Category Archives: projects & events

The biological basis for transgender – part one

Studies point to genetic triggers of atypical gender identity. (That’s fancy-schmancy talk for transgender people are born that way, and there’s proof.)

Unfortunately, nobody is listening. The social stigma attached to gender diversity implies that it’s simply a lifestyle choice. That one can simply choose to be a particular gender just because they feel like it. Perhaps on a whim. When the reality is, Lady Gaga was right, you were born that way.

lady gaga

And because being transgender (or gender atypical) is not something you can see with the naked eye, folks tend to assume it’s all in your head. For the last 4 decades, medical doctors have shipped gender atypical folks off to the psychologists and psychiatrists. These very same psychologists and psychiatrists have then assumed (without any scientific evidence) that it must be a mental illness. A disease of the mind. Which, of course, carries its own social stigma, making gender variance a wildly and socially unpopular condition. (Historically, this was not the case. Before our patriarchal society came into full effect, gender variance was accepted and often revered – but that’s a discussion for another day.)

By defining transgender as a mental illness, these mental health professionals have inadvertently shaped much of the entire medical establishments (as well as the general publics) views on gender variant individuals. There is a popular notion in politics that transsexuals are psychopathological sexual deviants. These folks will switch genders in order to follow you into a public restroom and catch you unaware with your pants down. (Yes, Senator Plett, I’m talking to you.) These same alarmists also argue that we are all psychosexually neutral at birth, and that gender identity/expression is something that is nurtured or chosen.  But seriously, who would choose to live their life labelled with a socially unpopular mental illness?

Brae Carnes on her Facebook page, protesting against Conservative Senator Don Plett's Bill C-279 amendment by taking selfies in washrooms that do not match her gender identity and presentation.

Brae Carnes on her Facebook page, protesting against Conservative Senator Don Plett’s Bill C-279 amendment by taking selfies in washrooms that do not match her gender identity and presentation.

Now, because this condition is still (today) diagnosed as a mental illness (Gender Dysphoria) as noted in the bible of modern psychiatry, the DSM-V  (Diagnostics & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, written by the American Psychiatric Association), nobody is looking at any scientific evidence of this phenomenon.  Medical doctors are not trained in gender variance (since it’s always been a “mental illness”) and mental health professionals (to whom this “disorder” currently belongs) don’t look at new medical science outside their area of expertise.

Remember female hysteria – the mental disorder attributed only to women? Yeah, it was in the DSM once too. Symptoms included emotional outbursts and various sexual urges. It was widely believed that women didn’t orgasm or enjoy sex, so any woman who exhibited these symptoms were either forced to enter an insane asylum or forced to undergo surgical hysterectomy. True story. (There’s a great movie on the subject here.) The American Psychiatric Association didn’t drop the term until the early 1950s, and actually, “hysterical neurosis” didn’t disappear from the DSM until 1980! (Vibrators were initially developed as a medical device to aid in the treatment of female hysteria.  <ahem> And in the 1950s, pornography became prolific with their use, thus shattering the long-held mental illness illusion. Hey, that’s right when the APA dropped the term, coincidence? Hmm.) I never thought I’d say this, but thanks porn.

hysteria_scene

scene from the 2011 movie, Hysteria.

There are some researchers out there trying to get to the bottom of it, and so far, all of these studies point to biological origins of transgender. The proof is hidden in your genes.

I decided to do some research to make sense of the studies. The first questions that popped into my head had to do with fetal development. My own transgender daughter was born prematurely at 26 weeks gestation, and I can recall the specialists telling me these bizarre (and off-handed) little factual remarks, like, all biological males born before 27 weeks are left-handed.  At the time, I chalked it up to mysteries of the womb. Partly because that sounded like a cool sci-fi show, but mostly because I didn’t really care why. But now, I want to know more.

fetus-development

My artistic skills – straight from my research journal notepad

The first interesting tidbit I came across in my research was that all developing embryos follow a “female blueprint” for the 1st several weeks of development. Some folks will try to tell you that this isn’t true, that all humans are biologically neutral at birth, and they would be correct if by neutral they mean female. You only need to look as far as your nearest nipple for the proof. Men’s nipples are equipped with both nerves and blood vessels, thanks to the first 2 months of gestation. (Don’t believe me? Pinch one. Did he say ow?) Further evidence comes in the form of the raphe line on his scrotum. It’s a scar, from where his vagina sealed up. OK, so it wasn’t quite a vagina yet, but the opening was there. It sealed up around the same time that his clitoris grew out into a penis and his ovaries dropped down into testicles.

So what happens to determine the biological sex? After about 60 days, the hormone testosterone kicks up for most of those with a “Y” chromosome – changing the genetic activity of the cells in the genitals and the brain. (I say kicks ‘up’ instead of ‘on’ because folks assume that testosterone is a ‘male’ hormone, but that’s another unfortunate term, as every single human body produces all three hormones; estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone.)  The changes to the genitals begin right away based on genetic instruction (“If Y is present then turn left, if no Y is present then continue straight ahead”), but the organizing effects of sexual hormones and differentiation in the brain doesn’t occur until the second half of pregnancy. That means that the genital-sex and brain-sex processes are independent of each other and chronologically separated during fetal development. And that’s fancy-schmancy talk for any number of things can go sideways and disconnect the two, and why wouldn’t they? Nature loves adversity. Maybe they were never supposed to match.

But sex ideology happens in the brain (as well as the genitals), and it happens during fetal development. This evidence would agree and support the Canadian Paediatric Society who have published that gender identity is fully established by the time a child is 18-30 months of age. And also, that it’s not a choice.

Are you still reading this? Hopefully you hung in there with me and found some of this interesting, and maybe even eye-opening. (And yes, I drew that picture of the baby, and yes, that’s the uterus it’s in and not actually resting peacfully on a wooden spoon.) I’m hoping that if we can help to ‘rein in’ some of the stigma attached to gender diversity, then I believe we’re one step closer to acceptance. Next time (in part two) I’ll share the brain-mapping and receptor gene evidence I’ve found. Until then, be hysterical, pinch some man-nipples, and share the knowledge. 🙂

 

 

 

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Schmooze with some of Hollywood’s biggest names at this year’s TIFF!

Longo’s is celebrating the first anniversary of their Toronto, Maple Leaf Square store (MLSFest) and they’re using social media sites to spread all kinds of excitement and fun with a contest!  They are giving their customers the exclusive opportunity to rub elbows with Film Festival elite!

MLSFest kicked off Friday offering customers of the Maple Leaf Square store the opportunity to WIN two tickets to a Toronto film festival (industry-only) premiere screening and after-party on the evening of September 9th, 2011!

I KNOW, right?

Check out the contest details on this page and then hurry down to their MLS store and either checkin on Foursquare, grab the photo of the day and Tweet the image or upload it to Facebook to enter.  OR… do all three!

Break out the little black dress and tuxedo.  It’s party time—Hollywood style!

MLSFest will continue throughout the month of September and on into October with additional promotions, special offers and giveaways—including the opportunity to WIN tickets to more Film Festival events!

Get down to the Maple Leaf Square store and become part of the celebration!

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The two-for-two forward campaign.

Two questions — two minutes.  It sounds simple enough.  Do you think that you can get a really good sense of who someone is in about two minutes — with just two questions?   I’m suggesting going beyond first impressions and the ol’ judging-a-book-by-its-cover theory.  If you were able to ask a total stranger only two questions about themselves — in order to grasp the kind of person they are — what two questions would you ask?  What if you asked those questions — received the benefit of their wisdom — and then asked them to come up with the next two questions for the next stranger?  And what strangers would you pursue?  With the current technology and our social media indulgence, we have the availability to rub knuckles with, literally, anyone in the world.  How long would it take to get the whole world asking questions if we all spent two minutes — asking two questions?

I can almost hear Arsenio Hall saying “Hmmm…” 

Maybe I’ll start with him.  I wonder what his questions will be for the next person?

~uberscribbler

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We are all related.

PeggyAnne-Mansfield-31Charles Darwin believed that the involuntary expressions of man were directly influenced by his various emotions and sensations.  He believed that these expressions grew and evolved by means of natural selection from the expressions and behaviours of animals.  He also believed that these expressions, through photographs, would be understood and wordlessly explained by any eyes that looked upon it.  He tested this theory by taking photographs of the expressions of people showing various emotions and then taking those photos to small villages (with limited outside contact) and asked those villagers to guess the emotion of the person in the photograph.    Every villager guessed correctly – without hesitation. 

Emotions are primal.  We understand them when we see them in the faces of people we love, and even those we don’t,  just like in the animal kingdom, as Darwin had proven.  Something that is inately human,  is our preference to ignore most of these emotions.  We ignore the expressions we see that are filled with rage and look away from faces twisted with grief.   We see all of these expressions for a reason, they are built into our design with a purpose.   No matter what language or race you are, you will always find understanding – even if it is not acknowledged through words.

I can’t count how many people have said to me that they never know what to say to someone who seems inconsolable.  If we are all related through expression, perhaps words aren’t what you need. 

What would compassion look like on your face?

-uberscribbler

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Be Brave… if you feel like it.

Pfizer Canada Inc. has a new campaign.  It’s called “more than medication” and it intends to be instructional on improving your health and wellness beyond just the use of medication.  It’s a brilliant philosophy; one I wish I’d come up with myself!   The site offers a plethora of interactive tools, informative articles and everyday tips that are prepared and presented by an Advisory Board of doctors who are considered leaders in their chosen fields, and on behalf of Pfizer.

You may have seen the commercial for this campaign on TV; with the teenage boy who paints the “Be Brave” graffiti outside the small girl’s bedroom.   It’s a very touching sentiment and truth be told I get a lump in my throat each time I think of his gesture toward her. 

As touching as it is, I also feel some bitterness about the message painted.  We are led to believe that this little girl is quite ill, possibly terminal, and we are telling her to BE BRAVE.  Not asking – commanding.  Basically, buck up little beaver, suck it up and put on your happy face because it’s much too difficult for us to deal with if you’re sad or afraid.  It’ll just be harder on everyone, so it’s better if it’s just harder on you.  (That’s not Webster’s definition but its close) So we force a cloak of courage over her and we throw this little girl into battle as a warrior.  Does she always have to be brave?  Are you always brave?  Is it even healthy to always be brave and courageous?  By toting this jargon over and over again to the ill or downtrodden we imply that to have fear or show sadness is cowardice and weak.   It is implied because we have all learned some associations to our emotions – some are good (positive) and some are bad (negative). 

Really they just are what they are… emotions. We determine what we consider good or bad or acceptable or unacceptable.  There is no great Emotions God in the sky dictating that we treat some emotions with open arms and that we turn our backs in disregard to others.  Granted that some are fun to feel while others are not so much fun, but that doesn’t mean they are bad; or not worth having.  We need to stop deciding for other people what is acceptable for them to feel and what we are willing to tolerate from them.

These associations have been around a lot longer than us, and there are plenty more unconscious associations that we make every day.  Why does it matter?  Each day that you go about your unconscious life you may be unaffected by these associations, but be sure that you affect other people, and sometimes in devastating ways that you aren’t even aware of.

I think I will write to Pfizer and suggest they change the words “Be Brave” into “Today I will be brave for you” or “We’re here” or “You’re loved” or something that doesn’t require our egos dumping a burden of guilt on someone who just might not feel so brave today.  It’s OK to be afraid sometimes, let’s tell her that.

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AM900 CHML Talk Radio Interview

logo_chml2I will be having a 5 minute chat radio interview tomorrow afternoon with Jamie West from AM900 CHML on his “Health Matters” program from 12-1pm. 

Tune in at 12:10pm and have a listen!

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Muse Photography on Cable14 Coffee Break TODAY!

coffeebreakThe interview with Mike Fortune from Cable14 will be airing today at about 25 minutes after most hours and again on the 9th at about 5 minutes before most hours.   The producer will be dubbing me a copy and I hope to have that feed onto the website for those of you without basic cable services.  Special thank you to the Associate Producer, Kathleen Foster, for all her sincerity and warmth.

This weekend I’ll be taping a feature segment with Cable14 for their LINKED show!  Stay tuned for airing details.

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A Statement of Need is a Statement indeed!

insanity1I have spent a considerable amount of time exploring the link between physical healthcare (the body) and psychological healthcare (the mind) as it pertains to the Canadian government healthcare system.  All of the mandates from the Minister of Health right on down is about protecting the health and safety of all Canadians.  I may need to check the Minister’s handbook for their definition of health to be sure, but I think I’ve managed to establish a gap. 

Amidst a sea of body do-gooders, there is one organization or unit that promotes mental health, aiming to maintain and improve positive mental health and well being for all of the population.   You just have to be mad dog crazy in order to use these resources.  I mean eyeball rolling and frothing at the mouth crazy.  If you are only confused, frustrated, and slightly twitchy.. well.. you likely won’t get the referral. 

It seems to me that we’ve spent decades and decades socially engineering ourselves with unhelpful help.   Fast forward to the year 2009, where the conditions of life and moral hazards are shadowed only by imminent economic and ecological disasters of global proportions.  Us worry?  Pishaw!  I can only imagine that the eyeball rolling might be on the rise, and then we will see a bottle-necked system struggling to put out the insanity fire.  Good news for all the “ologists” out there. 

I’m disappointed with the policymakers and their reactive care.  What good is their PhD in textbook knowledge when there is no understanding that the body dies without the mind?   I bet Mr. PhD sees the dentist every six months for some preventative maintenance and attention.  Where’s my mind maintenance?  Just a little cleaning is all… loosen up the guk and keep me on the straight and narrow.   Stop me from this inexorable spread into the common pool of lunacy.   Well… at least I will have shiny teeth…

With this project and my plight to expose just a small aspect of emotional wellness (in relation to a cancer diagnosis) I have comfortably fallen into the role of emotional educator and resilience scientist.  Through my discussions and interviews with people struggling with this disease the best cocktail I found to offer them was to approach them with consolation and encouragement and leave them with confidence and inspiration.   We should treat everyone we encounter with the same ingredients.  A very human philosophy aimed to help people help themselves.  To heal their minds and dig deep for their own resilience.  We must become a race of doers and not just helpers.

Imagine for a moment what it would be like to live in a society where most folks were emotionally well-adjusted.   Where well-being had human value,  putting the health of our minds and emotions on the same level as our bodies.  Less crime, less hate, less self-pity and loathing.  That’s just to start.  One might even be able to hear choruses of Kumbaya coming from under street bridges and that stranger that passes you on the sidewalk might just say hello and look you in the eye.  Spend real time with real people talking about real things.  Needs, wishes, desires and even fears. 

What could be more important than validating someone’s existence?  Try it.

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Hello?… anyone? ….anyone?… Bueller?

Finding subjects for this photography exhibit is harder than even I had originally thought. It is difficult for people to come forward, and harder still for people in a position of authority or resource to those people to grant me an opportunity or the audience to reach them. Helping me to succeed in this would expose an obvious flaw in our health system and the support resources it so strategically protects.

It is discouraging and more than a little frustrating as April is creeping closer and closer. Without subjects to photograph, there is no exhibit. However, that said, I can’t be beaten down so quickly… or quietly for that matter.  If I must… I have good friends that I will shave down and punch until they cry.. and then I will photograph them. The show must go on… right?

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Cancer chasing cancer (An excerpt from my journals)

In 2006 I was dying.  I was diagnosed with a voracious and debilitating disease that ate away at my mind, body and spirit.  I was diagnosed with cancer.  Upon hearing my diagnosis, I knew myself to be dead within 24 hours.  I had been forever linked to a new race of people, a casualty of a physical war upon my body with a stigma of epic proportions.  In a matter of moments my identity of strength, health and confidence was wiped clean only to be replaced by weakness, pity and fear.  Total strangers would sigh their pity as I passed them and even my friends and family would avert their eyes from mine as my last eyelash came floating down before them.  I was alone… alone with death.

 

A diagnosis of cancer brings together a combination of two unfortunate diseases in one – a double whammy of stress and strain.  Physical cancer eats away at your cells with the sole intention of your eventual death and emotional cancer attacks your mind and your spirit but is as equally dangerous and unforgiving. 

 

Not all cancers are the same, nor are all emotional impacts, but what I have determined to be true is that if left unchecked and ignored the emotional cancer can be your death… even if your body lives on.  Physical cancer affects you individually; emotional cancer is contagious and can infect those around you.  I have found this cancer, the emotional cancer, to be the most debilitating, the one that caused me the most suffering, and the most widely misunderstood and untreated cancer of them all.

 

We’ve been conditioned to fear cancer, and we do so dutifully.  We fear – we fear what cancer does, we fear the mystery of it, we fear loss of life, incapacitation and loss of control.  We avoid the discussion, we encourage those afflicted to think positive and we turn our loved ones into warriors insisting that they are not trying hard enough should treatment be failing.  Cancer causes suffering, not just for some, but for all who are touched by it.  There may be varying degrees but it’s not just some who struggle with fear and self-pity while others show courage and strength, everyone afflicted will have moments of each; its only the moments that you see them that you may pass judgement and decide for them.  The emotional cancer is a culmination of all the dark feelings as well as the courageous and hopeful feelings all rolling around together competing to come out on top.  Who wins one day is a coin toss really, and each day (or hour for that matter) can be different.  These dark feelings are where our fears are; this is the mystery of cancer. It’s important to know that the cancer itself is not the monster, it’s our perceptions of it that makes it our reality.  Recognizing our feelings and accepting that we will be engulfed in varying emotions from time to time is the first step in understanding the truth about cancer.  Emotions are raw and honest and there is no shame in being human and allowing yourself to feel.  When you understand this truth, then you can begin to teach hope. 

 

~uberscribbler

 

 

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