[Science] The chromosomal end is (de)nigh(ed)

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Image by Kosmic Stardust from Deviantart

Our biologic splines reticulate to bare stubs.

No matter how vigilant the telomeres which govern cell reproduction are, flawless duplication is an impossibility and mistakes pile up. Have you ever seen a perfect transliteration? With no amino architect to curate, our genetic code degrades until fold flap A under B; tear C down dotted line is the order reverberating through our multifarious systems. It’s like cell assembly with all the precision of cheerfully misconstrued IKEA manuals. Such vague and muddled instructions do not a long-lived human being make.

Amid all this genetic chaos, the Y chromosome stands aloof. For humans, it’s the loneliest gene-carrier of all. If you peek into the reptile kingdom, you’ll find the warmest li’l croc egg is the one that births a female; male snakes and lizards blossom when the mercury dips in chilly weather. This temperature determinant means that sex specificity is not required, and the Y chromosome can freely swap genes with its X counterpart to keep things fresh. After all, it’s why we mate instead of cloning ourselves like plants – to spice up that genetic mojo (and avoid thorny philosophical quandaries wherein we murder our own doppelgangers, of course).

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[Humor] Queer Boy’s Guide to: social power systems

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For the previous issue of Queer Boy’s Guide to: common street wildlife, click here.

Society is a complex beast, and like anything else produced by humans it’s impossible to understand and entirely inconsistent. I know what you’re thinking. Queer Boy, how can you possibly hope to write a simple guide to something so monstrously chaotic? Don’t worry – it can be done!

Fortunately, despite the untold millions of societies that rose and fell throughout history, human cohabitation and power structures tend to adopt broadly similar trends. This means we can break down social organization into just a few forms of power distribution, which I’ve summarized in the following list along with tips on how to best navigate whatever system you find yourself in.

Patriarchy

“Those with balls make the calls.”

Summary: One of the most prevalent power structures, the patriarchy is characterized by a dick-heavy distribution where men are in charge of everything whether they’re qualified or not. Generally, if you’re not a dude, you’re in the wrong unless you agree to make up for your shortcomings with apologetic sexual coupling.

How to recognize: Observe a woman. Does she get catcalled and harassed by gross dudes while minding her own business? If so, you’re probably in a patriarchy.

Advice: If you find yourself mired in patriarchy, this author’s advice is to remove yourself to your nearest neighboring matriarchy or lead a swift gender revolution, executing the men in charge. If neither of these are feasible, your best bet is to take advantage of men’s extreme insecurity and fear of ridicule to orchestrate an escape.

Pastriarchy

“Those who rise claim the prize.”

Summary: Common in states with half-baked constitutions, pastriarchies give power to the sweetest and roundest while denying it to the unleavened masses and minorities, such as nuts and loose grains. The upper crust of pastriarchal societies are distinguished by their shiny, flaky skin, gentle sugar dustings, and delicious almond paste center.

How to recognize: Do you feel like it’s unseasonably warm? Is there a crushing, inescapable heat that permeates the air no matter where you go? Do those around you bear vapid, foolish grins? These are sure signs that everyone’s getting baked constantly.

Advice: Honestly, go nuts. So long as you resist the urge to sink your teeth into your fellow citizens, pastriarchies are relatively benign, even to those of a coarser grain. Even if your activities border on the barley legal, authorities are easily buttered up with praise or a judicious bribe of les petits four.

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[Fiction] Leap

Weight of Mountains Sally Ann Colwell

Watercolor “The Weight of Mountains” by Sally Ann Conwell

The final thrust is the one which leaves you reeling.

It’s a long run-up to the line: eyes set, shoulders squared, back straight but not so straight you spoil the spring that coils electrically around your spine. Breathe in and you can feel it suck the tension from your limbs and hoard that fire for itself, ratcheting in not tighter but stronger until its pastel slinky surface hardens into taut sprung steel. Breathe out and you can hear the hammer of your heart squeeze blood along its causeways until it throbs with the anticipation. Your spine is the pillar of courage and movement.

I took ballet when I was younger – maybe four, or five – dressed in the plain black ballet shoes and featureless white top of a young man struggling to follow along in an activity he barely understood. Very little of my time spent then in dance remains to me; but I recall leaning sweatily over a wooden bar beside the wall and kicking my leg enthusiastically back up into the air.

Presumably, this exercise was intended to convert my wimpy little calves into the rippling muscled flesh-mounds shared by dancers, Tour de France cyclists, and Arnold Schwarzenegger in that movie where he plays an obscenely oiled Conan. Perhaps the transformation to smooth-chested barbarian might have even worked if I’d stuck around, but I was out of there long before the kicks and pliés could work their magic, and I wouldn’t touch dance again for decades.

In my time-muddied mind’s eye, those ballet classroom walls were always lined with faceless rows of parents judging silently, arbiters of extra-curricular achievement. This part I know is fiction because my own parents were far too supportive to ever so much as frown at an aborted saute or fumbled step-change to the fifth position. Any parent who could be proud of a thirteenth-place Sunset Lanes bowling trophy wouldn’t scoff at mere balletic missteps.

But there’s another part to that imagined recollection, one I hope desperately is true. In my memory, the young Sam dances like the child in the picture, heedless of the world outside but immersed in its color. I can see him spring and leap around – not graceful by any means, god no, stumbling like an idiot – but starting to come to grips with the joy to be had in running and dancing when everyone and no one is watching. In my more unreasonably optimistic imaginings, he’s already questioning the roles he’s fed and daring to dream of being hoisted aloft in silken slippers before the crowd.

His spine is straight: that crucial spring coiled tightly, arms thrust to the side for balance, dreams and fears and desperate motion stored as elastic potential. He stands tall beneath a rapidly descending future and the crushing weight of mountains.

Over two decades later, I have misplaced his secret of standing tall alone. My shoulders are hunched and rounded; often I am blind to the vivid colors that surround me, distracted by details. When I dance now, the cold and inflexible brass pole running from ceiling to floor becomes my spine. I caress it with my thighs, rub my body along its length and cling to it for the support my own worn-out and rusty bones cannot provide. I twist and gyrate to crude pop rhythms, dragging my limp body across the floor. I scowl at my stiff hips.

Still, there are moments where my spine remembers. The first ragged breath at the end of a routine sends a lick of fire shivering through its disused coils. There are days where I walk alone in public and the burning glares of others sink beneath my skin and feed the furnace smoldering deep within.

It’s been a long and lifeless hibernation, but when I slap my palm onto the pole and lean back, I am sure that I will learn to support myself once more. The effortless courage of my youth left an impression that learning to ride a bike never did, and my spine retains it. Slowly, beneath the weight of mountains, I will stand tall once more.

Queer Boy’s Guide to: common street wildlife

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Chances are if you venture out onto the street in your Gender Non-Normative Clothing, you will discover a world of reactions and expressions you’ve never encountered before. The ordinarily quiescent wildlife of Sydney undergoes a startling transformation in the presence of gender unicorns, developing odd quirks when spotting you in your outrageously cute dress or gender-ambiguous overalls.

While explanations for this phenomenon differ historically, recent scientific evidence suggests that visible deviation from the norm can radically alter neuronal pathways in cisgendered and heterosexual members of the population, thus “breaking their brain”. It’s important not to be alarmed by the bizarre behavior resulting from these mental short-circuits – indeed, the savvy binary-breaker will soon observe patterns emerging.

Here are a few of the common public archetypes you may stumble across while out smashing the patriarchy, and advice for safe observation of these curious beasts.

The Perpetually Confused

These eternally-puzzled creatures are readily identified by their deeply furrowed brows. When glimpsing a queer crusader, misfiring chemical producers in their skin emit large quantities of a hydrophilic substance known as conformisone.

Conformisone absorbs moisture rapidly from the forehead, drawing the skin tight into a distinctive “confused” expression, while simultaneously distending the skin around the eyes into a painful-looking squint. Due to shock, victims of burst conformisone production are often unable to look away from the individual who triggered the reaction, and have been known to walk into parked cars and fall down while their gaze is thus locked.

Remember, if a victim does fall over while staring at you, it’s acceptable to shake your head in disapproval and refuse to offer help, mostly because it’s their own dang fault.

The Repentant Catcaller

Repentant Catcallers tend to travel in groups and strike from the rear. Upon seeing you, a hot boss in sick floral leggings, from behind, these obnoxious males confuse you for someone remotely interested in them and utter the raucous, offensive cry they have mistakenly been taught attracts others of their species.

Despite your deliberate refusal to acknowledge them, these wretched creatures are riddled with entitlement and feelings of inadequacy and will usually only desist upon catching sight of your face. At this stage, they will groan in collective remorse and engage in desperate acts of performative gender in an attempt to absolve themselves of what they consider the gravest of crimes: openly expressing desire for an individual not among their customary prey.

Repentant Catcallers can be effectively dispatched with laughter, but be cautious. Their fragile egos are easily damaged, triggering inexplicably violent reactions.

The Unfazed

Studying this single-minded creature is nearly impossible thanks to its unerring ability to blatantly ignore anything and everything around it. Regardless of the circumstances, the Unfazed will advance with a quick yet measured pace along the sidewalk, skirting obstacles, disaster zones and queer high-heeled leg monsters alike with unfocused eyes and a blank, soulless expression.

Experimental evidence suggests that the Unfazed are always en route to a very important meeting. As such, these implacable creatures are best regarded as a force of nature, like snakes or the market value of smashed avocado: be aware, take care, and leave them to their own devices.

The Darter

Many a down-with-it queer jivemaster has mistaken a Darter for a human suffering a stroke. The physical signs are broadly the same: erratic head motions; small beads of sweat forming upon the brow; a frozen expression of helpless panic. Yet, with practice, Darters may be easily distinguished from those in need of urgent medical help.

When confronted with a potential Darter/stroke victim, conduct a quick checklist. Do their eyes flick restlessly towards you when you stare at them?Does their look of panic intensify if you shoot them a smile? Are they clutching at their left arm and having trouble speaking?

If you answered yes to either of the first two questions, they are probably a Darter, and can be safely ignored. If you answered yes to the last question, the person is experiencing a stroke and you should dial 000 or the local equivalent at once.


The above list of archetypes is representative, but by no means exhaustive. For the full list, look inside the July edition of The Queer Boy’s Guide, available at all good bookstores and also Amazon, which eventually will own everything including you.

[Creative science] Birth by perturbation: strangely stable sand waves

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Science has a problem. As a field, it’s suffering from a critical shortage — not of resources, funding, or direction, but of people who care. On the street, you hear the plaintive cry go up: “I was never very good at maths!” The time has come for change.

If you follow Australian politics at all (and my sympathies if you do) you might have heard our Most Illustrious Grand Nabob Malcolm Turnbull and his science minion — sorry, minister — Christopher Pyne ranting on about innovation in science and how Australia just doesn’t have enough. They’re proposing measures like extra funding for CSIRO (in all seriousness, yes, please fund science, thank you) and investment in quantum computing.

I’m here to tell you these are unnecessary. You want to really get people interested in science? Plonk them down in front of a clear stretch of ocean shore for a few hours and have them watch the sand in shallow water.

This brilliant idea stems from an excursion I took with some friends down to the farflung shores of St. Kilda in Melbourne. Every day around dusk, hordes of fairy penguins come zooming in back home to their nests on a length of the beach. This trip is memorable not only for time spent watching these adorable critters waddle around and the mysterious “penguin flu” our party subsequently contracted, but for the time spent prior to the penguins’ arrival.

For the three hours before our flippered friends’ return, my friend and I crouched by a piece of shore lapped by very gentle waves. While slowly moving water offers myriad fascinations — the shifting, shimmering refraction of dying sunlight off of crests or the motion of random debris caught in the currents — what we were watching was a tiny patch of sand engraved with an ornate pattern. What was enthralling about this pattern was not only the squiggles and whorls that composed it but the fact that it appeared to gradually inch towards us across the seabed intact, its shape undisturbed by the motion of the ten centimeters of water above it.

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[Creative science] In circulation: semi-autonomous functions of the body

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How much of your body can you consciously control?

Wiggle your toes. Breathe in and out. Lift your arm above your head and wave. These are all comfortable motions for us, minute muscular manipulations that we perform, unthinkingly, everyday. Evolution has gifted us with an astonishing degree of control over these fleshy vessels our brains call home. No nerve is just an ending — our skeleto-muscular system is an intricate and intricately-connected network of muscles, tendons and ligaments all interwoven and hooked up to our spinal chord and hypothalamus.

These parts of our nervous system are in charge of coordination, and translate multiple tiny movements into what seems like a relatively simple action, like grabbing a drink or scratching your nose. Next time you whack yourself in the face or trip over your own feet, you know what to blame!

But how much conscious control do we really possess?

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[Nostalgia] A decade of Humongous Entertainment

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A while ago, I wrote a short flashfiction entitled “And they call him Pajama Sam.” As I stated then, this character is not my invention — the blue-skinned hero is the brainchild of Humongous Entertainment and is just one of a series of incredibly engaging point-and-click adventure heroes that shaped my childhood. Humongous Entertainment was formed in 1992, the year after I was born, and I like to think that we grew up together.

The company itself changed hands a few times over its lifetime, being purchased successively by GT Interactive in 1996 and Infogrames Entertainment SA (which later became Atari) in 1999, before falling into decline around 2001 and being revived (albeit in a much-reduced capacity) in 2005 by another incarnation of Infogrames Entertainment. After a few years of relative inactivity, the now-bankrupt HE was bought out by Tommo Inc. in 2013, which released a bunch of the old HE titles into the wider marketplace on Steam in 2015. So here we are!

While all the cool kids were hooked on Phonics, I was hooked on HE games from their first PC release I played at the age of five, Pajama Sam In: No Need to Hide When It’s Dark Outside in 1996, which I played on my (shared) family computer. It’s a testament to the game’s enduring impact on my childhood when you consider it survived competition with fighting endless hordes of Rattata and Zubat in Pokemon Blue, which came out in the same year.

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