I had resigned myself almost immediately to its seizure at customs, but the bottle arrived from Oceania without a hitch, and quicker than expected.
Three or four weeks ago, sick and isolating at home, I decided to shave off my beard in the hope it would change everything. Of course it didn’t. There was no latent femininity hiding under there. Just the weathered and sagging chin of a hard-done-by thirty-two-year-old. I decided to grow it back, knowing there was something much deeper beneath my skin that I wanted to experiment with. Then, I placed an order for Estradiol on the Internet. It felt good. It felt right.
When the pills arrive, I unwrap them and stare at the bottle for a while. I go over the spring-loaded information leaflet, tightly bound and taped to the lid. There was surprisingly little there to worry about. Just the usual. But of course there is little information about the kinds of effects I’m hoping they will have. It is time to wait and see.
K asks if I’ve started them yet and I say no. I want to grow my beard back fully, I say, and only then start, so I can see what I want to do with my face later. I expect my facial hair to grow considerably slower over the months ahead, so best to have as much as possible to play with.
Two hours later, I change my mind. What am I waiting for?
B offers her congratulations. I do feel like celebrating. A few words of caution: “watch out for the emotional recoding,” she says. I like her phrasing. A second puberty (of sorts) is what I am most anxious about, but I have yet to shake off my erratic teenage mood swings anyway. Fuck it.
I go to work an hour after taking my first pill and feel a rush of such intense euphoria on the walk over. It is certainly not the pill itself, but the choice to take it makes me feel so unexpectedly high.
K arrives not long after I do. We chat across the bar and I tell them I changed my mind. No deferral. The journey starts today. They’re excited for me. “Are you going to write a book about it?” they ask, only half teasing. It feels like a prerequisite for any trans writer. You obviously have to write about your transition. But again, I say no. I don’t want to be that predictable… But I will be keeping a diary…
We brainstorm titles. Estro Addict is the only one I remember, the allusion no doubt obvious.
Like visiting London, Tokyo, Paris or New York, it is hard to document your own journey to certain places and not replicate the most famous depictions of all. It is hard not to couch this experience in any number of pop-cultural references. It is an experience so alien, you reach out for whatever moorings you can. Writing them down, it is hard not to emulate, at least in spirit, Paul B. Preciado.
I recite the Transperson’s Creed: This is my transition. There are many like it, but this one is mine. But no one can transition alone. And Preciado is hardly bad company. But first I turn to elsewhere. I get home from work and think about Spinoza, falling deep into the trenches of the Ethics.
For Deleuze, Spinoza’s Ethics “is necessarily an ethics of joy: only joy is worthwhile, joy remains, bringing us near to action, and to the bliss of action.”
Accepting this basic principle of joy sought in action, foundational to philosophy since Plato’s dialogues on the beautiful and the good, is one thing. But faced with the ease of a resentful conformity, what is to be done? How do we then act upon this ethics of action?
It is, as Ronald Bogue puts it, “an ethic of choosing to choose”, adding: “Those who choose to choose affirm the possible.” And to choose to choose is always to choose otherwise. To choose something other than what is given, because what is given may well be intolerable. And: “The only viable response to the intolerable is to think differently, to disconnect the world’s networks of certainties and pieties and formulate new problems that engender as yet unmapped relations and connections.”
In choosing to choose, Deleuze asserts that we must ask ourselves three practical questions:
- How does one arrive at a maximum of joyful passions?
- How does one manage to form adequate ideas?
- How does one become conscious of oneself, of God, and of things?
This is no philosophy of hollow affirmation; no bleary-eyed Romanticism; no limited subscription to the pleasure principle. There is nothing so deferential in choice. Indeed, the joy that leads to — and is found in — our resistance to the drudgeries of the given is the opposite of affectless acquiescence. We are born, then we choose to be born again — this time against nature; once more with feeling. After all, we are all too aware that “our place in Nature seems to condemn us to bad encounters and sadnesses”. But in light of this, how do we then attune ourselves to our “free and active feelings”? How do we form ideas of feeling that do not, at the same time, render them inactive? How do become conscious of our nature, without giving in to the poverty of the “natural”?
A possible answer, far from neat and complete, to Deleuze’s questions:
We must follow the joy which emanates across all the organs of reason, now newly in concert. Follow your head, heart and gut. Understand each as part of a multiplicitous and borderless expanse: the body without organs. It is what Deleuze, in Difference & Repetition, repeatedly calls “a Cognito for a dissolved self.” But once dissolved, how does a self unbound from its form begin to de/reform itself? We must better understand the Cogito’s processes of formation: how it thinks. And we do not yet know — not really. We do not know all that a body can do. We have not yet begun to truly think.
The formula of “I think, therefore I am” is a problem inverted. Descartes puts the cart before the horse, quite literally. “The determination (I think) implies an undetermined existence (I am, because ‘in order to think one must exist’)”. Against Descartes, Kant moves in the other direction, arguing, according to Deleuze, that “it is impossible for determination to bear directly upon the undetermined.” It is a confused form of determination that amounts to something like time-travel, albeit wholly illusory. Hurtling outwards from the explosive site of all creation, hindsight is unthinkingly 20/20. What we mistake for determination is simply a glance over the shoulder, transforming past contingencies into inevitabilities. But the search for the good life must always be future-oriented.
This is not to suggest that “I think, therefore I am” can simply be rethought as “I am, therefore I think”, but at least in this framing we recover the coveted capacity of decision-making. “I am but what am I?” Or perhaps not even that. We stumble at the “I am?” Nevertheless, I declare that I have a say. I begin with consciousness and then immediately take leave from the squandered heuristic. I do not start with “I”. It is far too hollow. “I” itself is undetermined, and so, to become conscious of myself, truly conscious of myself, I must choose to choose another self. I choose myself a new name.
Preciado begins Testo Junkie with a note on conspiratorial decisionality, introducing the reader to a new self that he hopes will not only rejoin the world in a new way, but be welcomed anew as well. The “conspiratorial” is not used in a pejorative sense here. To inspire is individual; to conspire is collective. Thus, Preciado’s assertion of self requires co-conspirators in order to be fully actualised. A decision made for oneself means little without reciprocal collaboration. A multitude of decisions are made defiantly, speaking and acting out one’s truth, but never not in dialogue.
I choose to choose, and hope others will choose to choose with me.
To decide on a new name for oneself is a poignant example of this conspiratorial gesture. We seldom speak about ourselves in the first-person; we rarely address ourselves on a first-name basis. Most of us are aware that our names are chosen for us. We are warmed by the designation of a nickname, given out of affection and familiarity, by those who truly know us. All of these social informalities highlight the strange feeling of naming oneself, of individually deciding who we are, and of hoping that confirmation will follow when such a decision is communally affirmed.
We often speak only once we are spoken to; we are spoken to only as often as we speak for ourselves. It is perhaps a sensitivity to this tension that causes Preciado to begin with a note on “the (undecidable) decision to change my name to Paul — as slaves, upon purchasing their freedom, would take new names, as the names of the villages of Palestine will change when they are once again uttered by those in exile.” It is undecidable in that it is preceded by other decisions, other circumstances, other throws of the dice; undecidable in that the decision always emerges in discordant concordance with others.
The right name strikes us as a solitary moment of inspiration, but is preceded and followed by many more conspiratorial moments. As such, a naming “is not the final, definitive step of a gender transition”; nor, we might add, is it ever the first. It is “merely another practice of displacement and resistance.” A community is called upon, a community that may not yet exist, but the naming of oneself can allow a new community to form around you. It is a dice throw outwards, away from oneself, towards the other, who is the only one who can read aloud what is cast.
“Naming, here, is simply another fable, albeit a collective one. Now it’s you who must grant me the right to wear this mask.” There was once another name, another mask. Throughout the book, BP designates the initials of a dead name. But whereas death suggests an intractability, Paul proceeds like a dominant twin who has chosen to cannibalise its other in love, in that irregular spacetime where the self di/gest(ate)s itself. “Understand that Paul absorbs and assumes all that was once BP.” Selves are created and decreated in tandem. We endeavour to “undo the creature in us”, as Simone Weil once wrote, constructing a newly conceptual personage through grace.
This consummation of self has produced what is inevitably, Preciado informs his reader, a “body-essay”; “a somato-political fiction, a theory of the self, or self-theory”, but one always in dialogue with others: other people and other selves. It is a book that wanders through the somato-political complexities of affective decision-making, but not even the feelings as his (or mine) alone. He adds:
I’m not interested in my emotions insomuch 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. In what emanates from our planet’s history…
… which is dead names, defamiliarized language, old forms of categorisation. But also chosen names, new lexicons, categorical deformations. In short, metamorphoses. Or put another way, to quote Guattari: “Revolution or the re-emergence of a plane of subjective consistency that salvages desire, it’s all the same.”
Preciado puts it like this: “I’m not taking testosterone to change myself into a man or as a physical strategy of transsexualism; I take it to foil what society wanted to make of me…” Revolution now. For myself, yes, but not me alone — never me alone. The task at hand: “To accept the fact that the change happening in me is the metamorphosis of an era.” Join me in my joy, my desires, my ecstasy. It is ours.
You may call me Other now. Yes, Other, I know.