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I've written aplenty about testosterone: for instance, the then-new research demonstrating that high testosterone does not make a male a winner as much as winning makes a male's testosterone high; and the current vogue for prescribing T for everything formerly ascribed, with a shrug and a sigh, to "getting older." I've taught a bunch about hormones, describing estrogen with its touch-and smell-sensitivity enhancing, "receptive" sexuality-producing qualities as the "fuck me hormone," leaving chin-jutting, bad-boy testosterone to be described, inevitably, as the "fuck you" hormone. I've also been quick to explain that that's a joke, son, and to debunk that characterization, emphasizing that women have and need T as much as men do (if in lower quantities), and that aggressive men do not turn out to have higher levels than their meeker brethren. Without testosterone, nobody gets laid not even lesbians.
And then recently we took the kids to the children's museum and I insisted that, naps and lunch be damned, we had to be in the car for the broadcast (actually a rerun) of This American Life's testosterone episode. (Hear it for yourself at www.thislife.org , Episode 220.) You could skip producer Alex Blumberg's introduction about coming of age while feeling guilty for even having testosterone, due to an early (and entirely uncalled-for) reading of Marilyn French's "seminal" feminist potboiler The Women's Room (Ballantine, 1988). Just don't miss the segment on the man with no T (Act One: "Life at Zero") which will, in a mere seven minutes, turn everything you think you know about testosterone on its head. The interviewee, who had written an anonymous piece for GQ, developed an unspecified, rapid onset condition that shut down his T production entirely. But before he got a diagnosis, he simply ... ceased wanting. Anything.
We know that T supplies the drive for sex and possibly for success, but with absolutely none in this guy's system, he had no drive for anything. He stared at the wall, un-driven to get up. He could live on Wonder Bread spread with Miracle Whip and want nothing else, although he didn't particularly want that, either. Everything looked beautiful because he lacked the will to judge it as anything else. He didn't bother trying to see his girlfriend. He became, in short, a sort of bodhisattva, but without any sense of spiritual enlightenment evolved, but in a meaningless way. An enlitened being, if you will. He sounded relieved, yet a bit let down to be reconnected, via supplementation, to the world of drives and wants and needs and giving a shit, rather the way people who have near-death experiences often describe resisting the pull to return to their heavy, duty-bound corporeal selves. An amazing story, implying as it does that without T life is, if not precisely not worth living, not worth caring about whether one lives it or not.
More familiar but in some ways equally startling was the interview with transman Griffin Hansbury, who, at the time, had entirely enough or possibly too much T in his system enough to fuel a few bar fights and an inappropriate remark or two to a female coworker. Hansbury started out, like pretty much every F2M I've known, as a women's collegeattending, women's studiesstudying, "Take Back the Night"type womyn's wummin, and ended up ... a pig. He is honest and extremely funny, describing how under the influence of massive amounts of T, he started dogging women around and getting turned on literally by the piston action of passing machinery. He said stupid stuff. He offended people; and moreover, felt entitled to do so. Most alarming, he became suddenly, uncharacteristically interested in and even good at math and science, like a sort of instant anti-Barbie. I hesitate to extrapolate from this (as does Hansbury). I hesitate to even think about it, if I can help it. If one of my kids (I have a boy and a girl, a built-in controlled experiment) asks, later, what makes somebody good at math, you better believe I won't say "testosterone." Unless it's true. I can't wait to find out, I tell you what.
There's also the story in a recent New York Times mag about the current and discomforting (to some; I think it's kinda cool) phenomenon of women entering colleges like Bryn Mawr and Wellesley and leaving as men, a situation the gender studies departments can pretty much take either blame or credit for, depending. I can't think of a handier way to break down the old dualistic gender paradigm, myself. The new gents ought to take a lesson from the humorous and self-depreciating Griffin Hansbury, though, and be mindful not to act like total buttheads while they still have to share the dorm showers.
Andrea is home with the kids and going stir-crazy. Write her a letter! Ask her a question! Send her your tedious e-mail forwards! On second thought, don't do that. Just ask her a question.