come soon.
Classical signs of 5ARD or 17BHDD, and Vitiligo respectively. These conditions are not new. They were always in the general population, and even better known in 1796 than they are today.

Would "Rebecca" or "Elizabeth" be treated with such humanity today? Well, not in Ohio. Or Tennessee. Or Kansas. Or parts of Texas. As for Henry Moss - just look at the way Michael Jackson was treated as "Whacko Jacko" during his pain-wracked life (he had Lupus too, a disease often found in conjunction with Vitiligo in Black Americans).

We've come a long way in 200 years. Backwards.

And I'm doing my darndest, in this blog, with these articles, to swim against the tide of increasing bigotry and irrationality, often associated with a well-financed and highly profitable organised religion that has nothing to do with Christ's teachings, or often used as a political power source by demagogues of the far right, and by some on the left too. All too many.

I rely on exposing the facts, using references, logic, knowledge, rationality. Not telling people what to think, just laying the data before them, giving sources, and letting them make up their own minds.

In today's political climate, my approach is distinctly unfashionable, and it can get pretty lonely here at times. Meh. I volunteered. I was drafted into the whole sex-change thing, but the activism in the USA, as opposed to Australia where I live, that's just me being me. I cannot stand blatant injustice, never could, and as a child it got me into plenty of hot water. I have a choice to do this, or not to. I choose to do it, and the other things. Not because they are easy, but because they are hard. I guess you could say that I have a dream.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Transsexuals and the phantom penis

Further to my previous post of a few days ago, the transcript of an ABC Science Show program from 2007 on the subject : Transsexuals and the phantom penis - Science Show - 3 March 2007
But it is curious that most normal people who have carcinoma of the penis, which is not rare, and they have an amputation of the penis as a life saving measure, a majority of them, maybe about 80%, 85% of them, experience a phantom penis, including phantom erections. This is well known. Since this chap is saying his penis doesn't belong to him in the first place, what if his penis is amputated because he wants to become a woman, what happens then?

The answer is the majority of them don't experience a phantom penis. What's amazing is that your body image, which includes your genitals, is at least in part programmed by genes and your brain is hard-wired to incorporate the genitals as part of your body image. Even more amazing is the observation that women who undergo transgender sexual surgery who acquired an artificial penis, a majority of them since early childhood have experienced a phantom penis. This is absolutely extraordinary because it means that each of us has a brain-based body image which is detailed down to the fine anatomy, including your genitals.

If your brain body image does not match...normally your brain body image and your external morphology are synchronised in early development through hormones, through genetic mechanisms. If this gets uncoupled and they aren't in synchrony you end up with a body image that's morphologically male, so they experience a phantom penis. What's amazing is that all these years of culture being raised as a woman, as a girl, and even seeing that they don't have a penis does not correct this body image. This shows that even though your body image is extremely malleable, as we have shown with phantom limbs and mirrors and that sort of thing, it also turns out that there's a strong genetic contribution to your body image. This has, of course, great implications for understanding how your brain represents sexual behaviour and constructs body image.
The bit about "phantom limbs and mirrors", where the psychological distress can be alleviated by the use of mirrors "restoring" missing limbs in a reflection, might explain another phenomenon (according to a correspondent who wishes to remain anonymous).

The almost universal (80%) practice amongst trans people of cross-dressing prior to transition. By cross-dressing and then looking at one's reflection in a mirror, it might (I emphasise might) activate the same kind of soothing mechanism found when amputees see reflections of themselves that appear to cure their problem.

As an aside....I never cross-dressed, the phrase "putting lipstick on a pig" comes to mind as being appropriate. But I didn't even do it for fancy-dress parties, in fact I fanatically avoided even coloured shirts or patterned ties. Nothing even partly reminiscent of femininity.

Much as an acute alcoholic might fanatically avoid even a low-alcohol beer. I couldn't do it because then I wouldn't have been able to stop. Maintaining the "boy act" was so hard, the whole facade would have shattered, leaving me helpless to avoid a transition I was terrified of.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

46XX, CAH, Masculinised Genitalia and Gender Assignment

From Review of Outcome Information in 46,XX Patients with Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia Assigned/Reared Male: What Does It Say about Gender Assignment? P.A. Lee and C.P. Hou International Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology Volume 2010 (2010), Article ID 982025
There is ample historical verification of 46,XX congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) patients being born with essentially male genitalia while outcome information is scant. Prior to glucocorticoid therapy, most patients died very young from adrenal insufficiency. Most available reports from later childhood, contain little information concerning sexual identity. Reports on older individuals lack adequate information about sexual identity and quality of life. The difficulty in assessing the relative impact of multiple dynamic environmental factors on the development of sexual identity, self- and body esteem and overall adjustment to life is clear. Nevertheless, it remains unclear whether those infants whose masculine genitalia at birth resulted in an initial male assignment would have enjoyed a better adult outcome had they been allowed to remain male rather than the female reassignment that most received. Further, one could ask whether a male sex of rearing should be considered in 46,XX CAH infants with male external genitalia. After reviewing available literature, we conclude that because those extremely virlized 46,XX CAH patients who were reared male with healthy social support demonstrated satisfactory levels of social and sexual function as adults a male sex assignment should be considered in these types of infants when social and cultural environment are supportive.
How about raising them as their apparent sex, with no surgical intervention until they are competent to consent? And being prepared to switch sex of rearing as soon as it becomes obvious our initial guess was wrong?

My observation in Intersex support groups dealing with CAH is that 9 out of 10 self-identify as female. But that means 1 in 10 do not, even if they had been subject to surgery while helpless infants.

Some are glad to have had clitoral reduction surgery; others are not, they're devastated. The point is, it should be their decision, as adults or as teens.

I know I'm being tediously repetitious. But how many reports, studies, narratives from Intersexed people, medical and scientific papers will it take to prohibit surgery without consent, and permit surgery with consent?

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

The Brain-Body Map and other Neurological Issues

From a Pop-Sci article by V S Ramachandran in the UK Telegraph:
A 70-year-old engineer who has just retired confesses that he has had a life-long urge to have his left arm amputated below the elbow. He has the arm removed and feels much better.

Another man loses his arm in a car accident, but still feel its ghostly presence; this phantom limb is clenched in a painfully awkward position.

A third man, a student of mine, makes a remarkable recovery from a coma, only to become convinced that his mother and father are impostors.

All three case studies are fascinating. Yet as I argue in my new book, The Tell-Tale Brain, they can also teach us a great deal about how the brain does its near-miraculous work.

This is an organ of staggering complexity: a 3lb lump of jelly that can contemplate the meaning of infinity, the idea of God, and even its own existence.
One principle that often crops up is the importance of evolution, especially the notion that a brain mechanism that evolved for one function can be hijacked for another. As the great biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky said, "Nothing in biology makes any sense except in the light of evolution."

Take that 70-year-old engineer who wanted to amputate his arm – a classic case of apotemnophilia [a neurological disorder in which a sane and rational individual wants a healthy limb or limbs to be amputated].

Many far-fetched Freudian ideas have been proposed to explain this condition (including the idea that the amputation stump would resemble a large penis). But the real answer is genetic. It turns out that the right hemisphere of the brain contains a complete representation of your body – a genetically specified "body image".

Our brain-imaging experiments showed that with this particular patient, the hand on this genetic map was missing – so the sensory impulses from the arm had nowhere to go to, and the patient experienced it as "over-present". Similar changes in body images might even explain the desire that transsexuals have to have their penis amputated.

Phantom limbs [the limb has been removed, but the patient feels its presence] are more common – and in some cases, the ghostly arm is paralysed, and fixed in a very painful position.

My comment:
This also provides an explanation for why Trans people sometimes require surgery, and sometimes do not.

We know that Transsexuality is caused by a partly cross-sexed brain. There's enough evidence from autopsies, fMRI scans and various tests of hearing, sense of smell etc (all are sexually differentiated) to prove the anatomical difference.

The conditions vary though, some parts of the brain are always affected, others may or may not be. If the part determining the "body map" is affected, then surgery will be as necessary as re-attachment would be for a man whose genitalia was severed in an accident. Not to have it would cause severe psychological distress, and an unacceptable risk of suicide.

That trans women do not report the same rate of "phantom penis syndrome" after genital reconstruction surgery as men do after castration as part of anti-cancer treatment provides additional evidence, as does the many reports of "phantom penis syndrome" in pre-operative trans men.

MRI imaging of trans people who require surgery, and those who do not, could well locate more precisely the area of the brain concerned.

There's a few minor errors in the article - in general, genital reconstruction for trans women doesn't involve penile amputation, just re-shaping an outie to an innie. And the brain's neuro-anatomy isn't "genetic" as such, anomalies in the hormonal environment in the womb can re-program development so it doesn't follow the usual pattern as laid down by the genes - but otherwise correct.

It's worth noting that Professor Vilayanur S. Ramachandran has done more research in this precise area than any other scientist in the world, and is the director of the Center for the Brain at the University of California, San Diego.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Construction with Quadrotor Teams

Yes, only a proof of principle. A lab demonstration, with pre-packaged pre-fabricated parts, designed to be trivially easy to put together.

Nonetheless... the shape of things to come. Quadrotors or Hexrotors have certain fundamentals dictated by the science of fluid flow and aerodynamics. While power storage technology will get better, computation ability will improve, and there's a little room for materials science to make things lighter and stronger... I don't see much change to the basic concept from here.

A glimpse of the future, with swarms of co-operating robotic insects building useful things, often in hostile environments. Just not when the wind's too variable, or too strong. Indoors is best. Factories may soon resemble beehives.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Scarred for Life

In the last few days, I've had some pain in my upper-right abdomen, apparently the liver. With the unusual doses of hormones I'm on, liver stress is a real possibility, so this kind of thing can't be left too long.

My regular GP isn't available until February, so I saw my alternate. Good value, by the way, and clueful about IS issues to a much higher than average degree.

Anyway, he examined my abdomen for the first time. I'm used to the reaction whenever a medic does that. I have quite a scar, from bikini line to breastbone, where I was told they were going to take my gallbladder out. That's all.

His eyes widened when he saw it.

Yes, it's in the wrong place, and also the wrong orientation, and also at least three times too big, even for surgery circa 1980. He even asked me if I was sure that my gallbladder had been removed, the pain I had was consistent with a gallbladder problem.

It was - they even gave me the gallbladder-shaped mass of cholesterol and calcium carbonate that they'd removed from it, it was absolutely full of matchead-sized stones, all fused together. Ultrasounds in 2005 confirmed a distinct lack of gallbaddery substance.

It looks like the problem is adhesions, my abdomen appears to be full of them, even now. I'm getting another ultrasound to be certain, but the pain has diminished considerably, and the type of pain is consistent with the pain I used to get. I thought that after 32 years had passed, the problem would have resolved, but he told me that as long as I had the scar externally visible, I'd have the same kind of thing internally too.

The pathologists reports of exactly what structures were removed from my abdomen back in 1979 are missing. Not unusual in cases where someone's internal anatomy doesn't quite match their external appearance. It was thought at the time that informing the patient would risk causing serious psychological damage.

Previous ultrasounds of my abdomen in 2005 showed no clue - everything's healed. I just have some scars internally that will be there till the day I die.

The Joys of Intersex.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

BS Bingo

Example Bingo card, for use in meetings especially regarding project management.

Best of BreedBig PictureRetentionPrioritizedUp to speed
TurnkeySearch Engine OptimizationBULLSHIT BINGO
(free square)
Challenge[s]Brain Storm / Mind Shower
Win-winReactivationBand-aidLevel SetIssues
BasicallyGo PublicHigh-LevelNon-Traditional ManagementOpportunity

To make your own set of cards, just visit Bullshit Bingo [Random!]. Print them out, and there you go.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Fun and Games with RNA

How does a Pirate sew his genes? With ArrrrNA.

So without further ado, from Carnegie-Mellon University, and Stanford University,Why RNA | EteRNA.
By playing EteRNA, you will participate in creating the first large-scale library of synthetic RNA designs. Your efforts will help reveal new principles for designing RNA-based switches and nanomachines -- new systems for seeking and eventually controlling living cells and disease-causing viruses. By interacting with thousands of players and learning from real experimental feedback, you will be pioneering a completely new way to do science. Join the global laboratory!
Challenge puzzles ask you to design RNA sequences that fold up into a target shape on your computer, similar to previous scientific discovery games such as Foldit. Many of these puzzles could be solved by existing computer programs. So why are you working on them? Two reasons. First, these puzzles provide a crucial training ground that bridges the gap between the tutorials and the Lab. Second, many existing computer programs take a huge amount of time to solve large RNAs, and you are very likely to find better, faster ways. Consider publishing your solution method, which we can code up as a ‘bot’ and test against existing computer programs.
Just a few minutes play revealed some effective strategies. For example, two strings, GGG and CCC will get together to form GC,GC,GC pairs, but these may get out of alignment, so you get G-, GC, GC, -C. If however you have two strings, GCG and CGC, they pretty much have to form GC,CG,GC. You can use these as "anchors" to force areas with weaker bonds to line up the way you want them.

That's as clear as mud. The best thing to do is have a look at the explanation, then start with the basic tutorial. If you can play Tetris, or Scrabble, you can play this game.

Curtsy to Ryan Radclyffe-Hall, who put me on to this one.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

The Gendered Self - A Personal View

From Anne Vitale's e-book, the Gendered Self : Further Commentary on the Transsexual Phenomenon ($5.95 USD and worth a lot more)
Given the nature of the condition and the ability of some children to conceal it, it may be possible that most children with gender dysphoria are never diagnosed as such. The undiagnosed children cope by sticking rigorously to the role expected of them.
Little is known about gender dysphoric boys who privately struggle to fit into their expected gender role. With no apparent problem, (many adult GID clients report being exceptionally well behaved as children) they simply go unobserved by clinicians studying gender variant behavior. Yet from interviewing adults with gender dysphoria, I can report that the problem, although lacking the current intensity, was as real for them then as it is now.

The underlying feelings most often stated were of detachment and confusion, a sense of not really fitting in, even though family and teachers consistently rewarded them for their artificially affected behavior. One of the most common areas of confusion was the original sex assignment process itself. Although adults may think it simplistic, many children are completely perplexed as to why some children are assigned as boys and others as girls.

Given a tendency toward privacy and modesty in our society, many children, especially those without siblings, often have no way of knowing that there is a physical difference between themselves and those differently assigned
Andrea, a 35-year-old male-to-female, post-operative transsexual recalls that she was completely perplexed over her assignment as male until at age seven her sister was born. While watching her mother change her sister’s diaper, she learned for the first time that her assignment as a boy was based on a real physical difference. Although it cleared up part of the confusion, she realized even at that early age that her identity concerns were far more complicated and serious then she had first thought.
It is common for clients to report thinking in childhood that gender assignment was based on parental preference and therefore open for redress. Girls are especially aggressive in their insistence that they are really boys. Indeed, many are so insistent that they go on to act for all intents and purposes as though they are boys, a pattern they carry into adulthood.

For cloistered gender dysphoric boys it was in the area of peers and activities, especially sports, that the problem was most noticeable. Unable or uninterested in competing in organized boys’ activities and having been shuffled decidedly away from playing with the girls, many became reclusive. To add to their confusion, and counter to behavior typically reported in openly gender dysphoric boys, many cloistered boys actually preferred solo play with boys’ toys and had little or no interest in girls’ toys. For example, I have heard more than one long-time post-op male-to-female transsexual speak fondly of having spent countless hours playing with an Erector Set or a Lionel model train set-up that their father had helped them build. Others described designing and making detailed model airplanes, race cars and sailing ships. The more academic of this group report little or no interest in sports and rough-and-tumble play. To avoid castigation from their peers, they report spending a lot of time reading and studying.
My close family would instantly recognise that stereotype as being a perfect description of me when young.

I'll quote two segments from previous posts of mine, one poetic, one autobiographical, that shows just how accurate Dr Vitale's description is. No wonder I was considered an "open and shut case", despite the "hormonal issues that perplexed the situation" as an examining psychiatrist put it.

Pardon Me.
I need to see someone.
I don't know who decides these things.
But you see, there's been a silly mistake.
I didn't complain before
But I'm now nearly 10.
It's getting really late.
I don't mind being in Loddon House
Though Thames or Kennet are OK too.
If I have to change
To either, I don't mind.
And as for A Class well,
I'm good at maths.
No complaints.
But you see
They put in me in the Boys
And Boy things just aren't me.
The Boy clothes I wear
Mean Girls won't play with me.
I'm so alone,
I spend my playtime
In the Library
I don't fit in
At all.
There's been a mistake, you see.
I know my parents
Wanted a Boy.
Maybe that's why it was done
The assignment incorrect
To Boy and not to Girl.
A Natural mistake
To make
No blame.
But haven't I been good?
Done everything required?
Never been naughty
Over much.
I think I've earned the right
To go in with the Girls
And soon
Before my teens begin.
I need to see
Someone in charge
Who decides these things.
Please help.
You know you're in a bad way when you can't read the last few lines of a poem you yourself wrote, without tearing up. Not for yourself, but for all the other earnest young pre-teen girls today, doing their best to be biddable and polite, with a naive faith in the ability of the kindly adults around them to fix the situation.

In 1967... the attempted "fix" might have meant electro-convulsive therapy, and possibly removing parts of the brain.... certainly "operant conditioning" using rewards and punishments... torture by any other name. Not the Abu Ghraib Guantanamo faux-torture, actual electrodes and actual beatings. I didn't know that then, I just thought that when things became obvious in my teens there would be some upheaval and readjustment, that's all. Inconvenience.

Now for the second part.
Up until age 5, I was a child. No real concept of gender.

At 6, I went to school, and noticed something was wrong. I was dressed as a boy, I looked like a boy, but I didn't think like "other boys". I still liked toy guns, and Meccano rather than dolls, but I was different.

At 7, I knew I wasn't a boy, but didn't know what I was. I thought boys were puerile, and girls too silly and sissy. A classic Tomboy in retrospect.

At 8, I got to play hopscotch with other girls, and I felt at home. They thought like I did, they cried like I did. I still didn't see myself as more than an honourary girl though. Even if my favourite toy car was Lady Penelope's pink Rolls-Royce.

At 9, more by a process of elimination than anything else, I realised I was female. Boys could just as well have been an alien species. Girls were just like me, in feelings and values.

At 10, I was in a boys boarding school then, and I was able to make up boardgames of astounding complexity when it rained. I had my own secret garden in the nearby woods, with flowerbeds I'd planted. I could sit and read amidst the flowers, and was terribly happy. It was then I picked the name Zoe, and planned what I was going to do with my life. I wanted children, a husband, the white picket fence etc, but also to be a Rocket Scientist and to travel the world, things that Wives and Mothers Just Did Not Do in the 60's.

Even though it had been obvious since age 7 that I’d never be “svelte” or “petite”, that I’d be the girl “with the wonderful personality”. I didn’t cry about that – much. And not where anyone could see me. I was more worried about the practical problems I'd be having when I started having a female puberty. And vaguely concerned that boys didn't interest me at all. I was no naive I thought that was part of the package of being a girl. Was I a defective one?

It came as a terrible shock when I learnt that boys and girls are born looking different, and that my body was boy.
I dislike being an instance of a stereotype, but reality is, whether I like it or not.
"Damn! I have recently learned that I am
But a creature that moves
In predestinate grooves.
I'm not even a bus. I'm a tram."
Although I'm technically Intersexed, the whole "natural sex change" business yada yada - my childhood was indistinguishable from that of other transsexual women. I'm both TS and IS. Or IS and formerly TS.

From the Author's page:
Based on the author's first hand experience in treating over 500 gender dysphoric individuals over the last quarter century, The Gendered Self is the story of what it is like to be born into and to live out one's life as a transsexual in a cissexual world.

The book starts by showing how the developing brain is genderized in utero and how that process can go awry leaving affected individuals sex/gender incongruent.

The author goes on to show that although hormonal and surgical means is the current treatment of choice for sex/gender incongruency, we have come to learn that with Genital Reassignment Surgery life takes a turn wherein the individual is permanently consigned to a parallel universe: not male, not female but a bio-sociological combination of both. It is a world where the absurd becomes ordinary and the ordinary becomes absurd. Transsexualism is a life long existential dilemma that challenges the very nature of psychological survival. Nietzsche famously said that "what does not kill you makes you stronger". As The Gendered Self shows, surviving transsexualism and living a meaningful life is certainly a testament to that.

A final word. Something I wrote three years ago.

Something that illustrates how "It is a world where the absurd becomes ordinary and the ordinary becomes absurd."

You get used to it. You get too used to it. You tell yourself that the situation is unusual, you have to make allowances, and if you're not very careful, you get to believe that you deserve it, because of the myriad little ways you get humiliated or mistreated in every country on Earth. Some places, name change is trivial. Other places, it requires a court hearing, and a bigoted judge can refuse you permission simply because he doesn't approve of "that kind of thing". Some places, changing birth certificate is trivial if you're post op. Some places it's even possible if pre-op. Some places it's impossible. Some places it's possible even if pre-op, but not if you're married (like the UK). It's Legal Insanity.

You tell yourself that compared with people with Lung cancer, you have it easy. But the comparison is unjust: for changing sex, while psychologically uniquely stressful and medically risky, is not the problem. The problem is not even the violence, for anyone can be unlucky (Ok, so you're seventeen times as likely to be unlucky, so maybe it's a problem after all). The problem is those who argue that you're insane (so don't deserve treatment), or not insane (so don't deserve treatment). That you're as mad as a meataxe, as much as a psychotic schizophrenic, yet unlike a psychotic schizophrenic don't qualify as disabled under the "Americans with Disabilities Act", because there's a special exemptive clause just for your condition (see Donna Rose Dec 20 2007 8:30am). That you're gay, especially if attracted to the opposite sex, but don't qualify for legal protection under any clauses that protect gays in any event. That in order to get treatment for your insanity, you must get two specialist psychiatrists to put their reputations on the line, in writing, to say that you're sane. You get used to the inconsistency. If there's a disadvantage, it applies, if there's a mitigation, it doesn't.

You become so used to making allowance for others feelings - for all you want to do is have something like a normal life too - that in order to save minor inconvenience or some disquiet in others, you accept the most objectively appalling treatment of yourself. Treated in so many ways - though which ones depend on where you are - as a 4th class citizen, unless you make a conscious effort not to, you believe that you are a 3rd class citizen who just has to put up with a few inconveniences.

Instead of the 2nd class citizen you are because you're a woman. Actually, come to think of it, maybe I shouldn't accept that state of affairs either as "normal", just because it has been since time immemorial.

"The Gendered Self may be purchased through It is available immediately as a PDF file download for $5.99 USD or in paperback for $14.99 USD. eReader formats to be available soon."

One thing though about Transition. Even if you don't get a natural assist from a weird metabolism - it's easier than the alternative.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Transsexuals and the ADA

From Part 1 of an article exploring the explicit and specific targeting of trans people in the US legal system.

Parts 1-4 are in a separate PDF file Categorical Exclusions: Exploring Legal Responses To Health Care Discrimination Against Transsexuals K.Hong Columbia Journal of Gender & Law (2002) vol. 11: 88-126.
To date, the federal government has initiated two sweeping measures to protect patients who are denied health care for improper reasons. In 1965 Congress enacted the Medicaid Act to provide minimal medical care to lower-income individuals. One of its most important components prevents state legislatures from refusing treatment or reducing payment for a targeted or singled-out medically necessary condition. When a Medicaid recipient believes she is being unfairly denied medical treatment, she can turn to the federal courts to ensure that a state legislature's coverage of health conditions is based on proper medical and fiscal criteria.

The government's second major intervention occurred in 1990 when Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA protects privately insured individuals by prohibiting private employers, insurers, and health care providers from targeting a particular medical condition for discriminatory treatment. The ADA does not directly influence the content of health insurance policies, however, which is why consumer advocates are calling for a Patients' Bill of Rights that, among other things, would mandate private insurers provide minimum standards of coverage in health care plans. Currently there is an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission order interpreting the ADA that indirectly regulates insurance policies, prohibiting a private employer from withholding employee coverage in a discriminatory manner. An employer's obligations in turn place economic pressure on insurance companies to standardize policy offerings. Further, the ADA provides individuals with a cause of action to ensure their employer's insurance company complies with the ADA's anti-discrimination provisions. Since the vast majority of Americans receive their health care from private employers, the ADA's dual-regulatory scheme and court-enforced remedies have been effective in providing many people with non-discriminatory access to health care.

Against this backdrop, I examine the discrete issues of whether transsexual individuals are improperly denied health care and whether legal remedies are available to them.
The problem being that a specific exclusionary clause was inserted in the ADA, out of pure animus.
In September 1989 as the ADA was nearing its final vote, Senators Armstrong and Helms took the floor and objected to the ADA's coverage of certain psychological conditions. Due to the Senators' efforts, the ADA was explicitly amended to exclude from coverage "homosexuality, bisexuality and transvestitism, transsexualism, pedophilia, exhibitionism, voyeurism, gender identity disorders not resulting from physical impairments, or other sexual disorders; compulsive gambling, kleptomania, or pyromania; or current psychoactive substance use disorders resulting from current illegal use of drugs." Under this bill, the Rehabilitation Act was also amended to exclude coverage of these conditions. Transsexuals need coverage under the ADA to protect themselves against private insurers and medical providers who harbor hostility toward them. As much as Congress has the right to withhold benefits or favor some groups over others, I argue in Part III that the categorical exclusion of transsexuals from the ADA is a constitutionally impermissible congressional action.
Since the removal of Homosexuality etc from psychiatric diagnostic manuals, Transsexuality is the one and only excluded category that does not involve increased risk of breaking the law. The inclusion of "transsexualism" (otherwise undefined in the bill) as a separate category from "gender identity disorders not resulting from physical impairments" means that even Intersexed people who transition, as well as those who transition who are not Intersexed, are arguably both excluded.

As Donna Rose wrote on December 20 2007 :
The recent news story about a Southern Utah University student denied student housing until he can "prove" his sex is the tip of a much deeper problem. The sad fact of the matter is that we've been focused on Employment discrimination (and ENDA) but transgender people face legal, institutionalized discrimination in housing, public accommodations and other areas all across this country. It needs to become a priority for someone to fix these things, but since it's not on the radar (can you spell agenda?) we flail our arms and bark at the moon for a couple of weeks when they happen, but nothing gets done to address the source of the problem.

I want to share just how deeply engrained into the fundamental laws of this country the prejudices of the past regarding transgender people are, why language is critical, and why it's important to change them.

There is a section in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 that specifically deals with "Transvestites". Section 508 reads:

For the purposes of this Act, the term "disabled" or "disability" shall not apply to an individual solely because that individual is a transvestite.
A little farther down there is a section that outlines the definitions used in the Act:

(a) Homosexuality and Bisexuality.--For purposes of the definition of "disability" in section 3(2), homosexuality and bisexuality are not impairments and as such are not disabilities under this Act.

(b) Certain Conditions.--Under this Act, the term "disability" shall not include--

(1) transvestism, transsexualism, pedophilia, exhibitionism, voyeurism, gender identity disorders not resulting from physical impairments, or other sexual behavior disorders;

(2) compulsive gambling, kleptomania, or pyromania; or

(3) psychoactive substance use disorders resulting from current illegal use of drugs.
Why is this important? Why should anyone care?

First, a probably least important, is that it perpetuates the outdated and pejorative term "Transvestite".

Second, does it strike anyone as curious that Homosexuality and Bisexuality are identified all by themselves in definition (A), but "transvestism" and "transsexualism" are listed right along with pedophilia, exhibitionism, voyeurism, and "other sexual behavior disorders" in (b)(1)? Somebody made a conscious decision to do this at a time when we didn't have the visibility to stop it, and it continues the stigma that somehow all these things are related. I'm not advocating that transgender be considered a disability. What I'm saying is that by including transgender with others identified as "sexual behavior disorders" it enables people to discriminate in other ways. It sends a message beyond this particular piece of legislation.

Third, beyond the symbolic value of this, why should anyone care? Because in the Fair Housing Act, and in other applications ranging from employment law, to university housing, to any number of local ordinances, this wording is extracted and used verbatim.
The term for this is institutionalized discrimination. The deeper you look, the more you'll find. It's scary and it gets thrown back in our face time after time.

Lastly, I think a key learning is that once you've passed legislation it's much, much, much harder to go back and change it. People move on to other things. It's not important. If ENDA gets passed without protection on the ground of Gender Identity does anyone really believe the cavalry will be coming over the hill to fix it? It will stay broken - institutionalized discrimination - for a long time. That's why people should be so angry about current strategy. The scariest (and most maddening) thing is that our "leaders" will have allowed it to happen.

I approached HRC lobbyists almost 2 years ago to try to get some kind of engagement internally so we could actively work to change the wording. The political landscape was such that opportunities to move the ball forward were few and far between, but highlighting this as a target so we could move when the opportunity presented itself was important. At the very least, we need to move the transgender definitions to their own bullet-point similar to (a) homosexuality and bisexuality. I arranged 2 separate phone conversations on this topic with our lobbyists and political strategists, and we agreed that our best opportunity to change this would be when something was happening to amend the ADA. We agreed to keep our eyes open for potential opportunities.

Fast forward to today. Does it surprise anyone to learn that there is, indeed, a bill to amend the ADA of 1990 currently in play in the Senate? Right now. S. 1881 would amend the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 to restore the intent and protections of that Act. How? By updating some of the definitions. When was it last discussed? A month ago. On 11/15/2007 hearings were held. Is there anything in it dealing with the definitions for "transvestism" and "transsexualism"? Of course not. Is anyone from any GLBT organization even aware? I seriously doubt it. Opportunity lost.
Time for this issue to be revisited. In the legislature, but also in the Courts.

Friday, 7 January 2011

NOW they tell me

I've made very few personal posts lately. Time for another one.

From The Economist:
Why doing a PhD is often a waste of time

On the evening before All Saints’ Day in 1517, Martin Luther nailed 95 theses to the door of a church in Wittenberg. In those days a thesis was simply a position one wanted to argue. Luther, an Augustinian friar, asserted that Christians could not buy their way to heaven. Today a doctoral thesis is both an idea and an account of a period of original research. Writing one is the aim of the hundreds of thousands of students who embark on a doctorate of philosophy (PhD) every year.

In most countries a PhD is a basic requirement for a career in academia. It is an introduction to the world of independent research—a kind of intellectual masterpiece, created by an apprentice in close collaboration with a supervisor. The requirements to complete one vary enormously between countries, universities and even subjects. Some students will first have to spend two years working on a master’s degree or diploma. Some will receive a stipend; others will pay their own way. Some PhDs involve only research, some require classes and examinations and some require the student to teach undergraduates. A thesis can be dozens of pages in mathematics, or many hundreds in history. As a result, newly minted PhDs can be as young as their early 20s or world-weary forty-somethings.
Er... 50-somethings.

And collaboration with supervisors hasn't exactly been close, as the ones I've been able to find aren't specialists in my area of research.

My work involves both theoretical research and experimentation. There's not usually a lot of the latter in Computer Science, it tends heavily towards the theoretical. But then, it looks as if my PhD will be in Computational Chemistry rather than Computer Science as such. If I get it. Busy writing up now, trying with increasing desperation to find some theoretical justification for our extraordinary (and extraordinarily useful) results. It appears that the evidence tends to support some rather heretical (well, unpopular) ideas, but until we extend the work to other problem domains, I'm not even sure we can say that with any confidence.

Certainly the results weren't what I expected. But checked and re-checked, the results are sound. I really thought the method I came up with had to be good. Just not that good.

And in order to keep the wolf from the door, I'll be teaching two subjects in 2011, one at master's level, the other undergraduate. I love teaching, it's something I've always had a passion for. First Can off the rank, COMP8100 Requirements Elicitation and Analysis Techniques. Or "before we start making a system... what the heck is it supposed to do?" Too many systems have been built exactly according to specifications... but have been useless, as the real requirements and contractually stated requirements bore little resemblance to one another.

Digression: I found out long afterwards what my nickname was at ADFA (the Australian Defence Force Academy), when I taught there. They give all the lecturers and tutors appelations, some printable, others not.

They called me (though never to my face, more's the pity) "Mum". I rather like that. And yes, I was presenting as male at the time... and actually thought I was doing a good job of it. But it seems that while my appearance said one thing, my personality said another. They didn't know I was Intersexed, or Transsexual, or whatever. Just that... I was Mum.

At least at the ANU (Australian National University) I won't be looking at the casualty lists, and remembering those killed in action or giving disaster relief as the 18 yr old kids they were, not the professional military officers they became.

Excelsior. And with luck I might just have a life after my PhD regularly teaching part-time in Academe, maybe while formalising my research into the science of sex and gender. I'd like that, in the next stage of my life.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

It's Life Jim, but not as we know it

Two from the Daily Galaxy:

The Link Between Organic and Inorganic Life: Has It Been Found?
Scientists have recently discovered that simple peptides can organize into bi-layer membranes. A finding that suggests a “missing link” between the pre-biotic Earth’s chemical inventory and the organizational scaffolding essential to life.

“This is a boon to our understanding of large, structural assemblies of molecules,” says Emory Chemistry Chair David Lynn, who helped lead the effort, which were collaborations of the departments of chemistry, biology and physics. “We’ve proved that peptides can organize as bi-layers, and we’ve generated the first, real-time imaging of the self-assembly process. We can actually watch in real-time as these nano-machines make themselves.”

The ability to organize things within compartments and along surfaces underpins all of biology. From the bi-layer phospholipids of cell membranes to information-rich DNA helices, self-assembling arrays define the architecture of life.

“We’ve shown that peptides can form the kind of membranes needed to create long-range order,” says Emory University chemistry graduate student Seth Childers, lead author of the paper recently published by the German Chemical Society’s Angewandte Chemie. “What’s also interesting is that these peptide membranes may have the potential to function in a complex way, like a protein.”

Chemistry graduate student Yan Liang captured images of the peptides as they aggregated into molten globular structures, and self-assembled into bi-layer membranes. The results of that experiment were recently published by the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

At the Artificial Life conference which I attended recently in Denmark, about the only building-block left that wasn't in the pre-biotic assembly kit for artificial life was membranes.

It looks like simple peptides - like the ones I'm doing research on in a different context - may provide a temporary scaffolding that allows, even requires, Life to evolve. RNA first - in many ways, far more interesting than the better-known DNA that provides a convenient template for making it. The rest is just complex chemistry.

We'll see. Because there might be an intermediate step even before RNA.

From the X Files Dept: India's 'Red Rain" Mystery -Close to Being Solved?
The red rain fell sporadically over Kerala during two months in 2001 believed at first to be simply sand or dust picked up from a desert. But Godfrey Louis, a physicist at Mahatma Gandhi University in Kottayam in Kerala, examined the red particles and, unable to find DNA, suggested that they might be alien microbes that had fallen to Earth on a comet. Five years later, Louis published a theory suggesting the bugs that turned the rain red in India may have come from a comet that exploded above the Earth and seeded clouds.

This September 2010, after a further four years of studying the cells, Lewis was joined by a leading panspermia theorist from the UK, Chandra Wickramasinghe, publishing their claims that the red rain cells are unlike anything found on Earth, which inert at room temperature - begin to reproduce at 121C.

Within two hours of being exposed to the heat, "daughter cells appear within the original mother cells and the number of cells in the samples increases with length of exposure", they say in the new report....

"As a biologist, let me assure you that a cell-sized and shaped organism that reproduces, lives off LB and doesn't appear to have any nucleic acid template (DNA or RNA) is a revolutionary discovery in and of itself," according to a commentor at MIT's TechnologyReview.
I consider the Panspermia hypothesis to be the most likely one for the origin of Life. Possibly not Life as we know it, and it may be that non-RNA based organisms that inevitably arise in Space may have to land on a large chunk of rock with the appropriate environment to evolve further.

Anyway, the behaviour of the Red Rain cells is as predicted by some models of pre-biotic life formation.

It fits - but whether it's true or not is another issue. More work needs doing here. I do consider it likely though that we'll know a lot more about the origins of life in the next 20 years, and even be able to manufacture life-forms entirely from non-living material. We're pretty close to that already, and I'd expect it by 2020 at the latest. Evolving it, without access to cubic parsecs of pre-biotic materials, and having a billion year timeframe - trickier. But doable.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Play it again, Sam

Actual quote:
"Play it, Sam, for old times' sake, play 'As Time Goes By'."

For more of the same, see List of misquotations - Wikiquote.

I thought it was about time I blogged on an "Interesting URL".

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Three Reports

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Actually, there's nothing good in any of them.

First, the FBI annual report on hate crimes for 2009, published Nov 2010.

Hate crimes against Trans people are still not counted, despite the passage of the Matthew Shepherd Act. They have not yet implemented the new mandatory reporting requirements.

As the result of the aforementioned Matthew Shepherd Act, several states have now passed legislation to make it illegal to co-operate with the FBI reporting hate crimes based on sexual orientation or gender identity. This may be the reason why no hate-crime murders of gays or lesbians were recorded, and only 4 rapes of lesbians.

In contrast, see the NCAVP (National Coalition of Anti Violence Programs) report for the same period (PDF).
The 22 anti-LGBTQ murders reported in 2009 represent a 30% decline from the peak year, 2008, but are the second-highest annual total of such incidents reported in the U.S. over a ten-year period.
50% of those murdered were transgender women.
Transgender women accounted for 11% of those reporting (and 50% of all murder cases, as described in further detail later in this report). Transgender women are disproportionately targeted for hate violence relative to their percentage of the general population in the U.S. However, transgender men, along with those with Intersex conditions and people identifying as self-identified or other, genderqueer, or questioning, also accounted for 6% of reports in 2009. This shift, when paired with the over-representation of transgender women in tallies of survivors and victims, demands further research into the ways that people who transgress gender binaries are particularly vulnerable to hate violence.

Now closer to home. The National Womens Health Policy 2010 (PDF), put out by the Australian Department of Health and Aging.
Summary - Mental health
The needs of some groups of women were particularly highlighted and these included young, perinatal, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex and older women.
There's no actual mention of Intersexed women in the Mental Health section below. Nor in Reproductive health, nor anywhere else. In fact, that's a the only mention of the word "Intersex" in the entire document. As a mental health issue.

Intersex is not a mental health issue, to state the obvious. It's a biological one, requiring expert, well-informed whole-of-life medical care. The reason why it's mentioned under "mental health" is the frustration Intersexed people have because of medics who know nothing about the situation, the problems IS women have in the area of reproduction, access to even basic health care, the legal problems (such as having to be put on a list containing sex offenders volunteering for chemical castration to reduce their sentences) and a whole lot more.

I would have expected something on "sexual and reproductive health" rather than "mental health" when it came to Intersex. Something on "accessing health care services" too. You know, the idea that we might not want our genitalia mutilated, that we may need a lot of assistance in order to have children. That we face enormous barriers of ignorance in the medical profession, forcing us to become our own endocrinologists and experts on hormones...

Maybe it is a mental health issue, for this is enough to drive anyone crazy.

Putting them in the header - then completely omitting them from the body of the document - is typical of the lip-service paid to IS people. The document addresses none of the very real health concerns of Intersex people. Zero, nada, zip.

As for Trans women - they're classified as "women who identify themselves as lesbian". Really.
"Women who identify themselves as lesbian are more likely to experience violence. A recent Victorian study found that 85 per cent of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Victorians had been subject to heterosexist harassment and violence in their lifetimes, and 70 per cent of the respondents in the past two years. Nearly half the people in the survey reported hiding their fear of violence and harassment"
Needless to say, many trans women don't in fact identify as lesbian. Or Bi for that matter. There's an abyss of misunderstanding here.

The Queensland figures are as follows:
Received verbal abuse:
* 69 per cent of females
* 92 per cent transgender male to female

Physical assault without a weapon:
* 15 per cent of females
* 46 per cent transgender male to female

Physical attack with a weapon, knife, bottle or stone:
* 6 per cent of females
* 38 per cent transgender male to female
Any bets that the figures for Victoria aren't similar? That while the majority of lesbians are put in genuine fear by homophobic unprintables who threaten them with "corrective rape" or worse, that it's mostly trans women who actually end up in the ER? For them, "Facing significant health issues" all too often means learning how to walk again because of brain injury, or having to wear a colostomy bag. Not so much in Australia, thank goodness, but it happens here too.

There's a complete lack of mention when it comes down to accessing health care services. There are very few doctors who won't see female patients, but the majority won't see trans women - or will but are totally clueless. In Canberra, it's literally impossible to complete transition without travelling interstate. There are exactly 2 GPs who regularly treat Trans people, one of whom treats Intersexed people too. One Endo, part time. None advertise what they do, they keep it quiet to avoid problems. No psych support from anyone qualified to give it.

The majority of trans women in Australia now travel overseas to complete treatment, the few surgeons here do very few procedures, and while sometimes good, often with less than stellar results by any standards.

There are no drugs listed under the PBS (Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme) for treating Transsexuality. Other diagnoses have to be used, and in the case of some Intersexed and all Pre-op trans women, that means being put on a register along with sex offenders who volunteer for chemical castration. Once on, never off.

All of these are health issues. Ones IS and TS people have been complaining about not just for years, but decades, with no result.

A report like this doesn't help.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Something you won't find on Wikileaks

It's only low-grade stuff. Nothing like GAME ANDES REDSHIFT or GOLD JULY BOOJUM. Let alone CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN.

For that, read The Concrete Jungle by Charles Stoss.
If we pursue this plan, by late 2006 any two adjacent public CCTV terminals — or private camcorders equipped with a digital video link — will be reprogrammable by any authenticated MAGINOT BLUE STARS superuser to permit the operator to turn them into a SCORPION STARE basilisk weapon. We remain convinced that this is the best defensive posture to adopt in order to minimize casualties when the Great Old Ones return from beyond the stars to eat our brains.
Fiction of course. Nothing requiring SHAKESPEARE clearance, and no hint of Manifestation 17, let alone the other, less spectacular (and easier to conceal) events. They didn't happen, either. No sudden midnight rains of thousands of dead blackbirds or similar warnings of something about to come through that Man Was Not Meant To Know.

Talking about Wikileaks, may I refer the gentle reader to A Field Guide to Wikileaks and Its Adversaries. An excellent summary of what's happening, and who's involved.

For more of Charles Stoss' work - see his Christmas story, Overtime, and this little one about a very special hospital.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

I don't subscribe to this

I don't follow this flowchart. First of all, it's arrogant, disrespectful of opponents. OK, they may deserve to be disrespected, but that's not the point: they're human.

Second, and most importantly, few such interactions occur in a vacuum. No, I don't mean in Low Earth Orbit, I mean without a social context. For every writer, there may be many readers. For every participant, many sitting by and observing the interchange, undecided on the issue. When one side is the soul of sweet reason, one of the most convincing things they can do is to suffer insults, invective, irrationality and so on, calmly refuting fantasy and unsubstantiated assertions with facts and logic.

Case in point: an interchange on the MichFest Forum. OK, they're not "Christian" fundamentalists, but they are fanatics committed to a dogmatic religious/ideological view. The Raymondite view that Trans and Intersexed women are actually men out to pollute their previous bodily fluids, or something like that.