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Hi. My name is Karen. I'm here today to speak about mutants, and mutation. See, I'm a mutant. I'm a minor mutant. I don't have any of the big flashy abilities, like Magneto does. I don't have blue fur like The Beast. I can't read minds, or shoot laser beams out of my eyes, or anything like that. But I'm a mutant all the same. My blood is twice as salty as yours is.

Forgive me if I keep taking sips of water all through this talk. I have to. You see, one of the not-so-nice side-effects of my particular mutation is that if I don't have lots and lots of water all day, I wind up very very ill. I dehydrate particularly quickly, and that means that I have to keep a lot of liquid in my system. I've been told by my doctor that I'm likely to die a lot younger than I ordinarily would - I'll probably be dead by age 40 if I don't get a kidney transplant, and if it hadn't been for a very observant nurse in the hospital when I was born, I'd be dead now.

My particular mutation isn't much fun to have. I have to drink a lot of water. I can't have tea, or coffee, or even soft drinks. If I have even a little bit less water than my body can handle, I wind up with headaches and muscle cramps. If I let this go for too long, the salt starts crystallising out of my blood, and it then starts ripping up every single capillary. This [holds up her right hand - the little finger has been amputated] was the result of one episode like that. I'm told I was lucky, since it was only one finger that went gangrenous. It happened when I was five, and I stayed over at a friend's house. I had a glass of squash. Luckily my friend's mother called an ambulance when I started getting cramps, and she couldn't get me to drink anything.

I've learned to live with my mutation. It's something that's a part of me, and it's not something I can change. It means I have to be very careful about my surroundings, and it makes it very hard for me to find a job, since I can't work somewhere with air-conditioning. I'm trained in biological science, but I can't work in a large corporate environment, so I do domestic cleaning instead. I've also worked in telephone sales. I'm not a genius by any means - I'm just an ordinary person aside from this one little quirk, and that means that employers aren't going to move mountains to employ me and create special conditions for me. I get by. I have a lot of friends through the internet, and a number of friends right here in town.

The mutant registration laws, however, could change this. I've been told by a lawyer that I would have to register if the current bill went through. I'm a known mutant - my doctor knows, and so does the Department of Social Security. I come from a family of known mutants - my brother has haemophillia, the first person on either side of my family to do so. I had two sisters who've had breast cancer, with no family history on either side until now. My father used to work in a paint factory, and we think that has something to do with our various problems. We'd all have to register as mutants, and declare ourselves at the police station every time we moved house. We'd have to let the government know where we lived, and where we worked. We'd have to tell our employers, and the minister at the local church. We would, in effect, have to live like criminals, for the crime of being born different.

Look at me. I'm just like you are. I've got one small change in my body chemistry which makes me different. I'm never going to be super-powered. I'm never going to be able to cause damage to people just by being who I am. A lot of people are scared of the powerful mutants, the ones who can cause damage to other people by being who they are, so to try and reign in the powerful ones, they're going to try and create laws that control people like me, and take away our rights. Is that just? Is that fair?

So this is another part of what I do. I go around to schools, like this one, and I talk to kids like you about mutants and mutation. I try to show people that there's another face to mutation, a face which isn't scary, or dangerous. That most mutants are people like me - people who aren't 100% the same as others. Most mutations cause more problems to the people that have them than they do to other people around them. Most mutations are minor - aside from my one little problem, I'm a perfectly normal person. Most mutations don't need big laws to control them, and most mutants will go their entire lives without knowing that they're different. Usually mutations are fatal, not to people around them, but to the people who have them. I'm one of the lucky ones - I'm living at the right time. If I'd been born 100 years ago, I'd be dead by now. I would have died in agony, as a baby. 400 years ago, they would have burned someone as a witch for my death. Now, it seems I get to be burned myself.

I hope that you'll go away from this talk understanding what I've been trying to say. Mutation isn't something to be feared, or confined, or pushed away. It's just something which happens. Humans have been mutating slowly over hundreds of millions of years. It's not going to stop because we try to make laws to change it, just the same as the tide didn't stop when King Canute told it to over a thousand years ago.

Are there any questions?