In discussing a theme for this issue of …ment, we quickly determined between us that the call for contributions should include an invitation for responses to Paul1 B. Preciado’s Testo Junkie, upon the event of its English translation, which we were both reading at the time. Testo Junkie is a personal account of Preciado’s three-month experience of taking testosterone during which s/he mapped out the features of what s/he calls the “pharmacopornographic”, a mediated regime of governmentality established by the pharmaceutical, porn and entertainment industries, “of which the pill and Playboy are two paradigmatic offsprings”. The book does not stop at analysis; it is at once a call to re-appropriate the technologies that control our bodies and our sex, and a gonzo diary of illicit drug use, heir to Burroughs, Benjamin, and De Quincey. The book, thus full of provocations, raises crucial questions about identity and post-identity politics, current (and future) trajectories in ‘feminist political theorising’2, and the production of masculinities. As such, we were interested in using Testo Junkie as “discursive laboratory”: a tool kit, or set of filters through which to engage the contemporary production of gendered subjectivities.
One such tool is the term ‘transfeminism’. Transfeminism, as Preciado writes, ‘marks the displacement of the site of enunciation from a universal “female” subject to a multiplicity of situated subjects. It involves a conceptual overturning of the debates concerning equality/difference, justice/recognition, and essentialism/constructivism in favour of debates concerning the transversal production of differences”. Transfeminism is thus concerned with developing a postbinary feminist-political thinking that goes in the direction of undoing the categories of sex and affirming the multiplicity of the subject. Difference here is not only a difference between, but among and within the subject itself. Thinking each individual as a multiplicity, we may conceive of the emergent possibilities for each subject to shift identities, to inhabit multiple and often contradictory universes at the same time, and, with this, the concomittant wish to evade capture, that is, the enforced commitment to static, formal identities, gendered and otherwise, which “must” be visually or otherwise informatically available on demand. This fragmentation, multiplicity, plasticity and at times self-sought opacity of the self at once implies both a reconfiguration of the systems of oppression, and the possibilities of developing new individual and collective forms of resistance. We are interested in understanding what kind of figurations and imaginaries are being produced in response to the present shifting conditions.
Meanwhile, as we were putting the issue together, it became patently and ambivalently clear that transness, as “a thing” – a set of media tropes, that is – was trending to saturation. In the same period, a remarkable number of male celebrities were being publicly disgraced, and in many cases prosecuted, for their sexually abusive behaviours, both present and historical.
Another major media event of influence was that of the Santa Barbara massacre, perpetrated by self-described “perfect gentleman” Elliot Rodger, which together with Gamergate, combined to expose the thriving online misogyny – the MRA (Men’s Rights Activist), PUA (pick up artist) and red-pill cultures that Rodger’s autobiography, My Twisted World, and video manifesto, Retribution, lifted the lid on. The life and death of Elliot Rodger stood as an urgent and lucid example of how men, too, suffer under the impossible torque that this particular phase of patriarchy lays upon them, and of its potentially violent outcomes, for selves and others. Compare Preciado’s own embodied, performative explorations and self-articulations of masculinities in Testo Junkie, with Rodger’s – each fed by, and expressing streams of discourse so contrary in origin, yet convergent at points, each variously troubled, and troubling – yet whereas Rodger became sick-unto-death, Paul B. Preciado is, apparently, thriving.
Some of the best discussions we witnessed in initial response to Elliot Rodger also took place on social media: in particular, one open Facebook group, comprised mainly of artists and writers, in which popular forms and tropes of masculinity – “the bro”, for example, and the “art bro3”– were already being discussed and critiqued with playful acuity. In a spirit of guest-editorial experimentation, it was thus agreed that, in addition to the customary, invited contributions, we would publish an open call for this issue, in response to, and in hope of crystallising some of what was out there.
Rebecca Bligh and Federica Bueti