Monday 30 June 2008

Tortoise and Hare - the Chinese Space Programme

From via Cumudgeon's Corner:
China is stepping up and out in the world of space exploration.

Space officials in that country are readying the Shenzhou 7 spacecraft for an October sendoff, one that will carry a trio of their "taikonauts" into Earth orbit.
China has initiated a step-by-step approach in flying their taikonauts: The single-person Shenzhou 5 flight in 2003 of 14 orbits; the two-person voyage of Shenzhou 6 in 2005 lasting 5 days; and soon to head skyward, a threesome of space travelers. And on this flight, one of those space travelers is to carry out China's first spacewalk, also known as extravehicular activity, or EVA for short.
For the U.S., the Mercury series of single-seat flights led to the two-person missions of Gemini spacecraft, followed by sojourns of the Apollo three-person crew capsule. More to the point, in the U.S., the first human-carrying orbital flight of Mercury was in 1962; Gemini in 1965; and Apollo in 1968.
Except... there were many Mercury, and even more Gemini flights as they got the "bugs out of the systems". Some of that can be ascribed to first-time experimentation, things that once shown to be possible, don't need repeating.
"Implications, as far as I can see...few, if any," said Joan Johnson-Freese, an analyst of China's space policy and Chair of the National Security Decision-Making Department at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, R.I.

Johnson-Freese told that the U.S. Mercury program of the 1960s was spearheading research just to see if humans could swallow in space...or how the human psyche would react once in Earth orbit. There were lots of medical questions, she noted.

NASA's Project Mercury was quickly followed by a salvo of 10 human-carrying Gemini flights from March 1965 to November 1966. All-in-all, piloted Mercury and Gemini orbital outings tally up to 14 flights in five years, Johnson-Freese observed — and don't forget those two earlier and piloted suborbital Mercury missions.

"Technology development was incremental because it was all new, but consistent," Johnson-Freese stressed.

"The Chinese will have three flights with a successful mission next fall. They have been able to benefit from lots of lessons learned from both the Americans and the Russians. That is not to downplay the difficulty of the technology or the achievements of the Chinese...they just have the luxury of starting much higher on the learning curve," she concluded.
Exactly - and it's because of that that I disagree with her "no big deal" assessment. Because there were a number of uncrewed Shenzhou missions before they sent a man up. Unlike the Space Race in the 60's, they weren't in a hurry, and didn't have to cut corners. They also benefit from nearly 50 years of development in the computer field, leading to far more reliable and robust systems. Ones far less complex than desktop computers, but then, they don't have to be more complex than most microwave ovens or washing machines. Just reliable. Systems in the 60's were neither as capable, nor as reliable.
"Yes, is worth flagging," said Dean Cheng, an Asian affairs specialist at the U.S.-based Center for Naval Analysis in Alexandria, Virginia.

"Now, the flip side to that, of course, is that it has also been done before. So it's not like they need to engineer everything from scratch," Cheng told, adding that China can depend on designs similar to those proven to work by the U.S. and former Russians. "But, yes, it is nonetheless impressive."

Cheng points out, however: "The main difference ...there were more Mercury and Gemini flights in the intervening period. What is interesting about the Chinese effort is that they are doing it with so few flights. Four unmanned flights...then pow-pow-, two-man, three-man/EVA."
What they haven't done yet is trained a cadre of Taikonauts in the skills required in the 60's as regards docking, station-keeping and EVA. But as the Russians have shown with their automated Progress craft docking with Mir, even primitive 80's and 90's technology should be good enough.
Roger Launius, senior curator for the Division of Space History at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C (said) "Learning what China needs to know about conducting a lunar trip, probably a circumlunar trip, on three missions seems a bit thin to me," Launius told
"Let's take the Gemini program," Launius said. "A central reason for it was to perfect techniques for rendezvous and docking, EVA, and long duration flight. Assuming that these same skills will be required in a Chinese moon program, and I believe they will, where will the knowledge and experience for them come from in these three missions?"
"A core question, it seems to me, is this: "Will ground simulation be able to compensate for the lack of orbital experience?" Launius said. "Perhaps, but I'm not sure."
I would expect a series of uncrewed missions to test out the automated docking systems required, possibly in conjunction with a crewed mission. It's a cautious, but not necessarily slow, "progress" if you'll pardon the pun.

The long-term strategy is to have a reliable, tested system for getting people to and from a permanent, largely self-sustaining lunar base, within the next 50 years. The plan is to get some more uncrewed lunar surveyors and sample-return landers working by 2017, while activities continue in earth orbit. Activities including a construction facility for assembling lunar missions. If all goes well, expect a crewed landing in 2020, but it could easily be later than that. There's no hurry, and to telegraph their moves with Space Spectaculars is exactly what they don't want. The US space program has been captured by political pork-barelling, and is seen primarily as a way to distribute largesse to political constituents. If they make a workable spacecraft, so much the better, but really, that's not necessary.

Meanwhile, the Chinese are steadily building up the necessary infrastructure. Tracking facilities, an Taikonaut Corps...
Earlier this month, it was noted that six taikonauts had been selected for the upcoming mission from 14 candidates — a crowd that included Yang Liwei, China's first space explorer who flew solo on Shenzhou 5. For Shenzhou 7, three will fly the actual mission with the others tagged as substitutes.

Also, Yuanwang 6, an ocean-going tracking ship, has been delivered for service in Shanghai to participate in the Shenzhou 7 flight and to assist in the slated spacewalk. It joins sister ship, Yuanwang 5, to take part in maritime space surveying and mission controlling operations.

Qi Faren, academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and researcher of China Spaceflight Technology Research Institute — credited as chief designer of China's first five Shenzhou spaceships and chief consultant for Shenzhou 6 and Shenzhou 7 - has been quoted as saying that plans are already underway for Shenzhou 8 and Shenzhou 9. He added that "the intervals between each launch will become shorter."
As was said a few months ago:
Last year, the United States managed 16 space launches; Russia had 22; China blasted off 10.

China's exploding economy is paying for the education of hundreds of thousands of engineers each year, they are acquiring less space technology from other nations and developing more of their own, and they appear committed to dominating the heavens.

Their space program is still behind, says Robert Zubring, one of America's strongest proponents for Mars travel, but it is rocketing.

"And we're standing still. If we continue to stand still, by the middle of the next decade, their space program will be superior to ours and they'll be moving on to the moon and Mars, while we're ... looking back on our former greatness," he said.

Just in November, a Chinese robotic spacecraft circled the moon, capturing 3-D images. Chinese scientists talk about mining the lunar surface for possible nuclear energy resources that are plentiful there but rare on Earth.

Mars is a real target for future travel.
All three major presidential candidates -- Sens. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain -- say space is important, but none is strongly talking about a timeline for the moon or Mars. And certainly, there are other pressing issues: the war and the economy.

But there is genuine and growing fear among some scientists that if space does not become a higher priority, the Chinese program will be on par with America's by the end of the next president's second term. Then, it will be a real race to Mars even if we want to join in.
"Race" to Mars? No, the Chinese aren't interested in "races". They're interested in exploitation and colonisation. Mars will still be there when they've finished building up a good lunar infrastructure for interplanetary travel. And others are sending one-off scientific missions every few decades.

More on the Chinese Space programme - Space Plane, The Moon as a nuclear He3 source, Slow, Steady, Planned, Lunar Plans,2006 Summary, Moon Plans Firm Up, Shenzhou 6 again, Shenzhou 6, Shenzhou 6 Preparations, Moon Programme Updated and others...

Here's what I wrote 5 years ago:
Yes, they've been methodical. This is not some flash-in-the-pan Space Spectacular for no more worthy a goal than National prestige. It's not a Space Race as such - because a Race implies that they're competing against some other entity. No, after consulting my Crystal Ball, taking the auguries, and examining the entrails of a goat, I think they're in it for the long term. I'm not talking about Scientific missions to Mars, or even Exploratory missions to the Moon. I'm talking about setting up a permanent presence. Not next year. Not next decade, nor the one after that. But certainly within the next 50 years.
Make that 45 now.

Saturday 28 June 2008

Today's Battles

Over at the Memphis Flyer. That's the Memphis is Tennessee, not Egypt. And the ABC, the American network, not the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

The "Reasonable Christian" continues to go "la la la, I can't hear you" when faced with evidence he's wrong, so we can write him off as both dishonest and hypocritical. It happens. Too bad, he has a keen intellect, and is probably a good person in many ways.

Friday 27 June 2008


The US House of Representatives Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee held, for the very first time, a hearing on "An Examination of Discrimination Against Transgender Americans in the Workplace" yesterday.

From the ACLU - I can't summarise it without doing it injustice, so here it is in full. An audio of her testimony is also available.
My name is Diane Schroer, Colonel, U.S. Army, Retired, and I am a transgender woman. I grew up in Chicago as David Schroer with two older brothers in the most normal of loving families. I entered the U.S. Army through ROTC as a 2nd Lieutenant immediately following graduation from Northern Illinois University. I completed Ranger and Airborne School and served four years on the East-West German Border, completing three company command tours along the way. In 1987, I was an honor graduate of the U.S. Army Special Forces Qualification Course.

I served 16 years in Special Forces including tours as a detachment commander, company commander, and battalion commander, accumulating 450 parachute jumps. I participated in combat operations in Panama and Haiti as well as missions in the Middle East, Central America, Africa, and Europe. Additionally, I initiated humanitarian demining operations in Namibia, Rwanda, Mozambique, Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

As the Senior Assessment Director, I orchestrated the Program Objective Memorandum or “POM” for US Special Operations Command, reviewing 5,000 programs covering all aspects of Special Operations for four years. I knew every unit, piece of equipment, operation, exercise, development program, and construction project; I knew where every dollar was supposed to go and how it was spent.

Following the attacks on 9/11, I was selected to organize and direct a classified 120-person interagency organization responsible for all Department of Defense operations against the country’s most significant terrorist threats and all long-term planning for the Global War on Terrorism. After almost two years of successful operations, with 25 years in the U.S. Army, I retired in January 2004.

Since my retirement, I have been intimately involved in Homeland Security, Critical Infrastructure Protection, and Maritime High-Risk Counterterrorism Operations. I currently run a small, independent consulting company that has done work for the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Coast Guard, the National Guard, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, to name a few. I possess a current Top Secret, Special Compartmented Information capable security clearance, which was updated in a Periodic Review completed without issue in July 2007.

I am here today because, in Fall 2004, I applied and interviewed for the position of Specialist in Terrorism and International Crime with the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress. In December 2004, I was told I had been selected for the position and after some rapid salary negotiations, I accepted the job.

I knew that I was well-qualified for the position. The U.S. Government had spent 30 years and several million of dollars educating me and perfecting my experience in the fields of Insurgency and Counterterrorism. As an aside, I also have a personal library collection of approximately 18,000 volumes covering predominantly those subjects.

At the time I applied for the position, I was in the process of my gender transition from Dave to Diane. However, I was still legally David — meaning that all my documentation was still under the name David — and therefore, applied for the position as David. When I was offered the job by CRS in December 2004, I felt that it would cause less confusion all around if I simply started work as Diane, rather than starting as David and then transitioning to Diane. So, I invited my future supervisor at CRS to lunch so I could tell her about my plans, and help her ensure everything went smoothly.

On the day of our lunch meeting, I met my future supervisor at her office. She introduced me to several new “colleagues” as she put it, on our way out of the building. At lunch she spoke at length about my new responsibilities, which would involve preparing, publishing and informing Members about the critical issues surrounding terrorism and homeland security. During a break in her description of my new duties, I mentioned that I had a personal item I wanted to discuss with her. I asked her if she knew what it meant to be transgender, and explained that I had a female gender identity, and would be transitioning to living as a female on a full-time basis. My intent was to do this when I commenced work at CRS.

I knew that whether I was David, or Diane, I would provide excellent research support to the Congress. I had truly thought that my future supervisor at CRS would feel the same way. Yet, as we parted company following our lunch conversation, she said that “I had given her a lot to think about.” And then, the following day, she called and said that “After a long and sleepless night, she decided I was not a good fit for the Library.” I told her I was very disappointed to hear her say that. In 24 hours, I had gone from a welcome addition to the staff to someone who was “not a good fit” because I was a woman. Hero to zero in 24 hours.

I enlisted the assistance of the ACLU and, in June 2005, they filed suit in Federal Court on my behalf against the Library of Congress.

In its legal papers, the Library has claimed that it did not hire me because it was concerned that I would lose my colleagues in the Special Operations community as a result of my gender transition. The ironic thing is that these are precisely the people who have been only second to my family as my staunchest supporters in this fight.

The Library has claimed that it could not hire me because it was concerned I might lose my clearance, yet I hold a current TS/SCI capable clearance and continue to work on several highly classified initiatives.

The Library has claimed that it could not hire me because I would have no credibility with Members, given that a woman could not possibly know the things I know. And yet I testify in front of this committee here today.

In summary, as a Master Parachutist, honor graduate of Army Ranger School, the Special Forces Qualification Course, Command and General Staff College, and the National War College, with two Masters Degrees, having been awarded the Defense Superior Service Award, four Meritorious Service Medals, five foreign parachute qualifications, and two Expeditionary Medals for combat operations, I hope every day for the call to come from the Library saying, “We’ve made a tremendous mistake.”

I am ready and able to serve this country once again, and look forward to the day when I am given the opportunity to do so.
I'll also quote in full the Traditional Values Coalition :
Americans Face Energy Crisis While House Of Representatives Holds A She-Male Hearing!

June 26, 2008 - Washington, DC –“Americans face rising gasoline prices; and brave American soldiers are being killed on the battlefield to fight Islamic terrorism – while U.S. Rep. Robert Andrews (D-NJ) holds a hearing today on “discrimination” against drag queens and she-males in the workplace. What’s wrong with this picture?” asks TVC Executive Director Andrea Lafferty.

“Why is the House of Representatives wasting taxpayer dollars to discuss whether or not drag queens or she-males are offended because of their cross-dressing or sexual behaviors in a business environment? I already know the answer: Because liberals like Robert Andrews are aggressively promoting the normalization of cross-dressing and transsexualism in our culture,” said Lafferty.

She continued: “This freak show must come to an end – and the House of Representatives should get back to important issues such as passing legislation to permit drilling for oil on our own sovereign territory and securing our borders from illegal immigration. The House should be passing legislation to protect the parental rights of girls who are driven across state lines for abortions; the House should pass the Broadcaster Freedom Act to protect conservative and religious broadcasters from efforts by liberals to reinstitute the so-called ‘Fairness Doctrine’ – which will censor the airwaves.

“Let’s stop this nonsense of pretending that men who dress like women are normal and should be considered protected minorities under federal law. These are deeply disturbed individuals who need therapy not coddling and affirmation by a liberal majority in the House of Representatives. Rep. Andrews should be embarrassed and ashamed for holding such a useless hearing.”
One hearing in 50 years is too many. And while "brave American soldiers are being killed on the battlefield to fight Islamic terrorism", one of those soldiers whose expertise might just reduce the number of casualties is castigated as a Freak in a Freak show, a pornographic prostitute "she-male". For Transphobia is a TVC core value, unlike National Security, which it seems only these "freaks" take seriously. Only one side uses the blood of slain heroes and heroines as a weapon against those they delight in persecuting - including some of those self same heroes and heroines. Even if it damages their own country. The Contrast is obvious.

It's not the opposition. I can easily understand people who fear the strange, and who are trying to uphold what they see as moral standards, no matter how much I disagree. It's their Phariseeism, their fundamental dishonesty, their hypocrisy, malice, hatred and "bearing false witness" that is repugnant to me.

Thursday 26 June 2008

Four Levels of Universe

At Discover Magazine, a highly speculative piece about the nature of the Universe(s):
Let’s talk about your effort to understand the measurement problem by positing parallel universes—or, as you call them in aggregate, the multiverse. Can you explain parallel universes?
There are four different levels of multiverse. Three of them have been proposed by other people, and I’ve added a fourth—the mathematical universe.

What is the multiverse’s first level?
The level I multiverse is simply an infinite space. The space is infinite, but it is not infinitely old—it’s only 14 billion years old, dating to our Big Bang. That’s why we can’t see all of space but only part of it—the part from which light has had time to get here so far. Light hasn’t had time to get here from everywhere. But if space goes on forever, then there must be other regions like ours—in fact, an infinite number of them. No matter how unlikely it is to have another planet just like Earth, we know that in an infinite universe it is bound to happen again.
So we are just at level I. What’s the next level of the multiverse?
Level II emerges if the fundamental equations of physics, the ones that govern the behavior of the universe after the Big Bang, have more than one solution. It’s like water, which can be a solid, a liquid, or a gas. In string theory, there may be 10500 kinds or even infinitely many kinds of universes possible. Of course string theory might be wrong, but it’s perfectly plausible that whatever you replace it with will also have many solutions.
OK, on to level III.
Level III comes from a radical solution to the measurement problem proposed by a physicist named Hugh Everett back in the 1950s. [Everett left physics after completing his Ph.D. at Prince­ton because of a lackluster response to his theories.] Everett said that every time a measurement is made, the universe splits off into parallel versions of itself. In one universe you see result A on the measuring device, but in another universe, a parallel version of you reads off result B. After the measurement, there are going to be two of you.

So there are parallel me’s in level III as well.
Sure. You are made up of quantum particles, so if they can be in two places at once, so can you. It’s a controversial idea, of course, and people love to argue about it, but this “many worlds” interpretation, as it is called, keeps the integrity of the mathematics. In Everett’s view, the wave function doesn’t collapse, and the Schrödinger equation always holds.

The level I and level II multiverses all exist in the same spatial dimensions as our own. Is this true of level III?
No. The parallel universes of level III exist in an abstract mathematical structure called Hilbert space, which can have infinite spatial dimensions. Each universe is real, but each one exists in different dimensions of this Hilbert space. The parallel universes are like different pages in a book, existing independently, simultaneously, and right next to each other. In a way all these infinite level III universes exist right here, right now.
That brings us to the last level: the level IV multiverse intimately tied up with your mathematical universe, the “crackpot idea” you were once warned against. Perhaps we should start there.
I begin with something more basic. You can call it the external reality hypothesis, which is the assumption that there is a reality out there that is independent of us. I think most physicists would agree with this idea.

The question then becomes, what is the nature of this external reality?

If a reality exists independently of us, it must be free from the language that we use to describe it. There should be no human baggage.

I see where you’re heading. Without these descriptors, we’re left with only math.
The physicist Eugene Wigner wrote a famous essay in the 1960s called “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences.” In that essay he asked why nature is so accurately described by mathematics. The question did not start with him. As far back as Pythagoras in the ancient Greek era, there was the idea that the universe was built on mathematics. In the 17th century Galileo eloquently wrote that nature is a “grand book” that is “written in the language of mathematics.” Then, of course, there was the great Greek philosopher Plato, who said the objects of mathematics really exist.
Ah, the Platonic "Theory of Forms", that there exists somewhere an "ideal chair", and that all objects which we call "chairs" are more or less chairlike depending only on how much they resemble the ideal object, the ideal chair. Even such concepts as "sameness" and "difference" have reality in this ideal existence. They are real things.

Of course it gets difficult when the concept is "a concept that does not exist in the Ideal Universe". For the ideal Universe includes all concepts, including this one. So we have a concept that by definition simultaneously cannot exist as an Ideal, and one that has to.

I think the same critique may hold of the Type IV Universe as postulated, if I understand it correctly. Goedel Incompleteness states basically that any Mathematical system can either be complete, or consistent, but not both. And we can prove that - that there are either unprovable true statements, or some statements are both provably true and provably false. Either would be fatal to a mathematical universe. If I understand it correctly - which I may well not. I'm good at intuition, but this is one for a specialist in Pure Mathematics, not a beginner like me.

There is more of interest in the article though.
Max, this is pretty rarefied territory. On a personal level, how do you reconcile this pursuit of ultimate truth with your everyday life?
Sometimes it’s quite comical. I will be thinking about the ultimate nature of reality and then my wife says, “Hey, you forgot to take out the trash.” The big picture and the little picture just collide.

Your wife is a respected cosmologist herself. Do you ever talk about this over breakfast cereal with your kids?
She makes fun of me for my philosophical “bananas stuff,” but we try not to talk about it too much. We have our kids to raise.

Do your theories help with raising your kids, or does that also seem like two different worlds?
The overlap with the kids is great because they ask the same questions I do. I did a presentation about space for my son Alexander’s preschool when he was 4. I showed them videos of the moon landing and brought in a rocket. Then one little kid put up his hand and said: “I have a question. Does space end or go on forever?” I was like, “Yeah, that is exactly what I am thinking about now.”
Science is a very Human activity. It's one where we never lose that childlike quality of wanting to know "why?".

Wednesday 25 June 2008

New South Wales Politics

From the Sydney Morning Herald :
NSW Liberal MP Ray Williams has been ejected from state parliament after bringing a stuffed-toy iguana into the lower house.

I'd give a pithy comment, if I could think of one.

For those foreign visitors not familiar with the issue, here's a summary.

There is a married couple who are politicians - Labor ones, the equivalent of the Democrats. The relatively sane one is at the state level, and was a senior member in the NSW government. The other is a member of the federal government. She's the one that goes around hitting people, making threats about getting them fired by using her political clout, and so on. He just drives drunk, repeatedly. Which is quite understandable, given the nature of the person he's married to.

The Iguana is a reference to the incidents at the Iguana club. I'll leave it to the Malaysian Star to be non-partisan about this. Sometimes being too close to an issue can spoil objectivity:
But an alleged altercation between the club staff members and Federal Labour MP Belinda Neal and her husband State Education Minister John Della Bosca caused two days of uproar in Federal Parliament, including an unsuccessful motion of dissent against Speaker Harry Jenkins for disallowing an Opposition question on the affair.

Out of the disarray and controversy arose claims and counter-claims of what really happened at the Iguana – allegations of bullying, intimidation and abuse of power, foul language and bad behaviour and, to top it all, accusations of Neal taunting a Liberal pregnant MP Sophie Mirabella that “evil thoughts” would make her unborn child “a demon”.

Initially, the beleaguered Neal denied the accusation. But a tape with her voice recorded at a seemingly innocuous committee debate last month was heard saying to Mirabella: “Your child will turn into a demon if you have such evil thoughts. You’ll make your child a demon. You’ll make your child a demon. Evil thoughts will make a child a demon.”

When Mirabella, who was expecting her first child within two weeks, asked Neal to withdraw her comment unreservedly, she denied making it. Instead she accused Mirabella, a tough debater in parliament, of having imagined hearing that statement.

The following day, however, Neal apologised, not directly, though. Nonetheless Mirabella took it as an admission that she had, in fact, made those offending remarks.

What made Neal taunt Mirabella is not known yet. Presumably, this will come out when the all-party parliamentary privileges committee questions her.
The whole sordid story of how this situation came about is told by Alan Ramsay at the SMH. It's just the usual smoke-filled backroom deal stuff, the cronyism and neopotism that is found in every nation in the world.
But most people have more sense that to go around kicking sports opponents when they're on the ground, or abusing power, or making outrageous remarks and then denying them - when they've been caught on tape. They don't break the 11th Commandment so egregiously. Not unless they've become drunk with power, and think they can get away with anything.

Some can of course. But they require a number of powerful people who depend on them for patronage, or even survival. Not just political survival, I mean "a la lanterne" should they lose grip on power. We're lucky here, where Plush Toys are used as political weapons, and not Machetes and Machine Guns.

Grand Rounds

Grand Rounds, the Carnival of Medical Blogging, is now posted over at My Three Shrinks' ShrinkRap.

There's also some words from the contributors on their Podcast. Including some of mine. So if you want to know what I sound like, go over there and listen.

Tuesday 24 June 2008


A series of very kind remarks by Katherine Cummings, editor of Polare, the magazine of the Gender Centre in Sydney, got me thinking - and counting my blessings.

Kate said, and I quote belief that Zoe is an extraordinary person..
Which is very nice of her, and boosts my ego, but with all due respect to a woman who I deeply admire, I'm not sure it's true.

I have been put in an extraordinary position, sure. And I seem to be doing rather well. But monster of arrogance and ego that I am - and I'm not joking there - even I can't bring myself to believe that I'm an "extraordinary person".

I've been immensely fortunate, with my family and friends. I've been at least as fortunate in being born where and when I was.

There are, right now, people like me literally starving to death in Zimbabwe and elsewhere. They deserve rights equal to my own, but they're not getting them. Had I been born just a century earlier, I would likely have died at age 4 from whooping-cough. The vaccine only partly worked on me as it was, and I was very sick indeed. I also had my appendix out in my early teens, and if I had been born in 1858 not 1958, that would likely have killed me too. There must be a dozen times when my medical conditions could have killed me if I had been born in Angola rather than England, or just a few generations earlier.

I also have the privilege of being, if not exactly rolling in filthy lucre, at least having enough to eat, access to clean water, and protection from the elements. I have enough money too (just) for the hormones I need to take. And not every TS person in Australia can say that. Many who use the Gender Centre as a refuge "live rough", homeless, and destitute.

But they live - many of them. They, to me, are the extraordinary ones. The teens thrown out of home - as I was not - for "disgracing the family". The ones who see their only chance of eating, let alone saving for necessary surgery, is to peddle their bodies. Some make it. Some become resounding successes, despite these huge handicaps. Many do not though.

Compared to them, I'm very ordinary indeed. I'm privileged. I had parents who loved me, and sacrificed much just so I could have the best education they could get for me. I have a family, I have a son, and considering just how weird my endocrine system is, that is nothing short of miraculous.

Even my extraordinary circumstances were necessary to make me the woman I am. Not quite the standard model, but close enough. I keep on trying to imagine a male version of me. That person would be quite different in ways I really can't comprehend. I like to think he would be like my father, another extraordinary person I was privileged to not just to know, but to be his daughter, not that he knew it at the time. Not that I did either, not completely.

So this post is for the truly extraordinary people I have known. The ones who survived rape, and torture, and being penniless, and the many soul-destroying, searing and devastating experiences I didn't have to.

Monday 23 June 2008

All they have to do...

Anyone saying:
All they have to do is respond with facts, not bombs, Molotov cocktails, burned embassies, burned flags, death fatwas, or even lawsuits.
... would no doubt be guilty of Islamophobia - in Canada anyway.

In fact, the quote is from AltMuslim, and reads:
All we have to do is respond with facts, not bombs, Molotov cocktails, burned embassies, burned flags, death fatwas, or even lawsuits.
Would that stop Islamophobic articles? No. It would stop them from being believed though. Or treated seriously. Or being seen as anything other than raving lunacy.

But each death fatwa, call for the extermination of Jews, even attempts to suppress all criticism of Islam whatsoever, that will give these articles about fear of dangerous muslim fanaticism credence. Because to some extent they will be true, won't they? "Behead those who say Islam is violent" really doesn't go down well.

I know we're talking about a tiny minority of extremists. But we're also talking about a much larger proportion of Muslims who feel compelled to defend those fanatics in the name of Muslim Solidarity. While they do, they will be seen as a threat too.

It's not a battle of Muslim vs Christian, or Muslim vs Jew, or $religion1 vs $religion2. It's a battle between the sane and the loony. I've had enough of that recently, in other contexts.


There is a political group within the Transsexual movement called "HBS" or "Harry Benjamin Syndrome".

I'll quote from the The Original HBS Site :
Harry Benjamin's Syndrome is an intersex condition developed in the early stages of pregnancy affecting the process of sexual differentiation between male and female. This happens when the brain develops as a certain sex but the rest of the body takes on the physical characteristics of the opposite sex. The difference between this and most other intersex conditions is that there is no apparent evidence until much later after the baby is born or even as late as adolescence.
I completely agree about the medical issues, as I've posted about earlier. The evidence that they're correct is overwhelming. So what has this to do with politics?

It's about elitism. And transphobia. And homophobia too.

Please read this article by Charlotte Goiar at the International HBS forum. I agree with pretty much everything as far as the paragraph "Practical and definite Terminology and its meaning.". There I depart.
Persons with HBS are people who have Harry Benjamin’s Syndrome (HBS), a purely physiological condition. They are simply men or women. Such people are born with the characteristics of both male and female. In common with others who exhibit typical sexual development, they desire to modify their phenotype and endocrinal system to correct it to their dominant sexual identity, an identity that is determined by the structure of the brain. The person with HBS does not change sex, as gender identity is fixed at birth, and the medical treatment involved is only physical correction.Transsexualism (TS), Gender Identity Disorder (GID), or Gender Dysphoria is a mental condition that consists of the desire to live and to receive acceptance as a member of the opposite sex. Do not confuse this with HBS, as it is not medical.
It isn't? It's a symptom of cross-gendered neurology. Call it HBS or anything else, it's in the brain, and no amount of psychotherapeutic mumbo-jumbo will affect it in the slightest.

That's where some (and I stress some, not all) of the more fanatic elements of HBS theory start going wrong. Various kinds of HBS fanatics insist that only they are Intersexed, and others are psychiatrically ill. Some require anyone who's "really" HBS to be straight, to transition early, to be post-operative, to have had facial surgery and breast enhancement, to eschew all "boy stuff" and be perfect models of 1950s womanhood, or some combination thereof. And of course to have nothing to do with Gays or those freakish "Transgenderists" who are totally unlike them.

I'll quote from Laura's HBS Peer review :
As the owner of a Transsexual,Transgender web site I have always provided the latest information on Transsexual research on my site long before HBS was first uttered. So the research on HBS sites was very familiar to me. In order to learn more I joined the Official Yahoo HBS Support Group. What I learned had little to do with HBS. It instead turned out to be an anti-GLBT group. People who asked simple questions and needed support, were diagnosed by militant members as being transgendered, perverts and fetishists. Gays and lesbians were also denigrated with frequent slurs. In fact those who did support GLBT rights were banned simply for supporting them. Several that were diagnosed by those without medical degrees were affirmed post-ops with similar stories to mine. One thing Yahoos HBS groups are not is an HBS Support Group. The group moderator defends the constant anti-GLBT slurs as member venting.
It's difficult for me to be in this position. They're right about so much, but some (and I emphasise some) are total fruit-loops in other ways. Hateful too. I just don't understand how a group of people so badly persecuted can join in the persecution of others.

I don't identify as "transgendered", nor as gay. In fact, they are both as alien concepts to me as is, well, masculinity. But I'm no androphobe, my homophobia is mainly a thing of the past, and my transphobia under control. Mainly. It leaks out on occasion, as you'll see below.

I'm a member of the Australian HBS support group, simply because they're right about so much. Here's what I wrote in reply to one of the more strident members, not fanatical, merely hard-line:
The evidence is what it is, and I reserve the right to alter my opinions based on the evidence.

I do not ask you to "accept" anything. It would be useful if you could give more data, or if not, propose experiments that might prove your viewpoint is correct.

We "see through a glass darkly" here, taking clues and hints from all sorts of sources, some more reliable than others. I place little weight on most psychological studies, they've been proven to be unreliable in the past. I place more weight on MRI scans, and other objective data.

I place zero weight on my own self-perceptions, that I'm just a woman with an interesting medical history . Likewise my own desires as to what "should be". For if I had my druthers, there would be a nice neat binary, with HBS men and women easily and clearly distinguished from a variety of self-advertising publicity-seeking "TG Pride" paraphiliacs and fetishists.

For that matter, I would like to be either regarded as Intersexed or Transsexual(ie only neurally Intersexed), and not something in-between, with characteristics of both. Still, if I'm going to dream, let's go back to conception and give me 46xx chromosomes and a standard factory model female body, one that matches my brain.

My reading of the data though leads me to conclusions I don't like, but accept pending data that would contradict them.

1. That CG sexuality is not usually associated with extreme CG Gender
Identity, but in a third or so of cases, it's associated with mild CG
behavior, butch Lez or femme Gay, and rather more CG gender behaviour in childhood.

2. That CG gender identity is often (50%) associated with CG sexual
orientation, hence CG gender behaviour in childhood. 1/3 of children
showing CG behaviour are TS.

3. That CG gender identity is always associated with CG patterns of
thought - emotional response in particular- but not necessarily CG
sexual orientation (and childhood CG gender behaviour etc)

4.That CG gender identity is often associated with CG body image,
something else determined in a nearby part of the brain, and in most
cases this will require hormones, and in extreme cases, surgery to
alleviate the dysfunctionality.

But... that CG sexual orientation, gender identity, and body image, while coupled, are not absolutely so. They are distinct things. It's possible that only one will be affected, or two of the three. Worse, there are degrees, so both degrees of bigender and bisexuality exist, as do people not particularly enamoured with either M or F pattern bodies.

I will explain "CG" though, "Cross-Gendered". I define it as being "in relation to the arbitrary assignment at birth", and not in relation to genitalia, endocrinology, or anything else. Otherwise it can't be applied to any Intersexed people, for whom the chromosomes etc differ from the assignment. Furthermore, in relation to people with CG Gender Identity, who are strongly gendered, it can be more useful in a practical sense to reverse the polarity.

So a transWOMAN does not have a strongly CG gender identity, she has a strongly normal gender identity for a woman. It's her chromosomes (usually), her genitalia(usually), and in general her body apart from the brain that is cross-gendered for a woman. Sometimes her body image is cross-gendered too, and she's non-op. Sometimes her sexual orientation is cross-gendered too, and she's lesbian.

You may prefer to believe in a strict binary, where all 3, gender identity, sexual orientation, and body image are always the same. Either M or F, with no "degrees", just a binary. And anything else is an artifact of abnormal psychology, not neurology. My reading of the data indicates otherwise, but not only may my reasoning be wrong, the datasets are too small for comfort. I can't say that you're definitely wrong. Your belief would certainly simplify all sorts of issues, legal
and otherwise.

I have stated my conclusions. I have stated the evidence I base my conclusions on. In terms of "HBS activism", the political aspect, the fact that to me the evidence of a biological cause of "transsexuality" means I have to support the rationale for HBS activism. "It's the neurology, stupid! Female brains and minds lumbered at birth with male bodies!". And despite the "degrees" and "blurriness" of the biology, sometimes you have to simplify. It's *not* a rainbow spectrum, it's Red and Blue, but with a small band of purple between , some more red than blue, some more blue than red, and some just purple. To say it's Red or Blue, while not 100% accurate, a least won't confuse the ignorant, while all sorts of scientific disclaimers might just give them the totally false impression that colour doesn't exist.

If I may make an analogy - the Earth doesn't orbit the Sun. They orbit each other around a common centre of gravity, which is really close to the Sun's centre. And that's a simplification, because other planets perturb things a bit, and the Moon causes even more perturbation., And the orbit isn't circular, but elliptical. It's complex.

But to say "the Earth doesn't orbit the Sun", while strictly accurate, is misleading to the ignorant. I support the Heliocentric model of the solar system to the same extent that I support the HBS theory, if you get my point. That's why I'm here, to give battle to the Geocentricists and Flat Earthers, the followers of Bailey, Raymond and the like.
I'm hoping the Australian HBS group retains the moderate stance it has taken so far - basing its views on medical data, rather than psychological insecurities and elitism.

Why does this all have to be so complicated? *SIGH*

Friday 20 June 2008

Ice on Mars

See the rocks in the bottom left of the picture that disappear? That's because they're chunks of ice that are evaporating now that they've been brought up to the surface, and exposed to sunlight.

Now we've known for some time that there's Ice on Mars - at the polar icecaps. What we haven't known is if there's ice stuck in the Martian Soil. And that's a Big Deal, because Ice in the soil means that Life could thrive on Mars.

Could it evolve there? There seems to be no reason why not, and if we don't find life within the Martian Soil or bedrock, that will tell us something too about the chances of finding life elsewhere. Because if it isn't found in such a relatively hospitable place, one periodically hit with Life's precursors just like the Earth is, then it means there's something else necessary we haven't thought of. And life will be rare in the Universe.

I think it now far more probable than not that Life, similar to some of the extremeophiles found on Earth, will be found on Mars. It will be astounding if Hypoliths or Endoliths aren't there somewhere. Of course, it might take us some time to find them.

In the short-term, colonising Mars with Earthlike life and giving us another planet is very probably feasible. The planet is rather small though. In the medium-term, it's not really a good bet, simply because the planet is too small to hold much of an atmosphere. It would require domes, or even a single cellular building covering the whole planetary surface, a la Trantor. In the long-term, by the time we are able to shift planets around and control gravity, we'll probably have outgrown the need for planets anyway. Or suns. Or corporeal existence. Assigned reading on the subject: The Last Question.

Photo courtesy of via Little Green Footballs.

Thursday 19 June 2008

Nothing Unusual

It happens every day. This time though, it was caught on tape.

The facts:

In many, even most, places in the USA, such things do occasionally happen, but can accurately be called "single isolated and regrettable incidents", if they happen at all. But in all too many jurisdictions, it's merely "business as usual", not even worth mentioning.

Merely being Black and Transgendered is not enough to constitute "probable cause" for an arrest for prostitution, but many police don't see that. They see someone who "fits the profile", and profiling, while supposed to be illegal, is how they get to catch the crims. It has to be said that being Black and Transgendered really does mean the odds of someone being engaged in sex work are fairly high. With a 75% unemployment rate, an average wage of $15,000 a year assuming they do get work, and $50,000-$70,000 needed for surgery and hormones, prostitution is all too often the only way to eat, let alone save for necessary medical treatment.

It's quite usual for even white transsexual Rocket Scientists to be asked by medical care providers on first meeting if they're engaged in sex work. Demeaning? Insulting? Yes, but also responsible and reasonable, under the circumstances. You get used to it. You better, because there are far worse humiliations you'll have to undergo in transition. So very many young kids get thrown out of home and onto the streets, and the money is so very high compared to handouts and minimum-wage. If you can get that. Most can't. I know too many former executives, lawyers, and engineers who have been put in the same position, left penniless, literally, and starving, literally.

What is unusual about this situation? Well, first that it was caught on tape. The beating, the use of "brass knuckles", one person holding them down while another does the beating, the use of mace, that's par for the course, and the beating was really quite mild compared to many such incidents. She was lucky when she dared actively resist that she wasn't tasered, shot, or beaten senseless.

The second thing that was unusual was that action has already been taken - the probationer (who had far less responsibility, and arguably only went to the defence of a brother officer until he realised what was going on, and left) was summarily fired. Whether the main perpetrator will actually be punished or not, instead of being temporarily "put on administrative duties" is another matter. The tape is pretty damning, but for any punishment to be administered is almost unprecedented.

As for me... well, I've said previously that:
I find it... incredible... that when I travel to the USA, I have to do research on exactly how people like me are treated in different counties and states along the route, just in case. And modify travel plans accordingly. It's a bit like being Black in the 1920's. Some Law Enforcement officers are, well, sometimes not that bright, even if not prejudiced.
I'm neither Black nor Latina, nor obviously Transgendered. In general, I would attract no more police attention in the USA than any other middle-aged woman. But should I be involved in an accident, or have my purse stolen... my UK Birth Certificate says "boy", and both my UK and Australian passports say "Female". A check of the records would show suspicious anomalies.

I know one gal in a similar situation actually arrested on suspicion of being a "British Spy" by a none-too-bright law enforcement officer in California. Apart from an inconvenient delay, it was real Keystone Cops stuff, and she got an embarrassed apology from a supervisor. In Memphis, Tennessee it would not have been quite so funny. I wouldn't die laughing, anyway. This all seems so... surreal... that I actually have to take it into account if I'm considering going to a conference somewhere. Literally like a Black academic in the 1920's. I'm still too new to it to lose the incredulity. I can't ignore the evidence though, there's too much of it.

Full story at WMCTV.

(Officer) McRae filed an assault charge against Johnson. In his report, McRae said Johnson swung at him and threatened to shoot the officer in the head. He said he was punched repeatedly in the head and neck by Johnson, whose first name is listed as Dwayne in the report.
And without the tape evidence, no doubt he would have been believed too. That too is usual.

Californian Same Sex Marriage


11:10 And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that move in the waters, and of any living thing which [is] in the waters, they [shall be] an abomination unto you:

11:11 They shall be even an abomination unto you; ye shall not eat of their flesh, but ye shall have their carcases in abomination.

11:12 Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that [shall be] an abomination unto you.

18:22 Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it [is] abomination.

"Love the Shrimper, Hate the Shrimp".

Wednesday 18 June 2008

BiGender and the Brain

Gender-Typical Behaviour Patterns, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity are set in Neurology.

Cross-Gendered (CG) Sexual Orientation is an unsubtle effect, and often associated with cross-gendered behaviour patterns in young children. It appears to be set by pre-natal hormone influences.

CG Gender Identity is also set by pre-natal influences. The effects appear later, and the tell-tale neurology appears after Gender Identity is formed. But the pattern that dictates the later neurological development is just as pre-ordained. It is a more subtle effect that sexual orientation, and many people are essentially Bi-Gendered, and would be able to function in either a male or female role, as circumstances dictate. Relatively few are strongly gendered, but for those that are, it's unchangeable. Just as CG sexual orientation is strongly correlated with CG behaviour in children, CG gender identity is universally(?) associated with CG patterns of thought in children.

CG somatic form due to pre-natal hormonal exposure is more strongly correlated with CG sexual orientation than with CG gender identity. It is thus more strongly correlated with CG behaviour. CG sexual orientation is rather more weakly correlated with CG somatic form and CG gender identity, and so all but a few who have CG sexual orientation have perfectly normal somatic form and gender identity. CG somatic form is more strongly correlated with CG gender identity (by a factor of 30), but still the majority (90%?) of physically intersexed people have normal gender identities.

CG gender identity is moderately correlated with CG sexual orientation, by a factor of about 3-5. So while most gays are not transsexual, about 1/3-1/2 of transsexuals have CG sexual orientation in addition to CG gender identity.

Some pieces of the puzzle that led me to these conclusions:

From the Grauniad :

Striking similarities between the brains of gay men and straight women have been discovered by neuroscientists, offering fresh evidence that sexual orientation is hardwired into our neural circuitry.

Scans reveal homosexual men and heterosexual women have symmetrical brains, with the right and left hemispheres almost exactly the same size. Conversely, lesbians and straight men have asymmetrical brains, with the right hemisphere significantly larger than the left.

Scientists at the prestigious Stockholm Brain Institute in Sweden also found certain brain circuits linked to emotional responses were the same in gay men and straight women.

The findings, published tomorrow in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest the biological factors that influence sexual orientation - such as exposure to testosterone in the womb - may also shape the brain's anatomy.

The study, led by the neurobiologist Ivanka Savic, builds on previous research that has identified differences in spatial and verbal abilities related to sex and sexual orientation. Tests have found gay men and straight women fare better at certain language tasks, while heterosexual men and lesbians tend to have better spatial awareness.

Savic and her colleague Per Linström took MRI brain scans of 90 volunteers who were divided into four groups of similar ages according to whether they were male, female, heterosexual or homosexual. The scans showed the right side of the brain in heterosexual men was typically 2% larger than the left. Lesbians showed a similar asymmetry, with the right hand side of the brain 1% larger than the left.

Scans on homosexual men and heterosexual women revealed both sides of the brain were the same size.
Savic's team has yet to confirm whether the differences in brain shape are responsible for sexual orientation, or are a consequence of it.
"These differences might be laid down during brain development in the womb, or they could happen after birth, though it could very likely be a combination of the two," said Savic.

In another series of tests, Savic and Lindström used a technique called positron emission tomography (PET) to look at brain wiring in a smaller group of volunteers. They found heterosexual women and gay men shared brain circuitry linking a region called the amygdala, which plays a key role in emotional responses, to other parts of the brain.

Note though A Sex Difference in the Human Brain and its Relation to Transsexuality by Zhou et al.
The BSTc volume in heterosexual men was 44% larger than in heterosexual women. The volume of the BSTc of heterosexual and homosexual men was found not to differ in any statistically significant way. The BSTc was 62% larger in homosexual men than in heterosexual women. A small volume of the BSTc was found in the male-to-female transsexuals. Its size was only 52% of that found in the reference males and 46% of the BSTc of homosexual males.
There's also Male-to-Female Transsexuals Have Female Neuron Numbers in a Limbic Nucleus by Kruijver et al:
The number of SOM neurons in the BSTc of heterosexual men (32.9 ± 3.0 x 103) was 71% higher than that in heterosexual women (19.2 ± 2.5 x 103), whereas the number of neurons in heterosexual and homosexual men (34.6 ± 3.4 x 103) was similar. The BSTc number of neurons was 81% higher in homosexual men than in heterosexual women. The number of neurons in the BSTc of male-to-female transsexuals was similar to that of females (19.6 ± 3.3 x 103). In addition, the neuron number of the FMT (the single female to male transsexual) was clearly in the male range. The number of neurons in transsexuals was 40% lower than that found in the heterosexual reference males and 44% lower than that found in the homosexual males.
There seemed to be no clear difference in the BSTc number of neurons between early onset and late-onset transsexuals, indicating that their smaller number of neurons is related to the gender identity per se rather than to the age at which it became apparent.

This means that different parts of the brain are associated with cross-gendered sexuality, and cross-gendered gender identity. In some parts of the brain, heterosexual men and lesbian women share one pattern, and homosexual men and heterosexual women the other. In other parts, all men regardless of sexual orientation share one pattern, and women share the other. It is in at least one area like this that transsexual women (ie those born looking male) share the female pattern, and transsexual men the male one.

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity are different.

I'd better explain diagramatically.


The limbic system, which is associated with emotions, lies in both hemispheres. It includes the hypothalamus, hippocampus, amygdala, pituitary gland, and several other areas. The BSTc is a tiny piece of the hypothalamus.

Neurologically, sexual orientation is associated with relatively major cross-gendering. Lots of parts are affected. Who we are attracted to is a big part of our brain's makeup. Gender Identity, on the other hand, who we see ourselves as, is rather more subtle. Its marker is a tiny piece of a relatively small part of the brain. I say "marker", because the differences in the BSTc layer only become apparent at puberty, yet gender identity is set well before that.

Another part of the puzzle, as I've blogged about before :

Twelve heterosexual men and twelve heterosexual women were examined, along with twelve anatomical males who identify as women. As Dr. Elke Gizewski stressed at the Röntgenkongreß in Berlin, it was already well-known from preliminary investigations of other groups that differences between men and women appear in fMRT when they are presented with erotic stimuli.

In men, the limbic system and upper regions of the hypothalamus, the amygdalae and the insular cortex were activated substantially more strongly. “We confirmed this finding in the comparison between the heterosexual men and women of our Cohort”, said Gizewski.

This specifically male activation of the limbic system was not found in the transsexual sample. Under fMRT, the pictures corresponded rather accurately to those of the female sample.

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.
I also gave the critique:
It may be that the sample of transsexual women were all Hetero, none Lesbian. If so, it may only prove a biological basis for sexual preference, rather than gender as such.
I now think this is more likely, as the sexual orientation difference would be far more obvious (in light of the Swedish results) than the relatively subtle Gender Identity one. UPDATE: But see this comment : "The german study had M2F of different sexual orientation".

There's some more parts of the puzzle. First, let's see if the lateralisation, the differentiation between hemispheres that is correlated with sexual orientation, is affected by pre-natal hormones. From Prenatal exposure to testosterone and functional cerebral lateralization: a study in same-sex and opposite-sex twin girls. by Cohen-Bendehan et al:
In animals it has been shown that exposure to sex hormones is influenced by intrauterine position. Thus fetuses located between two male fetuses are exposed to higher levels of testosterone (T) than fetuses situated between two female fetuses or one female and one male fetus. In a group of opposite-sex (OS) twin girls and same-sex (SS) twin girls a potential effect of prenatal exposure to testosterone (T) on functional cerebral lateralization was investigated. We hypothesized that prenatal exposure to T would result in a more masculine, i.e. a more lateralized pattern of cerebral lateralization in OS twin girls than in SS twin girls...Compared with SS girls, OS twin boys showed a more lateralized pattern of processing verbal stimuli. Secondly, as predicted OS girls had a more masculine pattern of cerebral lateralization, than SS girls. These findings support the notion of an influence of prenatal T on early brain organization in girls.
So pre-natal exposure to excess testosterone will partly masculinise female neurology.

Let's look at what happens with pre-natal exposure to powerful Estrogens. From Prenatal exposure to diethylstilbestrol(DES) in males and gender-related disorders:results from a 5-year study by Scott Kerlin. (available here, and a prelininary paper here. :
More than 150 network members (out of 500) with “confirmed” or “strongly suspected” prenatal DES exposure identified as either “transsexual, pre- or post-operative,” (90 members), “transgender” (48 members), “gender dysphoric” (17 members), or “intersex” (3 members).
In this study, more than 150 individuals with confirmed or suspected prenatal DES exposure reported moderate to severe feelings of gender dysphoria across the lifespan. For most, these feelings had apparently been present since early childhood. The prevalence of a significant number of self-identified male-to-female transsexuals and transgendered individuals as well as some individuals who identify as intersex, androgynous, gay or bisexual males has inspired fresh investigation of historic theories about a possible biological/endocrine basis for psychosexual development in humans, including sexual orientation, core gender identity, and sexual identity (Benjamin, 1973; Cohen-Kettenis and Gooren, 1999; Diamond, 1965, 1996; Michel et al, 2001; Swaab, 2004).

Now look at what happens with gender identity in those who naturally "change sex". Those born with 5ARD or 17BHDD are feminised to some degree at birth, and masculinise to some degree at puberty. I feel an affinity for them, in view of my own change in the opposite direction. From Gender change in 46,XY persons with 5alpha-reductase-2 deficiency and 17beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase-3 deficiency. by Cohen-Ketternis:
Individuals with 5alpha-reductase-2 deficiency (5alpha-RD-2) and 17beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase-3 deficiency (17beta-HSD-3) are often raised as girls. Over the past number of years, this policy has been challenged because many individuals with these conditions develop a male gender identity and make a gender role change after puberty. The findings also raised doubts regarding the hypothesis that children are psychosexually neutral at birth and emphasized the potential role of prenatal brain exposure to androgens in gender development. If prenatal exposure to androgens is a major contributor to gender identity development, one would expect that all, or nearly all, affected individuals, even when raised as girls, would develop a male gender identity and make a gender role switch later in life. However, an estimation of the prevalence of gender role changes, based on the current literature, shows that gender role changes occur frequently, but not invariably. Gender role changes were reported in 56-63% of cases with 5alpha-RD-2 and 39-64% of cases with 17beta-HSD-3 who were raised as girls. The changes were usually made in adolescence and early adulthood. In these two syndromes, the degree of external genital masculinization at birth does not seem to be related to gender role changes in a systematic way.
So about half to 2/3 changed gender roles to male as their bodies masculinised. But the degree of their bodies' cross-gendering was no guide at all as to who would do what. This is consistent with about 1/3 being strongly gendered female, 1/3 strongly gendered male, and 1/3 bi-gendered, "going with the flow".

So how do we know our Gender Identity, if it's such a relatively subtle effect? From Biased-Interaction Theory of Psychosexual Development: “How Does One Know if One is Male or Female?” by Diamond:
A theory of gender development is presented that incorporates early biological factors that organize predispositions in temperament and attitudes. With activation of these factors a person interacts in society and comes to identify as male or female. The predispositions establish preferences and aversions the growing child compares with those of others. All individuals compare themselves with others deciding who they are like (same) and with whom are they different. These experiences and interpretations can then be said to determine how one comes to identify as male or female, man or woman. In retrospect, one can say the person has a gendered brain since it is the brain that structures the individual’s basic personality; first with inherent tendencies then with interactions coming from experience.
Starting very early in life the developing child, consciously or not, begins to compare himself or herself with others; peers and adults seen, met, or heard of. All children have this in common (R. Goldman & J. Goldman, 1982). In so doing they analyze inner feelings and behavior preferences in comparison with those of their peers and adults. In this analysis they crucially consider “Who am I like and who am I unlike?” Role models are of particularly strong influence but there is no way to predict if a model will be chosen, who will be chosen, nor on what basis chosen. In this comparison there is no internal template of male or female into which the child attempts to fit. Instead they see if they are same or different in comparisons with peers, important persons, groups or categories of others (Diamond, 2002b). It is the “goodness of fit” that is crucial. The typical boy, even if he is effeminate, sees himself as fitting the category “boy” and “male” and eventually growing to be a man with all the accoutrements of masculinity that go with it. Similarly the typical girl, even if quite masculine, grows to aspire being a woman and probably being a mother. The comparisons allow for great flexibility in cultural variation in regard to gendered behaviors. It is the adaptive value of this inherent nature of brain development that trumps a concept of a male–female brain template to organize gender development. The average male fits in without difficulty, the atypical one who will exhibit signs of gender identity dysphoria, for instance, does not see himself as same or similar to others of his gender. He sees himself as different in likes and dislikes, preferences and attitudes but basically in terms of identity. There will be a period of confusion during which the child thinks something like Mommy and Daddy call me boy, and yet I am not at all like any of the others that I know who are called “boy.” While the only other category the child knows is girl, he develops the thought that he might be or should be one of those. Initially that thought is too great a concept leap to be easily accepted and the child struggles in an attempt to reconcile these awkward feelings. The boy might actually imagine he is, if not really a boy than possibly an it, an alien of some sort or a freak of nature. Eventually he might come to believe, since he knows of no other options, that he is a girl or should be one. And with a child’s way of believing in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy he can come to expect he will grow up to be a woman. With experience and the realization that this won’t happen of its own accord the maturing child may begin to seek ways to effect the desired change. A female can experience an opposite scenario.
I'd seen the abstract back in March, but hadn't got access to the full article until recently. It was hard for me to read, and I shed a few tears while doing it. Because just a few weeks before I read it, this is what I wrote at Bilerico.
Of our trans folk, how old were you when you realized that you were transgender?...I'm interested in how old you were when you really started gender bending; were you a child or an adult?
Two separate questions there.
Of our trans folk, how old were you when you realized that you were transgender?

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 didn’t take it well.

Basically, I failed my SAN roll, and convinced myself I had to be a boy, no matter how I felt inside. That meant forgetting a lot, suppressing memories, but it was either acquire a minor psychosis, or sink into despair, depression, and death.

A part of me still knew, but that part was in a box in a safe in the hold of a sunken ship at the bottom of the ocean on a planet circling a distant star.

I tried to be the best Man any woman could be. I did that for 47 years. It helped to be Asexual, mildly lesbian if anything. Sex was for having children, a form of cuddling and pleasing someone you loved, albeit a bit tiring after the first hour. Not something instinctive or natural.
You can see why the paper had such a powerful effect on me. It was my story. To continue:
how old you were when you really started gender bending
I didn't. Or I always did. It turned out I was Intersexed, with "severe androgenisation of a non-pregnant woman". How severe? Well, I never had a working female reproductive system (nor a fully functional male one), but with some technical help became a biological father in 2001. That severe.

In May 2005, my male appearance started changing, and by late July, I could no longer pass as male. Nor did I want to, that box I'd put my feelings in exploded at the first sign that I wasn't male after all. By mid August 2005, I was fulltime, name changed, drivers licence changed, bank details changed... December 2005 I saw a gender specialist shrink, and in February 2006 had retrospective permission for the HRT my endo had put me on to stabilise my body, and permission for surgery too. Things were a bit of a mess down there by then, and the surgeon had to be creative in November 2006. I'm happy with the result, and so is my OB/GYN.

I had just about gotten over the realisation I'd had a lesbian love life all my life, when that started changing, and boys started looking really interesting and kinda cute. That happens sometimes. Never thought it would happen to me though. I'm still getting used to it. I'd always been anorgasmic - defective male peripherals didn't work too well with female device drivers. Enough to please, but not be pleased. Now things are normal. As in OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!! Now I understand what all the fuss was about. Wow. WOW!. I never suspected... Too bad the love of my life, the woman I'm married and partnered to is the wrong sex - and I'm the wrong sex for her. It's too ironic, and too tragic, that we are married but not attracted to one another, while others who are attracted to one another can't marry. That's wrong.

Up until the time my body started changing, my story follows the "classic transsexual narrative" so closely it's almost a cliche. And there was I thinking I at least was unique. HA! If anything, I was less feminine than most. Many know at age 3. And I first dressed in female attire only 3 weeks before "going fulltime".

So call me TS with IS complications, or IS with a TS history, just don't call me late for dinner.
It's difficult being dispassionate when you're your own experimental animal.

I won't go into the the detail of the results from Zucker et al regarding their experimental treatment of children presenting with "Gender Identity Disorder". Just that of those showing CG behaviour, about a third have CG Gender Identity, and the rest CG sexual orientation later in life. (1/3 being strongly gendered female, 1/3 strongly gendered male, and 1/3 bi-gendered, "going with the flow", remember?) See my posts Sex and the Brain, Square Peg, Round Hole, Mommy, Don't Take me There, and Transsexual Causation, the American Psychiatric Association, and Interpol.

One final thing. About the experience of a child who is "different". Here's the other part of my personal history.
One thing I didn't mention: the penalty for being "different" at grade school. A recent CAT scan showed the damage to my skull from the time somebody used a crowbar to assault me. The scars from the cigarette burns on my hands and neck faded long ago, and besides which, I was older then, 14 not 8.

You gave to remember I was big for my age, built like a quarterback, and so didn't get picked on nearly as much as others did. I was able to fight back, unless there were too many of them. Then I'd pick one, usually the weakest, and make sure he got hurt as badly as I did, or worse. Next time, the gang would have one less member, and I'd repeat the process. Eventually that particular gang would give up, and go looking for easier prey.

The gang with the crowbar blindsided me, and I think they got scared when they saw what they'd done. I don't know, memories are fuzzy there. I was 8 at the time.

At puberty, well, I didn't have a complete one of those anyway, so went from being one of the tallest kids in the class to being one of the shortest. And by that time, I appeared to be just another nerd. Inside school I was safe. Going home, not so much, hence the strangulation and burns.

And my hugs and sympathies to all those who went through this, just about all of whom had it far, far worse than I did. That's why we all want to move heaven and Earth to make sure no other kids go through that. So many don't make it, and kill themselves, be it by drugs, alcohol, or a bullet. God only knows how we survived. But then, so many of us didn't. How many are still in institutions, their brains fried by electroshock and psychotropic drugs 40 years ago?
So now you know what spurs not just my desire to know about all this, but to gain decent treatment for those whose neurology is not quite the standard model. It's for the little girl I was, back in the 60's and 70's. The one who was spat on and urinated on for hours, in a boat where to fight back would mean everyone being dumped in the water with the sharks. God, I got off lightly compared with so many others!

Tuesday 17 June 2008

Economical with the Truth, and the Code

Today's battle takes an interesting turn.

Over at Montgomery County, Maryland, as I've blogged about before, there's a "scare campaign" being run through the Maryland Citizens for Responsible Government. Their website is

The html source code of this site has an interesting second line, commented out:
<!---<?php include_once("/var/www/vhosts/"); include_once("/var/www/vhosts/"); include_once("/var/www/vhosts/"); include("/var/www/vhosts/"); ?> ---> is quite coincidentally the website for another "scare campaign", this time
our campaign to protect innocent children from sexual indoctrination.

It is equally as economical with the truth. From ProudParenting:
An initial response of the civil rights bill screams, "Mom and Dad as well as husband and wife have been banned from California schools under a bill signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who with his signature also ordered public schools to allow boys to use girls restrooms and locker rooms, and vice versa, if they choose."

Randy Thomasson, president of Campaign for Children and Families said, "Arnold Schwarzenegger has delivered young children into the hands of those who will introduce them to alternative sexual lifestyles. This means children as young as five years old will be mentally molested in school classrooms."
Read Senate Bill 777 for yourself to see if there's any mention of restrooms or locker rooms.
There isn't of course. Go to the ProudParenting site for the hyperlinks to the legislation. And the use of the phrase "Mom and Dad" continues in California schools. But these campaigns don't even have a passing acquaintance with the truth. The Big Lie is more effective at getting the campaign donations rolling in, and people's memories are short. When the promised Dire Consequences (tm) don't result, they shrug their shoulders and move on. And fall for the same thing next time.

What most offends me is that the ones running this scam are so arrogant, they don't think anyone would notice the connection. They didn't even bother to wipe off the fingerprints. As a Software Engineer, of course I approve of the authorised re-use of working code. But at least they could have gone back to the original source:
Author: Eric King
This script is free to use as long as this info is left in
Featured on Dynamic Drive script library (

If you're going to run a conspiracy of like minds, formal or informal, at least be professional about it. I wonder if they've left a money trail too? It wouldn't surprise me.

More on the subject at

Monday 16 June 2008

Schizophrenia : A Hideous Progression

Over at the New York Times Health Section, a set of animations showing development of different parts of the brain during childhood and adolescence - and what happens when Schizophrenia strikes.

We may not know the Why of Schizophrenia, but at least we have a good handle on What it is, something we only guessed at before.

The tool of functional MRI continues to provide us with far more data about the way the brain works, and sometimes doesn't work, than any other experimental device. It is giving us new insights, and in the process, abolishing much of the nonsense we formerly swallowed, lacking better data.

As I wrote in a comment on ShrinkWrap,
I wonder what all the Freudian theorists and therapists would think about the hideous progression of degeneration visible in those MRI scans.

The model of Id, Ego, Superego etc may have it's uses. But it's difficult to view much of past psychiatric theory as much better than superstition - on a par with trying to make rain by propitiating the right deities, as opposed to cloud-seeding.

To be fair, the witch-doctors and priests were using their sometimes formidable intellects to try to make sense of the world in a rational way. They just lacked 99.9% of the data they needed, so their explanations were less than accurate.

I think much of psychiatry is the same: it's not that they're stupid, merely pardonably ignorant. But they're getting better as more data comes in. It does mean though that conventional psychic explanations should be viewed in a less accepting light, and that to view the mind as being separate from the brain is less useful than commonly accepted.

Will Psychiatry rise to the challenge of accepting that most Psychiatric theory is the sheerest nonsense, an artefact of speculation, guesswork, and poorly designed experimentation? As a whole, I think it will, Shrinks are *bright* people in general. I expect there to be many holdouts though.
Trying to cure Schizophrenia by psychoanalysis and "How do you feel about your mother?" is exactly as effective as donning JuJu masks and reading the entrails of goats. We've known that for a while. Some people with the disease manage to route-around the problems, taking advantage of an unusually plastic brain, so environmental factors allow them to live with it. But we have no idea what the most effective factors may be. It could be that just interacting with other people, doing simple manual tasks involving great creativity, or conversely no creativity at all, may be useful. We don't know that yet. We do know that theories about Schizophrenia involving Oedipal or Electra complexes, oral versus anal personalities and so on are so much phlogiston. Which rather casts doubt on their accuracy in general.

Don't get me started on the various psychic models of gender identity, compared to the neuroanatomical ones. Unlike the psychiatric profession, I'm not in two minds about that.