Witch-hunting with Jesús
Can you provide a definition for the word “woman?”
— Sen. Marsha Blackburn to Supreme Court nominee Jackson
Looking up the background of Alicia Garcia-Falgueras, I immediately fell in love. Garcia-Falgueras is a neuroscientist in Amsterdam whose 46 publications probe the connection between musical composition and the brain structures of composers, the potential for brain injury among Spanish kitesurfers, Hula Hoop fitness and centripetal force, and dressing, fashion, and sex differences in history. For instance, her Fashion in Cadiz in 1812: male and female dress in the early Romantic period or her El herreruelo o ferreruelo en el Quijote y en otras obras de la literatura áurea, looking at capes and male skirts in Don Quixote and in other works of the golden literature in the context of flamboyant cross-dressing.
What interested me more about Dr. Alicia was her post-doc work at Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience where she has teamed with one of the world’s preeminent researchers on biological assignment of genitalia, Dr. Dick F. Swaab (no joke). Garcia-Falgueras and Swaab published a landmark study in neuroscience in the journal, Functional Neurology, that I will return to presently.
Reentering the United States after a couple years living in a country whose constitution bars discrimination based on sexual orientation, I had not expected the debate here to be at such a fever pitch. While skipping through the FM radio channels on a drive through rural Tennessee, I learned that nearly 240 anti-LGBTQ+ bills were filed in the first quarter of 2022, 154 of those targeting transgender people and others going after “woke” schoolteachers. Homophobia has always run deep in the Bible Belt, but this 240 number was up from from just 41 in the year before I left, so Republican depravity has definitely been trending up in my absence. Since the start of 2021, 11 states have written trans sports bans into law. Arizona has proposed the third-highest total of anti-LGBTQ bills so far this year, 17, behind Iowa and Tennessee.
“The authors of these bills and the dark money groups pushing for them do not want it to be possible to be a trans kid in this country,” said Gillian Branstetter, a longtime trans advocate and the press secretary for women’s advocacy group the National Women’s Law Center. “They’re responding to trans kids as if they were responding to a contagion.”
— Mustafa Akyol, The New York Times
In 2015, Obama appointed the first-ever special envoy for LGBTQ+ rights to coordinate U.S. diplomacy on the matter. He also appointed five openly gay men to serve as ambassadors. I recall attending a reception in Havana for the openly gay Norwegian Ambassador and his Cuban partner. In 2017 Ireland elected its first openly gay prime minister, followed soon after by the election of Serbia’s first openly lesbian and first female prime minister. For contrast, President Cobblepot tweeted a ban on military service for transgenders and rolled back health-care rights and guarantees for TQ+ patients. His administration launched the Commission on Unalienable Rights, which threatened LGBTQ+ and women’s rights under the guise of religious liberty and ordered the Department of Health and Human Services to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people, affecting services such as foster care and adoption, refugee assistance, and HIV prevention. Almost on queue, Russia passed a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in 2020.
Right to be Queer
Despite the United Nations recognition of human rights on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity since 2007, or European countries extending protection under Article 21 of the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights and the European Commission in 2020 denying funding to member states that do not respect LGBTQ+ rights or fail to prosecute homophobic hate crimes, a third of the world — seventy countries — continue to criminalize homosexual activity, and in twelve countries adults who engage in consensual same-sex acts can still face the death penalty. Iran regularly executes LGBTQ+, sometimes by beheading. But it is not just the Middle East. Homosexual activity remains a criminal offense in 35 of the 54 sovereign states of the Commonwealth of Nations. It is legal in only 19. Two Commonwealth countries, Brunei and Northern Nigeria, impose the death penalty. Punishment does not even require a country. Non-state actors like the Islamic State or some Latin cartel gangs are equal opportunity executioners without borders.
We do not have the right or opportunity to force states, but we can start a really good conversation to work with them so they understand the economic issues in relations to human rights and make the change.
— Patricia Scotland, Commonwealth Secretary-General
Even where same-sex sexual activity is not illegal, officials often overlook abuse and murder of LGBTQ+ individuals perpetrated by law enforcement officers, militant groups, street gangs, and even family members of the victim in so-called “honor killings” or rape as a way of “undoing” a gender identity. In some Catholic- and Muslim-majority states with a history of authoritarianism, thumping the Bible or Quran is used to justify horrendous acts of abuse. In Central America, LGBTQ+ people face structural discrimination, persecution, and are more susceptible to homicide, hence the recent surge of LGBTQ+ people seeking asylum in other countries. A US survey found that half of trans and nonbinary youths — seriously considered suicide within the prior year.
Where was Jesus?
Where did Jesus stand on queer rights? Biblical scholars will say he defined them according to Genesis 2:24: “For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh” (Matt. 19:5 ; Mark 10:7–8) and from that evangelicals conclude Jesus affirmed the covenanted union of one man and one woman as the only normative expression of human sexuality. There are many problems with this logic including the factual absence of an historic Jesus; scriptural revision by Dark Age monks laboring under Papal Edict; and changed conditions, including better science.
What about Islam? ISIS claims the Prophet Muhammad said gays “should be thrown from tremendous height then stoned.” In actually, there is nothing of the kind in the hadiths (sayings of Muhammed). However, the Old Testament, or Torah, clearly decrees that homosexuals “are to be put to death” (which is why an ultra-Orthodox Jew stabbed a teenage girl to death at a Gay Rights parade in Jerusalem in 2017).
At the heart of the Islamic view on homosexuality lies the biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah, which is narrated in the Quran, too. According to scripture, the Prophet Lot had warned his people of “immorality,” for they did “approach men with desire, instead of women.” In return, the people warned by Lot tried to expel their prophet from the city, and even tried to sexually abuse the angels who came down to Lot in the guise of men. Consequently, God destroyed the people of Lot with a colossal natural disaster, only to save the prophet and a few fellow believers.
— Mustafa Akyol, The New York Times
Did the people of Lot receive divine punishment for being homosexual, or for attacking Lot and his heavenly guests? Was the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah divine punishment or an extreme weather event? Is that (theoretical) historical event really the reason for today’s gay death penalties across the Islamic world? Seriously?
There is a bottomless hunger for the misery of trans kids.
— Gillian Bransetter
Which brings me back to my affection for Alicia Garcia-Falgueras and Dick Swaab. Their multi-year research used doppler fetoscope scans, surveys of galanin neurons in the intermediate nucleus of the hypothalamus and thionin staining of amniotic fluid samples in different groups of fetuses to view gender identity and hormonal changes through pregnancy. They performed follow-ups to adulthood that included external surveys of various groups — control male (M) and female (F) groups, male-to-female transsexuals (MtF), castrated males (CAS), premenopausal women (Pre-men), postmenopausal women (Post-men) and miscellaneous LGBTQ+ (gender dysphoric) subjects as old as eighty. Here is their conclusion:
The process of sexual differentiation of the brain brings about permanent changes in brain structures and functions via interactions of the developing neurons with the environment, understood in its widest sense. The environment of a developing neuron is formed by the surrounding nerve cells and the child’s circulating hormones, as well as the hormones, nutrients, medication and other chemical substances from the mother and the environment that enter the fetal circulation via the placenta. All these factors may have a lasting effect on the sexual differentiation of the brain.
The testicles and ovaries develop in the sixth week of pregnancy. This occurs under the influence of a cascade of genes, starting with the sex-determining gene on the Y chromosome (SRY). The production of testosterone by a boy’s testes is necessary for sexual differentiation of the sexual organs between weeks 6 and 12 of pregnancy. The peripheral conversion of testosterone into dihydrotestosterone is essential for the formation of a boy’s penis, prostate and scrotum. Instead, the development of the female sexual organs in the womb is based primarily on the absence of androgens.
Once the differentiation of the sexual organs into male or female is settled, the next thing that is differentiated is the brain, under the influence, mainly, of sex hormones or the developing brain cells. The changes (permanent) brought about in this stage have organizing effects; later, during puberty, the brain circuits that developed in the womb are activated by sex hormones.
The human fetal brain develops in the male direction through a direct action of testosterone and in the female direction through the absence of this hormone. During the intrauterine period, gender identity (the conviction of belonging to the male or female gender), sexual orientation, cognition, aggression and other behaviors are programmed in the brain in a sexually differentiated way.
Sexual differentiation of the genitals takes place in the first two months of pregnancy, whereas sexual differentiation of the brain starts in the second half of pregnancy. This means that in the event of an ambiguous sex at birth, the degree of masculinization of the genitals may not reflect the degree of masculinization of the brain.
Our observations on reversed sex differences in the brains of transsexual people support the idea that transsexuality is based on an opposite sexual differentiation of i) sexual organs during the first couple of months of pregnancy and ii) the brain in the second half of pregnancy. There is no proof that the social environment after birth has an effect on the development of gender or sexual orientation, while the possible effects on sexual differentiation of the brain by endocrine disrupters in the environment and in medicines given to the pregnant mother should be investigated.
Neurobiological research on sexual orientation and gender identity in humans is only just gathering momentum, but the evidence shows that humans have a vast array of brain differences, related not only to gender, but also to sexual orientation. There is a need for further multidisciplinary research….
In a separate paper published in 2019, the authors elaborate further:
In the past decennia, our understanding of the sexual differentiation of the mammalian brain has dramatically changed. The simple model according to which testosterone masculinizes the brain of males away from a default female form, was replaced with a complex scenario, according to which sex effects on the brain of both females and males are exerted by genetic, hormonal, and environmental factors. These factors act via multiple partly independent mechanisms that may vary according to internal and external factors. These observations led to the “mosaic” hypothesis — the expectation of high variability in the degree of “maleness”/“femaleness” of different features within a single brain.
The Last Little Schoolhouse in Texas
Today, if a high school or college biology teacher in Texas were to use a textbook printed after 2009 that mentions the mosaic pattern of gender assignment or informs her class that sexual differentiation of the genitals takes place in the first two months of pregnancy, whereas sexual differentiation of the brain starts in the second half of pregnancy and that hormonal misassignment in that second half is not uncommon, perhaps 10 percent of the time, she could be jailed. The new “don’t say gay” law echos a similar bill passed in 2005 when Texas attempted to outlaw gay marriage and civil unions but inadvertently ended up banning all marriages. That had to be quietly repealed. The 2022 bill, which is now being modeled by many other jurisdictions, is so broadly defined that it effectively bans all discussion of gender and sexuality, including that of heteronormative relationships and biological sex.
As a result, parents are being informed by high school principals and elementary teachers that to avoid arrest, from now on, their children will no longer be referred to with gendered pronouns but instead the neutral “they” or “them,” and that all discussion or mention of subjects that potentially refer to sexuality will be banned from school, including heterosexual relationships and families. Texas teachers are carefully following the law by avoiding all mention of gender and sexuality issues. What may be more challenging will be what to do at kindergarten about prince/princess stories, bible stories and later girls/boys locker rooms/restrooms, and gendered dress codes. Texas courts should be quite busy for some years to come.
None of which will stop the harassment, assaults and murders. Pause to think of that on May 17, the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia. That date was chosen in recognition of the day, in 1990, when the World Health Organization removed homosexuality from the Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems.
For the ten percent or more of children — all 700 million of you — whose gender hormone assignments in third trimester did not match sex organ assignments in your first trimester, through no fault of your own, just a roll of the dice, I hope you will locate your identity wherever it falls along the mosaic of possibilities. I hope you can live a long and joyful life, unharmed by idiots like Marsha Blackburn. If that is not happening, think about relocating to México.
Akyol, Mustafa, What Does Islam Say About Being Gay? The New York Times, July 28, 2015 https://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/29/opinion/mustafa-akyol-what-does-islam-say-about-being-gay.html
Arnold, AP . 2012. The end of gonad-centric sex determination in mammals. Trends Genet 28:55–61.
Blackless, M, Charuvastra, A, Derryck, A, Fausto-Sterling, A, Lauzanne, K, Lee, E. 2000. How sexually dimorphic are we? Review and synthesis. Am J Hum Biol 12:151–66.
FAIR Education Act Implementation Coalition, 2021. LGBTQ Rights Timeline in American History, https://www.lgbtqhistory.org/lgbt-rights-timeline-in-american-history/
Mendos, Lucas Ramón 2019. State-Sponsored Homophobia 13th Ed., ilga.org
Swaab, D.F. and Garcia-Falgueras, A., 2009. Sexual differentiation of the human brain in relation to gender identity and sexual orientation. Functional Neurology 24(1): 17–28
The Green Road
Towns, villages and cities in the Ukraine are being bombed every day. As refugees pour out into the countryside, they must rest by day so they can travel by night. Ecovillages and permaculture farms have organized something like an underground railroad to shelter families fleeing the cities, either on a long-term basis or temporarily, as people wait for the best moments to cross the border to a safer place, or to return to their homes if that becomes possible. So far there are 62 sites in Ukraine and 265 around the region. They are calling their project “The Green Road.”
The Green Road also wants to address the ongoing food crisis at the local level by helping people grow their own food, and they are raising money to acquire farm machinery, seed, and to erect greenhouses.
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The COVID-19 pandemic has destroyed lives, livelihoods, and economies. But it has not slowed down climate change, which presents an existential threat to all life, humans included. The warnings could not be stronger: temperatures and fires are breaking records, greenhouse gas levels keep climbing, sea level is rising, and natural disasters are upsizing.
As the world confronts the pandemic and emerges into recovery, there is growing recognition that the recovery must be a pathway to a new carbon economy, one that goes beyond zero emissions and runs the industrial carbon cycle backwards — taking CO2 from the atmosphere and ocean, turning it into coal and oil, and burying it in the ground. The triple bottom line of this new economy is antifragility, regeneration, and resilience.
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