Beatriz Preciado’s Testo Junkie is half theoretical treatise on gender, half performative autobiography.
Preciado self-administered doses of black market testosterone for a year, chronicling its effects on her body and psyche. Preciado did this without the intention to use the hormones as an aid for transitioning from female to male, meaning her actions were technically illegal.
It’s clear from the start that Preciado is well-versed in feminist theory. Those without a strong understanding of the works of Donna Haraway, Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, and the like would have a difficult time navigating her theoretical waters. Even having a solid background in gender studies myself, I think I would need to read the book again to capture the nuances of Preciado’s argument to their fullest extent.
Preciado asserts that multiple sexopolitical regimes for the production of subjectivity coexist in our current culture. The first is the sovereign regime, in which masculinity and femininity are cultural fictions based on the assumption that female sexual anatomy is degenerate, an inversion of the one true male sex. Then, the disciplinary regime outlined by Foucault in Discipline and Punish sets up the male/female dichotomy as well as the patriarchal hierarchy, making the female body (and its reproductive capacity) the property of men, the state, and God.
Preciado argues that the end of WWII brought about yet another regime, which she labels the pharmacopornographic era. Rather than the external control of the body common in the era of discipline, the pharmacopornographic era allows technology to become a part of the body itself – like testogel. Instead of merely using prosthesis, we are becoming cyborgs.
Preciado chronicles more, however, than the development of synthetic hormones like estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. She ties in the creation of drugs like heroin and cocaine, which were originally created and used for medicinal purposes. Preciado also describes the development of the original oral contraceptives, which were tested on poor Puerto Rican women as a potential means for temporary sterilization, making room for more rich, white babies. Preciado also touches on drugs like Viagra, cannabis, and Prozac, arguing that the pharmaceutical industry and its attempts to control our bodies and desires are the touchstone of the pharmacopornographic era.
Preciado argues that there is no such thing as a bio-female or a bio-male any longer. How different, after all, is a bio-female taking the Pill from a trans woman taking estrogen? How different is Preciado’s application of testosterone from that of an older man who takes Viagra?
I’m not sure if I fully agree with Preciado’s endgame, which seems to be in part a call for all women to take testosterone as a way to co-opt the power of the patriarchy. After six months of testosterone dosing, a female body will retain the secondary sex characteristics of a man’s but will still be able to complete the process of childbirth if the dosing stops.
If we’re all men, Preciado seems to argue, then we will all be equal. As a femme, however, I balk at the idea that gender equality means growing a mustache and losing some of my breast mass, whether it gives me a higher libido or not.
I do enjoy, however, the other half of Preciado’s over-arching argument: a call for disidentification and the ability of all people to control our own bodies on a molecular level. Why should the power to decide which substances are legal or illegal be in the hands of the pharmaceutical industry? As it is now, certain drugs are only legal with a specific diagnosis. But there are also certain medical conditions which we created names for after the development of the drugs which now treat them.
Preciado sees her experiment with testosterone as part of a larger history of scientists and researchers conducting human trials of drugs on themselves first. The connections she draws between the pharmaceutical industry, the porn industry, and the patriarchy are certainly thought-provoking.
Preciado sees her self-administration of testosterone as one means of taking power and bodily autonomy back into her own hands. I’m all for that. Testosterone might not be the right path for everyone, but the way Preciado tied the War on Drugs and the pharmaceutical industry into the larger narrative of how power operates in our society was certainly enlightening. It was also interesting to watch Preciado’s own journey unfold, seeing the influence testosterone had on her self-image, sex life, and identity politics.
Testo Junkie is anything but an easy read. Make sure you can devote your full attention to the book when you pick it up, but it’s well-worth reading if you can.
This review was originally published by The Horn on 09/07/2014.