what a young transgender client needs from their therapist(s)

Emily Marie Williams, 2019-03-16
© 2019 Whole-Systems Enterprises, Inc.

Who I am: Credentials or Something?

I’m not a psychologist, not a social worker, not a medical doctor. In fact, I’m not a doctor of any kind. Just a highly intelligent and introspective citizen scientist. (Yes, I hold a baccalaureate).

Oh, and I happen to be transgender: Thirty-nine years living publicly as a man, approaching four years living publicly as a woman.

And I’ve studied the science of gender identity in exhaustive detail; I happen to be a scientist by trade.

And I’ve seen more therapists than I care to count.

First Define Therapeutic Goals

All Ages

Let’s first define therapeutic goals, appropriate for transgender clients of any age:

  • Client learns they are responsible for their own learning
  • Client learns suicide prevention and distress tolerance skills
  • Client learns how to respond emotionally and socially to harassment and bullying
  • Client learns how to respond emotionally and strategically to discrimination
  • Clients learn the correct language and choose what applies to them
    • “Transgender” vs. “transsexual” vs. “intersex” vs. “transvestite” vs. “cross-dresser” vs. “genderqueer” vs. “drag queen” vs. etc.
    • Gender identity vs. sexual orientation
    • “Trans” vs. “cis”
    • “Transwoman” vs. “transman”
      • E.g., a man who becomes a woman is a “transgender woman”, not a “transgender man”!
    • Why the “T” is included in “LGBT”
  • Existential health:
    • Client will not need a theologian or a philosopher to tell them they are right with the divine and/or the universe
      • Although I admit it helps emotionally!
    • Client will not need an evolutionary psychologist or an anthropologist to tell them they are right with society
      • Although I admit it helps emotionally!
    • Client experiences daily joy
  • Client understands that a gender transition (of any kind or degree) will not cure all their ills
    • We all still have death and taxes
  • Client knows their legal rights in their jurisdiction
  • Clients are appropriately guided toward biomedical interventions, where desired
  • Clients become aware that the transgender community exists and is networked
    • We have a history and mythology, e.g.,
      • The Stonewall Rebellion
        • This was just as much about gender variance as it was about non-heterosexuality, a fact that the “mainstream” queer movement swept under the rug until recently
      • Joan of Arc
      • The Rebecca Riots
      • Tiresias
    • We have a music community (e.g., G.L.O.S.S., Trap Girl, Axis Evil featuring Napalm Fatale, Against Me, and QTPi Xpress).
      • Disclosure: I am “Axis Evil featuring Napalm Fatale”.
    • We have legal advocacy groups and work closely with the ACLU

Youth and Their Parents

All of the above-stated goals apply to youth, but parents play a greater role in their success:

  • Parents learn they are responsible for their own learning
  • Parents learn how to affirm and validate their children
    • Including respect for desired names and pronouns
  • Parents learn suicide prevention and distress tolerance skills
    • For both themselves and all their children
  • Parents learn the correct language, and let their children choose what applies to them
    • “Transgender” vs. “transsexual” vs. “intersex” vs. “transvestite” vs. “cross-dresser” vs. “genderqueer” vs. “drag queen” vs. etc.
    • “Gender identity” vs. “sexual orientation”
    • “Trans” vs. “cis”
    • “Transwoman” vs. “transman”
      • E.g., a man who becomes a woman is a “transgender woman”, not a “transgender man”!
    • Why the “T” is included in “LGBT”
  • Parents learn how to work with schools to attenuate bullying
  • Parents learn about discrimination and systemic oppression. They must be “woken up”
  • If parents are spiritual and or religious, find a faith community that proves supportive
  • Parents must learn and model joy
  • Parents understand that gender-related care for their family will not cure all their ills
    • Again, we all still have death and taxes
  • Parents know their children’s legal rights in their jurisdiction
  • Parents understand the array of biomedical interventions available
    • And the time dependencies of these interventions with respect to the onset of puberty
  • Parents need to understand that the body of research regarding transgender youth is slim
    • Parents need to understand that an active effort within the research community regarding transgender youth is identifying the difference between “is it a phase?” and “is it clinical gender dysphoria?”

As Long as I Can Remember

For perspective:  As soon as I realized there was a difference between boys and girls, I wanted to be a girl. Maybe two or three years old?

The feeling didn’t stop with puberty. Didn’t stop when I registered for Selective Service. Didn’t ever stop.

Where Seeing More than One Therapists is Appropriate

Having a client see more than one therapist at the same time is controversial, but I do it. Here is why it is practical:

Therapists who specialize in transgender issues are scarce and generally clustered around major cities. Therefore, it is totally reasonable for a client to see a “regular” therapist on say a weekly basis and see a specialist on a monthly (or longer) basis. Seeing a specialist at least occasionally is vital, as they have access to the latest clinical practice information and are one of the key gatekeepers for obtaining biomedical interventions such as hormone replacement therapy.

The “regular” therapist I referred to in the above paragraph can work on matters like distress tolerance, suicide prevention, family dynamics, etc.

Suicide Prevention and Distress Tolerance

The suicide rate is extremely high in the transgender population. (I don’t know how this breaks out between youth and adults—a later edition of this text will provide those details if they exist). Therefore, it is imperative that transgender youth, their parents, and transgender adults learn suicide prevention skills. “Skills” is the correct word here; we are talking about a set of learnable behaviors that save lives.

Distress tolerance skills are also vital; saying that living transgender proves distressing is an understatement! I’ve found Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) the best approach for myself and would recommend it to anybody. DBT is all about skills development.

Family Therapy

Family therapy proves vital as well, as poor family dynamics and abuse (if it is present) will not help anybody.

Also, parents may carry undue guilt that their child expresses gender identity issues—as if they were bad parents or something. While my research shows a possible heritable element of gender dysphoria, the same research supports a hypothesis of biological origin of the condition.

Murder Prevention

The murder rate among transgender individuals is high, especially for transgender women of color. A therapist and a transgender child’s parents must ensure the client knows how to protect themselves.

I carry a hunting knife in my purse and know how to disable an attacker by hand.

Affirmation and Validation

Through various channels (social, parental, religious, etc.), transgender children can get the message that their feelings are either “not real” or “bad”. This needs to be countered by therapists, and parents must be taught by therapists how to counter these ideas as well.

What a Therapist Should Watch For

While it is perfectly possible for a client to be both schizophrenic and transgender, the schizophrenia must be treated first, as it might be a source of gender confusion. For example, and forgive my shallow understanding of schizophrenia, a schizophrenic individual might have one or more feminine-identified “insides” and one or more masculine-identified “insides”.

Additionally, there are some homosexuals who are so homophobic that they would rather change their sex than accept their sexual orientation. Here the problem is acceptance, not gender dysphoria, and gender transition is not a clinically appropriate treatment. I can see this scenario playing out in a teenager raised in a fundamentalist environment. Interestingly, Iran forces homosexual men to become woman, as it is okay with transsexuality but not homosexuality. This probably does a lot of damage to these individuals’ psyches.

Adolescent Sexuality

All adolescents struggle with sexuality, but I think it is worse for transgender individuals. Therapists must be understanding of this.

One of the most confusing issues I faced in my youth was that for me as a teenager, I became sexually aroused when I wore women’s clothing. So, I couldn’t tell if I was expressing a fetish or something more fundamental to my core identity. Now that I am an adult and wear women’s clothing full time, this arousal no longer happens. In other words, my desired to cross gender lines cannot be explained by fetish alone.

A minor psychological theory that some practitioners still refer to, though it has largely been discredited, is “auto-gynephilia”. This model defines men who express transgender thinking as simply being sexually attracted to the idea of themselves as a woman (and female)—basically a “meta-fetish”. The idea has been used by hostile parents in court cases to prevent children from receiving appropriate transgender care. The major proponent of this idea—I forget who—is still alive and working for a major research hospital (I think; I’ll check on this detail later and update this document accordingly).

The problem is not with auto-gynophilic sexual fantasies, which I’ll admit even I have from time to time, but with the idea that that model alone fully explains male-to-female transgenderism. To put it in personal terms, when sexual arousal and activity is the farthest thing from my mind, I still want to be called “Emily” and “she”, and I still want to interact socially as a woman.

Feminism and Young Adults

Most feminists support us, but there is a small and vocal subset that severely opposes transgender individuals and their demand for rights. A young woman thinking of transitioning to manhood can easily be dissuaded by these ideas. This is okay if the individual decides so; but most members of this small, vocal subset of feminism are bullies and need to be taken through that lens. (We call them TERFs, for “trans-exclusive radical feminists”). TERFs often refer to female-to-male transitioning as “testosterone poisoning”, among other things. I won’t even begin to tell you what they say about women like me, because it is out of scope for this document.

A good therapist needs to be aware of TERF thinking and influence, especially when working with young adults attending a university.

I’ll Add More Later…

I’m sure I’ll think of more to add to this document as time passes.

evolutionary psychology and toxic masculinity

A well-known tension exists between evolutionary psychology theorists and feminist theorists. Feminists reasonably complain that evolutionary psychologists are simply reinforcing sexist paradigms—particularly the sexism that still pervades scientific inquiry—while evolutionary psychologists reasonably argue that their findings simply derive from examining our species’ mental adaptations necessary to ensure survival.

I’m not here to argue about which viewpoint is right. Truth probably lies in both modes of inquiry.

However, I’ve been thinking about “toxic masculinity”, a concept that wouldn’t exist without the feminists having identified it.

Let’s assume that “toxic masculinity” exists as the feminists define it.

Let’s also assume that toxic masculinity is a phenomenon we want to rid society of, that it is a bad thing.

Is it enough to simply think our way out of this mess? My experience suggests no. We need to examine the deep psychological pull of toxic masculinity, particularly in woman’s lives. (I’m assuming here without rigor that women are complacent in its social realization—part of the problem).

I propose that evolutionary psychology might explain some of this.

Assume that the patriarchy has dominated human relationships and individual humans’ self-realization since at least the time we settled down to start growing our food (about 10k years ago). Assume further that toxic masculinity evolved in men’s psyche as a way to maneuver within this patriarchy—that men who exhibited toxic masculinity prospered while men who didn’t exhibit it did not. Then it follows that natural selection favored the men who carried toxic behavior.

Women relied on men’s successes, and therefore it is possible that women who found toxic masculinity initially attractive (in terms of sexual/emotional arousal) would have more success finding a mate. Over millennia, natural selection might have favored this behavior.

Thus we may have a deep attraction to toxic masculinity written deep into our DNA.

Okay, so how does this help? If this hypothesis holds water, we know what we are up against and can adjust our cognitive reframing work and cultural change efforts accordingly.

fighting psychosis with psychosis

This method isn’t for the weak-minded:

But I’m not a bit weak-minded and the strategy described below suggested potential when I tested it on myself. (That makes this an n=1 study—hardly scientific—but exploratory research has to start somewhere!).

Background: I carry a long and well-documented case of bipolar disorder, and have become skilled at handling the “lows”. However, the manic “highs” still catch me by surprise. They come fast and full-blown, and I’ve often (until recently) acted recklessly when they occur. The resulting social damage proves costly.

Moreover, a full-blown mania often brings with it some degree of psychosis; realize of course that psychosis lies on a spectrum, it is not binary (sane vs. insane). For my part, I become grandiose and make decisions based on information filtered through that grandiosity, i.e., at some level disconnected from reality.

Now this state is basically a “drug high”, in that it is a chemical situation in my brain causing the mania. As a youth I tried cocaine and the feeling compares.

The psychiatric medicine I take controls the worst of the disease, especially the “lows”, but fails to inoculate me completely against mania. So I still have to learn how to effectively handle these “drug highs” as I don’t expect them to ever go away completely.

It becomes a management game:

So I got to thinking: “Why not intentionally induce manic psychosis in a safe, controlled environment so I learn how to pilot the condition?”. In doing so I’ll develop skill at managing unexpected manic episodes when I experience them in the real world–I’ll strengthen my mental power over them.

This is kind of like becoming well-practiced at meditation when you are relaxed, so that the skill proves easily accessible during an anxiety attack. (For me, the manic episodes impact me far more than anxiety, which also affects me; I’m just trying to draw a useful analogy here. In other words, I’ve ruled out meditation and mindfulness as short-term solutions to my mania challenge, though I’m certainly developing these tools for my long-term repertoire).

So I took a hit of LSD to induce grandiosity, euphoria, and delusional thinking; and then worked diligently and intently through the resulting altered state to learn how to handle the condition effectively, to learn how to take control.

The strategy worked! My recent subsequent manic episode came on quickly and intense, but I was able to recognize the state immediately and take appropriate countermeasures before making any reckless decisions.

Image from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lysergic_acid_diethylamide.

god likes scientists

I don’t believe in astrology, but I do firmly believe in the Resurrection. As far as scientific evidence goes, both prove equally absurd. WTF? Why accept even one of them? Why not both? I have no good answer for this!

I could say that “events” in my life confirm my Christian experience, but that might be pattern recognition bias—seeing confirmation of my faith in patterns that my brain constructs out of non-patterned signal (because brains do that [1]).

Similarly, because I’ve never bothered to look for confirmation of astrological interpretations of my life, I’ve never “found” them in my life narrative. Again, pattern recognition bias.

Perhaps—and I am so completely unfamiliar with astrology to know for sure—astrology is about finding comfort in the universe’s design—that there is a “plan”. Is there anything in astrology that is meant to be uncomfortable? I don’t know!

The Christian experience is not comfortable; at least I don’t seek it out for comfort with regard to my place the universe. If God asks me to, I’ll perform God’s work in Hell.

Maybe its about love: I do not perceive that the universe as expressed as stars, planets, mass, and energy “loves” me. But I need to feel love and the Christian narrative offers that. The Resurrection itself is a love story.

Perhaps I created God in my image—an image of a human who needs love. And the need for love comes from evolutionary psychology; human-to-human attachment driving tribal cooperation, driving survival, driving gene propagation. The selfish gene [2].

“What is truth?” retorted the Pilate [3].

I’m going to continue trusting God and continue trusting my faith in God, even without these questions answered. And the God I believe in wants us to wrestle with these matters; God gave us brains and expects us to use them critically.

God likes scientists: “Doubting” Thomas just wanted evidence. He was not rejected for asking for it.

“Faith” and “belief” mean different things. I see “belief” as getting hung up on the facts—where science and logic matter to defining reality. “Belief” has its place: For example I believe in “F=m*a” at appropriate velocities and definitely believe in God’s existence and love.

But I do not emphasize belief in my spiritual practice, which is where “faith” comes in. “Faith”, in my book, is trusting the divine deep within my soul without needing to understand all the particulars about where things are headed.

Sometimes faith doesn’t even require much commitment to reality. I tell a story in my article “an allegory of affection from a Hindu goddess” about a visitation by Durga that I experienced during a dream. I do not worry about whether this visit really happened or not; the experience enriched my faith in the Christian god while enhancing my understanding of Hinduism. I’m not going to argue about what is “real” in this situation. Rather, I’ll just accept the personal growth that came of it.

This is the embrace of faith.

References

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apophenia
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Selfish_Gene
  3. John 18:38 (New International Version)
  4. The image below is copied from https://www.wikihow.com/Be-a-Good-Scientist.

thinking big (part #1)

Declaring I’m a “big thinker” understates it. I channel more creativity than a single human can ever bring to fruition, so I’m now going to simply start logging ideas on a somewhat weekly to monthly basis in case others want to take them on, or collaborate with me.

So, here are this week’s big ideas, many of which I received while driving between Carmel and San Simeon on California Highway 1:

Censorship-Resistant Microblogging

For two weeks I’ve been developing a blog post in my head about using Blockchain as a tool for censorship-resistant microblogging. The article will discuss a particular platform’s solution, not survey all possible options (which I’ll do later). It will take the form of a “how to” post.

Technology that Responds to Desertification

Climate change will likely promote heavy desertification. We have two angles to take regarding technological response:

First, we can develop technology that resists the desertification process itself. Think infrastructure and environmental engineering by nation-states. However, given that I do not expect nation-states to be able to respond functionally to rapid desertification, I offer the following alternative:

Second, develop high technology for single family, tribe, and/or homestead use. I’m thinking composting systems that capture water as it is off-gassed. I’m thinking distilling water from urine. Micro-desalination for folks living right against the coast. Massively effective composting reactions from food waste. Capturing and distilling sweat. Capture water from fuel cell use (if I remember correctly how fuel cells work).

That latter social layout risks invoking the “tragedy of the commons” with regard to well water. So we need water-efficient farming technology such as hydroponics and good social compacts.

Adverse Possession

I once claimed squatter’s rights (technically “adverse possession”) to a ten-acre piece of abandoned land. Applied data science to find the ideal property.

About to start the process again, and refine the method.

I’ll give special consideration to developing a strategy that supports the needs of RV boondockers.

Fuzzy Logic-Based Women’s Body Shape Calculator

I wrote a women’s body shape calculator, where one enters their measurements and receives a classification of their body shape into one of the classic style-guide shapes (e.g., “apple”, “rectangular”). My post “artificial intelligence in fashion (part two: a first step)” introduces this tool.

However, I am unhappy with the use of crisp computation by this tool and would rather replace it with fuzzy reasoning, to reflect differences in expert opinion about what makes what body shape what. Then users will receive more informative results. For example, instead of reporting that a user’s measurements indicate a strictly “rectangular” body shape, the fuzzy reasoning-based method could declare that the same use is 90% “rectangular” and 10% “hourglass”.

Blockchain

Blockchain matters. Learn it inside and out. Learn about the “internet of money”. Learn about “discretized valuation”. Program it. “Get” it.

Expand My Social Media Footprint

People generally like what I have to say online, and I believe it provides social value. So therefore I want to expand my reach. This is not so much for my “glory” as it is to promote diverse voices in media. My agenda is to “transmit” what is given to me.

So I will apply my full data scientist brain to this task and see what happens! Perhaps it starts with measurement?

Extract More Precise Signal from the Media Firehose

My friend Epochryphal challenged me to think of improved ways to capture, sort, and process online content as it emerges. I started them off by recommending an RSS reader but we agreed the problem requires a better solution. My next move involves checking out Feedly.

Practice Navigating Without a Smart Phone

I ran into a situation where I needed a road atlas due to lack of wireless service, but didn’t have one. Not good! Such an atlas might also prove important if one is running from the law and cannot have their cellular phone turned on (to avoid tracking).

Dead reckoning is a powerful skill. Nurture it.

Revisit Development of Technology for “Off-Grid” Living

A primal value of mine. Will discuss specifics in later posts.

LSD-25 and CRISPR/Cas9

Use CRISPR/Cas9 to engineer a fungus or a mold to safely produce clean LSD-25 on a table top.

Grow a Vagina in a Petri Dish from Stem Cells

I’m not happy with current male-to-female gender affirmation surgery technique. Let’s grow a vagina and clitoris from reprogrammed stem cells and then install it.

the “system” and all the bars on the cage

If you only see one bar at a time, you will not know that you reside in a cage. Here I attempt a systemic view, a whole picture. This work requires further refinement, but it’s a good start:

Update 5 August 2018

I received the following (welcome) response to this graphic:

I responded as follows:

If you only see one bar at a time, you will not know that you reside in a cage. The hope in this is that a picture explains quickly what takes 1,000 CNN and Huffington Post editorials to say.

I don’t know how to teach lateral, non-linear thinking, but hope lies in teaching young people that actions often have compounding and unexpected consequences. I know from being an engineer (engineers are the worst culprits of linear thinking) how easy it is to miss the big picture.

I summarized this concept in “Emily’s 1st Law of System Complexity“:

“For every reduction, there is a greater and opposite clusterfuck.”

My hope flies high, or I wouldn’t be writing my book, wouldn’t be mapping systems, wouldn’t be operating a business. And I usually operate “one soul at a time”–mentoring individuals, providing friendship, giving my best to relationships in the moment they take place.

It’s a labor of love, and love is built on hope:

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” – 1 Corinthians 13:13 (NIV)

 

cybernetic cunt

I don’t own a clitoris and I don’t own a g-spot. But I posit that I “hit” them orgasmically using my mind.

The thing is, (I think) all humans hold the genetic code for this anatomy, regardless of phenotype. We all therefore likely possess the neural mappings “connected” to the activation of these nerves. Taking estrogen and suppressing my testosterone probably strengthens these neural pathways.

So take your brain and focus your next orgasm where you want it.

“Z-Spot” (Update 10 August 2018)

I wrote this post based solely on my own psychosexual experience, and therefore was pleased when my genderqueer friend Epochryphal read the article and stated that the idea also resonated with them. Sometime prior to our conversation they coined the term “z-spot” to describe the concept.

You can read Epochryphal’s fabulous blog here.

curvilinear optimism

Consider the following exponential growth curve:

This shows how the possible consequences of a decision do not just vary over time; the magnitude of that variance itself increases with time. For example, suppose you do something reckless like join the circus, start a business, or express love. You not only do not know the short- and long-term consequences, but the variance in the possible consequences widens as time moves forward.

So where is the optimism in this you might ask?  With uncertainty lies the opportunity to create exceptional outcomes!

Now consider the exact same curve, with completely different annotation:

When we make bold decisions, consequences follow. Then we must decide how to proceed as those consequences roll in. But the number of available good responses increases with time, because wisdom increases, data flows in, and time settles disruption.

Optimism is a skill.

thriving vs. merely surviving

Often I lose sight of my longterm goal (to thrive) to make room in my psyche for my short term survival goals related to preventing self harm. Realized this morning that this behavior only “positively” feedbacks into the distress itself—that giving a measured quantity of attention toward thriving will better dampen the distress in the long run. (We call this dampening “negative” feedback in control engineering—the terms don’t sound intuitive: In engineering, “negative” feedback is the good kind of feedback when you want to keep something stable [1]! See the bottom of this post for pictorial examples of the two types of feedback).

So on that note, here are two ways I’m directing attention toward thriving:

Mindfulness proves a well-known strategy for improving mental health [2]. However, the only mindfulness activity that has ever worked for me so far is live performance, whether music or giving a speech. So to increase my mindfulness time, I plan to increase my stage time.

Moreover, I plan to add a mindfulness component to my instrumental practice time. (This has never worked in the past—I become too distracted, but I’m confident I can substantially improve the skill this time). So I’m going back to basics: Fingering exercises on my sitar and basic stick technique on my new drum set. I’m relatively new to both instruments so think that the activity of building mindfulness skill as part of building my instrumental skills will complement each other well.

Inventory of successes: I’ve always been one to count my blessings, but now I’m adding a weekly inventory of each week’s successes. Writing them down. Makes me feel great. Directs my emotions toward states that permit delivery of energy toward thriving!

An Example of Each Type of Feedback Loop

Just extra credit for ambitious readers…

This image comes from [3]. The top part shows how negative feedback keeps a basic ecological system stable. Similar negative feedback loops regulate serotonin production by the brain [4], a key process in stabilization of mental health.

The second part shows how positive feedback causes both system variables, success and motivation, to feed each other’s growth. A mental health example: Consider a system containing only the two variables “mania” and “lack of sleep”. In a person with bipolar disorder, one will feed expansion of the other. This effect is known as “snowballing” by systems scientists; as a snowball rolls down a hill it gets larger, and as it gets larger, its capacity for adding snow increases so it gets larger still.

References

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feedback
  2. https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/types/mindfulness-based-interventions
  3. https://www.scisnack.com/2015/08/04/why-negative-feedback-is-good-for-the-climate/
  4. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-1-4684-3860-4_26

fans control the music: using AI to measure fan enthusiasm at EDC

We invented technology to enhance the fan/performer connection. Vote for Team Ambience at EDC!

DJs and more traditional musicians require realtime audience feedback during performances. However, often we cannot see our audience—their movement, their facial expressions, etc.—during shows due to stage lighting. Therefore we cannot gauge their enthusiasm, and therefore cannot alter our performance to respond.

We at Team Ambience invented a means for measuring such audience enthusiasm using a video camera and artificial intelligence (AI). Our solution reports mood metrics and summarizes crowd movement directly to performers’ phones. (Many musicians, myself included, perform with an iPhone connected to our mic stands).

We developed our prototype from scratch while attending the Amazon- and Intel-sponsored “Hack Till Dawn – A Deep Learning Hackathon: Use Machine Learning to Revolutionize EDC Festivals” event last weekend. At this hacking competition, teams competed to win tickets to the Electric Daisy Carnival (EDC) by developing AI technologies designed to improve fan experiences at large music festivals. By strengthening performers’ ability to “read” the audience in realtime, our invention definitely enhances the fan experience by enabling performers to better craft their shows according to audience sentiment.

EDC will feature Team Ambience’s (our) solution, along with those of two additional winning teams, at three kiosks positioned throughout the festival this coming weekend. Fans will vote on their favorite idea—we certainly encourage you to vote for us!

Demonstration

Reading Audience Facial Expressions

The first video below shows us presenting different facial expressions to performers. The phone in the lower right reports our mood:

Zooming in on the phone application itself, note the change as the music changes:

Reading Audience Movement

Is the audience jumping, are they swaying? If so, how much? Consider the following video [1]:

From this we measure audience movement intensity and report it:

Additional Applications

The audience metrics described hold value not only to performers, but also to venue owners, booking agencies, and artist managers. We provide a business dashboard for such stakeholders:

Furthermore, as a composer/performer, I envision creating an AI that composes and improvises with me on-the-fly using audience feedback.

Technical Details

We used the Amazon machine learning stack, along with a DeepLens camera:

AWS DeepLens

We could not have achieved this without a complimentary AWS DeepLens camera (thanks Amazon!). This wireless video camera contains a dedicated machine learning chip, along with preloaded algorithms. Furthermore, you can add your own algorithms. The whole solution is tightly integrated with the rest of the AWS machine learning stack. Click on the image below to go to the DeepLens page. (Disclosure: I am an affiliate marketer for Amazon).

References

  1. I apologize that I do not know the source of this video.

on adoptee violence

The following is a letter to a friend, who asked me about using DNA sequencing to find an explanation for her adopted, adolescent son’s violent behavior:

K——-,

I’ve thought much about violence from adoptees, as a woman I deeply love experiences the same behavior from her daughter(s). Interestingly, she adopted her daughters from a Russian orphanage—I know you also adopted from Russia. This similarity might matter as I’ll describe later.

Moreover, I’ve given much thought to household violence in general, having lived with an extremely abusive spouse for over a decade. I therefore have much to say on matters such as codependence, forgiveness, and unconditional love.

Finally, I carry a long and well-documented history of mental illness (bipolar disorder). For the most part I manage it well with medication and psychotherapy, but occasionally I require psychiatric hospitalization. Many of the articles on this blog document my experience with the disease—a narrative I’m constructing for researchers. My point is, I know quite a bit about different psychological treatment modalities and am going to recommend one in particular for your son, and another for you (below).

Your interest in your son’s genome as explanation is reasonable, and I’ve scoped out some options below that you can choose among (and get back to me for further guidance). However, I think the etiology of the violence is likely psychological or psychiatric. I’ll justify this statement shortly.

So I want to give you my complete thoughts on the matter, not just on mere genomics. Here is what I plan to discuss:

  • Psychology and psychiatry
    • Russia
    • PTSD and child abuse/neglect
    • Codependence
    • 911
    • Treatment options
  • Neuropsychology
  • Brain anatomy (briefly)
  • Genomic possibilities
    • Identifying genes associated with violence
      • I’ll provide you with a list to have checked
    • Identifying nucleotide variants associated with violence
    • Looking at epigenetics and violence
    • Sequencing:
      • What type?
      • How to legally analyze the data?
  • Radical love
    • Radical forgiveness
    • Compassion
    • Self-care
    • Expectations
  • Accountability

Alright, straight into it:

Psychology and Psychiatry

I hypothesize that violent adoptees underwent significant trauma and neglect in early childhood. I base the idea that such trauma may prompt violent behavior later on attachment theory (especially the learning—or lack of learning—of emotion regulation skills from a primary caregiver) [1]; and from witnessing my ex-wife’s violence, which emitted from untreated post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) caused by childhood abuse.

This I believe is the most likely explanation for your son’s behavior.

I also suspect that Russian orphanages aren’t usually healthy environments to start life in, to put it mildly.

If my theory is correct, your son needs to learn emotion regulation. Unfortunately, most therapy modalities I’ve seen only “process” feelings, but don’t treat management of intense feelings as a “skill” that can be learned and mastered. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) [2], by contrast, does exactly that (and more)! Initial research suggests DBT may prove appropriate to reducing PTSD symptoms [2]. You can search for a local DBT therapist or group at [3]. Groups exist for teenagers, and I’m sure for younger children as well.

I personally attended a DBT group for adults twice in my life. Found it extremely beneficial for attenuating suicidal ideation. Therefore I highly recommend this treatment method for anything regarding emotion dysregulation.

Medication will only take you so far. But medication is a vital component.

Remember its okay to call 911 if you need to, both for violence and potential self-harm.

The other psychological issue to consider regards yourself: Codependence.

The Wikipedia article on codependency [3] sums it up well: “Codependency is a type of dysfunctional helping relationship where one person supports or enables another person’s drug addiction, alcoholism, gambling addiction, poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility, or under-achievement.” (emphasis mine). Essentially codependents become “addicted” to the relationship dynamic (whether they like the dynamic or not) and the “helping” role they play. Like all addicts they sacrifice themselves for the addiction. In mental health situations like yours where there is an “identified patient”, the likelihood of you developing clinical codependency traits proves high.

Take care of yourself. See a counselor. Get some rest. Have some fun. Attend a codependency treatment group or a codependency support group. (I’ve attended a codependency treatment group offered by my HMO. It proved extremely helpful).

Neuropsychology

If you haven’t yet, have a neuropsychologist run a battery of test on your son. Typical tests (as in the ones I’ve taken) include:

  • An intelligence scale appropriate for minors
  • Bender Gestalt Test of Visual-Motor Integration
  • Wechsler Memory Scale (WMS-III)
  • Intermediate Visual and Auditory Continuous Performance Test (IVA-CPT)
  • A self-assessment inventory appropriate for minors
  • A self-rating scale appropriate for minors
  • Sentence Completion Test (SCT)
  • Rorschach Inkblot Technique
  • MMPI-2

These tests quantify many mental health conditions, such as ADHD and antisocial behavior. The MMPI-2 is the most important one as it measures traits that may help defend your son if his behavior lands him in legal trouble (e.g., the “Antisocial Behavior” and “Disconstraint” scales of the MMPI-2). Also its finding might give you a “name” or two for your son’s specific conditions.

For an example of how I measured my own level of antisocial behavior and disconstraint, similar to how your son would be measured, see [4].

Brain Anatomy

I don’t know much about this subject, but have a neurologist meet with your son. If they detect an anomaly in an MRI of the brain you will gain a lot of insight, and (again) gain more data to protect your son if his behavior causes legal issues. A great article discussing adolescent violence and neuroimaging can be found at [5], which includes the following graphic:

Notice that emotion dysregulation comes up again in this graphic. If a brain anatomic explanation is found, DBT still may be indicated. Cognitive control and ability to learn will be measured by the neuropsychologist discussed above and may correlate to MRI results.

Genomic Possibilities

To benefit from DNA sequencing, you need to know what to look for. Unfortunately, I expect a gene panel for “psychiatric violence” does not exist. So I designed a gene list for such a panel to provide a basis for further work. The method and resulting gene list are discussed in a separate article on this blog:

toward a gene panel for psychiatric violence

So one way of looking at the challenge is to sequence these genes and see what aberrations appear. However, most aberrations will prove benign or related to some completely unrelated issue. So I scoped out the following strategy for identifying the aberrations to look for using ClinVar [8], a database which we can search by disease. Unlike the gene list analysis, I have not automated the procedure yet (we’ll cross that line together if you decide to proceed with sequencing analysis). However here is a manual outcome, to demonstrate that we can pull the required information together.

We first search for the term “personality disorder”, and retrieve a list of known perturbations correlated with this cluster of diseases:

Clicking on the first variation in the list, we see that it involves an aberration in gene NRXN1. As a verification, we find NRXN1 in the gene list I produced above:

And if you’re curious, here is the aberration shown in context on its chromosome:

Again, if you decide to move forward with sequencing, I’ll automate this data extraction procedure.

So now we face a major decision:  Whether to sequence your son’s entire genome or just his genes (a minor subset of the genome). What matters is the proportion of aberrations we find related to diseases involving violence that lay outside genes compared to those that lay within genes. The more of the former, the greater the need to sequence your son’s whole genome to stand a chance of finding anything.

The other thing we need to consider while identifying aberrations to search for is the strength of their known correlation to disease. We might need a cutoff threshold to remove low quality information, assume this measure is even available (I haven’t checked yet–again, right now I’m simply scoping out a strategy).

What this discussion leaves out is “epigenetics”, the science of how the environment can modify gene expression. Research suggests that PTSD causes epigenetic modification of the genome. There are ways to test for such events, and we can scope them out together if you would like. For now I’m going to skip that subject because I don’t know much about it (but can find out as needed).

Next steps:

Looking in the genome for disease markers is a crapshoot. At my last reckoning of the situation, there simply is not enough data recorded to make highly effective correlations for most diseases. However, this situation improves everyday. And, except for the case of epigenetics, your son’s genome is for all intents and purposes static. Therefore if you sequenced him now, and did not find anything, you might find something in a year or two using the same sequencing data.

So your next decision is whether to proceed with sequencing or focus on other ideas such as those suggested above.

If you do decide to proceed, your next move would be to find a genetic counselor to facilitate things. (That gives me legal protection if you use my gene list or aberration list). I’m simply not sure where the FDA stands on using a punk-ass hacker’s gene list to diagnose genetic disease causality outside a research-only environment. Don’t have a clue!

However being the complete anarchist that I am, if you handed me a whole-genome on a disk with the owner’s name removed, I can and will scan for these variants. If I find something I’ll say variant X suggests a remote possibility of condition Y for the genome on the disk, and that only a qualified medical doctor can confirm! It will be like an online MMPI-2 that tells you what you want to know but refers you to a licensed neuropsychologist for a legally defendable evaluation.

So again, think about this and get back to me if you want to proceed further down this rabbit hole.

Radical Love

The most import thing to do is commit, and constantly recommit, to love. I state the verb form of the word to emphasize that this involves a decision, a crucial choice. And let me repeat, you must continually make this choice again and again to achieve success at it.

One never knows when to turn the other cheek [6] and when to refuse to accept further abuse. This probably is a moving target that varies day by day. What I can say is that even when you accept such abuse in the short run, ALWAYS resist in the long game. This gives you an endgame—a goal of a better world for you and your son. It helps keep your head up. Again, play the long game.

I realized a few months ago that parents who adopt children that behave violently stand among the few who actually understand what love is. They walk among the best of us. What grieves me is how much their best get buried everyday by the stress of violence in the household.

For all the strategies I enumerated above, please hold reasonable expectations. Go for “good” outcomes not “perfect” ones. To demonstrate, I practice this concept with regard to my own mental health: Never managed to “cure” my bipolar disorder, just consider low daily mood-variance success.

Take care of yourself. Please heed my warning about codependency. It will not help your son if you cease to keep yourself together.

Remember that specific mental illnesses might have once held an evolutionary advantage in earlier times, and they therefore are only “illnesses” in the context of post-hunter/gatherer society. Knowing this doesn’t make things better, but it at least provides some comfort to me. For example, a popular idea is that ADHD holds an advantage during the hunt [7].

I also argue that mental illnesses, particularly those that involve occasional psychosis, exist for spiritual reasons as well. (This is not to suggest that spiritual experiences, even those due to psychosis, are not genuine). Take comfort in that possibility.

What I’m saying between the lines in these last two paragraphs is that one can learn to take advantage of their mental illness if they can attenuate its liabilities. Again, to demonstrate, my bipolar disorder offers an endless wellspring of creativity. So I fully tap that creativity at work and everywhere else.

Finally, let me talk about “radical forgiveness”, a concept I’m developing for dealing with abuse, heartbreak, etc. Essentially it’s a doctrine indicating how to practice forgiveness as a “skill” and a “discipline”, rather than treating forgiveness as some ethereal idea. Try it! This idea is best explained in my video on the topic. Please forgive the sound quality (I will re-record it soon):

Accountability

Remember that at the end of the day, your son is responsible for his actions. He can learn non-violence if he works at it (e.g., through a program such as DBT). It may require a parallel spiritual awakening.

Hold him accountable. Teach character. Set an example through your own character and through taking responsibility for your mistakes.

To demonstrate these principles in action: I’ve harmed several people whom I love due to things I’ve said while experiencing bipolar mania. I don’t blame the disease. I blame myself and commit to work on preventing the disease from motivating such action. This seemingly subtle difference drives my character.

So teach him accountability. And remember that in the grand scheme of the universe we are all equal in the eyes of God—and we all need substantial work!

References

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attachment_theory
  2. https://www.verywellmind.com/dbt-for-ptsd-2797652
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Codependency
  4. http://genderpunk360.com/2017/06/11/scoring-my-mmpi-2-assessment-for-both-sexes/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2766784/
  6. Matthew 5:39 NIV (from the Sermon on the Mount)
  7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hunter_vs._farmer_hypothesis
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/clinvar/
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21508512

toward a gene panel for psychiatric violence

I recently developed a method for specifying a comprehensive gene list for investigating genes related to psychiatric violence, which I describe below. First though, here’s a cool picture from the analysis:

Method

I started by extracting a list of diseases involving violence from [1], removing epilepsy, dementia, mental retardation (is there a better word for this?), and Alzheimer’s disease. Also removed sexual sadism from the list as one might debate whether or not this qualifies as “disease”. I then matched those diseases by name–more accurately by components within each name–to diseases contained in DisGeNET [2] to determine genes associated with those diseases. Next, I built a network graph of the genes where an edge between two genes indicates one or more diseases in common. A tractable subset of this graph is pictured above for demonstration. Finally, I computed the size of the ego graph for each gene (node) and ranked them, as listed below. Greater ego network size indicates greater probable biological importance vis-a-vis psychiatric diseases having violence as a symptom.

I posted my code used for this analysis at [3].

References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2686644/
  2. http://www.disgenet.org
  3. https://github.com/whole-systems-enterprises/blog/tree/master/adoption_study/genetics

Results

Here is a portion of the gene list I put together:

Ego Network Size NCBI Gene Symbol NCBI Gene ID
1729008 NR3C1 2908
1723895 GRN 2896
1723751 PBRM1 55193
1721624 DAOA-AS1 282706
1721482 OPRM1 4988
1721103 LINC00273 649159
1720930 TDO2 6999
1720404 MTHFR 4524
. . . . . . . . .

why we still need cyberpunk

William Gibson penned Neuromancer over thirty years ago, and the 1990’s ended viciously on 9/11. With the exception of cyberfeminism, I wrote off “cyberpunk” as an ethic once we as a society stopped saying “cyber” and replaced the word with “online”.

Yesterday I traced partial assets of an individual I distrusted—and needed the straight dope from—from my laptop. Dating while transgender proves dangerous and a girl must protect herself!

In between I persistently beleaguered Microsoft as a career-long Linux hacker.

Once declared squatter’s rights on a piece of land I identified though data mining.

I walk with the Big Data devils to broadcast my signal, a means to an end. Twitter, Google, Amazon, and Facebook receive my data, and in exchange they amplify my cultural imperative.

And they know where the real value in data lies: Not in the records themselves but in the interconnections between them.

Emergent properties steered by unholy gods.

“Cyber”: Greek for “to steer”.

Steering a boat requires connecting the data: Position, velocity, acceleration, time. State variables alone won’t suffice.

When we get burned by Cambridge Analytica or the Russian Federation, we realize our individual technological vulnerability.

Propaganda is hacking: Implant bias, implant ideas, grow emergent outcomes. Seduction is a system intrusion.

Technological warfare and psychological warfare forever link.

Class war must proceed asymmetrically.

I only trust the Prophets, not the Church, not the State, not the Oligarchs.

And we can be prophets in cyberspace. We can create technology that liberates the world.

We can steer toward our own emergent outcomes.

We can end material scarcity.

Love forward. Program. Network. Build enterprise. Produce art. Write. Love forward.

Jam the system, and prepare to be jammed by the punks that follow you.

The 1990’s are dust, but the “system” still remains cybernetic control. Therefore resistance remains cyberpunk.

encoding fashion rules into mathematical data structures (part one)

As we build our fashion recommendation engine, we seek rules to populate it with. With few exceptions (e.g. [1]), we find these rules encoded in prose or infographic form, rather than a semantic web form suitable for computation. For example, [2] provides written advice on dressing fabulously for a “rectangular” women’s body type. The writers meant this document for a human reader, not a computer program.

However, we can’t scale a process consisting of manual extraction of rules to the level we would like to achieve in this project, so we turn to natural language processing to extract rules from texts in an automated fashion. We begin by identifying parts of speech and the syntax relationships between words in sentences. For example, consider the following two fashion rules from [2]:

  • If you are a heavy or tall rectangle, choose a big bag.
  • If you are a petite rectangle, choose a petite bag.

We then create a directed graph with words as nodes, each with an attribute indicating its part of speech, and edges indicating the syntactic relationships between the nodes (e.g., “heavy” is a modifier of “rectangle”). We also add edges to specify the direction of sentence flow. Visualizing the above two sentences in this form using Neo4j [3] yields:

Next Steps

In the next phase, we plan to automatically derive computationally useful IFTHENELSE rules from such mappings. For example, the above two sentences express in IFTHENELSE form as:

  • IF rectangle AND (heavy OR tall) THEN choose a big bag
  • IF rectangle AND petite THEN choose a petite bag

Once we form a comprehensive set of such rules, we will load them into an expert system or related system to enable fuzzy reasoning on the rules, enabling custom fashion recommendations!

After this, we will come up with a way to reconcile similar recommendations. For example, suppose we find the following two IFTHENELSE rules from two different sources:

  • IF rectangle AND (heavy OR tall) THEN choose a big bag
  • IF rectangle AND (heavy set OR tall) THEN select a big bag

These say the same thing. We will devise a way to combine them into one recommendation such that the weight (value) of the recommendation doubles due to its backing by two distinct sources.



References

  1. Vogiatzis, D. Pierrakos, G. Paliouras, S. Jenkyn-Jones, B.J.H.H.A. Possen, Expert and community based style advice, Expert Systems with Applications, Volume 39, Issue 12, 2012, Pages 10647-10655, ISSN 0957-4174, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.eswa.2012.02.178. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0957417412004411) Keywords: Style advice; Recommender system; Fashion ontology; User modeling
  2. http://www.styled247.com/rectangle-body-shape
  3. https://neo4j.com