Tuesday 30 November 2010

Intersexuality And Scripture

Intersexuality And Scripture : What the Torah (Old Testameent) and traditional Talmudaic commentary actually say about Intersex conditions.
On the subject of Rabbinical traditions about intersexuality, Tractate Yevamot in the Babylonian Talmud (leaf 64a) contains a tradition to the effect that Abraham and Sarah were intersexed. It states: 'Abraham and Sarah were [each of them a] tumtum, as it is said: ``Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were digged'' (Isaiah 51:1) and it is written: ``Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you'' (Isaiah 51:2). Rabbi Nahman said in the name of Rabbah bar Abuha: Sarah our mother was an 'aylonith, as it is said: ``Now Sarai was barren; she had no child'' (Genesis 11:30) -- she did not even have a womb.' The terms ``tumtum'' and ``'aylonith'' are intersex categories. A ``tumtum'' is one physical sex is indeterminable because there are apparently no genitalia, although determinate natal sex can sometimes (but only sometimes) be revealed by means of the surgical removal of an occlusion. An ``'aylonith'' is a woman without a womb -- clearly someone who might suffer from complete androgen insensitivity syndrome.
I wish for once that Theologians would Theologe more thoroughly, and actually read the scriptures they use to oppress others... not just the Child's Condensed Version, but the one with all the footnotes and commentaries. Including the Hebrew, Aramaic and Koin(Greek) versions, not just the translations.

Prognostication and the TSA

Back in December, 2008, I wrote this piece in Tech Life Post.

A quote:
Peering into the tea-leaves today, I see an advertisement:

Victoria’s Stealth

Block unwanted attention with our new close-weave
3mm and 1.5mm dielectric mesh technology.

Combined with X-ray absorbing polymers,
He’ll only see what you want him to see!

Today, there's this :

Monday 29 November 2010


From TechRadar of March 19th:
The Australian communications regulator has issued a stark warning that websites who link out to 'banned' hyperlinks are liable to fines of up to Aus $11,000 a day.

The news comes after web forum Whirlpool was threatened with the fine for posting a hyperlink to a blacklisted anti-abortion website.

One of the newest additions to Australia's 'blacklisted hyperlinks' list is Wikileaks; the website that publishes anonymous submissions of sensitive info on everything from corporations, religion and governments.

So while I can say that the address of wikileaks is http://wikileaks.org/, I can't link to it on an Australian server.

I can link to an anonymous proxy, such as KPROXY, and tell you to cut and paste "http://wikileaks.org/" in.

I can even give an embedded proxy:

I can even use the link http://tinyurl.com/3x32wwr which curiously enough takes you to... the Wikileaks Cable data. But that's OK, because that URL isn't on the banned list.

Since the Blogger server is in the USA, I would be OK... except that my site is being mirrored by the Australian National Library. Maybe they'd have responsibility, maybe not.

Senator Conroy is a deeply ignorant man, and his possession of the IT portfolio in the Australian cabinet is a joke. As I think I've just demonstrated.

Thursday 25 November 2010

Justice in Jakarta

As a follow-up to previous posts on the subject... it looks like the Indonesian courts did not give the Indonesian Catholic Bishops' eccentric views of biology much credence. From The Jakarta Post
The South Jakarta District Court has acquitted Alterina Hofan, a man who reportedly suffers from a chromosome condition, of all charges. Alterina was accused of disguising his gender in order to marry a woman.

Alterina reportedly has Klinefelter’s syndrome, a disorder in which males have an extra X chromosome, which causes the male genitalia to develop at a later age.

“[We] state that it can be proved that defendant Alterina Hofan committed the first and second alleged deeds, but they are not a crime,” presiding judge Sudarwin said on Tuesday, as quoted by kompas.com.

Sudarwin said there was no question of Alterina’s status, and although Alterina did change some information on his birth and family certificates, it was not – as he was accused of – intended to pave the way for his marriage to Jane Deviyanti Hadipoespito in 2008.

Jane’s parents accused Alterina of actually being a woman and faking his gender in order to marry Jane.

Prosecutors had earlier asked for a five-year prison sentence for Alterina.
Sometimes Justice - not to say Biological Reality - prevails.

Wednesday 24 November 2010

An Inconvenient Woman

And a personal heroine of mine, though I suspect she was as prickly as a porcupine from having to take so much misogynistic rubbish all her life.

Rosalind Franklin. And a play about her contribution to the discovery of the Double Helix of DNA: Photograph 51.

As an aside... I wrote about Dr Franklin on 20th July, 2005. Right in the middle of Hormone Hell, still not entirely convinced I wasn't going crackers, losing 0.5Kg (over a pound) a day in body mass, body feminising rapidly from "causes unknown", still trying to Grok that my days of doing the Boy Act were likely to be over in 12 months (actually more like 30 days...). And very insecure about my own gender - could a geek like me really be a woman?

Dr Franklin was an inspiration there. Still is.

For little did I know that in five years time, I'd be doing a PhD in computational chemistry, and relying on X-ray crystalography to tell me how reliable my methodology of determining molecular shapes was. A change of sex was foreseeable - but not something as off-the-wall unlikely as that.

Tuesday 23 November 2010

You Can't Win Department

When it comes to restroom usage.

From CBC News:
A transgendered New Brunswick student says (s)he was struck in the face at St. Thomas University in Fredericton because (s)he entered a women's washroom.
(S)he said a female student in the washroom asked her(him) to leave, and Rayner attempted to explain that (s)he's biologically female.

"She got irate and took a swing at me, called me several names that were very derogatory, and she just caught me in the lip," Rayner said. "So, I staggered out, I apologized for the incident, and I left.

And in Texas, from FOX 26 News:
Tyjanae Moore is the transgendered woman who was cited and thrown behind bars by a Houston police officer because she was caught using the ladies restroom. "I felt so belittled going to a jail over something so simple and stupid," says Moore.

A 26-year-old native of Minnesota, Moore moved to Houston to be closer to family, but after a year in Texas, she is ready to move back.

Moore was arrested Nov. 17 at the Houston Public Library in downtown. The offense? Police say despite being a transgendered female, she is still officially a man -- a man who was caught using the ladies' restroom.

"When I came out, the female told me I wasn't supposed to be and I asked if there was any particular reason why not. She said I'm a transgendered female and I was really shocked that they even stopped me for this," says Moore.

Even though she is seen as a protected class by the City of Houston, Moore entered a guilty plea.

Regardless of the direction of transition, and regardless of any legal protections... we face assault, arrest, or both, no matter what restroom we use. And all the time, religious groups mount blatant scare campaigns, projecting us as the transgressors against all that is Good and Holy, and labelling us as freaks, perverts, degenerates and sexual predators.

Of course, if we "pass" sufficiently well - or sufficiently poorly, when using the restroom of our assigned sex, we're relatively safe from these Xenophobes. It's not about any actual danger - for there is none. It's all about appearances.

It's about how our appearance, or even our existence, makes others uncomfortable - and thus granting them them the God-given right to persecute us.

I've never had a problem, though I have no illusions about my un-beautiful appearance. I have "passing privilege", the ability to appear unremarkable, no matter how outrageously freakish my biology is, far more unusual than either the trans man or the trans woman in those two stories.

I make no apology for this. But I do think it gives me a certain responsibility, whether you call it Karmic Balance or just sheer outrage at injustice, to do whatever I can for others not so privileged while living my own life, bringing up my boy, doing my PhD, going to International conferences...

And knowing that I could be next. The next to be arrested (for after all, my UK birth certificate still says "boy" so in Texas I may indeed be "legally male"). Or assaulted, by someone who recognises me from TV appearances. Or murdered, though the only person who I've been advised by medical professionals is a definite threat is on another continent. Privilege has its limits though, and if Ms Moore, who looks heaps better than I ever could, can be arrested, then I'm not safe either.

C.L.Minou puts it better than I ever could, over at Feministe.
The fact of the matter is that at any moment, I could be at risk simply for being trans. Simply for being me. This is something all marginalized people face–certainly, it’s something every woman in the world understands. But just as it’s possible for the shielded women of the world to sniff at the poor and unprotected and blame them for their own misfortunes, so its possible for the lucky trans people of the world–the professors with tenure, the software engineers with rare abilities, the fortunate few who have managed to avoid most of the ways society turns people into others, to disclaim connection with the rest of the trans world. Rape happens only to people who live in slums, and transphobic murder only to prostitutes turning tricks for street ‘mones.

Except when it doesn’t.

So I will Remember today. I will remember because that body lying somewhere unmourned could be me. Because it is me. I mourn because remembering makes me angry, energizes me to fight again. I mourn because we don’t have all that much to celebrate today, not really, not when even the most elemental of basic protections elude the vast majority of trans people the world round. I won’t shrug or carp about how there’s so much death brought up today. Because there is a lot of death. And that needs to be remembered, to be brought up, to be shoved in the face of those who are indifferent to it until something changes, really changes, and trans people are allowed to join the human race.
Being one of the "fortunate few", the risk is less. But I treat "less risk" as "no risk" at my peril.

I think all women have insecurities about their appearance. Mine though has real reasons for it; if I look too odd, too different... it could kill me. So while I mustn't over-dramatise, yes, the threat is real for me too. Only the degree differs, and possibly by less than I'd like to believe.

What an Insane situation. And somehow, I think that explaining "well, I'm actually not Trans, I have a rare Intersex condition you see..." might not do a lot of good. Just a hunch, mind you.


Monday 22 November 2010

Transgender Day of Remembrance in Kiev

From \chtodelat news
In Kyiv, Ukraine, on November 20, 2010, during the Transgender Day of Remembrance of those who have been killed due to anti-transgender hatred, unknown persons attacked “A Response to Violence against Transgender People,” a peaceful gathering organized by the NGO Insight and the Visual Culture Research Center.
The attackers had apparently planned to break into the screening room, which contained over thirty spectators, and attack them with tear gas. However, due to the prompt reaction of organizers and activists, the attackers were stopped at the entrance and forced out of the room. One of the organizers, Timur Lysenko (coordinator of Insight’s transgender program), who first confronted the bandits and blocked their access to the room, was beaten up. He and his colleague Anastasia Medco (from the NGO Fulcrum), who also resisted the bandits, were heavily poisoned by tear gas.
It's not enough that we be killed; we must be erased.

Friday 19 November 2010

Transgender Day of Remembrance -- 2010

The TDOR 2010 update of the TMM results has revealed more than 175 reported cases worldwide from November 20th 2009 to November 15th 2010.

Monday 8 November 2010

Intersex Solidarity Day

Well, I'm neither liquid, gas, nor plasma, so I'm doing my bit.

More over at OII (Australia).
ADÉLAÏDE HERCULINE BARBIN was born November 8, 1838 in Saint-Jean-d’Angély (Charente-Maritime) and officially registered as female. She spent her childhood in an orphanage and later at the Ursilines convent of Chavagne.

Between 1856-1858 Herculine Barbin studied at Oléron’s Normal School and received her degree. At 21 she became a school teacher and met Sara, the youngest daughter of Mrs Avril, the headmistress of the school. Gradually, the friendship between the two girls turned to love. But, when acting on their feelings for each other, Sara realized that Herculine was not made like most girls. Herculine was forced to resign from her job and after a medical examination required by the authorities who became involved in the matter, she was then forced to live as a man. Herculine became Abel but when he returned to the village, Mrs Avril refused to let him see Sara. On a cold February day in 1868, Abel Barbin’s dead body was discovered, the victim of an apparent suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning from the small stove in his apartment.
142 Years ago... but it could have happened yesterday.

Friday 5 November 2010

I should have written for the Wall Street Journal

Compare this article, from November 19, 2008, with this article in November 3rd's WSJ.

Thursday 4 November 2010

Maculate Conception

From New Scientist :
This boa constrictor has no father.

She was born in 2009 by parthenogenesis, otherwise known as "virgin birth". This makes her one of the first parthenogenetic vertebrate animals who have made it to adulthood.

The mother snake responsible had two litters, one in 2009 and another in 2010, producing a total of 22 offspring. All were female, and all had the same rare "caramel" body colour. Genetic analysis has confirmed that they are not related to any of the males the female had mated with.

In another first, the young snakes have two W chromosomes. Snakes determine their sex differently to humans: males have two Z chromosomes and females have a Z and a W. So in theory, the mother snake's parthenogenetic offspring should have been either ZZ or WW. But WW animals have never been found, and have only been produced in the lab with great difficulty.
Long thought to be vanishingly rare, parthenogenesis is becoming more common the more scientists look for it. For instance, in 2003 a Burmese python in an Amsterdam zoo produced embryos parthenogenetically, but they were not allowed to develop so we do not know if they were truly viable.

It's not just snakes, either. Earlier this year it was shown that female white-spotted bamboo sharks can produce viable offspring without help from males, and hammerheads can do it too.
I'm not sure the concept of "sin" applies to snakes, so I won't call the mother's conception "Immaculate".

But yes, a virgin birth. A number of them. The more we look, the more we find, and the more complex and exception-prone the whole business of sex appears to be in the animal kingdom.

Trans and Intersexed people are persecuted by many "christians" (scare quotes most definitely intended, as these people aren't real Christians' bootlaces), on the basis of Genesis 1:27:

 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. (Genesis 1:27, King James Version)
Of course in the same section, there's also the part about a Firmament, a beaten metal dome, which keeps the "waters above" out over the Flat Earth. With lights set in it - lots of little ones, and two big ones, one that comes out in the day, the other at night.

That bit, most "christians" miss out. They pick and choose which bits of Biblical "Science" to believe.

But it's vital that there be a factual, natural, immutable and universal division between the sexes. Because if there wasn't such a division... then how could they justify the persecution of homosexuality with such venom and vigour, compared to say, fornication? It's not enough to appeal to Scripture: they must appeal to Natural Law.

Trans and Intersexed people - and hermaphroditic animals, and virgin births not sanctioned by the Church - they're all embarrassments. "christians" must pretend they don't exist, and do their best in many small ways to see they don't.

No wonder they have such a downer on serpents in Genesis 3. Ignorant Superstition, and the persecution it so often engenders, is poisoned by the fruits of knowledge.

Oh yes, maculate? It means "Marked with spots" - as is the Boa Constrictor pictured above.

Wednesday 3 November 2010

Now *this* is an apology and correction

We're sorry for claiming Captain Kirk was in command of Captain Picard's starship
YESTERDAY, a news.com.au article incorrectly stated that the Star Trek starship USS Enterprise-E, otherwise known as model NNC-1701-E, was the successor to Captain Kirk's original USS Enterprise.

It has since been brought to our attention that the NNC-1701-E in fact came two models after Captain Kirk retired and was under the command of Captain Jean Luc Picard.

Read the original, poorly-researched article here

User "Your Mum's Lunch" led the charge of those who correctly pointed out that after losing the original Enterprise to the Klingons, Captain Kirk was given the Excelsior Class Enterprise-B as a stop-gap measure until the refit of the Enterprise-A was completed.

Kirk's last ship was the Ambassador Class Enterprise-C.

Enterprise-D and Enterprise-E were in fact, the first of the Galaxy Class models and were under the command of Captain Picard.....
News.com.au apologises unreservedly for the error.

There was no intention whatsoever to suggest Captain Kirk may have commanded the Galaxy Class Starships Enterprise-D and Enterprise-E.

Any damage to the Star Trek brand incurred by the use of the term "hyperspace" is regretful.

No malice was intended and a correction to the original article will be made.
Now if only news organisations would apply the same diligence about corrections in less serious stuff...

Tuesday 2 November 2010

All Too True

Seriously stressed out with my PhD, my marking, having to get this poster ready for AC10 (supercomputer conference in New Orleans)... so blogging has been light, and will probably remain so for a while.

Monday 1 November 2010

The Complexities of Life

From New Scientist: Why complex life probably evolved only once.
The universe may be teeming with simple cells like bacteria, but more complex life – including intelligent life – is probably very rare. That is the conclusion of a radical rethink of what it took for complex life to evolve here on Earth.

It suggests that complex alien life-forms could only evolve if an event that happened just once in Earth's history was repeated somewhere else.

All animals, plants and fungi evolved from one ancestor, the first ever complex, or "eukaryotic", cell. This common ancestor had itself evolved from simple bacteria, but it has long been a mystery why this seems to have happened only once: bacteria, after all, have been around for billions of years.

The answer, say Nick Lane of University College London and Bill Martin of the University of Dusseldorf in Germany, is that whenever simple cells start to become more complex, they run into problems generating enough energy.
So if Lane and Martin are right, the textbook idea that complex cells evolved first and only later gained mitochondria is completely wrong: cells could not become complex until they acquired mitochondria.

Simple cells hardly ever engulf other cells, however – and therein lies the catch. Acquiring mitochondria, it seems, was a one-off event.

And from Transterrestrial Musings, a stream-of-consciousness report about Craig Vetnor's presentation at
Has synthesized a megabyte chromosome. Everything in the cell was derived from the chromosome and the natural traces were all deleted. They are digitizing biology. Converting analog genetic code to digital. Now they can go the other way, from ones and zeros to living organisms. Huge progress over past two decades. Big breakthrough new algorithm in 1995. New approach to sequencing pieces by breaking them down and putting into the computer....
Yes, and compilers for manufacturing prokaryotes (organisms with no cell nucleus), and later assembling eukaryotes (organisms with a nucleus). Arranging for the organism to make its own membranes has been surprisingly difficult - though programming it has been surprisingly easy.

In terms of cell numbers - your body has ten times as many cells without your DNA in, than with. But the cells with your DNA in are larger and more complex than the swarms of bacteria to which you play host, so most of your mass is you.

A bucketful of seawater has more genetic diversity inside its bacteria than all the complex organisms on the planet put together - and they're constantly swapping DNA in a promiscuous fashion, so new "species" are being created all the time - though the concept of "species" tends to lose its meaning under those circumstances. From Scientific American:
In fact, the bacteria in the wild—the researchers tested microbes in coastal, estuary, reef and open ocean environments—were quite promiscuous with their DNA, busily transferring genes to not only their own species but also other closely related bacteria and even other genera. They were also doing it thousands to hundreds of millions of times more frequently than previously estimated for other methods of gene transfer, such as via phages or bacterial viruses (the method also employed by human gene transfer agents, also known as synthetic biologists).
Nevertheless, such horizontal gene transfer is a potent weapon in the bacterial evolutionary arsenal. "Truly novel genes can be taken on instantly. This is why we have antibiotic-resistant superbugs," Doolittle says. In fact, sequencing bacterial genomes has revealed that such gene transfer is responsible for many of the genes present in today's microbes. "Many already accept that HGT is very important to marine microbial adaptation."

And not just for bacteria. Given the apparently vast numbers of such genetic packets—and viruses, plasmids and other bits of genetic material—the ocean can be seen as a bit of a microbial DNA soup.
One off? Maybe not.