The meaning of gender


You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means

The same sex marriage postal vote has not just provided a focus for homophobia and gay shock in Australia, it has also brought to a head fears many older Conservatives have about societal changes in general.

But beneath the existential angst, fear of loss of control due to age and misplaced 1950s nostalgia, there seems to be a general misunderstanding of what words in the English language actually mean. This can be the most frustrating cause of miscommunication between both sides of the argument for and against equal rights for same sex couples.

So much of the rhetoric around the current postal vote from the ‘no’ side seems to relate to issues far outside the scope of the vote itself or even the issue of marriage equality more broadly.

The always-incoherent Lyle Shelton and his supporters in the minority Catholic far right are focussing on safe schools and the somewhat misnamed ‘gender theory’. Transgender issues seem to be of most concern for this core group.

For those on the ‘yes’ side, it can seem somewhat incomprehensible. What do transgender issues have to do with marriage equality after all? Why do posters, flyers and information sheets from the ‘no’ side all mention gender issues, safe schools and transgender people on it? Why is gender such a hot topic issue, especially as it has little relationship with the right of same sex couples to marry?

The most frustrating thing about this misdirection is that they continue to misuse the word in the first place. Gender literally doesn’t mean what they think it means.

As a slogan ‘Take gender out of marriage’ is particularly meaningless because marriage as a civil contract has little to do with gender. Marriage law is only concerned with sex.

As anyone who’s studied the English language knows, sex and gender are two different concepts. Sex is biologically determined. It’s also not binary, although the proportion of genuine intersex people are comparatively small. Gender, in comparison, is defined as the social constructions and expectations formed culturally around sex.

So gender is fluid and socially constructed. By definition.

There are multiple genders beyond the sex dichotomy of male and female (and those poor neglected intersex people). By definition.

Social gender will always be a point of contestation as people develop different ideas of what being male, female or intersex in our culture actually means. This will happen because that’s what gender is. By definition.

Would realising this change the opponents of equal rights in this country? Hardly. But at least it would stop them making paradoxical and oxymoronic statements like ‘Gender isn’t fluid’ and ‘There are only two genders’.

Sex is biological. Gender is socially constructed. That’s not political correctness. That’s English.


I just don’t know what to do about this chiropractor thing

Casual Friday drinks. Intelligent conversations with intelligent, well-educated people. It’s your standard post-work celebration before the weekend. This happens almost every week and almost every week something like this happens.

Someone mentions she took her three month old to the chiropractor who found a misalignment in her spine.

“Thankfully he was able to get it fixed in time,” she says earnestly.

It’s a scene that plays out in Australian backyard BBQs and social gatherings almost daily. But what to do about it? Unlike homeopathy and other pseudosciences, chiropractic has managed to attain a measure of legitimacy and respectability in Australia that it hasn’t achieved elsewhere. Skeptical organisations in England have had far more success in denting the facade of legitimacy that chiropractic has managed to amass. While there have been similar efforts in Australia, they haven’t managed to get the same traction.

Most Australians see chiropractors as being equivalent to physiotherapists or other evidence-based medical practitioners. Most seem unaware that chiropractic is nothing more than magic. What chiropractors claim to do is unsupported by an evidence base and, historically, is akin to faith healing.

Because of its legitimacy in Australia, many people you know will not only visit chiropractors regularly but will have been doing it their entire lives. Convincing these people that they have been conned for years is a tough sell and not just for them. Do you really want to disrupt your next family gathering trying to explain to someone they shouldn’t be taking their children to the local witch doctor they themselves have been consulting?

The title of this blog post is no mere rhetorical device. I genuinely don’t know what to do about this myself. The few times I’ve tentatively tried to raise this issue, the person on the receiving end has not responded well and the argument has resulted in bad blood. So I remain at this impasse.

I genuinely don’t know what to do about this chiropractor thing.


The Dame’s Guide to Uterus Removal: So You’re Having a Hysterectomy

When you first decide to have a hysterectomy, one of the most astonishing things you discover is just how common it is. In the great tradition of soldiering on, most women schedule life-altering surgery in between the school lunches and the afternoon laundry.

When I wrote my original blog post about needing to have the operation, I was stunned by how many women – both in real life and online – responded with a story about their hysterectomy. For whatever reason, this major surgery is extremely common. Almost 30,000 women a year have one and I can guarantee that several women around you right now have quietly had one too. They just didn’t speak of it because, well, we don’t.

Hysterectomies can be many things – liberating, terrifying, painful, stressful and a relief from years of pain. But they can also be lonely and confusing, no matter how prepared and supported you are.

This blog post contains some advice I’ve gleaned from my own operation. Unfortunately, every hysterectomy is different so there are no rules. But there are stories you can learn from. This is mine.

I had a Total Abdominal Hysterectomy. Vaginal hysterectomies will be different, as will more extensive hysterectomies involving the removal of ovaries and/or surgery to repair internal damage or cancer.

So you’re thinking about having a hysterectomy?

The first thing you need to know is that this operation is not as easy as your surgeon will make out. He or she probably does several hysterectomies a week. You will have one in your entire life. So when your surgeon tells you that you’ll be out of bed the next day, driving in 10 days, back at work after 4 weeks, they are trying to be comforting but simultaneously failing to understand what it’s like being a patient.

So let’s have a look at the real timelines involved.

  1. “Out of bed the next day”
    is code for “walk around your room once and then sleep for three hours”. Recovering from a hysterectomy involves a delicate balance of rest and mobility; sleep and movement. You should get out of bed every day for every meal, a shower and a short, gentle walk around your living room. But other than that, you will be resting.
    Rest. Rest. Rest.
    You should prepare a stack of books, DVDs, Netflix and a computer in arm’s reach. Mostly you should be prepared to sleep.
  2. Two nights in hospital
    Shoot for four. You won’t regret any time with nursing staff taking care of you. I was offered a fourth night and didn’t take it and my first day at home was HELL.
  3. Driving.
    I’ll deal more with driving below but “10 days” is the time it takes before you can legally drive after an anaesthetic. Should you actually drive 10 days after abdominal surgery? Hell no.
  4. “Recovery time of 4-6 weeks”.
    The complete recovery time for a hysterectomy is a year. That’s right, an entire year. Six weeks is a good guide for when you can start to get back to your normal routine. Until then you’ll be tired, sore and struggling with normal activities. If you can’t put your life on hold for six weeks then you need to seriously reconsider the operation. The initial recovery time is really 6-8 weeks and 3 months is better estimate for getting things back to “normal”.
  5. Back to work
    You should not be thinking of work until 6 weeks. Ask your surgeon for a medical certificate for that period upfront. That way, you won’t be stressing about your four-week recovery progress. It would be better for you to have a complete post-op checkup at 6 weeks before returning to work.
  6. Pain
    When I woke up from my surgery, I was in AGONY. This was a surprise to me. Pain killers can cause constipation and that is not advisable for abdominal surgery so I was quite undermedicated. In fact, the overall level of pain for this surgery was unexpected and it lasted far longer than I thought it would.

Rule 1 – No lifting.

Did I say there are no rules? That’s not entirely true. The 2kg rule is the one true rule. No stretching, no bending, no straining and NO LIFTING for a full month. Then only go to 5kg. I personally didn’t lift anything over that for three months. Vaginal prolapse is not fun.

Rule 2 – Rest, rest, rest.

You will need rest. Lots of it for several weeks. With that kind of rest, you need support. Lots of it for several weeks. Lay down the law with your carer before your operation. They will need to handle everything – meals, cleaning, kids, bills and taking care of you. If you have any doubts about your carer before the operation, then don’t go through with it.

Rule 3 – Walk, walk, walk. But also listen to your body

Recovering from abdominal surgery takes exercise. But “exercise” is not a session at a gym or a jog in the park. “Exercise” is mild, gentle walking. Start with short walks around your living room and then slowly make them longer. To give you some idea, I walked 200 metres between week 2 and week 3 and was exhausted afterward.

Walking helps to strengthen and to stretch the abdominal muscles that hold your organs in place. But walking is also tiring and, more than anything, you should listen to your body. If you feel like staying in bed, do it. If you feel up to walking then do that too but make sure you don’t walk so far that you can’t get back.
I had my carer drive me to a coffee shop for a beverage and then wait while I walked home (about 300m). At 200 metres, when I realised I wasn’t going any further, I rang them to pick me up.

Listen to your body. For the first 4 weeks you should be resting or walking. Try to avoid sitting and standing. After 4 weeks, you might find you have muscular pain in your abdomen where the muscles are weak. Walking will help your recovery significantly at this stage.

Rule 4 – Avoid constipation with a good diet.

Straining to go to the toilet can cause a prolapse and constipation is also extremely painful when you’ve just had abdominal surgery. Your doctor will give you instructions on the correct way to move your bowels to stop straining on your internal organs. But there are simple steps you can take to avoid constipation after surgery

  1. No codeine or any painkiller that causes constipation. If this means you have to limit yourself to ibuprofen and paracetamol then so be it. Discuss better pain medication with your doctor if you need it. I personally hate taking ibuprofen as it is a terribly harmful drug with horrible side effects so I stopped taking it a week after the surgery. Then two weeks after the surgery. Then four weeks after the surgery. Then six weeks after the surgery. You’re getting the picture. Pain killers help you recover more quickly. Take them. I finally stopped needing them 10 weeks out.
  2. Diet is the best way to avoid constipation. Eat two serves of fruit a day as well as yoghurt, lean meats and lots of vegetables. If you have chocolate cravings, take magnesium tablets.
  3. Drink loads of water. Between the surgery and the anaesthetic and the drugs and the healing, your body need water and water is the best way to avoid constipation. I drank four to six litres a day in the first few weeks after my surgery. Water is the best and only thing you should be drinking. I love coffee but couldn’t stomach it for about two weeks post-op.
  4. No alcohol for four weeks. Yeah, I just made that up. But this is peak healing and alcohol is not good for healing or with painkillers. Give your body a break. I didn’t miss it anyway
  5. Mobility. Making sure you get out of bed for your shower, meals and a short walk every day is enough mobility to keep your bowels moving. A walk, combined with a diet full of roughage, will be enough to keep things moving.

Hysterectomy FAQ

  1. When will I feel better?

About three weeks. Do not overdo it. Enjoy feeling vaguely human. Keep resting and walking and not doing anything but healing.
Stay in your pyjamas. Getting dressed in the morning sends a signal that you’re “better” and people will start asking you to do things. Nothing says “still healing” like sleepwear.

2. When will I start to feel normal?

About four weeks. Do not overdo it. Just because you’re starting to feel human, doesn’t mean you’re not still healing. But if you want to start doing laundry and stacking the dishwasher, that’s ok at this stage. Four weeks is usually when somebody grabs a vacuum cleaner or picks up their two-year-old and finds it was a mistake.

3. When do I get my energy back?

From 5 to 12 weeks depending on the surgery and how well you’re recovering. You’ll certainly start getting back to normal activities in week 5 and 6. Do not overdo it. If you return to work after week 6 make sure people know you’re still recovering.

4. It’s been 4/5/6 weeks and I feel normal but I’m still in pain. Should I be worried?

Your body is still healing and will be for a long time. Increase your walking to loosen and strengthen your abdominal muscles. No intensive exercise. Don’t overdo it. Never be afraid to text your surgeon or to insist on a checkup if you’re concerned. Making sure you recover is his/her job.

5. Seriously, it’s a lot of pain

It’s very easy to do something about week 4 or 5 to bruise the organs that are healing. Driving too far, doing housework, that sort of thing. As long as you’re not spotting or bleeding, you’re probably fine but REST. And always call your doctor if you need to put your mind at rest.

For me, there was a progression to the pain that I wasn’t expecting. At first, it was about the incision. Then it was abdominal (the pain also coalesced into two hard lumps under my incision that I was worried might be hernias). Then it was vaginal. The latter was a surprise and very concerning. Remember, your vagina is also healing. It will be inflamed and, if the cervix was removed, you’ll have a cuff. Sitting and standing for long periods can “pull” on the cuff. It can feel like there is a great pressure in your vagina, like you have a tampon stuck in there or even like it’s falling out. This is actually quite normal but, as always, speak to your surgeon if you’re worried.

6. What about sex?

A lot of women find this difficult to ask or talk about. The rule is rather euphemistically “nothing in your vagina for six weeks”. I have heard of (a) woman having sex at 11 weeks and tearing her vaginal cuff. But that was unusual. After 6 weeks is normal but my advice is to just wait till you feel ready. If that’s after your 6-week check up, great. If it’s 12 weeks, that’s your call. If you need to lie to your partner that your doctor hasn’t cleared it yet, go ahead. This time is all about you.

7. What’s the best advice you got before your hysterectomy?

You only have one chance to heal properly so if you’re worried about anything then err on the side of caution. You may be bored lying in bed around week 4 but that’s better than a torn cuff, a vaginal prolapse or adhesions.

And buy giant granny panties that won’t rub against your scar. I bought size 20 underwear and think I may wear them permanently. They’re super comfortable and they never work their way down to my scar. I know, super sexy right?

8. Swelly belly?

Is a thing. I’m writing this at week 12 and I have swelly belly after a big day. It’s generally a sign to lie down and rest. Swelly belly can last for a full year. So, yeah, granny pants. They are awesome.

9. I thought you were going to talk more about driving?

Yes I was! Sorry. Anaesthetic affects your reaction times so your insurer won’t cover you for about 10 days post-surgery. After that, you’re legally able to drive. Should you? Hell no. Nobody should drive any further than the local shops or a school drop off for 6 weeks after abdominal surgery. And if you can avoid that, do it. Driving puts a great deal of pressure on your abdominal muscles. Even if it does no damage, driving too far can hurt like hell. Try to avoid it till week 6 as much as possible and, my advice, don’t get into that car at all till week 4 (if possible).

10. What haven’t I thought of?

Probably a thousand things. Send me a message on Twitter if you have any questions at all. Hopefully I can help. Find at least one woman around you who’s had the surgery to talk to.

There is a very good forum of other women going through this. It’s HysterSisters. I found this very helpful to about week 6 and then less so. After that stage, I found the posts were dominated by women with serious complications from their hysterectomy and this was unnecessarily scary.

So, there it is. Every hysterectomy is different but hopefully this helps.

To summarise, for those who have made it this far:

  1. Get six weeks off work upfront
  2. Granny panties!
  3. Take your pain meds and avoid constipation
  4. Walk, walk, walk. Rest, rest, rest.
  5. Expect a recovery time of at least 3 months. Understand you’re still healing up till a year.
  6. Always call your surgeon if you have any concerns. Or me! I’m here if you need me.

It’s been a hard road but I can honestly say that I’m happy with my hysterectomy so far. I feel much better (at 12 weeks, finally!) and have less pain and more energy than before I went under the knife.

But before I go, one more word of caution. Fibroids, endometriosis, heavy periods and chronic anaemia can make you feel like crap. But no operation cures stress. If you need a counsellor as well as a hysterectomy, then talk to somebody. Removing your uterus will not automatically make life better if there’s other stressors.That’s too much to ask of surgery, even one as major as this one.

Good luck!

The Vulnerability of Hope

My Aunt called me a few weeks ago. She said she’d been watching 60 Minutes and had heard about an ‘amazing new drug’ that could ‘reverse stroke’.

I was immediately skeptical. I’m no medical expert by any measure but I have spent a lot of time reading, writing and thinking about stroke over the last two years. I may be no medical expert but I’m an informed laymen nonetheless. And, as far as I was aware, there was no drug that could “reverse stroke”. Nor was there any mechanism I could think of for a drug to act upon. What would such a drug even target?

Strokes disable by killing brain tissue. Until they find a way to regrow it, no treatment will reverse that damage. Neuroplasticity will allow other parts of the brain to step in and take over some functions of the damaged part of the brain. But the greater the damage, the less likelihood this will be sufficient.And neuroplasticity is encouraged through activity, not drugs.

So unless this was an experimental stem cell treatment, I couldn’t see how it could do what it was claiming to do. Nonetheless, the ‘buzz’ began to grow. Facebook pages sprung up dedicated to ‘bringing the FDA-approved reverse stroke drug to Australia’. Articles appeared in newspapers on people raising money to go to the US to receive the drug. Over on MyCause, where my own fundraising campaign was puttering along, other stroke victims were raising money for that trip as well.

Maybe there was something to it, after all?

I’ll skip to the ending here, in case I’m dealing with an unmotivated reader.

There isn’t.

There really isn’t.

Are you thinking of flying to the US to take this drug? Don’t.

Are you hoping it’s made available to treat stroke in Australia? Don’t.

I first came across the word Etanercept (Enbrel) long before my mother’s stroke when The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe covered the long inglorious history of Edward Tobinick and his use of Enbrel to treat, among others, back problems, Alzheimer’s and now, strokes.

The thing is: Etanercept is an FDA-approved drug – just not for strokes (or for any of the other conditions Tobinick is known to ‘treat’ with it). It is an anti-inflammatory and since inflammation is a symptom, not a cause, of stroke or stroke damage there is no mechanism by which it could treat the condition.

Tobinick, a trained dermatologist, was placed on probation by the Medical Board of California in 2002 for promoting the use of Etanercept for back or neck pain when there was no scientific evidence to back it up. In response, Tobinick simply moved his clinic to a different state.

In 2013, Steven Novella – writing on Science-Based Medicine – challenged Tobinick’s use of the drug to treat Alzheimer’s and strokes. At the time, he noted that Tobinick’s practice had the hallmarks of the ‘dubious clinic’.

Basically, if somebody tells you they have a miracle treatment and the only way to get it is to go to their very expensive overseas clinic then alarm bells should be ringing immediately.

For that piece, Tobinick sued. And lost.

So imagine my disgust when I discovered that this ‘reverse stroke’ treatment is Etanercept – a rheumatoid arthritis drug with no evidence-base for the treatment of stroke. Now being aggressively marketed in Australia and potentially costing stroke victims and their families hundreds of thousands of dollars they don’t have for a treatment we have no evidence actually works.

I’ll repeat that because it’s important. Could Etanercept be used to treat strokes? Maybe. Can we say it is effective when there is little evidence that it does. Absolutely not. Until the drug is proven to be effective, then save your money for the care you and your family need.

I know – every member of my family, every friend of my mother’s knows – how hard it is to see what such a severe stroke has done to my Mum. Physically, mentally, intellectually, emotionally. In many ways, she is a different person.

So I know – we all know – how hard it is to stand by and not do something to help. I know how hard it is to feel helpless. I know how it feels to want to believe there is something, anything, that will help somebody you love get their life back.

People like this prey on that emotion. It is the worst kind of manipulation.

For the moment, there is no treatment for a stroke after the damage has been done other than physical therapy. And that will have gains only to a point. That is the reality of the world we live in. It fucking sucks. But there it is.

Anybody who tells you otherwise is selling something. And the only thing they’re selling is hope. Hope shouldn’t cost you everything else.

Why I’m Coming Out of the Closet

The funny thing is, when I joined Twitter about six years ago I never intended for my gender to be ambiguous. However, as a public servant, I did feel that I needed to be anonymous. I already had a name – Lee Tennant. It was an androgynous name I used online and that I planned to use as a pen name when I finally tossed it all in to be a writer.

What I did need, however, was an avatar and after many mis-starts and an usually long time as an egg, I finally decided on Holly from Red Dwarf. Why? I no longer remember. But the senile computer just seemed appropriate for some reason.

When I first started my Twitter account, I didn’t have anything in particular I wanted to tweet about. The first few tweets I read were celebrity nonsense and I was wondering what the appeal was. Do I really care that Alyssa Milano got coffee up her nose?

No. No I do not.

It was about this time that I went home to visit my parents in south-east Queensland. We were watching the local veggie news I couldn’t wean them off (despite 20 years of trying) and a short piece came on about climate change.

“It’s all rubbish, you know,” said my father dismissively.

To which I responded, ‘What the fuck?”

If a flying pig had soared into our living room and taken a dump on the carpet I wouldn’t have been as gobsmacked.

The problem of course is that I had isolated myself from popular culture narratives for so long that I hadn’t realised this nonsense was being perpetuated. I read my news online from international sources, read science journals and science news. Climate change had been established science for decades. Where the hell had this come from?

I tentatively waded into the mainstream and nearly drowned in the bullshit. At the time, I had no idea that the multinational energy industry had funded an organised campaign of denial. Nor did I realise (although I should have) that the local powerful mining industry had taken advantage of their grip on our commodity economy to choke the science out of it.

Then Rudd toppled and I realised just how bad things had gotten. This is what oligarchies look like and our economy was looking a little Putinesque. Of course, Rudd was an arrogant, micromanaging tosspot so his toppling wasn’t necessarily a bad idea.  But he was, of course, replaced with Gillard and she could neither be bought nor influenced nor manipulated by ego. So she had to go too. And that was when things got really nasty.

But that of course is the subject of a different blog post.

I wanted a place I could go to counter misinformation. After fiddling around with blogs, I finally realised I had the perfect place – Twitter – and so began tweeting about climate change. By 2012, climate change and politics were my two main topics (with the odd small foray into science fiction television and martinis). Once my tweets focused on a specific topic, my number of followers began to grow.

After being male Holly for a while I thought I’d try on the female counterpart. There was no plan to this. Holly has two forms so I used both. By the time I made the switch back I had several hundred more Twitter followers than before and that was when I noticed the change.

People talk a lot about how women are treated online. But how do people treat you when they’re not sure if you’re a woman or man? That is even more revealing. After tweeting like this for 6 years I can tell you that here is a definite correlation between climate change denial, religiosity, age, sex and an inability to cope with my apparent lack of gender. Old male conservatives are more likely to reject science, embrace theism and freak the fuck out if they think they’re talking to a woman and she suddenly turns into a dude. Or vice versa.

After several years, being androgynous had become part of my brand. When the Sir/Dame trend swept through Twitter on Abbott’s election, I changed to Dame Holly and found I liked it. I also found a lot of followers were confused. They had genuinely believed me to be a man. This further added to the ambiguity and further embedded that ambiguity into my brand.

Gender seems to be the topic de jour lately and I have an unique perspective. At least online.

Offline, however, things are a bit different. And for me, my very defined sex and gender in the real world has finally asserted itself too much to be ignored.

I love tweeting and writing about gender politics when people don’t know if I’m male or female. The misogynists steer clear for a start and aside from a few sexist or patronising broadsides, I’ve had little abuse. If I’m being attacked as a woman I simply change avatars and watch them have a virtual breakdown. I admit, it’s kind of awesome.

Also, I have a very strong motivation for my anonymity. Public servants are supposed to be apolitical and, in my agency, this apolitical requirement is taken very seriously. Public servants have been fired for making political comments. And complete anonymity was the only way I could tweet about politics without having to self censor.

Except, of course, I did anyway, preferring to steer clear of matters relating to my own agency – at least until those issues became so stark it seemed odd not to.

Dame Holly’s changing gender or, as I think of it, lack of gender, is part of who Dame Holly is. Writing this post is therefore not an easy thing to do and I have repeatedly put it off for several weeks now.

So what’s changed?

Well, in many ways I have. And there are some things I want to talk about lately that anonymity and gender ambiguity are standing in the way of.

Firstly, there was my mother’s severe stroke two years ago. She requires ongoing full-time care and this has put pressure on myself and on the rest of my family. I’m extremely stressed about a lot of things that are somewhat divorced from global energy restructuring.

We are hemorrhaging money and while my Dad is trying to sell assets and pull together as much money as possible, it won’t be enough and it won’t be fast enough. At the moment. Mum’s care is $9000 a month. But that’s a different blog.

Tweeting about these issues would help but I’m constantly muzzled by the need to be ‘Dame Holly’.

Secondly, and this is probably going to step on my ending… my ongoing health problems have reached a head.

If there is one thing we simply don’t talk enough about in our culture, it’s women’s health. Women’s reproductive health especially. So many women – like me – struggle on a daily basis with a variety of reproductive health issues and mostly we’re supposed to just soldier on and STFU. This is extremely unhealthy – both for us personally but for a society that is chronically under-diagnosing and under-treating these conditions.

I’m 39 years old and next week I am having a hysterectomy. Would I have needed one if doctors had taken my health complaints seriously? If we all talked openly about our reproductive issues? If workplaces allowed women to restructure their work weeks around the reality of their biology?

I was first found to have endometriosis when I was 25 years old. At that time, I had an operation to remove an ovarian cyst and the endometriosis itself. My employer was furious that I asked for a week off (a week!). Afterwards, I was put on a variety on hormone treatments in the form of contraceptive pills that variously sent me insane or made me violently ill. My employer told me I was taking too much time off work. Women, I was told, all have these problems and taking a day off just because I was vomiting was hardly productive

Women vomit. All the time, actually. And they have cramps, headaches, chest pains and mood swings.  You don’t take a day off work every time you do. That’s insane.

“Oh, I vomit at work all the time,” I blithely told my future public service employer. Most of its employees were women and they thought I was clinically insane. Like, literally, insane. I remember vomiting randomly after lunch one day into my wastebasket.

“I just threw up,” I said, confused.

“You’d better go home,” one woman said.

“Oh no, I vomit at work all the time. Just give me a minute to clean my teeth.”

This is not fictional. Nor is it hyperbole. This actually happened.

The whole experience reminded me of my teenage years. Every month I would bleed through everything for two or three days in my seven day period. I would have a headache three weeks a month. I would faint from the pain at school. I had to take a change of underwear, uniform and a box of sanitary pads to school with me to try to avoid bleeding through.

“Mum I don’t feel well. Can I have a day off school?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. This happens every month. I was the same.”

The gynaecologist who removed my cyst told me that the period I was describing was wildly abnormal and I should have seen a gynaecologist in my early teens.

“Not in my family,” I said. And God knows you didn’t discuss it with anybody else. Otherwise, we might have known.

Last year, I bled through everything again right before my work Christmas party. I had to sit through an hour meeting hoping nobody would notice and then find an excuse to go home and change before meeting everybody for drinks.

“I don’t know what to do,” a friend said to me at lunch the next week. She seemed embarrassed. Her 11 year old had her period and she kept bleeding through everything. She’d had to leave work and rush emergency sanitary items and a change of clothes to the school the week before. Twice.

“It’s so heavy. I know it’s not a lunchtime topic but I know you’ve had problems so…”

“Problems? I had this problem last week. Take her to a doctor.”

“I don’t know. I mean, is it unusual or abnormal?”

“You won’t know until you take her to a doctor. Do it. Trust me. If everything’s fine, you’ll know. If it’s not ok, you’ll be glad you did. For her sake. I wish my mother had.”

Not that I blame my mother. She was just repeating her experience with her mother. After all, I’ll be the first woman in this family line to make it to my late 30s with my uterus intact. My teen experience was exactly the same as my mother’s and her sister’s and, in fact, was less stark than my Aunt who had her hysterectomy at 26. It just makes me doubly glad I decided not to have children.

I don’t know when I first started to develop such serious fibroids. Was it when I presented to the doctor ten years ago with stomach problems and was tested for coeliac disease? Was it when I presented to the doctor six years ago with stomach problems and was tested for coeliac disease?  Was it when I presented to the doctor two years ago with stomach problems and was tested for coeliac disease?

I had a severe bowel infection and went to a different GP.

“I’ve got your file up,” he said, “there’s something wrong with you, you know.”

“Yeah, I know,” I said, “any idea what?”

“No clue. Hey, have you ever considered that you may have coeliac’s disease?”

I went back to my usual doctor and was told it was anxiety, a common problem for ‘women my age’.

“Doc, my pill has stopped working and I’m having perpetual breakthrough bleeds.”

“You’re clearly not taking it correctly. You have to take it at the same time every day you know.”

(I’m a 37 year old woman at this point, I might add).

“Doc, I’m having continence problems.”


“Doc, I’m chronically anaemic.”

“I’ll give you an iron injection and put you on beta blockers for your anxiety.”

If I had anxiety, I guarantee you it was a result of being sick all the time. I did not take the beta blockers. But I did get a new GP.

By this time, I was almost in tears. I was up all night in pain, I had heart palpitations, fatigue, lethargy, extreme weight gain (oh yeah, I’m not just a woman, you guys, I’m a FAT woman), headaches and personality changes. The stress I was under after Mum’s stroke wasn’t helping.

“You’re a public servant,” she asked me after I explained in detail that I had a chronic health problem that nobody could diagnose and that it was severely impacting my life. That I had a full-time job and a severely-disabled mother and the extra stress was exacerbating the symptoms. I was clearly upset.

“Um, yes,” I responded, confused. “I am a public servant.”

“I’ve been seeing so many public servants for anxiety lately. I’ll refer you to a psychologist.”

At this stage, you think. Maybe they’re right. Maybe the abnormal test results, the chronic symptoms, the inflammatory markers and the hemoglobin levels are all psychosomatic. I’m actually just severely depressed or have some kind of anxiety disorder.

It is awfully common, after all, for women my age.

“Tell you what, doc,” I said, “you do some tests. If you don’t find something I’ll go and see the psychologist.”

One week later.

“There’s something wrong with you, you know,” she said

“Yes,” I said patiently, “I know. I told you that. Find out what it is.”

“Ok. Have you ever considered that you may have coeliac’s disease?”

Murdering a doctor is still a crime, right?

“After three colonoscopies, I’m going to say ‘yes’ and also ‘let’s put aside coeliac’s disease for the moment, shall we?’ I think you’re all looking in the wrong place. My last gynaecologist visit was four years ago and I’m supposed to have a two-yearly check up. I have a history of endometriosis and problems with my periods. But I moved and don’t have a gynaecologist in this area. Let’s just consider the problem may be gynaecological.”

To be clear – the idea that a woman with chronic anaemia, incontinence, break through bleeding, painful, irregular periods, constipation, diarrheoa, lower abdominal and chest pains may have had a gynaecological problem was something I had to work out for myself.

Despite seeing five doctors.

All my other tests – the chest xrays, the abdominal scan – all came up clear. The transvaginal ultrasound showed fibroids. Multiple. Large. Concerning.

And then I had to move again.

Dad was relocating Mum to Brisbane and, since my agency had an office in Brisbane and new flexible working arrangements, I said that I would move too and help them settle in. It was a full six months later before I got a GP and a referral to a gynaecologist. He did an exploratory laparoscopy and my diagnosis was finally in.

I had a multi-fibroid uterus and severe endometriosis. My uterus was severely enlarged. My ovaries were adhered to my pelvic wall. I had to have a hysterectomy.

I could write another blog post on my decision to go through with the surgery. But once I’d stopped the pill that wasn’t working properly anymore, my ‘old’ periods had come back. My cycle was 7-10 days. I had three days a month in bed. I had chronic headaches and iron deficiency. And I talked to no one about it.

I soldiered on. And I STFU. As you do.

Next week, a surgeon will be removing my uterus and the other fibroids and cleaning out the endometriosis. It’s a big decision. It’s major surgery. And I want to talk about it. As much as possible.

So I am officially coming out of the closet.

I’m a woman. I’m 39 years old. I’m a mid-level public servant.

I’m the most ordinary person in the world.

Musings on sexism and misogyny in Glee

Apart from #womanforaweek and the odd bit of fiction, this blog rarely ventures out of the confines of climate science.

But, after years of trying, I was finally forced to sit down and watch the show, Glee.

I make no apologies for missing what was apparently a cultural tour de force that seems to have defined a generation of television watchers. Looking back on these defining cultural moments is always more interesting than living through them. Not that I realised Glee was that kind of phenomena at the time. It’s only now while googling reviews and recaps that I realise how much of an impact this show was having while it was on the air.

When I envisaged what the show was like, I imagined standard highschool tropes and cardboard characters singing randomly about their feelings. So the first thing that struck me when I watched the initial 13 episodes was the satire. Totally unexpected (and of course, I now realise, short lived).

The second thing that struck me was how awfully sexist its representation of female characters was. Was the show really saying that the world consisted of binary gender roles and that those roles were ‘submissive, manipulative and bitchy woman’ and ‘weak, aggressive man with masculinity issues’?

Was I supposed to be shipping Rachel Berry with the giant man-child Finn or the meek and submissive Emma with the giant man-child Shue? Was I supposed to see Kurt’s homosexuality as ‘real’ but Santana and Brittany’s obvious lesbianism as somehow being entirely about male desire – which is how it was framed? Was I supposed to see Artie’s gross misogynism and penis obsession as somehow endearing because of his chair?

More importantly, was I supposed to not notice that Quinn’s terrifying teen pregnancy – in a strict religious family in a society portrayed as being almost archaic in its dislike of female sexuality – was being portrayed as somehow all about Finn? Or that the show was implying that women fake pregnancies and lie about paternity frequently to manipulate men?

Or was the show’s satirical bent designed to make me think these horrible stereotypes were being subverted in some way? And did things like Brittany’s random ‘gay shark’ comments make up for it? Or was her idealistic, head in the clouds randomness just another example of a female character who needed to be protected? Often from reality, as it turns out in later seasons.

By the end of the bizarrely awful Season 6 – that I’m still not entirely sure wasn’t a drug-induced hallucination of Jane Lynch’s Coach Sue – I had swung my personal pendulum on the issue in several different directions but had to finally come down in favour of one obvious conclusion.

This show was not just sexist, it was misogynistic. And its framing of itself around the underdog, the underprivileged and the ‘misfits’ of the world made its obvious sexism and misogynism that much worse.

I could, somewhere around the end of season 2, have put some of the narrative problems down to Ryan Murphy’s clear masculinity issues and his obsession with ‘traditional’ (read 1950s) gender roles – especially in relationships. But it seemed at times, with characters such as Lauren Zizes, Coach Bieste and even with the character development of the aforementioned Quinn that perhaps my criticism was unfounded or even harsh.

Then Lauren decided she was desperate to be Prom Queen, Coach Bieste came out as transgender (because women who like sport and don’t fit gender roles secretly all want to be men), Quinn had lesbian sex despite never showing a single hint of same-sex attraction before – did I mention that female sexuality is entirely about male desire and not the women themselves – and Rachel had to decide between love and her career because a woman in a relationship couldn’t be more successful than her man. The poor darlings couldn’t cope.

Even Mercedes, for much of the show a unique, strong, moral character with a tendency to bouts of vicious divahood, suddenly decided she wanted the perfect Prom fantasy as well. All women, we were told repeatedly, just want to be pretty and passively adored. If they don’t, it’s because they really want to be men anyway.

Even Rachel Berry, we soon discovered, wanted to be Prom Queen and a Lima housewife. More than she wanted to be a successful Broadway star apparently.

Between the existence of the “Celibacy Club” and the fact that almost every female character in a heterosexual relationship had an entire plotline devoted to the loss of her “precious flower”, women were portrayed constantly as seeing sex only as a currency in their relationships with men.

The epitome of this, for me, was the awful Finchel scene where Rachel uses her virginity o reassure Finn about his manhood. The endless, ongoing message that a woman’s sexuality is entirely about and for men is re-enforced constantly.

Coach Bieste, a woman so awesome she would have been fending them off by the droves in her late teens, had the awfully offensive ‘never been kissed’ episode where we discovered no man had ever been interested because she didn’t fit “the mold”.

There is no mold, people. Not outside a highschool movie, anyway, and none that applies to mature, confident, athletic women who are also kind, compassionate and generous. And then, of course, we get the transgender issue, which I’ve now mentioned three times so won’t mention again.

I could write an essay on the show’s deification of Mr Schue; a character so awful his screentime by the end of Season 3 was literally painful to watch. But the internet has plenty. Just google.

And then there’s the music. The show is basically one long musical so the choice and use of music becomes even more important than in usual TV shows.

After Season 4, the show only really makes sense if we think that every episode consists of a PSA YouTube video made by New Directions rather than actual episodes of a television show.

I don’t know how many over-produced pieces of trash I had to listen to during the eternity it took to finish this show. I only know most of the songs have blended into each other in a giant autotune stew. For every ‘Happy Days/Get Happy’, ‘My Man’ and ‘As if We Never Said Goodbye’, there was [insert theme week here].

But some of them were worse than just bad: they were so inappropriate for the episode that I’m still stunned someone thought it was a good idea at the time.

And no, I’m not just talking about the weird episode where Blaine kept singing random love songs to his brother.

I’m not sure which musical moment stands out to me as the worst. There was a long line that destroyed Glee’s claim to any kind of progressiveness.

Was it when Santana’s coming out was defined by the song ‘I Kissed a Girl’, which is about a straight woman engaging in lesbian acts to titillate her straight boyfriend?

Was it when Brittany campaigned for President using ‘Run the World’, which is about how women don’t need real power because they can use sex and manipulation to get what they want from men?

Was it when Jake cheated on Marley because she wouldn’t sleep with him and then she sang Wrecking Ball because apparently the breakup was her fault.

Or was it when Tina sang “I Don’t Know How to Love Him’ to Blaine in the appalling ‘Sadie Hawkins’ dance episode. This episode not only set up her character for her impending ‘hagdom’ (a shockingly sexist term) but failed to notice that Sadie Hawkins’ dances are a direct product of sexist notions of strict gender roles implicit in school rituals like the Prom.

It seems obvious that Blaine’s problem as a gay man with a Sadie Hawkins dance would be that it further emphasises the male/female dichotomy in these school rituals that specifically excludes him. But to acknowledge that would mean the writers had to realise this themselves. Instead they chose to use a gay character to re-enforce those gender roles, which seems amazingly tone dear.

Glee gave us several quality gay characters who, for all their flaws and foibles almost saved my impression of the show. Ryan Murphy clearly has a disturbing obsession about 1950s gender roles and this extended to his gay characters in a way that did somewhat undermine those relationships.

Nonetheless, Glee is one of the few popular vehicles that managed to rise above tokenism and make people invest in those relationships – even if somewhere around mid-season 4 someone decided to portray Blaine as an insane clown and began literally dressing him as such.

So, I’m almost willing to give the show a pass for its misogynism because it gave us characters like Kurt and that’s something.

Almost. But after having to watch six seasons of the show, I’m afraid I only have one conclusion. The show is inherently sexist and misogynist and its other positive qualities are not sufficient to overcome it.

Fiction Drop: Dirty Bomb

Dirty Bomb

By Lee Tennant

They say a lot of things about writing.

They say to write what you know. They say to show, not tell. They say to be subtle. They say to use innovative language while making your message clear.

They say a lot of things. Or at least they used to.

I am a writer, or at least fancy myself one, so I didn’t want this to be a diatribe.

My diatribe.

And even though I know this will go on a silent blog on a cascading, collapsing internet that only the few access anymore, still I will write it. I will post it. I will not be subtle. I will tell and if I show it will be incidental.

But I will absolutely write about what I know. After all, this is my diatribe.

I remember the morning. Do you? It was around 8am, at least in my lazy corner of the world. I was in my local coffee shop; writing. I still had a fantasy I would be a writer. Like everything else, I was too cautious and the moment passed. As it passed for everyone.

I’d slept poorly the night before. There were strange imprecise noises, distorted by the clear, calm air of 2am. Popping. Banging. Pffts of air escaping. I thought it was animals; the small scurrying foraging kind. Or neighbours banging around, perhaps.

I checked the house. I checked the car. Nothing. So I went back to bed and had strange dreams of evil, choking winds shut out only by my flimsy windows.

When my alarm went off at 5:30am I wanted the sleep-in I was never able to achieve. But I got up anyway, had some Vegemite toast and a cup of tea, packed my bag, went to the gym and now I was in the closest cafe. Scribbling half-formed thoughts onto the page, drinking strong coffee and pretending I was a writer.

It was a cool, clear morning: the kind that put the beautiful and the perfect into Queensland’s old tourism slogan. I didn’t have a preferred cafe; choosing one depending on my mood, my budget, the weather. A hundred different unacknowledged things.

Often I launched myself from my bed and onto the mainland early so I could get to work at a decent hour but today I’d decided to stay on my island and sip my coffee and watch ink flow impotently from my pen with a view of Moreton Bay.

When the first one fell, I thought it was rain from a cloudless sky: not uncommon on that coastline where winds could blow droplets from clouds well out of sight. Or, less explicably, hail.

It hit the compact sand, fine like dirt, and let out a small burst of air like a gasp. It didn’t smell. Don’t let anybody tell you that it did. The fancifists who speak of sulphur fumes or flowery perfumes or formaldehyde are guilty of the same human flaws that led us here. I have no more time for them. I have no love left for anyone.

They dropped from the sky like rain, although they were not rain. The spit their cargo into the air like breath, although it was not breath. And then they dissolved into almost nothing, although were not nothing.

Some fell near underfunded universities or neglected public research institutions like CSIRO. Some small specimens were quickly scraped and stored to be studied. And then those areas were defunded and the samples were handed to the private labs that acquired them and they determined there was no commercial value to the research and the samples mouldered in storage.

Is mouldered even a word? For that matter is fancifists? I’m not sure I care anymore.

It made the news, of course. You remember. Morning television dubbed it TERRORISM and immediately trotted out every wild-eyed Islamaphobe they could find. They tried their best to whip up a fear frenzy but, as the day progressed, they had to acknowledge the truth: the small translucent missiles had rained down upon everybody. All at once. And they had pelted the ISS and some now-damaged satellites on their way to the surface.

And that was when the fun really began.

The Daily Mail could do headlines, although they rarely bothered to underpinned them with journalism.

Alien Invasion?

Space Balls Change Human DNA, Scientists Claim

Chinese More Susceptible

The last wasn’t even in the scientific paper the sensationalist article was pretending to discuss. It was a quote at the end by a Doctor Wakefield who claimed the findings showed we were inside a genetic Trojan Horse of alien design.

He claimed the subtle genetic changes attributed to the spheres were more significant in people of Asian descent – specifically those with an epicanthic fold – and more prevalent in Han Chinese.

The epicanthic fold was found across Asia and in other populations as well, including the Berbers and Indigenous Americans. So why were the Chinese singled out, I mused in a terse and sarcastic tweet on the article. And why did the Daily Mail include this racist addition from someone who wasn’t even a geneticist in its headline, I asked in a follow-up quote tweet. They do know that people with Down Syndrome have an epicanthic fold as well, a follower tweeted back. We were united in our scorn. The Daily Mail doing what they do best.

A former CSIRO scientist I knew – newly unemployed of course – was scathing of the claim.

The substance released by the spheres does seem to be implicated in several epigenetic changes across the population. However, there’s no evidence these epigenetic changes have any effect on people’s health. The new genes expressed have no identifiable impact on anybody in which they have been observed. We need to do further studies of course, especially into the intergenerational consequences of these changes being passed down. But for now the changes seem inconsequential.”

His comments were reported in the Herald Sun as:

Alien Gene Manipulation Could Be Passed To Our Children

Three exclamation points.

I turned off the television for good after one too many What Are the Aliens Planning? special news bulletins. Andrew Bolt interviewed Alan Jones on why we should all be scared. They all agreed the aliens had a plan. Why were the lefties and femininazis suddenly quiet about a real threat to our sovereignty? They were obviously alien sympathisers who hated humanity.

And so it went on. And on. And on.

And so I had a drop out day.

A drop out day was when I closed the blinds, grabbed a good book, brewed the coffee in quantities sufficient for an IV drip and pretended the world didn’t exist.

I’d spent the week in my normal routine of work and complaining about the increasingly-insane world I lived in. It was Saturday and refugees were still in hellhole concentration camps where people were being beaten and raped. Domestic violence was at epidemic proportions, something which was apparently a man-hating beat-up by the feminists. Climate change was marching quickly; destroying slowly the lives of billions and our government was still committed to actively making that happen. Universal healthcare was being sliced to an ugly death. Trump had been elected President of the United States.

It was too much and I was exhausted.

With my connection to the outside world severed and my brain in the world of a Jasper Fforde novel, I drank my weight in coffee and, after 3pm, gin and didn’t hear about it until Sunday.

By then the horror was so well-advanced, the inevitability of it hit me like a dirty brick to the face and my drop out day seemed as selfish and as self-indulgent as it had been.

That previously-laughable rabble known as Border Force had quietly rounded up hundreds of Australians of Chinese descent and sent them to Nauru and PNG: sliding them across the border before the law could stop them.

In retrospect, that heinous act had been a culmination.

There had been rumours on quality new organisations like Al Jazeera for a while.

A mob in Malaysia burning Chinese businesses. An Islamic group in Pakistan declaring Jihad on those who were no longer God’s Children. (You remember them. The Australian media insisted on mispronouncing their name as a type of soup).

The American pastor who claimed the Chinese were now a fifth column for the devil, working with the communist United Nations to take away his guns and make him pay more tax.

An anti-vaxxer in Britain who said the genetic changes were actually caused by vaccines and the government was in league with the pharmaceutical companies to cover it up. Those companies, he proclaimed in a peculiarly manic manner, were somehow both Zionist and Chinese.

In Japan, the Chinese population had quietly been interned, causing what was euphemistically called an “international incident”. The Japanese declared their population free of epigenetic changes; a fact that couldn’t possibly be true but that was accepted by the international community for reasons I found baffling. The Chinese government insisted on their release and rattled some sabres. This was reported in the Australian media as further evidence of Chinese aggression.

After all, we’d been nervous about China before G-Day. Han Chinese made up 20% of the world’s population. And now – the papers and Murdoch news increasingly told us – it was possible they weren’t even really human anymore. And if they were, well, those genetic changes meant something. Otherwise, why would the aliens have wasted resources making them happen?

I wasn’t the most avid reader of popular news but even I couldn’t miss the subtle change in language we’d achieved by the second anniversary of G-Day. Suddenly these scattered epigenetic changes were referred to an ‘alien infection’. Humans were ‘infected by alien code’ and who knew what instructions our genome was now following.

Extremist groups were beginning to force the government to refer to these changes as ‘Alien DNA’ and no amount of rationality or logic could stop the terminology from spreading.

There had been a growing clamour for the genetically infected to be removed from the population for our own safety. But I had retained an instinctive belief that that sort of thing simply didn’t happen here. Even though my country already had concentration camps with people they considered no more than detritus rotting in them.

And yet. I woke up to a world where people with any Chinese ancestry were in jail for the crime of being born. And, I discovered later to my horror, those with Down Syndrome were among them.

Paralysed by the shock and outrage, I didn’t know what to do; lost in a rage so large it was rendered impotent. Protests were organised but I did not go. Julian Burnside mounted an extensive suite of legal action, only to have the law get washed from beneath his feet. Aliens couldn’t be citizens and, even if they were still human, they harboured an alien genetic time bomb deep inside them that could blow up our species. The law, the High Court concluded, didn’t apply. And if it did, then the law was changed. Quickly.

As a government employee, I was one of the first to find myself subjected to mandatory genetic integrity tests to determine the extent of my genetic damage. The few remaining public scientists not forced into those private research firms who were benefiting from the testing regime protested. They said these kinds of epigenetic changes were seen at a population level. Individuals could easily have acquired them naturally. There was no way a single test could distinguish which changes were environmental and which were caused by the invisible substance the spheres had expelled so quietly.

As an Australian of English, Irish and Scottish descent, my genes were almost unaffected or so the test showed. To this day, I have no idea what criteria were used to assess this and I resigned in protest.

I say there is no evidence these changes made any real difference to the human genome. These genes were in all of us: they just expressed in different ways. And our environment was just as likely to switch certain genes on as alien intervention. The scientific evidence on that was clear.

By the fourth anniversary of G-Day, genetic testing had stopped. It was expensive, after all, and we had definitively proved the changes were more prevalent in those people of Chinese descent. Or so we were told.

By now, logic was gone. All that was left was the long screeching cry of human territorial instinct.

Nauru and PNG were not large enough, of course, for the detention of the 1 million Chinese in Australia. As you no doubt remember, the largest camp was established on Norfolk Island. Norfolk residents were horrified but the now extra-legal, paramilitary Border Force could not be argued with and the Island found itself repeating its neighbour’s colonial history in real time.

China had broken off all diplomatic ties. It had forged an unlikely alliance with North Korea and, in an historical quirk, South Korea too. Countries in South-East Asia, determined to assert their non-Chinese heritage while struggling with the reality of the widespread genetic anomalies in their own populations, formed a bloc to insist publically that it was the Han Chinese that were the problem.

It was the loose conglomeration of Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Burma that had begun the first state executions. I think. By this time, Al Jazeera was off the air and Al Arabiya had been stormed; their stations trashed and journalists indefinitely detained. Every other international network had fallen into line with their country’s editorial policies. News was patchy and inaccurate and finding real information became increasingly difficult, even for those of us with first-world internet access.

News trickled out that Cambodia had set up refugee camps; throwing open their borders to the fleeing Chinese and defying their neighbours with every fibre of their impoverished, traumatised being. I do know for a fact that stopped when Vietnam invaded. After that, my knowledge of international developments was almost completely overtaken by propaganda and outright lies.

The Turnbull government had lost the last election in a landslide to the ultra-nationalist Australian Liberty Alliance who had quietly swapped out Muslims for the Chinese in their campaigning. They had almost immediately declared a national emergency, cancelled elections and choked off local access to social media. We were now the ‘voice of the Alien Invasion’: sympathisers and traitors and fifth columnists aiding and abetting an enemy. A VPN and proxy blocker worked for a small time before that small measure of anonymity was stripped away. We were alone.

Australia’s camps were overflowing. Everyone’s camps were overflowing. The Chinese were the most populous group on the planet. You may be offended by my choice of words but it remained a fact. The executions were the natural result of simple logic.

They could be sterilised and returned to their homes but the legal problems that would stem from mass sterilisation would come back to hurt them. They knew that. Those old white men with their hands gripped white on their pens. And who knew if they weren’t just sleepers, ready to activate for their alien masters on a secret, silent command.

I don’t remember exactly when the Human Standard was published. Maybe you do. Sometime around the 4th anniversary, I think. Nor did I ever find out where I would have rated on it. After all, my blonde hair, blue eyes and round eyes meant I would never be tested at all. I was automatically assigned an Alien Infiltration Level of 1.

The Standard Genetic Framework for Determining Members of the Human Species became a recognised international standard not long after the fourth anniversary of G-Day. An administrative and logistical way for them to begin to categorise the burgeoning camp populations outside of China.

I’m sure independent scientists would have pointed out there was no such thing as a standard genetic framework for determining humanity. But they were now all in jail or silent with fear. After all, this was a time of war.

Logic and science had taken the last plane out of Canberra and we were just left with this. This senseless hate. Like an existential slap across the soul.

I was thrilled to be assigned an Alien Infiltration Level of 1. Completely human. And my rating didn’t even require a new set of genetic testing. Although an old friend in the new Department of Genetic Integrity quietly told me I’d been put on a watch list as a suspected Alien Sympathiser for my now-defunct Twitter account.

If you’re reading this, no doubt you were ranked low on the scale as well. A 1 or 2. Genetically unassailed. I bet you feel as special as I did. That was sarcasm, in case the art of irony has died along with everything else.

They call it the banality of evil for a reason. What could be more banal than a meaningless standard on a meaningless framework deciding whether you lived or died? I lived. And that seems just as meaningless now as everything else.

They started with the AIL5s. Alien Infiltration Level 5 meant noticeable epigenetic changes that had been passed to the next generation. Our invaders, we were now told, were playing a Long Game. It was becoming clearer the changes had no discernible effect, even to those with an epicanthic fold. It was becoming clearer the hate and the fear and the atrocities were pointless, directionless, irrelevant. And so it was becoming clearer they needed to be justified, even more than they were before.

I have no doubt there were special secret reports stamped with special secret codes filed in special secret rooms that admitted there was no real threat. But when you hop a freight train, you can’t expect it to stop for you just because it’s gone off the rails towards a cliff.

It was not this generation they were targeting, was the conclusion, but the future generations of humanity.

The Third Generation: Why We Will Cease Being Human by 2100 was a book by Doctor Wakefield published in the lead up to the fifth anniversary of G-Day. It become mandatory reading in school curriculums and I tried to do my civic duty by wading through it myself. I’m sure you did too. After all, it was must-read literature. It was a pseudoscientific work of fiction that nonetheless formed the basis of many of our government’s policies in that awful year.

Consensus, the new publication aimed at those concerned about the assault on the human genome drew on its themes heavily as did Pure; the journal by Humanity for Humanity.

The AIL5s were murdered. Worldwide. Quickly and systematically yet somehow slowly as though there was just enough time for this madness to end but not enough time for us to even recover from the shock. Nearly 10 million. Dead. With 20 million AIL4s to be next.

And that was when the world ended.

My island home was far enough away from the blasts. Brisbane did not get hit and we had power and water and a ferry service to the mainland. At least we did for a while. I suspect the Collapse would have eventually destroyed us too but at first our corner of civilisation still functioned – albeit without gin or a caffeine drip.

I’m glad I took that drop out day. It was my last.

I believed, like most, that it was the Chinese Korean Security Partnership that struck first. Pre-emptive self-defence. Or orders from their alien masters as some still tried to claim after the fact. But there were rumours it was Israel – using their illegal arsenal to enact Infiltration Eradication on a larger scale – that pressed that big red button first. And that they fired on Tehran and Riyadh as well.

Israel’s Chinese population was negligible and most had left for the safety of the Chinese mainland long before the AILs were mandated. Israel had been waging a strong propaganda campaign that it was Arabs who were the greatest threat, despite no evidence the Arabic population had a greater genetic infiltration than their Semitic cousins.

Regardless of who fired first, by the time China’s nukes were in the air, others were fired in response. How many cities were hit? How many billions dead? Did the India and Pakistan Common Area pact save them or did they turn on each other in the end? I will never know. Maybe you do. If you’re reading this then you too were a survivor; a lucky one. No mushroom cloud. No radiation. No electromagnetic blast smashing your technological life back to the stone age.

You are also one of the few. As am I.

And so, like me, you’ll have seen them. Now, after the literal smoke has cleared, flying above us in their ships; hovering sometimes over the survivors still struggling to keep the scraps of internet alive. Sending messages into a dying world.

Their numbers are small. I’m sure you’ve noticed. And I’m sure you’ve realised that doesn’t matter anymore.

If they could speak, those launchers of small harmless balls into space. If they could be bothered to communicate with the vestiges of pure humanity clinging to the planet they coveted for reasons we will never know. If they could read my diatribe, now ending, as I plan to throw it into that void where vibrant life danced for a brief moment.

I think they’d say.

Thank you.

We couldn’t have done it without you.

Not too proud to crowdsource

The question is:

If you had unlimited funds to build an underground bunker – with complete biosphere and digital library – to survive the apocalypse, what would your design tips be?

I’m especially looking for artificial lighting advice, air-conditioning, design (the artificial ecosystems should be closer to the surface, need access to the outside world etc??). I want the bunker to house at minimum a temperate Australian ecosystem with plants and small fauna such as bugs from the Vic/NSW region. But preferably I want it to be a biosphere so I need to know firstly how big it would need to be. And how deep is it physically possible to be before it becomes unfeasible?

NOTE: The bunker is in the Australian desert powered by a large solar farm. It has 3D printers so you’re not limited to manufactured technology.

NOTE2: This is for a story I’m writing. Anyone who contributes gets a free copy when it’s finished. Whether you find that an incentive is entirely personal.

On distortion, fabrication and author smackdowns

I was greatly surprised this morning to read a blog post from the Hockey Schtick website on a paper entitled Emergent Model for Predicting the Average Surface Temperature of Rocky Planets with Diverse Atmospheres.

According to the site, this paper added

to the works of at least 40 others (partial list below) who have falsified the Arrhenius radiative theory of catastrophic global warming from increased levels of CO2…

Since the increase in system energy arising from an increase in greenhouse gas emissions is pretty basic physics, I was amazed that such an extraordinary scientific achievement had been made with so little fanfare.

There is, of course, an element of sarcasm to that. I admit to having doubts; just like I would have if someone had declared they’d proven natural selection was not required for evolution.

Nonetheless, this being my area of interest rather than expertise, I emailed one of the authors listed on the paper – Den Volokin – asking him the following:

I was interested to read today that you had published research that apparently ‘overturned Arrhenius radiative theory of warning due to greenhouse gas emissions’. I was, as you can imagine, quite astonished that such an amazing overturning of physics had gone unreported.
I am nothing more an interested laymen, but am curious as to whether you would agree with this interpretation of your paper?

To this, I received the following response that makes it clear that The Hockey Schtick have, deliberately or unwittingly, misrepresented the paper on several fronts:

The paper we published in Advances in Space Research entitled “Emergent Model for Predicting the Average Surface Temperature of Rocky Planets with Diverse Atmospheres” does not really make any such claims. We simply present an empirical model derived from observed data that can predict quite accurately the mean annual temperature of planetary bodies across a broad range of atmospheric and radiative environments. The paper offers no discussion about the Greenhouse Theory, nor does it elaborates much on the theoretical implications of our results. There is much more research to be done before any big theoretical claims can be justified … Internet blogs oftentimes choose to exaggerate and/or distort the content of scientific articles in order to promote their own agendas. For example, the HS website, where you saw our paper, makes the following claim:

“… the paper adds to the works of at least 40 others (partial list below) who have falsified the Arrhenius radiative theory of catastrophic global warming from increased levels of CO2, and also thereby demonstrated that the Maxwell/Clausius/Carnot/Boltzmann/Feynman atmospheric mass/gravity/pressure greenhouse theory is instead the correct explanation of the 33C greenhouse effect on Earth” .

Nowhere in our article do we state that the atmospheric thermal effect (a.k.a. greenhouse effect) is 33C ! In fact, a previous paper of ours published last December specifically argues that the 33 C greenhouse effect is incorrect, since it’s based on a mathematically wrong formula. In our 2014 paper, we show that the thermal effect of Earth’s atmosphere is in fact about 90 C. The present paper builds on these findings. So, the statement made by HS is factually inaccurate and theoretically misleading!

While it can be argued a paper’s authors may not necessarily see all the potential implications of their work, it is also clear that the scientists who conducted the research are best placed to explain the scope of it. As Volokin states, the website is factually inaccurate and theoretically misleading in the way it has presented the conclusions of the paper.

As the author of this blog, I humbly suggest the exaggeration and distortion of scientific articles by sites such the Hockey Schtick is now endemic.

For those interested in further reading:

Emergent Model for Predicting the Average Surface Temperature of Rocky Planets with Diverse Atmospheres
Den Volokin and Lark ReLlez

On the average temperature of airless spherical bodies and the magnitude of Earth’s atmospheric thermal effect
Den Volokin and Lark ReLlez

Arctic ice and the nature of denial

It was probably inevitable this week that the deniers had a resurgence. After all, we’re headed for a mini ice age and Arctic sea ice is expanding. Except of course that neither of these things are true.

Before I delve into both of these pieces and the way in which they’ve been deliberately misreported and mispresented, I’ll ponder for a moment on the nature of denial. Denial comes in two groups so it’s probably unfair to use it in such broad strokes. It’s used accurately to denote the bought-and-paid-for schills such as the Heartland Institute who know perfectly well that what they are shovelling is not white as snow. It’s probably unfairly applied to the ordinary Joes who believe what they sling because it suits their ontological framework.

For a large proportion of people, the reality of climate change challenges their fundamental ideas of how the world works. Basic psychology tells us that, when confronted with overwhelming evidence that challenges long-held beliefs, our natural tendency is to reject the evidence and hold faster to the original belief.

Denial is called denial because it involves denying established facts and observational evidence. A skeptic asks for more data before making a decision. A denier simply denies the evidence with which they’ve been presented, no matter how compelling. The epitome of denial is questioning temperatures. Evidence that global temperatures are rising (and at record rates) have been countered by claims that “they” (whoever they happen to be) are doctoring records: the same temperature record deniers will happily refer to if they think it supports their version of reality.

Scientists, it seems, are constantly lying and doctoring evidence. Except, of course, when they’re not.

Which brings us to today’s denial de jour: a particularly frustrating and deliberate misreading of two pieces of work (one of which has yet to be published and peer-reviewed). The first, an analysis of the Sun’s magnetic waves by Valentina Zharkova predicted we may see sun activity consistent with the Maunder Minimum by 2030. The second – a release about how amazing the CryoSat 2 satellite is – included the information that the volume of Arctic sea ice increased by a third in 2013 when compared to an average of the two preceding years (the satellite was launched in 2010).

You’ll notice something clearly about both these pieces of information. The first never mentions the  term “ice age”, “mini ice age”, “reverse global warming” or anything similar. The last Maunder Minimum was characterised by cold regional temperatures in Europe and North America, excacerbated by volcanic activity (among other things). There is no suggestion a Maunder Minimum will even begin to compensate for the temperature increases being directly caused by anthropogenic global warming. In fact, in 2014, this paper in Nature Communications examined the impact of a grand solar minimum on global temperatures and found that

Any reduction in global mean near-surface temperature due to a future decline in solar activity is likely to be a small fraction of projected anthropogenic warming

The second talks solely about short-term ice extent fluctuations, being concerned as it is with demonstrating the new accuracy provided to climate data by the satellite itself.  Arctic summer sea ice is declining at record rates but did experience a particularly warm summer in 2012. Comparatively-cool regional temperatures in 2013 saw sea ice increase in that year, relative to the previous two. This is indicative of the new level accuracy provided by CryoSat rather than a “recovery” of the ice itself. In fact, large proportional increases like this are a good statistical sign that we’re dealing with a low base – that is, the record decline in Arctic sea ice extent since the 1970s means we’re dealing with a much lower extent figure overall.

To understand low base statistical variation, let’s take the example of spoons. Imagine you’re sitting at a table: on your left, you have 1 spoon and on your right 100 spoons. I then give you an an extra 1 spoon each. You now have 2 spoons on your left and 101 spoons on your right. In the first example, your spoons have increased by 100%. In the second, your spoons have increased by 1%. Same increase (1 spoon), different proportions. This is why the large proportional variations we’ve seen in Arctic sea ice extent over the last five years or so is evidence of its decline. Only a low base can account for year-on-year proportional variation of this kind.

It’s become clear over the past year or so that manufactured doubt is not going to be overtaken by data and evidence. These two recent examples demonstrate just how determined denial remains – even if it’s become tortured and contradictory.

The question of how to deal with this kind of willful and deliberate distortion of reality is one for greater minds than myself to deal with. All we can do for now is to keep re-enforcing the truth and hope that the second kind of denier – the victims of the first – are able to finally synthesise the message into their worldview.

Climate change is real, it’s happening now and it’s primarily the result of human activity. Ice is not expanding, temperatures are not declining and an ice age is not on its way. Considering the overwhelming evidence to the contrary at this stage, anybody who tries to say otherwise is either lying or committing an extraordinary form of mental gymnastics.