Friday, August 24, 2018

Statues, History, and Whitewash

Statues and monuments have been in the news in Eastern Europe, United States and now Canada.

In Eastern Europe, counties of the former Soviet Union or members of the Warsaw Pact are ridding themselves of statues of Lenin and Soviet war memorials, changing the Soviet names of cities, towns, and streets. This, of course, infuriates Russia as it sees its influence slipping away. They claim it is "changing history". They should be "eternally grateful for the Soviet Army saving them from the Nazis". Essentially they just exchanged one set of butchers for another so the actions of these counties who feel the statues and monuments are just rubbing their face into it are understandable. Put some of them in museums as part of displays that explain what really happened. Destroy the rest.

There is a revolt in America against statues of Confederate "heroes" and attempts to pull them down have met with varying degrees of success. The bulk of them were put up at the beginning of Jim Crow or during the Civil Rights movement of the 50's and 60's. They were there to remind Blacks that Whites were the master race and would keep them subjugated as long as possible in as many ways as available. Read about this dedication speech. But the cries of "politically correct" and "changing history" are heard often.  Some states have laws against removing them, guess which states. They need to be torn down and some put in museums as part of displays about Slavery, Jim Crow and |Civil Rights so people learn the truth, not just the version they were taught in school or fed on White Supremacy websites.

One of the scare tactics used by White Supremacists in support of keeping the Confederate Statues is that the politically correct class will come after statues of the Founding Father's next because they owned slaves. This is willful ignorance if they cannot distinguish between honouring the founders of a great nation vs honouring traitors. Now if there is a statue somewhere raised to honour a founding father BECAUSE he had slaves the sooner it is gone the better.

(American friends, do I understand this or am I oversimplifying?)

Ken Monkman - The Scream

Which brings us to Canada and Sir John A MacDonald, specifically. Sir John A was one of the Fathers of Confederation, Canada's first Prime Minister, and built the transcontinental railway. For that reason, he is revered in Canadian school books and there are statues of him in several cities, including Regina. Ours was installed in 1967 in honour of Canada's 100th birthday. We sort of knew he was no statesman, more of a sleazy politician with a fondness for booze and scandals involving using election funds for bribery.

Now we learn he was an overt racist, opposed to any people who were not White European, in particular, Chinese and further, while he helped found a nation he had no place in it for the indigenous people. He broke treaties, starved thousands of First Nations on reserves and was instrumental in setting up the residential schools. Tragedy doesn't begin to describe the Residential Schools where children were torn away from their parents, forced to give up language and culture and "assimilate" and were subject to physical, mental and sexual abuse. Many thousands died and are buried in unmarked graves. the survivors carry the scars and have passed their trauma down the generations. It is best referred to as Ethnic Cleansing and Cultural Genocide.

The statues of Sir John A are seen by First Nations people as rubbing their faces in the racism that MacDonald created as he established the relationship between Canada and First Nations. Especially in Saskatchewan but I suspect in every province where indigenous people were subjected to Residential Schools. The statues have to go, except perhaps in Ottawa. And his name removed from schools and other public buildings, along with all others named after people who were instrumental in the Residential Schools. Regina has already taken steps in that direction by renaming Davin School.

Nicholas Davin was sent by Ottawa to study the American Industrial Schools and came back with recommendations that Canada should imitate them. Davin School was opened in 1929. It was not likely named after him for the "Davin Report" but it was his claim to fame.

Some would argue that "everybody was doing it" but that breaks down as there were people who knew right from wrong and spoke against it. There were alternatives. Some call this "whitewashing" history but then some people have always had problems with definitions. Removing or renaming is not whitewashing; whitewashing is what we have been doing for generations in hiding the truth and pretending it never happened. History books must begin to include the ugly side of Canadian history. Students in renamed schools could get a special lesson on why the school was renamed eg that presents both sides of Nicholas Davin.

No person in history is without flaws but we need to weigh the flaws against the other achievements, decide when, where, how, or even IF, that person should be honoured.  And teach Canadian history warts and all.


Friday, August 17, 2018

Editing Software - Perfect It

Intelligent Editing has a software package called  PerfectIt, which I discovered several days ago.  Some software packages I have fallen in love with were pretty specific to certain kinds of work. PerfectIt can be used by anyone who writes anything. It came with a 14-day free trial so I downloaded it and ran my 165 page consulting report through it. It found hundreds of errors and inconsistencies.

It does not do ordinary spell checking but does tell you if you spelled a word more than one way. It does not replace having another human go over your document but it saves them hours of work. It does NOT automatically change anything - YOU are in control of all editing changes it finds. For example, a word might be spelled two different ways deliberately eg behaviour in the text of your document but behavior if you are quoting from an American source. PerfectIt will notify you but you don't change it.

This software would be perfect for academics, students, writers, consultants, bureaucrats, in fact, anyone that produces documents longer than a few pages on a consistent basis. I'm hoping to convince two of my kids, some of their friends, several of my friends to at least try it.  I may have already made a sale to my oldest as she ran a 30 page report through the trial version I had and was some impressed with what all it found.

Try it; you'll like it. Currently priced at USD $70 per year.

Here, in a few words, is what it does (from their website):

Abbreviations
Consistent Presentation: Check for consistent presentation of abbreviations (e.g. Nasa/NASA/N.A.S.A.).
A Definition for Every Abbreviation: Ensure that every abbreviation is defined the first time it appears. 
Defined When Presented: Make sure each abbreviation is defined only once, defined only in one way, and only used if it appears more than once.
Capitalization
Consistent Capitalization of Words & Phrases: Check proper names, processes and business terms for capitalization consistency.
Heading Capitalization: Enforce consistent capitalization across headings, such as sentence case or title case.
House Capitalization Rules: You can set PerfectIt to check your house style to ensure that capitalization in all documents reflects your brand guidelines.
House Style
Phrases to Avoid: Make sure every document produced by your organization does not include insensitive, inappropriate or dated terminology and language.
Uniform Branding: Create style sheets to reflect your presentation rules and your brand image.
Unified Voice: Enforce style preferences so that all writers in your organization speak with one voice.
Hyphens/Dashes
Consistent Hyphenation: Enforce consistent use of hyphens and dashes in common words and phrases, as well as complex terms of art or proper names.
Compounds, Numbers & Directions: Apply consistent hyphenation for prefixes, numbers, fractions, and directions.
Bullets and Lists
List Punctuation: Enforce consistent punctuation, such as periods or semi-colons, in lists and bullets.
Capitals in Bullets, Lists & Tables: Enforce consistent capitalization, such as sentence case or initial case in tables or initial capitals for lists and bullets.
Table Punctuation: Check for consistent punctuation in each cell.
Spelling, Typos, and Numbers
Spelling Errors & Typos: Check for errors that spellcheck won’t catch, including common typing mistakes (e.g. 'manger' instead of 'manager') and embarrassing errors.
Inconsistent Spelling: Check for individual words spelled in more than one way (e.g. 'adviser' and 'advisor').
Consistent Use of Numbers in Sentences: Correct numbers in sentences that were written as numerals but should be spelled out (and vice versa).
Table/Figure Numbering
Table & Figure Order: Find if tables appear in the correct order (e.g. Table 4 should not be before Table 3, which is an easy mistake to make when copy/pasting in multiple author documents).
Table & Figure Headers: Check for missing table/figure headings as well as inconsistent naming.

NOTE: Since I wrote Intelligent editing about how much I liked the software, they offered me 30% discount to buy it. I figured they should wait until I sell a few copies first. 

Monday, August 6, 2018

Baraka Shea Butter - Benefit to the Kperisi Community

Value Chains that Create Value: Your Purchase Makes a Difference

Baraka Shea Butter was founded on the belief that we could organize a business value chain that would create benefit all the way along, from the producers through to our
end users, and would do it in a way that would benefit all of us, including the
founders and operators of Baraka. 
I think we are getting there. Not perfect by a long way – still lots to learn and
plenty of room for improvement, but we are making solid progress. Together.
With your encouragement, support and feedback, I think we are doing that. Your
purchases are having a direct impact on the women and families that make
Baraka Shea Butter. And many of you are using that community impact and
connection in your own marketing, helping you to sell more products and connect
more directly with your customers and markets.
I’ve just returned from a month in Ghana, a month spent mostly in the north and
with the amazing women that make Baraka Shea Butter. So many came and told
me the difference that your purchases are making in their lives, how they are able
to provide for their children and families, how they don’t have to travel to cities
to try and earn some cash income, how life at home has improved, and how
proud they are to be able to make a product that all of you value so much.

Your feedback (and we share your comments and reviews with them) encourages
them to work harder on quality and consistency and do more to support you.
And, it goes both ways. We hear from so many of you about how you are
motivated to do more, knowing the impact it has on real people and real
communities. We hear you tell us how your customers value your products more
because of that impact. Many of you tell us you can feel the impact in the energy
of the Baraka Shea Butter you use – energy that goes from their hands to yours
and to your customers.
I feel that we are getting the model right, it is evolving in the right direction.
The more value we create for the producers, the more value is available for
Baraka’s customers to capture through their products and creations, and
the more they can connect with their customers and markets. And, of course, the more everyone buys and uses the better Baraka does itself
(and trust me, we are in this for the money too – I love to have an impact,
but I need to pay my bills and support my family too).
It is great to think that the Baraka Shea Butter business model allows all of
us to be part of a value chain that serves our business and personal needs
while simultaneously giving the women of Kperisi the opportunity to earn
income. They don’t ask for charity, just for a chance to work and be paid
fairly.
All this leads to the Annual Meeting of the Kperisi Women’s Group to
review Baraka Shea Butters Community Certified Fair Trade endorsement
for 2018. An exciting time I am proud to announce that the women unanimously confirmed Baraka as a Community Certified Fair Trade partner (see excerpt below from their minutes). And watch for an upcoming video from one of the women’s leaders as she discusses the meeting and their Fair Trade certification.
It was humbling and emotional as they recounted our history over the past
10+ years and what we have accomplished together (and together with
your support) and they expressed their appreciation for the support.
I explained that the purchases we make, the price we pay in excess of
market prices and the direct support we are able to offer is only because of
the continued support of the larger Baraka community. All of you who
purchase Baraka Shea Butter contribute directly to this.
Excerpt from the Annual Meeting Minutes...The meeting discussed the operations during the past year, which was the
first year under the Community Certified Fair-Trade system they
established when they decided to take control over their own Fair Trade
certification process.

The women discussed how they have worked with Baraka Shea Butter and
Wayne Dunn for over 10 years and have had a very fair, productive and
valuable relationship. In addition to always paying 15-20% above market
price and providing ad-hoc support to development and education the
women noted that Baraka has financed and supported major projects in the
community including:

• Provision of school uniforms and school supplies for all school age
children in the community;
• Engaging a trainer and organizing a productivity and income generation
training program;
• Facilitating the construction of storage sheds and a work area;
• Provision of an organic grinding mill and processing shed
• Support for rehabilitation of the Chief’s Palace
• Support for community events and activities
• Provision of Shea Butter processing equipment including roasters and
other equipment
The women agreed to continue with the Community Certified Fair Trade
process and to confirm Baraka Shea Butter to use the Community Certified
Fair Trade logo. This was affirmed by unanimous consent of all present at
the meeting.
Thank you for being part of this exciting journey with us. Together we are all
making a difference, for all of us in the value chain. The women agreed to continue with the Community Certified Fair Trade process and to confirm Baraka Shea Butter to use the Community Certified Fair Trade logo. This was affirmed by unanimous consent of all present at the meeting.
~Wayne
Reprinted with permission


Saturday, August 4, 2018

Baraka Shea Butter: How it is made

Shea butter is a fat extracted from the nut of the African shea tree. It is usually yellow in color when raw, with more processed versions being ivory or white in color. Shea butter is a triglyceride derived mainly from stearic acid and oleic acid. Shea butter melts at body temperature. Proponents of its use for skin care maintain that it absorbs rapidly into the skin, acts as a "refatting" agent, and has good water-binding properties. 

Shea butter is mainly used in the cosmetics industry for skin- and hair-related products (lip gloss, skin moisturizer creams and emulsions, and hair conditioners for dry and brittle hair). It is also used by soap makers, typically in small amounts (5–7% of the oils in the recipe, but as high as 25%), because it has plenty of unsaponifiables, and higher amounts result in softer soaps that have less cleaning abilities. It is an excellent emollient for dry skin. No evidence shows it is a cure, but it alleviates the pain associated with tightness and itching. (Wikipedia)

My friend Wayne Dunn has been consulting in Corporate Social Responsibility since long before I met him and that was 20 years ago. His wife, Gifty Serbeh-Dunn, is from Wa in NW Ghana so Wayne has good connections in Ghana and has spent quite a bit of time there. Several years ago, he began working with a women's cooperative in Kperisi to produce and market shea butter. Wayne's company, Baraka Shea Butter, now imports several containers per year of raw organic shea butter to be turned into cosmetics by his customers. The following is an excerpt from his August newsletter, reprinted with permission.


Hello from Baraka-ville!

 I’m excited about the impact we (you too) are all having as we build a business and value-chain that has a positive impact on the women who make Baraka Shea Butter, on those of you who make incredible products with it, on your customers, who benefit from your creations and the amazing healing and from restorative qualities of hand-crafted unrefined shea butter.

It has been a great month.  I am putting the finishing touches on a Baraka Inside program to help you let your customers know more about the care you take in sourcing ingredients and the impact their purchases make.


We have been encouraged to create this program by many of you, as you continue to ask for material to share, as you tell your community how proud you are of the impact that your products are having.  From those of you who use 5-10kg/year to larger customers like Rocky Mountain Soaps who use tens of thousands of kgs , we believe that the authentic community connection and impact of Baraka Shea Butter makes a difference.

 Rocky Mountain Soaps have a wonderfully illustrated webpage on making shea butter. 

MEET OUR SHEA BUTTER MAKERS

We want to help you to sell more and do more. That will help our business (we must make a living too) and will have a huge impact in Kperisi, as we will be able to buy more and leave more money in the community.  Watch for a new newsletter and Facebook Group that will discuss marketing products made from Baraka Shea Butter. In addition, they will provide posts, videos, and resources that you can use.

As always, we welcome your feedback!

We are also putting the finishing touches on a tour that would give those of you that want to visit Ghana, the experience to make your own Baraka Shea Butter, participate in traditional community celebrations, and see first-hand the impact your purchases make.  Sign up here if you want more information when it is released.  The trip will be around eight days in Ghana, late February 2019.

If you want to know more about the impact we have on the community, listen to Zenabu Imoru and the Kperisi Chief as they discuss Baraka in the community


Wednesday, July 25, 2018

I know you don't care, but. . .

When my son was young, he was always reading encyclopedia or baseball facts or Guinness Book of World Records. He would come to us with something that caught his eye that he had to tell someone.  He always started with "I know you don't care but. . .  the shortest baseball player ever was . . . " or some other wondrous thing. That is how most of you will likely view todays blog. Interesting to me but of limited interest to anyone not milking cows.

Farm Babe writes a blog which shows up on my FB feed. Today she was discussing the farm crisis because of Trump's tariff war with China coming back to bite them.  Farmers are in Crisis the hurt they feel is real. She said that 90% of the dairy farms in America had disappeared in the last several decades. So I wondered how our dairy farms were doing since apparently our supply management system which keeps them from going broke is responsible for the death of the American dairy industry.

The Canadian Dairy Information Centre has more information than I ever wanted to know but does have a very good database which I proceeded to plunder. Since 1959, our dairy cow numbers have dropped from 2.9 million to 900 thousand in 2017. Since 1967 our dairy farm numbers have dropped from 174,000 to  19,400 in 2000, roughly 89%. Between 2000 and 2017 another 8,400 left the industry, for a total of 94% in the past 50 years.

Supply management was introduced in 1972 to end the boom and bust cycles that were destroying our dairy industry. Farmers were at the mercy of the processors, prices dropped in spring when cows went to pasture and supply mushroomed, while in winter there was sometimes not enough milk to meet demand. The new system was intended to supply the Canadian market only. No imports or exports. Quota was assigned to farmers based on historical production and estimated Canadian consumption, farm gate prices were determined at cost of production plus a margin. Both quota and prices were adjusted annually. Farmers met their quota or lost it. Overproduction was punished.

One can argue whether or not supply management has outlived its usefulness. (My theory is if the Americans are against it, it must be good for Canada. Why did the Americans hate the Canadian Wheat Board so bad if it was such a terrible cost to Western Canadian grain farmers?).

Trends in Canadian Dairy Farm and Dairy Cow Numbers
The large numbers exiting the business in the first 15 years were likely unable or unwilling to finance the improvements to their barns and milk houses to meet the stringent regulations to produce Class 1 milk. Their herds were small and facilities old. They took advantage of the fact that the new production quota had a sale value. It wasn't supposed to at first, it was transferred with the cows if the herd was sold but cows with quota were worth more than cows without.  Eventually, the government gave up and allowed the direct sale of quota. Today it costs about $35,000 for quota to milk one cow for one year.

Canadian Milk Production and Production per Cow
Canadian milk production fluctuated closely around 8 million tonnes per year. Technically it should have increased with the increase in population but consumption of dairy products declined at roughly the same rate, hence the flat line. Milk production per cow continued to increase steadily. The biggest problem was to prevent surplus production on a national basis.

As farm numbers dwindled, dairy cows per farm increased. Canadian average increased from 14 cows to 86 cows between 1967 and 2017, almost coincident with Ontario. Quebec herd numbers are small, averaging 64 cows in 2017. BC has the largest average herd size of 196 cows in 2017 with Alberta at 150. These are the four largest dairy provinces but BC and Alberta have 900 farms while Ontario and Quebec have 9,000 farms, with 60% of them in Quebec. The Canadian dairy lobby is Ontario and Quebec.  What the rest of the provinces want is kind of irrelevant.

Herd Size in Canada,  British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec
In 2017 Canada produced 9.25 million tonnes of milk.  What did we import and what did we export?
Imports are tricky as of course, we would rather import nothing. We do not have that luxury even if we truly wanted it as we do not produce many products here, such as decent European cheeses. Also, our trading partners would like to swamp us so we have to give them something. We keep dairy products out of Canada with high tariffs. I don't know if they are 300% or not and am too lazy to look it up but they are high. Certain imports have been negotiated and are allowed in, up to a certain amount. Imports under Tariff Rated Quota in 2017 amounted to 141.6 thousand tonnes valued at $636 million. Imports outside TRQ were 45 thousand tonnes valued at $236 thousand dollars.

Canadian Imports of Dairy Products in 2017
In 2017 Canada exported 171.8 thousand tonnes of dairy products valued at about $400 million dollars.

Canadian Exports of Dairy Products in 2017
Supply Management is far more complex than my simple explanation, as are the Import Quotas.  How things will shake out in the short run I have no idea.  That is up to our negotiators. In the long run, Supply Management has to go but to be replaced with what? And how to shut it down? Buying out existing quota at today's price is impossibly expensive and provides those dairy farmers who have been in business a long time a huge windfall.

I need a bowl of ice cream.

Note, an American gallon of milk weighs 3.9 kg, if anyone wants to convert.




Sunday, July 22, 2018

Fifty Years is a long time

Next year will be 50 years since I graduated from the University of Saskatchewan, College of Agriculture. The Saskatchewan Ag Grads Association (SAGA) holds a several day reunion every January.  Any graduate is free to attend but those grads celebrating 5, 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60+ years are specifically encouraged to attend at least the Friday night banquet.

I was at my 30th in 1999 and thought I was old then.  Our grad class, those that were there posed for a photograph. What a bunch of old men. Hah! My friend, professor, and mentor, Dr. Christensen celebrated his 41st year in 1999 and another of my professors, the late Dr. Red Williams was celebrating his 50th. I thought he was REALLY old. Dr. Christensen celebrated 60 years this year. I was so hoping Dr. Williams would make the reunion in January with 70 years but not to be.

Since I am in Canada for a while yet, I am going to our 50th reunion banquet, good Lord willin' and the creek don't rise. Each grad year has a 'chairman' who is responsible for getting the word out, encouraging attendance and flogging banquet tickets.  No one had offered to chair the '69 Grads so I was volunteered by a '65 grad who happens to be a shirttail relative. Since it is something that can be done on my computer, I can handle it.

Today I got busy and started organizing the mailing lists I have of the '69 Grads.  Just got a new list in tonight so will look at it in the morning.

There were about 50 of us then, now we are minus a few. No girls in those days, now they are 60% of the graduates.

Fall of 1968, 4th Year Employment bulletin circulated to prospective employers

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Tanya's Flower Garden

Tanya is glad to be home and looking after her beloved flower gardens. The kitchen garden is small this year as she was not there to plant it and our friend Katya had her own to look after so she just planted enough to keep Tanya in fresh vegetables.

I get Tanya to send me pictures of her flowers. The roses bloomed and were trimmed back.  The lilies bloomed and now the roses again. The trick in any flower garden is to have something blooming all summer long. Tanya takes incredibly good point-and-shoot pictures of individual blooms with her little Samsung J5 phone.

Here are a few pictures that she sent me.

Sometimes I get lonely





















Tuesday, July 17, 2018

It's a world world world MAD.

As Alfred E. Newman once said. And as my 2 1/2-year-old daughter once said when she dialed 911 for the second time, "Nothing 'citing ever happens around here".

I finished the second draft of my report for my long-suffering and patient client. 44 Tables. 220 charts. Excel is wonderful. When you start with 10,000 to 15,000 pieces of data, boiling it down takes some doing and charts if done right allow seeing the analysis at a glance. Much better than tables.

My sister came to visit last week and my second youngest over the weekend.  Hadn't seen my sister in 4 years.  Or my daughter in as many months. Not since she got her ring, wedding next July. I'll still be here at the rate things are progressing. Cheaper to stay longer than fly back for the wedding.

Hard to know what to rant about.  The world has gone insane. Even the onion has gone to straight journalism. You can't make this stuff up. No one would believe you.  All I see is Trump headlines and articles.  Is anyone watching to see what the GOP is stealing while you are watching Trump?

Today when I was reading the articles posted on FB, I couldn't even hit the angry button.  Just the sad. Three posts caught my attention, not in a good way.

This one:

Do Americans Understand They’re Beginning to Commit The Legal Definition of Genocide?


This one:

And this one of a young white woman calling for a genocide of all non-whites



And Canadians should not feel too smug. We have our own far-right terrorists, racist politicians,  and political parties with ties to the far-right running dog-whistle campaigns opposing "illegal" immigration




Friday, July 6, 2018

The Salt of the Earth

Still doctoring. Seemingly no nearer getting rid of my ileostomy pouch, which I have dubbed Donald Trump, than I was two months ago. Now I am supposed to cut back on salt intake.  OK.  I quit putting salt on eggs, tomatoes and corn on the cob which is about all I ever salted anyhow and laid off the salted peanuts which I only eat when other people buy them. Ah, but you have to avoid processed foods.

What the heck are processed foods? The health food sites talk about them like "avoid arsenic and ground glass". Turns out if you didn't kill it, pick it or dig it yourself, it is processed food. And the sodium (salt) levels are printed on the packages.  I should read them.  No I shouldn't as they are scary.

Just for the halibut, I went through my cupboards and fridge and wrote down the sodium levels based on my serving size. Like who uses one tbsp (15 ml) of salad dressing? "Real" food, I didn't bother with: eggs, pork, beef, chicken, potatoes, onions, turnips, lettuce, tomatoes, radishes, etc.. Or rice, macaroni and spaghetti. High salt content in too many things.  With no effort at all I could (and do from time to time) hit 3 or 4 times the sodium RDA and never touch the salt shaker.


Saturday, May 26, 2018

Sex is NOT Binary: People who are Transgender

How we arrive at who we are is far more complicated than many people will admit.  The biggest problem people are the Republican Jesus Christians who define their beliefs by whom they hate and whom they can use scripture to cause pain while causing none to themselves. . I have no intent of trying to change their minds as they are impervious to facts.  However other people may be puzzled by the LGBTQ group who make up about 5% of humanity.  I have been collecting articles intending to write a series of blogs about the issue of sex and sexual identity when I ran into this one written by Brettany Renée Blatchley, a Trans woman, and is reprinted here with permission.

When Does She Become He?

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unfundamentalistchristians/2016/09/when-does-she-become-he/



What makes a woman and what makes a man; what is male and what is female? What was once a very taboo subject in our culture, only seriously (and quietly) contemplated by doctors and researchers, is becoming dinner-table talk with the new, greater visibility of transgender and intersex people. Perhaps a little thought experiment can add to this conversation?
Say that Sarah is an ordinary woman inside and out. When would she stop being a woman, a female, and what would it take to make her a male, a man? Consider:
DNA: Let’s exchange one of Sarah’s X chromosomes for a Y. Would this make her a male, a man? Not necessarily. Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome is an intersex condition in which a person’s body is unable to respond to testosterone. So their body does not masculinize from the default female form of all mammals, including humans. With Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (CAIS), Sarah is a girl to all outward appearances: she is assigned female, usually knows herself to be a girl, and is raised as a girl. Then as she approaches womanhood, it is discovered that she cannot menstruate and is sterile; further investigation reveals her to be a female with XY DNA.[1]
There are also instances where the SRY gene (the short arm of the Y gene) malfunctions[2] and does not stimulate the production of male internal genitalia, so this XY girl will never have testes, for example. And because she will not produce testosterone, her body will never take on male form and, like the CAIS child, she may discover she is an XY female when she reaches adulthood.
The Y chromosome has surprisingly little influence in humans and other mammals. We all start out life in female form. The first (and main) purpose of the Y chromosome is to “trigger” the creation of an initial burst of testosterone in a developing child (who will later pass on that gene in reproduction). The window for this is probably very small[3] and sometimes it doesn’t happen. With this “spark,” the body is changed so it can create more testosterone to do the rest of the work, much like the proverbial farmer pulling himself up by his own bootstraps.
Gonads: Okay, let’s give Sarah some testes. Various combinations of X and Y genes can do this, as can faulty XX genes. Another way Sarah could develop testes is because she might have the DNA of two (or more) people in her: chimerism,[4] which is quite rare, but happens. Yet another possibility is that her gonads might be a blend of ovaries and testes known as ovotestes,[5] and as their owner she would be hermaphrodite (an outdated term). Like virtually all of our sexual anatomy, male “bits” develop from existing female structures. Testes and ovaries develop from the same fetal tissue, for example.
Hormones: the two main groups of sex hormones in the animal kingdom are estrogens and androgens. These are amazingly similar chemically and like other hormones, their job is to “signal” various tissues in the body – they act as a catalyst, as switching agents. It is interesting to note that humans (and other mammals) produce both hormones, and our tissues are selectively sensitive to these hormones. For example, human breasts are very sensitive to estrogen, while our facial hair is very sensitive to testosterone (hormones cause permanent changes in both of these). Depending on when the exposure to one or the other happens, the path of internal and external development may be altered, and it matters not whether the hormones come from inside the body or from outside. For example, between weeks 9 and 11, testosterone will change the default female genitalia into male form.  In the next week after this, the female brain exposed to testosterone is rewired into male pattern.[6] It is because these changes are ordered in stages that a person can have the genitalia of one sex and the brain wiring of another. These things comprise our primary sex characteristics.
Puberty is the next big hormonal event, and during this period the body develops secondary sex characteristics: bone structure changes in male and female typical ways, testosterone enlarges the voice box, hair develops in male or female pattern and texture, and soft tissues like musculature and fat distribution make a child into the recognizable form of an adult woman or man. Again, if testosterone is absent, blocked or replaced, the child’s form (regardless of their primary sex characteristics) will develop along female lines in response to the estrogen normally produced by all humans. In puberty, some of these changes are essentially permanent: one’s skeletal structure is finalized, which determines things like one’s overall size, the width of hips, the lengths of arms and legs. Breasts normally develop under the influence of estrogen (or don’t when testosterone “swamps” the estrogen). Genitalia mature in size and shape; fertility begins. Puberty has an additional influence on the brain’s basic wiring, further pushing in the male direction or leaving it to further mature as female.
Hormones are the chief agent for making us female or male in our phenotype — they make us look and function like men or women. They also deeply influence our initial brain structure, which lays the biological foundation for how we think and feel as gendered humans.
Even after development, the loss or cross-replacement of hormones can change one’s secondary sex characteristics to the extent of changing soft tissues and developing undeveloped structures. Thus an XY person can re-shape into a female form with breasts, generally residing on the “boyish” end of appearances, and hormones can influence some of the plastic/pliable parts of the person’s brain.
Internal genitalia: What if Sarah did not develop a uterus or fallopian tubes? This can happen with various intersex conditions like Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia(CAH). In this condition, an XX person masculinizes, which can mean missing or undeveloped internal genitalia. And there are other, far more common, non-intersex reasons why women may be missing their inner “bits.” Does this make them a male, a man?[7]
External genitalia: Few people realize that our genitalia (both internal and external) develop from the same tissue. So, for example, the scrotum forms from tissue that would otherwise be a labia majora. The penis and clitoris are likewise related. Much of sex distinctive male and female anatomy is homologous.
Sarah might be a one of the approximately 1 in 100 children born with ambiguous genitalia. It might be hard to tell if she is a girl or a boy at birth, and it may require further testing to get an idea of where Sarah resides on the spectrum of male and female sex characteristics. Regardless, early in childhood, Sarah will naturally begin to manifest an innate gender identity — the brain wiring will begin to be revealed with Sarah’s self expression as it blossoms in its social environment.
Social rearing: What if Sarah is raised as a boy? What if her genitalia were ambiguous enough that she was “marked” as a boy and everyone treated her that way? The social pressures involved are as insidious and pervasive as they are powerful, and anyone who deviates from these expectations (in many cultures) can expect generally harsh, even lethal treatment. Does Sarah’s rearing determine whether she is a girl or boy, and whether she will grow to be a woman or man?  
Gender expression: Now let’s say that Sarah likes boy stuff, she’s “rough and tumble,” is always “hanging with the boys” and generally eschews girl things. Does this make her a male, or a boy, and if she continues into adulthood, does this make her a man?
Thinking patterns: What if Sarah likes math and science and is really good at it. What if she makes up in spatial reasoning what she lacks linguistically? What if she doesn’t seem to take interest in children and domestic life? What if her “maternal instinct” is all but missing? What if she relates to things more than people? Does this make her a boy or a man?
Sexual orientation: What if Sarah has no interest boys? What if her sexual interest is in girls, and later, women? Does this make her a boy or man?
So far we have listed many things about Sarah, and our hypothetical female is representative of millions of actual women alive today. Female people could have any or many of the aforementioned things missing and/or going on in their lives and still be women.
So when does Sarah become Sam?
Gender identity: this is our innate sense of who we are as a person. Do we sense (think/feel) ourselves to be female or male (or something else)? Our sense of who we are is core to our selves as human beings, and after decades of research and clinical experience, the consensus is that prenatal biology is the largest determiner of our sense of our gender. Parents and society can support or undermine a person’s gender identity, but cannot fundamentally change it. Like other innate parts of our personhood that we discover about ourselves, we can be forced to suppress or repress this, but we cannot change our “spots” at that deep a level — as a “computer system,” our BIOS chips are fixed.[8]
A few decades ago, it was all the rage in psychology and medicine to assume that one’s sense of gendered self could be changed through child rearing and cosmetic surgery. Amazingly, this ground-shaking view was based on a single study of two children, twins, and it ended in the tragic suicides of both people when one of the twins underwent a forced sex change.[9] This tragedy, through its failed assumptions, has hurt uncounted people to this day, no doubt contributing to many suicides.
Who gets to say what a given person’s gender identity is? Only that person can speak for themself. How often are we reminded that the brain is the body’s largest, most important sex organ?
And if Sarah identifies as Sam? What if this person, who to everyone else seems to be Sarah, the girl, the woman, knows themself to be Sam? Sam is the head of a complex being of many parts; none of those parts are able to think, feel or speak to Sam about who Sam is as a person. Neither Sam’s vagina, nor uterus, nor ovaries think, feel or speak for the rest of the human being who knows himself to be Sam. How much less can a parent, a friend, a government, a church, a society tell Sam that he is really Sarah? That Sam has probably been negatively pressured by all of these entities will be a major source of Sam’s difficulty in moving past the “Sarah presumption” to live his life as himself. Sam is a man, and so whatever else may be said about Sam’s body, it is the body of a man …
… or as pediatrician William Reiner, formerly of Johns Hopkins, expressed:
“In the end it is only the children themselves who can and must identify who and what they are. It is for us as clinicians and researchers to listen and to learn. Clinical decisions must ultimately be based not on anatomical predictions, nor on the ‘correctness’ of sexual function, for this is neither a question of morality nor of social consequence, but on that path most appropriate to the likeliest psychosexual developmental pattern of the child. In other words, the organ that appears to be critical to psychosexual development and adaptation is not the external genitalia, but the brain.”[10]
And now we know when she becomes he.
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Here are some places where interested readers may learn more. Caution! Many of the pictures in these articles are Not Safe For Work (NSFW).
First, there is a great introductory documentary to intersex conditions that may be viewed for free online called: “Me, My Sex and I.” http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/me-my-sex-and-i
The US Library of Medicine has general information on the topic of Intersex: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001669.htm.
  1. ^ The Wikipedia entry on Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome has a detailed summary of this condition with pictures and numerous scholarly references.
  2. ^
  3. ^ A critical time window of Sry action in gonadal sex determination in mice, Ryuji Hiramatsu, Shogo Matoba, Masami Kanai-Azuma, Naoki Tsunekawa, Yuko Katoh-Fukui, Masamichi Kurohmaru, Ken-ichirou Morohashi, Dagmar Wilhelm, Peter Koopman, Yoshiakira Kanai. Development 2009 136: 129-138; doi: 10.1242/dev.029587. http://dev.biologists.org/content/136/1/129.short
  4. ^ Chimerism, http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/chimerism
  5. ^ Ovotestes, http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/ovotestes
  6. ^ Sexual differentiation of the human brain: Relation to gender identity, sexual orientation and neuropsychiatric disorders, Bao, Ai-Min; Dick F. Swaab (18 February 2011). Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology 32 (2): 214–226.
  7. ^ In extreme AIS cases XX people become phenotypically male much as CAIS people become phenotypically female, again due to hormonal influences.
  8. ^
  9. ^ Wikipedia has a good summary of the “John/Joan” case of David Reimer: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Reimer.
  10. ^ To Be Male or Female-That is the Question, William Reiner, MD. http://web.missouri.edu/~segerti/2210/GenderIdentity.pdf

This post was originally published on LGBT Perspectives.
Image via Pixabay.

About Brettany Renée Blatchley
Renée Blatchley is a fifty-three year old, married transgender woman of faith. She blogs at Gracefully Trans.