In 2008, Beatriz Preciado published Testo Junkie, an unclassifiable essay that turned the academic world upside down and placed her as an international reference on what happens when you take testosterone outside a medical protocol or even outside a gender re-assignment protocol. She tests this thesis by using self-managed testosterone intake as a tool of "gender-hacking"—breaking into the gender codes that prescribe our social identities.
Testo Junkie was recently published in the US, which presented me with the perfect excuse to get in touch. Although Beatriz agreed to talk to me about her thesis, she’s not very fond of the press. As we head to a café she tell me that "VICE is the best of the worst." I call her Beatriz and she corrects me: I should call her Beto. She smells like man and flowers—a gardenia in a suit.
VICE: Hi, Beto, thank you for agreeing to this interview. It’s an honour. Can you talk to me about your idea of using the body as an archive in Testo Junkie?
Beatriz Preciado: Thinking that the body ends where the skin does is ridiculous, and yet that's how we think. Instead of talking about the "body," I use the term “body archive.” I see the body as a cultural and political archive, with images, narratives and practices stored in it. Our body is small but the wider somatic apparatus is gigantic.
What happens when testosterone comes into play?
It is about your willingness to make your body a place of commitment. How you are perceived collectively, how you are built collectively—because, even if you independently decide to take testosterone, it’s never a completely individual act. There is a network involved; someone is going to smuggle it and you have to do it knowing that there will be side effects—that is, you will be viewed differently by society.
Obviously, when you take testosterone there are molecular changes taking place in your body, but above all there is a shift in your social position. So testosterone is to do with the management of your own body, but it goes way beyond that.
Photo via Wikicommons.
In what sense?
We have been inventing new organs since the 15th century. The fallopian tubes, for example, didn’t exist in 1614, neither did the ovaries or the uterus. Before that, the whole thing was thought of as a flowerpot from where babies came out. We have gradually invented, and I say "invented"; we have created a set of images and narratives that have allowed us to assess the body in a different way and to produce another body. In these times of epistemic crisis, the most important thing is that all of a sudden some improper uses of body production techniques appear and allegedly disempowered groups begin to appropriate a set of body techniques to produce something else.
Just like the girls on our Beautiful Liverpool documentary—who injected melanin to get tanned, despite admitting it makes them feel ill when they take it, and even knowing that they might get a skin cancer.
You see? Melanin. It’s absolutely fascinating. When I began taking testosterone, there were some precedents like Michael Jackson who show that the management of our own bodies is so encoded that, for example, a person having a darker pigmentation is immediately racialised. They are subjected to social, cultural and political pressures. You can never have the body you want because this is not all that the body is about.
There are a lot of stories going around about the re-appropriation of Testogel; people taking it for sex parties, for instance.
No! This has alcohol! One of the interesting things about Testogel or testosterone, and one of the reasons why it does not work as a recreational drug is that you can’t use it without previous planning. You must be disciplined and have some knowledge of these practices.
I kept a diary of my practices with testosterone: I know which day I used it, which day I didn’t, how much I used and why. If anyone wants to party in let's say a month, they should start taking testosterone now—250mg a week, every two weeks for about four weeks—in order to be high on the day of the party. If you take it today only, all you’ll have is a tachycardia and you won’t even be able to move. And if you drink a beer, you will be climbing the walls and when you get home you’ll be knackered. It’s pointless.
I think we’re going through an experimental period. There is a wild use of testosterone, but I suppose in 20 years there will be a whole new management field which will probably be under the control of the pharmaceutical companies.
In the book you speak about "being with testosterone."
One of the keys of gender, sexuality and race is that they are not linked to "being," but with "doing." It is a practice. Sex is a practice, gender is a practice. Taking testosterone is a body practice, just the same as doing bodybuilding. When I talk about "being with testosterone" I mean building your body through the specific practice of taking testosterone. You could say the same for "being with prozac" or "being with a cigarette."
Gender production practices are hugely standardised, codified and have always been under the control of a group of powers. My trans friends know a lot more than my doctor. So, how am I supposed to ask my doctor? Last time I spoke to my gynaecologist and told her I was going to take testosterone off the protocol, she asked: “As a birth-control method?” It’s as if I had told her that I was going to have sex with a lamp.
I think these kind of thoughts about hormones and the body are not exclusive to transsexuals. Birth control pills might reduce your sexual drive. It’s something I’ve talked about with women who take it for their transition and with women who use it as a contraceptive and it happens in both groups. That should be stated clearly, with gigantic letter in the prospectus. Less libido and more vulnerability.
It’s essential to know the drug’s side effects, including body refeminisation, and how that corresponds to the aesthetics of femininity within heterosexuality. There are also other side effects which have to do with the management and restriction of feminine desire and feminine libido – of feminine sexuality. That’s what we’re not paying attention to: the massive use of the pill since the 1960s, when it was invented and produced and it became the most used drug in the history of medicine. The use of testosterone, however, is scarce and anecdotal.
Why is there so much fuss about testosterone and not estrogens or with other types of hormone treatments, when they seem equally fucked up to me, or even worse? Can we say there’s "a testosterone black market?"
I’m glad you present the question. If there is a testosterone black market it’s because testosterone is socially and politically confiscated and because the hormone management is completely asymmetrical. It’s as if testosterone were a political drug and because masculinity and heterosexual virility are socially an up-and-coming value. Imagine the social and political consequences if we think that any girl from the suburbs could say, “Your monopoly is over.”
What's interesting is that I published my book Testo Junkie a few months ago in the US, and it seems there is a huge controversy now among feminists every time I go there. The transsexual community there has received my book quite positively and intensely. However, there are some feminists who think my view is misogynist with respect to femininity or estrogens.
But you first published Testo Junkie in 2008, in Spain. What’s the situation right now? Do you think some people have a better understanding of what you do now?
I’m in quite a difficult situation because there are people from regulatory transsexual groups who take a very critical eye to my use of testosterone, and that shocks me. It’s like testosterone could only be used within a gender reassignment protocol. I consider that a counterdiscipline. There are political disciplines that are totally accepted, like the fact that you must take the pill if you have been assigned the female sex, even if you’re a lesbian. That’s the way it is. The medical institution doesn’t want to admit that you might want to use hormones strategically.
The idea of sexual reassignment is ridiculous, first off because sex doesn’t exist. It’s as if I told someone that races don’t exist. Probably most of the people would say, “Obviously. It is a cultural invention with a set of somatic descriptions which makes us think that racial differences exist.” Racism exists, and sexism exists. Sex doesn’t exist, it is a historical fiction.