Friday 31 October 2008

Pick the POTUS

Win Valuable Prizes!

Well, not as such...

Personally, I think it will be 274 to Obama, 264 to McCain. But have a play around yourself, as news from polls comes in.

Start with any state less than 55/45 either way in the 2004 vote as "undecided", then start adding new reports as coloured by your own fears and prejudices.

Neat Stuff about the Universe

Peeling Scotch Tape Emits X-Rays, Startling Study Finds.

But only in a vacuum. Well, of course.

Moving Big Rocks

Obvious when you see how it's done. Was this how they did it? I don't know, but it could well have been.

Darn, this is an amazing and wonderful Universe we live in!

Thursday 30 October 2008

Read this Blog while you still can

That is, if you live in Australia.

It was about a a year ago that I wrote:
And just in case the Government makes a "minor adjustment" to its policy, or someone decides that you have no need to know what's been blocked, here is something that will protect your children. Protect them from religious or political censorship, something far more harmful to them than unfiltered Internet access under adult supervision.
Now comes this news, from the Courier-Mail:
In internet speak, the Rudd Government’s web filter strategy is an epic fail.

First we had the whole idea of a nationwide web filter thrust upon us; a surprise announcement straight after an election during which it was thoroughly concealed.

The very idea of it is fundamentally flawed, bound to cause outrage and internet disruption, and comes at a cost of $44.2 million over four years.

Now we have the insult to add to that near-fatal injury: it’s mandatory. You can’t opt out completely.
This plan could be devastating. Potential harmful effects include:

* Slowing down internet access between 2 and 87 per cent
* Raising the cost of internet access as ISPs pass on the cost of the filter
* Having websites illegitimately blocked (up to 8 per cent could be banned unfairly)
* Becoming a worldwide laughing stock (the world’s media are already mocking this)
* Having controversial topics banned from view - we don’t even know what will be blocked under this plan yet!

And the benefits? Virtually nil.

This web filter will only block web traffic. Two thirds of the internet traffic is actually not on the web. Much of the bandwidth is tied up in peer-to-peer file-sharing networks that this web filter will not touch. That is also, as it happens, where the filthiest stuff gets traded.

Another unresolved issue is how this web filter will treat secure, https traffic. That involves transactions over a secure server; transactions such as online banking. If the Rudd Government decides to filter those as well, in what is called a Middle Man attack, our privacy and financial records could well be exposed to others. Nice one, Kev.

Despite all of the above points, the Rudd Government plans to embark on “live” trials with volunteer ISPs in the coming months.

Will those trials expose them to the Grand Canyon-sized flaws in this scheme? I hope so. Otherwise you might never read commentaries such as this.
And this site would certainly be blocked. Not because of "political unreliability", but because the subject matter of many of my posts will trigger flags in even the better designed filters for "objectionable content".

From Electronic Frontiers Australia:
Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) today labelled a recent government trial of ISP-based Internet filtering a failure.

The recently released ACMA report entitled “Closed Environment Testing of ISP-Level Internet Content Filtering” showed that of the six unnamed ISP-based filters evaluated:
  • One filter caused a 22% drop in speed even when it was *not* performing filtering;
  • Only one of the six filters had an acceptable level of performance (a drop of 2% in a laboratory trial), the others causing drops in speed of between 21% and 86%;
  • The most accurate filters were often the slowest;
  • All filters tested had problems with under-blocking, allowing access to between 2% and 13% of material that they should have blocked; and
  • All filters tested had serious problems with over-blocking, wrongly blocking access to between 1.3% and 7.8% of the websites tested.
The worst thing is that we don't appear to be allowed to know what's being blocked, as I feared. Freedom of Information doesn't cover it. I didn't predict this though, I thought it merely a worrying possibility, not that they'd actually do something like this. I was wrong, obviously. Here's the EFA again :
Most worrying of all is the ever-increasing scope of the filtering scheme. “The definition of inappropriate material has never been well defined,” said Jacobs. “With Government-mandated software monitoring each Internet connection, we expect the scope to expand further as time goes by. How will the Government resist pressure by Family First or other special interest groups to permanently block material considered by some to be harmful?”
But surely, they wouldn't block a site like this would they? Not deliberately? They're just after Child Porn and the like. Aren't they? Well... here's what was reported by in the Senate Estimates Committee:
The Federal Government is planning to make internet censorship compulsory for all Australians and could ban controversial websites on euthanasia or anorexia.

Australia's level of net censorship will put it in the same league as countries including China, Cuba, Iran and North Korea, and the Government will not let users opt out of the proposed national internet filter when it is introduced.
Senator Conroy said it was not known what content the mandatory filter would bar, with euthanasia or pro-anorexia sites on the chopping block.
And from the SMH:
In Senate Estimates, Senator Ludlam expressed concern that all sorts of politically-sensitive material could be added to the block list and otherwise legitimate sites - for example, YouTube - could be rendered inaccessible based on content published by users.

"The black list ... can become very grey depending on how expansive the list becomes - euthanasia material, politically related material, material about anorexia. There is a lot of distasteful stuff on the internet," he said.
Stuff about Transsexuality and Intersex conditions, perhaps? Even Politically Related Material?

I don't like the look of this. There's a pattern.
  1. A radical policy that is introduced immediately after an election, by Stealth
  2. An expansion of the plan from "violuntary" to "mandatory", just as the most fearful said there'd be.
  3. A policy that technically puts us in the same league as some very repressive countries, as opposed to the existing censorship in NZ, the UK and others with similar systems.
  4. And bullying by ministers who attempt to make trouble for those who disagree with it.
Oh wait, I didn't mention that last one, did I? Again, from the same SMH article:
Mark Newton, an engineer at Internode, has heavily criticised the Government and its filtering policy on the Whirlpool broadband community forum, going as far as saying it would enable child abuse.

Although Newton identified himself as an employee of Internode - as Whirlpool's rules stipulate - he always maintained his views were personal opinions and not necessarily shared by the company.

He said the plan would inevitably result in significant false positives and degrade internet speeds tremendously. Those views were subsequently widely reported by technology media and blogs.

On Tuesday, a policy advisor for Senator Conroy, Belinda Dennett, wrote an email to Internet Industry Association (IIA) board member Carolyn Dalton in an attempt to pressure Newton into reining in his dissent.

"In your capacity as a board member of the IIA I would like to express my serious concern that a IIA member would be sending out this sort of message. I have also advised [IIA chief executive] Peter Coroneos of my disappointment in this sort of irresponsible behaviour ," the email, read.

It is understood the email was accompanied by a phone call demanding that the message be passed on to senior Internode management.

Newton said he found the bullying "outrageous" and Senator Conroy was "misusing his influence as a Commonwealth Minister to intimidate a private dissenting citizen into silencing his political views".

A spokesman for Senator Conroy said Newton's accusation that the Government was promoting child abuse was "disappointing and irresponsible". He said the purpose of the email was "to establish whether Mr Newton's views were consistent with the IIA position".

Ironically, Senator Conroy has himself accused critics of his filtering policy of supporting child pornography - including Greens Senator Scott Ludlam in Senate Estimates this week.
Labor has been out of power for too long, it's going to their heads. Power tends to corrupt; Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

However, there's one thing I'm sure of: that if they do every try this on, there will be enough civil disobedience, internal geek subversion of government InfoTech systems, not forgetting external hack attacks, that they won't be able to continue with it. For "technical reasons", naturally.

And the Australian National Library won't be pleased. It wouldn't look good to have internet sites of "national significance" and "lasting cultural value" - like this one - being blocked because some Wowser's got their underwear in topological convolutions.

Wednesday 29 October 2008

Today's Battle

Transgender Gestapo Coming to City of Binghamton
Well. Who knew we had such power?

Actually the author strikes me as a decent human being, just the kind that might be receptive to ideas that challenge pre-conceived notions. As of the time of posting, my comment is awaiting moderation, but here's what he had to say as I was writing it about another comment.
Your comment has provoked me to reflect. I am sometimes guilty of going a bit to far with my rhetoric when I am passionate about a topic. And sometimes, as you point out, my Christian faith does not readily shine through. So I will take your criticism to heart that I have gone too far over the line with my characterization of people who are transgendered with unkind labels. I ask for your forgiveness on that count, and will revise my post with respect to name calling. I do not wish to add to anyone’s suffering and I don’t want to detract from the force of my argument.
From my point of view, just by saying that, he's earned forgiveness, and some.

He's Christian, not "Christian", and whether he changes his mind or not doesn't matter so much. He will have thought about the issues now he's aware of them. We won't make progress unless we realise that most of those who oppose us do so out of the finest of motives. Some will be unreachable, and a very few are just plain nasty. But most are not, and some can become our greatest allies, not through persuasion, but through us presenting evidence to them, and letting them come to their own conclusions.

We'll see.

Tuesday 28 October 2008

I blog about the science, and human rights issues. But sometimes it's personal. Sometimes I can't even attempt objectivity, I don't even want to.

As with this post. pieces of holes (TRIGGER WARNING) .Please read the whole thing.

Monday 27 October 2008

One more part of the puzzle

This time it's been over-hyped in the headlines, yet it's still significant. Another small piece of just exactly the right shape, and exactly where we predicted it should be.

The reporting has been spotty, none of the newspaper articles giving a complete picture, so I'll try to marshal the facts together, and the significant comments on those facts.

From The Australian:
'Transexual gene' found by researchers
Well, not as such... it's more complex than that. We haven't found THE gene for Transsexuality, merely A gene that makes it more likely. There will be more, and possibly more significant ones. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
In the largest genetic study of its kind, 112 male-to-female transsexuals took part in a study involving several Melbourne research bodies and the University of California, Los Angeles.

Researchers measured the variation in the androgen receptor gene, which is involved in the functioning of the sex hormone testosterone.

DNA samples from the transsexuals were compared with the samples from 250 typical men.
"We think these genetic differences might reduce testosterone action and under-masculinise the brain during foetal development," Prince Henry's Institute researcher Lauren Hare said.
Which is in accordance with everything I've written on the subject in this blog. But I'll give a summary of that later, trying to build an incomplete but coherent picture of what we think happens, and how we think it happens too - though there's a lot of handwaving in that part. The "what" we're far more sure of, the "how"... not so much.
Lead researcher, Associate Professor Vincent Harley, head of molecular genetics at Prince Henry's Institute, said there had long been debate about the causes of transsexuality.

"There is a social stigma that transsexualism is simply a lifestyle choice. However, our findings support a biological basis of how gender identity develops," he said.
To say the least...this is a highly charged and politicised subject, with vested interests on both sides obscuring rather than clarifying the subject. Big Religion has insisted that it's about Morality with a capital M. Big Science has eventually come to the conclusion that there's a biological basis, and this has been known about for some time. I'll quote the Full Bench of the Australian Family Court once more on the issue, as far back as 2003:
At paragraph [270]: ‘But I am satisfied that the evidence now is inconsistent with the distinction formerly drawn between biological factors, meaning genitals, chromosomes and gonads, and merely "psychological factors", and on this basis distinguishing between cases of inter-sex (incongruities among biological factors) and transsexualism (incongruities between biology and psychology)’.

At paragraph [272]: ‘In my view the evidence demonstrates (at least on the balance of probabilities) that the characteristics of transsexuals are as much “biological” as those of people thought of as inter-sex’.
Note the "on the balance of probabilities". That's especially important in this context, as the evidence from this experiment alone is nowhere near enough for proof. Seen in context with many other pieces of evidence though, many even stronger, I think the case now is unimpeachable. We can now be confident enough to feel surprised if future experiments don't show the same pattern.
He said researchers were recruiting transsexual people for another study and hoped to double the sample size and examine other genes.
I'll go into why this piece is a relatively small one later, but suffice it to say that while statistically significant, it's relatively weak. We need more data, lots more data, in this particular area to be certain.
Julie Peters, a transgender person, said she knew from as young as three or four years old she did not fit into being a boy.

"I have always had the personality of a girl, I suppose is the way I perceive it and even from a very young age, three or four, I was really mad at people for making me a boy," she said.

"I personally think it (gender) is a combination of both (nature and nurture).

"You are born with a predisposition to have a certain personality and then depending on the culture you are brought up in your personal situation it becomes active in a particular way."
Remember that quote, I'll be getting to that aspect later. All will be revealed.
Here's a similar view, from the Sydney Morning Herald:
The findings, which are published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, were good news, said Sally Goldner, 43, who had an inner sense she was female from a young age, despite being a boy. "Such compelling evidence dispelling the total myth of gender identity issues being a choice is always welcome," she said.
Knowing from such an early age is typical, by the way. In fact, there's a "standard transsexual narrative" that the majority of transsexual people conform to (though there are numerous exceptions and variations on the theme). For example, my own life history conforms pretty well - but I knew at age 9 rather than 4 or 5, and then there's the whole "natural sex change" bit late in life that is totally out of left field. But overall, good agreement with theory, apart from the last peculiarity.

Now let's have a look at the detail...
The Australian and American team examined three sex hormone genes. They found male-to-female transsexuals tended to have a longer version of the androgen receptor gene, which could reduce testosterone action.

"It is possible that a decrease in testosterone levels in the brain during development might result in incomplete masculinisation of the brain in male-to-female transsexuals," Associate Professor Harley said.

But it was highly likely that other genetic factors were also involved in this form of transsexualism, he said.
Now would be the best time to explain what we think happens. There's some handwaving and "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain" here, but actually less than in comparable cases. The effects of hormones during puberty are so well documented as to be indisputable for example, but we still don't have a good idea "how" things happen, the mechanism, even though the "what" is well understood. The handwaving there is of exactly the same kind, but there's even more of it.

The story as we see it today... all opinions subject to change as more data comes in.
In the womb, the combination of genes and hormones leads to sexual differentiation of both the body, and the central nervous system - the CNS - (just don't ask how it happens, Ok? It happens)

Usually, 98%+ of the time, everything's consistent. Usually. But either the "wrong" hormones, or a genetic peculiarity, can lead to anomalies. These will often be partial rather than complete, as development in the womb proceeds in several stages, and timing is everything. In the case of the CNS, it's even more complex, as rather than full-blown development happening, it sets up "gradients", "propensities" that future development will follow. The same thing happens with genitalia and other structures to a lesser degree, these will develop in certain ways during puberty, triggered by hormonal floods which are themselves pre-determined by development in the womb. So some sexual differentiation is immediately obvious from birth (and indeed before), but other parts aren't.

When things go wrong (I won't go into the argument as to what is a "natural variation" and what is a "defect"), pretty much anything can happen. Usually you get patterns, syndromes where multiple things go awry. For example, with CAIS - Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome - you get a sterile female with an incompletely formed female reproductive system despite having 46xy chromosomes, but in (virtually?) every case, a standard female neurology. Less Transsexuality than in 46xx female-bodied people generally.

On the other hand, people with Swyer syndrome and 46xy chromosomes, despite having in many cases a fully functioning female reproductive system (bar only the ovaries) have high rates of transsexuality and androgeneity. The anomalous development is not as complete in the neurology as it is with CAIS, but more so elsewhere.

But yes, you can have people with typically feminine neurology in every respect but one - such as having a body image that requires male genitalia - or people with neurology that match neither male nor female, but something of both, or just plain neither. And this may or may not involve other Intersex anomalies too, the odds are increased that they will, but not to the point of certainty.

"Typically feminine" neurology does not of itself lead to a female gender identity. That is mostly a label, even a social construct. Mostly. A child with a male anatomy brought up in an atmosphere where other children with male anatomies also have typically feminine neurology, so have the same emotional instincts and thought patterns, will identify as male too. It's only when they contact the outside world and find out that everyone else with the same instincts are labelled as "female", and expected to play with barbie dolls not toy cars that they'd get severe cognitive dissonance.

Except it's not quite that simple - because if the instincts that are feminised include body image, there would be severe discomfort with what's between the legs. It would be indefinably and inexplicably wrong in a very basic way.

The point is though, that transsexual children aren't brought up in this way. 98%+ of those whose instincts and emotional response matches theirs wear different clothes and are designated as the opposite sex to their own assignment. And so they develop a cross-gendered gender identity compared with the one they've been assigned. You can modify their behaviour by "aversion therapy", but not the underlying instincts. It's inevitable, and will get stronger with age and greater socialisation.
There are many ways that things can go awry, and in different ways, so there cannot be a single "transsexuality" gene.

I can make a prediction though, or rather, two predictions.
  1. That every single gene involved in decreased effects of testosterone in the womb will be over-represented in Male to Female transsexuals. Sometimes grossly so - as in this case - and sometimes requiring huge sample sizes and subtle statistical analysis to find the difference.
  2. And that every single gene that involves increased effects of testosterone will be over-represented in Female to Male transsexuals (as I've blogged about before)
Testing these predictions may not be easy though, so they're less useful than they appear. "Grossly" means "maybe 10% more, maybe double". Statistically significant from sample sizes where n<1000 and n>100, no more than that. From Reuters:
The scientists collected DNA samples from 112 male-to-female transsexuals and found that they were more likely to have a longer version of the AR gene than another group of 258 non-transsexual men.

The longer AR gene was found in 55.4 percent of people in the
transsexual group and 47.6 percent of the non-transsexual men, they
wrote in an article published in Biological Psychiatry.

Samples were also analysed for two other genes, but no significant
differences were found between both groups.
That's enough for it to be very unlikely that it's a coincidence, but not exactly eye-poking-outedly obvious. More data is needed.

Let's look at the effects:
The researchers said the longer AR variant gene may have resulted in less effective testosterone signalling, a mechanism that masculinises the brain during early development.

"It is possible that a decrease in testosterone levels in the brain
during development might result in incomplete masculinisation of the
brain in male-to-female transsexuals, resulting in a more feminized
brain and a female gender identity," they wrote.

One of the researchers, Lauren Hare, said: "We think that these
genetic differences might reduce testosterone action and under
masculinise the brain during foetal development."
Exactly. Finally, to summarise, from the BBC:
Terry Reed from the Gender Identity Research and Education Society said she was convinced of a biological basis to transsexualism.

"This study appears to reinforce earlier studies which have indicated that, in some trans people, there may be a genetic trigger to the development of an atypical gender identity.

"However, it may be just one of several routes and, although it seems extremely likely that a biological element will always be present in the aetiology of transsexualism, it's unlikely that developmental pathways will be the same in all individuals."
All of this is in accord with similar patterns seen in puberty. It accounts for the observed phenomena in Intersex, Transsexuality, and even (most controversially) Transgenderism. And yes, Heterosexuality, Homosexuality, Bisexuality and different degrees in all three too. I really want to avoid that particular can of worms, having enough trouble with political fanatics in the IS and TS communities, but it looks like I can't.

One disclaimer: I'm with John Maynard Keynes in one respect - I'll quote him.
When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?

Saturday 25 October 2008

Addition to the Blogroll

A friend of mine who I'd lost contact with e-mailed me recently, requesting that I add her blog to my blogroll, as an experiment.

Now monster of arrogance and ego that I am, I immediately thought of how to phrase a polite demur. I only add blogs that I think are really worth reading.

After looking at her blog, she owes me an apology. How dare she not have told me about it before!

There's articles on what to buy (and what not to buy) at second hand shops; one on clinical depression and canines, on the perils of paving stones and patios, morbid obesity and the law, roadside memorials and unintended consequences, the current Economic Meltdown in a historical perspective, and did I mention that she works for the National Council of Family Relations?

Just exactly the kind of pot-pourri of commentary that I like.

So please have a look at the N=1 Experiment. Not because it's by a good friend, but because I think you'll really enjoy it.

David Beckham

Normally I have no interest in sports. This time though, I do.

I wrote an answer to an article in the LA Times about the footballer David Beckham's return to the Big League of European Soccer, after a short time playing in the USA. The original article read, in part:
With David Beckham poised to move to AC Milan on a loan deal, it is worth considering: What is he leaving behind here?

The Galaxy, wrapping up another losing season, has failed to reach the MLS playoffs in both of Beckham’s seasons with the club.
Here's my reply,in the same spirit:
When Becker left the big league to come to the US, both he and the new club may have had unrealistic expectations.

I think that he must do what's right for him, and I don't think anyone else should have a say in it. Maybe it was a learning experience, or maybe he'll return to the states again, when conditions are better. Only he can make that decision, and others should but out and not speculate.

True Becker Fans, and there are many, don't care who he plays for, nor on what team. They just want to see his spectacular talent, and wish him well, unconditionally, as a player and as a human being. Even those who are Galaxy fans, and cheered loudest when he joined their team.

I'm cheering him on just as loudly no matter who he plays for, now or in the future.

The byline of the sports journalist? Mike Penner.

Friday 24 October 2008

Today's Battle

Is over at Locusts and Honey, the GLB(but not T) Methodist religious blog. The usual attempt at education. You've seen it all before.

I got there via RMN Blog, the blog of the Reconciling Ministries Network. And in the process I saw in passing an article that caused me to think some very, very, very uncharitable thoughts.
Q: My 10-year-old son is acting like a girl. I beat him almost every day for this. People tell me he is going to be gay and that it doesn't matter how I beat him since the female hormones will be there because the Lord made him that way. I am planning to send him to his father in Kingston who says he can beat it out of him. What should I do? He is very bright in school.
I really think that if I met this woman, I'd commit mayhem. And wouldn't regret it.

If I was a person given to prayer, I wouldn't pray for forgiveness for my wishes. I wouldn't even pray for forgiveness for her. But I'd pray long and hard for her child. There'd be no room for dealing with anything else. So if any of my readers believe in the power of prayer, please devote all your energies to this kid's welfare. My own sins I'll pay for later, and gladly, if this child can be saved from this most un-natural and sanctimonious mother's tender mercies.

To state the bleedin' obvious, I'm a long way from sainthood, aren't I?

Thursday 23 October 2008


A follow-up to a previous post.

From LAObserved :
Eighteen month after writing a column about becoming Christine Daniels, veteran sportswriter Mike Penner has quietly returned to work at the Los Angeles Times, according to multiple sources close to the LAT's Sports staff. ...
I emailed him and Sports Editor Randy Harvey, who replied, "We're looking forward to Mike's byline appearing in the paper and on the website with increased frequency. He continues to be a valued member of our sports staff."

Now this is a very personal decision, one no-one other than Mike has any right whatsoever to get a vote in, or even express an opinion on. He is a Human being under intense stress, and has taken a decision requiring pure, raw, unadulterated and distilled courage. One where he, and only he, can say whether the decision is right or wrong.

Here's what I said in explanation over at The Oregonian :
Transition is hard. Many don't make it at the first attempt. And for a few, transition is wrong for them. You really can't know this until you try it.

I better explain the process. Just as there's "Standards of Care", - best practices (SOCs) - for treating everything from toothache to triple bypasses - there's a SOC for treating transsexuality (TS).

First comes an assessment by a mental health professional (the technical term is "shrink") over at least 3 months, to make sure that the patient has TS. It's not that hard to exclude mental illnesses, but TS has degrees, and some can live with it without treatment.

After this assessment, which may take years, hormones to alter the body are authorised. This will make any misdiagnosed men freak, impotence being one of the first effects. TS women though start feeling a vast sense of relief.

But the patient being TS is not sufficient to authorise the processes for transition. To make sure they can handle it, the victim, sorry, patient, has to publicly live in the target gender role for at least a year (two in some places). This is called the RLE - Real Life Experience. This doesn't just test whether they are TS, but the scope of it. Some find that they're not as badly affected as they thought, and de-transition permanently, having learnt a lot about themselves. Some just find it too difficult, and will de-transition temporarily, until the misery gets too much again.

The RLE is hard, and in most places, dangerous. Looking like a woman, but having a male anatomy can cause arrest and imprisonment, despite it being part of necessary medical treatment. The patient must show they have the mental strength to endure the verbal and physical assaults that nearly every woman is subject to if they transition over age 25, and the sexual assaults if younger.

I believe that 3 women in their RLE were murdered in the last 3 months.

Many take several goes at it, often separated by 10 years or more recovering from the horrendous experience - until the misery gets too much.

After the patient has completed the RLE, a PhD gender specialist must then write a letter of authorization for surgery, as must the original medic. Such a decision gets peer-reviewed by experts, and letters may be denied and the RLE extended if there's any doubt.

I hope Mike has discovered himself. Gender Identity is usually consolidated by age 10, but in some people it takes longer.

The only thing that requires more courage than a very public transition is a very public de-transition. But if it's what's best for you, you have to screw your courage to the sticking-place and do it, knowing that if it was possible to die of embarrassment, you'd be 6 feet under.

No-one gets a vote on this but Mike himself. I marvel at his courage, and I support him completely.

You see, I transitioned. For me it was right. For Mike it wasn't - hopefully permanently.
I made a similar comment on USA Today. And over at Deadspin, where in accordance with the audience, I was a little more Earthy:
Transition is *hard*. Sometimes it takes several attempts. And sometimes, rarely, it's a blind alley, part of an unusually late consolidation of gender identity.

No one gets a vote in this except Mike. Possibly the only thing more difficult than a very public transition is a very public de-transition when transition is either too hard or just plain wrong for that individual. Bad joke, but that doesn't just take balls, it takes raw courage.

And if that makes the "GLBITQ" movement look bad, then the "GLBITQ" movement can go ... itself.
Now I can say that in safety - my transition's complete, irreversible, no-one can take it from me. Those still in transition at the mercy of a sometimes unsympathetic medical profession, and an always unsympathetic society and legal system, well, they are concerned with the effects on them. They have reason for the concern. As my good friend Autumn Sandeen has said :
I knew Christine Daniels, and considered Christine a friend. She faded out of my life this time last year — I had no idea why she didn’t return my calls or emails.
I already know I’m not going to be thrilled when the conservative “Christian” media gets a hold of this story.
Yes. Neither am I.

But we just have to ride it out. It's not about us, you see. It's not about women like me who made it on the first attempt, cruised through it in fact. It's not even about anyone, trans- or cis-gendered, with a stable and (most of all) conventional gender identity, wholly male or wholly female (or close enough).

It's about one Human Being, a person, my neighbour on this planet, and my brother. "Am I my brother's keeper?" No, but I'm his sister, who should do whatever she can to help him in this crisis, when his courage in stepping back is so evident, knowing he will be misunderstood and reviled, by both segments of the "GLBITQ community" and the world at large. Portrayed as Bizarre, a figure of scorn and derision.

Mike passed his test, doing the right thing for him. It was easy for those of us who are Trans to support Christine. Now it's we who are tested - to give exactly the same love and support to Mike, and in my own case, a dose of awe at his bravery.

It may come to pass that this is merely a failed attempt, and may not even be the only one. Or it may be a necessary step in Mike's journey of discovery about himself. I won't speculate, because Mike and only Mike can say that, and even he may not know yet.

Heck, I'm not even sure whether my own degree of TS was so mild that I had to be forced into transition by a genetically odd body staging a palace revolt, or so strong that it caused my body to change against my conscious will. So how can I say what degree Mike has?

Finally, I'll quote Autumn again:
Perhaps I should should let y’all know though, I’m taking this news really hard. I miss my friend a lot.
Those of us who are married now know the feeling our wives had at the loss of their husbands. We try to explain that the packaging has changed, but the person inside remains the same, but now we know how difficult that is to truly believe.

It's true though. And he could do with two things - not being exposed to the limelight, and our truly unconditional support in whatever he decides is right for him.

Wednesday 22 October 2008

Not without Honour

Mark 6:4 :
But Jesus, said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.

From the Washington Blade Oct 20:
A hero a day: Georgina Beyer
Today the gay community and Equality Forum celebrate Georgina Beyer as part of GLBT History Month. Beyer is a transgender politician and the first openly transgender person in the world to hold a national office. Beyer was elected to parliament in New Zealand.
While in Parliament, Beyer helped pass the Prostitution Reform Act, which decriminalizes prostitution and protects sex workers and their clients. She was instrumental in securing same-sex civil union benefits for New Zealanders.

Beyer was a keynote speaker at the International Conference on LGBT Human Rights in Montreal in 2006. She retired from Parliament in 2007, saying, “I can now look for fresh challenges.”

From her website:

1998 re-elected Mayor with 90% majority.

1999 elected Member of Parliament for Wairarapa with a 32% swing from National to Labour.

1999 - 2002 served on the following Select Committees:

* Law & Order Select Committee
* Local Government & Environment Select Committee
* MMP Review Select Committee - now disbanded with its work complete
* Primary Production Select Committee

Also served on the following Labour caucus committees:

* Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade
* Māori Caucus
* Primary Production & Rural Affairs
* Local Government, Environment, Broadcasting and Conservation
* Arts Culture and Heritage
* Rainbow Caucus Committee
* Social Services, Justice Cultural Caucus Committee

Resigned as Mayor of Carterton in March 2000.

2002 re-elected Member of Parliament for Wairarapa with a majority of 6372.

2002 - 2005 served on the following Select Committees:

* Law & Order Select Committee
* Social Services Select Committee - As Chairperson
* Also served on a variety of Labour caucus committees.

2005 re-entered Parliament as Labour Government Member of Parliament (list position 35).

2005 - 2006 served on the following Select Committees:

* Chairperson of Social Services Select Committee
* Member of Local Government and Environment Select Committee

Resigned from Parliament in February 2007

And finally from the Dominion Post August 20:
Former Labour MP Georgina Beyer plans to move to Australia because she cannot find work.

The three-term Wairarapa MP, the world's first transsexual politician, said she was disillusioned with life after politics and upset at the treatment she had received from her former Labour Party colleagues.

Ms Beyer said that while other former Labour MPs were appointed to boards, she had received nothing and was turned down for a position on the Human Rights Commission.

The former chairwoman of Parliament's social services committee said she had been forced to accept the unemployment benefit for several months late last year before selling her house to pay the bills "so I didn't have to be on the dole".

"I have all this accumulated knowledge and experience and no one wants to employ it, and I'm not sure why," she said.
"It seems that I am not valued for my experience in either local or central government, so I guess I wasted 14 years of my life in publicly elected service and ended up unemployable."

Ms Beyer has been working part-time as Wairarapa's Violence Free coordinator, but the position finishes next month. She is planning a move to Australia in December or January.
The story also goes on to say what other former MPs are doing.

Jim Sutton: Resigned as trade minister in 2006; now chairman of government farmer Landcorp.
Dianne Yates: Resigned as a Labour MP this year; on boards of Food Standards Australia New Zealand, Trust Waikato, Learning Media and Waikato Institute of Technology.
Janet Mackey: Former East Coast Labour MP; retired at 2005 election and now runs a Gisborne cafe.
Mark Peck: Retired as Invercargill Labour MP in 2005 after alcohol and gambling problems; now director of the Smokefree Coalition.
Roger Sowry: Retired as a National MP 2005; now works for consultants Sanders and Unsworth.
Deborah Coddington: Former ACT MP; now runs a Wairarapa vineyard.
"Jobs for the Boys (and Girls) is an ancient and dishonourable tradition in Australasian politics, just as it is elsewhere. Multiple Sinecures are handed out to the favoured few, and consolation prizes to the rest - even if they have "gambling and alcohol problems". Exceptions are few, and usually designed to make a point. That anyone who was chair of a parliamentary social services committee could not end up on a human rights panel is not just inequitable (disregarding the corruption), but actually a waste of talent, skills and experience.

I have all this accumulated knowledge and experience and no one wants to employ it, and I'm not sure why.

Ask Susan Stanton. She's still jobless after two years too.

And I'm wondering if there's life after a PhD. Will I be able to get a Post-Doc that pays almost the average wage? We'll see. First I've got to successfully complete my thesis, so I better cease goofing off and get back to it.

From employment expert Prof Julian Weiss :
...And there was the time when I landed my first job as a woman, knowing for the first time that I would not be going homeless. While I was working as a legal secretary, rather than a lawyer, at half the salary, I counted the loss as nothing for so many of my transgender friends could find no work at all in any capacity.
And in another article:
I remember reading in 1996 an advice book for transsexuals that read like Cassandra and Nostradamus reminiscing about the End of Days: "You're starting over as a woman, so you need to hide your past life as a man. Say goodbye to your career. Prepare to leave your job and find something with half the pay. Cut out half of the things on your resume, lest you be outed. Count yourself lucky not to be out on the street."

This is but a sample of the type of advice I received prior to my transition. It was right on the money.

It's still on the money.
She's the expert.

Tuesday 21 October 2008

Lebanese Bread

Yesterday, I replaced much of my oral hormonal medication with an implanted pellet. It resembled in size and shape an air-rifle pellet, but was delivered in a rather more clinical fashion. The area was surgically sterilised, then an incision was made with a scalpel, which was then deepened and the pellet implanted several centimetres deep in the gluteus maximus, the largest muscle in the body.

The pellet will deliver 100mcg of 17B Oestrodiol into my bloodstream every day for the next 3-6 months. The delivered dose is variable with individual metabolism, and so we just have to see what happens. I'm assuming that it's the equivalent of 2-4mg of oral oestrodiol valerate, and have dialled back my oral dose to the more conservative value - 8mg instead of 12mg. I'll be titrating it down in future until the effects become less than optimal, then titrating upwards again as needed. I'll be guided by the serum oestrodiol levels, but really, the somatic effects are the best metric. Response is just too individually variable to do otherwise, and my medical team has now got more confidence in my own perceptions than dosages based on conjecture.

If need be, a second pellet can be implanted.

The greatest pain was to the hip-pocket nerve, $116 for the medication, then the ~$100 cost for the procedure. Apart from the initial sting of the anaesthetic, I didn't feel a thing, despite the doc requiring some effort to get the pellet in deep enough. I didn't even require a stitch, the incision had stopped bleeding while the doc and nurse were disposing of the medical waste.

Three and a half years on, we're still in uncharted territory, operating by trial and error, always being conservative with any change. My transition continues, but I think puberty is almost halfway finished now. It will be complete by age 55 at the latest.

But meanwhile, having a dressing that must stay dry and on for a week - that's lebanese bread. A PITA.

Monday 20 October 2008

Warning Window

Curtsey to the Stumbling Tapir

Today's Battle

Over at
My comment hasn't been published yet, and may, like the last one, be consigned to the bit bucket, as comments require approval. Well here it is - you'll notice that as all good software engineers should do, I re-use things where I can.

If you wanted to go into the whys and wherefores, a TV show isn't the most appropriate place to look. Videos show the human face, what it feels like, rather than the dry, dusty science.

Some reading - not exactly light entertainment:

Berglund- "Male-to-female transsexuals show sex-atypical hypothalamus activation when smelling odorous steroids"

Bentz - "A common polymorphism of the SRD5A2 gene and transsexualism."

Kerlin - "Prenatal Exposure to Diethylstilbestrol (DES) in Males and Gender-Related Disorders: Results from a 5-Year Study " and "The Presence of Gender Dysphoria, Transsexualism, and Disorders of Sexual Differentiation in Males Prenatally Exposed to Diethylstilbestrol: Initial Evidence from a 5-Year Study"

Krause - "Geschlechtsspezifische Differenzen der Hirnaktivitaet in der fMRT bei Normalprobanden im Vergleich mit transsexuellen Probanden".

For the teutonically challenged, that's "Gender differences in brain activity between normal volunteers compared with transsexual subjects in functional magneto-resonance imaging".

Kruiver - Male-to-Female Transsexuals Have Female Neuron Numbers in a Limbic Nucleus

Zhang - A Sex Difference in the Human Brain and its Relation to Transsexuality

Henningsson - Sex steroid-related genes and male-to-female transsexualism

We're not sure what the exact mechanism is or mechanisms are that cause transsexuality. It appears to be the combination of an atypical hormonal environment in the womb, combined with a genetic pre-disposition. We're now confident though that we know what transsexuality is. A (partly, mostly or completely) male brain in a (partly, mostly, or completely) female body, or the reverse.

What I find interesting is the attitude of this "reviewer". A Review of a program should at least tell us what it's about, without snide remarks such as "a distorted version of Sophia Loren" (snicker snicker). For some people (myself included, of course) it's challenging for them to distinguish between the lunacy of a man who smashes a transsexual woman's head in with a fire extinguisher and then does it again to finish "it" off (real people, look it up), and the desire of a "reviewer" to denigrate a heroic transsexual women soldier for giggles.

The video clip included with the review shows Jan reacting to the utter rejection she has from her parents. The last scene shows her curled up on the bed, sobbing at her loss.

It's not the first time Jan Hamilton has been given a raw deal, or outrageously calumnied, as I've blogged about before. Still, at least the assault was written, rather than physical this time. Sticks and stones really do break our bones - the X-rays show that - but words can be even more painful - if we let them be. Like the words uttered by parents whose love is conditional.

The words of malicious little TV "reviewers", not so much. They just deserve a smackdown.

Saturday 18 October 2008

A Reply to Transphobic Feminism

The original's over at Neurotopia, but I think it's worth repeating, with hyperlinks included.

The original post by notorious transphobic feminist, m Andrea:
Zoe, the intersexed get a free pass in my book, perhaps I should have mentioned that. Transfolk have normal chromsomes, comprise .007% of the population, and literally only a handful of those are intersexed. The intersexed organizations are strongly opposed to body modification surgery.

The idea that hard science should exclude everything but numbers is a patriarchal concept.
It has nothing to do with medicine, but the sign of true intelligence is the ability to apply the lessons learned from one field to another, and I'm sure the scientisty folks can manage. To say that medical science should ignore the cost paid by half of humanity for the benefit of .007% is insane and cruel and proves my point that males are incapable of non-sexist behavior....
I'll let that last sentence pass though to the keeper. In my view, no human being is congenitally cruel, evil, or sexist, incapable of humane behaviour and sub-human by virtue of their birth. Not because of race, and not because of sex either.
Again, Zoe, it is the classification of transgenderism which is at issue. Either it is a mental illness, or it is not.
Some would classify rabid misandry in the same category as rabid racism, as a mental illness. I wouldn't, I think it's just evil. It's not in the DSM-IV anyway, and I don't think it should be. I'm not into pathologising as insanity views that I disagree with.

In my reply, I misinterpreted her .007% figure as being that for Intersex, rather than Transsexuals. But no matter, Lynn Conway's figures say greater than 1 in 3000 at the most conservative bounds, that's about .04%. It was a fortuitous mistake, as it allowed me to bring up and tie together some of the IS/TS issues. Anyway, on with the motley:
m Andrea - it's true that Gender Identity Disorder is in the DSM-IV-TR, the manual of diagnosing psychiatric illnesses. It is a psychiatric illness in that context.

The code is 302.85 for adults, and 302.6 for children, or if there is any non-neurological Intersex condition involved. You may give a "free pass" to the Intersexed, but the Patriarchy and psychiatric establishment do not. Any distress caused by a mismatch between reality and arbitrary assignment is considered a psychiatric illness.

But so is having been raped - the codes there are 995.81 (if raped as an adult) and 995.5 (if raped as a child).

In fact, it's not the biological cause that is the psychiatric illness, but the anxiety, depression and other sequelae resultant from the biological cause that requires treatment. For some, putting an end to the underlying cause, be it repeated physical abuse or brain/body mismatch, can affect a complete cure. For others, psychotherapy may be needed, or at least, an end to the Patriarchal system of stigma and shame that further victimises the victims.

It wasn't that long ago that the idea of having rape victims have a say in their own treatment was anathema too. The arguments both for and against are identical.

It's not true that Intersex organisations are against surgery. They are against *involuntary* surgery, surgery without consent. They believe that until the patient can tell us what gender they are, surgical intervention should be minimal, and aimed at preserving urinary, sensate and reproductive functionality, not mere socially-acceptable cosmesis, that will leave the child transsexual in at least 10% of cases, possibly 30%.

I have no idea where you get the 0.007% figure from. There is much confusion about the exact definition of "Intersex", that may account for it. Using the most inclusive definition, where the soma is neither 100% male nor 100% female, the incidence is 1.7% (See Fausto-Sterling et al).

While this may be technically true, the majority of such cases would only be detectable through extensive lab tests, they are essentially asymptomatic, though many compromise fertility. Others are asymptomatic at birth, only developing symptoms later - such as sex reversal, as in my case.

At the other extreme is Leonard Sax's definition, which excludes many syndromes recognised by all Intersex groups as being Intersex conditions. His figure is 0.02%. But to get to this low figure, he has to exclude Kleinfelter Syndrome (47xxy not 46xy or 46xx) and other conditions. Even though some 47xxy people have fathered children, and other 47xxy people have given birth.

I tend towards the inclusive definition myself, while admitting the difficulties. However, I can't be objective about it.

Regardless of the incidence, if it is deemed desirable on Utilitarian grounds that a minority suffer "for the greater good", we should be honest about it. We should not seek to minimise the size of the group affected, nor bury or ignore scientific evidence just to feel less guilty.

The evidence from Kruiver, Zhang et al has already been mentioned. Now that is open to reasonable attack on the grounds of lack of replication - not that attempts have been made to replicate it that have failed, but that no attempts have been made. It is open to attack on the grounds of small sample sizes, though the sample size is not insubstantial compared to the universal set.

But to that evidence, I'd add that of Berglund - "Male-to-female transsexuals show sex-atypical hypothalamus activation when smelling odorous steroids" - Bentz - "A common polymorphism of the SRD5A2 gene and transsexualism." - Kerlin "Prenatal Exposure to Diethylstilbestrol (DES) in Males and Gender-Related Disorders: Results from a 5-Year Study " and "The Presence of Gender Dysphoria, Transsexualism, and Disorders of Sexual Differentiation in Males Prenatally Exposed to Diethylstilbestrol: Initial Evidence from a 5-Year Study" - and especially Krause - "Geschlechtsspezifische Differenzen der Hirnaktivitaet in der fMRT bei Normalprobanden im Vergleich mit transsexuellen Probanden". For the teutonically challenged, that's "Gender differences in brain activity between normal volunteers compared with transsexual subjects in functional magneto-resonance imaging".

We're not sure what the exact mechanism is or mechanisms are that cause transsexuality. It appears to be the combination of an atypical hormonal environment in the womb, combined with a genetic pre-disposition. We're now confident though that we know what transsexuality is. A (partly, mostly or completely) male brain in a (partly, mostly, or completely) female body, or the reverse.

If you give the Intersexed a "free pass", they qualify too. Unless you restrict your definition of "Intersexed" unreasonably, or deem all these papers - none of which have been contradicted - to be a long chain of individual 1 in a million coincidences.

Going beyond the dry, dusty numbers inherent in Science, I'll quote the Full Bench of the Family Court in Australia, back in 2003, when the data was far more scanty, but still overwhelming:

"There should be no escape for medical and legal authorities that these definitions (of male and female) ought to be corrected and updated when new information becomes available, particularly when our outdated definitions bring suffering to some of our fellow human beings."
I simplified - gender is formed during childhood based on comparison with hard-wired emotional response compared to other people - but close enough.

Friday 17 October 2008

Peace / Victory

Depending on how you look at it. The face that sank a thousand trolls.

Thursday 16 October 2008

Rail of War

A game my son likes - Rail of War.
Buy trains and weapons. Deliver passengers to checkpoints, destroy enemies, and repair your trains.

It combines a shoot 'em up with a simple railway simulation. Enjoy.

What Makes a Man

Or rather, what makes someone genetically male?
Our results reveal potentially important SRY regulatory elements, mutations in which might underlie cases of idiopathic human XY sex reversal.
That's from New insights into SRY regulation through identification of 5' conserved sequences by Ross D.F.G, JBowles J., Koopman P., and Lehnert S. in BMC Molecular Biology 2008, 9:85 (14 October 2008).

The problem is that XY sex reversal happens a lot, and we're not sure why. Many women are born apparently "genetically male", with 46XY chromosomes. But actually genetically female.
A majority of gonadal dysgenesis cases cannot be attributed to mutations within or immediately 5’ of SRY, or to any other gene known to have a role in sex determination. We hypothesise that this is because SRY’s regulatory regions are uncharted, therefore providing no means to check specific areas for mutation.
Worse, the SrY complex, the thing that makes men male, is very variable between species. You can't automatically assume that what is true in, say, horses or monkeys is true in pigs or humans.
SRY carries out a similar function in all mammals in which it is present, but displays a high degree of variability between species. This situation is thought to result from the location of SRY on the Y chromosome, exposing it to a higher rate of mutation compared to autosomal genes, thereby leading to DNA degradation and even loss.
The usual experimental animal used for genetic research, the traditional white mouse, isn't useful in this case.
As with the SRY coding region, sequences beyond the transcription unit of SRY are very poorly conserved between species, a situation that has contributed to an almost total lack of understanding of how the expression of this gene is regulated. Comparative genomics is normally a powerful tool for identifying biologically important gene regulatory regions, based on the conservation of functional regulatory modules being under selective pressure during evolution, but this method has shown only limited success in studies of SRY to date. Although mice are most useful for a range of developmental and functional genetic studies, their utility in comparative genomics is limited by their unusually high rate of sequence drift, thought to be linked to their short generation time.
So what about other mammals? The experimentation shows that cattle, pigs, goats and sheep are better experimental animals to use. In fact, almost anything other than mice!
Progress in identifying potential gene regulatory motifs through comparative genomics relies on the availability of genome sequences from a range of non-murine mammals. A study analysing non-coding sequences in 39 bovine, human and mouse gene orthologues revealed 73 putative regulatory intervals conserved between bovine and human genes, only 13 of which were also conserved in mice. Further comparative genomic analysis of these regions showed that the homology to human is highest in bovine, and weakest in the mouse.
In the present study we generated novel bovine and caprine SRY 5’ sequence data in order to conduct comparative genomic analysis of 5’ sequences from human, bull, pig, goat and mouse Sry. In this way we identified four novel sequence intervals that may be important for the correct regulation of SRY expression and therefore for correct function of SRY in mammalian sex determination. The identification of these candidate regulatory regions provides a focus for efforts to discover new mutations associated with human idiopathic XY sex reversal.

This almost certainly has nothing to do with my own case. One would have to postulate a selective advantage to defective genes containing corrupted SrY complexes during cell turnover, in conjunction with all sorts of hormonal weirdness from a separate cause.

However, it does provide an important clue as to why little progress has been made on finding out how SrY works. It means that we will now no longer be trying to push water uphill.

This is not so much a new piece in the puzzle, as a better set of specs to enable us to find new pieces.

It also has given me some new ideas to explore in genetic algorithms maybe 10 years down the track, after I have my current PhD finished. There's all sorts of interesting twists and turns that Mother Nature uses, some of which may be forced on her due to physical chemistry (and likely counter-productive), but others actually non-obvious optimisations.

Wednesday 15 October 2008

Simply the Best

Rarely, you see a article that exemplifies good journalism. An article that delves beneath the superficial, that doesn't tell just one side of the story. An article that is neither overly speculative, nor blindly adheres to long discredited notions. One that is up-to-date.

Such an article is A Boy's Life by Hanna Rosin, in the Atlantic Monthly. It is an article, in fact I'd say it is the definitive article, about Transgendered Children.

Some Highlights:
Dr. Peggy Cohen-Kettenis, who runs the main clinic in the Netherlands, has seen the average age of her patients plummet since 2002. “We used to get calls mostly from parents who were concerned about their children being gay,” says Catherine Tuerk, who since 1998 has run a support network for parents of children with gender-variant behavior, out of Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. “Now about 90 percent of our calls are from parents with some concern that their child may be transgender.”
It took the gay-rights movement 30 years to shift from the Stonewall riots to gay marriage; now its transgender wing, long considered the most subversive, is striving for suburban normalcy too. The change is fuel‑ed mostly by a community of parents who, like many parents of this generation, are open to letting even preschool children define their own needs. Faced with skeptical neighbors and school officials, parents at the conference discussed how to use the kind of quasi-therapeutic language that, these days, inspires deference: tell the school the child has a “medical condition” or a “hormonal imbalance” that can be treated later, suggested a conference speaker, Kim Pearson; using terms like gender-­identity disorder or birth defect would be going too far, she advised. The point was to take the situation out of the realm of deep pathology or mental illness, while at the same time separating it from voluntary behavior, and to put it into the idiom of garden-variety “challenge.” As one father told me, “Between all the kids with language problems and learning disabilities and peanut allergies, the school doesn’t know who to worry about first.”
At the conference, blockers were the hot topic. One mother who’d found out about them too late cried, “The guilt I feel is overwhelming.” The preteens sized each other up for signs of the magic drug, the way other teens might look for hip, expensive jeans: a 16-year-old (natal) girl, shirtless, with no sign of breasts; a 17-year-old (natal) boy with a face as smooth as Brandon’s. “Is there anybody out there,” asked Dr. Nick Gorton, a physician and trans-man from California, addressing a room full of older transsexuals, “who would not have taken the shot if it had been offered?” No one raised a hand.
Today, the notion that gender is purely a social construction seems nearly as outmoded as bra-burning or free love. Feminist theory is pivoting with the rest of the culture, and is locating the key to identity in genetics and the workings of the brain. In the new conventional wisdom, we are all pre-wired for many things previously thought to be in the realm of upbringing, choice, or subjective experience: happiness, religious awakening, cheating, a love of chocolate. Behaviors are fundamental unless we are chemically altered. Louann Brizendine, in her 2006 best-selling book, The Female Brain, claims that everything from empathy to chattiness to poor spatial reasoning is “hardwired into the brains of women.” Dr. Milton Diamond, an expert on human sexuality at the University of Hawaii and long the intellectual nemesis of Money, encapsulated this view in an interview on the BBC in 1980, when it was becoming clear that Money’s experiment was failing: “Maybe we really have to think … that we don’t come to this world neutral; that we come to this world with some degree of maleness and femaleness which will transcend whatever the society wants to put into [us].”

Diamond now spends his time collecting case studies of transsexuals who have a twin, to see how often both twins have transitioned to the opposite sex. To him, these cases are a “confirmation” that “the biggest sex organ is not between the legs but between the ears.” For many gender biologists like Diamond, transgender children now serve the same allegorical purpose that David Reimer once did, but they support the opposite conclusion: they are seen as living proof that “gender identity is influenced by some innate or immutable factors,” writes Melissa Hines, the author of Brain Gender.

This is the strange place in which transsexuals have found themselves. For years, they’ve been at the extreme edges of transgressive sexual politics. But now children like Brandon are being used to paint a more conventional picture: before they have much time to be shaped by experience, before they know their sexual orientation, even in defiance of their bodies, children can know their gender, from the firings of neurons deep within their brains. What better rebuke to the Our Bodies, Ourselves era of feminism than the notion that even the body is dispensable, that the hard nugget of difference lies even deeper?
According to Dr. Peggy Cohen-Kettenis, the psychologist who heads the Dutch clinic, no case of a child stopping the blockers and changing course has yet been reported.

This suggests one of two things: either the screening is excellent, or once a child begins, he or she is set firmly on the path to medical intervention. “Adolescents may consider this step a guarantee of sex reassignment,” wrote Cohen-Kettenis, “and it could make them therefore less rather than more inclined to engage in introspection.” In the Netherlands, clinicians try to guard against this with an extensive diagnostic protocol, including testing and many sessions “to confirm that the desire for treatment is very persistent,” before starting the blockers.
As I said, both sides of the story.

And some issues which will come as no surprise to readers of this blog.
“Are we expecting to find some biological component [to gender identity]?” asks Vilain. “Certainly I am. But my hunch is, it’s going to be mild. My hunch is that sexual orientation is probably much more hardwired than gender identity. I’m not saying [gender identity is] entirely determined by the social environment. I’m just saying that it’s much more malleable.”
I doubt that he's read my article that came to exactly the same conclusion, but yes, I agree. That's what the data indicates.
Vilain has spent his career working with intersex patients, who are born with the anatomy of both sexes. He says his hardest job is to persuade the parents to leave the genitals ambiguous and wait until the child has grown up, and can choose his or her own course. This experience has influenced his views on parents with young transgender kids. “I’m torn here. I’m very ambivalent. I know [the parents] are saying the children are born this way. But I’m still on the fence. I consider the child my patient, not the parents, and I don’t want to alleviate the anxiety of the parents by surgically fixing the child. We don’t know the long-term effects of making these decisions for the child. We’re playing God here, a little bit.”
I've blogged about that too.
Green expected most of the boys in the study to end up as transsexuals, but nothing like that happened. Three-fourths of the 44 boys turned out to be gay or bisexual (Green says a few more have since contacted him and told him they too were gay). Only one became a transsexual. “We can’t tell a pre-gay from a pre-transsexual at 8,” says Green, who recently retired from running the adult gender-identity clinic in England. “Are you helping or hurting a kid by allowing them to live as the other gender? If everyone is caught up in facilitating the thing, then there may be a hell of a lot of pressure to remain that way, regardless of how strongly the kid still feels gender-dysphoric. Who knows? That’s a study that hasn’t found its investigator yet.”
Compare with my own conclusions:
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.
About 2/3 of children exhibiting cross-gendered behaviour end up being Gay instead of TS. That's regardless of therapeutic measures, or lack thereof.

And then there's this...
Zucker put me in touch with two of his success stories, a boy and a girl, now both living in the suburbs of Toronto.
When I visited the family, John was lazing around with his older brother, idly watching TV and playing video games, dressed in a polo shirt and Abercrombie & Fitch shorts. He said he was glad he’d been through the therapy, “because it made me feel happy,” but that’s about all he would say; for the most part, his mother spoke for him. Recently, John was in the basement watching the Grammys. When Caroline walked downstairs to say good night, she found him draped in a blanket, vamping. He looked up at her, mortified. She held his face and said, “You never have to be embarrassed of the things you say or do around me.” Her position now is that the treatment is “not a cure; this will always be with him”—but also that he has nothing to be ashamed of. About a year ago, John carefully broke the news to his parents that he is gay.
Sure this is a "success", and not denial. Sure it is. And it looks as if I was right about some of Zucker's other "successes", even though I was hoping against hope that I was wrong.
Yet Zucker’s approach has its own disturbing elements. It’s easy to imagine that his methods—steering parents toward removing pink crayons from the box, extolling a patriarchy no one believes in—could instill in some children a sense of shame and a double life. A 2008 study of 25 girls who had been seen in Zucker’s clinic showed positive results; 22 were no longer gender-dysphoric, meaning they were comfortable living as girls. But that doesn’t mean they were happy. I spoke to the mother of one Zucker patient in her late 20s, who said her daughter was repulsed by the thought of a sex change but was still suffering—she’d become an alcoholic, and was cutting herself. “I’d be surprised if she outlived me,” her mother said.
Sometimes I hate having good intuition. Yes, Cassandra was cursed. For this is what I wrote months ago.
Perhaps, and I would like to think this is true, Dr Zucker is correct. That despite all the counter-examples, despite the "gender dysphoria", this boy's brain was adequately malleable to make him into a successful woman. He's trumpeted as a success anyway, not at all gender dysphoric, no desire to change. And just as importantly (to them), Straight too, and not at all lesbian.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'm not about to join the Zucker Fan Club any time soon. I know he means well, I have immense respect for him as a Scientist, but when you look at his "successes", let alone his failures, his experimentation on children is unethical, and because of the flawed metrics, even Bad Science.

I really wish I'd been wrong, you know? I really wish I wasn't in tears over what he's doing to these kids. I mean, those who are going to "grow out of it" and just become gay adults will do so no matter what. No need to torture them, just to instil dysfunctional conformity in a few.

Anyway, please go and read the whole article. It's simply the best on the subject ever written.

Tuesday 14 October 2008

Today's Battle

This one's a scientific discussion over at Neurotopia, the Science blog on neurology.

It was going well until it attracted notable "second wave" feminist and fanatic Transphobe m Andrea, whose Feminazi (her words not mine) blog is increasingly devoted to dismissing Transsexual women as men who are mentally ill and selfish too.

Here's my take on her views, but you should read her blog for yourself, to make sure I'm not putting words in her mouth and constructing a StrawPerson.
Transsexuality cannot have a biological cause, because if it did, it would undermine Feminist Theory. Undermining Feminist Theory causes repression, persecution, and injustice. Therefore Transsexuality as a biological condition cannot be allowed to exist, and in the words of the Feminist Janice Raymond,
"I contend that the problem of transsexualism would be best served by morally mandating it out of existence."
This is about politics, not Science. It's about the post-modernist view of science (and every other activity) as being nothing but tools in a power-game, with only an insignificant correspondence to any objective reality.
So yes, those of us researching the genuine sexually dimorphic differences in human cognition had better be extremely careful that our work is not misinterpreted by others to further an odious and contrary-to-reality political agenda. We have a responsibility to see that it doesn't. To that extent, m Andrea is right.

To the extent that she denies the biological realities, she is wrong. To the extent that she uses her considerable intellect and wit to denigrate, insult, oppress, and devalue women belonging to a minority group even more denigrated, insulted, oppressed and devalued than her own relatively privileged one, she is dangerously wrong, and in a moral sense. Though she does it from the highest of motives, you know, can't make an omelette and all that. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. They're not *really* women anyway, they're part of the oppressive class, so deserve all they get.
The difficult thing is.. she really is witty, and intelligent, and under other circumstances, I'd both like and admire her. And like the more Fanatic Fundies, she believes she's acting in a Good Cause. One I can get behind as well, no-one knows better jut how much the Patriarchy oppresses women than transsexuals - and I mean the guys too. Some get distinctly uncomfortable at just how much unconscious privilege they acquire from transition.

Her methods though, the weapons used against transsexuals, are exactly those used by the Patriarchy to oppress women everywhere. She's not jut a useful tool of the Patriarchy, she's part of it, and doesn't even know it. In that respect, she's achieved her aim of abolishing the distinction between men and women.

Monday 13 October 2008

IS and TS in 10 Minutes

I've just given a 10-minute tail-end presentation as a "guest speaker" to some 3rd year Psychology students here at the Australian National University.

The main lecture was on Gender and Mental Health issues - the biological aspects of gender and the way we think. The social construct section will be dealt with on Wednesday, but that's really out of my area of expertise. My PhD candidacy is in Computer Science rather than Psychology, after all, and I have no formal medical qualifications.

Most of the material I presented was verbal, with a power-point presentation to provide context and background, rather than duplicating what I was saying. Much of it can be found in various places in my blog, as regular readers will know. It was all recorded anyway.

I must write an online book summarising all this one day. In my copious free time, when I'm not parenting, dealing with a late puberty, doing my PhD, educating... one lifetime doesn't seem enough!

I got an ovation at the end, so my ego has been well-fed today. And maybe, just maybe, some child just growing up now will be helped by one of these fledgling psychologists. Moving the mountain one teaspoonful at a time.

Sunday 12 October 2008

Code Quality Metric

In WTFs/m

The technical name is the principle of least astonishment.

Q = T/W

Q = Quality
T = Time (in minutes)
W = WTFs

Friday 10 October 2008

Little Boxes

Another addictive online game I don't have time to play. Poiser.

Update - an interesting set of comments is attached.

I Shouldn't Laugh

fail owned pwned pictures

After all, the problem's probably in the electrical system.

Thursday 9 October 2008

Today's Battles

TOP MODEL Contestant is Transgender - Yuck!.

I confess I had some very uncharitable thoughts about the author when I read that. I am a most imperfect human being, and I don't even have the excuse of ignorance as a defence.

And at An Archdiocese of Wash DC Catholic.

I've had some good results when debating with Catholics. Even when they disagree, they tend to be logical and rational, and even charitable. Alas, we sometimes operate from very different premises.

I am extremely encouraged by the fact that I'm not the only one giving rebuttal to these articles. I try to be cool and scientific, whereas many other replies are blisteringly scathing. I have been tempted, sometimes very tempted, to give a dose of well-deserved vitriol with my reply. But what's the point? Either they're operating from false assumptions and pardonable ignorance, so deserve some slack being cut for them, or they are evil bigots who it's not worth wasting spare electrons on. The latter are very rare indeed, in my experience. Most people are basically decent, and the only reason they are engaging in bigotry is because they have high moral standards.

The trick is to make their own consciences do my work for me. And frankly, I'm no saint. If I can't cut others slack, I don't deserve any myself. I certainly could do with some! I thought some very uncharitable thoughts indeed about the author of the first article, and if there is a God, I'll need a lot of forgiveness for that.

Update: My post in reply to TOP MODEL Contestant is Transgender - Yuck! was deleted. Here it is, repeated:
Zoe Brain has left a new comment on the post "TOP MODEL Contestant is Transgender - Yuck!":

I know that most people don't know much about this stuff, it's embarrassing, and not safe for work, and generally icky.

First, I'll have to explain "Intersex". Although 98.3% of people are born normally male or female, 1.7% aren't, quite. Of those, about half have trivial, insignificant differences from the norm, but some of the rest have significant differences. Some people are genetically male, but have female bodies, or the reverse. Others have their genes screwed up, so instead of being 46xx (female) or 46xy (male), they are 47xxy, or even a mix of 46xy and 46xx cells.

Now, I'll explain "What is a Transsexual". Some people - the Intersexed - have normal bodies, normal neural (brain) development, but cross-gendered genitalia. But others have normal bodies, normal genitalia, but cross-gendered brains. Genital development happens in the middle of the first trimester, neural development at the end. Little boys "know" they are boys before age 6, little girls "know" they are girls before age 6 too, and this has nothing to do with their body shape or upbringing, it depends on the neural development that was programmed in long before they were born.

Sometimes - about 1 in 500 according to Professor Lynn Conway, things go wrong to a greater or lesser extent. It's possible to end up with a wholly male body, but a female brain, and a female mind. The opposite happens too, but as we all start with a basically female template, it's easier to have a glitch that stops the masculinization of a male than to introduce extra masculinization in a female. That's why only 1 in 4 transsexuals are "Female to Male", men literally trapped in female bodies.

Many transsexuals whose "glitch" was partial can live with it, in various degrees of discomfort. But in at least 1 in 7 cases, or about 1 in 3500 people, the "glitch" is not partial, it's complete. These people, normal men or women who happen to have the wrong shaped body for their brains and minds, get a very severe degree of discomfort indeed. And it gets worse with age. Their brains just don't work very well with the hormonal blood chemistry they have, and their instinctive behavior is all wrong. Oddly enough, this has little to do with their sexual preference : many such women actually become ostensibly "lesbian" as the result of all the male hormones in their system, and the outside world thinks they're normal, straight males.

There's no "cure" for this congenital condition, but there is an effective treatment that's got a 97% improvement rate. That is to alter the sufferer's body with Hormones, and largely change it so it conforms to the brain's setup. But HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) can only do so much, some surgical "detail work" is usually required so that the sufferer can look normal, and resume their place in society, but as a member of the opposite sex. The one they've always truly been, inside, since long before their birth.

It's just a minor, and quite common, congenital abnormality. Unfortunately, it has far-reaching societal effects. Today, the problem is often picked up early enough so that intervention occurs during or shortly after puberty. But our knowledge of this syndrome is relatively recent, and due to the maternal instinct, a lot of transsexual women (those with male bodies) who were born in the 40's, 50's, 60's or even 70's are married and with children. As the discomfort gets worse with age, many are forced to "transition" at average age 45 no matter what the effect on their loved ones or careers, or suffer permanent and crippling psychological damage. But 45 is an average, some can last till 60, others have to transition before 30.

You can read extracts from some of the many medical papers on the subject at BiGender and the Brain, an article that has made peer-reviewed "best of" collections in both medicine and neurology.

You'll see the Catholic theological aspects discussed (with references) at Christian forums.

You showed malice out of pardonable ignorance, and with the best of motives. You mistook a medical condition for moral corruption. The mistake is pardonable, and understandable. The malice I leave up to you to deal with. I fear you own conscience will punish you far more severely than any judgement I'd pronounce, so please, you're forgiven, and don't be too hard on yourself.

Just please don't do it again, Ok?

Oh yes, my own unusual story is told in COSMOS Science magazine. Biologically female, I had to live most of my life with a masculinised body, when for reasons still not well understood, my body normalised. So I've been in Isis' shoes.

It could have been you. Or one of your children.

How To Screw Up A Project

Technews World has an article entitled Signposts on the US Government's Trail of IT Failures which details the causes of the many multi-million , and even multi-billion dollar software disasters that have afflicted the US Government in the last decade.

The causes are not confined only to Governments, nor to large projects: but the effects scale up, so what will cause an over-run in budget on a small project will cause an utter disaster on a big one.

I'll paraphrase and simplify them:
  1. Not consulting with stakeholders - those who have a vested interest in getting a system that helps them. Too often, requirements are specified by customer personnel who won't use the system, and don't really know what it should be doing. You can even get a bun-fight between different stakeholders with contradictory requirements. Get these over with, or at least identified, or you'll fail.
  2. Being insufficiently flexible and unable to learn what is really required - or even possible - during development. In the course of building something, great hairy unknowns become better and better understood, and things which were thought to be easy might be determined to be hard, or worse, both impossible and irrelevant, un-neccessary. Something that will break budgets to provide, but which the customer doesn't actually want. Except the contract calls or it.
  3. Lack of incremental progress reporting and incremental funding no more than one step ahead of progress. There's a temptation to take a failing project and keep on developing until the money runs out. Projects that are doomed from an early stage should be shot to put them out of their misery, and not kept on as festering and rotting undead, shambling on till they finally disintegrate.
  4. "Just a little bit more" - feeping creaturism. Creeping featurism, where additional requirements are added on, with no additional budget. Sometimes it's better to develop a system that works - but doesn't do everything - than not deliver a system at all. And then upgrade in a planned way with further releases. A good architecture will have a lot of "fitted for but not with" flexibility, a foundation that will take a 12 storey structure even if the spec only calls for 8. Just in case.
  5. Doing what has always been done, but with computers, rather than analysing what should be done, and implementing that. The world is full of systems that replicate pre-computer methodology, with all sorts of bottlenecks and inefficiencies that were unavoidable when using pen and paper, but now are just embarrassments.
  6. Setting to work costs not being budgeted for. An example would be data cleansing - making sure existing databases have good data in, or you'll just be delivering greater and greater quantities of used food. And making sure that the parallel operation where the old system is gently phased out and the new one gently phased in is planned and budgeted for.
I've seen projects both great an small perish miserably by failures in one or more of these areas.

As they say in the Classics, Read The Whole Thing.