Meet the ‘Testo Junkie’ Who Hacks Her Gender with Testosterone
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.
In Jamaica, attacks, murder and rape are common occurrences against LGBTI people, with little to no retribution or justice brought against those responsible. After being forced from shacks, derelict buildings, and their own families, many homeless LGBTI Jamaicans have found refuge in the storm drainage systems of Kingston—known locally as the “gully.”
For trans girls and gay men unable or unwilling to hide their sexuality, the sense of community and relative safety the gully provides acts as a welcome sanctuary, and for many, a hope of change to come. VICE News traveled to the New Kingston area to see what LGBTI life is like in Jamaica—where just being who you are can mean living a life underground.
You are not a man. You are not a woman. You are not a neuter. You are a construct. Maintaining your gender is a constant performance. These ideas don’t seem that radical now, but before Judith Butler adapted them from Foucault and laid them out in her 1990 book Gender Trouble, they seemed alien. “What do you mean getting hammered with your pals is a culturally ingrained performance? Are you saying I’m gay? Are you saying I don’t like pounding beers at the bar and then going to the club to throw up on my best friend, Steve, whom I fucking love?” A bro might have said those very words to Judith Butler in 1990. Now, he’s read Gender Trouble, and is content as can be sitting around watching Sex and the City with his girlfriend.
It’s 2014. Russia and America are engaged in some furious military posturing and we are still being told that gendered eating is a thing. Nothing changes. If you are a man, advertisers believe that you like meat cooked on fire, or food that’s simple to eat. Or you like yogurt, crumbly chocolate that can only be enjoyed as a ‘guilty pleasure,’ and anything without calories if you’re a woman. We often like to imagine human beings skipping into a golden, gender-neutral future. However, I’d say there’s a strong argument that, along with death and taxes, patronizing ads that lump men and women into two distinct camps are a near-certainty in this life.
There’s a rich history of reinforcing the gender binary in advertising, from Mars to Hungry Man to, well, just look at this sexist smorgasbord. It’s enough to send Gloria Steinem running to the nearest liquor cabinet (probably to get a Cosmo like a typical woman!). But this kind of work is still very much alive and kicking. In some cases, it’s gotten worse. This Yorkie ad, made in the 70s, is actually far more enlightened than the series of “not for girls” slurs Yorkie has been fond of recently, the logic of which is, “Yorkie is chunky. Men like stuff that’s chunky.”