I’m getting weary of the old-fashioned sex difference revival. (Yes, I’m channelling Linda Evans right now. Shut up.) It’s everywhere in the media, from Time to Newsweek. Clinical psychologist Rosalind Barnett and journalist Caryl Rivers tackle the subject in their book Same Difference: How Gender Myths Are Hurting Our Relationships, Our Children, and Our Jobs. They critique the resurgence of gender myths in modern society, especially since 9/11, paring away at the bad science propping up such myths and showing how it hurts us. And, boy, can these bitches mount a queen. In ‘The Testosterone Test,’ a section of Chapter Eight in their book, they mention a gay man who has embraced the specious notion that testosterone makes males more aggressive than females. To me this is anathema, and I’ll tell you why. I will, I tell you. I will!
As I’ve suggested, the section deals with claims that males are more aggressive than females because they have higher testosterone levels. The authors admit that males have on average ten times more testosterone than females, but they point out that the relationship between testosterone and aggression is very foggy indeed, and that we do not know whether testosterone causes aggression levels to spike, aggression causes testosterone levels to spike, or something else entirely causes both to spike. In fact, it is doubtful that there is any direct relationship between testosterone and aggression in males, according to John Archer of the University of Central Lancashire, who conducted a major review of the literature . So we should remain sceptical about claims that testosterone causes males to be more aggressive than females. It’s more complex and nuanced than that, and failing to realise this point might have real-life consequences.
To show how influential quack notions about gender science can be in popular culture, Barnett and Rivers cite a sensationalistic 2000 cover story in the New York Times Magazine called ‘The He Hormone’ . The article wasn’t written by a scientist–it wasn’t even written by a science journalist–it was written by a gay conservative Catholic essayist with HIV called Andrew Sullivan. Barnett and Rivers note that it would have been valuable reading if Sullivan had written about taking shots of testosterone to manage his HIV condition, because this might have great benefits, but he attempted to write a full-fledged science article on the relationship between testosterone and sex, citing out-of-the-mainstream scientists and making factual errors andinaccurate claims along the way. As Barnett and Rivers write,
Robert Sapolsky, an eminent Stanford University professor of biology and neurology and an expert on testosterone, told Slate that Sullivan ‘is entitled to his fairly nonscientific opinion, but I’m astonished at the New York Times [for publishing his article].’ Saposky notes that one of the studies cited by Sullivan is a scientific laughingstock that was discredited long ago. Three other respected researchers signed a letter to the Times about the article, stating, ‘[i]n particular, there are scant results from well-controlled experiments showing that testosterone affects behaviour of normal men in the ways asserted by Sullivan.’
So, given this scientific insight, my question to Sullivan is: Really? Are you serious? I am gonna put on my Lee Press-On Nails and slap the bitch off your face. You should know better, queen!
But, in honesty, why in the world would a gay man be promulgating such pseudoscience? Immediately I am drawn to five facts: he is gay, male, conservative, Catholic, and HIV positive. This is a very complex archetype to read, but to me it ultimately screams “sexual insecurity.” Of course, nobody should be promoting the pseudoscience Barnett and Rivers describe, but one would think that a gay man, of all people, would be among the first to recognise and criticise it. Doesn’t Dan Savage campaign against gay bullying? Doesn’t Sullivan? Anti-gay bullying is motivated largely by gender norms, after all, and gay people don’t fit into the traditional male-female procreative script so integral to such norms. I think this strange disjunction in gay men like Sullivan stems from a sort of schizophrenia or cognitive dissonance over gay men being aggressive but also compassionate. Gay men want to be accepted for being effeminate, but, ironically, they also want to assume the bully’s role and hence gain power over the people who once tortured them. The white, bearded, brunette bear in plaid becomes this macho–in some cases very supercilious–bully towards the shaved, tanned, blond twink at the local gay disco. (Don’t get me wrong–I think they’re both silly for their own reasons.) The effect isn’t physical, but it’s psychological. And that’s also damaging.
Everybody should be dispelling gender myths, but one would expect gay men to be among the first to do so, because of their own personal experiences with how such myths have hurt them. But faggots have foggy memories, and their minds are like phantasmic labyrinths. I don’t think Sullivan wants to hurt people, but I think he does so with his essay. I think he might be confused, desperate, and slightly egotistical. Gay people should be reading more academic literature on feminism and gender theory, like Barnett and Rivers’s book or Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender, and they should be constructing an argument which produces a fuller image of who we should be as human beings. We should be raping the airwaves with real, sound, solid science on how everybody suffers from gender myths.
1. J. Archer, ‘The influence of testosterone on human aggression,’ British Journal of Psychology 82 (1991); 1-28.
2. Sullivan. “Why Men Are Different.”