Thursday 31 March 2011

Tabloid Fodder on Avian Intersex

From the usual unreliable sources one has to go to with things like this - Here's the
Daily Mail's take - it's one of the more informative:
The confident strut, distinctive wattle and comb and ear-splitting crowing all suggest this bird is a cockerel.

There is just one problem – a few months earlier he was a she.

The extraordinary transformation has happened since November, when the speckled hen, called Gertie, stopped laying eggs and began developing male characteristics.
According to Victoria Roberts, of the Poultry Club of Great Britain, the spontaneous sex change is ‘a one in 10,000 event caused by changes in the bird’s hormones’.

Damage to an ovary can cause the bird’s testosterone levels to soar, turning the remaining ovary into a testicle.
Delia Richter, a vet at Cromwell Vets in Huntingdon, said damage to the hen's single ovary or a growth upon it could cause it to exhibit male characteristics.

Miss Richter said: 'It would still be a hen but the ovary on the left side degenerates and the right side begins to release testosterone.

'It's possible that's what happened in this case.'
Now the Beeb's :
Cambridge veterinary surgeon, Marion Ford, told the BBC that an apparent sex change in hens was not uncommon.

She said that it could be caused by mycotoxins or fungi that can develop when animal feed is stored, and these have the same effect as synthetic hormones.

"An increase in testosterone will result in a hen growing an extended comb, exaggerated wattles, and cockerel-like behaviour including strutting and crowing," explained Mrs Ford.

Mrs Howard said: "I'm not really sure whether Gertie has actually changed sex, but to all intents and purposes she's now a cockerel."

It is not known whether the effects of the mycotoxins are reversible.
More details from the Daily Express:
Victoria Roberts, of the Poultry Club of Great Britain, said it was a “very rare” hormone change.

She said: “Only one ovary functions in a chicken. If that gets damaged the other kicks into life but causes a jump in testosterone which sparks changes. They cannot reproduce.”
That sounds a bit more likely, but comments by poultry breeders suggest 1 in 10,000 is too low, rate is much higher.

Going back to 2006... and the Grauniad:
But have they undergone an actual sexual transformation, or are they just hens in cocks' clothing? "The crude mechanics of it are that every hen bird has two ovaries, one is big and functional and the other is benign, and the benign one develops testosterone," explains Taylor. Accordingly, the hen acquires the physical characteristics of a cockerel. The British Poultry Council says the same change can also occur if the active ovary is damaged and the hen begins to rely on her reserve ovary. "This can either be due to an imbalance in oestrogen or something that has promoted testosterone. But, although a hen may take on the secondary sexual characteristics of a cockerel, it will not develop the primary sexual organs." A cock without a cock, so to speak.
Hur Hur. What captivating wit.

From J.Elliot of "Ask a Scientist" Office of Science, US Department of Energy :
I don't believe it is possible for any birds (or other higher vertebrates) to change gender. Many weaver finches are gregarious and polygonous so there may be some confusion regarding behavior. Orange weaver finches are common cage birds and I think if any gender change had been observed it would be well documented, but I am not familiar with cage birds.
So who to believe - the scientist or the tabloids? Neither - I believe the testimony of the bird-breeders and the veterinarians, the ones who actually make observations of the data, and the ones who have actually studied the area. And of course, the birds themselves.

Wednesday 30 March 2011

Today's Battle : against the -Ism's

This time at US Catholic Online. Not the same as Catholic Exchange - The last time I mentioned this mob, that one was telling Trans people they should have allowed themselves to die rather than transition and disobey God.

This one's more of the same though - Exchanging the Truth of God for a Lie: Transgender Activists, Cultural Revolution.
"Enter the Australian Human Rights Commission with some exciting new developments. In an extraordinary document entitled "Protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and sex and/or gender identity", the AHRC has come up with a further list of "genders" which they require us to recognize, and on whose behalf they want our federal government to pass anti-discrimination legislation.

TLDR version : they're agin it.

Some of the comments...
We hear of arguments for legalizing many of the sexual aberrations like,homosexuality,gay marriage, animal sexual companionship. incest etc. On account of their ignorance and their faith in epicurianism, they think that sexual permissiveness will solve all problems and the life will be pleasant....

"Transgender is a mental disorder and anyone who has it needs counseling". Amen, Amen, AND Amen.....

O Babylon, thou art mighty in thy works, and wicked in thy Purpose! When did Sin so vile that even the death of Jesus Christ Himself cannot absolve it come into being?....

1. Transgender is a mental disorder, and the people who have it need counselling. Usually it's a rejection of same-sex peers, and what they really need is friends, not genital mutilation. 2. If you want to be accomodated (change the letter on your driver's license), that is one thing. But this should not be funded. Stop stealing taxpayer money to support causes!....

...I do think you're feeling the angst out there because there seems to be no end in site to the demands of the LGBT lobby. In our state, achieving same sex marriage did not satisfy those in the LGBT community. The issue here is simple. Does the majority of society have to be forced to embrace the homosexual/transexual agenda as a good thing via the passage of new laws?...

This article addresses the political process by which the Homosexual movement is using to pervert America to accept their sick derranged life style. The courts have been packed radical hardcore Leftist Activists who are hell bent on bringing this country down. One certain way to destroy a society is by use use of psychological warfare. This is why the Church has forfeited "The Game" to our enemies under the excuse of Freedom of Speech. These sick animals have no place in our society or our planet....

We are doomed! Get ready to be forced back into the catacombs folks....
*SIGH* Hysteria... misunderstanding.. ignorance.. "stop stealing money from taxpayers!!" (as if US taxpayers had anything to do with Australian Human Rights)..It's All a Communist Plot.. WE ARE DOOMED!!... all rife with misspellings, and of course the naked hatred of "These sick animals have no place in our society or our planet". How... Christian of them. They've missed the point.

But there's some worthwhile comments too. Like this one, that while it completely misunderstands the situation, was worth answering.
Sam March 26th, 2011 4:54 am

@Adam and Tangelic: The very idea that you have a "brain sex" which is distinct from your "body sex" is not science. It is a modern descendent of Cartesian dualism, the mistaken philosophical view that the real "you" is your mind/brain while your body is not essential to your personal identity. Only if we assume this nonsensical division between self and body at the outset can the "brain sex"/"body sex" distinction even be rendered intelligible....
This is nonsense- it is the mind that needs to correctly represent the body, not the body that needs to be mutilated in order to accommodate the mind's dysfunctioning. This is a philosophical and theological error from the 17th century, and the fact that a large number of people in the therapy and psychiatry industry take this error for granted does not make it "science".
That one was worth answering - so I did.
Sam - you completely misunderstand the meaning of "Brain Sex". The brain is a sexually dimorphic organ. Men's brains are anatomically different from women's brains. You can tell a male brain from a female one at autopsy, just as you can tell a male pelvis from a female pelvis. The less subtle differences are visible on CAT and PET scans. And Transsexual people have anatomically cross-sexed brains, a physical difference. Parts of their body are female, parts male, just as is the case with other Intersex conditions. This is not a "psychological" or "spiritual" difference, it's an objective, physical one, just like the more obvious difference in genitalia. // Like genitalia, the brain's anatomy is set in the womb. But the two areas of physical development may differ, as the timing of development differs...
Followed by the usual references to medical and biological facts. Cartesian Dualism was about the separation of mind and body, not the separation of body and brain. The brain's part of the body, and trans people have some parts of the body masculinised, other parts feminised, to state it in a nutshell.

No, it's not about Epicurianism, Cartesian Dualism, Communism, or any other -ism.

Tuesday 29 March 2011

Babbage Difference Engine made with LEGO

A mechanical programmable computer designed in the 19th century - now buildable using standard Lego parts.

I was fortunate to have Allan Bromley as a lecturer in my undergrad days. He was good at it too, one of the very best. He's missed.

Friday 25 March 2011

Todays Battles : The Theory behind them

Some thoughts on Activism, inspired by some of the e-mails and private messages I've gotten lately.

If you Google my name, you'll see something astonishing. Well, it astonished me, anyway. Literally thousands of places where I've commented about TS and IS human rights issues, in places all round the world. India. South Africa. The UK. Australia. But mostly in the USA, in the Nashua Telegraph, the Houston Chronicle, the Talahasee Advertiser, the Denver Post.... in Greeley and Gainesville and Hamtramck and Kalamazoo and Nashville and a hundred other newspaper sites. On blogs, especially right-wing blogs.

Why did I do this?

First of all, let's look at social and ideological monocultures, where everyone in on the same wavelength, everyone agrees, there is an established consensus. Such things can easily become pathological, moving towards fanaticism. One member pushes the boundary a little, presents a slightly more extreme view than most, but still within acceptable bounds. Emboldened, another goes even further, and though the majority may have qualms, no criticism is forthcoming. Then an even more extreme view is presented, as everyone thinks that the rest of "their group" must be thinking that way. Soon what was once an extreme view becomes accepted, and anyone deviating from orthodoxy is attacked as an outsider, a RINO (Republican In Name Only), a DINO (Democrat In Name Only), a traitor, an infiltrator for the Opposition...

Dissent is silenced - sometimes literally, by censorship and banning. And the move towards an ever less sane, unreasonable and extreme position is inexorable. Soon the group becomes unrecognisable, a caricature of itself.

The effect is related to Pluralistic Ignorance.

From Wiki (to keep it simple)
In social psychology, pluralistic ignorance, a term coined by Daniel Katz and Floyd H. Allport in 1931, describes "a situation where a majority of group members privately reject a norm, but assume (incorrectly) that most others accept it...It is, in Krech and Crutchfield’s (1948, pp. 388–89) words, the situation where 'no one believes, but everyone thinks that everyone believes.'". This, in turn, provides support for a norm that may be, in fact, disliked by most people.

Pluralistic ignorance can be contrasted with the false consensus effect. In pluralistic ignorance, people privately disdain but publicly support a norm (or a belief), while the false consensus effect causes people to wrongly assume that most people think like them, while in reality most people do not think like them (and express the disagreement openly).
I've encountered both. The Radical Lesbian Feminist Separatists are a perfect example of False Consensus, they genuinely believe that their ideas about the desirability of exterminating Trans people must be shared by everyone, because their clique all believe that view. Visitors who point out that they're advocating genocide, that they're batsh1t crazy, are many: but they get censored out, blocked as being some unacceptable fringe nuttiness.

When it comes to Trans and Intersex human rights issues, Pluralistic Ignorance is far more common. A few very passionate commenters speak about Trans people being Freaks, Perverts, Paedophiles, Insane, Evil, Morally Corrupt, and the majority of viewers think that that idea must be held by pretty much everyone, as there's no-one to gainsay it.
Pluralistic ignorance was blamed for a perception (among American whites) that grossly exaggerated the support of other American whites for segregation in the 1960s.
How to fight this? A series of experiments shows the way. The Asch Conformity Experiments.
Variations of the basic paradigm tested how many confederates were necessary to induce conformity, examining the influence of just one confederate and as many as fifteen confederates. Results indicate that one confederate has virtually no influence and two confederates have only a small influence. When three or more confederates are present, the tendency to conform is relatively stable.

The unanimity of the confederates has also been varied. When the confederates are not unanimous in their judgment, even if only one confederate voices a different opinion, participants are much more likely to resist the urge to conform than when the confederates all agree. This finding illuminates the power that even a small dissenting minority can have. Interestingly, this finding holds whether or not the dissenting confederate gives the correct answer. As long as the dissenting confederate gives an answer that is different from the majority, participants are more likely to give the correct answer.
Even one lonely voice, as long as it's polite, reasonable, rational, is enough to disrupt the formation of a Groupthink. Just one dissenter is enough, just as it only takes three or four to set the ball rolling, when a majority is unsure about the issue.

I've been told on a couple of occasions by locals, that my intervention, my blatant interference in another country's internal affairs, has made a difference. Only a few, I have no illusions about my own significance in the grand scheme of things. But I have been unusually prolific as a commenter.

When I started, nearly six years ago, for the most part I was alone. I still am on some of the more rabid right-wing sites, those that haven't actually banned me. But in the left-wing sites, there's usually some now who will admit to being a little right of centre on some issues, economic ones anyway. It's now OK to be a moderate, looking for genuine social reform when it's needed, but not giving the "progressives" carte blanche.

And in newspapers and on TV station comments sections, it's now almost unknown that I be the lone voice of opposition to the meme that Trans people are Demons Incarnate (and quite possibly Communist infiltrators) Out To Destroy Society As We Know It and Pollute The Purity Of Our Precious Bodily Fluids.

Three years ago, there were a handful like me, usually the same few names. Now, it's rare indeed that I'm the first in. In some, sanity is now the norm, rather than the exception. It may be a view I disagree with, but at least they're rational, open to new ideas, and willing to give their sources, so that I can critique them. Sometimes I change my own opinions as the result, it's not a zero-sum game with a winner and a loser, it's a shared quest to determine what is, and what is not.

I didn't know anything about the psych theory when I started this. I just observed the tendency in a monoculture to become fanatical, and wanted to disrupt that. I knew nothing about the Asch paradigm, I just wanted to let the majority get an alternate view, that they couldn't just write off the issue as solved. It's starting to look like Pluralistic Ignorance may have been at play though, as such small interventions shouldn't have had such a large effect. Time will tell.

And in the meantime... I'm rather more tolerant of diversity in my comments section than most. Most of my friends and readers of this blog agree with me on most issues, so I try to nurture those who do not. I don't want this to be a runaway pathological monoculture you see.

Thursday 24 March 2011


Heroes? How else would you describe men who put their careers, their lives, on the line in order to help others?

How else do you describe some who could stay safe, but choose to put their heads up over the parapet, deciding that it's their turn on the firing line?

I think the description, while florid, fits. Men, some gay, some straight, some with families, some single, but all of whom had to go on a quest to gain their Manhood, they weren't just handed it by an accident of birth.

Acclaimed documentary film-maker Ali Russell has done it again, her professional cinematography and very human empathy creating a work that will reach out, and just perhaps, make the world just a little better for some who truly deserve it. Telling the pure, unvarnished truth, no embroidery, no embellishment, just reality.

This is the extended-version of a segment on ABC's newly returned to TV "Hungry Beast" program. Trans Guys Disclose.
There are some things about ourselves we don’t immediately reveal to other people. Meet Billy, Danny and Atari – three guys who you may be surprised to find out were born biologically female.

As these guys “pass” convincingly as men in everyday life after a physical transition process, we wanted to explore the idea of disclosure. How important is it for them for people to know their personal history and at what point do they tell someone they’re transgender?

Since the first Trans March in San Francisco in 2004, the visibility of female-to-male transgender men (known as FTMs or transmen) has been on the rise worldwide. Connected by online video blog communities and represented in trans male zines like Original Plumbing and more locally, Dude, the trans male community is slowly overcoming many years of discrimination and invisibility.
The after-program Web Forum is also available, though International viewers will have to watch the program on saved versions not on the ABC site. The one in this web post is the full, extended version, viewable Internationally, because this is an International issue.

I hope they do not become casualties. When Natalie Kirk and I appeared on an earlier episode about Intersex, we knew there were certain risks. But someone had to speak up. Due to my own circumstances, I wasn't able to hide. But Nat was. She decided not to.

We lucked out, and I've had nothing but praise from people who saw that episode. Not even the most rabid Fundies of the Australian Christian Lobby have said "Boo" about it. I hope that these guys have the same experience. They might not. They know it.

One thing - these guys were never female. They just used to look like it.

Wednesday 23 March 2011

Boy Brain, Girl Brain, Ages 9-22

Many people still believe on ideological grounds that men and women are neurologically identical, or that the differences can have, must have, no bearing whatsoever in expressed behaviour.

Well, it is statistical, individuals vary, there's no such thing as a "boy brain" or a "girl brain", just brains whose structures match typically male or typically female stereotypes to a greater or lesser extent... but close enough. And the two patterns converge it seems, at least as regards the cerebral cortex. Not the base of the brain though, the seat of emotional response, body map, and gender identity. If anything, there the differences grow more marked.

From the Wall Street Journal, As Little Girls and Boys Grow, They Think Alike
The NIMH, as part of a 20-year-old brain-mapping project, has been doing MRI scans of young people's brains, age 9 to 22. By measuring the thickness of the brain's cortex and how it changes over time, scientists have found that boys' and girls' brains, on average, differ significantly at age 9. But by the time the participants reached age 22, the brains of the two sexes grew more alike in many areas critical for learning. In general, most parts of people's brains are fully developed by the age of 25 to 30. The NIMH study, which involved 284 people, was published last year in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Another finding: Young girls' brains tend to mature faster in the front part, which is responsible, among other things, for language learning and controlling aggression and impulsivity. For boys, the fastest development is in the back of the brain, which performs visual-spatial tasks at which males tend to excel such as geometry and puzzle-solving.
One problem: the metric used is pretty crude. Just thickness of cerebral cortex. And we know that that is affected by the hormonal environment.

Changing your sex changes your brain: influences of testosterone and estrogen on adult human brain structure by Pol et al, Europ Jnl Endocrinology, Vol 155, suppl_1, S107-S114 2006
Objective: Sex hormones are not only involved in the formation of reproductive organs, but also induce sexually-dimorphic brain development and organization. Cross-sex hormone administration to transsexuals provides a unique possibility to study the effects of sex steroids on brain morphology in young adulthood.

Methods: Magnetic resonance brain images were made prior to, and during, cross-sex hormone treatment to study the influence of anti-androgen + estrogen treatment on brain morphology in eight young adult male-to-female transsexual human subjects and of androgen treatment in six female-to-male transsexuals.

Results: Compared with controls, anti-androgen + estrogen treatment decreased brain volumes of male-to-female subjects towards female proportions, while androgen treatment in female-to-male subjects increased total brain and hypothalamus volumes towards male proportions.

Conclusions: The findings suggest that, throughout life, gonadal hormones remain essential for maintaining aspects of sex-specific differences in the human brain.

Nonetheless, the differences are marked before age 9.
Gender Development

Some typical milestones and when boys and girls tend to hit them:

At birth: Girls are a few weeks more mature neurologically and have more advanced hearing. Boys on average weigh half a pound more.

First words: Girls typically utter their first word at 11 or 12 months, one month ahead of boys.

Vocabulary: At 18 months, girls on average know 86.8 words, more than double boys' 41.8 words. By 30 months, boys' and girls' language skills have converged, at about 500 words.

Walking: Caucasian girls and boys tend to walk around 12 months. African-Americans walk sooner, at nine to 10 months.

Potty training: Girls are fully trained by 36 months, according to one study. Boys took a bit longer, training by 38 months.

Onset of puberty: For girls, the process can start at age 9 to 10. For boys, it's closer to 11 to 12.

Source: WSJ research
And not so surprisingly, it appears that transsexual childrens' behaviour is more like that of the sex opposite to their appearance. The same anomaly is present in some Intersex conditions too, notably CAH in girls. Furthermore, it appears that a significant fraction of those who will grow-up with a non-standard sexual orientation - homosexual or bisexual - show the same pattern, though most do not.

Monday 21 March 2011

They mean well (part 2)

Continuing on from the previous post about the way Intersexed children are mistreated.

The rules are different for them.

From Is Sexual Identity All in Your Head? - ABC News
Doctors say as many as 1 in 2,000 babies is born with ambiguous genitalia — neither totally male nor female. For parents, the decision about how to proceed is often agonizing, and the stakes are high: the wrong choice could trap a little boy inside a girl's body or create a girl who longs to be a man.
No girl "longs to be a man". Only boys do that, even if their bodies look female. And girls long to be women, even if their bodies look male. But we get the idea. Surgically-created Transsexuality.
The study illustrates what was once unthinkable — that a person can feel like a male without a penis — is completely possible, maybe even predictable, given what we now know about how sexual identity is formed.
Where did we get this idea from? This "accepted wisdom" that now has been throughly debunked? How do we explain the evidence that led to this conclusion?

There was no evidence. Sigmund Freud made a conjecture about "penis envy", an idea he picked out of his hat, and for lack of anything that sounded more plausible, it became accepted, with not a skerric or scintilla of evidence to back it up. Pure Phlogiston. Myth. Superstition.

There's a lot of that when it comes to the way Medicine has treated Intersexed people since 1900. Lacking facts, we made conjectures, which in turn became unquestioned beliefs. Now we know better - but the old beliefs are still taught, and many are loath to give them up just because facts debunk them.
Hormones are key. "What we now know is that hormones imprint your brain," explains Dr. Craig Peters, a urological surgeon at Children's Hospital in Boston, Mass. "We don't know exactly when it happens, but probably even in utero."
For more details, see the reference page Transsexual and Intersex Gender Identity. We're actually pretty clued-up on it now, from animal experimentation, and observations of Trans and Intersexed people.
The fetal brain develops during the intrauterine period in the male direction through a direct action of testosterone on the developing nerve cells, or in the female direction through the absence of this hormone surge. In this way, our gender identity (the conviction of belonging to the male or female gender) and sexual orientation are programmed or organized into our brain structures when we are still in the womb. However, since sexual differentiation of the genitals takes place in the first two months of pregnancy and sexual differentiation of the brain starts in the second half of pregnancy, these two processes can be influenced independently, which may result in extreme cases in trans-sexuality. This also means that in the event of ambiguous sex at birth, the degree of masculinization of the genitals may not reflect the degree of masculinization of the brain. There is no indication that social environment after birth has an effect on gender identity or sexual orientation. -- Sexual Hormones and the Brain: An Essential Alliance for Sexual Identity and Sexual Orientation Garcia-Falgueras A, Swaab DF Endocr Dev. 2010;17:22-35

Back to the ABC article..
Parents and doctors have a variety of scientific tools to tell aid them in determining a baby's sex if the genitalia are ambiguous. Genetic testing is performed to check for the presence of a "Y" chromosome. Males are XY; females are XX.
Er... usually. Not always. Fully 1 in 300 men don't have 46XY chromosomes. 1 in 450 are 47XXY. 1 in 1000 are 47XYY. Other combinations exist, including 46XX.

As for women...
PATIENTS: A 46,XY mother who developed as a normal woman underwent spontaneous puberty, reached menarche, menstruated regularly, experienced two unassisted pregnancies, and gave birth to a 46,XY daughter with complete gonadal dysgenesis.

So is determining chromosomes useless? No, it can be a valuable clue with certain Intersex conditions, though a meaningless factoid in others. In cases of cloacal extrophy, an Intersex condition that doesn't involve cross-sexed hormonal environment in gestation, and where surgery at an early age can have real benefits in enabling foecal and urinary continence, 46XX means female 9999 times out of 10000, and 46XY means male 2999 times out of 3000. In fact, there's a bit more flexibility than that, maybe 1 in 6 or even 1 in 3 are bigendered, and could function well enough no matter what shaped body they ended up with.

In cases of 46XX with CAH, 9 out of 10 can live with a female body, and most such people are just ordinary women with slightly masculinised brains (easily observable from play-patterns in childhood), though many are lesbian, bi, or straight and rather butch. Many are not though, just girls. 1 in 10 though are boys. As for 46XY babies with some forms of CAH that can lead to testicular feminisation, we don't have enough data, but most would be boys.

Do you feel lucky? Are you willing to roll the die and take the chance, be it 1 in 10 or 2 in 3 that you get it wrong, and blight their lives? Or do you bear your discomfort at these children's existence, and wait until they grow up and can make fully informed decisions for themselves?

It seems like a no-brainer. Obvious. But you forget, the rules are different for Intersexed children, and every day, quite literally, paediatric surgeons with more skill than knowledge perform un-necessary surgery, just because, well, just because. Because they "worry about the impact of growing up intersex in a world unprepared to deal with such variety."

So how do they make these awful and un-necessary decisions? Toss a coin? Well, supposedly, yes, this has happened, and indeed that would appear to be no worse than the average using other means. Or it can depend on which surgeons are available, and what techniques they're most skilled in. Or whether they want to try their hand at something new for a change, and possibly gain skills that would be useful with real children, rather than some unfortunate freak of nature whose life probably won't be worth living anyway. Imagine being Intersexed? *shudder*.

I'm Intersexed. I'm not real thrilled about it. But would I have preferred to have been born with the usual anatomy, 46XX chromosomes, a working female reproductive system? Had the chance at the white picket fence, the husband, the large family?

But then, my son would not exist. Oh, I would have had other children. But not him. So the answer for me is no. There are far worse things than being IS, even for a woman so gender-fixed as myself.

And truly, yes, there's medical issues, and psychological insecurities, but although my life would have been happier, it would not have been nearly as interesting. Nor would I have met so many talented, kind, and inspirational men and women (and some who fit in neither category). I have no cause for complaint.
At Johns Hopkins Hospital, they have a "gender committee" that meets whenever an intersex baby is born. The team is headed by a pediatric endrocrinologist, but also contains a surgeon, a social worker and a clergyman among others. Together with the parents the team evaluates the baby and decides upon the best course of action.
A social worker. A clergyman.

Deciding what should be a purely medical issue.

Think about that. Imagine if you required brain surgery, and your treatment regime was being decided by a social scientist (concerned about the effects on society) and a fortune-teller, a pyramidologist or witch-doctor, as well as some medics of unknown competence.

Under the Emperor Constantine, Intersexed infants were sealed in boxes and cast into rivers as being against God's Creation. This theology is not quite dead in various Christian churches, and there have been numerous reports of Trans and Intersexed people being given very special advice by Priests and Pastors. That while suicide is a sin, in their case, God would forgive it, and it might be best for all concerned, especially their families.

One could be forgiven for thinking that this is like letting a paedophile run a kindergarten.

The rules are different for Intersexed children, and while there's certainly a place for psychologists, social workers, and knowledgeable spiritual advisors to help parents cope.... to involve those groups in the making of a medical decision that should be purely based on biological facts, and the child's best interests, not Society's, not the Parents, not "what will the neighbours say" and certainly not on religious dogma - that is malpractice. Inhuman.

Note one group that's missing from this panel: patient advocates. People who are Intersexed, those who have had such surgery, and those who have not. Arrogance and privilege at its worst, Massa knows what's best for the playful Darkies, unfortunate creatures that they are.

And the results of this usually un-necessary and often premature (and often just plain wrong decision?
The patient may lose feeling in his or her genitals and be unable to have normal sexual relations. Some intersex individuals even call the surgery "mutilation."
Think about it. If we were talking about "normal", non-intersexed children... wouldn't surgically altering genitals so they lose all sensation, or worse, if the only sensation they feel when sexually aroused is pain... would that not be considered, without any cavil or question, mutilation? Would there be a shred of a doubt? Would there be anyone, anywhere, under any circumstances, who would consider it not to be mutilation of the worst kind?

But when we're talking about Intersexed babies... it's "some... even call the surgery mutilation". As if that was a radical, extremist, even outrageous position.

The rules are different for Intersexed children.
ISNA recommends letting the patient decide whether or not to have surgery, which means waiting until a child is old enough to make such a complicated decision.

But many physicians believe it would be more harmful to wait, and worry about the impact of growing up intersex in a world unprepared to deal with such variety.
They mean well. They cannot imagine anything worse than being Intersexed. But it's not even that, for they can't change that, all they can do is alter the appearance. What they can't imagine is anything worse than appearing Intersexed, regardless of the Reality. They're worried about it. And taking council of their inchoate fears, they castrate these children. To keep up appearances.

No-one knows better than I the fate of the Intersexed child at school. The taunts, the violence, the relics I still carry of the hairline skull fracture, the broken ribs and other bones, all received before age 9. But you see, I "looked" normal, for a boy. I got this not for any anomalous appearance, for any child whose genitalia is routinely exposed to public view has far bigger problems than mere Intersex, and mine was not, but because of my instincts, my emotional responses. The anomaly of a girl with a boy body.

This isn't about worries of what the child may experience at school; it's about their own feelings, how they react. They just tell themselves that "it's for the child's own good", ignoring what actual Intersexed people who are old enough to speak for themselves have to say.

It's not as if the surgery is some magic talisman that protects the patient from discrimination as the child becomes an adult either.

In 1987, Wilma Wood was fired. She brought suit against her employer, claiming that she had been fired after the employer learned that she was intersexed and had undergone genital surgery. The U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania found that the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act protects women because of their status as females and discrimination against males because of their status as males, but employers are not legally prohibited from terminating employees on the basis of intersex status. The Court cited caselaw arising under Title VII as "persuasive authority."

63 Fair Empl.Prac.Cas. (BNA) 677, 44 Empl. Prac. Dec. P 37,314

They can be discriminated against quite legally because they've had surgery, not despite it.

The well-meaning medics are not worried about the effects of an unprepared society on the children. They're worried about the effect of these children on an unprepared society. That people might be forced to face an issue they find uncomfortable to think about.

It's all about appearances. About society's discomfort, and that of the medics to whose tender mercies these helpless babes have been entrusted. The following is telling:
"I've had parents say, 'I can't stand changing the diaper,'" Peters comments.
Poor petals. Rather than enduring this discomfort, they'd rather have their child "corrected" by well-meaning medics who must know what they're doing, right? It must be for the child's own good, right? They're loving parents, they mean well.

Let me quote what this surgery actually means, for a girl who the well-meaning medics assigned as a boy:
Because my vagina was pinhole sized. They assumed I'd never get more than a pinky finger in it, much less a man's almighty penis, (which is sadly their main criteria when making these decisions; Will they be able to have "normal" hetero sex?), so they cauterized the mucous membranes with a heated metal rod and sewed up the tiny hole, leaving what visually appeared to be a normal if a wee bit below average penis and one testicle with a small scar.
Think about that.

What would we call someone who inserted a heated metal rod into a baby girl's vagina, to burn away all the mucous membranes and sensory tissue, and then sewed it up? What punishment would society decree for such a monstrous act?

The rules are different for Intersexed children.
Notes Peters, "A lot of the adults complaining about the surgery is based on old technology. We didn't know as much then, and surgeons would do things like cut away the entire clitoris. Surgery has improved a lot over twenty years ago."
See my previous post about my little thought experiment. Having a clitoris that is numb, or having no clitoris at all, is adding insult to injury. The injury is that boys are getting castrated, their tiny penises cut off, in the first place. Whether they have an often purely cosmetic clitoris as a result or not is a secondary consideration. Not exactly high on their priority list. I'm sure it matters to the girls, but the operation is performed willy-nilly. And many of the kids who escape the surgeons' scalpels do just fine with their uncut genitalia, anomalous though it might be. Those that do not, they as adults and with full and informed consent choose what they want done, balancing risk, cosmesis, sensation, and rolling the die with a surgeon they choose, not having to chance the one who happens to be available.

If they're allowed to. Many are not. Because those who object to their surgical assignment, well, according to the US DSM-IV-TR Psychiatric Diagnostic Manual, they are mentally ill. GIDNOS - Gender Identity Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. There's no "Standard of Care" for them, no "Best Practice" as there is for standard Transsexuality (Gender Identity Disorder). If they're lucky, they get fast-tracked for surgery. Not so lucky, they're forced to jump through the same hoops Transsexuals do, like performing seals. A years-long, sometimes decades-long performance in order to get psychiatric clearance, permission from those who know better, for treatment to correct the well-meaning surgeon's error. And if they're out of luck... treatment is refused by well-meaning mental health professionals. In the patients best interests of course, because, well, just because. It upsets people to think about it.

But for babies, it is a Medical Emergency! It must be fixed immediately! Or... er... or... well something bad, they're sure of that. There must be something, right?
"It's rare that an enlarged clitoris would cause any medical problems, so we have time to wait," says David Vandersteen, pediatric urologic surgeon and vice-chief of surgery at Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minneapolis/St. Paul.
They mean well.

It's not just babies, either. Intersexed people who are much older can be treated the same way, with no consideration of their wishes or desires. As children, adolescents, and (rarely) as adults.
When I was in second grade, I was sat at a table with other little kids. We were 'special' because we all had gender neutral names. We really didn't understand that... Our table was all boys, but we were the smallest boys in the entire second grade. One of my table mates had micro penis and undescended testicles. All of the bigger boys picked on him incessantly about it. He always played with the girls. All of the bigger boys picked on him for that too. For the entire year his life was hell and he was the most unhappiest boy you ever saw.
That summer we were supposed to both get a minor operation to drag out testicles down and tie them off. I was side tracked by other events, so I wasn't there.
They opened the boy up, only to find a full set of female reproductive organs. The child was lucky, the doctor sewed everything up and had the child involved in what was to happen. That was 1969, it was unheard of back then to let a child be involved with that kind of decision.

1973 came.

His family had moved to our street around 1970. He was terribly shy around us kids who were always hanging out at the house next door but eventually he warmed up to us. In the summer we always got on our bikes to go to the Y nearly every day. He never would go with us, but he did loosen up and became friends with us. One day, we saw him limping around his yard mowing the grass with a bandage on his leg. We asked him about it. They had taken skin from his butt cheek. He showed us what was under the bandage and we saw a real nasty scar. We were kids and kids think scars are cool and ask the most embarrassing questions. Soon we were showing off our scars, but his were just so much more... disturbing. Over the next few weeks we found out that they had taken the skin to make a scrotum for him and that his other scars were to make him more of a boy. We were there when the skin became necrotic and was removed only to have more skin removed from the other butt cheek and stitched in place. We did manage to get him to go to the Y with us. We had great times. Those endless idealism summers were the afternoon is forever. There's always enough grape Kool-Aid for everyone. Gilligan's Island is always on...

The end started in August of 1973. On one of those endless afternoons my family moved away....

My friend went in for that one last surgery. Just that last one. There were no CAT or MRI scans. Most of what's known today wasn't know back then. Just a simple surgery for a guy that wanted to grow up to be the first Catholic Priest who pitched for the Oakland A's. Who wanted to be the first one among his friends to touch a girls boob or even kiss her.
In other words, a guy.

He only had one more surgery, out of nearly a dozen. He was so used to surgery, it was nothing to him. Just another scar among many to show off on a Saturday.

The doctor cut in to him, looked around for the two shy testicles... only to find a complete female reproductive system lying in wait. The doctor did what any doctor of that time would do. He removed the faux scrotum that covered sealed tissues that were in fact fused labia. He removed the phallus that needed 4 or 5 surgeries and 7 years of aggressive testosterone treatments to make it grow proud. Another surgery to move a vein from his leg so he could pee standing up...
The doctor removed it all and tossed it in the trash because he did what felt right to him. To him, the person lying there was biologically female and shouldn't have anything male about them. So he cut it all away.
My friend went in, laid down thinking that this was the last painful surgery and he would be a full man. Only to wake up to a true nightmare. Because losing his hard fought for manhood was only the start.
But, losing his manhood was a massive blow.
They took him off of testosterone immediately. His body was so used to it, and it also leveled his mood.
Another blow.
He was forbidden from seeing any of his friends, or going to school, or playing with anything boy like.
He couldn't wear pants, only dresses. His close cropped hair, they refused to let it be cut.
Without testosterone, the body responded like any 13 year old girl's body does. Breasts started to bud, a menstrual cycle began.
The blows to his psyche didn't stop.
He couldn't play little league. He couldn't be an altar boy any more.
He was an innocent 13 year old boy who went in to surgery to become a man...
Only to wake up in a nightmare that wouldn't stop.
After all of that, it still didn't stop.
It didn't stop with a rape.
It didn't stop with a pregnancy.
It stopped with suicide.
Problem solved, and society safe.

I'll close with that quote of Mencken:
Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.
Yes. Not just "normal men", Intersexed women too.

Repeat after me, Zoe. "They mean well. They mean well". And try your hardest to believe it, so the tears of rage and hurt and grief stop flowing. Tears for those who weren't as lucky as you were. Tears for those in the past, and God help us, those babies being butchered even now by those who Mean Well.

Sunday 20 March 2011

They mean well (Part 1)

I have to repeat that as a mantra, to stop from going utterly berserk with inchoate rage - my instinctive reaction to the maltreatment of disadvantaged children.
Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats. - Henry Louis Mencken (1880 - 1956)
Well, I'm not normal, and not a man - but I understand the sentiment exactly.

From the Stanford Medicine Magazine, a story on the surgical assignment of sex to helpless children.Gender X - 2011 SPRING - Stanford Medicine Magazine - Stanford University School of Medicine
Deciding how, or even if, DSDs (Disorders of Sexual Development) should be treated is trying the skills, minds and hearts of all concerned. A jagged divide has opened between those who believe in surgery to “fix” a baby’s sex and those who say — barring medical necessity — a child’s genitals should be kept intact. The arguments touch on the complex nature of gender and sexual identity, on what makes up a person’s sense of self, and who — or what — decides what that might be. The issues are roiling the community of pediatric bioethicists to such an extent that today many of its members are hesitant to publicly express their opinions for fear of hardening the divide. “Everybody’s got a dog in this fight,” says one.
Fair comment.

I wonder if those who advocate surgery would volunteer for an experiment? A thought experiment, as to actually carry it out would be not just unethical, but actually evil, no matter what our intent.

Let's imagine castrating them all, and see how they manage to cope. We'll be humane about it, give them full sex reassignment surgery, not the butchery that was practiced in the past.

Somehow I don't think they'd be enthused; because different standards apply to them. They're different. Normal. Not Intersexed.
Even given a marked improvement in today’s surgical techniques and an increase in psychosexual awareness, surgeon Linda Dairiki Shortliffe, MD, professor of urology at the Stanford School of Medicine, says,
“There is no right answer in many of these cases. That’s why it’s so hard to give advice to parents. We really don’t know what that person is going to be when they grow up.”
True. Now OK, I'm a Rocket Scientist. But it doesn't take one to realise that if you don't know what sex they're going to be in the future, arbitrarily surgically assigning them one that could well be inappropriate is not the best of ideas. They can't claim ignorance of the consequences now, not when so many of their patients are telling them they were wrong.
Katrina Karkazis, PhD, senior research scholar at Stanford’s Center for Biomedical Ethics, who authored the 2008 book Fixing Sex: Intersex, Medical Authority and Lived Experience, says narrow ideas about gender, societal and medical discomfort with such ambiguity, and distraught parents’ belief that they must surgically make their child normal as soon as possible have led to avoidable mistakes. “If we slow things down and think about it more,” Karkazis says, “better decisions would be made.”
It's not a medical issue, it's a social one. And often a religious one.
This is not something polite company talks about, nor even within the scientific community is it studied much. Often owing as much to the stigma as to the relative rarity of occurrences, there are no hard numbers on which research might be based, as yet no national surveys or database. Longitudinal medical studies that gauge how adolescents or adults have fared after genital plastic surgery as infants are sparse.
Says one prominent pediatric urologist who does frequent genital surgeries on infants, “I see all these photos in the Wall Street Journal, kids with holes in their faces; they’re pleading for money to fix cleft palates. Well, I can’t show these penises, which look absolutely terrible. People would say it’s child pornography.”

It’s the secrecy, the whiff of tawdriness, that still sets medical and social treatment of DSDs apart.
As I said in a Cosmos Science Magazine article back in 2007,
It is confusing. And it’s upsetting, and it’s embarrassing and it’s not suitable for children and it’s not safe for work — so people don’t want to talk about it.
So it doesn't get studied - not by reputable, well-brought-up, God-Fearing people.

I must be careful I'm not hypocritical here. I'm a very conservative, prim, and private person. I'm uncomfortable talking about sex and genitalia too. But what the Blue Green and Yellow Striped Blazes does my discomfort signify in the Grand Scheme of things when children are being mutilated to make people like me comfortable in the delusion that sex is a strict binary? Oh, I know how the parents feel. I felt it myself, when my boy was born with an Intersex condition, that required him to have genital reconstruction before I did. More by good luck than good judgement - and as the result of a pediatric urologist who knew what he was doing - we opted for a minimal reconstruction that preserved functionality, as well as relieving the increasing pain and difficulty with urination our baby boy suffered.

It was a long wait, trying to comfort him in his pain, while he grew strong enough to endure the surgery. Sometimes it's necessary, and you have to take your best shot, not limiting options. I'm no Fanatic, against surgery under all circumstances. Just against it when it's not actually needed for the child's benefit, not that of Society, or The Parents, or to make the medics feel more comfortable.
Pediatric endocrinologist Avni Shah, MD, a clinical instructor in pediatrics, offers that she was pleasantly surprised to learn that pediatric and adolescent gynecologist Paula Hillard, MD, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology, seated beside her, had been summoned to consult on two intersex babies within the past two months. But, as those around the table agreed, that was a matter of chance: A pediatric urologist who routinely performs plastic surgery in these cases — genitoplasty — might just as easily have been called.
It's luck, you see. Get a good team, and the child remains intact. Get a not so good one, and it's Dr Mengele all over again. Intersexed people just aren't a priority, except to make the problem of our existence go away, or be rendered invisible.
“The evidence seems overwhelming that normal humans are not psychosexually neutral at birth,” Diamond wrote.

But what of children born with ambiguous genitalia? Are they, according to the Freudian notion still prevalent today, dependent upon a penis or a lack thereof to define their gender identity? How often is this view imposed on infants through genital surgery? What’s right, and whose call is it to make?

A leading researcher on DSDs, William Reiner, MD, a pediatric urologist and psychiatrist at the University of Oklahoma, says the answers still largely depend on where a child is born. Outside of a handful of teaching hospitals, UC-San Francisco, the University of Michigan and the University of Pittsburgh among them, few U.S. institutions have any established protocol for the always surprising, and often shocking, event of an intersex birth.

“There is no standard of care,” says Reiner, also on staff at Johns Hopkins. “Usually the approach is determined by who you happen to see first. In the Western world, everybody expects to have a perfect child to begin with. So if they aren’t perfect, they’re all upset. Most of what has evolved [in the treatment of DSDs] over the last half of the 20th century has more to do with people’s ideas and views and thoughts and biases than it has to do with any kind of data.”
With consequences that have been unspeakable in many cases. Fatal all too often too, after an existence that's hellish for the mutilated child.

I should emphasise that that didn't happen to me. Well, not as a child, though at age 20, surgery to remove my gallbladder removed rather more than that. As is common in such cases, the records get mislaid. In my case, not deliberately, they lost a lot during a renovation of that part of the hospital. That's unusual, usually it's quite deliberate, "to protect the patient" from "knowledge they were not meant to know".

I would have consented anyway. Nothing inside worked, I didn't consider transition at the time. Better to be a woman who looked like a normal man. It was only seven years later that I found that I didn't look like a normal man "down there". I don't consider myself hard done by, just wish they would have asked me. But I digress.

It's the luck of the draw, the majority of medics involved make it up as they go along because they're supremely ignorant, and the last people they'd consider consulting are patient advocacy groups - those who know the situation intimately.
As such, the state Department of Social Services called what amounted to an emergency hearing to determine what to do about this odd and fascinating case. An endocrinologist testified that the child wouldn’t be adoptable without an easily identifiable sex and advocated surgery, says Lisette’s adopted mother. A pediatric urologist, also favoring surgery — and soon — said the child’s gender could go either way.
Think about it: neither medic advocated surgery because it was medically necessary. One advocated it to make it more convenient for adoption, the other advocated it despite the child's gender being indeterminate. No-one spoke about the child's right to self-determination when competent.
For reasons that the girl’s adopted mother says are still not clear, a family court judge ordered that Lisette be surgically transformed into a girl, usually the easier surgical option. So when the child was 16 months old, her phallus was shaped into a clitoris and her testicular tissue removed. Today she is left with half an ovary and a uterus, and surgically created labia. She will likely be infertile.

“I wasn’t privy to the hearing,” says her adopted mother. “Her case worker told me after the fact. I was devastated. And so we got her at 20 months. We took her to a developmental pediatrician. We thought she might be mentally retarded; she wasn’t walking, not talking. Now she’s normalized out of that. But I always thought she should have been a boy. Her testosterone level is so high.”
I hope she's wrong; I fear she's right. And this story is repeated, with variations, again and again and again.
“She is the coolest kid,” says her mother. “I don’t want her to be angry. I want to be careful not to make her angry that they did this surgery. My gut says that it was really stupid, and it makes me angry. But I don’t want to bias her that way.

“But she’s asked me, ‘Will I be a man when I grow up? And I say, ‘Yeah, you might be.’”
Now pardon me, the screen has gone all blurry. Must be the 'mones, right? Oh wait, I still haven't taken today's dose, no estrogen spike to blame.
Since testifying before a hearing investigating “the medical ‘normalization’ of intersex people” convened by the San Francisco Human Rights Commission in 2004, Laurence Baskin, MD, chief of pediatric urology at UCSF, rarely speaks publicly about the complex decision to surgically assign a gender to an intersex child.

“I thought they were going to shoot me,” he says of his experience at the hearing.

But Baskin, like many other surgeons and medical clinicians who treat these children, is acutely aware of how much remains unknown about the long-term ramifications of assigning gender in infancy. In a recent review article in Pediatric Urology, he and his co-authors called for further study to assess sexual function and psychosexual development in people on whom genital surgery was involuntarily performed.

Baskin says he empathizes with adults now suffering from bad surgical outcomes, and wishes they had had the same level of care available today. “And in 10 or 20 years, it will be better,” he says, moments after performing an infant genitoplasty himself.
This must be some strange new meaning of the word "empathise" I wasn't aware of.

If more study is needed - and it is, I agree with him - then what the heck is he doing surgery for now? I just have to hope it's a minor repair, or a radical reconstruction where the infant has 46XY cloacal extrophy, and thus a 2999/3000 (we think) chance of being male, rather than the usual 2 in 3 crapshoot - no better than a coin-toss, as some are bi-gendered and can adapt as either sex to some degree.
Pediatric urologist Hsi-Yang Wu, associate professor of urology at Stanford, notes that an established surgical technique that pulls the clitoris under the pubic bone — now known to cause painful orgasms — is no longer used.
We just be thankful for small mercies, right? That these Quacks no longer condemn these children to a lifetime of pain due to their medical incompetence, they just butcher them.
While he called the surgery “not particularly difficult,” like his colleagues, Wu was quick to add that the long-term outcome remains unknown. “But I have a concern about waiting, too, about letting the child make the decision, as if that would be easier. I’m not sure it is. What I tell parents is, ‘You have to make decisions for your kids on everything, all the time.’”
True, when the surgery is necessary. But not because someone who knows nothing if the experience of being Intersexed "has concerns" because... well, just because. Because they're uncomfortable.
Physicians argue that torn between cultural norms and expectations, the complexity of gender identity, and a dearth of hard research data, they strive to offer the best medical advice they can.
Let's look at that:
  1. Cultural Norms and Expectations
  2. Complexity of Gender Identity
  3. Dearth of Hard Research Data
Why should "cultural norms and expectations" play any role whatsoever, in what is supposed to be a medical issue, not an ideological, political, social or religious one?

"Complexity of Gender Identity" - very true, we don't know enough, though the data that we do have shows that Gender Identity is set pre-natally, and isn't subject to change thereafter except possibly in very borderline cases (and probably not even then).

"Dearth of Hard Research Data" - meaning they don't know what they're doing, and know they don't know what they're doing now. They can no longer use ignorance as an excuse.

The "best medical advice" it would seem to me, is to wait until the child can tell us what gender they are. Simple, really. Obvious. But that goes against their feelings of discomfort, so they are "torn".

Not literally though... the thought of rending them limb from limb, while it has a certain appeal, would be uncivilised. Not I think unjust though.
Some groups demand an end to all cosmetic genitoplasty on children with DSDs at least until the child is old enough to give consent; others warn that alienating physicians will not help their cause. Adding to the chill is a nascent effort to hold physicians and hospitals legally accountable for genital surgery that, years later, has left their former patients unable to sexually perform or even experience sexual sensation.
Bingo. They're afraid. They're scared that if their well-meaning malpractice should be exposed to the courts, they will be held accountable for it. So they must hide the evidence, at least until the statute of limitations runs out.

I myself would be willing to grant a blanket amnesty for any harm done with genuine good intent. As long as they were not provably negligent, and not acting illegally (as some have), then providing they cease immediately, they should not be held accountable for past mistakes. Past wrongs, yes, but not careless errors only obvious in hindsight. But then again, I'm not one of their butchered victims, and my concern is for the future, not the past. For the same reason, the manufacturers of the drug DES should not be held liable - as long as they immediately admit the problems, and start funding some research into the issue. I'm after restitution and repentance, not punishment.
At the meeting, bioethicist Karkazis spoke of making better decisions about genital surgery; about full disclosure; about helping families who have been misinformed or lied to; about humanizing medical, social and psychological treatment during high-stress times.
Think about it: a culture where it was the norm to lie, the norm to misinform, the norm to be inhuman, just to prevent psychological discomfort to the medics, to the parents, and to society in general. Not to the helpless infant they're about to castrate.

Can you imagine the scandal if this behaviour, behaviour now acknowledged by the medical profession as being widespread if not universal, was applied to any non-Intersexed person? The rules for us are different, even now, even when they're trying to set their own house in order.
There was the matter of his ambiguous genitalia, which on that basis alone had relegated him to the category of “special needs,” and then there was the fact he would be their fifth child.

But the Stevensons — she’s a stay-at-home mom and he works in the software industry — also live in a small town in the Pacific Northwest. And the message from the pulpit of the close-knit church in which they worship is anything but ambiguous when it comes to matters of sex. Meredith describes it as conservative and unyielding: Man marries woman and, God willing, children result.

“So this was one other thing that entered the picture,” Meredith says. “My husband and I had to think long and hard about our feelings toward homosexuality. Say we raised him as a boy and he falls in love with a boy. It could mean we picked the wrong gender. Or it could mean he’s homosexual. We had to make sure we were fine with homosexuality because we didn’t know for sure where he fell on the gender spectrum.”
Or she. Despite what your church might say. The Earth isn't flat, and "the things that your Preacher is liable to teach ya, they ain't necessarily so".

He might be straight. She might be lesbian. He might be gay. She might be straight. Either could be bisexual, or most likely, asexual. It's not about sexual orientation, it's about gender identity, who you are. Trust me on that one, OK? I know whereof I speak.
Against the advice of a pediatric urologist who urged at least the application of topical testosterone on what he called the smallest penis he’d ever seen, the couple have decided to simply let their child grow into who he is, without surgery or other treatment, without adopting fears over the stigma of a male unable to urinate standing up.

When, during a family vacation, the child begged his parents to buy him a dress, they did — and allowed him to wear it throughout a flea market despite stares from passersby.

“I felt it then,” Meredith says. “That was the only point that it felt a little weird.
That's OK. Heck, I would too. But somehow, I think this child is going to be alright. They negotiated the gauntlet, avoided sexual mutilation, and have parents whose prime concern is not their own discomfort or embarrassment, it's the love they feel for their child.

They'll probably be thrown out of their Church for that of course. That's usual in such cases.

Next Post: Is Sexual Identity All in Your Head? - ABC News

Spoiler: Yes, it is.

For those coming from Grand Rounds - Part II is the next post. Feel free to have a look around.

MESSENGER now orbiting Mercury

I have 3 posts in draft form. Two of them are... upsetting, on a personal as well as ethical basis. So I need a dose of sanity and hope before tackling them. Some Good News, to combat the horror inflicted on some children by well-meaning but arrogant and clueless professionals.

From the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
A NASA spacecraft began orbiting Mercury, becoming the first to fly around the solar system's innermost planet, the space agency said.

The craft, known as Messenger, began the orbit around 9:00 pm (US time) on a mission to circle the planet for one Earth year in an unprecedented study of the tiny, hot planet.

The spacecraft began its journey more than six years ago, travelling through the inner solar system and embarking on flybys of Earth, Venus and Mercury.

NASA said that by achieving orbit, "this marks the first time a spacecraft has accomplished this engineering and scientific milestone at our solar system's innermost planet".
Actually, it's not "Messenger", it's MESSENGER. MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging, but never mind. A nose by any other name would smell.

I played a very small part in this spacecraft's development. Just enough so that I was made a member of the mission team, in lieu of actual payment.

An "engineering and scientific milestone" in the annals of space exploration. And I helped make it happen, in a very small way, along with many others who did far more than I did. I just "knew where to hit the washing-machine", based on my experience with the FedSat satellite, where similar issues were encountered.

Now I must steel myself to write the next post, amalgamating two drafts. And try very, very hard to be charitable to those unspeakable ignoramae who commit atrocities because they mean well.

Saturday 19 March 2011

Latest from the International Atomic Energy Agency

Continuing News from the IAEA

Japanese Earthquake Update (18 March 10:15 UTC)

Japanese authorities have informed the IAEA that new INES ratings have been issued for some of the events relating to the nuclear emergency at the Fukushima Daiichi and Daini nuclear power plants.

Japanese authorities have assessed that the core damage at the Fukushima Daiichi 2 and 3 reactor units caused by loss of all cooling function has been rated as 5 on the INES scale.

Japanese authorities have assessed that the loss of cooling and water supplying functions in the spent fuel pool of the unit 4 reactor has been rated as 3.

Japanese authorities have assessed that the loss of cooling functions in the reactor units 1, 2 and 4 of the Fukushima Daini nuclear power plant has also been rated as 3. All reactor units at Fukushima Daini nuclear power plant are now in a cold shut down condition.
[UPDATE - that's Dai-no, Number-2, not Dai-ichi, Number-1 as I first thought]

Contrary to several news reports, the IAEA to date has NOT received any notification from the Japanese authorities of people sickened by radiation contamination.

In the report of 17 March 01:15 UTC, the cases described were of people who were reported to have had radioactive contamination detected on them when they were monitored.
OK, so what does this mean?
Category 5 means that places far away have had their background count increase.

It means there's serious damage, which might or might not include some melting, in #2 and #3 reactors. But they're in cold shutdown now, meaning temperatures are < 100C. If some of the rods did melt at all, they're solid now. You can assume that a lot of the Iodine-131 and Cesium-137 is in the coolant, or has escaped already. There's likely to be some Strontium-90 etc in as well, so every time they vent steam, there'll be both a short term radiation spike, and a very, very much smaller long-term increase in local background radioactivity too. Not a health hazard, but enough to measure.

OK, let's look at the long-term contamination. As far as I'm aware, the kinds of isotopes in the Japanese fuel rods will be broadly similar to the ones in Chronobyl. There are some differences in reactor #3 as it uses MOX fuel (ie it burns plutonium from scrapped bombs), but it will do as a first approximation.

Note that this is the relative contribution of each: at 10,000 days, the amount of Cesium-137 is only half as much as it was on day 1, and the effects of the rest are negligible in comparison. So if the Cesium-137 contributes 2% of the total now, then in 30 years time, the actual increase in background from all causes will be ~1% of what it is today.

The three nasties are Iodine-131, Cesium-137, and Strontium-90. All are easily absorbed by the body, so let's look at those:

Iodine-137 is concentrated in the thyroid - and after 100 days, it's negligible in effect. Within 30 days though, especially in the first few, it's nasty, and can cause thyroid cancer. Taking iodine tablets provides a large degree of protection, so if you do that on the first day, and continue for 3 months, you largely negate the problem.'

Cesium-137 is chemically similar to potassium, and only half is gone in 30 years. That means that although it's easily gotten rid of by sweating, vegetables and fruits grown in the contaminated area should not be eaten, as it's too easily absorbed by them.

Strontium-90 is chemically similar to Calcium, so is deposited in bones. Although its contribution is small, it isn't easily gotten rid of by the body, once it's in, it stays in. This makes it far more dangerous than its minor contribution would be otherwise. It too has a half-life of 30 years, meaning half of it is still around 30 years later. Drinking lots of uncontaminated milk and eating lots of uncontaminated cheese is wise. Conversely, drinking contaminated milk is a Bad Idea(tm). However, most of the stuff will remain on-site, and it's only the venting of steam containing it that's a worry. Unfortunately, we've had to do exactly that at reactors #2 and #3.

OK, to summarise: it looks like the containment on #2 and #3 is not 100%. At least one has been generating spikes, and release of steam at this point or later will contain long-term nasties that earlier releases did not. Same with the spent fuel rods, these need covering with water ASAP.

Although there's always a possibility of accidents during the clean-up, providing no more venting is needed, we've had all the long-term consequences we're going to. The increase in continuous background, as opposed to readings during the transient spikes from short-lived isotopes, is many tens greater than what it will be long-term.

In places like Tokyo, the increase in continuous background is too small to measure. In the long-term, it might be 1/20 of that minute amount. We don't have enough data to say about places closer, but the "trough" readings at the gate indicate a background count that's still safe. I wouldn't eat vegetables grown next to the reactor though. Not even 1 km away. 10km? Not enough information, there's too much uncertainty to say that would be 100% safe. "Very probably completely safe" isn't the same as "100% guaranteed", and there's still plenty of scope for accident.

And #3 is still emitting 3.3 Rem per hour (down from 3.5 before the firehoses were used) , far too high for anyone to work there for more than an hour a year. Cleaning it up will be tricky, and #2 is damaged too.

[UPDATE 1100 JST] In order to stop confusion about microSieverts, milliSieverts, and Rem, I'll adopt a rule: non-dangerous dose rates will be in microSieverts/hr. Dangerous dose rates will be in Rem/hr.

Inside #1 reactor, it's 1.0 Rem/Hr. Inside #2 reactor, it's 1.5 Rem/Hr. Several workers have now exceeded a dose of 10 Rem. The upper limit for powerplant workers has now been raised to 15 Rem, and for SDF soldiers and firefighters, 25 Rem. Anyone who takes 10 Rem or more is evacuated from the site and not allowed to return.

The usual annual dose considered safe over a year (with some margin of safety) is 5 Rem. The average dose everyone receives in a year no matter where they live is 3.5 Rem. Where I live, at 200 metres altitude near granite mountains, and in a brick house, it's estimated as 4.1 Rem.

No biological effects can be measured from 20 Rem. There is no statistical difference in cancer rates at 10 Rem. There are no symptoms of Radiation Sickness at below 100 Rem. There is no danger of death below 250 Rem. But at a dose rate of 3.3 Rem/hr, that last recorded at #3 reactor, you hit your maximum allowable dose for the year in 2 hours. 3.5 Rem from the last year of living, and 2 x 3.3 Rem for the 2 hours spent at #3.

Friday 18 March 2011

Marriage Rights and the Intersexed

This is what happens when parents and doctors mutilate children, shaping a square peg to fit in a round hole.

This is what happens when desperate people go to incompetent butchers to fix the problem bequeathed to them by arrogance and ignorance.

This is what happens when an inhuman legal system collides with messy biological reality.

This is also what happens when two people love each other.

Thursday 17 March 2011

Trans Related Law Reform in the ACT

For my many foreign readers, ACT is the Australian Capital Territory. Very much the equivalent of the District of Columbia, consisting of the Capital city of Australia, Canberra, and a tiny hinterland only a little larger than Luxembourg.

An interesting page is the one on Current inquiries | A.C.T. Department of Justice and Community Safety

Thu, 17 Mar 2011 10:20:10 +1100

Transgender rights & legal recognition

The ACT Attorney General, Simon Corbell MLA, formally referred the issue of transgender legal recognition to the Law Reform Advisory Council for consideration in 2011. Mr Corbell asked the Council for detailed advice on whether any changes to the Territory’s current law are needed to ensure the protection of human rights.

The Council will provide opportunities for public comment as it undertakes the inquiry. Further updates and information will be posted on this website.

The terms of reference for the Council's latest inquiry are available online here:

LRAC Terms of Refence 2011 - transgender rights & recognition

As part of its inquiry, the Council will consider advice by the Human Rights Commission on the current state of ACT law. The advice reviews the requirements for registering a change of sex under the Births, Deaths, & Marriages Registration Act 1997, and includes some recommendations for legislative reform. The advice is available at the link below:

Human Rights Commission - Advice on gender identity
The latter is worth reading in its entirety. It affects me personally, and I hope that it is adopted in toto. I'll be doing what I can to see that it is.


As far as I can tell, my legal sex is:
  • UK Public Records Office - Male since 1958. This cannot be changed under current UK law
  • UK Passport Office - Female since May 2006, before then male.
  • Commonwealth Medicare - (Intersexed) Female since October 2005, before then male
  • Commonwealth Immigration - Female since August 2006, before then male
  • Commonwealth Passport Office - Female since November(?) 2007, before then male
  • ACT Registrar of BDM - Male since name change August 2005, before then, no statement. This cannot be changed under current ACT law.
  • Other ACT - no idea, though if they asked my OB/Gyn, she'd have some strong opinions on the subject.
I am a perfect example of why we need Trans Law Reform in the ACT, even though technically I'm not Trans. Intersexed people with 5ARD or 17BHDD who can get similar natural changes would also face the same sorts of issues.

Under current law, if my partner died, in Australia I could only marry a man, as same-sex marriage is forbidden. In the UK, I could only marry another woman, as same-sex marriage is forbidden there too.

I've not actually given any medical evidence to any Government, UK, Commonwealth, or ACT, of my genital configuration, and don't intend to do so.

I still have a UK Birth Certificate saying "boy" as I am Intersexed, and that precludes a diagnosis of Transsexuality, a necessary requirement for granting a Gender Recognition Certificate unless there is formal recognition of a different sex by the ACT (but not the Commonwealth).

Should I gain such recognition, I'd still have a problem under the UK Gender Recognition Act as we're still married, but one step at a time.

Wednesday 16 March 2011

Myths and Transgender-Related Statistics

From Transgender-Related Statistics :
Historically, transgender-related statistics have been difficult to locate and are were often of poor quality, being anecdotal or poorly referenced, and of limited power and accuracy due to small sample sizes or poor study / survey design
Which rather understates the case.

This document gathers together a great deal of data, and most importantly, gives the primary sources. That doesn't guarantee accuracy, but at least makes the source of the raw figures known.

For example:
  • GLSEN's 2005 National School Survey results are also reported in the Cold Showers and Statistics blog entry, posted July 07, 2007 by Richard M. Juang at the Trans Group Blog; however the numbers reported there (Trans Group Blog) don't agree with those reported by the source, GLSEN, highlighting the need to verify and re-verify trans statistics reported on the web:
    • 40.7% of students felt unsafe in their own school
    • 45.5% had been verbally harassed
    • 26.1% had been physically harassed
    • 11.8% had been assaulted
    • GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network released the most comprehensive report ever on the experiences of GLBT students in their 2007 National School Climate Survey. The survey of 6,209 middle and high school students found that nearly 9 out of 10 GLBT students (86.2%) experienced harassment at school in the past year, three-fifths (60.8%) felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation and about a third (32.7%) skipped a day of school in the past month because of feeling unsafe. Regarding transgender students, specifically (pp. 81, 82 and elsewhere in ref. 8), based on a sample of 290-296 transgender students:
    • 96.1% of students heard negative comments related to students' gender expression
    • 85.1% of transgender students reported being verbally harassed in the past school year because of their sexual orientation and gender and/or gender expression
    • 49.5% of transgender students also reported physical harassment
    • 38.4% of students reported feeling unsafe at school because of their gender expression
    • 34.1% reported physical assault based on all of these characteristics.
    • Source: GLSEN (2007), "The 2007 National School Climate Survey: Nearly 9 out of 10 LGBT Students Harassed."   Click here for the full report (PDF).
  • A very scholarly and professional piece of work.

    Monday 14 March 2011

    Japanese Reactor Radiation - The Numbers

    I'll quote the measured doses as reported by the Japanese Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) bulletin #22.

    First, a "normal baseline" :
    MP1 (Monitoring at the North End of Site Boundary)
    0.036 microSv/h(19:00 March 13)
    →0.038 microSv/h(05:00 March 14)
    MP3 (Monitoring at the North/West End of site boundary)
    0.038 microSv/h(19:00 March 13)
    →0.037 microSv/h(05:00 March 14)
    MP4 (Monitoring at the North/West End of Site Boundary)
    0.036 microSv/h(19:00 March 13)
    →0.038 microSv/h(05:00 March 14)
    MP5 (Monitoring at the West End of Site Boundary)
    0.04 microSv/h(19:00 March 13)
    →0.042 microSv/h(05:00 March 14)

    So the normal background around a fully functional nuclear powerplant is about 0.038 microSieverts per hour.

    OK, so what's a Sievert? It's an SI (Scientific standard) unit which is 100 Rem. The biological effects of radiation are based on the number of Rem in the dose. In most places, a dose of 0.3 Rem per year is what you'd get just from normal background.

    That's 0.003 sieverts, or 3,000 micro-sieverts. Divide by 8766 hours in a year, call it 0.035 microsieverts per hour, though being 500m altitude above sea level or having granite rocks nearby could easily double it. So would wearing a watch, or living in a brick rather than timber building.

    The Health Physics Society figures for the US
    External Background Radiation60 mrem/yr, US Average
    Natural K-40 and Other Radioactivity in Body40 mrem/yr
    Air Travel Round Trip (NY-LA)5 mrem
    Chest X-Ray Effective Dose10 mrem per film
    Radon in the Home200 mrem/yr (variable)
    Man-Made (medical x rays, etc.)60 mrem/yr (average)
    Call it 360 mrem - or 0.36 Rem.

    From the NDT Resource Centre:
    The dose limit to non-radiation workers and members of the public are two percent of the annual occupational dose limit. Therefore, a non-radiation worker can receive a whole body dose of no more that 0.1 rem/year from industrial ionizing radiation. This exposure would be in addition to the 0.3 rem/year from natural background radiation and the 0.05 rem/year from man-made sources such as medical x-rays.

    OK, now we have numbers established for "normal". For radiation workers, 5 Rem per year is considered safe. Actually, there's evidence that a little more might be more healthy due to stimulating the immune system - there's a J-curve effect at such low doses, we think, but we really, really, really want to be Conservative with a Capital C here. The evidence says that 5 rem is as healthy as 0.3 rem anyway. 5 rem is 57 microsieverts/hr over the course of a year.

    Now let's look at the Bad News(tm). The radiation at the perimeter of the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station, otherwise known as Ground Zero. And it's worse than I'd thought.
    MP2 (Monitoring at north- northwest of Unit1 and northwest of the
    End of Site Boundary for Unit 1 ) :
    450 microSv/h(20:10 March 13)
    →680 microSv/h(3:50 March 14)
    MP4 (Monitoring Car at North West Site Boundary for Unit 1)
    44.0 microSv/h(19:33 March 13)
    →56.4 microSv/h(04:08 March 14)
    (Surveyed by MP2 as MP1 is in the top of the cliff)
    MP6 (Monitoring at the Main Gate)
    5.2 microSv/h(19:00 March 13)
    →66.3 microSv/h(02:50 March 14)

    60 or so vs 0.035. About 1800 times normal. Stand there for a year, and you'd get your annual dose for a radiation worker. Do it for a week, and you'd get the annual dose for a civilian. Not too bad so far.

    But look at Monitoring station 2. That's over 10 times more. More concerning, the trend is increasing. That means radioactive material is slowly leaking from the containment vessels, in amounts certainly indicative of severe damage to the rods - a partial meltdown - and maybe even the far more severe meltdown, involving about half the fuel, found in 3-mile island. Since the reactors are now poisoned, very little additional fission should be occurring, yet external levels are still rising. That suggests a more severe meltdown, and a consequently a longer cooling-off period.

    Reactor #1 might not be the culprit. I think it's worse than that, it's dead, Jim. Moving towards room temperature. An ex-reactor. Bereft of fission, it rusts in pieces. Reactor #3, the one which burns a plutonium-uranium mix, and is nearly twice the size, that might have really gone pear-shaped.

    I could be wrong here, I'm working off limited information.

    UPDATE : Turns out they had problems develop with reactor #2 - it boiled dry, which explained the temporary peak. Now it too is scrap metal. From Bulletin #23:
    MP3 (Monitoring at North West of Site Boundary for Unit 2) : 231.1 micro Sv/h (14:30 March 14)
    MP4 (Monitoring at north- west of Site Boundary for Unit 2 : 56.4 micro Sv/h(04:08 March 14)
    →29.8 micro Sv/h(14:14 March 14)
    MP5 (Monitoring at north-west Site Boundary for Unit 2)
    6.1 micro Sv/h(14:02 March 14)
    MP6 (Monitoring at the west –southwest Site Boundary for Unit 2)
    3.70 micro Sv/h(16:10 March 14) (typo in original - should be March 13)
    →4.2 micro Sv/h(12:34 March 14)
    MP7 (Monitoring at the west –southwest Site Boundary for Unit 2)
    6.1 micro Sv/h (12:16, March 14)

    So now it's down to 1/10 of the values of 12 hours previously.

    Japan's Agony - Kesennuma

    The effect of the Tsunami on the city of Kesennuma, a city of 74,000 people.

    But worse was to come.

    From The Age :
    In Kesennuma, fire had replaced the waves as the principal source of danger on Saturday night.

    Blazes that began amid the chaos wrought by the tsunami were spreading out of control. Night-time aerial footage showed huge tracts of the city, home to 74,000 people, engulfed in flames.

    Witnesses said the fires began after the tsunami hit an oil tanker at the port. The flames then spread inland along the river towards the city centre.

    Local news agencies reported that a third of the city had been completely submerged in mud and fires continued to rage in the rubble and debris.

    Thursday 10 March 2011

    Bad News re NASA Climate Monitoring Satellites

    From Pajamas Media:
    Orbital Sciences Corporation (OSC) and NASA had a bad day late last week. A $424 million satellite named Glory, designed to monitor aerosols and solar irradiance that contribute to changes in climate, failed to be properly delivered to space, when the fairing of the company’s Taurus launch system failed to separate from the payload. The extra mass of the dangling nose cone meant that the propulsion system of the upper stage didn’t have enough oomph (to use the technical term) to get it into orbit, delivering it and its valuable payload instead to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean near Antarctica.

    While launch systems have become more reliable over the years, launch failures still happen, and failure to separate critical parts at staging is one of the most common cause of them. Because the Taurus is a four-stage system, it has more opportunities to encounter this failure mode than most vehicles. What is very strange, however, is that this is the second such failure in a row for OSC.

    Just a little over two years ago, on February 24th, 2009, a Taurus assigned to deliver the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO) met exactly the same fate, and the two lost satellites are probably sitting on the ocean floor not far from each other.
    Two shroud separation failures in a row - with a re-design of the shroud separation mechanism in between.

    That suggests a command system failure, rather than a mechanism failure. The mechanisms didn't get the signal to separate.
    It’s worth pointing out that the Taurus doesn’t fly very much. There have only been four flight attempts in the past decade: three of them were failures, including the last two consecutive disasters already described. When you only do something every two and a half years on average, it’s easy to get things wrong from lack of practice. There’s an optimal “tempo” for launch operations. Try to do things too fast, or too slowly, and the odds of failure can go up dramatically (one of the many reasons why proposals to continue to fly the Shuttle, but at only a couple flights a year, are a bad idea).
    As one commenter wrote:
    Taurus has a 25 percent chance of getting a payload into orbit. Its cost is $20 million in 1999 dollars (call it $30 million).

    The satellite cost $424 million, lets say the launched cost is half a billion.

    If a launcher had been used like the Delta II that has had 75 consecutive successful launches (and costs $40-50 billion) the launched cost would be $520 billion and the satellite would be in orbit.

    Using the Taurus is pennywise and pound foolish.
    And hindsight is 20/20.

    Meanwhile... 3/4 of a billion dollars of space hardware is now a very, very expensive artificial reef. But that's not the worst part of the story.
    Both OCO and Glory were specifically designed to help resolve the controversial issue of the degree to which earth’s climate is changing and if so, the degree to which human actions are the cause. NASA has been one of the many agencies criticized in the wake of the Climaquiddick scandal of late 2009 for fudging data, such as throwing out results from Siberian temperature monitoring stations, and generally massaging things in a way that somehow always seemed to confirm the politically correct AGW theory.

    These two satellites were designed to take human judgement out of the monitoring and modeling loop, to provide direct and unbiased global sensor data on things such as carbon levels, clouds, irradiation, and other factors that are crucial to understanding the planet’s climate and its variability.
    We need more data, we need better data. These birds were a good, in fact, a necessary investment. That they're not up there, giving the data, is a serious setback. It means that special interest groups can continue to allege that the cruddy data and fudged models support "their side", when the rest of us just want to know the truth.