‘Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era’ by Beatriz Preciado
Beatriz Preciado’s Testo Junkie (The Feminist Press) may very well be the most revolutionary queer text to hit bookstores since Eve Sedgwick’s Epistemology of the Closet. The book was first published in France in 2008 and is only now being translated into English, by writer-journalist-translator Bruce Benderson. Part memoir (what Preciado classifies as “autotheory”), part queer theory, and part socio-political critique of the techo-capitalist system in all its biopolitical glory, Testo Junkie is philosophy with its head cut off; a body-without-organs fueled by (Testo) gel. It is an exceptional treatise on the body in the age of techno-capitalism; a scholarly book that no scholarly book in the United States could ever really be in the Age of the Corporate Humanities.
Testo Junkie is bookended by “autotheory,” the memoir-like, creative narrative of Preciado describing and evaluating a three-month experiment of taking T (T-gel, Testogel, or testosterone in gel form), during which time s/he also drafts the entire analytical text of Testo Junkie. This narrative is interwoven with the other major narrative, the theoretical and political analysis of what Preciado calls the “pharmacopornographic regime” established in the 20th century (and originating primarily in America), which “refers to the processes of a biomolecular (pharmaco) and semiotic-technical (pornographic) government of sexual subjectivity.” This governing, s/he contends, has also expanded outward to include the regulation of gendered and sexed subjectivities and has permanently changed how we understand these modern nodal points (sex, gender, sexuality) of human identity. The threading of these two narratives will undoubtedly inspire future conversations about the correlation of writing and testosterone (separate from, but usually elided with, “masculinity”) in terms of productivity and success—a correlation that Preciado observes and revels in, but leaves the literary unpacking to readers.
If anything, the threading of these two narratives is met in the book’s intellectual vigor and the outright aggressiveness of tone. Preciado is not a reluctant philosopher or scientist. S/he is a willing “auto-guinea pig,” experimenting in the “do-it-yourself bioterrorism of gender”:
My ambition is to convince you that you are like me. Tempted by the same chemical abuse. You have it in you: you think that you’re biofemales, but you take the Pill; or you think you’re biomales, but you take Viagra; you’re normal, and you take Prozac or Paxil in the hope that something will free you from your problems….
While s/he does not quite convince this reader to try of DIY bioterrorism (at least, not again), the genealogical mapping and subsequent critique of the “pharmacopornographic”regime is wonderfully compelling and seductively mind-blowing. In the chapter “The Pharmacopornographic Era,” Preciado documents the pervasive effects of biopower as it has metamorphosed throughout the 20th century, particularly through the evolution of medical and virtual technologies in tandem with aims of capitalism. Our bodies are in control of the state, yet we persist in believing that we control them, as well as control our sexuality, gender, sex, and any other identity we appropriate under the delusion of self-fashioning.
The real stake of capitalism today is the pharmacopornographic control of subjectivity, whose products are serotonin, techno-blood and blood products, testosterone, antacids, cortisone, techno-sperm, antibiotics, estradiol, techno-milk, alcohol and tobacco, morphine, insulin, cocaine, living human eggs, [Viagra], and the entire material and virtual complex participating in the production of mental and psychosomatic states of excitation, relaxation, and discharge, as well as those of omnipotence and total control.
Preciado not only deconstructs testosterone in terms of “pharmacopornographic control of subjectivity,” and especially gendered subjectivity, in “Pharmacopower” s/he focuses on another means of control that illustrates that “gender is a biotech industrial artifact”: the Pill. Tracing the history of this ubiquitous “cure-all” (beyond contraception; from acne to migraines, cramps to cysts), Preciado describes the shocking procedures implemented on women—specifically women of color—to test the Pill’s effectiveness. In the 1960s, the Pill was administered to various communities of women in Puerto Rico through nothing less than the eugenic desires of white American doctors; controlling the reproduction rates of the “racialized other” was the endgame. The trials succeeded; reproduction rates sharply declined in record time. A few years later the Pill was available in the United States and marketed as a way for women to control their own bodies—not vice versa. As Preciado astutely comments, “[t]he biopolitical promise of governing free bodies that Foucault identified is here fully accomplished.”
The genealogy of capitalist control construed as first biopower, then techno-biopower, then pharmacopower is substantive and insightful. Preciado skillfully uses feminist and queer theory—working from Foucault, Butler, Deleuze and Guattari, Haraway, in addition to a bevvy of queer punk performers and artists—to offer us relevant, and revolutionary, ways of thinking about bodies and identities in light of evolving (medical) technologies.
The primary point of contention, especially for feminists influenced by Irigaray (or those of us who believe in the raw materials of the body), is that of Preciado’s argument on the constructiveness of sex—and not just gender. The difference, as s/he even observes in their critique of second wave feminism, is that that sex has been defined as being biological, chemical and chromosomal—it is internal to the body—whereas gender is external to the body, a chain of culturally created signifiers mapped onto the body. S/he claims, however, sex is a “biofiction.” It is in large part a fiction because it cannot be distinguished in any logical or pragmatic way from its relation to gender, specifically because the pharmacopornographic regime, with its economy of chemical and hormonal drugs, has irreversibly altered the relation of one’s gender and sex: “[t]he issue no longer comes down to considering gender as a cultural force that comes to modify a biologically determined foundation (sex). Instead, it is subjectivity as a whole, produced within the techno-organic circuits that are codified in terms of gender, sex, race, and sexuality through which the pharmacopornographic capital circulates.”
In other words, “sex” can never be extracted from the subject; the corollary of which is that it therefore can never be identified and harnessed as a political concept. Preciado, for obvious reasons in terms of the scope of the project, only cursorily touches upon the political implications of this argument. But the discourse about the difference between sex and gender, as well as the concern by many feminists that sex as a political concept has been swept under the rug by proponents of “technologies of gender” and gender fluidity, is one that has fragmented the feminist community—perhaps witnessed to be most furiously debated around MichFest’s trans-exclusion policy.
Testo Junkie is a rigorous examination of the 21st century body measured, dissected, and controlled by and circiulating within pharmacopornographic economies. Its impact will inevitably shift a range of queer epistemes. Preciado’s passion and inquisitiveness, furthermore, raises the bar for what it means to be a philosopher, a queer “lover of wisdom” who dives in, rather than shirks from, the messiness of the body.
By Beatriz Preciado, translated by Bruce Benderson
The Feminist Press
Paperback, 9781558618374, 432 pp.