I got ahead on course reading while I was in New York for research last week, specifically This American Life's episode on Testosterone. (Testosterone. (2002, August 30). WBEZ.) This is a podcast, so it's "course listening" for my classmates, but I'm deaf, so it's "course reading" for me. Here are the portions of the transcript that struck me the most, along with my reactions.
(Man who lived for several months without testosterone due to a medical condition) People who are deprived of testosterone don't become Spock-like and incredibly rational. They become nonsensical because they're unable to distinguish between what is and isn't interesting, and what is worth noting and what isn't.
I'm reminded of something Tim Coulter showed me when he taught me how to do QA years ago: how do we recognize a bug? It's the thing that makes our emotions flare when we look at code or its output. In short, emotions. We think of programming, technology, debugging, as this activity we can do independent of emotions or any of that messy stuff. But how do we choose what things are important to do, how is it that certain things grab us more than others? Emotions. Values. That "messy stuff."
Q: (Transgender man describing his experience upon first taking testosterone) And I walked past her. And this voice in my head kept saying, turn around to look at her breasts. Turn around, turn around, turn around. And my feminist, female background kept saying, don't you dare, you pig. Don't turn around. And I fought myself for a whole block, and then I turned around and checked her out... now I'm just a jerk.
How does this intersect with agency? We tell people (especially young ones, especially men) to "control themselves" (especially when it comes to sex), as if their libido were some animal they were responsible for keeping on a leash. Perhaps with great effort, perhaps only with the barest of margins... and perhaps sometimes accidents would happen, that animal would surge beyond their control. Their fault? Depends.
(Same transgender man) Something that happened after I started taking testosterone, I became interested in science. I was never interested in science before. (Interviewer: No way. Come on. Are you serious?) I'm serious. I'm serious. (Interviewer: You're just setting us back a hundred years, sir.) I know I am. I know. Again, and I have to have this caveat in here, I cannot say it was the testosterone. All I can say is that this interest happened after T. There's BT and AT, and this was definitely After T. And I became interested in science. I found myself understanding physics in a way I never had before.
I don't know how to react to this one. I'm tempted to say it's limited evidence, N=1, sweep it under the rug, but that's dismissive in a way I don't want to be. I'll leave my discomfort at that, leave that door open.
(Same transgender man) And now I'm five foot four, and I work out, but I'm not real muscular. And I'm pretty small. I'm pale-skinned, and my hair has started to thin. And I've got glasses. And of course, I'm also, I'm a sensitive guy now. I used to be the butch dyke. And I was seen as very aggressive. And I was more masculine in many ways, outwardly, anyway, before testosterone. And now I don't have to prove anything. So I can lay back and talk with my hands and all that stuff that you're not supposed to do.
Here's another instance of the idea of performativity; before this man "became male," he was a she, and she performed he-ness as a butch dyke -- making sure people treated "her" as belonging to certain categories, perceived "her" in certain ways. Now, as a male, and someone outwardly perceived by default as male, he doesn't need to engage in "butch" behavior to earn "male" treatment... and he doesn't. Someone who was "very masculine" (butch) on the female spectrum -- but still female -- has become "very feminine" on the male spectrum -- but still male.
The mental model here is that of assuming (or being thrust into) a certain category with certain base attributes inherited, and then using performance to add/subtract qualities from that base set until the desired effect is accomplished. It's very much like playing an RPG: you start off as an Elf or a Troll or a Human, and then use your points to build atop that. Most people try to start with the base category closest to their desired end goal so they don't have to spend as many points to get there (and can spend those points on cool armor or something instead). It's one mental model of many, and it's interesting that this particular interviewee seems to exhibit this one.
In writing about these topics, I keep using words like "interesting" that do not quite satisfy me, but I do not yet have a better way to talk about something without immediately jumping into the space of value judgments and action. I need words that let me stay as an observer, taking things in, reacting within myself, trying not to judge for a moment because my judgements may change in that moment (including changing into things that aren't judgments... although I'm not sure what non-judgment things they may change into). But it's in this sort of messy iterating, struggling, trying, reading, listening -- it's these cycles and this spiral learning that get us (somehow, eventually) to a place of being "better" at "doing it." Whatever that means.
And that's... what I've got to say about that.