Friday 31 July 2009

Three for the Reference Library

One on Sex, one on Gender to start with.

The role of sexual related Y gene detection in the diagnosis of patients with gonadal dysgenesis by Yu et al, Chinese Medical Journal, 2001, Vol. 114 No. 2 : 128-131
Sixteen cases of gonadal dysgenesis were included in this study: 5 with androgen insensitivity syndrome, 1 with 17-α-hydroxylase deficiency, 4 with true hermaphrodite, 2 with 45,X/46,XY gonadal dysgenesis, 1 with 45,X gonadal dysgenesis, 1 with XY pure gonadal dysgenesis, 1 with testicular regression, and 1 XY female who gave birth to a normal baby.
Results Among the 16 cases, 15 were blood SRY positive, among which 13 (86.7%) showed the presence of testicular tissue, and 2 showed ovaries without testicular tissue . One SRY negative case showed the presence of testicular tissue. In 3 cases, SRY detection in gonadal tissue correlated with pathological findings but not with blood karyotype. The correlation between peripheral blood SRY and the pathology of the gonads was 81.25% and the correlation between the presence of peripheral blood Y chromosome and pathology of the gonads was 68.75%. Sequencing of the SRY motif in an XY female who gave birth to a normal baby showed no mutation.
Conclusions SRY detection is more sensitive and specific than blood karyotype in the prediction of the presence of testicular tissue. Peripheral blood karyotype does not necessarily reflect gonadal type. There may be testicular related factors other than the SRY gene.
So much for 46xy chromosomes indicating masculinity. Or even that karyotypes are definitive. Or even that presence of SrY stops a woman from giving birth. It's more complex than that.

Discordant Sexual Identity in Some Genetic Males with Cloacal Exstrophy Assigned to Female Sex at Birth by Reiner and Gearhart, N Engl J Med. 2004 January 22; 350(4): 333–341.
BACKGROUND Cloacal exstrophy is a rare, complex defect of the entire pelvis and its contents that occurs during embryogenesis and is associated with severe phallic inadequacy or phallic absence in genetic males. For about 25 years, neonatal assignment to female sex has been advocated for affected males to overcome the issue of phallic inadequacy, but data on outcome remain sparse.
METHODS We assessed all 16 genetic males in our cloacal-exstrophy clinic at the ages of 5 to 16 years. Fourteen underwent neonatal assignment to female sex socially, legally, and surgically; the parents of the remaining two refused to do so. Detailed questionnaires extensively evaluated the development of sexual role and identity, as defined by the subjects' persistent declarations of their sex.
RESULTS Eight of the 14 subjects assigned to female sex declared themselves male during the course of this study, whereas the 2 raised as males remained male. Subjects could be grouped according to their stated sexual identity. Five subjects were living as females; three were living with unclear sexual identity, although two of the three had declared themselves male; and eight were living as males, six of whom had reassigned themselves to male sex. All 16 subjects had moderate-to-marked interests and attitudes that were considered typical of males. Follow-up ranged from 34 to 98 months.
CONCLUSIONS Routine neonatal assignment of genetic males to female sex because of severe phallic inadequacy can result in unpredictable sexual identification. Clinical interventions in such children should be reexamined in the light of these findings.
Just a bit, yes. Because 8 of the 14 are boys, and only 5 are BiGendered or girls. And while Gender Role is mostly a social construct, some parts are not : All 16 subjects had moderate-to-marked interests and attitudes that were considered typical of males. Even though all but two had been raised as girls. This is similar to the results for 46xx people with CAH - 90% of whom have a female gender identity rather than a male one. Different parts of the brain have to be involved, and Gender Identity has a very imperfect correlation with Gender-typical behaviour.

One more thing:
A true hermaphrodite (case 4) had testicular tissue without the Y chromosome or the SRY gene.
Just to complicate matters.

My thanks once more to Professor Italiano for bringing these to my attention.

Now another, using fMRI:
Specific Cerebral Activation due to Visual Erotic Stimuli in Male-to-Female Transsexuals Compared with Male and Female Controls: An fMRI Study by Gizewski et al J Sex Med 2009;6:440–448.

Introduction. Transsexuals harbor the strong feeling of having been born to the wrong sex. There is a continuing controversial discussion of whether or not transsexualism has a biological representation. Differences between males and females in terms of functional imaging during erotic stimuli have been previously described, revealing gender-specific results.

Aim. Therefore, we postulated that male-to-female (MTF) transsexuals may show specific cerebral activation differing from their biological gender.

Main Outcome Measure. Cerebral activation patterns during viewing of erotic film excerpts in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

Methods. Twelve male and 12 female heterosexual volunteers and 12 MTF transsexuals before any treatment viewed erotic film excerpts during fMRI. Additionally, subjective rating of sexual arousal was assessed. Statistics were performed using the Statistical Parametric Mapping software.

Results. Significantly enhanced activation for men compared with women was revealed in brain areas involved in erotic processing, i.e., the thalamus, the amygdala, and the orbitofrontal and insular cortex, whereas no specific activation for women was found. When comparing MTF transsexuals with male volunteers, activation patterns similar to female volunteers being compared with male volunteers were revealed. Sexual arousal was assessed using standard rating scales and did not differ significantly for the three groups.

Conclusions. We revealed a cerebral activation pattern in MTF transsexuals compared with male controls similar to female controls compared with male controls during viewing of erotic stimuli, indicating a tendency of female-like cerebral processing in transsexualism.
This is the formal writeup of the ArzteZeitung article I wrote about awhile ago.

Today's Battles

An educational set this time, non-confrontational (thank goodness).

Over at BeliefNet, talking about the ethics of surgical body modification.
One of the Templeton fellows today gave a presentation about transgender Christians and the church. During the Q&A, someone in our group put forth a question that hadn't occurred to me, concerning this issue. If we accept that people who claim that they need to have sex reassignment surgery to make their bodies conform to who they believe they truly are, then on what basis do we deny people who claim that they need to have one or more limbs amputated to feel whole their moral and/or legal right to the desired surgery?

And at Perlo II: philosophy and literature, introducing some Science to Arts majors. Which seems to be going remarkably smoothly, even though it's rather like the test described in Parkinson's Law Chapter 5:
They will finally be invited to try their eloquence on a Baptist Congress, the object being to induce those present to rock and roll. Those who fail will be liquidated.

Thursday 30 July 2009

European Commissioner for Human Rights Report on Gender Identity

Is here. Unfortunately, it does not address Intersex conditions, apart from a passing mention in the first paragraphs. While they are in theory separate, in practice, when it comes to many of the issues raised in the report regarding docmentation, there is considerable overlap.

For one thing, the EUCHR report assumes as an unspoken axiom that everyone has a gender identity of male or female. While this may be true for the majority of people, it's not true for all. It's not even true for those who are cis-sexual (ie who fit exactly the biological binary sex model), and certainly not true for every Intersexed individual, just the majority of them.

While there may be an arguable case based on biology for coercing cis-sexual people into conforming to a societally-approved binary gender model (not that I'd argue in favour), for many Intersexed people with gender identities that don't follow the norm, there can be no case. There is no logic, no justification, no reason, the coercion is there purely to make third parties less uncomfortable, and enable them to blindly ignore biological reality.

So while this report is good for the vast majority of transsexual people, and for many transgendered people whose current somatic form and gender identity are mismatched, there are still some left out in the cold, excluded from the human rights that most enjoy.

In my own situation, it fits my requirements exactly. I fit well into the binary gender model, at least, when it comes to gender identity, and relatively well when it comes to biological sex. But my experiences of being on the receiving end of bigotry have left me sensitised to the needs of others. Even others I consider weird, and peculiar, people who I don't identify with at all, and who make me feel uncomfortable, as many cissexual GenderQueer people do.

Because I am considered by many to be weird, and peculiar, and make other people uncomfortable just by existing. I cannot in all conscience demand human rights for myself, and exclude others. Not even when excluding them would make my own fight easier. In fact, especially not then, because morality and ethics cannot ever be a matter for pragmatism.

Tuesday 28 July 2009

North Korea and the NSDAP

From the Philadelphia Inquirer:
SEOUL, South Korea - A Christian woman accused of distributing the Bible, a book banned in communist North Korea, was publicly executed last month for the crime, South Korean activists said yesterday.

The 33-year-old mother of three, Ri Hyon Ok, also was accused of spying for South Korea and the United States, and of organizing dissidents, a rights group said in Seoul, citing documents obtained from the North. Ri reportedly was executed in Ryongchon, near the border with China.

The Investigative Commission on Crime Against Humanity report included a copy of Ri's government-issued photo ID and said her husband, children, and parents were sent to a political prison the day after her June 16 execution.
The comments on the story in the Huffington Post are most instructive. Most of them see no difference between Evangelical Christianity and Kil Jong Il's Ju-Che. 2009 America or Nazi Germany, what's the real difference, anyway? I truly believe that many would have defended the National Socialist German Workers Party in the 1930's. Because those who were sent to KZs deserved it for breaking the law, for being found guilty by People's Courts of being Enemies of the State.

I hope they don't learn the hard way. The ignorance, the stupidity... breathtaking.

"If you are born mentally or physically deficient, says Im, the government says your best contribution to society... is as a guinea pig for biological and chemical weapons testing."
The former military captain says it was in the early 1990s, that he watched his then commander wrestle with giving up his 12-year-old daughter who was mentally ill.

The commander, he says, initially resisted, but after mounting pressure from his military superiors, he gave in.

Im watched as the girl was taken away. She was never seen again.

One of Im's own men later gave him an eyewitness account of human-testing.
The extent of the stockpile is a concern to Kim Sang-hun, a retired UN official who has spent years investigating the North's chemical and biological weapons programme.

He believes over the past 20 years, the programme has advanced at a startling pace, specifically because the country's rulers approve and support the use of human test subjects.

"Human experimentation is a widespread practice," Kim says.

"I hoped I was wrong, but it is the reality and it is taking place in North Korea and it is taking place at a number of locations."

There are some who question claims that the North conducts human trials. But Kim says he has interviewed hundred of defectors who, more times than not, volunteer personal vivid accounts.

"The programme is now a commonly known fact in the North Korean public," he says.

As a former member of the elite special forces, Im agrees.

While the government may be secretive about a lot of things, he says "when it comes to human experimentation, most know it happens".

Investigating what he says are serious UN violations regarding the rights of children and prisoners, Kim Sang-hun has amassed a vast amount of evidence.
Dr Josef Mengele would be right at home. So would Dr John Heller who said
The men's status did not warrant ethical debate. They were subjects, not patients; clinical material, not sick people.

A Bear of Very Little Brain

From the NYT (while it's still there):
It was built to be impenetrable, from its “super rugged transparent polycarbonate housing” to its intricate double-tabbed lid that would keep campers’ food in and bears’ paws out.
Some canisters fail in the testing stage when large bears are able to rip off the lid. But wildlife officials say that Yellow-Yellow, a 125-pound bear named for two yellow ear tags that help wildlife officials keep tabs on her, has managed to systematically decipher a complex locking system that confounds even some campers.
Similar to a childproof medicine bottle, the BearVault 350 and 400 models can be opened by pressing a tab that allows the camper to screw off the lid. But reports began coming in from campers a few years ago that BearVaults were being broken into. State wildlife officials began suspecting Yellow-Yellow, one of a number of bears they have tagged and tracked as a way of studying the behavior of the more than 5,000 bears roaming the Adirondacks.

In most BearVault break-ins, Yellow-Yellow’s radio collar indicated she had been in the area. Eventually, campers began spotting her from afar rifling canisters. There have been no reports of her threatening anyone.

So last year Mr. Hogan introduced the 450, a two-pound cylinder costing about $60, and a larger version, the 500, each with a second tab. On them, a camper must press in one tab, turn the lid partway, then press the second tab to remove the lid. “We thought, ‘O.K., well, one bump didn’t work so maybe two bumps will thwart her,’ ” he said.

But Yellow-Yellow figured that lid out, too.

Last month, her achievements were noted in an article in Adirondack Explorer. And she now appears to have apprentices; campers have reported seeing other bears getting into their BearVaults.
It is not certain exactly how Yellow-Yellow plundered campers’ Italian sausages and granola bars, but she apparently depresses one tab with her teeth, turns the lid, uses her teeth on the second tab, and then opens it.
Ben Tabor, a state wildlife technician who has tracked Yellow-Yellow, said the evidence on the canister supports that theory. (He watched her tackle a BearVault two years ago, although he was too far away to determine her method. ) He doubts, however, that she has out-of-the-ordinary intelligence. “I don’t think she’s smarter than most bears,” he said. “I think she’s had more time to learn.”
But of course, they're only animals. Operating from instinct. They certainly don't learn, and teach others, like intelligent creatures do.

Yeah, right.

Monday 27 July 2009

Not quite another Piece of the Puzzle - Yet

But there soon will be one. And an existing piece has received a bit of a polish.

Two comments by Prof Italiano over at Theosophical Ruminations:
Dear Zoe, You mentioned the study by Cohen-Kettenis on 5 Alpha Reductase 2 deficiency and 17 Beta HSD 3 deficiency. I might add that this study was in the infamous ASB journal and Cohen-Kettenis seems to be adversely influenced by some of those people. For instance, she noted that some individuals develop a male gender identity and some develop a female gender identity in each of the two conditions and that this is independent of the severity of the mutation. She cites the noted endocrinologist Jean D. Wilson and his research on this. She then goes on to attribute the difference in the gender outcomes which are independent of the severity of the mutation to social factors, while completely OMITTING that Dr. Wilson suggested that the difference in gender identity outcomes which are independent of the severity of the mutation, are the result of variations in the compensation of alternative enzymatic pathways.
Peggy Cohen-Ketternis's work is quoted at BiGender and the Brain - and the rest of that article strongly points to a biological cause for the difference in gender outcomes. I wasn't aware of Dr Wilson's commentary, but the rest of the evidence, and Prof Ecker's later work, pointed very much in that direction.

The next comment is interesting, because it promises yet more evidence. Probably just confirming what we think we know, but if we're lucky, will point us in new directions instead.

You see, that's what I'm trying to do. Not push any particular line. I go where the evidence takes me, and where it's taking me is for a strict biological causation. Science though advances very slowly by accretion of evidence confirming what we think we know: the really exciting stuff is when we get to say "hmmm... that's odd", when evidence doesn't fit our neat theories. Now I don't think we will, but who knows, we might be lucky. I'd be astonished at this point if we were though, things look pretty clear and consistent.
Dear Zoe and Jason, You should note that there are more studies. I just gave a few examples. For instance, Talaya McCright-Gill has just published her undergraduate thesis where she investigated transsexuals and have found that the transsexuals respond in accord with their gender identity and brain sex and not according to their genital anatomy on a verbal memory task in the amygdala which is the seat of human emotional memory. Numerous studies by Larry Cahill (UC Irvine) have demonstrated that men and women differ in the response of the amygdala as demonstrated by functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging.
The transsexuals brains typed according to the sex they think they are and none of them were treated with hormones. It should be noted that the BSTc connects the hypothalamus to the amygdala.
Another study which will be out is another one by Eillen Luders group (with Arthur Toga). They have found in untreated transsexuals cortical thickness which corresponds to the brain sex and gender identity with which the transsexuals believe that they are and in discordance with the genital anatomy. Their group (number is 24) have not been treated with hormones either.
Here's Talaya McRight-Gill's description of her thesis:
Thesis title: "Brain Processing of Emotional Information in Transgender Individuals"
Mentors: Julie Dumas, Psychiatry, and Larry Rudiger, Psychology
Major: Psychology and Sociology
Background: My home is Brooklyn, NY. I am currently applying for Teach for America, and hope to teach after graduation. I love basketball and my favorite player is Shaquille O'Neal.

When I began the thesis process in January of this year (2008) I had no idea what I wanted to do it on, but I lucked out and my topic sort of just fell into my lap. I have been working for the Clinical Neuroscience Research Unit since my freshman year and during my time there they have conducted various clinical trials exploring memory functioning with the use of functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). So, when it was time to begin my senior thesis it was only natural that it involves memory and the use of fMRI. While discussing my thesis ideas with my boss and mentor we decided to incorporate transgender individuals into my thesis. After some research and much thought we finally came up with a topic.

For my senior thesis I am conducting a brain imaging study to examine the emotional memory and related brain activation in transgender individuals in order to learn more about the relationship between gender, hormones and the sexually dimorphic pattern of brain activation observed for remembering emotional information. We are looking to see if transgender individuals have brain lateralization in congruence with their gender identity rather than their biological sex.

Since my thesis involves the use of human participants I have had to apply for IRB approval which is something that many students writing a thesis will not have to do. The IRB process was very intense for me. I had to fill out an extensive application that required me to clearly define the reasons for the study, how we were going to implement the study, the criteria we would use to include and exclude participants, as well as background information that supported my hypothesis. I also had to explain the precautions we had taken to ensure participant safety. Finally I had to write a consent form clearly explaining the study and the possible benefits and risks for participants. After I completed the application, the IRB board had to discuss my work and then they sent me questions which required that I resubmit my proposal with the revisions and answers to their questions before I could receive approval from the IRB. It took me a total of about two months to complete the application, wait for it to be viewed and submit the revisions which also had to be reviewed, before I was able to get IRB approval and start recruiting.

I am currently still recruiting for my thesis and I have scanned 4 participants in the MRI machine to date. As for the writing part of the thesis I have completed two sections thus far, the abstract and methods sections. I would suggest that you break your thesis down into sections and write them separately bit by bit as you go along throughout the year. By doing this it should make the task of writing such a long paper less daunting. At least it has for me.
Science is a very human occupation, you see. No matter what she finds, I wish her well - and she has my personal thanks. My thanks to Professor Italiano as well. I'm just an amateur, a systematiser, someone who takes others' work and shows how different pieces of knowledge from different disciplines lead to a coherent picture. I put the pieces of the puzzle together, but I rely on others to do the real work of discovering them, teasing out Nature's secrets from the raw stuff of the Universe.

Friday 24 July 2009

A name for it (Triple Word Score)

While doing some research on something else entirely - my PhD on genetic algorithms - I came across the technical name for my condition. Protandrous pseudohermaphroditism.

The protagonist in Heinlein's "All you Zombies" was a protogynous hermaphrodite. Another form of serial hermaphroditism, or Dichogamy.

Another case appears to be in this ABC story. Chloe Prince, whose change was different in etiology, and took rather longer, but involved similar issues. She however had crossdressed for many years to relieve her discomfort, whereas I was a complete novice who had to learn a lot in 3 months, not 3 years. And I had rather more consultation with my partner.

The issues for the most important people though, our children, were and are identical. Andrew turned 8 the other day. I'm still his Father, not his Mother, and he gives me a card on Father's day. It's just that his Father is a Girl.

Maybe I should tell Wikipedia that it's not just confined to "some fishes, gastropods, and most flowering plants.".

Nah. That's close enough. For them it's the norm, for mammals... unusual.

Bear with me - my regular readers will know all this, so you can skip it if you're one of them. But I still get new visitors here who haven't been through the archives. They go back 6 years, after all.

Most dichogamous humans are protogyneous pseudohermaphrodites, due to either 5ARD syndrome or 17BHDD syndrome.

There are not many of us. Maybe 5,000 in the USA. It's easier just telling people we're transsexual, rather than going into the details of the natural change.

You know that your life is going to be interesting, complicated and not without difficulty when you hide amongst transsexual people so as not to appear to be too unusual.

The terms "pseudohermaphrodite" and "hermaphrodite" are deprecated though. We prefer to have our various conditions lumped under the term "Intersexed", that is, if they're not split into their proper names - Kleinfelter Syndrome, Kalman Syndrome, Turner Syndrome, CAI Syndrome, PAI syndrome, CAH syndrome, MGD syndrome, PMD syndrome etc etc.

Most Intersexed people, while their appearance may be ambiguous, or they may have chromosomes at odds with their apparent sex, look the same from birth. Those who change from looking mostly like one sex to looking mostly like the other are a distinct minority. Most are homogamous.

Thursday 23 July 2009

Losing my Objectivity

Maybe I've been hiding from the difficulties, burying myself in research on what the FARNARCKLE happened in 2005. Treating it objectively, dispassionately as a defence mechanism.

Or maybe it was because I had picked the name "Zoe" in 1968. Before the change, I was a transsexual woman, not that I knew that.

I had hoped that every one of us that this happened to was in a similar situation. My pollyanna-ish views got shaken by the story of Terry Wright in the UK, but maybe that was a glitch, an anomaly. Or just plain mis-reporting.

But it seems not, and that has shaken me out of my objectivity. I knew this kind of thing was very likely to be under-reported for obvious reasons, but had managed not to think about the consequences.

From a recent e-mail:
Your initial reaction was very similar to those received from anyone connected to the medical field. I was also told by the Asst. Director of Research at the University of (redacted) that she could not reccommend any course of action nor any doctor that could help

I can assure you that the one thing I am is not, is psychotic or delusional. As to acceptance of my condition, it is predicated on accepting what evidently cannot be changed. This acceptance occurred over at least two years of research, learning virtually nothing, and learning to live as a female. Believe me when I say that it is far easier to live as a male. I also have a wife of some 38 years ..... My hiding has more to do with the legal complications of staying married. and giving her a decent life.

I am in (redacted). the home of the (famous medical establishment name redacted) and I have found a doctor who may be of some help. However, since I do research for a living I have found that people talk, and that the medical field is no exception. Need I say more.


If I had been a guy... with some degree of being BiGendered... I could have written something very like that.

Now I have to help them, when all my research over 4 years has found Zip, Nada, Nothing.

Then there's this:
One day, while out on a motorcycle ride, Ted was stung several times by a bee. He was severely allergic to bee stings, so Rene rushed him to the hospital.

"They start putting me on IVs of epinephrine and different hormones, trying to counter and stop this bee sting reaction," Chloe said.

A blood test at the hospital led to an endocrinologist and a diagnosis that Chloe said explained why she had felt so different her whole life.

"They sat me down and they said, 'Are you aware of having Klinefelter's syndrome?' And I [said] 'No, what is that? Never heard of [it].'"

Klinefelter's syndrome is one of the most common chromosomal abnormalities in humans. Normally, a male is born with XY chromosomes and a female XX, but an estimated one in every 500 boys is born XXY. One of the main side effects of Klinefelter's syndrome is a much lower level of testosterone than the average male.

The news of his medical condition was a moment of clarity for Ted, who for so long had struggled with gender identity issues.

"The veil was off," said Chloe. "I was like, this is why, you know, I tap dance like a little cat on the fence of the gender line -- why I can't commit to either side. Appearance-wise, I look like every other male, but on a DNA-chromosomal scale, I was neither."

Chloe says the doctors told them that the severity of the sting had essentially reset Ted's endocrine system, according to Chloe. Gradually, his body started to change. Initially, Rene thought Ted was gaining weight, but they knew something else was going on when he started developing breasts.

"I had muscular arms, [but] all that started to change with Klinefelter's shifting the dynamics of my endocrine system. I could see that the fat density in my face and my body, the softness of my skin, my muscular features were all changing at that point," Chloe said.

With an actual medical diagnosis to help explain why he had felt different his whole life, Ted felt free to express his true identity.

"I wanted to physically align my body in appearance with how I felt inside. I wanted to be authentically myself -- which was female. I didn't feel like I needed to prove myself anymore to my father, to the world, to my mom. I didn't need to be a man."

But for Rene, it was incredibly painful to watch the man she loved disappear.
For some of us - the transsexual women - a natural transition is a wonderful miracle. But it may be something quite different to those we love. Our wives (wives??? how can I have a wife? I'm a woman!), and our children.

Chloe's transsexuality was far worse than mine. She too went to see Dr Suporn - he's good with cases of Intersex - and she got both genital reconstruction, and the full facial faminisation surgery too. She probably didn't need it, but she desperately wanted it. And she's beautiful. I.... don't need it. And my face isn't beautiful. But it's mine, and I don't think facial reconstruction would help me much anyway. Dr Suporn said as much - the things he can really improve, I was already there, and the flaws were something he couldn't do more than make marginal improvements on. An improvement, certainly - just marginal. He didn't think it was worth it.

Oh yes, there's the $25,000 cost as well. Money that could better be spent helping others, or put into my son's educational fund.

How to get the medics interested in looking at this area? I don't know. It seems that every second case has a new etiology, a different cause. Even in aggregate, there's perhaps 20 cases recorded worldwide. And every one of us has been told "er, we don't know what's happening, and we can't do anything about it". One has damage to the pituitary, causing excess prolactin. Another is 47xxy and has the endocrine system reset by massive anaphaleptic shock. Another few are 45x/45xy and feminise at puberty. Another few have late-onset complete androgen insensitivity syndrome, associated with anomalous uptake of estrogen - this may be the most common cause. And in my case... we haven't got a clue. I got a reset of my hormonal balance to female, but that can't explain the rapidity of the change, or the androgen weirdness since. I'm 46xy, not 47xxy. It appears now that some other cases are even more inexplicable, and the change more complete.

The only thing we have in common is that we all look (somewhat, mostly, or completely) male before, and (somewhat, mostly, or completely) female afterwards. And that it's those around us who are "collateral damage". Not only is my own case unique, but my family is too. My partner. My child. I've neither harmed nor lost them, or even upset them appreciably. Carmel knew, even if I managed to hide it from everyone else, especially myself. She loved me anyway. As I love her. Even though we're both straight.

I want to help those not as outrageously lucky as I was. I want to help them, and I want to help their families. I particularly want to help those to whom a female gender is not natural, not who they really are, even if they can function in that role. But I feel so helpless. My Objectivity? That's lost, I care too much.

Wednesday 22 July 2009

Today's Battles

An ongoing discussion at A Christian Voice :
News from MASSResistance about a new Hate Crimes Law that if passed here will be one of the most oppressive hate crimes law ever placed in America.
Despite the fact that he quotes one of the most notoriously mendacious hate groups on the web, the author is a decent man. He just needs a little more information, to widen his sources a bit. I and a few others are attempting to do that.

Bad - or at best, Mixed - News from the Kiplinger Business Resource Centre :
Odds are good that Congress will pass a bill to ban job discrimination based on sexual orientation. It will expand current federal employment law, which bars bias on the basis of a worker’s race, religion, gender, national origin, age or disability.

The legislation will not apply to small businesses with fewer than 15 employees, the military or religious organizations. The House is likely to act by fall and the Senate by the end of the year. President Obama is sure to sign it.

Less certain is whether the final legislation will also include a ban on discrimination of transgendered persons, which is more controversial. The antidiscrimination bill, introduced by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), does include such gender identity protections, but employer groups are concerned about that provision. For example, the Society for Human Resource Management says that while it will support sexual orientation discrimination protection, it will not support gender identity protections.
*SIGH* And from the comments:
POSTED BY: Joe (July 15, 2009 06:02 PM)
This falls into the category of who cares. Seems to be a law to protect something that is not a problem. I am not gay but have relatives and friends who are and they have no issues with it at work. Waste of time.
So I quoted from the Willaims Institute report, which I've blogged about before.
A survey in the NE states showed 35% [of trans people] were unemployed, 25% part-time employed, and for those in fulltime employment, average salary was $15,000. Figures for gays and lesbians are nowhere near as bad, but perhaps double the usual unemployment rate. For trans people, it's 12 times.
I think any minority group with such figures shows that a real problem exists.

On to CNS News, and a story that on the face of it, seems like bureaucracy gone mad.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee’s health care legislation will give the Health and Human Services secretary the authority to develop “standards of measuring gender” -- as opposed to using the traditional "male" and "female" categories -- in a database of all who apply or participate in government-run or government-supported health care plans.
Plus a lot more data besides - which I view with some considerable distrust. Never mind, on to the comments:
Panama City Tom
How To Measure Gender (Gender and Gender Identity May Only Be Male or Female and Dreaming or Wishful Thinking Does Not Count): Determine whether or not the sexual organ (penis/clitoris) contains urethra. Classify those who naturally have urethra inside sexual organ as male. Classify those who do not naturally have urethra inside sexual organ as female. Other measurements of gender are prohibited;
I was a bit snarky there:
Panama City Tom - your suggestion, while original, wouldn't work for those with the worst cases of one of the more common Intersex conditions - Hypospadias. Some of the boys born with this can still father children (with technical help), but you'd classify them as female. Even if they looked as male as Arnie the Gubernator, which some do. I must give you 10/10 for original thinking though, defining sex depending on the position of the last few centimeters of the urinary tract. Opening a millimeter one way, male, the other way, female, despite all other somatic characteristics.
One commenter wrote:
Since when is determining the sex of one person so bloody hard.
Reasonable question. So I told them, in the 1000 characters allowed.

Jason of Theosophical Musings attempts to deal charitably with the issue of Transsexuality from a Theological perspective. Poor guy, he's so far out of his depth he must feel like he's been run over by a bus. One driven by Sophia Seidelberg of OII, and with one Zoe Brain as conductress. And Prof Italiano along to give commentary.
First, this blog post was about people who have perfectly normal biology, but feel that they are the opposite gender and thus undergo a sex change so that their body conforms to their sexual self-image....
My reply:
Such people may exist. I think they probably do. But we have no evidence of it.

Every transsexual person ever tested has been found to be partly male, partly female in their bodies. Every single one. None have normal biology.

The trouble is that it’s not obvious. It’s the brain that is affected – though other parts may be too – not the external genitalia or chromosomes.
And considerably more.

Finally, from the Boston Globe :
Opponents of transgender rights bill employ scare tactics
July 21, 2009

I AM writing in response to the hearing on An Act Relative to Gender-Based Discrimination and Hate Crimes, also known as the transgender civil rights bill, that the state’s Joint Committee on the Judiciary heard on July 14. I attended the hearing, and I was shocked and saddened at how often opponents to the bill brought up sexual assault in bathrooms. I am offended that they prey upon my experience as a woman to try to engender fear and hatred for transgender people instead of presenting any reasoned and rational opposition to protecting our citizens’ civil rights.
And the comments:
JadedBarbie wrote:
The comments here [with the exception of a couple of intelligent ones] are worth the entertainment their ignorance or bigotry sometimes brings....

Dand66 wrote:
While I think the "transgendered" person is mentally ill, you lot are the ones that are sick for encouraging them to scar themselves rather than get treatment...

Dand66 wrote:
I never meant to imply that I thought you should be denied a job, a home or the ability to use the bathroom unimpeded. No one has any right to discriminate against you for any reason, regardless of how they feel about you....

Frj256 wrote:
Gender is "cut and dried." The true gender of a person is define is his/her chromosomes and he/she is not able to change it. This so-called rights bill is a fraud and these people are in need of medical attention.....
And my replies:
Except they do, from a legal standpoint. It's currently illegal to deny someone a job, or a home, or a loan, or the right to use a drinking fountain just because they're gay, or catholic, or black.

But it's just jim-dandy to do that to a trans person. To deny them a job, or a home, or a loan, or the right to use a drinking fountain just because they are trans. It's perfectly legal, and a substantial minority think that it always should be. Hence the hard core of the opposition to this bill, the people who know that in 33 years there has never been a "bathroom issue" for the 38% of the US population already covered by these laws. They continue manufacturing a classic "scare campaign" as they know their real agenda is unacceptable to people like yourself. And many people, reasonable people of goodwill, believe them, because they're unaware of the evidence.....

Male is 46xy, and Female 46xx, right? Except for those who have Kleinfelter syndrome, 47xxy. Most of whom are male, some of whom have fathered children, but some are female and have given birth.

Or there's the chimeras and mosaics, with either 46xx or 46xy chromosomes, depending on which part of their body you look at.

Then there's the xy females, with Swyer syndrome (who can give birth), and CAI syndrome (who can't). And the xx males, with CAH syndrome or De La Chapelle syndrome....
The process of education, of calmly presenting facts never ends. And sometime, some of those that are the most vocal in their initial opposition come around quite quickly when you just show them the evidence. Even the fact that a letter to the editor like this one can be written, and then published, is a sign of progress.

Moving the mountain one teaspoonful at a time.

Tuesday 21 July 2009

Monday 20 July 2009

40 Years Ago, Today

The Lunar Reconaissance Orbiter's view of the Apollo-11 landing site. That little dark dash in the centre of the picture is the shadow cast by the Lunar Landing Module descent stage, which remained on the Moon. You can clearly see next to it the "crater the size of a football field" that they had to avoid when landing. Only about 30 metres across, but a pardonable exaggeration under the circumstances.

More pictures of other Apollo landing sites are at the NASA LRO page.

We Must All Make Sacrifices To Stop Global Warming

From Quadrant Magazine, with apologies to Johnathan Swift's "A Modest Proposal" : The Aztec Solution:
Climate modelling of new data from the Aztec Codex Cihuacoatl has identified a relationship with important implications for global warming mitigation. The research suggests a strong causal pathway exists between climate change and Aztec rituals of “nourishing the gods” with blood sacrifice.

The evidence supports a revival of (humane) human sacrifice (HHS) as a mechanism for retarding environmental degradation and reducing dangerous climate change. HHS also would improve crop yields by allowing more effective control of surface temperature and rainfall; create anthropogenic biochar for soil enhancement and long-term carbon enrichment, especially in tropical environments with low-carbon sequestration capacity and depleted ferrasol and acrisol zones; and reduce population growth rates as the Earth’s carrying capacity comes under further pressure this century....
Michael Kile is author of No Room at Nature’s Mighty Feast: Reflections on the Growth of Humankind. He is also a Perth playwright. Grateful acknowledgement is made to Mexico’s Institute Nacional de Antropologia e Historia, the Bibliothèque de l’Assemblée Nationale in Paris, and the World Climate Research Programme for research assistance.
At least... I hope it's tongue-in-cheek.

Saturday 18 July 2009

Passports - The Aftermath

Longtime readers of this blog will know about the battles I had over 20 months to gain a passport.

The Australian Passport Office now has a new policy on the subject. Actually, not so much a new policy, as going back to the future - or rather, back to the far more humane policy they used to have.

It's detailed on their website, rather than being some big secret (as it used to be - so secret that even they didn't know it). And I'm not sure I could improve on it. All of our requested requirements have been met, and there's even a paragraph about assessing applications not within the guidelines on their merits, rather than adhering to rules that don't fit.

Had this policy been in place in 2005, it would have saved me much heartache, quite a few tears, not to say inummerable letters to ministers and bureaucrats and visits to lawyers. Some money too.

The whole schlemozzle is detailed in this set of posts. But it has had a happy ending, and normal human decency has prevailed. Not before time, but we got there in the end.

Friday 17 July 2009

Today's Battles

More on "Bathroom Bills" again. This time, Massachussets House Bill 1728.

From the Boston Herald:
Transgender bathrooms coming soon???

Today at the State House there will be a hearing on House Bill 1728–An Act Relative to Gender Based Discrimination and Hate Crimes.

If this bill is passed public bathrooms across the Commonwealth will no longer be separated based on gender — male and female. Men will be able to use the lady’s room and women will be able to visit the men’s room. I suppose putting urinals in lady’s rooms is next....
This has led to the desired hysteria in the comments section, of course:
I wonder how all these bleeding heart liberal scumbags are going to feel when their young daughter is molested in a bathroom and the piece of dirt says he’s a trangender woman and he has the right to be in the woman’s room.This opens up so many bad doors.
Comment by disappointed again in Ma. - July 14, 2009 @ 8:00 am
It's also led to some voices of sanity and reason having a debate:

There are already laws such as this one in many other states and also in Cambridge, Boston, Amherst, and Northampton & there have been no complaints of men trying to use the ladies’ room in order to prey upon women. No one is trying to legalize criminal behavior in bathrooms with this bill. Yes, some people may be uncomfortable with the idea, but being uncomfortable has never been sufficient justification to deny other people their civil rights and equal protection under the law.
Comment by christie - July 14, 2009 @ 9:06 am

Wow…the bathroom argument still brings out the lunatics. The public bathroom argument gets dusted off every few years and has been used to defeat all kinds of legislation; Equal Rights Ammendment being the most notable.
The host continues to show that she will go to the bottom of the political gutter to find a wedge issue. I knew she was a tough politico, but not literally a gutter fighter.
Comment by rufuswithchakakhan - July 14, 2009 @ 10:02 am

You’re an idiot. Have you actually read the bill? Do you have any comprehension of what it actually does? Of course not. You’re “the lone Republican” and that apparently prevents you from anything resembling meaningful policy analysis. Easier to phone it in and inflate bogus arguments that rile up your fan base.
Comment by Andy - July 14, 2009 @ 1:01 pm

Well, Andy, you seem to have read it so why don’t you enlighten us.
Comment by LibsWreckedMA - July 14, 2009 @ 7:31 pm


@LibsWreckedMA - the bill adds the words “gender identity or expression” to existing legislation, along with the existing categories of race, sex, sexual orientation and religion.

That’s it.

Not a word about bathrooms in it.

The full text is available online for anyone to read at

But those opposing it rely on people not reading it, and believing their, er, counter-factual, claims.
Comment by Zoe Brain - July 15, 2009 @ 1:04 pm

On to In My Arrogant Opinion - IMAO, a conservative blog that's usually quite good, even if it delights in being in-your-face. And this post:
Just Checking
Posted by Frank J. on July 15, 2009 at 3:20 pm

In Massachusetts, east coast land of useless idiots, they’re passing a transgender right bill to make sure people can use the bathroom of whatever gender they personally identify with. Some people are protesting it (how could anyone find anything wrong with it?), and this passage jumped out at me:
Timothy Tracey, a lawyer with the conservative Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund, told members of the Committee on the Judiciary that the bill infringes on the religious rights of those who believe that men and women are different.
It’s been a little while since my last biology class, but there is actually a scientific distinction of men and women too, right? Or am I the one who is confused
Not too bad, a bit of snark, but inviting a rational response. Unfortunately, some of the commenters are less rational. Some are merely snarky, some extremely funny, others... well, I'll let them speak for themselves.
BigRichardSmall says:
July 15th, 2009 at 4:12 pm
They tried this at the local University, calling them “Family Bathrooms”. When did we as a society start deciding the whole needs to accomadate the retarded few. This is the place that gave us the Kennedys, John Kerry, and was so liberal it made Mitt Romnney Pro-Choice, I predict it’ll pass.
Son of Bob says:
July 15th, 2009 at 4:23 pm
That’ll be great for the little girls in Massachusetts to have grown men hanging out in their restrooms, simply claiming they identify themselves as females. Sounds to me like they’ve got some real intelligent, responsible representatives in Massachusetts.
Live Free Or Die says:
July 15th, 2009 at 5:13 pm
As a Hater-of-all-things-Massachusetts, they deserve this to become law. “From Hell’s heart I stab at thee! For hate’s sake, I spit my last breath at thee!” “I blow my nose at you!” “I fart in your general direction!”>>>Teddy Kennedy,John Kerry,Bawny Fwank,Gerry Studds,Duvall Patrick,RedSux Fans,Bill Bellicheat,The Big Dig…..Nuking them is too merciful.
# Kat says:
July 15th, 2009 at 11:27 pm
This attitude is something that seriously bothers me about fellow conservatives.

I have many friends who are intersexed - they have a congenital condition that means they are not entirely male, and not entirely female. In one case, the person is a true hermaphrodite. In another, the person has a hormonal condition, combined with a dichotomy between brain and body. In a third, the person has Harry Benjamin Syndrome, where the brain is female, and the body male.

All of them are treated as second class citizens because of something they cannot control. It is legal to fire them from jobs because they are transgender. It is legal to keep them from renting or buying a home. Protections we take for granted are denied an entire group of people because of a medical problem.

And yet conservatives, the heralds of “personal responsibility” and “freedom,” sit back and make fun of them, call them “shim” or “shemale.” Accuse them of being paedophiles or sexual offenders.

I’m not going to quote studies or give stats. I’ll leave that to Zoe Brain. She’s much better at it than I. But I will say that this sort of intolerance is what gives Republicans and conservatives a bad name, and makes me rethink my political associations.

[Great idea. You now be for higher taxes and less freedom. -Ed.]
Kat says:
July 16th, 2009 at 10:36 am

Thank you so much for the Editor’s note! It makes me feel warm and fuzzy to know that just because I question something on the Right, I’m now automatically a Lefty, rather than simply a disgruntled conservative.

Yes, I do run with an odd crowd. They’re called humans. Some might be a bit weirder than others, but then, I’ve never claimed to be normal.

Zoe happens to be one of those humans. So her posts encompass more than just her biological oddities. She likes to post about pop culture every once in a while, and frequently has a different perspective on current events because of her background in science. So she uses big words. I understand them, do you?

A quote from her site: “It’s legal to persecute the transgendered in 37 states, but in 13 it isn’t. Yet in those 13 states, there have never been these mythical “bathroom issues”. Not once. Oh, perverts have used womens (sic) facilities as places to attack, rarely, but they’ve never tried to use the human rights legislation, either mentioning “sex” or “gender identity” as a defence. Not once in 33 years.”

All of you are assuming that it is a choice for trangendered men and women to be outcasts. That they want to be reviled, end up homeless (est. 40%) or murdered (est. 1 in 7). Stop and think for a moment what kind of hell they must be going through, to be trapped in the wrong body and want so badly to get out. Imagine if YOU were in that position, where your brain was telling you “I’m a guy” and your body looked female. Or, worse, that your body didn’t quite look one or the other, and your genes were a bit too messed up to be able to use that. Kleinfelter’s syndrome is where the chromosomes are XXY rather than XX or XY. Mosaicism is where some parts of the body are XX, others are XY. In both cases, there’s no clear answer. And this isn’t as rare as we’d like to think. Gender and Sex aren’t quite as cut-and-dry as we’re taught in high school biology.

I understand, this is a humour site, and most of you are cracking jokes because it’s funny. But it’s not funny to a lot of people. It’s a serious situation, and this sort of reaction does quite a bit of harm, because it encourages ignorance, rather than compassion and understanding for a weird and vilified medical condition. Would you make fun of someone with heart disease who needed a bypass? How about a woman who needed a hysterectomy because of a chronic condition? Why is being intersexed any different?

Sorry. This ended up a lot longer than I intended. It’s a topic I feel particularly passionate about.
DesertElephant says:
July 16th, 2009 at 12:57 pm
Woman trapped in man’s body, and vice versa, is Bullshit. Pure and unadulterated Bullshit. Man up, girly boy. Get a bit more feminine, uber-butch chicks.

Anyone that thinks they are trapped in the body of the opposite gender can go ahead and go to the place the DSM IV used to put them until the mental health community stopped practicing medicine and started excusing every sexual sickness and perversion as beyond the control of the person: a Loony Bin. They even have nice jackets that force you to hug yourself. Should make the super girly men and uber-butch chicks feel better about themselves.

I could give a rat’s ass about what you feel inside. Restroom assignment is an issue of human plumbing. Full Stop. Those with external fixtures go to the Boy’s room, those with internal to the Girl’s. If you can’t handle the ridicule coming from the other restroom occupants because you were born with a human spigot, but like dresses, buck up and deal with it. Screw the Tyranny of the Few and Aberrant.

I don’t advocate physically harming the mentally ill, but if they press the issue, forcing their will on a large number of folks, then I’ll laugh my ass off at the news report of the dude in the dress with the black eyes and fat lip.
My rebuttal was at length. As you can imagine. With just a soupcon of snark.
I may be aberrant - heck, “freakish” is closer. But at least I’m not a piece of ambulatory offal, a miserable failure at being human, who gets their jollies by seeing others beaten up because they “look funny”. As some do.
Not mentioning any names of course.
...the results are not just arrogant opinions, but ignorant ones like some expressed here. Arrogance is excusable when it’s informed. Ignorance is curable by education. But bigotry, that’s invincible ignorance married to implacable arrogance. Pride in stupidity, with more than a hint of cruelty, something more often found on the Left than the Right.
And anyone who wishes to argue that last point, I point to the misogynistic hatred directed by all too many on the Left at Sarah Palin for having the temerity not to abort a child with Downes syndrome. It's a matter of degree though, bigotry is egalitarian and equal-opportunity.

Oops - it's not the humidity, it's the heat

There is a reason why solid rocket boosters haven't been used to launch crewed vehicles. Except for the shuttle, and there the escape system involved flying the crew some distance cross-range, well away from the anomaly.

When solid rocket boosters do catastrophically disassemble in flight, the results can lead to large thermal excursions over a significant volume of space and time. Or, to put it bluntly, if they explode, instead of one big flash fireball as with liquid propellants, they produce a shower of burning debris that will continue to burn at over 2000K. A hailstorm of fire. As with this anomaly during a Delta-II launch, where 8 relatively small SRB (solid rocket boosters) disassembled in flight:

Being anywhere near the anomalous event poses some considerable thermal dangers. The pieces of burning rocket fuel are hot - so hot that they radiate heat that will crisp things some distance away. Unlike normal debris, they don't have to actually hit to cause harm - just being in the vicinity for awhile is enough to ruin your whole day. Cars near pieces of burning rocket fuel had windshields and alloy wheels melt, just from the thermal radiation.

Some TLA's - Three Letter Acronyms - that may be useful in understanding the report given below:

LAS - Launch Abort System - the device that gets the crew away from where Bad Stuff(tm) happened, and is happening, so they safely descend to the ground by parachute.
MET - Mission Elapsed Time - time since the thing starts up.
fps - feet per second - 100 fps is about 30 metres per second.

Here's an LAS under test - this one the alternate design for Ares-I:

From : USAF 45th Space Wing Study: Capsule~100%-Fratricide Environments (Implications for NASA's Ares-1 and Crew) released Thursday, July 16, 2009:

A) FRAG VELOCITY DISTRIBUTION. Propellant fragments expand...

- as a spherical "shell" (i.e. of comparable velocity magnitudes - leaving little distribution of propellant fragments within, or beyond, the "shell")

- At fairly "tight" ranges, from approximately 300-500 fps (some outliers, each side), with betas from ~20-700 lbm/sqft.
B) CAPSULE ~100% FRATRICIDE by SECONDARY RADIATIVE WILTING of NYLON CHUTES The capsule will not survive an abort between MET's of ~30 and 60 seconds - as the capsule is engulfed until water-impact by solid propellant fragments radiating heat from 4,000F toward the nylon parachute material (with a melt-temperature of ~400F).

Illustrate Capsule Abort Environment. Illustrate the effect of this solid propellant debris on the Constellation Capsule (particularly the thermalradiative temperature environment of ~4000F while attempting to recover the capsule by deployment of 400F-tolerant nylon parachutes - showing the "probability of hit" is not an indicator of fratricide. A Ph>0 indicates capsule has failed to egress the debris cloud, then thermal induces the Loss of Crew).

* The 45th-Space Wing has reasonable assessments for solid propellant debris fragment masses, velocities, etc.

* The Ares-1 capsule, with an LAS, will 25 not survive an abort between MET's of ~30-60 seconds.

(High-Q is a risk from ~20-75 sec)
In other words... although the descending capsule might not be hit by any falling, flaming debris - and probably won't - just being anywhere in the debris cloud will be enough to cause the parachutes to melt. Oops.

So what's the solution? Flame-retardant fabrics are no good, fire isn't the problem, heat is. Parachute fabrics that are able to tolerate that environment, yet remain strong enough and light enough probably don't exist, and would have to be tested anyway. You'd really have to have a LAS that will take the crew some considerable distance cross-range, well away from the debris cloud, before starting to descend. And that will take a lot of doing, a lot of weight.

Ares-I as a concept was supposed to be a quite specialised beast. Only designed to put the crew and the Orion capsule into orbit, but to do so with the ultimate in safety. To trade off performance for a system that would ensure crew safety, no matter what went wrong. So far they've just managed to make a system that will definitely, rather than probably, kill the crew if we get a primary booster anomaly from 30 to 60 seconds in the flight.


Thursday 16 July 2009

We Choose The Moon

Well, we did 40 years ago. has a live broadcast - with a 40 year delay - of the astronauts transmissions as they were received.

Wednesday 15 July 2009

Lead Us Not Into Temptation

From the ABC (the US one, not the Australian Broadcasting Corporation):
Honest people don't have to work at not cheating. They're not even tempted.

Neuroscientists at Harvard University conducted an experiment in which they were able to predict by looking at brain scans whether people were cheating or telling the truth. The scientists cautioned, however, that they are still far from being able to apply the technology to real-world situations.
In each round, fMRI was used to record brain activity in the prefrontal cortex and other regions associated with decision making and behavioural control.

Honest players showed no increase in brain activity when they had a chance to cheat, suggesting that they didn't have to make a conscious effort to be honest. In contrast, dishonest players showed increased brain activity whenever they had a chance to cheat – even when they reported (presumably truthfully) that they had lost.

I'm not sure I agree with their definition of "honesty". Someone to whom the idea of being false is literally unthinkable isn't so much being honest, as being true.

Someone who is aware of the possibility of gaining by lying, but choses to tell the truth anyway because that's the right thing to do, that's being honest.

And I'd much rather trust such a person outside that context than someone who isn't even tempted. Because those who haven't been tempted have never been tested, and there may come a time when they do encounter temptation in another context - and may fail.

In that regard, in most contexts I'm not honest, merely true. Sometimes I get surprised at what others regard as "normal behaviour", especially in a legal context. I could never perjure myself, or plead guilty to something I hadn't done to get a minor sentence, merely to avoid an inevitable finding of guilt and a far more severe punishment. The whole concept of doing that is just beyond my ken.

I think that's a matter of ego rather than something more creditable though. Brutally, when stripped of all pretense and self-deception, the only person whose opinion of myself I value is me. The world may think I should be ashamed of myself, but as long as I know that I've not done anything wrong, even if no-one else does, that's what matters when the chips are down. Conversely though... even if no-one else in the world knows that I've done something wrong, but I do, then that's all that matters too.

ShrinkWrapped had a good article on the subject some years ago, in a political and social rather than purely personal context. The difference between Guilt and Shame.

Shakespeare's Polonius said in a deliberately hokey homily to his son:
"To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man."
But of course, he then got sliced up a treat by Hamlet when hiding behind a curtain, listening in, pretending and being false. It's all too easy to be a hypocrite without realising it. Parenthetically, Shakespeare obviously intended Polonius to be a knowing hypocrite, these homilies mere mouthings - even though they're really good advice. By the Director including or omitting a short scene with Renaldo, he can either be seen as a knave or a naif, depending on what is wanted. But I Digress.

Whoever said "Honesty is the Best Policy" had obviously never tried it. The vicious streak of honesty I have has gotten me into far more hot water than anything bad I've ever done.

But being shameless - at least, when I know I'm not guilty - that has stood me in good stead. Many people think I should be ashamed of, well, having my sex change. And I am embarrassed by it. But shamed? Not in the slightest. So when I deal face-to-face with such people, and it's obvious to them that I'm not ashamed in the slightest, nor trying to hide my "shameful secret", they have severe cognitive dissonance. It can cause them to question their beliefs about the subject. By being an open book (rather than either a blaring advertising sign, or a locked tome in a restricted archive), just by being me, I've had a lot of success reaching people.

Tuesday 14 July 2009

Brains In Space

Or maybe "Space in Brains" might be closer.

Neural networks - computing devices whose basic structure is similar to biological neurology - have many applications. But we're still finding new ones.

One of the latest is using a brain-type computer to understand the Universe's gross structure.

From Astrophysics > Cosmology and Extragalactic Astrophysics comes Modelling the dusty universe I: Introducing the artificial neural network and first applications to luminosity and colour distributions by Alemida et al:
We introduce a new technique based on artificial neural networks which allows us to make accurate predictions for the spectral energy distributions (SEDs) of large samples of galaxies, at wavelengths ranging from the far-ultra-violet to the sub-millimetre and radio.
The Executive Summary version is at the ABC :
A technique based on how brain neurons behave could dramatically speed up computer simulations of the universe, say UK researchers.

Cosmologists have long used computers to simulate what the universe looks like and how it evolved. But modelling the universe in detail is an extremely time consuming process.

Therefore researchers, led by postgraduate student Cesario Almeida from the University of Durham, have used an artificial neural network (ANN) to speed up the process of creating mock catalogues of galaxies.

Their findings appear on the arXiv physics website.

ANN simulates the way brain neurons connect and compute information, and it can be used to solve a range of astronomy, mathematics and engineering problems.

By comparing mock galactic catalogues with actual observations, such as the ATLAS sky survey currently being conducted by the Herschel space observatory, cosmologists can assess how well their models perform.
Almeida and colleagues used the ANN to create their mock galactic catalogue in several wavelengths of light.

Overall, they found the ANN-derived universe matched previous, well-known models with an accuracy of between 80% and 90%. It was best at simulating galaxies in the near-infrared part of the spectrum.

"At all the wavelengths considered we find that the luminosity functions predicted by the ANN are in excellent agreement," they write.

Associate Professor Andrew Hopkins of the Anglo-Australian Observatory in Sydney, says the technique could speed up research in the field of cosmology.

"It's certainly exciting that it can speed up this process," he says. "It opens up a new approach to try and attack these problems because it can work very quickly on a large number of simulated galaxies."

"It's an important cog in a very large wheel and sidesteps a lot of messy detail."
Basically, we use our knowledge, our "best guess" of the way things work, to make predictions of what the Universe should look like. Making the predictions is really difficult, and until now, generating a model has been just too hard, or rather, would take too long.

This neural network does it with far fewer resources.

We can then compare our prediction with observations, checking our model against reality. The interesting bits are where they don't match. We can use those to figure out an even better guess, make a new model, check that against observations, and repeat the process, refining our knowledge over time. We must be pretty close already, as the initial models show an 80-90% agreement.

Before now, making a model was the hard bit. The neural network makes it easier. Actually, it would be closer to say that it makes it possible, because we can't wait around for a few thousand years while a supercomputer using conventional techniques churns out a predicted galactic catalogue for every iteration.

Monday 13 July 2009

My PhD Progress

What I'm working on can be seen in this poster (PDF) at the ANU's College of Engineering and Computer Science. That's the Executive Summary.

Currently I'm working on a paper for the 2009 IEEE International Conference on Intelligent Computing and Intelligent Systems (ICIS 2009) to be held in Shanghai, China in November. Hopefully it will be accepted. By then, I might just have enough results for another paper, to be given at the 2010 Genetic and Evolutionary Computation Conference in Portland Oregon in July next year.

Here's the Latest and Greatest version of the abstract of the paper I'm working on. It will probably change a bit before the submission deadline, which is in, er, about 25 hours. gulp
Genetic Algorithms (GAs) based on evolutionary processes are powerful tools for finding optima in complex problems involving many considerations. These optima typically correspond to peaks in n-dimensional manifolds. Most of the work on optimising GAs in the past has been to tailor them by embedding domain knowledge for specific applications into the structure of the genome, rather than to examine the general case where no domain knowledge is assumed. We discuss the different parameters that describe GAs in the general case, go on to define a number of problem classes where different values for some of these parameters are already known to be most appropriate, and propose a method for determining the optimal parameters applicable to each problem class. The method is to use a classical GA to optimise non-classical GAs. We map the candidate GA parameters into a genome, to form a population of GAs as phenotypes. A manifold is formed by defining a fitness function based on the computational resources required by these non-classical GAs to solve a typical problem of the specified class. Optima are then determined using the usual GA methods of breeding, natural selection and mutation. Difficulties that may arise in implementation are discussed, along with proposed solutions.
So I better stop blogging, and get back to writing the paper, hadn't I?

Sunday 12 July 2009

Saturday 11 July 2009

The Puzzle, The Science, The APA and the DSM-V

Clinical implications of the organizational and activational effects of hormones. Diamond M Horm Behav. 2009 May;55(5):621-32

Debate on the relative contributions of nature and nurture to an individual's gender patterns, sexual orientation and gender identity are reviewed as they appeared to this observer starting from the middle of the last century. Particular attention is given to the organization-activation theory in comparison to what might be called a theory of psychosexual neutrality at birth or rearing consistency theory. The organization-activation theory posits that the nervous system of a developing fetus responds to prenatal androgens so that, at a postnatal time, it will determine how sexual behavior is manifest. How organization-activation was or was not considered among different groups and under which circumstances it is considered is basically understood from the research and comments of different investigators and clinicians. The preponderance of evidence seems to indicate that the theory of organization-activation for the development of sexual behavior is certain for non-human mammals and almost certain for humans. This article also follows up on previous clinical critiques and recommendations and makes some new suggestions.
Professor Milton Diamond (who I hold in the very highest regard BTW) then goes on to say in the conclusions:
The evidence for androgen-induced organization-activation in nonhuman mammals is clear. The preponderance of evidence does point in that direction for humans as well but the evidence is less clear. Due to pre birth conditions the human appears to be biased towards sex appropriate patterns of behavior, sexual orientation and gender orientation. The reason for the lack of surety is simple. With animals experimentation is possible so one can modify parameters of study to get a better understanding of cause and effect relationships. This is not ethically proper for humans. For humans it takes so-called experiments of nature and different clinical situations to offer opportunities for analysis. And basically the human experiments of nature are in the areas of intersex and different trans conditions, principally transsexuality.
We must be careful about the standards of proof here. From a biological and scientific viewpoint, he's not only correct, but an adequate standard of proof is impossible. From a medical viewpoint though, the standards have to be set far lower. That's because most of medical practice suffers the same disadvantage - that vivisecting humans is unethical, pace Dr Mengele & Co. We have to take our best guess, where the proponderance of evidence is on one side, and then base our treatments on that. And most importantly, follow up on the results of that treatment, to make sure we're curing more than we kill.

Meanwhile, back at the American Psychiatric Association... the brouhaha over the whole DSM-V revision is getting worse - and not just in the area of "sexual disorders". Many are questioning just what the heck they're doing, and how much of Psychiatry has any evidential basis whatsoever.

From the Carlat Psychiatric Blog article, The DSM-V Armageddon Part 2 :
Dr. Jane Costello has had enough of DSM-V, and has quit the prestigious DSM-V Work Group on Disorders in Childhood and Adolescence. Her letter of resignation has been making the rounds (with her permission); I've reproduced it below, or you can access it directly here. Dr. Costello is a full Professor at the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences where she co-directs the Center for Developmental Epidemiology, and she is an international expert in understanding the course of mental illness across the life span.

Essentially, Dr. Costello resigned because she feels that the DSM-V process is being rushed to completion without an adequate scientific basis.
Much of psychiatry doesn't even meet the medical standard of proof - it's based on philosophical theory, anecdote and what can only be described as superstition. Just because it's difficult to gather the evidence, and that the evidence by its very nature can never be conclusive, doesn't mean to say that you can look at a Tabloid article, and from that formulate a completely new disorder, diagnose it for someone recently deceased who you've never actually met, and then pretend that it's science rather than speculation. Oh yes, disregarding any physiological disorders or biological evidence that doesn't fit your lede.

Not that anyone would do that of course. Well, except for Dr J.Michael Bailey in his article on Scientificblogging, Michael Jackson: Erotic Identity Disorder?:
Am I suggesting Michael Jackson was a homosexual autohebephile? I sure am.
"Erotic Identity Disorder" is a whole new diagnosis he's just made up for the occasion. Yes, well, and younger trans women are particularly suited to prostitution too, as he stated in his "scientific" book The Man Who Would Be Queen based on talking to less that a dozen Trans prostitutes at a gay bar. (Hint: go to a gay bar and don't be surprised if you find gays rather than women)
Bailey's perceptions might have been skewed by his lack of contact with the health professionals in this field (he is not a member of the Benjamin Association) and his reliance on very limited field work with a very small sample of transgender informants in Chicago gay bars.
In the book, Bailey explicitly states how much he respects his informants, yet information from transsexuals that contradicts his theory is dismissed as self-justification, identity politics, and lies: ". . . they are often silent about their true motivation and instead tell stories about themselves that are misleading and, in important respects, false" (p. 146).

by Walter O Bockting PhD. The Journal of Sex Research Volume 42, Number 3, August 2005: pp. 267—270
But enough about him. His publicity-seeking wild speculations have now started to alienate even those who used to take him seriously.

Some psychiatrists are looking at this professor of psychology, and seeing far too much of themselves in him. Which is unfair to them, as they're trying to do their best, with so little evidence to work with. What's really scary is that the puzzle of transsexuality and gender identity is now rather better researched than most areas.

Friday 10 July 2009

Surgery on intersex infants and human rights

From the Australian Human Rights Commission:
During 2008, the Australian Human Rights Commission undertook a project on human rights and sex and gender diversity. Following consultations with the sex and gender diverse community, the Commission focused its work for 2008-09 on a project examining the legal recognition of sex on documents and government records. However, many other human rights issues were raised with the Commission during this consultation. One of the issues identified as a priority human rights issue by people who identify as intersex was surgical intervention on intersex infants. As a result, the Commission undertook to raise greater awareness of the human rights implications of this issue.

The Commission has produced a paper on intersex infant surgery and human rights, which can be found on the Commission website.
Unfortunately, it makes no recommendations, merely outlining the issues, which can be summarised as follows:
Some of the benefits in performing gender-related surgery on intersex infants may include:
  • reducing medical risks, such as the greater risk of cancer for some medical conditions, through removal of gonads, or reducing risk of recurrent urinary tract infection
  • reducing the risk that the infant will be rejected by parents, discriminated against or ostracised by peers and broader society
  • acceptance of the sex and gender assigned at birth by most people who are intersex.
Some of the risks in performing gender-related surgery on infants who are intersex may include:
  • the child does not have an opportunity to express their gender identity
  • the child may experience psychological damage due to an incorrect imposition of gender
  • with certain conditions, infertility being certain, as opposed to probable
  • possible complications from surgery, such as haemorrhage.
In some cases, it's not just a matter of "reducing the risks", some degree of surgery is required to ensure urinary and excretary functionality. And later in life, as great a degree of sexual functionality as can be attained too.

What really worries me though are the disbenefits of surgery which is not necessary. That babies should be castrated and sterilised simply to make society and their parents more comfortable is to me, obscene. Rather than mutilating infants, we should be changing society, so that it becomes more educated, and more accepting.

Some parents will reject their child regardless: but that happens in a minority of cases anyway, and we already have systems (poor ones, admittedly) for dealing with that.

There should be a positive recommendation, by the Australian Medical Association and Pediatricians, that surgery to alter the physical sex of infants should be kept to the minimum necessary for pain relief and urino-genital functionality, until the child reaches an age where they can tell us what sex they are, what they want to look like, and how much or how little surgery they require. Then that surgery (if any) should be provided, no questions asked.

If that makes some people uncomfortable - then they should be told to deal with it. Just as they deal with others who may make them feel uncomfortable - people with different skin colours, or who "talk with a funny accent", or who eat strange foods, or who worship different Deities.

It's not the kids' anomalous bodies that are the problem: it's the bigotry and ignorance of others.

Thursday 9 July 2009

Auto Immune Diseases and Michael Jackson

I consider a 14ct gold-lined coffin to be an obscenity.

However, if I may say a word or two about the late Michael Jackson's medical condition.

You can research for yourself - it's not well-publicised and little-known, but in several interviews by Mr Jackson and some of his medical team, it was openly admitted that he had two auto-immune diseases, both 4 times more common in African-Americans than Whites.

The first is Vitiligo. This is a condition where the body's immune system attacks the melanin-producing cells in the skin. In mild conditions, the patient ends up with albino-white spots and blotches. In the usual case, the patient ends up looking piebald, like an apaloosa horse, or if African-American, a Jersey cow. In severe cases though, the patient ends up looking like a Dalmation: ghostly white, with some irregular dark spots.

The best cosmetic result in such a case is to try to even out the irregularity with cosmetics, slightly darkening the ghostly palor, and bleaching the dark areas so they don't stand out too much.

A patient with mild vitiligo might look like this:

A patient with moderate to severe vitiligo - with and without makeup - might look like this:

A patient with severe vitiligo, with some of the makeup having worn off during the workday, might look like this:

Sufferers from severe vitiligo get severe sunburn even from reflected sunlight, as do albinos. They wear concealing clothing, gloves, wide-brimmed hats, and dark glasses. They may also have to wear surgical masks, and if visiting the middle east, the most practical clothing resembles a woman's burqa, with 100% coverage.

Sound familiar?

Another auto-immune disease, often associated with vitiligo, is lupus. This devastating condition happens when the body's auto-immune response attacks its own connective tissues, such as nasal and joint cartilage. This is episodic, and can leave the sufferer in agony, with severe joint inflammation so bad they have to be wheeled around in a wheelchair. Chronic cutaneous lupus also attacks the skin, causing lesions which need numerous episodes of plastic surgery to avoid severe disfigurement.

Again, sound familiar?

A typical patient with vitiligo during a lupus flare-up might look something like this:

Since 1986, Mr Jackson had lived a life of increasing pain: unable to tolerate direct or even indirect sunlight, and subject to crippling bouts of agony that required strong painkillers to relieve. Such a situation would prematurely age anyone, making them look more like 70 than 50.

One more thing about lupus - it causes damage to the veins and arteries, causing low density cholesterol plaque to stick and block them. It is very common for lupus sufferers to have asymptomatic heart disease, and suffer sudden cardiac arrest without warning in their 40's and 50's.

Again, all these facts are no secret, just not publicised. It didn't fit the image.

Wednesday 8 July 2009

HSU Ethics Presentation

Here is a powerpoint presentation by Loren Cannon of Humboldt University, on the subject of Ethics, and those who don't fit into society's arbitrary categories.
The Story of Sandra Laing

* Born in Apartheid South Africa of White Parents.
* Was designated white at birth, but was reclassified as “coloured” just after being expelled from her all white elementary school
Which led to some interesting legal problems...
* “…If Sandra remains ‘Coloured’ does it mean she will have to be registered as a servant in order to live with us?” [Mr. Laing] added. “Or must she move away into a location? Will we be breaking the law if we take Sandra into a tearoom or a cinema, or take her on a train journey with us? And who would Sandra be allowed to marry?”
As well as some real Junk Science trying to coerce reality into fitting a socially constructed model:
These tests included measurements of the nose, nostrils, and cheekbones, and an expert analysis of hair texture. The latter often included the ‘pencil test.’ It was thought that a white person’s hair is not so curly to hold a pencil, whereas a coloured person’s hair could. There were gradations of skin color to be measured in various places of the body including the fingernails and the eyelids; earlobes were squeezed to determine their degree of softness. (It was thought that Black person’s earlobes were softer than others.) Individuals challenging their racial classification before the board would also be asked what they had for breakfast (it was thought only blacks would eat mealie or cornmeal porridge), how they slept on a bed, and what sport they enjoyed (blacks were thought to favor soccer while coloured favored rugby).
Of course such a ridiculous, not to say inhuman, situation could never happen again. Or could it? How about these tests, described in Brain, Child :
The tests--many still used today--strike Burke as Orwellian. In one, a child being tested is asked to draw the figure of a person. Girls who draw boys first, predominately, or in positions of power and strength, are suspect, as are boys who draw princesses or mommies. The Barlow Gender-Specific Motor Behavior test examines such things as how far from the back of a chair a seated child's buttocks are--farther is "masculine," closer is "feminine." All the precision of science was applied in developing these tests to measure such things as the angle between the wrist and the hand, how often a child touched his or her hands together in front of his or her body, and how far the hips swayed as the child walked across the room. Especially damning for boys was a lack of hand-eye coordination.
Any resemblance between the two situations is strictly coincidental of course.

I'm a Software Engineer, so I'm reminded of some of the problems I come across in trying to fit a complicated reality into a necessarily over-simplified model. Things which may seem Bizarre are OK, as long as they work. From Description Is Our Business Keynote Address at the VDM Conference on Formal Development Methods 1991:
What counts as a dog?

A cartoon from Punch, printed in 1869, expounds the essence of the solution to this last question at least. A railway passenger, intending to travel with a collection of pet animals, has enquired about the fares to be charged for her pets. The porter is explaining to her how the formalism of the railway company's fare rules is to be applied in this case.

"Station master say, Mum, as Cats is Dogs, and Rabbits is Dogs, and so's Parrots; but this 'ere Tortoise is an Insect, so there ain't no charge for it!"
Whether Parrots are counted as Dogs or not (solely for the purposes of rail travel) is one thing. It's when the absurdities are used to justify cruelty that we get real problems. We often get such issues when the practicalities get ignored in favour of some irrational ideal. When philosophical correctness is valued more highly than whether something works or not. For example, my UK passport says F for female. My UK Birth Certificate says "boy", so it's not even consistent in the same jurisdiction. Others in similar situations face a knotty tangle of inconsistent and often cruel and inhuman laws with equally ridiculous outcomes.

Getting back to the Cannon powerpoint presentation:
“Taking this situation to its logical conclusion, Mrs. Littleton, while in San Antonio, Texas, is a male and has a void marriage; as she travels to Houston, Texas, and enters federal property, she is female and a widow; upon traveling to Kentucky she is female and a widow; but, upon entering Ohio, she is once again male and prohibited from marriage; entering Connecticut, she is again female and may marry; if her travel takes her north to Vermont, she is male and may marry a female; if instead she travels south to New Jersey, she may marry a male.”
Trying to determine "race" based on softness or otherwise of earlobes makes exactly as much sense as trying to determine sex on the basis of chromosomes.
* Between the years of 1950 and 1966 there were 267,541 individuals who could not be adequately categorized by the apartheid system of racial categorization.
* Estimates for Transgender persons in US
o 97,142 – 301,140 persons.
* Estimates of those with intersex condition
o 150,570 – 200,760 persons
Actually, I'd put the latter figure much higher: from 300,000 to 5 million, depending on the exact definition, and whether obviously symptomatic or not. But the principle's correct.

When faced with a reality that doesn't match the model, the key is to be kind. Not to allow a philosophical ideal to get in the way of common human decency.