Wednesday, October 24, 2007

. . . That's Life!

Fish gender-bender

Human hormones mess with male fish.

by David Suzuki, with Faisal Moola

Most people alive today were born after 1950. To these people, our modern world is just the way things have always been. Imagining life without TV, radio, telephones and the Internet is next to impossible. Teenagers probably have a hard time imagining life without text messaging!

And it's true, human reach is now profound. We are the most integrated, interconnected and mobile species that has ever existed on this planet. Some of these interconnections produce marvelous results. We get to know other cultures. We understand more about history and each other. We can easily chat with friends and family on the other side of the world.

What startled the scientists was that fish populations crashed to near-extinction levels by the end of the experiment.

But we have to remember that, although we are connected with each other more than ever, we are also intimately connected to the rest of the natural world. These connections can manifest themselves physically, such as through global warming. But they can also manifest themselves biologically — and in some surprising ways.

Recently, researchers writing in the US journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Scientists reported that male fish became "feminized" when exposed to human hormones. Some of the fish, a type of fathead minnow, produced early-stage eggs in their testes while others actually developed tissues for both reproductive organs.

How would fish be exposed to female human hormones? Through treated or untreated municipal wastewater, of course. It seems that widespread use of birth control pills has elevated the amount of estrogenic substances going into our waste stream. Remember, things that go down our toilets don't just disappear. They can actually survive simple sewage treatment processes and end up in our rivers, lakes and oceans.

Reports of fish feminization due to human female hormones are today fairly well documented — but long-term studies of what impact this can have on fish populations have not been done. For this latest study, researchers actually added the synthetic estrogen found in contraceptive pills to a remote lake in northern Ontario in amounts that are normally found in human wastewater. They did this for three years, and monitored the results over a period of seven years.

The results were startling. As expected, the male fish developed some feminized characteristics, such as producing proteins normally synthesized in females. But what really disturbed the scientists was how populations of the fish crashed to near extinction levels by the end of the experiment. Feminization of the males combined with hormonal changes to the females apparently damaged their overall reproductive capacity to the point that the fish were unable to maintain their population.

Conclude the researchers: "The results from this whole-lake experiment demonstrate that continued inputs of natural and synthetic estrogens and estrogen mimics to the aquatic environment in municipal wastewaters could decrease the reproductive success and sustainability of fish populations."

This spells trouble. Most Canadians have probably never heard of the fathead minnow, but these fish are a vital food source for well-known and popular sport fish that people have heard of — such as walleye, lake trout and northern pike. They are also well-studied and often used in toxicology testing because they have short life cycles, adapt well to lab conditions and are representative of a large family of fish. . . .


by Cara Davis

Almost 10 percent of transgender people will be murdered, compared to 0.0055 percent of the general population.

In addition, 60 percent of all transgender people become victims of hate crimes.

The US statistics, provided by Gender Evolve, form the basis of an online petition to the United Nations calling for equal human rights for transgender people.

While Australian statistics are limited, a La Trobe University study of almost 6,000 GLBTI people in 2006 found 46.9 percent of trans-females and 29.4 percent of trans-men had been threatened with violence.

Transgender people and their friends will gather this November for the Transgender Day of Remembrance, to remember those who were killed due to anti-transgender hatred.

The event was initiated to commemorate the life of Rita Hester, whose murder in 1998 triggered a candlelight vigil in San Francisco, and the Remembering Our Dead website, which lists the names of those killed by transgender prejudice.

Eleanor Ashley Lister, who is on the organising committee of the Sydney Transgender Day of Remembrance, said the event has since grown, and is now held in cities around the world.

“It’s an important day because it emphasises the dangers and differences of being transgender, and it pulls us together as a community by honouring our dead,” Lister said.

“At the same time it is a kind of moral justification for our activism. Even if you thought we were insane, we still have the right not to be murdered.”

The Sydney event will include talks by transgender individuals, a film screening, and a discussion panel, featuring Greens Senator Kerry Nettle and Labor MP Penny Sharpe. Community representatives will also be there.

Senator Nettle said the day was important for raising awareness about the level of violence that people in the transgender community experience.

“While there is discussion about homophobic discrimination and violence, the discrimination that transgender individuals experience is heightened,” she said.

“It is really important to have a discussion about what the experiences in life are like for transgender people.” . . .

Battling stigma

A Singaporean transsexual fights the ‘culture of shame’ in Asia.

SHE loves children and her lifelong dream is to be a wife and a mother, but the raspy voice and masculine frame betray the fact that Leona Lo was born a man.

Unlike many other transsexuals in Asia who prefer to live privately because of the social stigma of sex change, the British-educated, Singaporean transsexual has chosen to live a normal life, but in public.

Smart, confident and articulate, the communications specialist who heads her own public relations company has embarked on a mission to help turn around the “culture of shame” surrounding transsexuals in Singapore and the region.

“Somewhere out there, not just in Singapore but throughout Asia, there are lots of young people who are suffering the way I suffered years ago,” Leona, 32, says.

In her former life as a man, she was called Leonard.

These days, she draws on her experiences of gender identity crisis, rejection and discrimination to challenge social mores on behalf of the so-called silent community.

“It’s this entire culture of shame that gets under your skin. It’s not something that you can isolate and demolish because it is so much a part of our culture,” she says.

While a few transsexuals are gaining prominence in Asia – notably China’s Jin Xing – most continue to live in silence.

Leona Lo plans to travel Asia to advocate greater tolerance for gender diversity.
Last May, a South Korean transsexual entertainer, whose sex alteration led the country to change its family registry laws, married her rapper boyfriend.

In Thailand, transsexual kickboxer Parinya “Nong Toom” Charoenphol’s rags-to-riches story was made into a movie, Beautiful Boxer. Former Chinese People’s Liberation Army colonel-and-now-woman Jin Xing is a prize-winning dancer and choreographer.

Discrimination is the biggest challenge, Leona says, recalling repeated rejection by prospective employers in Singapore despite her academic credentials.

“Singapore may be a cosmopolitan city, but many things are still swept under the carpet,” Leona adds. No reliable figures on the number of transsexual men and women in Singapore, or the region, are available, because those who feel they have been born into the wrong body prefer to endure in silence rather than embarrass their families, she says.

“It’s because a lot of transsexual women face discrimination at work and experience failure of relationships that a lot attempt suicide, or suffer depression. They end up on the streets as prostitutes.”

This is why she has taken time off from her thriving consultancy which promotes beauty products to wage her campaign.

After much persuasion, one local university allowed her to speak to an audience of students but she is finding it hard to pry open a window to share her thoughts in the corporate world.

Last month, she launched her autobiography, From Leonard to Leona – A Singapore Transsexual’s Journey to Womanhood. . . .

A Snug Fit

An Emmy-nominated soap star turned her harrowing experience with her hair into a business to help transgender women.

By Louis Virtel

October 24, 2007

A Snug Fit

Wig industry maven Amy Gibson relates to her transgender clientele -- and not just because they provide incredible income. Skeptics can rest assured her sympathy is rooted in commiseration, not marketing.

“I really feel what they go through, being stuck in the wrong body,” says the Emmy-nominated Gibson, who played runaway alcoholic Lynn Henderson on the long-running soap Love of Life. “I really get it.”

As a teenager, she was diagnosed with alopecia areata, an autoimmune disease that eventually fried her hair follicles, leaving her bald. Years later she parlayed her own journey of hair loss into a growing business. In March 2006 she launched Crown and Glory Enterprises, a Los Angeles boutique that produces high-end, customized wigs as well as international luxury line called Amy’s Presence.

For her new venture, Gibson is extending a hand, or rather a few cap sizes, to trans women.

“It’s important for them to understand that getting the right wig could be the answer to a lot of discomfort,” Gibson says. “It truly is the finishing touch.”

Her interest in the trans market ignited when she started hearing complaints that wig boutiques offered nothing feminine and durable in the range of larger cap sizes. With Amy’s Presence, she now provides larger sizes (24 and 25) in up to eight different styles, with costs ranging from $1,600 to $2,500 per wig. The hairpieces also feature Cyber Hair, a revolutionary velvety material that when tousled remolds to its original form within 15 minutes. For the choosier athletic customer, a swim cap version is available that performs well in water.

“I don’t want to call it a wig,” says Stacy Alexeief, a 52-year-old Long Beach, Calif., resident. “A wig almost connotes something that’s artificial. There’s a lightness and flow to [the hairpieces] that’s beyond human hair.” . . .