Episode 4: Melody Dickens on hormones, teaching, and star trek
Image: A crystal structure of the ERalpha ligand-binding domain complexed with lasofoxifene. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
This week’s episode is available from our podcast host here: Episode 4 on Podbean
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- We also touch on the HeLa cell line, which is very commonly used in biological and medical research. The book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks offers an account both of the history of Henrietta Lacks and her cell line, as well as the relationship the author developed with one of her daughters (of note is that the author is a white woman).
- “How Henrietta Lacks Became the Mother of Modern Medicine” (Mental Floss, 2020)
- “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” (book review in NCBI, 2010)
- We also discussed the John Money/David Reimer case, of a cisgender boy who, due to a problematic circumcision, was reassigned female and raised as a girl. He eventually reasserted a male gender identity. A book about this, As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl was published in 2006.
- Even more negatively, we mention a recent “study” providing “robust physiological evidence” for bisexual men (instead of linking to the study, I’ll link to this write-up and note two things:
- The primary author of the study is a famous transmisogynist, among other things
- Charles, Tessa, and Melody all regard this kind of research as ultimately pointless and deeply ideologically flawed – we believe in the inherent legitimacy of stated sexual orientation (i.e. if you tell me you’re bi, you’re bi – even if you’re lying to me, who cares) and that looking for “physiological evidence” is inevitably reductive and ignores the complexity and breadth of lived human sexuality
- We also mention the “study” on so-called “rapid onset gender dysphoria” by researcher Lisa Littman. If you google this, among the first results are a variety of trans-antagonistic, right-wing pieces, which I think tells you about all you need to know, but if not, here’s an article about why this notion is flawed.
- Melody also references bioluminescent rabbits, the (successful) result of gene splicing. Not a science fact, just an anecdote: when I (Charles) learned about this I had a very vivid dream about genetically engineered glowing pigs that I remember to this very day.
Charles: This is Assigned Scientist at Bachelor’s. I’m Charles and I’m an entomologist
Tessa: And I’m Tessa and I’m an astrobiologist.
Charles: And today we have our inaugural guest, Melody Dickens.
Tessa: Thank you so much for being on our show.
Melody: Absolutely. I’m happy to be on.
Charles: What is your background in science? What are your interests in science?
Melody: Okay. So I have a degree in applied biomedical sciences. I studied in Dundee and I’m currently training to be a secondary science teacher, teaching biology. Um, my undergraduate thesis was on a novel method of steroidogenesis, synthesizing human hormones, which basically covers, you know, every everything from medicine for hypothyroidism, um, diabetes, and of course, HRT with older cis people and in trans people. Although I want to be a teacher and I want that to be kind of like my bedrock, I do kind of want to be a, um, comic writer one day and, uh, possibly show runner for, um, a cartoon that I’m currently working on. My comic strip has reached or is reaching its 250th strip – that’s Schmultsi.
Melody: Yeah, I’ve got my first book. It’s not a science book, but I’ve got my first book out there. So that’s, that’s kind of nice.
Would you like a bit more information about the technique I developed?
Charles: I would love to hear about that as well as sort of the context for why a new technique might be necessary or important.
Melody: Okay. Well, um, you have to kind of go back quite well… just before the nineties where, um, we were using, uh, analogous hormones.
Um, a famous example was the, um, estrogen medication… premarin, which is pregnant mare urine. So obviously during pregnancy, see an animal will produce higher amounts of estrogen. Uh, in the blood and urine as a way of filtering and excreting excess amounts of things in your blood. So they would basically conjugate the estrogen – that is what used to be given to people. Now, we don’t do that anymore nowadays because without the funky technology, genetic engineering in the nineties, we can take a gene from a human, say, a gene that codes for insulin or estrogen. We can basically insert that into a genetically engineered yeast. And to its into its genome and then it’ll transcribe it that says it, you know, normally functions it’ll produce wherever we need it to. So that’s, that’s currently how it happened. So like any, any, I guess like transphobes and stuff that bring up Oh, synthetic exogenic hormones and stuff – technically they’re true, it’s true that it’s being synthesized from outside of the body, but if they try and claim that it’s not identical to human hormones, that’s a bit of a lie because we’ve used human genes to produce these hormones. However, the process obviously requires genetic engineering and I, um, was interested in the possibility of a process in which that wouldn’t be necessary.
Melody: And that led me to researching, uh, things like the HeLa cell line.
Tessa: Yeah. I’m familiar with the HeLa. But for those who aren’t, it’s a line of cell cultures that are immortal. Cause they’re originally extracted from the cancer of Henrietta Lacks and there’s quite a very long and involved saga in how that cell line came to be.
But they they’re a, uh, preferred medium for experimentation.
Melody: And then also, so her cells actually are still alive, even though she is not. So they sort of outlived her, which is, um, well, it’s, it’s just fascinating that, um, when, when, when a cell does turn cancerous that as certain processes such as the cell life and death cycle and number of predetermined number of cell cycles before, you know, it goes and experiences apoptosis, or programmed cell death. Well, basically, yeah, like that, that kind of goes out the window as well. I was interested and specifically a cell line called adenomas.
Charles: Could you explain what adenomas are?
Melody: So an adenoma is a cancer cell that has developed from a tissue that in its precancerous state was designed to produce hormones. For example, say it was a cancer that’s, um, developed, possibly in the pancreas with the pancreas releasing insulin… the cancerous version of that cell. And it loses its feedback mechanism, which is again, one of the things controlling its replication and you know, and then this is what leads to tumors and whatnot, but what’s interesting is with an adenoma is the, basically the hormone production, any kind of feedback loop telling it to stop producing that hormone. Um, it’s usually switched off and it overproduces the hormone. You could actually, um, take these cells out of the body and, um, since they’re immortalized the idea is that as long as you continue providing them with Sera (basically the main blood constituents) that they would actually just happily go on producing that human hormone and you would never need to use genetic engineering. And yeast or any, any of that, those other steps because yeah, essentially you had adenomas to do it for you.
So, um, my, my graduate project looked at different, uh, sites from the body and I believe I’m, um, got to work with a HeLa cell line as well. Um, just as a control, but, uh, yeah, it’s involved using HPLC, which, um, is basically, it’s a very big machine, but essentially does the same job as a tricorder from star Trek where you would put a sample in it and, you know, So say this, this thing is 20%, this compound 80%, this compound like the actual science of it is all to do with, like spectroscopy and how, how certain compounds are absorbed on different frequencies.
And there’s different fingerprints, but basically it’s the tricorder from star Trek is the easiest way…
Charles: I really appreciate how on the level of this podcast you are, because we have. We’ve recorded two star Trek episodes so far and baby, you got to believe we’re going to record more.
Tessa: Yup, yup.
Melody: [laughs] So the tricorders… so it’s 20% oxygen… although it’s a very large machine with a sort of cake dish that moves around that.
So take samples, forces it through a tube and you have two big bottles of solvent on top of the machine that you have to fill up and stuff about like a water cooler, very bizarre process, but I loved every minute of it. So, so basically, yeah, I did show that it is viable method of, uh, synthesizing and extracting a human hormone.
Actually produced by cancer cells have since been removed from the body and made useful again. So there’s a couple of complications with it though, as well. Cause obviously cancer cells though, that immortalized nature thing as brilliant, it can still be tricky to, um, sort of maintain…
Charles: What are like, mutation rates like in cancerous cells?
Melody: Um, well, this is the other thing as well with obviously with the, with yeast, it’s fairly standardized. We have the entire genome figured out. So if anything ever goes wrong, which sometimes it does and, and sort of, genetic and engineering DS to produce insulin hormones and whatnot as a fairly simple fix are using human cancer cells though. Of course, there you’ve got much bigger genome to worry about some. So of course, There is an issue there. So yeah, I’d say, I’d say in terms of that would mean maybe means that the other method isn’t viable, but I still think that there is, um, there’s a simpler way around this.
Tessa: So I know people in the brewing industry talk about domesticated yeast as what they use for their fermentation process. Would it be fair to call these potentially domesticated cancer cells?
Melody: Yes, I suppose so, but I mean, that’s, that’s the other thing as well, is that I find it fascinated saying, um, that, you know, yeast cells have been used for so long, even before Madison, with obviously things like beer and breads and all sorts of things.
So we’ve essentially been putting yeast to work for quite a while, even without properly realizing what was, Oh, but speaking of star Trek, uh, don’t want to get too off topic. Favorite series?
Charles: So, okay. So this is actually interesting. Maybe it’s not, but I am a big Star Trek fan.
Um, I’ve watched all of TOS, TNG, DS9, a variety of the movies. Um, and I tried watching Voyager couldn’t get into it and then never got into Enterprise because I wasn’t that interested. So my favorite series is Deep Space Nine, but Tessa, she is a, she’s a fake geek girl and we got to boot her out of the pod.
Tessa: I will say I’m not, I’m, I’m much more of a a filthy casual fan. Um, and that I have not like, done any watch throughs of the entire series, but…
Charles: And this is why America is failing.
Tessa: Yes. Yes, I am single-handedly responsible for all of it. Um, I grew up watching TNG, so I, you know, I have a lot of fuzzy nostalgia feelings for it.
However, with that said, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten more of an appreciation for DS9 because I feel like it was a more mature and sophisticated show.
Charles: You can’t see me, but I am. I am pumping my fist rigorously.
Melody: Well, I can, I can, I can, I can say, um, the best series is I’m sorry, but it’s Voyager.
Um, DS9… there is no tracking in the series. If you want…
Charles: They go into the gamma quadrant!
Melody: That’s barely tracking over space time, it doesn’t count. I mean, I know what warp has, but in a, in a way, but it’s more like a bubble that anyway, I’m not going to get into that, but basically there’s the, there are three ways to do things the right way, the wrong way and the Janeway, And my favorite is the third option.
Charles: That’s perfectly valid. So you said that you’re training to be a secondary school teacher, right?
Charles: Whenever I hear of people being it. Just anybody being a secondary school teacher, I think bravest person in the world, um, children are terrifying. And then additionally being trans, do you ever have anxiety about how you might be perceived by students or by parents or by your colleagues?
Melody: Well, absolutely I did at first and it was nerve-wracking, to go in front of students, however, what I’m coming to realize is the, it doesn’t really matter. Who’s standing up at the front of the class, uh, for the most part, kids are going to hate you because you were forcing them to stay in a room for several hours, means the information.
that’s let’s come for saying in an ironic way. However I think, um, you know, look, I passed fairly well. Um, so obviously I, I don’t really bring it up, but, there was a student that I had that was actually, trends as well. And. She asked me are, you know, are you trends and stuff?
And I was worried about answering, but I said, yeah, I am. And I think it’s kind of scary, but I think, I think where we’re at is, sort of where the gay community was maybe a few decades ago, this whole ask don’t tell.
Tessa: Right, right.
Melody: And like, I don’t know how much longer it will be, but when I’m teaching, basically I’m there to teach.
Charles: So steering back towards sort of science and a career in science, is there a reason you decided to move from research into teaching?
Melody: Well, I, I, I suppose it’s, it’s the same reason that I do comics. Ideally, I, I want to be able to sort of share my knowledge and also help other peoples’ interest grow in a subject, I suppose, like one, yeah, one of the moments for me when I realized this was, something that we call isolation.
I don’t know if you have that in American schools. Basically they’re removed from the classes for the rest of the day. I was told basically they just need to sit in silence and do the work that’s given in front of them and stuff.
And I could see that that was, you know, they were grinding through it and they weren’t interested in that. Um, from what I know about conditioning, I could tell this, this isn’t going to help them right, cause they’re hating it, and they’re going to form that negative association with the work that they do.
So basically I just, I brought up glow in the dark rabbits. Or they just looked to me and they were like, what?. It’s like glow in the dark rabbit, so are you aware of that they exist? Then obviously there was an interest there it’s like, what do you mean glow in the dark rabbits?
And I said, well, basically we take a gene from jellyfish and the same way that, you know what I mentioned with yeast earlier, it’s genetic engineering, I went through the process, uh, process of how we take this gene, that codes for an enzyme that makes them glow. And we pop it into a rabbit zygote, the single cell, so all the cells that duplicate from that on all express the enzyme that makes them glow. And then we have glow in the dark rabbits and they said, can I see it? And so of course, you know, I brought it up on my computer screens swiveled around so that they could see these rabbits glowing in the dark, like something from a Marvel comic book, but it’s reality.
And it’s what we can do with science. And suddenly they were, they were just enthralled and they needed to know more. And I think this is what a lot of, you know, like rote teaching when it comes to sort of science and stuff is, is failing these kids on because you need, you need that initial spark of, Oh my God.
That’s really cool. And I even had one other student, so like, say, wait, but is that right though? Like, do the rabbits enjoy it? Or does that hurt them? You know? And it’s like, okay, so now you’re going into bioethics, um, which is like an even more advanced… you know, in Bloom’s taxonomy of a hierarchal learning is that you’re actually analyzing it, which is like just one level below, uh, synthesis. Which is right at the top of the pyramid. It’s like really advanced learning is to actually evaluate and analyze the, like what you’re seeing and whatnot.
They, they were filled with so many questions was it was like, well, what’s the other applications. Yeah. I said, well, if you can, um, if we could somehow splice this animal gene into a plant’s genome to produce the enzyme in the same way, If you put it into a tree seed, for example, then you’ve got tree that goes in the dark visa.
And then you have bioluminescent lamp posts that will never need electricity. And again, that’s just, yeah, that, that, that, that look of wonder on their face as is just like, I live for that. Um, just to sort of see like basically the cogs that were just grinding before, just free up, you start worrying of like possibilities and ideas.
when it comes to proper soliciting on the internet, I think that should play in intrinsic parts of what you’re teaching. It doesn’t need to be something that’s forced, but it’s, it’s, it’s just, um, if you are looking for information on this, these are, you know, the places to go look for it. I mean, we have that already and, universities, you know, proper referencing.
But I find it, I find it bizarre that this kind of thing, just social starts at university. And didn’t start younger, this, this idea of, being able to fact check information. although it does, it does make me hopeful that kids are, cause I know that I’ve grown up in a, like an age of misinformation with the internets.
And, you know, things, things like reverse image searches are like second nature to all of my generation. Um, but might not be to the older generation. So, you know, things can be, uh, sourced and searched for. So I think, I think it’s, it’s not just about them. Yeah. Seeking the information, but also guiding them in the right way.
So say if it was a science reference, uh, pointing them in the direction of NCBI or pub med, or, you know, if it’s to do with medicine, that that’s a thing.
Charles: What immediately comes to mind with regards to legitimacy of scientific sources is, we’re all on Twitter and we’re all trans, and so we’ve probably all seen that recent PNAF study on, um, robust physiological evidence for the existence of bisexual women.
But the thing is, if you weren’t already. Um, keyed in to how that’s trash and nonsense. And that that guy is a famous, like trans misogynist. You would see. PNIS and think, Oh, this is a, this is a legitimate thing, but that seems a broader end, particularly. I wonder if there’s anything here. It seems like legitimacy of sources is maybe it’s, it’s easier to evaluate the legitimacy of, for instance, just a straightforward, um, Like medical science study where it’s, this is what we did.
And this is what we saw where it’s more about external observation of fairly objective phenomena versus the PNIS bisexuality study, where the flaw is not necessarily in the methodology. It’s in the assumptions. Before you even get to methodology?
Melody: Um, well I think, I think also like even the recent study JK Rowling put out at Paris shows, but Oh, Cambridge was quite prestigious institution and stuff that looks at it and it’s, Hutchie from Cambridge press and yeah, they do print, you know, a lots of like scientific arts clothes on.
They also print. Bibles. And it’s like, that seems to be quite a, quite a mixed bag of things that you print there. So it’s, again, like in the sources, they asked a trans woman and a de-transitioner. That’s like … two people and, and you know, what comes to mind as well as the Lisa Littman study.
Charles: I’m actually not familiar with them…
Tessa: This was the infamous, rapid onset gender dysphoria study.
Charles: Oh, yep.
Melody: Apparently the basis of finding a new medical condition that isn’t recognized by the APA or any psychological, you know, society is what an anti LGBT parents forum says in a survey. It’s it’s it’s it’s the payment goes all the way back to the, uh, John money. So like experiments, which, um, I assume that you’re familiar with.
Tessa: Yup. Yup.
Charles: I feel like I’ve heard about this, but I can’t actually…
Tessa: the one where he, um, the David Raymer case and, uh, boy, lost his genitalia in a circumcision accident.
Charles: Oh, of course, of course. Yeah.
Tessa: And he and John Money said, Oh, that’s no problem. Just raise him as a girl. It’ll be fine. And spoilers. It was not fine.
Charles: Oh, I read the book about this.
There’s like The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl, which was one of, I, like, I went through a phase when I was like 15 of just reading all of the books about trans people in the library, but none of them helped me realize that I was trans because they were all by CIS people.
Melody: The, the reason I bring it up is because I think it is actually kind of interesting because it not, it not only as a good way to explain what a gender identity is to assist the person, but it also shows where this conflation comes from between gender stereotypes and one’s gender identity.
Basically what dr. Money was trying to do was to show that there’s innate sense of being male or female. Um, or something else, is, uh, learnable. So he called it gender identity as in an identity, that’s like gender, as in something that’s like the gender stereotypes and gender express. Right. so yeah, and another part, there was a lot of things that were floating around at the time.
Another part of this was, um, that they were looking for a justification for early corrective surgery of intersex children, which was a very common practice during the day.
Charles: And now, unfortunately.
Melody: Yeah, yeah. Still now, which I’m like one of the main issues was, well, what if they have this internal sense that they’re born with that obviously will manifest later in life?
Or we make the wrong decision. So he was, he basically was going to say, well, okay, we’ll, we’ll use this as an experiment, as a control. And they, they try and impose a gender identity using stereotypes and whatnot, and, you know, raising David as a girl and whatnot. But usually, yeah, most people are born SIS and I’m pretty sure, like in David’s case this, this was the case.
and so what he actually. Ended up doing was giving SIS child gender dysphoria. And so, yeah, it shows that no amount of stereotypes was going to change his gender identity. Um, but unfortunately the term is stuck to describe this. Internal sense of me, male or female. And, um, now, um, even, even though the APA very clearly distinguishes these three terms, you know, gender expression, gender stereotypes, and gender identity, gender identity, being a thing that’s not entirely formed by culture necessarily or stereotypes, but by one’s internal sense of being male or female, it’s kind of the terms of sort of muddied themselves together or at least in mainstream understanding of it.
Cause you know, they’ve not, if not looked into the glossary in terms of the APA, very dry and very boring.
Charles: So I wonder if there is any evidence to support the idea that a significant number of people have ever thought that they might be trans and then be acted on transitioning on the primary or exclusive basis of fitting into gendered expectations of their non birth assigned gender.
Melody: Well, I mean, it’s, again, this, this is where it sort of crosses over, right. And to gay rights as well, because a lot of, gay people will show, cross gender stereotype behavior when they’re younger.
Charles: Well, just because I am gay, Tessa is gay.
Charles: Yeah. So it’s just a bunch of homosexuals on this message. Um, and so, but specifically it’s, it’s interesting looking back at my childhood because I was similar, I was exhibiting cross-gender behavior. Regardless of the lens that you were looking at me through, because if you were perceiving me as a girl, I didn’t work girl’s clothing.
I liked Lego, a bunch of that kind of stuff. But then if you are in retrospect, perceiving me as a boy, I also love musical theater. I played with dolls a lot. I liked dressing up as characters, including one character who in retrospect is, is just my eight year old self inventing drag queens. And so, and so parsing cross-gender behavior from within the context of a gay trans child is, is very complicated and weird.
Tessa: Oh, I agree. Um, I’ve uh, I was, uh, perhaps jump in, you know, I had a very similar situation in that. Had I been raised as a CIS girl, I would have been a massive tomboy. I mean, I was not ever the most masculine of children, but I definitely a lot of the stuff I was into was considered traditionally to be masculine.
Melody: I mean like, well, I mean, even, even myself, I was like basically equally fan of Dragon Ball Z and also Sailor Moon, like extends even outside of the LGBT community because you, you, you, that parents that are petrified of lying, like say it’s just a CIS straight boy. Or assist straight girl, even, even dabbling with cross gender behavior, because they think that that’s going to turn them gay or that’s going to turn them trans. I mean, clearly it’s not about stereotypes, but it’s hard to move away from, that kind of conflation, at least in the public eye. Because they think that it, you know, it’s to do with that when really it’s, you know, like you could take the entire team of like society away from me and still be more comfortable being female.
Tessa: Exactly. Yeah.
Charles: This is a great segue into our recurring segment that hasn’t recurred yet, but is going to, which is, is it gay if it’s in space? So much of being trans and being a, being anything is culturally contextual, where the same underlying experience has recurred throughout human history, but the specific cultural parameterizing of it.
How is that like, like in star Trek, do we not see any gay people? Gene Roddenberry didn’t think to include them and also TV, centrists hip, or do we not see any gay people? Because gay as an identity? Has dissolved like cotton, candy and water,
Tessa: You know, that’s a good question.
I suspect there’s always going to be at least a little bit of an identity wrapped up with it just because it is something that’s different from the norm. It may not be as important. It may be more like being, Oh, I’m lefthanded, you know, that I’m not actually attended, but if I were, you know, nobody really thinks about that as being odd.
They did once, you know, at one point people tried to correct people who are left handed. They don’t do that anymore, thankfully, but you know, on the other hand, I’m sure you can find shirts or whatever. About, let’s say, Oh, you know, kiss me, I’m left handed or whatever. Yeah. I can imagine something like that occurring where it’s probably not quite as much of a marked cultural identity the way it is now.
But there’s still something there there’s still, you know, a shared common experience that is a community could form around.
Melody: Yeah, I think so. And in, in that, um, uh, like a person, yeah, did once ask me, you know, what, why is the LGBT together? Like considering one is about sexuality and one is about like the sex that you are and stuff it is that shared commonality that, that, that experience of having who you are.
Which is relates to physical sex, not the act, but the noun. Yeah. Like one’s sexual phenotype and who you’re attracted to and whatnot, but something that is not as common as the norm, but yeah. You know, you’re, you’re in like subject to pathologization of who you are and discrimination. I think, um, though that’s not what makes you gay or trans?
I think that that is that shared experience. That’s the reason for the solidarity, between sort of bad trans and gay people. personally, when I see silly people trying to split up the LGBT, I just, I just love it. That, yeah, no, we’ve got, we’ve got each other’s backs and I don’t care how angry that makes bigots, if anything that makes me smile a little bit
Charles: Well, and there’s also just that statistically more trans people than cis people identify as non-straight for whatever reason.
Melody: Cause what they say it’s about a 30, 30 split between like gay, straight and bisexual.
Tessa: That’s what I’ve seen.
Melody: I know that there’s a 10 out there floating around, so that’s not good maths, but…
Charles: Listen, this isn’t a math podcast.
This is a science podcast.
Melody: We’re lower down the hierarchy.
Charles: Inevitably to circle back to Star Trek. But just as an example, because it’s just always my first point of reference for science fiction, which is not great, I guess, but whatever. And so then there’s the question of in Star Trek, future cosmetic surgery and all surgery really has progressed to the point where you can have major image, altering procedures done, and nobody would ever know. So like theoretically in the Star Trek future, you would have the reality where if you were say a trans child, you could effectively have a suite of hormones and surgical interventions at an early enough day in your life that nobody would ever know. That you had physically been otherwise.
And in that context, is there still trans identity and the possibility for trans community?
Melody: Well, I suppose it would open up the whole select spell thing being even, even like a bigger thing, because it’s, it’s like you would never have to tell anyone that you were anything other, I don’t know. I think again, it would be personal preference, but me personally, if I was, if I was in that kind of future, I would, I’d still.
One to be honest and tell other people so that they wouldn’t feel as alone, even if they never came out publicly.
Tessa: Right, no, I get that.
Melody: I think I would still be a trans community, even if like,, you know, we’re rewriting DNA with CRISPR and everything, and you’re still gonna get transphobes that are be like, well, you weren’t a male zygote.
I do find it interesting. I’m a big time saver. when it comes to talking with transphobes, uh, to see whether it’s just a very, you know, deeply held assumption and whether there’s wiggle room, um, or whether it is just faith that they have. The, you know, like trans people will never be the thing that they transitioned to as I’ll reframe the, um, you know, the age old here’s question.
Oh, what evidence can I provide to you to show you that God isn’t real and stuff. Right. If you, if you said that to a, you know, a believer of the faith, isn’t skeptical in any way. And they said, well, nothing because what I believe, well, I know to be true and stuff. You know that there’s no point in arguing with this person and to the hours of the night, because that’s what they believe.
Tessa: Right, right. There’s no convincing.
Melody: Well, any evidence to the country is already rejected before you even began your conversation. And I usually say this and some, I get mixed responses. if you just ask a transfer of evidence kinda, cause you know, you can use so many different, methods of reasoning, um, such as, you know, phenotype or secondary sex characteristics, or, you know, any of these things, endocrinology, physiology structure, uh, higher risks.
The breast cancer or, you know, sex specific conditions. But if you just ask them, what evidence can I show you to even consider trends people as a sexually transitioned? And if they say something along the lines of I’ll never do that because I, I believe, well, I know it be true. You’re dealing with a master of faith.
And again, even in that future where everything is rewritten about the person to the very genome. And they have the right chromosomes and everything. They’re still not going to, like, see a trans person.
Tessa: Yeah. There’s, that’s a bridge. They cannot and will not cross, regardless of what’s actually possible. And what the context is.
Melody: But like, I also find the context discussion interesting, cause it got me thinking about science as well. I also have a lot of friends that are quite far to the right and the thing that they struggled with a lot is the, uh, they said, Oh, I’m getting conflicting messages here because a transpersonal say that, you know, there’s a biological aspect to sex.
But it’s also a social construction again. It’s like I have to,
Tessa: Right, right, right, right
Melody: I set them down. They’ve been happy with this explanation that though there’s a biological aspect to it. Just like race, the way that we categorize what is say a black or a white person is entirely sort of, kind of socially constructed where we draw that line.
Tessa: It’s ultimately arbitrary. Yeah.
Charles: Back to. Back to my area of expertise. It. A lot of the social construction stuff. I think you feel a bit namby-pamby to people, but it’s, it’s a very rigorously scientific way of considering these things. I think because. Even in totally non, sociological concepts, we still have to grapple with uncertain boundaries.
Like in species, like a species is theoretically a thing, but the conversation on whether species actually exist and how to draw distinctions, ground species is not settled and it probably never will be. Because the reality is that a species is a broad grouping that has a biological reality, but when you try it narrow in very, very closely on what the exact parameters are, are you are always going to end up with edge cases with exceptions, with weird situations.
And so the best you can do is sort of a broad use that in any particular individual example might not hold.
Melody: A perfect example of that is that we’re still arguing over what coconut is.
Charles: I actually don’t know about this. Can you talk about this?
Melody: Well, what is it, coconut? Is it a seed, a fruit or a nut?
Tessa: Oh, well, yeah, that’s a good point.
But, I mean, even, even with in, um, some of the biology has disagreements about the coconut, because there’s, there’s obviously the phenotypic classification. I mean, also from a genetic standpoint, you can say, no, it’s more closely related to this. I, I can’t remember, but I do know that. Scientists after all these years are still busing heads over this.
It’s, it’s not even just for, to biology. And I realized that, it actually, it plays into the scientific hierarchy- as you move down that hierarchy, even as soon as you get to physics, you start to deal in subjective understandings of things, such as the electromagnetic spectrum. It’s made up of lots of different segments based on its utility to us and what the different segments can do as a whole part of the same spectrum is all the same stuff, but we don’t see it as the same stuff again, because of our social construction around understanding electromagnetic energy and how it interacts with the world.
So again, you could say our visible lights is one part of the electromagnetic spectrum, but is it, or is it seven parts of the electromagnetic spectrum? Cause the seven colors. So, so this is, this is where that, um, social construction comes into that. And I think, I think, again, I’m not sure why it’s the left wing, right wing kind of divide, but I’ve just noticed that among my right wing friends, just explaining that clears up a lot of misconceptions when people say the, you know, sex is a social construct, but also there’s biological aspects to it. But again, only in the sense that, of like statistical probabilities, um, lately they claim that their race realists or they’re, you know, they just believe in simple sex biology, and it’s like, you know, that they actually think that biology is simple… if things were to be stagnant, especially within life, you know, life dies and, I mean this, this set, um, ultimately I think goes back to, you’ve probably heard the term sex is immutable floating around claiming to be scientific.
Yeah, well, no, I decided, Oh, I might, I might have a look for the site, this fabled science book that says sex is immutable. Cause I’ve got some issues with that. I couldn’t find that I could find a text that looks into what sex is that sort of said that, well, genotypic sex is largely immutable, not entirely and phenotypic sex is modifiable.
So absolutely changeable through hormones and environments and treatments. So then I wondered, so where’s this term sexism mutual covering from, and then I looked up Genesis and there it was: God made man and woman, male and female together in his womb and made you male and female. And I was like, ah, that scientific text.
So it’s bizarre because can you imagine making that claim of any other aspect of biology that it’s immutable, that’s unchangeable – because how would we evolve?
Charles: I mean, I, I can’t, but I am also a biologist.
Tessa: Yeah. I was about to say, yeah,
Melody: But like, you know, you age, your genotype stayed relatively the same. I mean, you lost a bit of, as you got older, but that, you know, your, your genes stayed the same, but you’re not the same organism you were when you were born.
Charles: Well, it’s the classic joke of, I was, yes, I was born a woman. I was born a fully formed adult human woman, and it was a real tough birth.
Melody: Who is that character for Matilda? Um, Miss Trunchbull She was never a child.
Charles: It’s been a great conversation and I’ve really enjoyed having you on.
Tessa: Yeah. Agreed.
Charles: Do you have any sort of final thoughts that you want to put out there?
Melody: … But also on the actual trans stuff, I suppose someone who says that biology is simple, has not understood or respected the study of life itself.
Tessa: Good note to end on.
Charles: Yeah, that’s great. This was Assigned Scientist at Bachelor’s. You can find me at cockroacharles on Twitter
Melody: And you can find me at spacermase on Twitter.
Charles: And you can find the podcast at ASABpod on Twitter or at our website at asabpodcast.com.