Monday, March 31, 2014

Do Pagan Events Need More Native American Material?

This was basically the question poised regarding a major yearly Pagan event within the past few days.  The request explained that a friend of his had just gone to a pow-wow and now he was interested in Native faiths.  It included language gushing about Native Americans as "our spiritual ancestors" and was responded to with a swell of agreement, including one person complaining about the word "appropriation" being added into everyday conversation, and another referring to Native traditions as "Pagan."  I mean, I'm paraphrasing.  When stuff like this comes up I can't help but mentally replace everything with this Family Guy clip:



For those of you who would understandably like to pass on watching it, it's Peter and Lois as a pair of hippies singing a song asking a "Noble Indian Chief" to bring them "his ways," lamenting over his death and asking how that could possibly have happened.  The clip is a parody of a very common attitude among whites (especially hippies, new age spiritualists, and yup, Pagans) that betrays a complete lack of understanding of where we fit into an oppressive power structure while engaging in what we think is harmless spiritual seeking.

First and foremost I'd like to express something really important about this:  The fact that in the Pagan community this is mostly white people asking more white people about getting more material is a huge part of the problem, and it's the only reason I've decided to write an actual essay on the subject, considering my blog is at its most basic a Pagan blog.  Basically, these are people looking for answers in all the wrong places and who in many cases are assuming that famous writings like the Declaration of War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality aren't referring to "us" for one reason or another (despite the fact it specifically names Neopagans).  That said...

Do Pagan events need more Native American material?
No.

The reasons for this are quite plentiful.  First and foremost it's important to recognize that Pagan gatherings, websites, books, and vendors already include a lot of information and practices selectively harvested from Native American traditions or done in a Native American-coded* manner.  Some are led by people of Native descent, many are not.  There are quarter calls involving versions of the medicine wheel, there are sweat lodges, there are drummers, there are art pieces, there are talks about animal spirits using Native American-coded terminology and concepts, and the list goes on.

Next is that most Native Americans--even those practicing Native spirituality--do not identify as Pagans, and more importantly, the reason they don't identify as Pagans comes from very deep wounds that the ancestors of white American Pagans are directly responsible for.  Most people who practice indigenous beliefs in any country do not identify with that term because they rightfully associate it with powerful missionaries not only devaluing but outright banning their beliefs.

Most Pagan-identified people, because so many of us are descended from and were raised Christians, have never seriously felt what it's like to be a member of a thriving faith culture and to have that forcibly taken away from us, nor does that usually exist in our recent ancestry.  We experience discrimination, sure, but most of us have never experienced firsthand that kind of religious and cultural colonization.  This is a big reason why white Pagans are so comfortable calling ourselves "Pagans."  That fresh, direct history just isn't there.  Our recent ancestors are more likely to be the colonizers than the colonized, after all.  For Native Americans and other indigenous peoples, this is a recent thing.  Native children were forced into boarding schools specifically to eradicate their culture, forcing them to accept Christianity, cutting their hair, forcing them to wear European clothing, banning them from speaking their native languages, and in many ways these trends continue.

And this is something all of us, as white people living in the Americas, benefit from.  All of us.  We owe our lifestyle to the uprooting, forced relocation, and murder of the people who lived here before us.  Even our Pagan festival grounds are on colonized land, and that will be true no matter how many sweat lodges people perform on them and how many times we say "thank you" or "sorry" to the Great Spirit while we use that land.

One of the responses to this demand for Native material was the appalling statement by one Pagan that "in her region" Native spirituality is viewed as more legitimate than Paganism, and I honestly almost flipped out.  This is a false comparison.  It wasn't until 1978 that Native spiritualities even got legal protection.  Hippies, New Agers, and Pagans (yes, Pagans did it, too) were able to appropriate whatever they felt like from Native culture before Native Americans even had a legal right to practice it themselves.  Hippies were subject to ridicule for their beliefs.  Native Americans were forced into boarding schools to eradicate them.  Whether or not a Native belief or practice is considered acceptable has always been a decision made at the whim of white power.

That piece of important history is something we need to think about when talking about the subject of Pagans learning and incorporating Native beliefs and practices into our own:  When we request "Native material" at our gatherings, we are continuing an oppressive power structure by reducing a huge diversity of deeply-held beliefs varying from indigenous nation to indigenous nation to a sliver of that which would be superficially beneficial and appealing to white Pagans.  That's not free exchange of information at all.  It's yet another demand placed upon indigenous people by white people.

"No, it's not superficial though, this is something I'm deeply seriously serious about!"  Alright, I know you probably think that, but if you're willing to boil this all down to "material" and are looking to gain that "material" by having it presented on a platter among a group of predominantly white Pagan outsiders for their consumption, then you're damn right I'm going to consider that a superficial interest.  At the very least, why is your starting point other white people and not indigenous people themselves, maybe by taking a back-seat solidarity role--doing things that their communities request of you--without expecting them to just hand over their traditions because you think as a Pagan you're entitled to every faith practice out there?

Finally, I'd like to make a quick statement on that one Native person you know who was totally cool with letting you sit in on their sweat lodge ceremony or whatever.  I'm not going to sit here and tell you that engaging in cultural practices with somebody who genuinely wants you there and genuinely wants to give you that opportunity is wrong.  People like this certainly exist.  Native people--like all groups of people--are not a monolith with the exact same opinion on this subject.  If you really have connections of that kind, I am not going to judge that.

What I will say, though, is that you can't just bring up this one Native person as justification for pretending  all of the above I just wrote never happened or is irrelevant.  There is a world of difference between learning from people when information is offered and grab-assing every Native trinket that comes your way and re-packaging it for white Pagans.  And when you decide that the best way to gain that knowledge is through the Pagan community, I have a hard time believing you aren't engaging in the latter.




* -- When I say "Native American-coded," I mean practices that are found in many cultures, but talked about in a way that heavily associates it with Native Americans.  For instance, the word "shamanism" is not a Native American term (shamanism is found worldwide), but people very often associate it with Native Americans, therefore it is Native American-coded.

Friday, March 14, 2014

What Does "Queer" Mean To Me?

This is my first actual, honest-to-Gods #MBLGTACC2014 essay (and yes, I'm aware that that was a month ago).  It has to do with the discussions that were going on at the Queer Identity Forum, especially in the political quadrant of the room.  It was clear that people were all operating on very different but each very specific definitions of the word "queer," and that led to some statements that didn't make sense in the wider context of the discussion.  The two most common ones are:
  • "Queer" is an umbrella term that can refer to anybody within the community; it is entirely inclusive and therefore more useful than an acronym (like LGBT) to which we'd inevitably just wind up adding more and more letters.
  • "Queer" is "inherently" anti-authoritarian, left-wing-political, a specific subset of overall gender-and-sexual-diversity populated by people who want to fuck shit up.
These are two definitions which are both very common, not-necessarily-incorrect definitions of the word "queer," and they are absolutely some of the most contradictory things I've ever seen.  Using the first definition, everybody from a radical anarcho-queer activist to the most conservative Log Cabin Republican can use the word "queer" if they so choose.  And you know what?  There are people in both those groups that do use it (perhaps fewer in the latter, but they do exist).  Using the second definition, the vast majority of LGBT people could not use the word "queer" because they are either not on the radical left or are primarily interested in integration rather than liberation.

So you get twenty or so people in a circle with each having a definition of "queer" that is a spin-off of one of these two heavily-contradictory definitions, and it leads to a great deal of confusion.  People kept using the word "inherently," which is a word I'd almost love to banish from the English language.  I think the only time I use it is when I'm saying something isn't inherently one thing or another because especially when it comes to labels, "inherently" is used to connect these labels to things that literally aren't inherent to the term at all.  Case in point:  "Queer" is not "inherently" anti-authoritarian or left-wing and it baffles me that people would say that.  It has merely developed into a word implying that in some communities; these people distinguish between "queer" politics and "gay" or "LGBT" politics, the latter two being mainstream, centrist, or conservative while "queer" is more radical left.  This is certainly not the same usage as those who believe "queer" to be the ultimate all-inclusive term; these people inevitably include a lot of conservative and/or assimiliationist folks in that definition.  A conversation between two people in which that distinction is not understood will inevitably fail.

Personally, I don't think either of these definitions is "wrong."  It's just important that when we're talking about queerness as a movement or as a self-identity we all understand what we're talking about, and I think in that particular MBLGTACC identity forum that wasn't happening.  Not only was it not happening, for a while it was pretty clear that people didn't actually understand that they were using two drastically different definitions of "queer."  I think if I were to repeat this experience I'd have brought this up, but it wasn't something I was articulating very easily in the thicker-than-butter atmosphere of queer-identified-people arguing over things in which neither party is actually wrong.

But hey, I think I'll take this article and switch it up a bit because it's important to my own identity.  When I say "queer"--when I call myself that, or when I say "queer people" or "the queer movement" or the like--what exactly do I even  mean?  Hence the title of this essay.  And this is the answer to that.

"Queer" by its definition means something like "deviating from the expected."  In a world where people overwhelmingly assume romantic relationships to be monogamous opposite-sex relationships, eventually leading to marriage and babies, between one man who has as far as he can remember always identified as male and one woman who has as far as she can remember always identified as female; I and many others deviate from the expected.  Therefore, I am queer.

I am perfectly comfortable--in fact, I am quite proud--of the fact that I deviate from peoples' expectations of sex and gender.  Therefore, not only am I queer, I identify deeply with that term.

I like "queer" because when I think of that word, I think of the phrase "We're Here, We're Queer, Get Used To It."  This itself deviates from the more mainstream narrative of the LGBT community, which often seems resigned to "We're Just Like Everybody Else Except This One Little Meaningless Thing You Should Ignore."  The former community is more likely to not only accept but embrace the differing ways our community constructs families, enjoys sex, and overall revels in its uniqueness.  The latter is more likely to try blending in with expectations rather than express pride in deviating from them.

That's not intended, by the way, to be a value statement.  There are a lot of people who violently hate our deviance, and so trying to run from it and convince people we're not deviant at all is not exactly a strategy I can blame people for using.  And they can certainly use the word "queer" if they choose to, but I feel it has a very different "character" to it than when people like me use it (not to mention they're much less likely to use it as a central identity).

That is the main reason I use "queer" to describe myself, but there's another that is less soapboxy and more practical:  It's easier than the label soup I'm otherwise subjected to when it comes to describing my sexual identity.

When it comes to my gender identity, I barely feel queer at all.  My gender identity is in fact ludicrously simple:  I am a man.  A transsexual one, sure, but still a man.  Although I accept that my transsexualism is usually included in the inclusive version of the word "queer," I don't usually see it that way.  It's my sexual orientation that I consider "queer," and that's because it's the only way I feel I can suitably describe it.

There's a lot of label soup out there.  What I mean by that is that the labels we use to describe sexual orientation are subject to so much misinterpretation and confusion that people have been constructing newer and more specific labels nonstop for a long time.  Some people decided that bisexuality by definition must only mean desire for men and women, and started identifying as pansexual or polysexual instead (as a quick note, if you're one of the folks who continue to define bisexuality this way, please stop and let bisexuals define themselves instead, they don't need your help).  Then some people decided that the "-sexual" suffix in sexual orientations implied biological sex and started using "-genderal" ("heterogenderal," "bigenderal," etc.).  Then others misinterpreted the same "-sexual" suffix to mean sexual behavior rather than gender and started adding "-romantic" instead ("I am bisexual but only homoromantic").  That same issue extended to people creating sexual orientations to refer to things that aren't genders in the first place ("sapiosexual," "vegansexual").  This continues on and on, and these days it's not overly uncommon to find somebody express their sexual interest using a string of identity labels... "I am a heteroromantic bi-sapiosexual because I am sexually attracted to men and women I find mentally stimulating but I only fall in love with the opposite sex."  And other such things.


It's not so much that I think people should just quit trying to describe themselves.  Even if that were my concern, it's not something I have the power to do anyway.  It's just that the overabundance of labels meant to specify with extreme detail exactly who and how you like to fuck or cuddle (or NOT fuck or cuddle) is massively unappealing to me.  I don't feel the drive to be that specific because this is information that is not relevant to most of my interactions with people.  So I just use "queer" instead.  To me it just means "I am deviating from that which people expect of my gender and sexuality, and I'm totally cool with that.  Maybe you'll find out exactly how when our relationship deepens."

And the same goes for the community.  Whether I use "queer" to mean the radical contingent of the community or an all-inclusive term, what I'm saying is "within the context of the wider community I'm speaking about, these are the people who deviate from what is expected and are totally cool with that."  All of us deviate from what cishet society expects, "queer" as an all-inclusive is not inaccurate.  As well, radical queers deviate from the mainstream LGBT movement's expectations, as well.  So as a way of separating "queer" from "mainstream," it also works... provided that context is clear.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

My Take On "Wiccanate Privilege"

Recently I had a minor tantrum because somebody went back into my Twitter timeline and favorited something I wrote about "Wiccanate privilege," namely that I don't really get behind using that language to describe it.  Based on the stuff this person was writing on her own blog I'm pretty sure she didn't look at any of the context I wrote about, because her take on the subject is that "Wiccanate privilege" is a nasty slur used by some Wiccans to insult other Wiccans.  Ugh.

Anyway, because apparently I'm now being faved and retweeted by people who have no concept of what my position on this actually is, I figured I'd hop on that awful bandwagon and explain further:  What exactly is my take on this "Wiccanate privilege" subject?  And, well, it's not that.  In fact, I'm pretty sure if the whole context had been read, it'd be clear that I am on board with talking about the thing that "Wiccanate privilege" refers to.  I'd just prefer it not be called "Wiccanate privilege."

Part One: What are people talking about when they say "Wiccanate privilege?"

A large chunk of stuff I'm reading seems to be built on the assumption that "Wiccanate" is just another way for Old Style Wiccans (people who can trace their lineage to a Gardnerian coven) to deny New Style Wiccans (people who learned from books, often solitaries) the right to call themselves "Wiccans."  New Style Wiccans have been interpreting the word "Wiccanate" to be referring to them, in other words, "There are Real WiccansTM and then there are pretenders, who we call 'Wiccanate' instead."

Spoiler alert:  That's not what it means.

Hilariously, the fact that so many New Style Wiccans have taken this and turned it into yet another "Old Style Wiccans don't accept us as Wiccans" sob story pretty much confirms why this thing people are calling "Wiccanate privilege" needs to be talked about.  Dear Wiccans, both old style and new: It's not always about you.  "Wiccanate privilege" refers to the way general Pagan communities--those that are ostensibly meant to represent Pagans of all faiths and philosophies--treat practices, beliefs, and ethics that come from Wicca as universal to all Pagans... when they aren't.  Some examples of "Wiccanate privilege" include:
  • Putting things like the Wiccan Rede of "Harm None," the threefold law, the observance of the eight Sabbats, the practice of Witchcraft, and the worship of The Goddess and The God in definitions of Paganism.
  • The ability of people who write books and create informational presentations, saying they are about "Paganism" or "Witchcraft," and then only including information about Wicca.
  • The tendency to hold festivals and observances on the Sabbats.
  • The ability of general Pagan organizations to put things like "Harm None" in their bylaws.
  • The tendency to write rituals that are based on Wiccan ritual frameworks (casting of circles, calling the quarters, calling The God and The Goddess).
  • The tendency for people at a Pagan get-together to assume that everybody in attendance is Wiccan.
And most importantly, the ability to do these things and have relatively few people pop out of the woodwork to say "Actually, this isn't an appropriate definition of Paganism/bylaw for our organization/thing to call an 'all-faith' ritual because it only applies to Wicca and not all Pagans are Wiccans."

Why "Wiccanate" instead of just "Wiccan?"  Because there are lots of Pagans out there whose practice or ethics are very similar to Wicca, but who don't want to be called Wiccans for one reason or another.  There are people whose practice is practically identical to Wicca, except they are hard polytheists (view the Gods as individuals rather than as facets of The God and The Goddess), don't believe in the Threefold Law, don't adhere to the "Harm None" ethic, and/or don't believe that New Style Wiccans should be calling themselves "Wiccan."  Calling it "Wiccanate" instead of just "Wiccan" is basically saying "Just because you aren't Wiccan doesn't mean you're off the hook."  As a descriptive term it doesn't really distinguish between Old Style Wicca and New Style Wicca.

Part Two: Why is this important?

Again, I reiterate:  It's not about in-fighting among Wiccans.  For fuck's sake.  It's like some of you can't even look beyond your own tradition for five seconds.  For those of you who skipped the Pagan 101 portion of your study (or had particularly awful training), there are Pagans out there who are not Wiccans.  Since Wicca is so common, Wiccans very easily forget that not all Pagans practice like them.  Because of this, you get many events that claim to be for Pagans of all faiths and traditions, but which are only really accommodating to Wiccans and people who practice similarly.

This isn't a small thing.  It means that a non-Wiccan Pagan who goes to a "General Pagan" event can reasonably expect that other people who attend will probably misrepresent us, define Paganism in such a way that it excludes anybody who isn't Wiccan or Wicca-inspired, lecture us about ethics that have nothing to do with our religious traditions, and insist that we shoehorn our Gods and our mythology into a Wiccan understanding (something that happened to me while I was giving a presentation on Kemetic Reconstructionism once).  It's visible whenever you find a page like this that tries to define "Paganism" using Wiccan beliefs and ethics and yet says "Wicca" exactly zero times.  It's visible whenever a Wiccan gives an interview to a non-Pagan venue while treating "Pagan" and "Wiccan" as interchangeable.  It opens the rest of us to alienation and misrepresentation even in spaces that we're told are for us.  If you notice non-Wiccan Pagans stop coming to your events, this is often why.  We don't feel welcome.


That said, derailing what people are calling "Wiccanate privilege" is in fact very important to me.  I'm sick of people saying "Pagan" when they mean "Wiccan."  I'm sick of my ethics being trashed by Wiccans in Pagan space just because "Harm None" is not a part of my belief system.  I'm sick of people assuming that a ritual that collectively calls all of the world's deities "The God" and "The Goddess" is automatically relatable to me just because my deities are "technically" included.  This is not inclusive and it's insulting to think it is.

It's not about Wiccans vs. Wiccans.  Chant that over and over again.  It's about Wiccans vs. the large number of Pagans who aren't Wiccans.  And yes, it's an important issue that affects a lot of Pagans.

Part Three:  If I'm totally on board with derailing the preference of Wicca in Pagan communities, why do I hate the phrase "Wiccanate privilege?"

As somebody who deals in privilege discourse, I think it's a mistake to attach every power critique to a brand new "____ privilege" type label, and in this case in particular it's important to recognize that being Wiccan is not itself a privileged state.  Wiccans hold a lot of power over the discourse within the Pagan community--something that needs to be controlled--but calling them "privileged" ignores that in the wider community Wicca is a minority faith and subject to all the bullshit that that entitles them.

There have been cases where this sort of thing has been used to refer to privilege within a community (like gay male privilege within the queer community or white privilege as wielded by women), but the privilege being referred to in these cases is still something that goes beyond that community, something that can't be said for this so-called Wiccanate privilege.  In my own case, it's specifically the places where my beliefs, symbols, and practices align with Wicca where I've been most often burned by Christians:  I've been asked to remove pentacles at work, but not ankhs.

That said, it's important to me that we use accurate language to describe what's going on.  Using the word "privilege" to refer to something that benefits a person literally only within one minority religious community is I feel a misuse of the word "privilege" in the social justice sense of the word.  I feel like people are using it more as provocative clickbait than anything, without really considering the ramifications that such language is going to have both for the issue itself and for privilege discourse in general (where people love finding reasons to treat the word "privilege" as a slur used by meanies).

Monday, March 10, 2014

I'm Sick Of Cis People Arguments About Rayon

I made the choice not to watch Dallas Buyers Club almost exclusively based on the clip of Jared Leto that was shown after he was announced as a nominee during the Oscars, a cringe-worthy clip featuring Rayon slathering on makeup and lamenting how much she just wants to be pretty.  It was exactly the kind of scene I'd expect a cis person to write or act (I already wrote about this sort of thing last year).  There are many things I would rather do with my life than watch an entire movie's worth of that.  And it's not that there aren't trans women who behave in this way, but the last thing I want to do is pour appreciation on a cis dude for his cis interpretation of the extremely painful and often quite private moments of a trans person's life that characterize dysphoria.

"Trans people like this exist though" was the gist of Calpernia Addams' article on the subject, along with the classic "but I'd rather see allies act as trans people than no trans roles at all" and some other mostly irritating arguments.  My favorite part:
But I also refuse to shoot down powerful people who take steps to bring human trans portrayals to the screen, even if they are played by nontrans females (Felicity Huffman in Transamerica, Hilary Swank in Boys Don't Cry) or a nontrans male (Lee Pace in Soldier's Girl, Jared in Dallas Buyers Club).
The thing that irks me about this is that other than Soldier's Girl (which I am not commenting on except to say that it is about Calpernia Addams, as I have not seen even clips from it and don't want to seek them out), I have deep problems with all of these movies.  Transamerica is at its core about a shitty gatekeeper therapist who forces a trans woman to jump through hoops she shouldn't have to in order to get surgery... and acts like this is a good and reasonable thing for her to insist.  Boys Don't Cry is a carnival of sexualized portrayals of the victim of a gruesome rape and murder; this film apparently couldn't get away without showing so much of Hilary Swank's body that scenes from this movie regularly show up on celebrity porn sites as wank material for straight guys.  In fact, there are probably no portrayals of trans people in fictional and narrative-non-fiction-with-creative-license media that I'm really happy with, as a trans person, and practically all of them involve cis actors.

There are certainly trans actors out there who have played trans roles, but they don't have the same choices of roles that cis actors have and are often limited to playing shitty tropey characters.  Most importantly, they're the exception rather than the rule.

These writers, directors, and actors have certainly tried to create sensitive, interesting, and heartwarming characters and stories.  The problem is that they pretty much have license to pick and choose which trans people they listen to, which is where Calpernia Addams comes in.  Calpernia Addams is the go-to-person for actors to talk to when they want trans insights, so of course she is fine with these portrayals.

There is no transgender hive-mind.  When people make statements about "what the trans community thinks" or "what the trans community needs," it's not particularly difficult to find people who disagree with those assertions.  There are a lot of people who will say things like, for instance, that the same-sex marriage fight is something wealthy gays and lesbians are fighting for and not trans people... and many trans people do agree that marriage is the wrong fight, but not all of us: Marriage law absolutely affects trans folk.

Here's where it starts getting obnoxious as fuck for me.  So Calpernia Addams wrote her The Advocate piece (because of course it's in The Advocate).  It is, as far as I can tell, a dissenting opinion among loads of trans women who are not happy about Leto playing a trans woman and are not happy about the resulting movie.  That's not, for all of Addams's flaws, a big deal for me.  Addams is at least a trans woman herself, and as I said above, there is no hive-mind and there are undoubtedly several more trans women who are either happy about or ambivalent to Leto's performance.

As a cis person it is not your solemn duty to make trans people aware that Queen Calpernia Addams has spoken definitively.

If there's one thing that infuriates me about this situation it's not that Addams wrote her piece, it's that it has given endless cis people ammo in their incessant arguments in favor of ignoring the serious problems with Dallas Buyers Club and other films and literature.

Because this is what I'm seeing happen right now:  A trans person goes on a rant or posts articles about how insulting Jared Leto's performance is, how insensitive it was that he didn't bring up trans women in his award's speech, how shitty it is that trans actresses weren't offered the opportunity to play this role, or so forth... and one of their cis friends who likes Jared Leto for whatever reason will post a link to this one essay on The Advocate in response as if this is the last word on the subject and they should never have gotten so upset.

When trans people are upset about something, it is not your job to find a dissenting trans opinion to set the other trans people right.  Whether or not you enjoyed Dallas Buyers Club--or any other media a trans person might find objectionable--is not the point.  People consume and enjoy problematic media all the time.  It's perfectly possible to do that more responsibly.  And a big part of that is allowing oppressed people to have their own feelings about how and why something is problematic without constantly trying to justify them.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Emasculated Cis Men, Black Box Warnings, and Testosterone Supplementation

There's an organization trying to get the FDA to put a "black box" warning on testosterone drugs such as Androgel in light of the fact that it can cause an increase in cardiovascular problems.  This is the most serious medication warning that the FDA can put on a drug.  This is, reasonably, something that has trans men and other trans folk who use testosterone--or perhaps more importantly, those who are seeking it--very worried.

An increase in risk for heart disease (and plenty of other medical problems) is something transgender men and other transgender people who use testosterone have been aware of for a long time, and practically all of us are aware that we are taking a risk when we take this drug.  In fact, depending on where we get them, there's a good possibility we have been lectured about it on multiple occasions.  It's something told to us by our therapists, by our doctors, by relatives who search online for any reason to get us not to transition, and by other trans men.  In the documentary series "Transgeneration" for instance, there is a trans man considering testosterone who states that taking it shaves ten years off of your life.  There really isn't any evidence to support that being true with modern methods of taking it, but it's a good example for how pervasive the idea that testosterone is potentially deadly is in the trans male and otherwise testosterone-using trans community.  Many of us show up to the doctor already being aware of these health risks.

In fact, over-blowing the health risk to trans folk is one of the reasons so many of us attempt Natural Transitioning (NT), a cocktail of over-the-counter supplements mixed with a strict diet and exercise regimen that is meant to coax the body to produce more testosterone on its own.  People who try this (largely ineffective for major changes and extremely expensive) method of transitioning often cite the dangers of hormone replacement therapy when justifying their decision.

That said, the worry among trans men here is that a drug whose risks we already are reasonably well aware of is going to be even more difficult to access, and all because cis men are feeling emasculated by drug advertising.  And that's the purpose of what I'm writing here.  I'm not here to write some glowing endorsement of testosterone as if it's perfectly safe (it isn't) and as if all relevant trans folk should be taking it (not all of us should be or want to be).  I'm here to write about how direct advertising of drugs hurts people.

First, let's talk about these ads.  It's worth a giggle to mention that when I tried doing a search for a YouTube video showing an Androgel ad, the first result I got was actually for Axe instead.  A typical Androgel commercial stars an older man talking about how things just aren't how they used to be for him.  He doesn't have as much energy as he used to, and his libido is starting to suffer, so his doctor diagnosed him with "Low T."  Now that he is taking testosterone, he can do all the things he used to do when he was younger and more virile.  This is a subtly emasculating class of advertisements.  Men tend to (erroneously) associate testosterone levels with masculinity, so a man who has a normal level of testosterone being told that some irritating effects of aging are a result of the fact that his testosterone levels aren't the same as he was in his twenties or thirties can easily get roped into that emasculation.  Androgel is in effect saying that getting older is making you less of a man.

It's worth mentioning at this point that I'm in no way saying that Androgel or any other testosterone supplement shouldn't be used for the purposes these advertisements are suggesting provided the risk is worth the reward.  I'm a big fan of informed consent.  Hell, I'm even pretty comfortable with testosterone being used for bodybuilding if somebody is aware of the risks involved.

But direct advertising of testosterone supplements specifically uses that subtle emasculation I was just describing to shame men into asking their doctors about hormones.  Although the ads themselves are directed toward older men, younger men are also absorbing these messages (it's not an uncommon occurrence for a younger cis man, in his 20s or 30s, to ask me about anything from whether or not it would give him more energy to whether or not it would increase his penis size).  Admittedly, some of these inquiries aren't directly based on the actual commercials themselves so much as they are a side-effect of having testosterone being advertised literally everywhere.  It's not just the emasculation of older men.  It's the preconceived notions we already have about testosterone and the myth that having lots and lots of it is desirable for men.

Testosterone-envy is something that is used in a lot of ludicrous man-vertising.  On my way to work I'd constantly pass this billboard for Dr. Pepper Ten that had in bold letters the word "TASTEosterone."  If we even continue allowing direct advertising of pharmaceuticals (something that's banned in a lot of countries for damn good reasons), it should be a responsibility of testosterone drug manufacturers to understand the baggage they are working with and adjust their tactics accordingly.  Of course, they won't do that, because peoples' irrational beliefs about testosterone are some of their best marketing tools.  There's a reason these companies are currently subject to a lot of lawsuits, after all.

Finally, I'm going to come full circle and talk about how much of the risk of testosterone is talked about when you're a trans person going through that process.  When a trans man goes on testosterone, like I said, there's a good chance he will have gone through multiple hoops where he has been lectured about just what sorts of things he's doing to his body.  I mentioned them above, but to elaborate based on my own experience:
  1. Trans men, especially older, more conservative trans men who had been on hormones for years, have written lots of essays insisting younger trans guys consider maybe they aren't trans, on the basis that testosterone and surgery are very extreme and cause increases in risk for cardiovascular and other diseases.
  2. Then your relatives, even very well-meaning ones, will send you article after article about the risks of hormone replacement therapy.  Maybe when you come out to your parents or tell them you're about to go on hormones they'll sit you down and make sure you are really, really sure that you want to go through with this because they heard something about a bodybuilder who died from a stroke or something.
  3. Then you might have to go to therapy if you can't find an informed consent program where if your therapist concentrates in gender identity they may dedicate entire sessions to talking about your soon-to-be cardiovascular risk.  My letter that I had to take to my doctor dedicated an entire paragraph to insisting I knew about this risk.
  4. Finally you go to your doctor.  My first visit for hormone replacement began with a nurse going over the risk.  Then when the doctor came in, she not only repeated the same information, but had me read it and sign a form explaining that I'd read it and understood that there would be cardiovascular risks.
  5. That "finally" was actually a lie, because every new doctor I go to after over two years of hormone replacement makes a point of making a big deal out of the risks of my medication.  The last time I went to the ER I had two unnecessary tests done because I was on testosterone.
What disconcerts me about this isn't so much that people are telling me or anybody else the risks of my medication--yes, I already know them, but I also am well aware that there are trans boys out there who are flippant about them--it's that I can't imagine a cis man going in for a low-T diagnosis being treated with this much apprehension.  In other words, I have a very real fear that there are going to be barriers placed on trans folk getting their hormones because people trust cis men to know their hormone needs more than they trust trans folk to, despite the fact cis men are being targeted for manipulative advertising in ways trans men generally aren't.