Friday, October 26, 2007
October 25, 2007
POOR Miss Lucarelli. Our sixth-grade English teacher became the inadvertent object of our mirth the day we caught her tugging at a corset strap that had strayed from the sleeve of her shirt. More shaming than dandruff, that risqué glimpse of underwear made us giggle till we hurt.
Today it would scarcely rate a glance, that sort of exposure having lost its taint back in the day when Madonna was a girl. In fact, if Miss Lucarelli deliberately wore her corset outside her shirt, it would establish her as a paragon of hip, a role model for the throngs of women who buy lingerie for shaping and comfort and, increasingly, for show.
Lingerie items have become “display pieces,” said Stephanie Solomon, the fashion director of Bloomingdale’s. Corsets, slips, panties and camisoles are as extravagant in their design, and as coveted, as Louboutin platforms or a YSL tote.
Lingerie’s cachet as a sexy, emphatically visible component of a woman’s outfit has contributed to rising sales. According to NPD Group, the market research firm, sales of bras, panties, slips, corsets and even old-school relics like garter belts, climbed to $10.6 billion for the 12-month period ending in July, a 10 percent jump over the previous 12 months. Clearly, the category known quaintly as intimate apparel has climbed to the top of women’s shopping lists.
“What is really driving the growth of the business,” said Marshal Cohen, the chief retail analyst of NPD, “is that showing off your lingerie has become very much a fashion trend.
To women of all ages, visible skivvies are all but scandalproof.
“Showing your intimate apparel today is socially acceptable in most generations,” Mr. Cohen said, an assertion supported by an NPD survey last spring in which 77 percent of respondents, women of varying ages, said they were comfortable revealing bits of their underwear.
Pushing lingerie into a more public role are design and construction that are all but indistinguishable from swimwear or even evening wear. Choosing lingerie “is about what makes you look good, but also what looks good with or through your clothing,” said Monica Mitro, a spokeswoman for Victoria’s Secret, the brand that catapulted racy flimsies into the public eye. “People are taking the bold step to actually incorporate underwear as part of their outfit.”. . .
"They look like girls, but act and think like boys," says Jamie White, a postdoctoral researcher and first author of the new study. "The [same-sex attraction] behavior is part of the nervous system."
"The conclusion is that sexual attraction is wired into brain circuits common to both sexes of worms, and is not caused solely by extra nerve cells added to the male or female brain," says laboratory leader and biology Professor Erik Jorgensen, scientific director of the Brain Institute at the University of Utah and an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
"The reason males and females behave differently is that the same nerve cells have been rewired to alter sexual preference," he adds. "Our conclusions are narrow in that they are about worms and how attraction behaviors are derived from the same brain circuit. But an evolutionary biologist will consider this to be a potentially common mechanism for sexual attraction."
"We cannot say what this means for human sexual orientation, but it raises the possibility that sexual preference is wired in the brain," Jorgensen says. "Humans are subject to evolutionary forces just like worms. It seems possible that if sexual orientation is genetically wired in worms, it would be in people too. Humans have free will, so the picture is more complicated in people."
White and Jorgensen conducted the study with technician Jeff Gritton and three University of Utah biology undergraduates: Thomas Nicholas, Long Truong and Eliott Davidson. The study was funded primarily by the National Science Foundation.
The Rules of Attraction -- for Worms
Nematodes, or C. elegans, are millimeter-long (one twenty-fifth of an inch) worms that live in soil and eat bacteria. Because the same genes are found in many animals, nematodes, mice, zebrafish and fruit flies often are used as "models" for humans in research.
Nematode worms lack eyes, so attraction is based only on the sense of smell. There are no true females and only one in 500 nematodes is male. Most are hermaphrodites, with both male and female organs. Jorgensen and White loosely refer to hermaphrodites as females because they produce offspring.
"A hermaphrodite makes both eggs and sperm," Jorgensen says. "She doesn't need to mate [with a male] to have progeny," but can fertilize her own eggs. "Most of the time, the hermaphrodites do not mate. But if they mate, instead of having 200 progeny, they can have 1,200 progeny."
Nematodes are few and far between in soil. So natural selection favored hermaphroditic worms because when they found an abundant food source, they were able to feast and make babies even if no males were nearby, Jorgensen says.
Male nematodes must find hermaphrodites if they are to reproduce, and they find them by smelling their sex-attractant odors or pheromones.
The Mind of a Worm is Sexualized
Jorgensen says the study looked at three possibilities, namely, whether male attraction to hermaphrodites results from:
- Four "accessory" or extra smell-related nerve cells named CEM neurons that are found only in male brains. The worms gain these neurons during their version of puberty, their fourth larval stage.
- Four "core" or basic smell-related nerve cells -- two named AWC and two named AWA -- found in both males and hermaphrodites.
- Both the accessory and core neurons.
The answer was that male attraction involves the combination of both accessory and core nerve cells. The involvement of the core neurons was a surprise.
"We thought the extra CEM neurons provided sexual preference" because fourth-stage males are not attracted to hermaphrodites but adult males are, Jorgensen says. "We found instead that the brain -- which is the same in young males and hermaphrodites -- is rewired during the worm equivalent of puberty -- the fourth larval stage -- to make the males attracted to hermaphrodites."
"What we show is that the shared nervous system [common between male and hermaphrodite] is broadly sexualized," and sexual attraction can be changed by essentially flipping a genetic switch in that common brain, he adds.
The study involved these key experiments
The researchers used laser microsurgery to kill the male-only CEM neurons in young larval males. The resulting adult males still were attracted to hermaphrodites.
That suggests the core neurons -- brain cells common to both the male and hermaphrodite brain -- are sexualized, and that the extra CEM nerve cells found only in males are not necessary for sexual attraction even though they normally play a role in it.
The biologists zapped eight different kinds of nerve cells involved in the sense of smell and taste: the four kinds of CEM neurons found only in males and four kinds of core neurons (AWA and AWC) also found in hermaphrodites. If any of the eight types of neurons was damaged in adult males, attraction was impaired. But when the nerve cells were zapped before puberty in fourth-stage larvae, they grew into adults with normal attraction to hermaphrodites. That shows "the nervous system can compensate for lost neurons as it goes through puberty," Jorgensen says.
"Normally there are eight sensory neurons in nematodes," says White. "You can take away seven of the eight prior to sexual maturation, and as long as there is one left, he can still be sexually attracted. ... Why would an organism that has only 383 nerve cells use eight of them for sexual attraction" It must be that the behavior is very important. There is redundancy. The system is flexible."
Next, "we took the hermaphrodite brain and we activated the genes that determine maleness," but only in the brain and not in the rest of the worm, Jorgensen says. Hermaphrodites with masculine brains "were attracted to other hermaphrodites."
The results show sexual orientation is wired into the brain in both sexes of worm.
To masculinize the brains of hermaphroditic worms, the researchers activated a gene named fem-3, but only in the nervous system. The fem-3 gene makes the body develop male structures such as a tail, which male worms use for copulation. With the gene active only in the brain, the hermaphrodites still had the same bodies and genitalia, but their brains were male, so they were attracted to other hermaphrodites.
To demonstrate the hermaphrodites produce sexual attractants or pheromones, the researchers washed hermaphrodites, and put some of the wash water on agar, a jelly-like growth medium, in a culture dish. When worms were placed on the dish, males moved toward the hermaphrodite wash water while hermaphrodites moved away.
When the scientists genetically altered hermaphrodites' brains to change their sexual orientation, they crawled toward the pheromones of other hermaphrodites.
"People debate whether the brain is influenced by sexual hormones from the gonads or whether the behavior is derived from the brain alone," Jorgensen says. "In this case, it's clear the brain is sexualized. ... The surprise was that sensory neurons found in the hermaphrodite brain are involved in sexual attraction in males."The study was published online Thursday, Oct. 25 in Current Biology, and will run in the journal's Nov. 6 print edition.
Twelve-year-old Isaac Baker can't believe more than 2,000 people have viewed the four-minute video he posted on YouTube this summer. The emotional clip -- titled "Self Portrait (There Once Was a Little Girl)" -- documents his transformation from the girl born as Iris into the preteen boy he's always felt he really was. "I thought my video might help people," he says. "I just hope it helps others understand that they're not alone."
Isaac may be the youngest person using YouTube to celebrate his emerging gender identity, but he's in good company. Dozens of people between ages sixteen and twenty-six have posted video blogs documenting their transitions. Erin Armstrong, a twenty-two-year-old Utah native, has a backlog of sixty-plus videos: One demonstrates how she gives herself biweekly hormone injections; another deals with her Mormon family's reactions. "When I started my blog, I couldn't find other transgendered people on YouTube," she says. "Now it's exploded." Her clips often get upward of 10,000 views. "Before the videos, I was starting to feel a little lost," she admits. "It helps to feel like I have a community that supports me -- even if it's a community I may never get to meet." --JENNY ELISCU
Doctors in China have saved the life of a woman who had 26 pins and needles inserted into her body when she was a child in an apparent attempt to change her sex to a boy.
The objects were discovered when the 29-year-old woman, named in local papers as Luo Cuifen, went to hospital for a check-up after she started experiencing blood in her urine.
They had penetrated vital organs such as the lungs, kidney and liver, while a needle in her brain had broken into three pieces.
Others in her chest were lodged near major arteries.
The woman believes they were inserted into her as a child by her grandparents, who were disappointed she was not a boy.
They are now dead, but if true, it would be another example of the effects of the heavy preference for boys over girls in many parts of Asia.
Since the one-child policy came into force, around the time of Miss Luo's birth, many girl children have been aborted, abandoned, or killed after birth – in some cases by grandparents.
Miss Luo, who comes from a rural area in Yunnan, one of China's poorer provinces, told doctors she had two needles removed when she was a child but had had no health problems until she gave birth. . . .
When you’re a teenager, it’s difficult enough to figure out who you are and what the hell you’re all about without other people judging, mocking, and hating you. I remember being teased every single day in high school by this one kid (Dan, who-shall-remain-last-nameless-but-was-totally-Asian) because I was quiet and awkward and had a penchant for flowing Ren Faire–style dresses. (Shut up.) To me, that seemed intolerable — enough so that I begged my mother to allow me to stay home from school day after day.
I can’t even imagine what it must be like for teenagers who are gay or transgender. What if I’d been a guy in a Ren Faire dress?
Things have become a bit more progressive since I was an adolescent, many high schools still miss the mark vis-à-vis providing resources for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) students. Thankfully, unless you’re stuck in the cultural and sexual abyss that is the Bible Belt, colleges and universities now provide plenty of on- and off-campus support and community opportunities for GLBT students. In Boston, it seems that all of the major academic players have at least one student organization dedicated to the needs of GLBT students.
Getting into and paying for college in the first place is a hurdle that all potential students face, but for GLBT students, just finishing high school can be difficult. Jorge Valencia, the executive director and CEO of the Point Foundation — a scholarship fund dedicated to providing financial aid, mentoring, and leadership training to GLBT students — says that gay and transgender students are much more likely than their straight counterparts to drop out of high school, often because of verbal and physical harassment from peers.
“Young people are now coming out at a much earlier age,” says Valencia, “There are students that endure violence and harassment every day because they want to live their lives as who they are. The Point Foundation wants to reward those students who have endured, and proven to be leaders.”
Designed to support their scholars through the entirety of their academic careers, the Point Foundation scholarship is available to a range of students, from those entering undergraduate programs all the way up the academic ladder to PhD candidates. The fund looks for students who have exhibited academic prowess and leadership skills, and especially a need for financial, emotional, and social assistance. “The masses could really learn from inter-generational mentoring, which we provide,” Valencia says. “By targeting young people who have leadership prowess, we believe we will create a ripple effect. . . .