First published in French and Spanish in 2008, and released in English in 2013, Testo Junkie is an idiosyncratic and hybridized work, in which reflections upon the pharmaceutically-mediated nature of contemporary sexual embodiments are positioned alongside semi-autobiographical accounts of the author’s illicit experimentation with Testogel – a synthetic androgen administered through the skin. The text itself is somewhat hard to place, and Preciado gestures towards its generic instability in the introduction:
This book is not a memoir. This book is a testosterone-based, voluntary intoxication protocol, which concerns the bodies and affects of BP. A body-essay. Fiction, actually. If things must be pushed to the extreme, this is a somato-political fiction, a theory of the self, or self-theory.1
If this is a theory of the self, however, it is not simply a theory of the individual but one which firmly positions the self within the network of wider forces and structures that shape it. Preciado claims for instance that ‘I’m not interested in my emotions in so much as their being mine, belonging only, uniquely, to me. I’m not interested in their individual aspects, only in how they are traversed by what isn’t mine’.2
There is an investment throughout Testo Junkie in exploring the material factors and discursive processes that simultaneously construct and constrain contemporary experiences of sexual subjectivity, including ‘the biochemical transformation of feeling [and] the production and distribution of pornographic images’3 In this essay, I am going to discuss Preciado’s account of some of these mechanisms of subjectivization, and reflect upon the various tensions of scale evident within hir work. What can Testo Junkie offer contemporary gender politics, and to what extent can the techniques of appropriation and repurposing foregrounded by the text be said to exceed the atomised individual or the sphere of the micropolitical? How, in other words, might Preciado’s work connect up with a wider, collective transfeminist project? Such a project would consist not only of facilitating ‘a highly interconnected [trans*] community, no longer atomised and serialised into secret and frightened lives’4, but also of an attempt to re-engineer the supposed inevitabilities of gender and sexuality in order to make space within the present for a more emancipatory feminist future. This project would be appreciative of the transversality of oppression, attentive to the political nature of heterosexuality and the gender system, and invested in ‘feminist coalitional politics’ and the opportunities afforded by remaking the given5
Since the end of the twentieth century, Preciado argues, the postindustrial West has been dominated by ‘the processes of a biomolecular (pharmaco) and semiotic-technical (pornographic) government of sexual subjectivity’6. The drugs and other medical practices which alter our moods, our fertility, the contours of our bodies and what we can do with them, combine (not always harmoniously) with the circulation and capillary diffusion of pornographic images of every species and persuasion to create the contemporary gendered self. In Preciado’s words,
Pharmacopornographic biocapitalism does not produce things. It produces mobile ideas, living organs, symbols, desires, chemical reactions, and conditions of the soul. In biotechnology and in pornocommunication there is no object to be produced. The pharmacopornographic business is the invention of a subject and then its global reproduction7.
Our sense of self must, by this account, be understood as a kind of function produced ‘by a collection of body technologies, pharmacologic and audiovisual techniques that determine and define the scope of our somatic potentialities’8. These performative processes help to ensure the continued (re)production of those forms of gendered and sexual embodiment that best lend themselves to the commodity economy. For Preciado, one of the things that we have to notice about the ‘scope of our somatic potentialities’ at the current time is the way in which it extends beyond certain interpretations of a Foucauldian notion of discipline. S/he suggests that our concept of disciplinary power-knowledge still draws heavily upon the idea of ‘power and its specific mode of surveillance materialized in the form of physical architecture (whether of a prison, school, hospital, barracks, or factory) that automates movement, controls the gaze, programs action, and ritualizes everyday bodily practices’9. This is a vision of the disciplinary as an assemblage of apparatuses which act upon the body and upon our subjectivities – a ‘heavy’ power, easy to identify and externally imposed.
For Preciado, however, the forces which discipline the body have changed, and are changing, in response to the (post)industrial manufacture of subjecthood. They have now been shrunk and softened, transformed into something that, rather than being imposed upon us from without, we in fact seek out and are willing to open ourselves up to. S/he uses one particularly resonant image to explore this – a comparison of the pill with the panopticon. The contraceptive pill (with its various forms of dispensers and packaging), regulates bodies and programs behaviours, but this process is now guided by the subject who self-administers it. In Preciado’s words,
The surveillance tower has been replaced by the eyes of the (not always) docile user of the Pill who regulates her own administration without the need for external supervisions, following the spatial calendar marked on the circular or rectangular package. The whip has been replaced by a convenient system of oral administration10.
This exemplifies the miniaturization, infiltration, and ingestion of a power which operates within the private and domestic sphere. Indeed, technofeminists have long been attuned to this move towards the smaller and softer forms of power, which have largely been facilitated by technological advances. Sadie Plant talks about the ‘exponential miniaturization’ of computer technologies11, in which ‘everything valued for its size and strength finds itself overrun by microprocessings once supposed too small and insignificant to count’12, whilst Donna Haraway suggests that ‘miniaturization has turned out to be about power; small is not so much beautiful as pre-eminently dangerous, as in cruise missiles’13. It is not just within the sphere of medicine that we see the scaling down of the disciplinary apparatus, but across many other areas of technological development as well. In Preciado’s words, as the disciplinary regime gives way to the contemporary order of biocapitalism, ‘Social orthopaedics is mutating into pharmacopornographic microprosthetics’14.
Arguably, Preciado somewhat glosses over the extent to which the seeds of this are already apparent in a Foucauldian account of disciplinary power – his conception of the panopticon of course emphasizes the internalization of power and the partial incorporation of the policing gaze, and Preciado’s account is at least as much an extension as a challenge. But this idea that disciplinary forces are now actively sought out – that, ‘In the pharmacopornographic era, the body swallows power’15 – is important when it comes to thinking about Testo Junkie’s treatment of embodiment. The total occupation of bodies and subjectivities is not to be thought of as a ‘unidirectional movement in which miniaturized, liquid power from the outside infiltrates the obedient body’16, in part because this very infiltration has come to be thought of as empowering. As Preciado states, ‘all of it happens freely, by virtue of the sexual emancipation of the controlled body. The biopolitical promise of governing free bodies that Foucault identified is here fully accomplished’17. In the move from panopticon to contraceptive pill, ‘Punishments and edifying sermons have been replaced by rewards and promises of freedom and sexual emancipation’18.
But although Preciado presents both pornographically and pharmaceutically mediated subjectivities as the product of postindustrial Western capitalism after 1970, s/he does not try to claim that drugs or sexually explicit images inevitably or invariably play into the hands of power. In fact, the heart of hir project in Testo Junkie can be found in attempts to disrupt the pharmacopornographic regime through experimentation with these tools. In the text, the author’s fictionalized autobiographical persona, BP, takes a DIY approach to many of the key elements s/he identifies as being central to pharmacopornographic capitalism; an early episode entitled ‘videopenetration,’ for example, sees hir filming a pornographic self-portrait with the help of three dildos and a homemade moustache (fabricated from glue and shavings from BP’s own head), and the reader is regaled with accounts of hir self-administration of a range of intoxicants, from coffee and cigarettes to alcohol, coke, and ecstasy.
The most obvious example of what Preciado calls the ‘principle of the auto-guinea pig’19, however, is Paul B. Preciado’s self-devised voluntary drug protocol for the administration of testosterone. S/he writes that ‘I am my own guinea pig for an experiment on the effects of intentionally increasing the level of testosterone in the body of a cis-female. Instantly, the testosterone turns me into something radically different from a cis-female’20 And of course, the self-experimentation involved in this process is crucial to the project of the book – s/he is taking testosterone outside of the narrowly defined territories of its institutionally sanctioned usage. S/he is not taking it with the permission of the medical authorities in order to transition; she is illegally self-administering it, appropriating and repurposing specific molecules in an act of auto-experimentation without preconceived goals or ideal outcomes21. As Elizabeth Stephens has commented, Preciado’s
focus is on experimentation rather than identity, a decision about which she [sic] is herself highly ambivalent, and one she is aware is not politically neutral nor without potentially negative consequences for people who do not live in her (reasonably privileged and independent) circumstances, and whose relationships with the pharmaceutical industry she critiques are compellingly different’22.
This seizure of the territory of the auto-guinea pig is an act of resistance for Preciado, and makes up much of the substance of the political project s/he sketches out in Testo Junkie. S/he expresses this quite forcefully, stating that ‘The first principle of a trans-feminism movement capable of facing porno-punk modernity: the fact that your body, the body of the multitude and the pharmacopornographic networks that constitute them are political laboratories, both effects of the process of subjection and control and potential spaces for political agency and critical resistance to normalization’23. By taking testosterone in an unsanctioned fashion, Paul B. Preciado seeks to contest the pharmacopornographic regime that constitutes hir. S/he explicitly frames auto-experimental engagements with embodiment as part of an occluded tradition of radical amateurism, associated particularly with women as healers, midwives, and herbalists, claiming that the coming of modernity has involved a widespread ‘process of eradicating knowledge and lower-class power while simultaneously working to reinforce the hegemonic knowledge of the expert, something indispensable to the gradual insertion of capitalism on a global scale’24.
By seizing the kind of opportunities typically reserved for the expert, and by strategically “misusing” pharmaceuticals in this way, Paul B. Preciado’s voluntary intoxication points to political possibilities associated with seizing and repurposing technologies. It deploys testosterone – one of a number of biotechnological tools used in the maintenance of gendered embodiments and subjectivities – in ways that run counter to its medically sanctioned uses in order to re-engineer gender and sexuality. In espousing such strategies, Preciado might (as Joshua Rivas puts it) be seen as enacting a kind of ‘resistance by compliance’25 a politics defined not by outright rejection but by strategic co-option and partial acceptance. S/he attempts to operate as ‘a hindrance, a stumbling block, a point of resistance’26, but without overtly resisting the foundational principles upon which pharmacopornographic subjecthood is built. Hir embrace of pornography, hir utilization of pharmaceuticals, and so on, are all part of this attempt to adjust the meanings of such pharmacopornographic tendencies, rather than to scrap them outright. Alas, this leads us into choppy waters when it comes to critically assessing Testo Junkie’s strategic usefulness for a radical politics. Indeed, for some readers, this appropriation shades into over-identification, and represents the text at its most problematic. Benjamin Noys has noted that the strategy Preciado pursues is one of ‘immersion with these new forms of power. The ‘drug’ experience, this molecular intoxication, is not a device of transcendence or escape per se, but rather insertion with and within the “chains” of signifiers and “materialities” of the present’27. This is ‘resistance through compliance’ – except that the resistance within this compliance is arguably somewhat difficult to locate.
As Noys points out, Preciado’s description of using Testogel is also ‘distinguished from other drugs – coke, speed – to indicate “the feeling of being in perfect harmony with the rhythm of the city”. This already suggests the resonant immersion in the forms and forces of contemporary global capital, figured in the “rhythm” of the city’28. By Noys’s own admission29, this reading does rather put aside some of the important gendered dimensions of Preciado’s project – hir desire to occupy the city, to take up public space, whilst on Testogel is explicitly framed as ‘leaving the space of domesticity’30 linked with the ‘semiotechnical codes of white heterosexual femininity [in] the postwar pharmacopornographic political ecology’31. The enjoyment of cities and bars is not simply the enjoyment of immersion in pharmacopornographic capitalism, but is part of the new possibilities of gendered embodiment which co-option of masculine privilege can provide: ‘A new cartography of the city takes shape; for the first time you can enjoy the pleasure of the public space of the male flaneur, non-existent for a body culturally encoded as female.’32
This is not, to my mind, a matter of denigrating the feminine in favour of the supposed techno-masculinity facilitated by Testogel. Preciado is quite clear that ‘Testosterone is not masculinity. Nothing allows us to conclude that the effects produced by testosterone are masculine. The only thing we can say is that, until now, they have as a whole been the exclusive property of cis-males.’33 Indeed, the love story sketched out between Paul B. Preciado and hir charismatic cis-female partner VD appears to have a certain bildungsroman-like quality to it, providing as it does the basis for Paul B. Preciado’s re-education in and re-valuation of a previously disparaged femininity. Instead, we must see Testo Junkie’s account of embodiment in the city as a matter of destabilizing gendered spatial entitlements, and as one element of a wider queer project. That being said, I can see why Noys views a perceived politics of over-identification as somewhat problematic. The lines between resistance and surrender in this case might be considered somewhat less than clear, and as he points out, we are not asked to reflect upon the ‘conformity of this strategy with neoliberal capitalism’s own imaginary’34. Preciado’s use of a politics of appropriation seems to lead us to a resistance through compliance and immersion that arguably results in opposition becoming all but indistinguishable from capitulation.
Of course, the alignment or conformity of certain ideas and practices with neoliberalism is hardly an isolated phenomenon, and should not in itself be seen as sufficient to render an activity irredeemably problematic. Moreover, we must be careful to ensure that the saturation of the city by capital is not simply assumed, and that accounts do not neglect the incipient potentials for resistance that these kinds of urban spaces can afford35. However, there are issues with the framing of political agency in Testo Junkie. Preciado, for all hir avowed cosmopolitanism, talks primarily in terms of small-scale interventions and repurposings, arguing that self-experimentation is ‘a requirement for the possibility of any future micropolitical action’36. This ‘micropolitics’ often seems to manifest itself almost exclusively at the level of the atomised subject, with little imaginative space being given to the ways in which diverse embodied appropriations might interconnect, or in which the project might be expanded or scaled up. As Preciado hirself admits, ‘romantic autoexperimentation carries the risk of individualism and depoliticization’37, and hir project might all too easily coincide with those currents of neoliberalism that depress awareness of shaping structural influences such as class.
In this sense, one could argue that Preciado’s work – for all its embrace of biotech and transformative media – trenches on what has been pejoratively called the ‘folk political.’ It frequently refuses to think beyond the microcommunity, neglects to directly engage with the ‘rhizomatic connections among […] resistances and insubordinations’38, and deals primarily with small ‘interventions consisting of non-scaleable tactics’39. As such, it risks remaining satisfied with isolated, temporary, and defensive gestures of experimentation, rather than looking toward socially transformative projects. As Srnicek and Williams note, ‘to present an emancipatory process of constructive freedom which might contend on a global scale with capitalism in its myriad forms depends on shifting towards the structural, the generalised, and the non-localised’40, and this is something that Testo Junkie rarely achieves. While the main focus of the book is (quite self-consciously) micropolitical experimentation, there are moments at which Preciado hirself appears to express a desire for larger-scale social change, and it is at these points that the non-scalabilty of hir project demands critical consideration.
In those instances, Preciado tends to veer rather dramatically from the micropolitical towards the other extreme. S/he jumps from toying with the hormonal metabolism of hir own discrete body to species-wide ‘endocrinal reprogramming’41, making the leap from an individualized micropolitics of embodiment to a wider-reaching political vision no less radical than ‘the transformation of the species’42. Again, there is an obvious issue with scale here – from tinkering with individual bodies to re-engineering humanity, with little in between. The sphere of the mesopolitical – a space we might associate with the advance of pragmatic and actionable activist tactics – is entirely absent. Of course, Preciado never claims that hir pharmaceutical and theoretical protocols should be read as a practical handbook for Promethean politics, and as such it would be somewhat unfair to censure hir for failing to engage in feasible counter-hegemonic strategizing. However, it remains instructive to consider how hir rhetoric (with all its intoxicating glimmers of sociopolitical opportunity) might ultimately ‘cash out,’ as well as to reflect upon what we might actually do with Testo Junkie.
In Testo Junkie, the perceived dangers of coalescing into a recognisable movement – of thinking beyond the individual in order to make collective demands – constrain the text’s horizons of possibility. Preciado appears all too aware of the fact that the discourses of feminism can be (and have been) co-opted by the pharmacopornographic regime, just as the tools of said regime can be seen to lend themselves to co-option by hir technologically-minded transfeminism; after all, as s/he points out, this regime ‘exploited the revolutionary and emancipatory rhetoric of the feminist movement of the 1960s to pass off the chemical and contraceptive management of the female body as a step toward sexual liberation’43. It is perhaps for this reason that s/he decides hir proposed movement of gender self-experimentation will have ‘no single name that can be transformed into brand’44 – hence, no brand identity to be recuperated, appropriated or seized; but also little explicit sense of cooperative, collective, or counter-hegemonic purpose.
Despite this, where Testo Junkie offers us a meaningful vision for a potential technomaterialist feminist project is in its recognition of the body as a potential biological platform for experimentation with new identities and political subjectivities. As Preciado puts it, ‘As a body – and this is the only important thing about being a subject-body, a techno-living system – I’m the platform that makes possible the materialization of political imagination’45. The tools for manipulating this platform, s/he demonstrates, are ready to hand and easier to access than one might imagine. It behoves to us to think about how the interventions facilitated by these tools might be scaled up – to take these insights and try to understand how we can use them to build capacity for new actions, thoughts, and desires, and to articulate a politics that exceeds the individual, and expresses a more concerted interest in transforming biotechnical hegemony.
- 1. B. Preciado, Testo Junkie, 2013, p. 11.
- 2. Ibid., p. 11.
- 3. Ibid., p. 12.
- 4. Laboria Cuboniks, “Xenofeminism: A Politics of Alienation.” In: Inter/Alia: A Journal of Queer Studies, forthcoming.
- 5. Emi Koyama, “The Transfeminist Manifesto.” In: Catching a Wave: Reclaiming Feminism for the Twenty-First Century, Rory Dicker and Alison Piepmeier (eds), 2003. Northeastern University Press: Boston, p. 245.
- 6. Beatriz Preciado, Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era, 2013. Trans. Bruce Benderson. New York: The Feminist Press, pp. 33–4.
- 7. B. Preciado, Testo Junkie, 2013, pp. 35–6.
- 8. Ibid., p. 117.
- 9. Ibid., p. 204.
- 10. Ibid., p. 205.
- 11. Sadie Plant, Zeros + Ones: Digital Women and the New Technoculture, 1998. Fourth Estate: London, p. 34.
- 12. Ibid., p. 46.
- 13. Donna J. Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.” In: Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, 1991. Free Association Books: London, p. 153.
- 14. B. Preciado, Testo Junkie, 2013, p. 202.
- 15. Ibid., p. 207.
- 16. Ibid., pp. 207–8.
- 17. Ibid., pp. 206–7.
- 18. Ibid., p. 205.
- 19. B. Preciado, Testo Junkie, 2013, p. 348.
- 20. Ibid., pp. 139–40
- 21. ibid., p. 250
- 22. Elizabeth Stephens, “The Pharmacopornographic Subject: Beatriz Preciado’s Testo Junkie: Sexe, Drogue et Biopolitique.” In: Polari Journal 2, 2010, pp. 4–5.
- 23. B. Preciado, Testo Junkie, 2013, p. 348
- 24. Ibid., p. 149.
- 25. Joshua Rivas, “Intoxication and toxicity in a pharmacopornographic era: Beatriz Preciado’s Testo Junkie”, 2013. Conference presentation at Intoxication in Paris, 28 June, Paris
- 26. Michel Foucault, The Will to Knowledge: The History of Sexuality: Volume 1, 1978. Trans. Robert Hurley. London: Penguin, p. 101.
- 27. Benjamin Noys, “Intoxication and Acceleration”, 2013. Conference presentation at Intoxication in Paris, 28 June, Paris. Available at: https://www.academia.edu/3824216/ Intoxication_and_Acceleration, p. 10.
- 28. Ibid., p. 10.
- 29. Ibid., p. 10.
- 30. B. Preciado, Testo Junkie, 2013, p. 57.
- 31. Ibid., p. 120.
- 32. Ibid., p. 373.
- 33. Ibid., p. 141.
- 34. B. Noys, “Intoxication and Acceleration”, 2013, p. 13.
- 35. See David Harvey, Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution, 2013. London: Verso.
- 36. B. Preciado, Testo Junkie, 2013, p. 362.
- 37. Ibid., p. 351.
- 38. Antonella Corsani, “Beyond the Myth of Woman: The Becoming-Transfeminist of (Post-) Marxism.” In: SubStance 36: 1, 2007, p.116.
- 39. Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, The Future Isn’t Working: Folk Politics and the Struggle for Postcapitalism, forthcoming. London: Verso.
- 40. Ibid.
- 41. B. Preciado, Testo Junkie, 2013, p. 143.
- 42. Ibid., p. 143.
- 43. Ibid., p. 230.
- 44. Ibid., p. 395.
- 45. Ibid., p. 139.