In a recent newsletter entry, Danny Lavery wrote, “The art of masculine withholding is designed to collapse; the collapse is the point.” Perhaps one way to define cis and trans masculinity against each other is to say that, in both cases, “the collapse is the point” — it just . . . plays out in different ways.
For cis masculinity — at least, from what I’ve observed of it — this is how it’s supposed to work: withholding until you can’t, exploding, hoping that someone will be there to help you clean things up. It doesn’t seem to feel good. In contrast, trans masculinity is the same thing but with more leeway: Moments of collapse are inevitable and painful, but there’s agency within that. You can hold yourself accountable for a collapse, or a collapse can be pleasurable. Of course, this isn’t always how it feels. But Danny’s writing is about learning how to mess up as considerately as you can.
In response to this newsletter entry, writer Calvin Kasulke (who is also Danny’s close friend) told him, “Truly, you are the world’s foremost chronicler of lumpy, horny men.” Something That May Shock and Discredit You, Lavery’s most recent book, which is excerpted below, is, as Calvin said, a chronicle of “lumpy, horny men,” but it is also a book about norms.
The deconstructionist brand of queer theory is addicted to positioning trans people as either embodying or questing for anti-normativity. But as a literal advice columnist, host of the “Dear Prudence” podcast and column, part of Danny’s job is to tell people that what they are going through is not just them but a thing that happens and has happened to people — that is, it is part, for better or worse, of a broader norm of behavior. When this has applied to my life, I’ve felt it as relief. I’ve described Danny’s book as “formally experimental trans masc self-help.” I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.
Oh, I don’t want to go on T. That’s not what this is. I can see where you got the idea, I suppose, but I’m afraid hormones simply aren’t for me. I don’t even want the ones I have! I’ll never go on testosterone, but it’s simply wonderful for you. You look great. Better than ever, honestly. If I were stuck in a room for the rest of my life and could only look at one thing for some reason, it would be you (I hope that’s not weird to say), but that’s really not the same thing. I just want you to go on hormones and for me to be able to watch you do it. And if you ever wanted to share the occasional update, like just a few day-by-day updates on how you’re doing, maybe just a daily journal about what T is doing for you, what affects you’re noticing, that sort of thing, that I could read or watch or otherwise follow along from the comfort of home, where I’m not on hormones, that would be ideal. But that’s it for me!
I’m not even sure I want hormones. I’m pretty sure I don’t want them, because I think about going on hormones all the time, and those thoughts always end on some variation of “I can’t, not ever,” and if I really wanted to try hormones obviously I wouldn’t keep thinking about how I can’t try them. I think about them all the time and have to constantly stop myself, so I must really not want them. You know how when you’re profoundly curious and sick with longing about something, it usually passes pretty quickly. It’s an idle fixation brought on by boredom, easily confused with legitimate desire. Don’t worry, lots of people confuse the two. And it doesn’t help, seeing all those attractively powerful trans people getting into their stretch limousines and then going on the news to promote hormone therapy as a universal panacea for solving all your problems. Happens all the time, and frankly I’m sick of it.
I certainly don’t need hormones. See, I’ve got all these coping strategies instead. Look at how well they’re working!
If someone were to drop a little bit of leftover testosterone on the ground, and I couldn’t find the owner and there weren’t any trans people around, and it was about to go bad, I would probably take it, in the interest of preventing waste. That would just be sensible. Stand to reason. If for some reason I were forced to take testosterone — I don’t know why someone would, but it might happen — I would of course make the best of a bad situation and comply with good cheer. There’s no point in complaining, when someone comes to your house and forces you to take testosterone. I’d be remarkably sanguine about the whole thing, a model of radical acceptance. These things happen sometimes, for any number of reasons. One reads about it. Yes, I’m quite prepared to be forced to take hormones, if it ever comes to that, but I wouldn’t go out of my way for it.
Oh God, hormones would ruin my life. I’m sorry, I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but hormones would ruin my life, dramatically. Obviously they’re great for other people. I think everyone should get the chance to try going on hormones, except for me. I’m the only person who shouldn’t take hormones. God, can you imagine? Me? On hormones? I imagine it all the time, and I know it would be terrible. No, I’ve given it a lot of thought and I know that testosterone therapy would destroy all of my personal relationships, ruin my sex life, devastate my plans for the future, render me permanently unhappy, and otherwise set off a series of unmitigated disasters that I would regret for the rest of my days. But you look great. I’m perfectly contented as I am — not needing hormones, certainly not wanting them, prepared to take them cheerfully under duress, planning ahead for said duress, secure in the knowledge that they would ruin my life and that I’ve never wanted them for even a moment.
I definitely don’t want to go on T, and I really don’t think I’ve ever even wanted to try hormones, and they would absolutely ruin my life — I know that for sure — but I do wish I’d known about this when I was seventeen. Hormones would ruin my life, but if I’d been able to try them fifteen years ago, I’d be the happiest person in the world. Hormones stood me up for senior prom, and I never really got over it, and I wouldn’t give testosterone a second chance if it rang my doorbell right now, begging my forgiveness and asking if we can start over. The fault lies with hormone replacement therapy for not making itself known to me sooner, and it’s only fair that I should punish hormone replacement therapy for ignoring me by ignoring it in return.
If I’d known about them even a day sooner, everything would be different; unfortunately I learned about hormones the day after taking hormones became impossible, and you can’t blame anyone for that. Timing is crucial. It’s simple math, really: only trans people take hormones, and I’m not trans, because trans people are on hormones, and I’m not on hormones, so if I were to go on hormones it would likely cause some sort of paradox. Many other people would be very distressed with me if I were to try testosterone, but as long as I don’t try testosterone, only I have to be distressed about it, and one is certainly fewer than many, so there’s your answer right there. It’s simple math.
Of course if I had it to do all over again, I’d take them. Who wouldn’t? It would be the best thing imaginable for me. The trick is not to imagine it, and not to want anything.