A few weeks ago, I had a guest speaker come into my Constructing Sexuality class. His name was Daniel, and he was a FTM. He began telling his personal narrative, describing how he perceived himself as more masculine than other females growing up. He thought, at first, his “manliness” was caused by hanging out with more males than females. His parents similarly attributed his masculinity to lack of female friends, and they tried to “socialize” him by enrolling him into female-only sports and activities. By high school, he had started experimenting with the female gender – growing his hair long and dating men. Because he felt comfortable around men and held similar interests with them, he said he never had a difficult time finding a boyfriend. He had one serious relationship during that time and, after it ended, he realized he was more interested in women. In college, he began exploring trans* issues and identifying as queer. Then, when he realized he could identity as trans* without transitioning medically, he began adopting a trans* identity. After college, he started binding his breasts and exclusively wearing men’s clothing. He began hormones around seven months ago, and he said he was immediately more sexually attracted to men and sexually driven because of the testosterone.
While listening to Daniel’s story, I found it both intriguing and contradictory. On the one hand, he is challenging traditional gender norms, describing his gender and sexual orientation as fluid, complex entities. On the other hand, he falls into a Western paradigm crux, discussing how he shared similar “masculine” interests with other men, such as playing video games and watching action movies. Additionally, he naturalized heterosexuality by attributing the female gender with dating men. Thus, he ends up reinforcing a binary world, one that separates men and women and normalizes heterosexuality.
In addition, his described situation with testosterone reminds me of Patrick Califa’s story. Califa described how after taking T, he would have physical sensations that “acquired a piquancy and an immediacy that is both entertaining and occasionally inconvenient” (437). His desire for instantaneous, casual sex grew rapidly, and he said he suddenly understood sexual differences between the sexes after his intake of T. Similarly, Daniel describes an intense, sexual urge for men and desire for casual sex. What’s largely problematic about both accounts is that it presents women as sexless beings (who don’t have desires or impulses!) by attributing sex drive to an increased testosterone level.
This type of narrative is similarly highlighted in PLENTY of articles, especially in this cringe-worthy Men’s Health article called Why You’ve Always Been So Horny. It “describes” how testosterone affects the body:
“The first [burst of T] produces a male brain: one that’s more interested in objects, actions, and competition. The left (parietal) lobe flourishes in the testosterone bath and helps you visualize objects in three dimensions (good for catching a football or watching a woman cross the street), and it boosts your aptitude in mathematics (that’s how you estimate that she’s about a 34DD). In addition, testosterone beefs up your hypothalamus, the area of the brain that’s interested in sex. The hypothalamus is twice as large in men as it is in women.”
A part of me wants to believe this is a joke because of its BLATANT sexism but, alas, I honestly think this was printed. Anyhow… while Daniel and Patrick clearly are complicating and challenging identity categories within their narratives [unlike this terrible, terrible article], I do think their attributions of sex drive to testosterone are perhaps troublesome and even reflect notes of biological essentialism.