When somebody mentions "testosterone," the first phrase that leaps into your mind is seldom "literary intellectuals." Nonetheless, former
New Republic editor Andrew Sullivan and the well-connected Slate.com columnist Judith Shulevitz are currently having a spat over the manly molecule.
In the "The He Hormone" (New York Times Magazine, April 2), Sullivan offered an enlightening, but also irresponsible and comically chest-thumping ode to the joys of mainlining The Big T. Sullivan, an HIV-infected homosexual, began shooting himself up with synthetic testosterone two years ago to counter lethargy and weight loss. He has since added 20 pounds of solid muscle and tremendous physical vitality. "I missed one deadline on this article because it came three days after a testosterone shot and I couldn't bring myself to sit still long enough," he brags.
Following his bimonthly injections, this one-time Oxford grad student in political philosophy suddenly starts acting like a Biblical patriarch gone bad, exulting in volcanic displays of pride, lust and wrath. Now, you might find the formerly mild-mannered journalist's enthusiasm for his new red-blooded personality even more alarming than his new fuel-injected behaviour. Nor are you likely to be reassured by his excited report that "This summer, with the arrival of AndroGel, the testosterone gel created as a medical treatment for those four to five million men who suffer from low levels of testosterone, recreational demand may soar." Will the world be a better place when all men, even gay intellectuals, swagger around like steroid-supercharged professional wrestlers?
Samuel Fussell, another ex-Oxford grad student, offered a more realistic appraisal of the addictive allure of steroids in his memoir,
Muscle: Confessions of an Unlikely Bodybuilder. While steroids were transforming this six-foot, four-inch 170-pound weakling into 259 pounds of Schwarzeneggerian musculature, they were also flooding Fussell's mind with rage. He constantly tailgated and pounded his horn for the fun of provoking other drivers into fistfights.
On an intellectual level, Sullivan understands some of these concerns. Thus, he tosses in boilerplate about testosterone "use needs to be carefully monitored because it can also lead to side effects, like greater susceptibility to cancer ..." Still, with all that macho hormone surging through his veins, he really doesn't have time for such Nervous Nellie qualms: "But that's what doctors are there for," he snaps.
Now, none of Sullivan's breathless revelations will come as a surprise to sports fans. High levels of natural testosterone plus steroid supplements are a big reason
so many star jocks are star jerks. Pro teams and universities are constantly bailing out players and paying hush money to the women they beat and rape while in the throes of what bodybuilders call " 'roid rage." Yet, in the unworldly world of
New York Times-approved intellectual discourse, it's rare indeed to hear anyone invoke biological differences to dismiss feminist orthodoxy so bluntly as the Brave New Sullivan: "Since most men have at least 10 times as much T as most women, it therefore makes sense not to have coed baseball leagues. Equally, it makes sense that women will be under-represented in a high-testosterone environment like military combat or construction. ... [G]ender inequality in these fields is primarily not a function of sexism, merely of common sense."
But, don't worry, ladies, this born-again endocrinal evangelist knows how you can overcome your Glandular Gap: "A modest solution might be to give more women access to testosterone ..." Androgen Andy, however, doesn't mention one irreversible side effect that sometimes afflicts female bodybuilders: "clitoral hypertrophy." What's that? Well, for the benefit of my readers who are eating breakfast, I'll spare you the graphic details and just say that it's exactly what you think it is. Still, the massive impact of sex hormones on society was fully explained at least as far back as 1973, when City College of New York sociologist Steven Goldberg's classic
The Inevitability of Patriarchy finally appeared. It had previously been rejected 69 times, which won it a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. The feminist backlash Goldberg endured indicates why more popular intellectuals preferred to remain oblivious to the obvious. Lacking Sullivan's chemical cojones, they just didn't have, well, the balls.
If feminists actually represented the best interests of women, they would be worried that Sullivan's cheerleading will lead to more women getting pummeled by steroid-stoked men. But to admit that testosterone is dangerous would be to publicly admit that the fundamental feminist theory -- that differences between the sexes are entirely the fault of society, not of biology -- is flapdoodle. So,
Slate columnist Judith Shulevitz expended 2,200 words downplaying the dangers. Hey, it all just might be a placebo effect!
She rightly notes that there have been few controlled laboratory experiments involving large doses of testosterone. But Shulevitz doesn't explain why not: Few insurance companies would allow researchers to dabble in such reckless science. The chance is far too great that a subject would go home and beat the hell out of his wife.
So, if you're a guy who's tired of getting sand kicked in your face, why not buy some virility in a vial? Either, testosterone works wonderfully (says the
New York Times), or it might not do much at all (says Slate). What's the downside?
Well, plenty of women have found there's plenty of downside from men taking steroids. But you won't hear about it from the feminist theorists. Once again, political correctness gets real people hurt really bad.
Steve Sailer (www.iSteve.com) is president of the Human Biodiversity Institute.