viernes, 3 de octubre de 2014

Testosterone as political weapon. Interview with Beto Preciado

This interview was first published in the spanish edition of VICE magazine the 3th of july 2014, kindly edited and later translated by Juanjo Villalba. Many thanks to Juanjo and to the online editor of VICE UK Elektra Kotsoni, and of course many thanks to wuwei's wisdome and time.

Proofreading: Natàlia Climent (wuwei)
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Some of you won't give a shit about that, but last June will go down in history as the first time a transsexual woman graced the cover of TIME magazine. A black transsexual woman who we all OITNB fans love: Laverne Cox. In Europe our latest cover girl is Conchita Wurst, and to be completely honest, Eurovision is not as cool as Orange is the New Black, but we're pretty much rocking it on a legal and juridical level. For example, Germany introduced the third legal gender for newborns (and for some strange reason we aren’t talking about that all the time), and Andalusia, in Southern Spain, submitted a draft of the Comprehensive Transsexuality Law that makes it the most advanced region in Europe in the juridical treatment of transsexual people, including minors. Both the assessment and the diagnostic criteria were dropped from the draft —it is not a psychologist’s or a physician’s duty to decide on whether you feel like a man or a woman anymore; what the heck do they know about it? But what’s most interesting about the draft is the new consideration of transsexuality as self-determination of one’s body, rather than regarding it as an illness.
The current Spanish integrated health care model couldn’t care less about the principle of equal treatment. Comparing it with the situation in the United Statesduring the fifties, where black people used to eat and drink aside, or they used to seat in the backseats of the bus, nowadays in Spain the transsexual community doesn’t enjoy the same benefits for their integral health than the rest of the citizens. And this, my friends, is a political decision with a lot of consequences, one of them the unsupervised hormone use.
There is a priceless document published in Spanish and English where it is explained what happens when you take testosterone outside a medical protocol or even outside a gender re-assignment protocol.
In 2008, Beatriz Preciado (Burgos, Spain, 1970) published Testo Junkie, an unclassifiable essay that turned the academic world upside down and immediately made him an international reference on what happens when you take testosterone outside a medical protocol or even outside a gender re-assignment protocol. Here in Barcelona (where I am based) hardly anyone understood what she was talking about, but actually someone understood enough to light the fuse of the queer community that nowadays flourish in Barcelona, and together with the feminists, the LGBT communities and the trans community created a group of voices that often reaches the general public like it was a My Bloody Valentine’s gig.
Testo Junkie was recently published in the US, which presented me with the perfect excuse to get in touch with the author. Although Beatriz agreed to talk to me about her thesis, she’s not very fond of the press. As we head to a cafe she says that if she has to sit down with someone, she'd rather do it with us than with any of the "serious" newspapers that are still been printed in paper. I call her Beatriz, but I made a mistake, I should call him Beto. Smells like a man and a flower, like a gardenia in a business suit.

VICE: Hi, Beto, thank you for agreeing to talk with us. It’s an honour. I think your idea of using the body as an archive in Testo Junkie is utterly beautiful.
Beto: We think in a completely absurd way, that the body ends where the skin ends, and this always happens to us. And then, instead of talking about the body, I use the term “body archive”. To me the body is a cultural and a political archive. It is an archive that contains images, narratives and practices in it. It contains a lot of things. At the end of the 19th century, ¿what did Freud do? He said: the consciousness and the psychic apparatus do not match. The psychic apparatus is bigger than the consciousness. There is something called unconscious that still I do not know very well what it is, but it does not coincide. (Laughs) Then, what I call somatic apparatus does not coincide with the body. The body is small but the somatic apparatus is gigantic. The somatic apparatus is, for example, the cybernetics, one of the technologies that is transforming the somatic apparatus but which is not the body as we imagine it.

And what happens when testosterone comes into play?
What happens is that your willingness to make your body a place for commitments comes into play. How you are perceived collectively, how you are built collectively. Because in somehow, even if you decide to take testosterone, it’s never a completely individual act; you must do it through a network, someone is going to smuggle it for you, or to sell it to you, or whatever and you should also do it knowing that the side effects of the testosterone could exist, being recognized 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 in relation to a set of standards, such as how you are socially perceived, or what you can do or you cannot do in the medical institution. All of that has to do with the body management, but it goes way beyond that.

In what sense?
Almost since the 15th century until now we have not stopped of inventing new organs. The fallopian tubes, for example, didn’t exist in 1614, neither did the ovaries nor the uterus. They thought that the whole thing was a kind of flowerpot from where something was born, or something like that. We have gradually invented, and when I say invented, I say invented; we have built a set of narratives, of images which have allowed us to access the body in a different way, to produce another body. In these times of epistemic crisis, the most interesting thing is that, suddenly, some improper uses of body production techniques appear and allegedly disempowered groups begin to re-appropriate of a set of body techniques to produce something else.

Just like the girls on Vice’s documentary Beautiful Liverpool, who injected themselves melanin to get tanned, and then somebody ask them how it makes them feel and it makes them feel ill. But it makes them feel ill when they take it and when they give up it, and they even know that probably they might get a skin cancer. But they don’t care; they’re in their transition.
But look, melanin. We are talking about something that is absolutely fascinating, because, in fact, when I began taking testosterone, there were evidently some precedents like Michael Jackson and so on, but the management of our own bodies is so encoded that, for example, the fact that a person has a darker pigmentation is immediately radicalized, that is to say, this person is subjected to social, cultural and political oppressions… The immediate question is… ¿if someone could change the color of their skin, would they do it? Historically you know that there has been a debate, since Angela Davis, to Kobena Mercer, that goes from the hair straightening, the frizzy hair… We’re like in the other end. But my ideal big dream, and this is in parenthesis, is not the sex change, it is to have been… so "Malcom X". But well, it is not possible to arrive there. The relationship that one has with the body is always of disagreement, it is always like a mourn, one has never the body that he or she wants to have, because this is not all that the body is about.

I love that you relates the copyleft wth the gender hacking and the self-management of the testosterone practice.
Notice that the readings of the technologies are much masculinized. I come precisely from there, gender technologies. My doctoral thesis is about the history of technology, and I see the body as a cultural and political archive. I am constantly facing completely masculine and heterosexist readings of technology. And I am interested in the reading that has a more dissenting vision of it, the improper uses of the body normalization technologies. So that, with genderhacking and copyleft, what’s interesting to me is realizing that there is a multiplicity of body production and sexuality codes and most of them are enclosed within conventional uses. In the 19th century what characterized these codes was that they were dominated by a scientific-technical discourse and by disciplinary institutions such as the Hospital, the School, the Prison, the Museum... But since mid-late 20th century, these codes have broken through that disciplinary control and they have gone into the hands of the market. That is one of the biggest vanishing points, and that’s where there has been a re-appropriation from the queer or transgender minorities, this vanishing point where there was a re-appropriation by the pharmaceutical companies. Obviously, the first time you have the chance to get a sachet of Testogel... Wait, I might have one with me [she takes out a sachet from her backpack]. I could have brought a newer one. I think I’ve been carrying this one for long time.

One of the myths of the re-appropriation are the testosterone sex parties, and if you don’t stop giving me sachets, I won’t be able to resist the temptation. How does that go? Do you smear it on your cunt?
No! This has alcohol! Let’s see, 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 them and then you think: I use it this morning and I will go out tonight. You must plan it. This is what I call an aesthetic of life. You must be disciplined and have some knowledge about these practices. For example, I keep 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 you want to go to bacchanal on 15th June, so you should start taking testosterone now, because if not… [We made the interview at the beginning of May and th text was published in july]. I think that now we are in a very experimental moment, this is a very savage use of the testosterone, but I imagine that in 20 years there will be a new management field, that probably it will be in the pharmacological multinational’s hands, but there will be also an experimental field driven by the critical forefront. For the time being, if someone wants to party she/they/he has to begin with a portion of 250 mg a week every two weeks for about 4 weeks in order to be high on the day of the party. Because if you shoot up today only, all you’ll have is a tachycardia and you won’t even be able to move. If you also drink a beer you will be climbing the walls and when you get home you’ll be knackered. It’s pointless.

The other day I spoke about it with Zam Cifuentes, the spokesperson of the FET (State Federation for transsexual people in Spain) and he said he was annoyed by the fact that testosterone is so linked to sex he assures that in his case it has nothing to do with sex, it’s more an identity issue and they have fared badly. Their discourse is that gays take their money, and that lesbians/feminists/queers take their prominence giving an image that doesn’t have to do with their struggles.
To me what’s interesting is to understand testosterone as a body technique that is open to multiple uses, to multiple practices. There’re testosterone practices that we’re going to call the ‘normative’ ones, and there are the ‘dissenting’ practices of it. What’s funny is that both the most orthodox doctor and a spokesperson of the transsexual association totally agree, to me, they both have a normative vision about testosterone practices. Another thing is that there might be other applications, not only of testosterone, but of any gender biocultural production codes. I guess Cifuentes wouldn’t agree with people like my friends Dean Spade or LaGrace Volcano, both transsexuals who haven’t had surgery, paint their nails and wear a moustache and lipstick.

I find that Lana Wckowski had kind of defined the aesthetics of our century. Even you can compare it with what had happened with Star Wars at the end of the 70s: aesthetics that were integrated in the mind of a lot of people until they explode and they create some dissent event to the original work. So, the thing that we are the Matrix generation, that Matrix has been created by the mind of a trans woman, and that there’s still this disconnection, makes me think that this may be the last wire that remained loose. 

We are learning something here.
It’s curious to realize, firstly, that there can be a set of extreme practices, sort of speaking, or dissident, if you want, but that they can be re-appropriated into the regulatory paradigm, which in time looks for its own consolidation and validation. There is something obvious in the history of sexuality: until the 18th century there only was one model where there was only one sex, which was the male sex, and the female sex was a variation of the male one. This was explained by saying that a vagina was an inverted penis, that it was essentially the same organ which was affected by inner deformations, and so on. When clitoris was discovered or invented, it is like an epistemic crisis. And suddenly they are like, “¿¡What is a clitoris!? ¿¡How can this be another penis!? ¿¡What is this!?” And this is a good example, because, ¿what happens when there is an epistemic crisis? At this point someone could have said, “Wait, we will change the paradigm. We will open the representation system to embrace an organ like the clitoris”. But that doesn’t happen and it was still considered a systemic anomaly for three more centuries. Exactly the same happens with the issue of transgender and transsexuality. What should we be doing? To me it is utmost urgent for feminism and social movements to eradicate the sex/gender model and the division between male/female as an assignment at the time of birth.

In the book you speak about “being with testosterone”. I know nothing about philosophy, but it made me think of Slotedijk “being in the fire” and with Levinás’ “being” and “otherwise than being”. I haven’t read any of these authors thoroughly, but I thought that, If the gender and the queerness were as the being, and the otherwise than being, how can you “otherwise than be” from the queerness?
To me, one of the keys of gender and sexuality or the race is that they have nothing to do with being, but with doing. It is a practice. Sex is a practice, gender is a practice, and for this reason when you change the practice. That is to say, ¿what is taking testosterone? It is a body practice, just the same as doing bodybuilding. What is lifting weights every morning? This is a body practice.
What would annoy me, for example, about the comparison with Slotedijk or Levinás is that they are relatively metaphysical authors who think there is a “male being” and a “female being”. And when I talk about being-with-testosterone I mean building your body through the specific practice of taking testosterone, and this, obviously, could also be said being-with-prozac or being-with-a-cigarrette.
Gender production practices, to put it in some way, are hugely standardized, very codified and have always been under the control of a group of powers. So what happens from the 80s, when several groups of people acquire some specific knowledge? What happens to me with my trans friends is that suddenly they know a lot more than my doctor. Then, how am I supposed to ask my doctor? Last time I spoke to my gynecologist to tell her “I am going to take testosterone, I am going to do it off the protocol”, she asked: “As a birth-control method?” It’s as if I had told her that I have sex with a lamp.

I think these kind of thoughts about hormones and the body not only concern 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 important to know that this drug has a set of side effects, which are body refeminisation, and that correspond to the aesthetics of femininity within heterosexuality, and other set of 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 the1960s, when it was invented and produced, it became the most used pharmacology drug in the history of medicine. However, we have a minority and quasi anecdotic use of testosterone.
And I’m glad that you say it because, for example, my book Testo Yonki has been published a few months ago in the US and 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 it’s not misogynist at all.

I wanted to take this issue into your sphere because there was a point when I did not understand why there is so much fuss about testosterone and not with 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 it that way because 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 was not a dug, but effectively a political drug, and because masculinity and heterosexual virility are socially an up and coming value. It seems like a place that cannot be technically produced but it has to be naturally valorized. Then, imagine what can be generated, even as a social and a political vision, if we think that any girl from the suburbs could say, “Your monopoly is over”.

You published Testo Junkie in 2008. What’s the situation right now? Do you think people have a better understanding of what you are doing?
Now I’m in quite a complex situation in the sense that there are people from normative transsexual groups (to put it in some way) who take a very critical eye to the use I can do of testosterone, which shocks me, because it’s like suddenly testosterone could only be used within a sex change protocol. To me this is a counterdiscipline. I mean, there are political disciplines that are totally accepted, and if you have been assigned the female sex you should take the pill, even if you are a lesbian, because that’s the way it is. What the medical institution can’t accept is you wanting to do an strategic use of the hormones.
This idea of changing sex is ridiculous, first of all because sex doesn’t exist. It’s as if I told someone that race doesn’t exist. Probably most of the people who are a little bit lucid would say, “Obviously, race doesn’t exist. It is a cultural invention which has had a set of somatic descriptions and which makes us think that racial differences exist.” No, what does exist is racism. In the case of sex it is the same, sex doesn’t exist, it is an historical fiction.