Wednesday 31 October 2007

So Much For Stealth

Seen at Hong King Airport:


Maybe I should talk to Allianz....

Picture Courtesy of Zvika Raviv

Monday 29 October 2007

Sunday 28 October 2007

Today's Battle

At AmericaBlog.

And other places too numerous to mention.

Thursday 25 October 2007

Laugh or Cry?

From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
Daniel Claiborn, testifying for the state, said he has treated transgender people who are mentally stable and others who are ill but he didn't think it was traceable to their transgender nature.
Claiborn was testifying in a federal case brought by three prisoners trying to overturn a Wisconsin law that bars inmates from receiving female hormones. They say that stopping their treatments would be a form of cruel and unusual punishment, and would violate their right to equal protection under law.

The Inmate Sex Change Prevention Act is believed to be the only law of its kind in the nation. The inmates were taken off hormones for a short time after the law took effect in January 2006 but are receiving them after U.S. District Judge Charles Clevert issued an injunction early last year.

Under cross-examination, Claiborn said he has never researched gender identity disorder and doesn't receive journals on it. Several medical books list it as a mental disorder, but he said that as a psychologist, he doesn't find them useful because they are too medical in nature.
*Sigh*. And this is the State's "Expert Witness" on the subject of medical treatment for transsexuals. *Sigh* again.
Earlier, Kevin Kallas, a psychiatrist and mental health director for Wisconsin's prisons, testified he opposed the law banning hormones.

Besides in federal prisons, hormones are given in all of the Midwestern states surveyed by the Department of Corrections, he said. Kallas called hormones a "medically necessary" treatment in some, though not all, cases.

Kallas said patients who are taken off hormones typically need counseling, drugs and hospital stays instead, suicide treatments that are more expensive than the hormones, which cost $675 to $1,600 a year. Kallas said he did not know of any other medical treatment that the state Legislature has banned in prisons.
Know-Nothing Legislators see it as a moral issue, not a medical one. They don't understand, don't want to understand, they just want the problem to quietly go away.

Let's just summarise:

A condition so horrible that those who don't get medical treatment make repeated attempts at suicide.
A legislature that specifically bans such medical treatment.
An Expert Witness called in to justify the ban on medical treatment admits he doesn't read books on the subject as they're "too medical"
And the prison medical director points out that the medical treatments cost less than dealing with the suicide attempts.

Unfortunately, I can't guarantee that the legislation won't be upheld.

Always Look On The Bright Side of Life

From Science Daily :
A neural network that may generate the human tendency to be optimistic has been identified by researchers at New York University. As humans, we expect to live longer and be more successful than average, and we underestimate our likelihood of getting a divorce or having cancer. The results, reported in Nature, link the optimism bias to the same brain regions that show irregularities in depression.

The study was conducted by a team of researchers from the laboratory of NYU Professor Elizabeth Phelps. The lead author is Tali Sharot, now a post-doctoral fellow at University College London.

The NYU researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine brain function while participants thought of possible future life events (such as "winning an award" or "the end of a romantic relationship").

"When participants imagined positive future events relative to negative ones, enhanced activation was detected in the rostral anterior cingulate and amygdala, which are the same brain areas that seem to malfunction in depression," said Sharot. "Activation of the rostral anterior cingulate was correlated with trait optimism, with more optimistic participants showing greater activity in this region when imagining future positive events."
The brain imaging findings offer a possible mechanism mediating the behaviorally observed optimism bias. The rostral anterior cingulate has previously been shown to be involved in the regulation of emotional responses. The current results suggest that in healthy individuals this region may help integrate and regulate emotional and autobiographical information to generate a positive view of the future.
fMRI strikes again. As predicted in previous posts, this technique is turning out to be a powerful new tool in aiding our understanding of how we think. Or how we think we think.

And from Reuters:
A few nights without sleep can not only make people tired and emotional, but may actually put the brain into a primitive "fight or flight" state, researchers said on Wednesday.

Brain images of otherwise healthy men and women showed two full days without sleep seemed to rewire their brains, re-directing activity from the calming and rational prefrontal cortex to the "fear center" -- the amygdala.

"It's almost as though, without sleep, the brain had reverted back to more primitive patterns of activity, in that it was unable to put emotional experiences into context and produce controlled, appropriate responses," said Matthew Walker of the University of California Berkeley, who led the study.
Walker and colleagues at Harvard Medical School used functional magnetic resonance imaging, which can scan brain activity in real time, to see what was going on in the brains of their 26 young adult volunteers.
"We found a strong overreaction from the emotional centers of the brain," Walker said. "It was almost as if the brain had been rewired, and connected to the fright, flight or fight area in the brain stem."
More, Please

Wednesday 24 October 2007

A Phonecall from the APO

They have no record of me giving them my corrected Citizenship certificate back in September last year. *SIGH*

They were also suprised to hear that I hadn't been given a refund. "It has already been processed" they said. They said they'd look into it.

I pointed out to them that if they checked the data from Immigration - something they are empowered to do under the Australian Passports Determination 2005 (No 4) they would have seen that my records had been corrected over a year ago. I told them that there was no way I was going to put in another application: my position is that the original one should never have been refused.

I also told them exactly where they had fallen down regarding the Administrative Appeals (Judicial Review) Act, exactly the extent of their maladministration (that is, apart from the refund and them losing the record of citizenship change) and that the AAT would at the very least remit the matter to them for re-consideration. Which on the evidence they had available to them as of today, would mean them granting me a passport at last, something they'd already agreed with. They didn't contest my assessment of the AAT's likely ruling either. Given the facts, that shouldn't be surprising. Not being lawyers, they couldn't give an official view either way, but some things are too obvious to gainsay.

My offer was for them to give me a full refund, and also a new passport. Then I wouldn't claim for the additional expenses involved in getting an Australian Declaratory Visa due to their maladministration, nor damages. I'd still be out of pocket by a small amount, but the sheer inconvenience and stress of a court case is a penalty I'll try to avoid if I can. To give me compensation for the ADV would be difficult, but there's existing provision for waiving fees in exceptional circumstances. The fees are comparable. It seemed a reasonable compromise.

The person on the other end obviously wasn't empowered to say Yea or Nay. Given that all Government Departments will be in "Caretaker mode" shortly due to the election, I told them that I'd leave off any legal action until the new year. To give them a reasonable time to think about it.

The recent decision by the AAT has put the APO is a very invidious position. OK, their own fault, but still Not Good. Essentially, they must "second guess" the Family Court on the matter of exactly what someone's Sex is, in case the documentation is at all inconsistent with the simplest of cases.

I proposed that they just go by what Medicare Australia says, the biological and medical facts. This way they can say that they are acting in accordance with the AAT's ruling that they should go by the Reality of the situation, and not pay too much attention to official records that are demonstrably incorrect. More to the point, it would be someone else's problem.

Medicare Australia only changes gender on their records due to gender reassignment surgery, or in case of Intersex conditions. Although not perfect - some Intersexed people can be male for some purposes, female for others - it's as good as we can get as a general rule. Exceptional cases that don't fit should always be booted upstairs, past "Policy" to the Minister. That will happen once every alternate blue moon, as it should.

This way, people with 5ARD, 17BHDD or other apparent sex-changing Intersex conditions can at least get a passport with minimal problems. For them, and for the APO.

Hopefully this message will be transmitted upstairs. OK, I'm an optimist.

Right now, I'm really fed up though. My Blog has a record of me constantly trying to get them to act within the law, and see reason. If there's any cavil at my offer, one predicated on them not causing any more distress and suffering than they already have, it's off to the AAT. This can't go on. I have enough on my plate without it, but if they insist on being bloody-minded, I'll cooly extract as much monetary compensation for their actions as the law will allow. Cooly? Not exactly, Right now I can hardly stop the tears. I'll just get lawyers to act for me, I'm too upset.
This should never have happened.

OK, Zoe, get yourself together, you have a son to parent and a PhD to complete.

Outgoing Mail

To :

Dear Sir/Madam,

I'm enquiring about the correction of birth certificates in cases where the symptoms of Intersex conditions appear long after birth.

Typical examples include apparent change of sex due to 5-alpha-reductase deficiency(5ARD) or 17-beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase deficiency (17BHDD).

In these cases, of which you probably are aware, a genetically male infant at birth appears somewhat, partially, mostly or completely female, and later at puberty becomes somewhat, partially, mostly or completely male. The rate of 17BHDD is 1:147,000, the rate of 5ARD less well known, but believed to be ~1:100,000, so the registry has almost certainly had to deal with this previously.

There are other, much rarer conditions, some of which involve a change from male to female, about which little is known. There is no medical consensus whether these are properly classified as Intersex conditions, or endocrine oddities causing partial sex change.

I would appreciate any information you may have on correction of Birth certificates in such cases. I've had advice that the UK GRA only covers Gender Identity Disorder where no Intersex condition is present.

The reason I ask is that I was born in the UK, my birth certificate says "boy", but in late 2005 I had a peer-reviewed diagnosis of "severe androgenisation of a non-pregnant women" and have been treated accordingly.

Yours Sincerely,
Zoe Ellen Brain

(address redacted)

Tuesday 23 October 2007

Sometimes it's not Easy

The police weren't going to investigate, calling it a "domestic dispute". Until a witness provided a videodisc of the whole thing.

It happens a fortnight ago. The victim still hasn't regained consciousness, but the doctors are hopeful.

You see, certain members of her family don't approve of transsexuals.

This morning (Tuesday), they found Raychel. Her nightgown cut from her, but still attached, unconscious and with her skull fractured, her left arm broken, 6 ribs broken... and her nether regions bleeding profusely, though wrapped in a hotel towel.

Read the whole thing.

So if I seem a little obsessed at times, a little intolerant of those who covertly or overtly approve of this "Christian" family's actions.... well, this is not the only event of this type I know of. It's worse than average, but only marginally. Nowhere near as bad as some. She at least was 22, not 12.
One of them admitted that two of the others had anally raped her. His statement that, "... it was okay, though, they used condoms," makes me ill. The doctors had missed the trauma there because it was minor compared to the beating she had received.
Oh well, on to the next battle. With perhaps just a little more determination than before.

Puts my own problems with the APO into perspective, though, doesn't it?

Slow, Steady, Planned

As mentioned in a previous post, China's lunar ambitions steadily come to fruition.

From Space Daily :
China, which plans one day to send a human to the moon, said it expected to launch its first lunar orbiter on Wednesday, state media reported, quoting the country's space agency.

The launch of the Chang'e I rocket and orbiter will likely take place on Wednesday at 6:00 pm (1000 GMT) from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in southwestern Sichuan province, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

The launch of the moon orbiter is part of a three-step lunar exploration programme China hopes will eventually see moon samples brought back to Earth.

The probe will be followed by robotic missions and, eventually, a lunar base to allow astronauts to live longer on the moon and utilise its resources.

And probably the next President of the US has said:
"Travel to the Moon or Mars 'excites people,' she said, 'but I am more focused on nearer-term goals I think are achievable.'"

Just sayin'

The Huffington Post

In which Zoe unleashes her inner Bitch

Sorry, I'd just read this.
So it might take another 30 years or so to start accepting transgenders. Big deal.
It doesn't help to be too emotional about serious issues. My snarkiness is about as far as I'll allow myself to go.

It should lay to rest however any myth that I'm some kind of Saint. All too full of human frailty, I'm afraid.

Monday 22 October 2007

I know who I'm voting for

The LDP:
The LDP's position sometimes confuses those who like to apply left and right labels to political ideologies. Free trade is considered to be right-wing while drug legalisation is left-wing. Cutting tax is right-wing but defending civil liberties and gay rights is left-wing.

However, all of these positions share the common principle of decreasing the role of government. They differ from "left-wing" people who often want the government to control the economy but not our social lives, and also from "right-wing" people who want the government to control our social lives but not the economy.
My kind of people. A Liberal party that is actually Liberal.

Sunday 21 October 2007

(Some of) This Weeks Battles

Washington Post
Real Clear Politics

Someone has to fight them. I'd do more, but there's this thing I have called a "Life", my PhD, raising my son...

Stirring the Possums

Rattling the cage, and setting the feline amongst the avians.

From Xinhua and multiple other sources:

Asked by one young fan whether Dumbledore finds "true love," J.K. Rowling said Friday night that the beloved character was gay.
A 19-year-old fan from Colorado asked about the top wizard's love life. She always thought of Dumbledore "as gay," she said.

She explained that Dumbledore was smitten with rival Gellert Grindelwald, whom he defeated long ago in a battle between good and bad wizards.

Refering to Dumbledore's feelings, Rowling said "Falling in love can blind us to an extent," adding that Dumbledore was "horribly, terribly let down."

That love, she said to raucous applause, was Dumbledore's "great tragedy."
That popping sound you hear is that of many Fundamentalists' heads imploding.

Saturday 20 October 2007

Bucks, Boomers, and Buck Rogers

That innocuous graphic shows that we have a decidedly nocuous problem.

At the end of the Second World War, which depending on how you define it, killed between 50 and 200 million people (mainly in China), there was a Zeitgeist that War was over. Great Evils had been overcome, the witch was dead, and it was safe to say the name Voldemort.

Literally millions of men, soldiers, came home over the next few years. Some POWs, some victorious occupiers, but in the main, just men wanting to beat swords into ploughshares and forget the horrors they had seen. Maybe start a family, have a normal life.

That led to the "Baby Boom". A huge surge of children, and with the improvements in medical care, infant mortality dropped too. The graph shows the picture 20 years later, as more of the children born in the late 40s and early 50s entered the workforce.

The strains on infrastructure in the 50's, with then extra demands for schools and so on, had echoes in succeeding generations, as the "boomers" children, and then grandchildren, caused peaks in demographic groups. Those peaks have been smoothed out as some people decided to have children later in life. For example, I was born in 1958, my son in 2001, so although he's the child of a tail-end boomer, he overlaps with the grandchildren of early boomers. The peaks are blurred. The demographic shockwaves are still being felt by town planners though.

But now we have the first ripple of what has been called a "tsunami of spending".

From Fox News, one of the few media organisations that gave the numbers:
David Walker, the comptroller general of the Government Accountability Office, Congress' legislative arm, warned the Social Security system will soon have more recipients coming than it can afford to pay out.

"We face a tsunami of spending due primarily to the retirement of the baby boom generation and rising health care costs," Walker said. "So what's happened is we've gone from 16 workers paying into Social Security for every person drawing benefits in 1950 to 3.3 to one today, and we're going down to two to one by the time the boomers retire in big numbers and that's about where it will stay over the long run."
The tax burden on younger people has already increased nearly five times, but it will have to nearly double again in future.

But wait, it's worse than that - in the USA anyway.
Under current law, Social Security won't have enough money to pay promised benefits in 2041 but there is another crunch much, much sooner, the result of the the federal government relying on Social Security to pay for its annual spending.

When Social Security gets payroll taxes it pays out most of the money in benefits. The rest is supposed to go into a trust fund. Instead the government has been spending the money on other government programs, and putting IOUs into the trust. When Social Security needs the money it'll turn to the government waiting for the payback. But the government won't likely have any.
The loan is expected to be called in 2017, when the largest bloc of the boomers — those born between 1946 and 1964 — will be retiring. By the mid 2020s, the federal government will have to fork over more than $200 billion a year, and then it climbs to more than $300 billion a year.

At the same time, all that is money that was being used for federal programs will no longer be available, meaning everything — from education to defense to the environment — will face a financial crunch.
What was a "cash cow", a convenient place to raid for top-up funds, will soon become something of a Vampire, sucking the fiduciary blood out of government. Ok, so how bad could it be? Things like this happen all the time, Governments take out loans, they get repaid. But this time the numbers are a bit concerning. You see, Social Security is just part of the problem.
Walker said over the next 75 years between Social Security, Medicaid and other entitlements, the federal government will be in a $50 trillion hole.

"Social Security represents about $6.4 trillion of that. Medicare represents $32 trillion of that. The surprising thing is that Social Security is the easy thing to fix," Walker said. Fifty trillion dollars, to put it in perspective, is 95 percent of the estimated net worth of every American including every billionaire. Fifty trillion dollars is $440,000 per American household."
And that gets me to the budget of NASA, and the US Space Programme. Or Program, as they say in the US.

From nearly 2 years ago:
The House Science Committee's Republican chairman and senior Democrat told NASA Administrator Mike Griffin they had little interest in accelerating the U.S. space agency's exploration plans at the expense of science and research.

Griffin appeared before the House Science Committee Thursday to defend his agency's 2007 budget request of $16.792 billion, which would hold science spending to a 1.5-percent increase next year in order to fund a nearly $1 billion increase for exploration. NASA plans to postpone or cancel several major science missions to help free up the additional money its needs to build new spacecraft and launchers while also operating a space shuttle fleet slated to fly 16 missions to the international space station before its retired in 2010.

"I am extremely uneasy about this budget, and I am in a quandary at this point about what to do about it," Boehlert told Griffin. "This budget is bad for space science, worse for Earth science, perhaps worse still for aeronautics. It basically cuts or de-emphasizes every forward looking, truly futuristic program of the agency to fund operational and development programs to enable us to do what we are already doing or have done before."
The near future is likely to be as described by Mark Whittington's article Hillary Clinton Declares War on Space Exploration:
On the surface, the Hillary Clinton space agenda appears to be long on platitudes and short on substance. But then, upon closer examination, one begins to have cause for alarm.

The phrase "a balanced strategy of robust human spaceflight, expanded robotic spaceflight, and enhanced space science activities" stands out because of the complaints that have been advanced by certain people, especially in the scientific community, that the current NASA program is "unbalanced." By that it is meant that too much money is being spent on President Bush's space exploration initiative at the expense of space science, Earth science, and aeronautics.

So, Hillary Clinton proposes to have "enhanced space science activities", "full funding for NASA's Earth Sciences program", and reverse "funding cuts to NASA's and FAA's aeronautics funding R&D budget." There are just two ways to accomplish this.

The first way is to add money to NASA funding and distribute the money accordingly. The United States Senate, by a unanimous consent vote, essentially proposed to do just that by adding a billion dollars in emergency spending to the 2008 NASA budget. Ironically Senator Clinton was a cosponsor of the amendment.

The second way is to gut funding for the exploration account and redistribute the money to space science, Earth science, and aeronautics. This appears to be, according to the New York Times, the approach that Hillary Clinton will pursue as President.

"But in a telephone interview afterward, she said that in the short term she would subordinate Bush administration proposals for human exploration of the Moon and Mars to restoring cuts in aeronautics research and space-based studies of climate change and other earth science issues.

"Travel to the Moon or Mars 'excites people,' she said, 'but I am more focused on nearer-term goals I think are achievable.'"

In effect, Senator Clinton has declared war on President Bush's space exploration initiative. This proposal is consistent with policies enacted by President Bill Clinton, which not only cancelled the first President Bush's space exploration initiative but made even the mention of voyages to the Moon and Mars all but forbidden at NASA.
US Government spending over the next 40 years is likely going to be squeezed tighter and tighter. Unless there's a solid foundation, a set of well-defined long-term plans that will survive partisan attack in the troubled times ahead, there will be no "US Manned Space Program". No matter how you spell it.

I've blogged about the Chinese, Russian, Japanese, even the Indian plans to put human beings in space, and even colonise. I haven't blogged recently about the better-funded, more technically advanced and generally superior US effort, sinply because of my doubts about its viability when subject to the vagaries of the US political process. It's inefficient, and just another way of conveying pork to the electorate. Well, the pork barrel is emptying fast.

And the first Baby Boomer retired last week.

Friday 19 October 2007

Two Hundred Thousand

Yours may be the 200,000th unique visit to my blog since I first started it just over 4 years ago.

Please have a look at the site counter, and see if it hits the magical 200k mark. Give me an e-mail if it does, please.

I must admit, when I first started blogging, I had no idea what was going to happen a few years down the track. If someone had told me 4 years ago, when I started blogging, what was going to happen, I would have wondered what weird parallel Universe they came from. But as I've found out, this one is one of the weirder ones.

Anyway, just wanted to thank my readership, especially those who have left comments. And it's about time for a Space post, haven't had one of those for a while. A post about how the US Soace program might just run out of steam soon, due to a Boom becoming a Bust. A Baby Boom, that is.

Thursday 18 October 2007

Brains, Genes, Nature and Nurture

I'm still cogitating over my discussions with Dr Barbara David the other day. Several points she made have stuck in my mind.

The first is that correlation does not imply causality in any particular direction. Thus if two observations A and B are correlated, it is possible that A causes B, B causes A, or that both A and B are causes by a (possibly unobserved) C.

When it comes to TS, the BSTc layer difference between males (including transsexual males) and females (including transsexual females) is strongly correlated with self-perceived gender identity. The experiments and autopsies involved small numbers (n~=12), but covered virtually the entire population - all TS women who had died in the Netherlands during the experimental period. The sample should not be seen so much as n=12, but n=U, the universal set, everybody. Or rather, since we're talking autopsies, every Body.

The point is though that the BSTc layer differences appear after gender identity is formed. They appear around Puberty, while gender is set somewhere between ages 2-10 in almost every case. Not quite always, but the exceptions are outliers. Often gender is only perceived when compared with others: a child only "knows" their gender when they socialise with other children, who are gendered one way or the other. But it's set beforehand. I might add, this corresponds exactly with my own experience.

So gender identity is not caused by this neural difference: the neurological difference is symptomatic, and appears to be reliably symptomatic, but is not causal.

The second point she made (as I understand it) is that the brain's neural network is essentially unformed at birth. The neurons are there, in situ, but the interconnections, the things that make a brain a brain, are mostly not. A bag of silicon chips is not a brain, a set of pigments and brushes is not a painting. Moreover, the brain is plastic: environment shapes the way the brain is formed. This is obvious in the rare and tragic cases of children who have been brought up without human contact, such as feral children adopted by animals, or more commonly, victims of extreme child abuse who have spent much of their formative years in "solitary confinement", locked in cupboards. Their brains do not develop normally, many cannot learn to speak, those parts have developed in different ways and cannot easily be changed once set.

So the brain is plastic, but loses plasticity as we grow older.

The question then arises, what is the cause of Transsexuality? Is it due to experience after birth during the first dew years of life? We know that female babies behave differently from male babies, but they also get treated differently. Girls get hugged closer than boys, for example. Could it be that environment is causal? Girls are girls because they are treated as girls while neonatal?

The difference in biology extends to the 3rd week after conception. From Scientific American : thing that doctors know for certain is that in the second and third trimesters, women having girls display higher levels of a hormone known as maternal serum HCG (MSHCG) than do women pregnant with boys. Now new research suggests that such hormonal differences appear less than three weeks after conception. The findings, published today in the journal Human Reproduction, may help explain how girls and boys exert control over their mother's hormones.

Yuval Yaron of the Genetic Institute at Sourasky Medical Center in Tel Aviv and colleagues followed 347 pregnancies achieved through in vitro fertilization. The researchers tested the mothers' MSHCG levels between 14 and 20 days after fertilization and detected some differences as early as day 16. Three weeks into pregnancy, women carrying girls exhibited hormone levels 18.5 percent higher than those of their boy-carrying counterparts, regardless of factors such as previous pregnancies or maternal age.
It seems entirely, er, conceivable, that limitations and constraints that will bound the development after birth may be set very early, at the beginning of development as a vertebrate.

So is Nature or Nurture dominant in neural development? There's proof that in some areas, Nature certainly sets bounds. From October 17 this year:
While showing an impressive growth prenatally, the human brain is not completed at birth. There is considerable brain growth during childhood with dynamic changes taking place in the human brain throughout life, probably for adaptation to our environments.

Evidence is accumulating that brain structure is under considerable genetic influence [Peper et al., 2007]. Puberty, the transitional phase from childhood into adulthood, involves changes in brain morphology that may be essential to optimal adult functioning. Around the onset of puberty gray matter volume starts to decrease, while white matter volume is still increasing [Giedd et al., 1999].

Recent findings have shown, that variation in total gray and white matter volume of the adult human brain is primarily (70-90%) genetically determined [Baare et al, 2001] and in a recent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain study with 45 monozygotic and 61 dizygotic 9-year-old twin-pairs, and their 87 full siblings also high heritabilities have been found [Peper et al, in preparation]. Thus, while environmental influences may play a role in later stages during puberty, around the onset of puberty brain volumes are already highly heritable.
So genetics play a strong part in shaping neural morphology. Or do they? Again, does A cause B, B cause A, or are A and B caused by C? It could be that the link is indirect, that genetics tend to cause a hormonal and biochemical environment which then causes constraints, tendencies and biases in further development.

That this is likely is evidenced by one fact: that 1 in 6 xy-foetusses whose mothers were given DES in the first trimester develop as transsexual women, not men. The causation is not direct, and things can go awry. DES causes other developmental anomalies too. Furthermore, there is no actual evidence that TS people have any difference in their upbringing (in the first 2 years and in pre-natal stimulus) than others who are not TS. They may do, but if so, we have no evidence of it.

Overall, I, from my mechanistically-biased view of cognition, tend to favour inherent biological causes, while Dr Davids, from her long experience as an expert psychologist, is perhaps more aware of the possibilities and plasticity in human development.

I still think I'm right though, even taking that into account. Too bad I can't do simultaneous PhDs in Gender Studies, Psychology, and Computer Science. Life's too short though.

Wednesday 17 October 2007

Good Deed For Today

The issue that is most outstanding in my mind about Transsexuality is the enormous ignorance about it. Not the ignorance of the general public, but ignorance about it in the medical profession. I suppose there is just so freaking much to learn that something has to give, but the mortality rates are so high I would have thought more would have been done.

Now thanks to Dr Barbera David of the ANU's School of Psychology, I had the opportunity to speak for 10 minutes to some undergard medical students, immediately after her lecture on Gender, Sex and Sexual Orientation. I started out saying that I'm the de-facto ANU adviser on Intersex and Transsex matters, gave them a few home truths.

Then, as the conclusion of my short talk, to make sure I made an impression, I deliberately "outed" myself as one of those peculiar people. I still have no idea why no-one who doesn't know doesn't suspect, but it's pretty clear they don't. Anyway, the cognitive dissonance that may have dispelled many misconceptions just may possibly do some good when they start practice.

Dr David and I had some "interesting and stimulating" conversations beforehand, meaning we argued with each other. Well, discussed things. The trouble is, neither of us could think of ethical experiments that could test our views. It would be a gross simplification to describe it as "Nature vs Nurture", more a case of how much biology constrains rather than deterministically dictates what goes on, and the extent of the effect of environment on neurology. And whether neurology is even the most important determiner of behaviour, rather than socialisation, in various areas.

Let's say that I learnt a lot. I hope I was able to teach her something too, perhaps not as much as she taught me, but it was a wonderful debate anyway. I hope we can repeat it.

Monday 15 October 2007

I hadn't thought of that

From George Junior, a blog I really should visit more often. He doesn't post every daym but when he does, it's worth reading.
A letter in yesterday's Times (not online) from Norman Simmons (Emeritus Consultant in Microbiology) suggests a novel way to reduce hospital-acquired infections:

Sir, All items of clothing worn in hospitals, including trousers, carry bacteria. The Health Secretary's decision to banish long-sleeved white coats from hospitals (report, Sept 17) brings to mind work carried out by the Public Health Laboratory Service several years ago. Researchers found that the least spread of bacteria from surgeons occurred if they were naked and lightly oiled.
I must admit, it's logical, but I also must admit that the thought had never crossed my mind before. Naked. Lightly Oiled. Gronk.

Sunday 14 October 2007

The Pharyngula Mutating Genre Meme

From Pharyngula via MythusMage :
The Pharyngula mutating genre meme.

There are a set of questions below that are all of the form, “The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is‚ …”. Copy the questions, and before answering them, you may modify them in a limited way, carrying out no more than two of these operations:

A. You can leave them exactly as is.

B. You can delete any one question.

C. You can mutate either the genre, medium, or subgenre of any one question. For instance, you could change “The best time travel novel in SF/Fantasy is‚” to “The best time travel novel in Westerns is‚ …”, or “The best time travel movie in SF/Fantasy is‚ …”, or “The best romance novel in SF/Fantasy is‚ …”.

D. You can add a completely new question of your choice to the end of the list, as long as it is still in the form “The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is‚ …”.

*You must have at least one question in your set, or you’ve gone extinct, and you must be able to answer it yourself, or you’re not viable.

*Then answer your possibly mutant set of questions. Please do include a link back to the blog you got them from, to simplify tracing the ancestry, and include these instructions.

*Finally, pass it along to any number of your fellow bloggers. Remember, though, your success as a Darwinian replicator is going to be measured by the propagation of your variants, which is going to be a function of both the interest your well-honed questions generate and the number of successful attempts at reproducing them.

My parent is: Mythusmage

1. The best time travel novel in SF/Fantasy is…
All You Zombies By Robert Heinlein

2. The best romantic movie in science fiction is…
Time after Time

3. The best romantic song in rock is…
Macarthur Park by Richard Harris

4. The best medical novel series in sf/fantasy is…
The Sector General series by James White.

My victims for this meme are…

Calamity Jane


It's disconcerting to realise that you've been just a tiny bit psychotic most of your life.

"Psychotic" defined as "denying reality", an irrational state of being unable to perceive obvious, incontrovertible evidence that is contrary to your world-view.

For most of my life, I believed I was a male with a small, harmless but persistent delusion that I should have been born female. I can't blame myself for that: my body, while mildly Intersexed, was not remotely female, just not quite fully male.

The medical diagnosis, by people far more knowledgeable than I, in 1985 was "undervirilised fertile male syndrome (PAIS-1)'. All I had to do was look in the mirror for the evidence. I had the body of a footballer, not a cheerleader, no matter how I felt. Maybe I should have been born female, but obviously I wasn't, so deal with it.

But... I had to go to extreme lengths to cater to my delusion. No, not the usual crossdressing, I could only wear white or blue shirts, anything pastel was too effeminate. Same with ties, nothing but dark colours or muted patterns.

I was so scared that someone would guess that I was a girl trying to be a boy. Yet I couldn't admit that to myself. I'd see a pretty girl walking down the street, think "I wish I looked like that!" then 15 minutes later, it would have been erased from my memory. Or rather, buried. I trusted the evidence of my senses, not my internal feelings (normally a pretty rational thing to do), but way beyond the point of rationality.

Had I looked up the data on Transsexuality, the situation would have been obvious. But I was just unable to perceive it, I had a blindspot there. I couldn't bring myself to do any research on the subject. Other areas of neurology and cognition, yes. I've been blogging about brains since 2003. But not that area.

Due to some metabolic weirdness, the official diagnosis in 2005, this time by people who were expert in Intersex conditions, and after many, many MRI, Blood chemistry, chromosome and Ultrasound tests, was changed to "severe androgenisation of a non-pregnant woman". Treatment commenced shortly thereafter.

Even now, even after the blood tests, the expert reports, the eyewitness accounts, even the photos, part of me is convinced I must be delusional, that this cannot possibly have happened.

There are three possibilities: psycho before, psycho after, or psycho before and after. The worst thing is that you don't realise you're irrational, the psychic mechanisms used to cope with the stress stop you from realising that.

People who are anorexic don't "believe" they are fat, they know it. Something happens between the optical processing of the image in the mirror, and its conscious evaluation. It's not that they're irrational in their conscious thoughts, it's that their perceptions get distorted long before that. Measurements and eyewitnesses who contradict the evidence of their senses cause cognitive dissonance, which can lead to a cure if they resolve it.

Well, now my research on other Intersex conditions such as 5ARD and 17BHD deficiency shows that indeed, such contrary-to-all-common-sense things as apparent spontaneous sex changes can happen. The eyewitness accounts of my colleagues and friends who witnessed the changes as they happened confirm it. There's objective evidence that my appearance changed so much that I became unrecognisable in just a few months to people who had known me for years. I've found about a dozen similar cases, 3 in Australia alone.

The medical results though are... insufficiently certain. Yes, my hormone levels were way out of normal tolerances, in the female not the male range. But that is nowhere near enough to explain the rapidity of the perceived change. It should have taken years, not weeks.

Just at the point where I have convinced myself that it was just an unusual hormonal glitch, that I'm actually standard TS who feels so guilty about that (and indeed, I'm repressed and very old-fashioned in many ways, that makes sense) that I'm searching for justification... I have more medical tests, and that comforting idea gets blown out of the water. Again.

My GP is convinced I'm a Freak (not unkindly, quite the contrary, we laughed together at the sheer incredibility of the long-term trends). My Endo, older than God, who's seen it all refuses to be drawn on the subject. My Psych had tentatively offered the hypothesis of the most spectacular conversion syndrome she's ever seen, even found some plausible mechanism why a totally repressed need could cause weird things to happen to my body. But everyone is flummoxed by the blood tests, taking female hormones may not cause much of an increase in oestrogen levels, but it's not supposed to lower them! Who ordered *that*???

Maybe I'm attention-seeking, some part of me wanting to be someone special, one in a few million. Munchausen syndrome. Well if so, I wish that part of me would go take a running jump, this has caused me no end of legal hassles, plus the medical bills. Let us not forget the social problems, I mean, I have a marriage of 27 years duration, and I have a son who is everything to me.

At this point, I'd just like a straight answer. If I'm delusional, good, we can work with that, maybe anti-psychotic medication, whatever. At least that would be safe, and I'd be able to take standard medications without the possibility that an atypical metabolism would react in a dangerous way.

Then there's the bit that I really don't want to think about. If it's got a genetic component, what about my son?

Oh yes, I'm also doing a PhD, changing sex, and my sexual orientation has changed too. Just that alone is a lot to cope with.

Reading what I've written - I would have to be crazy to think anyone with all this on their plate is sane. Seriously, if it had happened to someone else, I'd be saying "I couldn't possibly deal with that!". If someone else said they were a Rocket Scientist, had helped design several naval and submarine combat systems, and were doing a PhD in Computer Science, I'd be pretty impressed too. But to me it seems all show: I work with people who are very much brighter than I am, I know people who have coped with far worse problems, and I feel like an imposter. Looking good on paper, but in reality, nowhere near as impressive. That's not false modesty, and I'm not chopped liver, but it's all show, with little substance to back it up. Not no substance, just not enough.

Enough with the self-indulgent navel-gazing. I know it's my blog and I can write anything I like, but a blog that is not for its readers is just intellectual self-abuse.

If you want to read some more interesting and worthy stuff I've written, try looking at some of my posts recently at

Friday 12 October 2007


Another post about how our brains work. Poorly.

From News.Com:
The Right Brain vs Left Brain test ... do you see the dancer turning clockwise or anti-clockwise?
If clockwise, then you use more of the right side of the brain and vice versa.

Most of us would see the dancer turning anti-clockwise though you can try to focus and change the direction; see if you can do it.

More discussion about this, and a justification of the hemispheric indicators at Fourouboros:

Well, maybe it depends on, ahem, what part of her anatomy we use for our initial, orienting observation. If we fix on the arc of her leg, we're not abso-positively sure of our conclusion, so we check against another part of her figure, say, her head--a universal constant supposedly. At that point of indecision, frame 19, her head appears at first glance (hah!) to be facing left. And the image proceeds to reveal nose, lips, etc. When I begin that way, counter-clockwise is easier to "see." But if you look at her head initially, which a large majority of us are wired to seek out, at least as a first step, the chances are very high that you'll perceive clockwise orientation until the brain is asked to categorize the image alongside other, more left-brain, additive, packeted info.

To me the most interesting thing is how heated some of the arguments get.

More on left/right hemispheres at Cognitive Daily.

And a curtsey to Dana Runs, a blog that I'm adding to my blogroll immediately.

Thursday 11 October 2007

Phantom ...Organs

From Cosmos Magazine:
Similar to the phantom limb syndrome, the sensation of a 'phantom penis' in post-operative heterosexual and transsexual men is providing insights into the how gender-specific body images are hard-wired at birth.

Experts at the University of California in San Diego, USA, found that 60 per cent of interviewed heterosexual men who had their genitals surgically removed following cancer claimed to continue to experience the sensation of having a penis.

Intriguingly, the same study showed that only 30 per cent of originally male transsexuals, whose genitals had been removed as part of gender reassignment, reported the same phenomenon.

"We explain the absence or presence of phantoms in these subjects by postulating a hardwired gender-specific body image in the brain that does not match the external [birth] gender" said lead author and phantom limb expert Vilayanur Ramachandran. He argues that before birth the brain may develop an image of the body that may not necessarily match the physiological outcome.
Now that you mention it, yes. I've blogged about this phenomenon in my case before. Not that I had a "phantom" anything, just that my body image lacked external genitalia. Which led to some unfortunate and extremely painful incidents when young.

Another piece of the puzzle.

Wednesday 10 October 2007

Jaw Drop

When somebody you greatly respect writes something like this about you.

And you realise that although it might be misleading, technically it's true.

Worse, I did forget, because in the context such minor trivialities didn't seem important. When you're talking about Human Rights, what does it matter?

Besides which, I never claimed to be a bright Rocket Scientist. I can be extraordinarily Dense at times.

Tuesday 9 October 2007

Passports Round 2 - Getting Legal

Mr Ross Tysoe
Assistant Secretary
Passport Services Branch

9th October 2007

Ref: Your letter of 28th August 2007

Dear Mr Tysoe

Thank you for your courteous and prompt reply. My apologies for not replying earlier.

I have waited until the outcome of the case "Abrams and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade [2007] AATA 1816 (28 September 2007)"
and it has taken some time to get legal advice.

I am at a loss at the APO's statement:

"We have no record of your submitting at the time of your application a citizenship certificate describing you as Zoe Ellen Brain"

This was passed by hand to the case officer by 4pm 6th September 2006, before final disposition of the case. The certificate has been issued on the 24th of August 2006, and the Immigration records changed accordingly.

In view of this, the medical evidence in the APO's possession since July 2006 stating that I am female, and the recent AAT decision, I invite the APO to radically re-assess their position on this matter. If not, I will commence legal proceedings.

Yours Sincerely
etc etc
Now to see how much money this is going to cost me, and see if I can get some of it done pro bono publicum. Any suggestions welcome.

And they still haven't sent me the refund. Incompetence or Malice? I still think incompetence, though there's obvious malign neglect in the whole culture. At some point in time you have to stop giving people the benefit of the doubt. That I haven't reached this point is proven by this letter: otherwise I'd go legal without warning them.

Monday 8 October 2007


Found at Science, Sometimes, via Yet Another Weird SF Fan - both of which are worth a look in their own right:
I have a buddy who is a communications professor. He speaks the Gramsci/Foucalt lit crit hegemony stuff all the time. Mostly, I haven't got the first goddammed idea what he's talking about, though I have given it enough of a try to encounter the Sokhal hoax and stuff like that. But once, he asked me what it would take to 'overthrow' the periodic table. I tried to make the point that, fundamentally, the periodic table is an organization of experimental observation, that has since been backed up with theory. He wondered why we 'privilege' this particular structure.

After trying really hard to understand what the hell he meant, I got the impression that he thinks, honestly, that scientists just make shit up and all agree to discuss it in a certain way. I basically told him that he had the luxury of this because he didn't interact with things that would mercilessly render him dead as a rock if didn't privilege the knowledge that has been gained over time, different ways of knowing be damned.

He thought, and then said, "Yeah, if I write down something that doesn't conform to the narrative of my field, my papers won't explode." I think that we may have understood one another for a few minutes, at least.

And to safety-critical engineers, if we don't get things right, then people really will die, or be blinded, or maimed, as the result.

Perhaps it would be useful for some Lit Crit people to deconstruct this fragment from Kipling:
Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

And meanwhile I find myself explaining for the (n+1)th time about autopsy results and brain-scans, arguing that HBS is neither cured by Exorcism, nor Spirit Release Therapy. And trying to counteract anonymous articles in the California Catholic Daily such as No Crossdresser Left Behind.

Saturday 6 October 2007


I was asked by someone recently what "Stealth" meant. I've mentioned it before, in the context of it being impossible for me, but I've never explained it.

This film clip from 1980 explains what it is, and why so many choose it, if they can.

Yes, some of us look pretty awful, not pretty. And some look really good, and with no entanglements (their families usually disown them), no Job (many get fired when they transition), well, giving up a past that is nothing but pain looks like a really good idea. "There's nothing for me here: I'm going to become a Jedi like my Father".

But some stay behind, to help others. If you can't go Deep Stealth - or even if you can - it's an alternative.

A Recent Birthday


Friday 5 October 2007

The Mind BogGoogles

Latest search phrases that have found this blog:
  • tg husband taking female hormaones
  • grace abrams
  • erotic men for women
  • considering yourself
  • benny hill powered spacecraft
  • job requirements for brain surgeons

I don't know which of the last two is more scary.

Benny Hill powered Spacecraft??? And this blog tops the list. Gronk.

Thursday 4 October 2007

Twenty Five Years Ago

She's my age.

But when I was in my early 20's, the idea of transition was light years away from me. OK, I should have been born female, well, so what? The discomfort was minor. I could live with it, it might even go away.

I didn't know that it gets worse.

I was never attracted to boys, and I thought that was necessary. Actually, at that time, so did the medics: I would have been refused treatment on those grounds alone.

Also, I had the build of a footballer, not a cheerleader like her. That was also a disqualifier in those days, only women who were pretty could be considered. Ones who were so obviously feminine that no-one could suspect. Even then, as the surgeon said, he faced social stigma from his peers. "It's a dirty job, but someone has to do it" sums it up.

But I didn't know any of that at the time. I've only found this out in the last 2 years.

Had I been allowed treatment then, had I needed treatment then, my son could not have been born. So having had a look at this video, I can truthfully say that I have no regrets. Intellectually I always knew that, but now my heart agrees.

Wednesday 3 October 2007

Green Dots

If your eyes follow the movement of the rotating pink dot, the dots will remain only one color, pink.

However if you stare at the black " +" in the centre, the moving dot turns to green.

Now, concentrate on the black " + " in the centre of the picture. After a short period, all the pink dots will slowly disappear, and you will only see only a single green dot rotating.

This and many other illusions courtesy of Michael Bach of the Universit├Ąts-Augenklinik Freiburg.

Tuesday 2 October 2007

TS 101

Or... Transsexuality For Beginners.

This is a primer for those who don't know too much about the issue. They see weirdos and freaks, obvious nutcases who get their bodies mutilated for some perverse reason, and think they're crazy, dangerously so. They disapprove anyway, and just based on grounds of "common sense", I can't blame them. It seems obvious that it goes against Nature, and for Believers, God.

But here's the medical facts. It explains why these people do what they do.

I have to start with Intersex conditions generally, where people have bodies neither wholly male nor wholly female. It's estimated that 1.7% of the population qualify technically, but essentially only about 1 in 1000 have problems from it. If say 1% of your cells are of the opposite sex to the majority, it probably won't affect you.

There are hundreds of different serious Intersex conditions. Some result in ambiguous genitalia or none at all, or partial ones of both kinds. People can be Chimeras (fusion of opposite-sexed twins in the womb), Mosaics, or Kleinfelters, the latter with neither 46xy (male) nor 46xx (female) but 47xxy. Most such people are just normal men with a few anomalies in their bodies (and sterility). A few are normal but infertile men, a very few are normal fertile women.

The most disconcerting ones are the serials - those born looking like one sex, then changing to look like the other from natural causes. 5ARD and 17BHD deficiency are the most common causes, though there are others.

It can be devastating for a young woman to find out that the reason she has been unable to get pregnant is because she has no ovaries or womb, just the external genitalia. Some are even chromosomally male, they have "complete androgen insensitivity syndrome", so look totally female, with female brains, minds, and genitalia. It's only on an ultrasound that the differences are apparent.

Now talking about female brains and minds, there are two papers on the subject:

Zhou J.-N, Hofman M.A, Gooren L.J, Swaab D.F (1997)
A Sex Difference in the Human Brain and its Relation to Transsexuality. (PDF here)

Kruijver F.P.M, Zhou J.-N, Pool C.W., Swaab D.F. (2000)
Male-to-Female Transsexuals Have Female Neuron Numbers in a Limbic Nucleus (PDF here)

Male and Female brains differ, both on the coarse scale (BSTc layer of the hypothalamus) and fine scale (number of neurons - brain cells - in each structure). Autopsies on transsexual women, that is, women with mostly male bodies, have shown they have female pattern brains.

Note that gay men have male pattern brains though.

From ArzteZeitung this year, detailing studies using fMRT - "brain scans" of living people:

"Radiologists can now confirm what transsexuals report - that they feel “trapped in the wrong body” - on the basis of the activation of the brain when presented with erotic stimuli. There is obviously a biological correlation with the subjective feelings."

So to say that a transsexual woman is "male" is at best a half-truth. The visible parts are. The parts that determine her personality, her gender (since we know that neither chromosomes nor external appearance is reliable), are female.

So anyone can just "say" they are Transsexual, dress up as the opposite sex, right?


To go through gender re-assignment - to modify the body so it fits the brain - a number of hurdles must be crossed.

The first is a full assessment over at least 3 months, sometimes years, by a qualified psych. Then and only then will a formal letter be written authorising an endocrinologist to start the process of hormonally altering the body.

After some time, usually years, enough so that the body is changed enough to look ambiguous, a period of living in the target gender is required. This is at least 1 year, often 2 or more. During this period, the patient must use the correct restroom for their target gender, and also maintain employment. If they break either condition, the period starts over again, and they may be refused treatment altogether.

That's not the end. For a second psych, who must be a post-doctoral specialist in the area, must then review the case and provide yet another letter formally authorising surgery.

This formal procedure, a "best practice" adhered to scrupulously in the USA is at

More data on Intersex conditions is available from the Intersex Society of North America at , the UK Intersex Association at and Organisation Intersex International

People born with any of these congenital conditions suffer terrible stigma. Most Intersex people can and do hide their condition. Those with "serial hermaphroditism", and those who are transsexual, cannot. They have to endure being confused with Gays, called "perverts", and even subject to violence or arrest. But you knew that. Now you know why though.

I've simplified some things - for example, not *all* of a TS person's brain is cross-gendered. To have the condition, it's only necessary that the bit determining whether the person is a Boy or a Girl is mismatched, and the mismatch has degrees. Usually many parts of the brain are affected, but this varies between individuals. They may also have other Intersex conditions too, not just the neurology is cross-gendered. But sometimes adding details only clouds the issue.

These are Men born with feminine bodies, or Women born with masculine ones. If you think that is perverse, un-natural and wrong, well, so do they. That's why they try to fix the situation, no matter the great cost to themselves. Though as with all Intersex conditions, it's technically not "Un-Natural". Like other congenital conditions, it happens to other species too. It's as natural as Cancer.

(C) 2007 Zoe E Brain - may be freely distributed for non-commercial purposes.

If you know of any Religious or Conservative groups who don't know any of this stuff, please send a copy to them. It may be a lost cause, but you might also send a copy to various 'progressive' "Gender Studies" departments too. I think you'll get a fairer hearing from the Religious groups though. Matthew 19:12 and all that. Intersex conditions have always existed, they're mentioned in the Bible.

Readers of this blog will see nothing new here: it's just a convenient summary of the situation. Given the recent happenings in the USA, where inclusion of employment rights for Intersexed and Transsexed people was deemed "to controversial" for a bill giving the same rights to Gays and Lesbians, something like this is needed. For legislators, for opinion shapers, and especially for many Christian groups who are, quite unwittingly, persecuting people afflicted with an appalling condition since before birth.

Monday 1 October 2007

Genius and Madness

From Science Daily:
Psychologists from the University of Toronto and Harvard University have identified one of the biological bases of creativity.

The study in the September issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology says the brains of creative people appear to be more open to incoming stimuli from the surrounding environment. Other people's brains might shut out this same information through a process called "latent inhibition" - defined as an animal's unconscious capacity to ignore stimuli that experience has shown are irrelevant to its needs. Through psychological testing, the researchers showed that creative individuals are much more likely to have low levels of latent inhibition.

"This means that creative individuals remain in contact with the extra information constantly streaming in from the environment," says co-author and U of T psychology professor Jordan Peterson. "The normal person classifies an object, and then forgets about it, even though that object is much more complex and interesting than he or she thinks. The creative person, by contrast, is always open to new possibilities."

Previously, scientists have associated failure to screen out stimuli with psychosis.
The authors hypothesize that latent inhibition may be positive when combined with high intelligence and good working memory - the capacity to think about many things at once - but negative otherwise.
"Scientists have wondered for a long time why madness and creativity seem linked," says Carson. "It appears likely that low levels of latent inhibition and exceptional flexibility in thought might predispose to mental illness under some conditions and to creative accomplishment under others."

That might explain why those that survive being TS tend to be both hyper-intelligent and also hyper-creative. Being TS, having a brain neither entirely M nor F - likely leads to creativity, being open to stimuli others filter out. But unless the person is also unusually bright, it may lead to insanity too. Only the bright don't kill themselves, and the stratospherically high TS suicide rate would certainly fit in with that. So the mystery of the evidenced 2 standard deviation increase in IQ isn't caused by some weird neurology, as the creativity seems to be. It's possibly a result of Natural Selection, not Natural Talent.

Call it Evolution in Action.