“technoscience “technoscience refers specifically to the technological and social context of science. Technoscience recognizes that scientific knowledge is not only socially coded and historically situated but sustained and made durable by material (non-human) networks. Technoscience states that the fields of science and technology are linked and grow together, and scientific knowledge requires an infrastructure of technology in order to remain stationary or move forward.”
See María Lugones Towards a Decolonial Feminism, Anne Fausto-Sterling’s Sexing the Body and The Five Sexes Revisited, Paul Preciado’s Testo Junkie, Heath Fogg Davis’s Beyond Trans: Does Gender Matter, Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identitiy and Undoing Gender, Oyeronke Oyewùmí’s The Invention of Women, and countless others
DARPA is currently funding several initiatives to produce on demand pharmaceuticals in combat zones in briefcase-refrigerator sized bioproduction units utilizing synbio techniques. for example
OSE has also developed DIY methods for C18 silica solid phase extraction of xenoestrogens from waterways to measure endocrine disrupting pollutants by testing estrogenicity with a transgenic yeast assay. Practices Mary Maggic refers to as "River Gynecology."
“The Trans Organs on a Chip is a project within BIO-reSEARCH, the Pechblenda tentacles, mixed with AnarchaGland & GynePUNK biolabs. The project has been joined by many others who are interested!”
I’m referring specifically to Federici’s earlier work such as Caliban and the Witch. Her more recent work, Beyond the Periphery of the Skin, has taken a disappointingly transphobic turn in longing for second wave feminist cultures of the 1970s as described by Cory Austin Knudson.
Speaking on, listening to, reading, writing, editing, and collaging of discourses around sex/gender has discursively constructed my body and subjectivity as a queer and trans person just as much as the use of exogenous hormones, a chosen name, pronouns, clothing, and other gender codes.
“a lot of times, when we are making noise about the unjustness of a scientific project, or a technological project, we are critiquing power. It is a very sophisticated political critique. Scientists and engineers don’t want to hear it, so where do they go? ‘You’re irrational, you’re anti-science, you’re backwards.’ So they’re really taking refuge in the privilege that has accrued to them as scientists, and I see this again—because it’s the same basic conversation about whose rational and whose not—as a new and emerging form of whiteness….I’m not necessarily talking about skin color, I’m not necessarily talking about ancestry from Europe….if that notion of rationality is kind of being conflated with [whiteness] then you can see how other people can kind of take up that discourse of ‘who’s more rational and civilized,’ even though their skin color might be different, or their phenotype might be different and they can try to get access to some of the privileges of whiteness….we may need a new word for that.” Kim Tallbear on whiteness
Technoscience is a continued colonial discourse. By this I mean that technoscience has ultimately operated as a tool of hegemonic European and North American power. Its activities and inquiries are guided by the needs of the state. Its positioning of itself as a keeper of truths empowering or legitimating violence towards those deemed animal or subhuman. I also mean, quite literally, that the material networks and bodies of knowledge which comprise technoscience today are built off the exploitation of and experimentation on marginalized people, colonial seizures of land, and biopiracy of indigenous knowledges. Coming to understand the ways that these colonial practices have shaped today’s technoscientific sphere is essential to approaching the task of asking what is gender and what are gender biocodes (such as estrogen and testosterone).
In attempts to learn about current technologies used to produce testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone, I’ve found myself tracing through a complex socio-political-material web. The development of these technologies from the late 1800s up to the present is entangled with power structures and ideological frameworks. The most obvious of which being the dyadic conceptualization of sex and gender that remains a legacy of European colonization around the world. Through the past two centuries of biotechnical innovation, it was precisely this binary sex/gender framework -- taken up as scientific nomenclature -- that birthed tech for exogenous hormone production alongside the psychomedical profiles for normative binary gender and its dissidents given various names through time such as, transvestite, hermaphrodite, transsexual, homosexual, etc. By attempting to render bodies as well as desires and behaviors legible within a hetero-dyadic framework, this system produces normal and abnormal bodies. Both the motives of seeking a technological correction for bodies labeled abnormal and fantasies of enhancing those considered normal to become hyper legibly male and female (or hyperpolarized) shaped the evolution of hormone tech. Here, gender normativity -- the alignment of the various aspects of phenotype, behavior, and desire within this hetero-dyadic system -- becomes synonymous with health, productivity, and worth. I will not flesh out an in-depth argument against binary sex and gender classification systems, as this has been thoroughly deconstructed by theorists, biologists, anthropologists, activists, and others. The countless trans, intersex, two-spirit, non-binary, gender non-conforming, and queer people who reject narratives that attempt to erase them as outliers, anomalies, or pathological should be enough. Instead, I will perform a weaving or storytelling here, to trace some of the paths through which these entanglements can be rendered into a tangible presence.
Aside from the binary regime, a constellation of geopolitical conflicts, state enforced frameworks for the ownership of organisms and biomolecules, population control and reproductive regimes have shaped these molecular prostheses. This web of becomings, which is massively distributed through time and space, I’ve started referring to as a hormonal hyperobject (borrowing Timothy Morton’s term). To see hormones as a hyperobject, is to recognize that testosterone, progesterone, and estrogen cannot be simply reduced to individual molecules with known molecular structures and energetic properties. They can never exist for us as a single substance in one place at one time. They are psychosocial artifacts charged with a liveness that extends far beyond their ability to stimulate cellular receptors and modulate the morphological flow of bodies. As described by Morton, hyperobjects are entities massively distributed through space and time. They are viscous, sticking to any other objects they touch. They are molten in their refuting that spacetime is fixed, concrete, and consistent. They are phased, existing in a higher dimensional space than other entities can normally perceive. As they phase in and out of our perceptive grasp, we sense fragments, flickers, and glimmers of their being. They are non-local, and inter-objective, being composed of relations of relations of relations.
So, through the process of telling stories that map the relationships constituting a hormone hyperobject’s hyperextended being I am asking: how can we think a hyperobject? I hope to in a way, conjure this hyperobject into some presence amplifying what can be known through sensation alone. In these manifestations, although momentary, flickering, and continually phasing in and out of our experience of space-time, I hope to find ulterior pathways. Imaginings, and becomings, and future choreographies that open new frames. Possibilities for multimorphic gendered and sexed being. Possibilities for an anti-colonial technoscience to operate against oppressive regimes of mapping the body; regimes of thought whose colonial genesis—in the instrumentalization of technoscientific authority towards the pursuit of dominance, ownership, and wealth extraction—is ongoing. Colonization is not a historical moment, but an ongoing process. We must center anti-coloniality in everything we do. To borrow the words of Artist and Theorist Micha Cárdenas, “it is important that trans activists and scholars learn from movements such as the black radical tradition and women of color feminism to fight for, articulate, and remember an abolitionist trans tradition that understands gender policing as part of a larger colonial project including police, prisons, universities, and surveillance technologies” (Cárdenas, 2017).
The psychological and medical models produced in order to give scientific authority to, and enforce binary gender frameworks, have never been truly dualistic. The technoscientific process of reducing the diverse multiplicity of gendered and sexed embodiment to fit within a binary frame has necessitated the biotechnical and surgical modification of bodies to “normalize” them, as well as the discursive positioning of entire populations outside western conceptualizations of the Human. Within every western model of both sex and gender classification, there has always remained a space reserved for those who aberrate from the normative model and defy binary classification. This position of third gender, or neuter gender is always already excluded from the Human in a way that is meant to remove the possibility of it posing a salient challenge to the binary classification of people. This can be seen clearly, for example, in Robert Wilson’s descriptions of post-menopausal people in his 1966 bestseller Forever Femanine funded by Ayerst Laboratories whose Premarin pharmaceutical estrogen became one of the top selling prescriptions in the U.S. Wilson writes of the post-menopausal person as “third gender”, neuter, eunuchs, or monsters ascribed animalistic qualities which are disruptive to civilized life as exemplified by the patriarchal heterosexual family unit. Wilson promoted therapeutic estrogens as not just a medical intervention to support individual health, but as an essential part of being a good wife and a patriotic American invested in keeping the gendered composition of the national body intact. Prior to Wilson, another crusading gynecologist of that time period called William Masters was promoting the productivity and morale boosting effects of maintaining proper hormonal levels for your assigned gender proclaiming that, “a major contribution will have been made, not only to the treated individuals but to the economy and potential manpower supply of our country” (Ostertag, 2016). In this instance, Masters' wording makes the importance of hetero-patriarchal binary gender to colonial capitalism explicit. Gender normativity is assumed to be foundational to the most efficient generation of capital and material wealth. Another example of this third gender classification would be the discourse around people assigned female at birth whose bodies produce testosterone in amounts that are (within a binary framework) considered too high for a woman. As summarized by Chandak Sengoopta in Ending Gonadal Hegemony:
Writing in the 1950s, a Spanish researcher emphasized that the adrenal cortices represented two glands in one: one the cortex proper, secreting cortisol and reacting to stimulation by pituitary adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), and the other a sexual zone secreting male and female sex hormones, controlled by the gonadotropins of the pituitary, not by ACTH. This “sexual zone” of the adrenal he named the “third gonad,” an accessory sex gland… Louis Berman [an endocrinologist], expectedly enough, had much to say on the subject. Women with even mildly hyperfunctioning adrenals, he said, were “the ones who, in the present overturn of the traditional sex relationships, will become the professional politicians, bankers, captains of industry, and directors of affairs in general… An adrenal type will probably be the first woman president of the United States.” The less well-adjusted ones would, however, cause havoc. Berman was confident that “the sufferage revolution” had been brought about by such women. In the London of the 1930’s, Lennox Broster was even more profoundly concerned by the social consequences of adrenal virilization. Adrenal virilism did not make men out of women but produced something far more troubling—”the intersex type,” a creature that was neither fully male or fully female. In evolutionary terms, it opposed the progressive differentiation of the sexes and represented, “a retrograde movement….Is it stationary, receding, or increasing?... The adrenogenital syndrome could well be an indication of something rotten at the sexual core of mankind, a weakness that was manifesting itself in the shape of women demanding emancipation. The only solution was to be found in eugenics… Only altruistic eugenics could halt the further masculinization of women and thereby save the human species from perdition. (Sengoopta, 2006)
In this context, this “third gender” or “intersex” state is actually viewed as a natural one, with Broster proposing that, “we may be the innocent specators of an evolutionary process drifting slowly and inevitably into the neuter state,” and insisting that, “[t]oo many minds, content with their lot, and unaware of these abnormalities in others, decry this so-called tampering with nature”(Sengoopta, 2006). The “tampering with nature” he refers to would actually be the biotechnical and surgical interventions performed on gender, sex, or sexually diverse people whose bodies and desires refuse imposed binary classification. So, it seems that, for Broster, the binary regime of sex and gender is actually a cultural construction necessitated to reverse a “natural” evolutionary process of sex/gender diversification (or possibly unification of two poles—man and woman—into one singular neuter state) for the betterment of “mankind.” For him, those occupying the space of “third gender” are a product of wild evolutionary processes that must be tamed to maintain a more perfect form.
Today, the term evolution is commonly used to refer to a progression of changes towards a more perfect and complete final form. But in a scientific definition of biological evolution, the notion of a “final perfect form” does not exist. An organism can only be better or worse at surviving and proliferating within a particular context, where “better” is in relation to the complex ecosystem the being is situated in. This ecological context is itself continuously evolving. Therefore, evolution is simply change... a constant, continual dance of changing relationships and forms. Wikipedia defines evolution as, “change in the heritable characteristics of biological populations over successive generations… [which] ... occurs when evolutionary processes such as natural selection (including sexual selection) and genetic drift act on this variation, resulting in certain characteristics becoming more common or rare within a population. It is this process of evolution that has given rise to biodiversity at every level of biological organization, including the levels of species, individual organisms and molecules” (“Evolution”, 2020). Consistent throughout scientific definitions of biological evolution is this understanding that evolutionary processes produce biodiversity not a narrowing towards a “more perfect” final form.
The discourse that Lennox Broster participated in—that of gender dissidents as wild disruptions to a desired progression towards perfected binary forms—is enmeshed in the eugenics discourses of the time which persist in a variety of ways today (for example the still commonplace non-consensual "normalizing" surgeries performed on intersex babies and children that groups like the Intersex Justice Project are fighting to end). Broster and others from this school of thought positioned non-binary sex/gender as a product of the untamed wild. A monstrous wildness and animality in need of the measured, civilizing, rationality of man. This approach to sequestering those unruly third space bodies from the Human, perplexingly, is often parallel to an alternate discourse in which sex/gender variance are rationalized as being outside the scope of normal human experience through their supposed novelty as synthetic, biotechnical products of modernization, industrialization, and urbanization.
In their introduction to Queer Ecologies, Catriona Mortimer-Sandilands and Bruce Erickson detail one instantiation of this “queer and trans as pollution” formulation in relation to the emergence of the parks movement in mid-nineteenth century America. They understand the emergence of the American Parks Service as an engine for the production of unwilded, controlled naturality—coinciding with attempts to tame wild type sex and gender into legible binary forms. This also coincided with some of the earlier attempts to locate and tame the supposed material/informational essences of masculinity and femininity which scientists believed emanated from the gonads. According to their account:
the naturalization of (apparently fragile) heterosexuality in the midst of a perceived proliferation of deviant sexual types and expressions begins, in the mid- to late-nineteenth century, to create social anxiety about the state of white European masculinity.... In particular, anxiety was leveled at cities, and urbanization, industrialization, and environmental contamination (not to mention immigration) were held to blame for the social, moral, and even physical “decline” of the population said to be occurring at the time—as evidenced, apparently, by the increased visibility of homosexual activity in cities. Gay men were at the center of this anxious articulation. In part as a result of the idea that homosexuality was a sort of (creeping) illness, medical thinkers of the late nineteenth century came to believe that the environmental conditions of large urban centers actually cultivated the homosexuality that people were (they thought, increasingly) seeing; as Peter Boag writes, ‘medical experts associated ‘American’ homosexuality with the city, in part because of the urban center’s heavily immigrant population, but especially because of its environmental conditions. Pollution, tainted foods, and even the fast-paced nature of urban life “induced” it...’ (Mortimer-Sandilands, 2010)
The noted violence, fear, hatred, and disgust directed at immigrant and racialized populations for a supposed deviation from the eurocentric patriarchal binary regime is central here. The colonial projects of biologizing race and biologizing binary sex/gender regimes coincided, giving them overlap significant enough that these classification regimes can’t adequately be thought of seperately. To be racialized as non-white, or “ethnic” to varying degrees renders a person outside of the normative Humanist frames of Man and Woman, which are grounded in whiteness. This gender-queering or degendering function of race has been described by thinkers like Hortense Spillers, Che Gossett, Sylvia Winter, and Zakiyya Jackson. This thread, I'll pick up later, in order to focus now on the emergence of molecularly encrypted femininity and masculinity during this period of polluted sex panic.
Emerging from this early to mid 19th century moment fixated on taming wild sexes and natures through landscape and anatomical design, we see a shift in the late 19th / early 20th century from this fixation on the visible body, to invisible molecular flows thought to underpin life processes. The body was no longer seen as a solid and fixed form wired with neural bioelectrical communications systems. Medical and scientific thinkers reconceptualized bodies as fluid, flowing, and plastic: a balance of molecular secretions and wireless communications continuously negociating form and function. At the peak of this shift, we can see physicians move from identifying sexual deviance through overt acts, or anatomical features that might indicate a “feminized” man or a “masculinized” woman (roughly prior to the 1930s), to one in which newly discovered molecular markers (steroid hormones) were used to divine the truth of a person’s alignment or misalignment with their assigned gender (post 1930s).
Prior to the technoscientific isolation, synthesis, and masculine/feminine assignments of steroid hormone molecular forms (beginning in the early 1930s) those accused of having committed homosexual acts or those who were perceived as not anatomically/behaviorally matched to their assigned gender (for example a boy having thin, limp wrists, wide hips, or not liking sports) were deemed eligible for any range of supposedly corrective hormonal treatments, gonadal surgeries, or psychosurgical treatments. But with the classification of steroid hormones and subsequent development of more sensitive assays for their presence in bodily fluids, the markers of gendered/sexed truth were now molecularly coded. Beginning in 1939, urinary hormone assays were widely recommended as a method of detecting “female” hormones in the urine of men, and “male” hormones in the urine of women which was believed to serve as proof of homosexuality (Sengoopta, 2006). Whereas previously an anatomical assessment, psychological exam, or in some cases micro-anatomical analysis of surgically removed gonadal tissues were considered proof of deviance, molecular codes now held the final say. Diagnosis of homosexuality or other forms of sex and gender “degeneracy” made through urinalysis were increasingly treated in erratic and contradictory ways with various hormone preparations. This was especially true as more diverse and potent forms of pharmaceutical hormones became available during what is referred to as the “golden age” of steroid chemistry (1930s-1950s). During this time, hormones were extracted from pig ovaries, bull testicles, the urine of pregnant people, pregnant mares, police officers and army personnel, as well as gonads taken from imprisoned people. Protocols were developed to create laboratory synthesized copies of these biomolecules, and an explosion of petroleum-based chemistry facilitated the proliferation of synthetic hormonal petrochemicals. Some of these petro-derivative synthetics were up to 400 times more potent than biologically produced steroid hormones. Many of these synthetics are still in prolific use today (such as BPA) and have been found to have contaminated environments around the world, fueling continued homophobic and transphobic sex panicked discourses around environmental toxicities and sex/gender diversity.
Scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of the urinalysis techniques developed during this “golden age” for determining sexual or gender “deviance” remains non-existent. Studies of their efficacy at the time, produced wildly varied and contradictory results. Even when urinary hormone ratios of single individuals were analyzed through time there was significant variation in the results. In spite of this, standard urinary hormone ranges for healthy heterosexual cisgender men and women were defined, and urinalysis was used in many cases as proof in criminal cases in the U.S. In The New Hormones in the Clinic, Chandak Sengoopta describes the case of a 17 year old girl whose denial of “homosexual inclinations” was “confirmed” through urinalysis:
The body itself no longer had any diagnostic utility, and there was no need to catalogue the femanine physical characteristics of male homosexuals. All that was required to establish the feminization of an individual male was to show that ‘the usual balance or dominance [of the male sex hormone in urine] is definitely altered.’ Negative diagnosis were equally important: ‘Hormone assays of the urine are important in helping to disprove homosexuality in a normal individual where arrest has been made because of an alleged overt act.’ Wright recalled one of his cases: ‘The patient was a girl of seventeen, whose teacher, a homosexual woman, made love to her. The girl denied homosexual inclinations and her hormone assay was normal….Subsequent investigations confirmed these negative findings.’ Sexual orientation, even in the old days, was not determined from sexual acts but from a whole range of psychological and morphological characteristics. Now, however, there was a simple chemical test for seperating the ‘homosexual’ from the ‘normal.’ (Sengoopta, 2006)
It is important to note here, that during this time period (early to mid 1900s) what we often think of today as the distinct but related categories of sex, sexuality, and gender were often flattened into one singular space. Any deviation from established norms of a person’s assigned sex/gender be they anatomical, hormonal, behavioral, or expressed desires could render them aberrant and therefore “homosexual.” Because of this, when reading these historical texts, we have to assume that many identities today considered to be separate and distinct, were all amalgamated into a single indistinguishable category of third gender, or sex/gender deviant, which for these psychologists and endocrinologists often was “homosexual.” The conflation of sex, gender, and sexuality can be seen clearly in this 1941 paper published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine:
One of the major problems with which the psychologist and the endocrinologist are jointly confronted is that of homosexuality. That the overt sexual behavior of the infra-human mammals is largely determined by hormonal factors is well known. Insofar as the temperament can be judged by behavior, this too is involved. Steinach’s transformation of male into female guinea pigs by castration followed by ovarian grafts showed that homosexuality can be experimentally induced… Such evidences could be greatly multiplied. That homosexuality in man may be determined in important degree by imbalance of male and female sex-hormone production is suggested by the recent work of Glass, Wright, and others who report high estrogen-to-androgen ratios in homosexual males. (Rosenzweig and Hoskins, 1941)
Their assertion that the castration of a guinea pig’s testicles along with implantation of ovaries could not only render it “female” but that this also represented the experimental induction of homosexuality illuminates two things about their thinking. Firstly, it shows us the collapsed conceptualization of sex, gender, and sexuality that their discourse functioned within. Secondly, the assertion that the removal of testes and assumed novel introduction of estrogen (through ovarian grafts) into the guinea pig’s body “transformed” it from male to female shows us where the steroid hormone is positioned within their hierarchy of evidence. The hormone was for them, the ultimate marker of sexed/gendered truth. With the introduction of the concept of hormonal secretions as molecular essences of masculinity and femininity, molecular codes eclipsed the external anatomical features, which in some sense no longer mattered. It's in this deferral to the unseen (the molecular, the energetic) that these scientists attempting to codify binary heteropatriarchy into scientific authority unintentially initiate a queering of their own binary framework. The “primacy of vision in European intellectual history” (Bakare-Yusuf, 2000) which had given rise to the anatomical regime of sex/gender assignment through visual inspection of genital anatomy had begun to give way to a new regime of molecular truth in which Queers, Trans, and Interesex people hijacked these molecular codes to affirm, amplify, and multiply pre-existing non-binary ways of being.
Returning to the paper published in 1941 in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, the authors proceed in the introduction to describe the case of a person (assigned male at birth) who was institutionalized for two decades because of their perceived inability to properly perform their assigned gender. This person, referred to as A.D. is said to have been exhibiting “symptoms” such as pronounced effeminacy, shyness, and “preoccupation with drawing, painting, designing of women’s clothes.” It’s tempting to assume that this person might identify as non-binary, trans, or gender non-conforming if alive today. As I read their case study presented in sterile clinical language my heart is wrenched. I see flickers of my own experiences of transness, trans people who I have learned from, and those close friends I’ve come to know mirrored in these fragments of A.D. But, without their own words, I am cautious to not impose contemporary identity classifications, and have only the recorded words of the clinicians who institutionalized them to rely on:
The patient, A. D., a male negro of 46, entered the Northhampton state Hospital in 1921 and 4 years later was transferred to the Worcester State Hospital with a diagnosis of ‘constitutional psychopathic personality without psychosis.’ …At the age of 24 a diagnosis of appendicitis led to an operation. Upon discharge from the hospital [s]he learned that h[er]is manager-friend had died. This event apparently represented a great blow to h[er]im. Shortly afterward [s]he began to show the symptoms which led ultimately to [their] commitment to hospital. These consisted mainly of seclusiveness, shyness, pronounced effeminacy, and excessive preoccupation with drawing, painting, designing of women’s clothes and similar ‘artistic’ activities… [S]He talked of wearing women’s clothes and often went to bed with presumably imaginary ailments.” (Rosenzweig and Hoskins, 1941)
At the time that they were admitted to the hospital, A.D. was described in the diagnostic summary as “a negro of passive homosexual type with feminoid make-up, without evidence of psychosis.” While institutionalized, A.D. was administered a series of hormonal preparations—both biological extracts and synthetic hormonal petrochemicals with androgenic, progestogenic, estrogenic and other hormonal properties—in attempts to enforce binary gender and correct A.D.’s dissenting, “aberrant” behavior. The lack of either a consistent methodology for treatment, or a consistent theoretical model of exactly what hormonal imbalance needed to be corrected in the first place is demonstrated by the sporadic course of treatments described:
[S]he was put on sex hormones provided by pharmaceutical companies such as Schering and Squibb. Treatment commenced with the synthetic estrogen stilboestrol. Then, [s]he was implanted with “a 150-milligram tablet of Testosterone (Schering).’ This was followed by injections of gonadotropin obtained from pregnant mare serum, which was then substituted by pituitary gonadotropin and accompanied by testosterone propionate injections. Thyroid hormone was given simultaneously to ‘enhance the responsivity to sex hormones.’ … treatment culminated with two kinds of estrogen. (Sengoopta, 2006)
Today, for the most part, hormonally based theories, assays, and conversion treatments for homosexuality or queerness have subsided, with the colonial imperative for molecular proof of gayness as a “mutation” refocusing research inquiries on genetic mutations and molecules of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). One thread that has continued uninterrupted from this era, though, is the obsession with gender, sex, and sexual diversity as both produced by and being in and of themselves environmental toxicities. A prime example of this would be the contemporary sex panic around the pervasive presence of endocrine disrupting petrochemical pollutants which has been framed both in media and scientific accounts as producing homosexuals, “transgenders,” intersex conditions, and more generally polluting masculinity and femininity to produce the horror of a neuter, agender, asexual future (Di Chirro, 2010). The petrochemical castration forced on those gender and sex variant people in the early to mid 20th century—during the “golden age” of steroid chemistry—is now widely feared to be force-femming the world through the toxicity of colonial capitalism’s fiction of teleological ascension. As Malin Ah-King and Eva Hayward have pointed out through their scholarship on the issue, sex panic around “gender-bending” endocrine disrupting pollution (from plastics, flame retardants, pesticides, herbicides, synthetic hormones used on livestock, and industrial surfactants among other sources) is always front and center, despite the very real crisis of cancers, auto-immune diseases, and death linked to these molecular flows. (Ah-King and Hayward, 2013)
IS IT BEASTIALITY OR DID YOU FUCK A TRANNY? WHEN MATTHEW SUCKIN ON MY TITS HE ALWAYS CALLS ME MAMMY … AND WHERE ARE THE LOVERS? PRESUMABLY NOWHERE. LEFT IN PRIVATE ARGUMENTS WITH PARTNERS OVER UNEARTHED SHEMALE PORN. DELETED EMAILS FROM ANONYMOUS ACCOUNTS ON HOOKUP SITES THAT A FEW DATABASE ENGINEERS AT THE NSA COULD PLAUSIBLY DISCOVER ONE DAY IF EVER CURIOUS ENOUGH TO TERM-SEARCH “REAL WOMAN” (NOT THAT ANYONE EVER WOULD), “GIRLS LIKE US” AND “MTF” TAG LISTINGS ON OKCUPID IN AUTOMOBILES DRIVING AT 10MPH DOWN THE STREET LEADING FROM THE SUBWAY EXIT AS WINDOWS ROLL DOWN AND PACES INCREASE, IN STUDIO AND ONE BEDROOM APARTMENTS THAT HIDE INTIMACY WITH THE ILLUSION OF THE ILLUSION OF THE PRIVATE SPHERE… OR ARE THE LOVERS TOO ENGAGED IN CONVERSATIONS ABOUT OUR PROXIMITY TO GODS IN NATIVE INDIAN AMERICA, THAILAND, OR INDIA TO REALIZE IT DOESN’T FUCKING MATTER. WE’VE BEEN EXPORTED AS SYMBOLS ENUNCIATED IN THE REFLECTION BETWEEN THE TRENCHES OF PORNHUB AND THE PATHETIC, DESPERATE TREMBLE OF ANTONY AS SHE SANG “YOU ARE MY SISTER.”
For 150 years, trans people have been hyper-visible within North American and European cultures—our lives driving cycles of sensational media coverage and repressive laws, from the anti-cross-dressing laws passed by thirty-four cities in twenty-one US states between 1848 and 1900 to North Carolina’s controversial HB2 in 2016. And yet, despite all this visibility, trans people remain largely historically isolated, adrift on the sea of history, with little access to knowledge of where we came from and who got us here. The media that make us visible simultaneously obscure our presence in history by continually framing trans people as new, as a modern, medicalized phenomenon only now coming to light in the topsy-turvy post-gay marriage world.
Morgan M. Page
The sensation of historical isolation noted by Morgan M. Page in the introduction to her text One from the Vaults: Gossip, Access, and Trans History-Telling, echoes the colonial tactics of erasing a people’s histories, cultures, and right to self-determination in order to subjugate and assimilate them into a colonial regime. Attempts to erase traditions of gender expansiveness beyond the binary can be seen in some of the earliest colonial literature. In the book Manners, Customs, and Condition of the North American Indians written by colonizer George Catlin as a catalogue of his travels across North and South America, he describes the multiplicity of gendered embodiment he observed in many Indigenous cultures:
…the “Berdashe,” as he is called in French, (or I-coo-coo-a, in their own language), who is a man dressed in woman’s clothes, as he is known to be all his life, and for extraordinary privileges which he is known to possess, he is driven to the most servile and degrading duties, which he is not allowed to escape; and he being the only one of the tribe submitting to this disgraceful degradation is looked upon as medicine and sacred, and a feast is giving to him annually; and initiatory to it, a dance by those few men of the tribe who can, as in the sketch, dance forward and publicly make their boast (without the denial of the Berdashe)… Such, and such only, are allowed to enter the dance and partake of the feast, and as there are but a precious few in the tribe who have legitimately gained this singular privilege, or willing to make a public confession of it it, will be seen that the society consists of quite a limited number of “odd fellows.” This is one of the most unaccountable and disgusting customs, that I have ever met in the Indian country, and so far as I have been able to learn, belongs only to the Sioux and Sacs and Foxes—perhaps it is practiced by other tribes, but I did not meet with it; and for further account of it I am constrained to refer the reader to the country where it is practiced, and where I should wish that it might be extinguished before it be more fully recorded. (Catlin, 1866)
Despite the inaccuracies in Catlin’s descriptions of Indigenous traditions, I quote him at length here to illustrate the depth of the disdain colonizers felt for lifeways that challenge the patriarchal binary gender regime foundational to European societies. The misogynistic devaluation of anything considered feminine is apparent in his assertion that, “[s]he is driven to the most servile and degrading duties, which [s]he is not allowed to escape; and [s]he being the only one of the tribe submitting to this disgraceful degradation is looked upon as medicine.” Even while observing that those perceived as gender variant were considered sacred and celebrated by their own societies, Catlin describes the gender expansive person’s embodiment as degrading, servile, and disgraceful. Unable to think this person’s existence outside the strictures of the binary regime, Catlin sees a “man” (deserving of a dominant position) in “women’s clothing,” doing “women’s work” (markers of subservience and diminished personhood). For Catlin, this person represents a horrifying debasement of masculine power in a way that might challenge his own heightened social status granted to him at birth upon visual inspection of the genitals. Catlin’s concluding plea that Indigenous traditions like this be “extinguished before… more fully recorded” is chilling yet unsurprising in its support of the genocide/epistemicide of Indigenous peoples that is still ongoing. But it is also pertinent to understanding how we have come to a moment where, as Morgan M. Page describes, gender variant people feel themselves historically isolated and culturally invisibilized, at the same time that we (especially those who are also racialized as non-white) are hypervisible, surveilled, and policed. In this sense, the violent colonial imposition of the binary regime onto people around the world, along with the continual erasure of ways of knowing and being outside of this can be seen as part of larger projects of genocide, and cultural annihilation + forced assimilation (termed epistemicide by Sociologist Boaventura de Sousa Santos).
Understanding the constant erasure and denial of sex and gender diversity as a long-term colonial project, it is easy to see how the vacuum of trans ahistoricity is filled with a flood of narratives of gender variant people as new cybernetic monstrosities of technological progress. Or alternatively with narratives of intersex, queer, and trans people as polluted bodies, hormonally modified and endocrinally disrupted by the pervasive threat of petro-plastic-estrogenicity. Both narratives serve equally to remove the sex or gender variant person from the Human to a sub-human, or extra-human positionality. It is through this repositioning that third sex/gender classification of a person and racialization of a person can be seen as conjoined through animality. The Human/Animal binary can be thought of as a colonial matrix, granting or revoking sovereignty (the right to own one’s self and to own property). Sylvia Wynter has theorized this through a Black Feminist lens, positing that there are “genres” of humanity such as “full humans, not-quite humans, and nonhumans” (Benjamin, 2019). Literary scholar Zakiyyah Jackson, in her alternative genealogy of posthumanist thought has described the liberal humanist figure of “Man” as, “a technology of slavery and colonialism that imposes its authority over ‘the universal’ through a racialized deployment of force” (Benjamin, 2019). Eva Hayward has said that, “[r]ace anticipates the human/animal divide, and as such the problem of ‘the Human’ is everywhere. For transwomen who undergo hormonal and surgical alterations, the animal has always been present. Which is to say, while the human/animal divide is a false one—false because it assumes a shared access to the promise of liberal Humanism and its inalienable rights—animals still exist, even if they are also foreclosed from Humanism. Just as racial thinking and violence—for example, the Tuskegee Syphilis experiments, J. Marion Sim’s gynecological experiments, and the cloning of cells from Henrietta Lack’s cervix—inform the sexually and surgically changing body, so does the instrumentalization of animal life” (Hayward, 2017). Taking this line of thinking further, Che Gossette unfolds the linkages of transness and racialization through animality at length in their text, Blackness and the Trouble of Trans Visibility by using Hortense Spiller’s notion of “ungendered flesh” to think about the ways Black and Indigenous people are already rendered outside of binary sex and gender frames through a conceptual proximity to the animal:
The contemporary wave of anti-trans bathroom legislation—part of anti-trans lawfare—across the United States cannot be disimbricated from the legacy of racial slavery and the criminalization of trans survival. The bathroom, with its gender-binary regime of sexual difference, is one of the signatures—along with hyper-incarceration, mass deportation, and racial capitalism—of the afterlife of slavery. The bathroom signs of the Jim Crow era referred to “men,” “women,” and “colored,” dramatizing how the Lacanian “sexed body” is always already a racialized body and a colonized body, and how Black and/or Indigenous peoples have always figured as sexual and gender outlaws to be disciplined and punished… Hortense Spillers draws a distinction between the body, meaning selfhood and subjectivity and the flesh, which is pre-discursive material and a zone of non-personhood, a state of abjection—a word derived from Latin meaning “to be cast down.” Spillers moves us from the somapolitics of the body of the racial-colonial category of the human to the flesh of the commodity—flesh as a mark that cojoins blackness and animality as property. In Spiller’s theorization, there is a transfer of scale through the anatomo-political violence of colonialism and racial slavery, which renders the body flesh via racial capitalist logics of commodification….Spillers emphasizes the violence of the Middle Passage, during which commodity personhood is torn asunder and relinquished and the person is reduced to the flesh. Spiller’s hermeneutics names this a process of de-subjectification. Under capitalism—which is always already racial—the Black body and the animal body are fused symbolically, and both are rendered as disposable. As Spillers makes clear, this flesh is also “ungendered”... (Gossett, 2017)
Legal scholar Graham Dutfield has observed that the early development of steroid hormone production methods drove a key shift in intellectual property law to allow for the patenting of things previously considered, “natural.” Prior to the successful patenting of early forms of steroid hormones, precedent had been set by several US supreme court cases deciding that chemicals extracted from or which were synthetic copies of naturally occurring molecules produced within organisms were not patentable. So what changed with the introduction of exogenously produced hormones? The shift in the court’s understanding of naturality vs. artificiality or inventiveness seems largely to have been driven by economic and political factors (Dutfield, Patents on Steroids 2011).
As soon as hormones were found to have commercial potential, industry faced the challenge of how to mass-produce them. This was obviously a scientific matter, but it was also a business issue and an intellectual property one. Both production pathways of extraction and hormone synthesis turned out to be equally capable of resulting in patentable subject matter. This was so even when said matter was based on a substance produced by an organism or else was a laboratory-produced copy of one. This set a historic precedent for the patenting of “natural” things like antibiotics, genes, cells, microbes, plants and animals. Thus, the patenting of hormones helped allow us to conceive of biotechnological products as patentable inventions. (Dutfield, Patents on Steroids 2011)
Today, all patents on specific molecular forms such as testosterone, or 17beta-Estradiol have lapsed. Current ownership claims are instead staked on specific methods of producing these chemicals, methods of preparing and dosing, or delivery methods (such as transdermal creams, patches, or injectable formulations). Dutfield concludes that, “[t]oday, we are living with the legacy of the hormones era” indicating the role they played in the mutual evolution of science, business, and intellectual property law by creating a pathway for current ownership claims of, “genes, cells, microbes, plants and animals.” In this way, the historical development of hormone production tech is deeply implicated in the expansion of neocolonial systems of ownership which, as Dutfield has also noted, are designed to, “give rights to those who can translate ritual knowledge into ‘the language of science.’ Whether or not this translation requires much inventive input, or that anything new is actually created” (Dutfield, A Critical Analysis 2011). This effectively facilitates ownership claims (past and present) by westerners over indigenous or “traditional” knowledges at the same time that the ecosystems which gave rise to the rich biodiversity and inter-species life ways mined for profit have been decimated by the extractivist brutalism of capitalist economies (Mgbeoji, 2006).
When thinking through what Dutfield refers to as the “legacy of the hormones era” and the mutual development of science, business, and patent law, we could distill several generalized operating principles that animate technoscience today: (1) centralized production (2) legally facilitated monopolies through patenting practices (3) high competition / low collaboration and (4) trade secrets. These principals lead to: (1) continued extractivism and profiteering off of marginalized bodies and indigenous knowledges and lands (2) the consolidation of power and wealth into the same few North American and European institutions, and (3) technologies designed to work within and resolidify this system. In response to the violence of these practices, many have called for open source and collaborative methods of doing science. Proponents of open science, often embrace “openness” as universally good because it is thought to be antithetical to the competitive, hoarding, monopolizing tendencies that normally constitute technoscientific production. But as the Open and Collaborative Science in Development Network (OCSD net) have critiqued, open source methods can still allow (and in many instances make easier) extractivist and predatory practices.
Our position was that most of the open science discourse and practices, particularly those that were on the mainstream (at the policy making and institutional levels) were framing open science as a technology driven means to produce a more productive, efficient, and competitive science or research. One of the main critiques we had, was that this discourse was biased, and very much in favor of a utilitarian conception of science or research that focuses too much on incentivizing knowledge production for the sake of innovation and international competitiveness... Openness can be an instrument to mobilize power. While open systems can in some cases be used to disrupt power structures, they can also be used to strengthen them when they represent the same incentives or practices that have been used for exclusion. We have to stay very vigilant of the ways openness can amplify power asymmetries. (Albornoz, 2018)
In light of the non-neutrality of “openness” OCSD net has called for a Feminist Open Science by offering some conceptual tools drawn from feminist STS scholarship (Albornoz, 2018). Building off of the work of OSCD net, we can propose an alternate set of organizing principles: (1) beginning with the recognition of our non-innocence (2) working towards replenishing a biocommons and knowledge commons (3) robust systems that incentivize collaborative efforts, and (4) prioritizing expressions of consent or refusal on behalf of those who become subjects of scientific inquiry. These proposed alternative operating principles are aimed at proliferating cognitive justice (multiple cosmologies, multiple futures for science, non-western ways of doing, being and knowing) *** distributed production and distributed wealth rather than consolidation of wealth and power *** “open” hackable technologies, designed to facilitate locally appropriate solutions *** and emphasis on addressing social problems rather than on international competitiveness and “innovation” for economic growth only.
Hormones have been prescribed to trans and inter people seeking access to medical technologies of gender for more than 60 years now with no significant negative health outcomes. In the U.S. this is still considered an off-label use since the FDA has yet to approve any formulations of steroid hormones for transgender people. The official use of Delestrogen, or injectable generic estradiol-valerate is approved only for hormone replacement therapy in post-menopausal cisgender women or to modulate fertility in cis women. Kimberleigh Joy Smith, a senior director at Callen-Lorde Community Health Center (serving more than 900 transgender patients in the NYC area), has suggested that this disregard or dismissal of transgender communities on the part of regulatory agencies is partly to blame for the often chronic and life-disrupting shortages of injectable estrogen (Molteni, 2017). Recent shortages of the safest and most effective forms of estrogen in the United States lasted months at a time in 2014 as well as 2016 and 2018, causing health complications for trans, inter, and nonbinary people (TIN) (Hajj, 2018). I would add that profit motivated pharmaceutical companies are not particularly interested in the needs of TIN people who could be seen as “economically insignificant” minority populations.
Thinking this scenario through a Feminist Open Science perspective, we could speculate how open source hormone bioproduction systems could refigure the dynamics of access. Because the technology is open source and public domain, there would be no patent barriers to a local coop using it to make medicines. Because the platform is based on plant pharming ~ startup costs are significantly lowered since expensive bioreactors are not needed to incubate microbes. In comparison to today’s steroid hormone production technologies, a self-sufficient transgenic bioproduction system would be less polluting and less expensive (Bronnin et al., 2017). Cooperatives who prioritize the needs of the local community could produce medicines at low cost considering local demand rather than drugs being manufactured centrally and shipped around the world.
Below this regulatory level (FDA drug approval and official use recommendations) there is a secondary regulatory layer directing flows of hormones. Several associations such as the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), and the American Psychiatric Association provide disease and disorder classification systems along with official standards of care. Organizations such as WPATH and the World Health Organization develop international standards, although many countries have local standards. These standards or “clinical protocols” are meant to guide diagnosis and treatment of patients by individual doctors, but ultimately, they are recommendations. It’s at the discretion of the doctor to decide who is deserving of access to technologies of gender. In effect, this has enabled medical professionals to operate as authorities over what expressions of gender are valid (deserving access to technologies of gender), and in many instances, to enforce fictions of binary gender or even mandates of heterosexuality. While the diagnostic classifications have changed significantly in recent years, many feel this is not enough. Full depathologization has been a contentious topic within trans communities because without a diagnostic category to classify gender variation as a health problem (which facilitates insurance coverage for the cost of hormones, therapy, surgical procedures, etc.), the current inequity in access to these technologies would be further amplified. Emi Koyama has proposed a way out of this problem in her Transfeminist Manifesto by looking to the women’s health movement to gather tactics for arguing against pathologizing while simultaneously demanding equitable access to care.
Before the feminist critiques of modern medicine, female bodies are considered “abnormal” by the male-centered standard of the medical establishment, which resulted in the pathologization of such ordinary experiences of women as menstruation, pregnancy and menopause; it was the women’s health movement that forced the medical community to accept that they are part of ordinary human experiences. Transfeminism insists that transexuality is not an illness or a disorder, but as much a part of the wide spectrum of ordinary human experiences as pregnancy. It is thus not contradictory to demand medical treatment for trans people to be made more accessible, while de-pathologizing “gender identity disorder.”(Koyama, 2001)
OSG is a transdisciplinary bio-hack-art project that formed at the Baltimore Underground Science Space in 2015. OSG seeks to understand the forces which have shaped the development of the hormone production technologies we have today and asks if these tools can be refigured to undermine oppressive biopolitical and ownership regimes. Can critical engagements with these tools be sites of resistance against the pathologization of transness and policing of who can access technologies of gender? Can, as Gill-Peterson poses, “forms of autonomy… wrest [contemporary transgender biopolitics]... away from the valuation of neoliberal capital and into the hands of… all bodies”? (Gill-Peterson, 2014) More generally, can synthetic biology be used to develop technologies for, cheap, democratized bioproduction of biologic medicines, and how can artists and hackers push these inquiries (research pathways which will not be investigated by institutions invested in growing profits and consolidating power)?
...copyleft gender politics, a cellular micropolitics that looks beyond the politics of representation for leakage points in the state’s control of fluxes (hormones, sperm, blood, organs, etc.), codes and institutions (images, names, protocols, legal inscriptions, architecture, social services, etc.), and the privatization and marketing of these technologies of production and modification of gender and sex by pharmacopornographic corporations.
Paul B. Preciado
Also like, I’ve done it very much like in my own way… um, so… I think everyone that wants to try it, should be able to try it. Literally over-the-counter hormones. … No, there aren’t over-the-counter hormones but I think there should be. There could be, you know. Why… why are there gatekeepers to that, kind of body mod, like, the drugs themselves are not expensive, it’s just gatekeeping. You just have to talk to some doctor and convince them that you fit into some kind of symptom, like eeehhhh
From the home to the body, the articulation of a proactive politics for biotechnical intervention and hormones presses. Hormones hack into gender systems possessing political scope extending beyond the aesthetic calibration of individual bodies. Thought structurally, the distribution of hormones -- who or what this distribution prioritizes or pathologizes -- is of paramount import. The rise of the internet and the hydra of black market pharmacies it let loose -- together with a publicly accessible archive of endocrinological knowhow -- was instrumental in wresting control of the hormonal economy away from 'gatekeeping' institutions seeking to mitigate threats to established distributions of the sexual. To trade in the rule of bureaucrats for the market is, however, not a victory in itself. These tides need to rise higher. We ask whether the idiom of 'gender hacking' is extensible into a long-range strategy, a strategy for wetware akin to what hacker culture has already done for software -- constructing an entire universe of free and open source platforms that is the closest thing to a practicable communism many of us have ever seen. Without the foolhardy endangerment of lives, can we stitch together the embryonic promises held before us by pharmaceutical 3D printing ('Reactionware'), grassroots telemedical abortion clinics, gender hacktivist and DIY-HRT forums, and so on, to assemble a platform for free and open source medicine?
OSG postulates a future in which an individual, or a coop could affordably and safely grow their own hormones using a bioproduction system (a transgenic plant or yeast producing high levels of growth hormones in its’ tissues). While the prospect of on-demand drug production is technically feasible with current technologies and emerging synthetic biology techniques – the prospect of an affordable device that could produce hormones in transgenic yeast or plants, and additionally perform extraction, purification, and dosage in a safe way is a more distant possibility. It is the isolation and quantification/dosage of individual steroid molecules that poses the most difficulty. The Bio-hack-art project, Open Source Estrogen (a collaborative project by Mary Maggic and Byron Rich) has speculated a DIY recipe for easy kitchen hormone extraction from urine using a technique called solid phase extraction. The utopian poetics of transferring hormones between bodies within the domestic space of a kitchen/laboratory are abundant in Maggic’s video piece Housewives Making Drugs, which poses questions about body autonomy and the regulation of hormones. Urinary hormone extraction is especially enticing as urine is an accessible, ubiquitous resource, and there is precedent for urinary extracted pharmaceutical formulations. The first marketed estrogen supplement, introduced in the 1930s as Progynon was an extract of pregnant people’s urine. But realistically, if used for bodily applications, urinary extracts produced by DIY silica gel solid phase extraction (SPE) will do nothing at best, or lead to cancer, stroke, or other health complications at worst. Mainly because this method is not selective for individual steroids, the extraction is a combination of androgens, estrogens, progestins, corticosteroids, as well as other contaminants. Even in the case of Premarin, an FDA approved formulation of estrogens produced using industrial extraction methods on the urine of pregnant mares, research has shown that risk of stroke and heart disease are significantly higher than with so called “bioidentical” synthesized pharmaceutical estrogen (17𝜷-estradiol). The FDA released a document titled FDA Backgrounder on Conjugated Estrogens which admits that despite the drug's approved status, the full spectrum of bio-active steroid compounds, proteins, and other substances in the urine extraction is unknown.
Compositional analysis of Premarin using modern analytical techniques demonstrates that it consists of a mixture of a substantial number of compounds with potential pharmacologic activity. In fact, the steroidal content of Premarin has not been completely defined. Undoubtedly, many of the compounds present in Premarin do not provide a clinically meaningful contribution to the therapeutic effects of the drug and are best thought of as impurities. (Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, 2005)
The lesson is that chemistry matters, different estrogenic chemicals interact with the body in different ways, stimulating a number of cellular processes to varying degrees. There is the possibility that innovation in urinary hormone extraction and purification technologies could lead to safer methods (such as molecularly imprinted polymer SPE substrates), but at present it seems untenable as a DIY method if even industrial processes yield such unsafe and impure mixtures.
Other possibilities to be explored might be: * hacking electronic hormonal birth control implants to create a cybernetic gonad * crispr modification of fat cells to induce desired endogenous hormone production by a hybrid adipose/gonad * bioprospecting for compounds that could upregulate or downregulate production of aromatase (enzyme which converts testosterone into estradiol in all people’s bodies) * or an open source hormone production platform utilizing microfluidics and transgenic yeast (potentially via Paula Pin’s Trans Organs on a Chip). OSG has focused on the metabolic engineering of tobacco, soy and yeast for reasons both utilitarian and lyrical. The possibility of a hormone producing plant resonates with historical and contemporary brujería -- arts of knowing, cultivating, and co-creating life-ways between human and plant beings. At play are the spiritual and medicinal healing abilities of plants ~ their constituting a wild biocommons which has been systematically but not fully foreclosed through time (as described in the work of Silvia Federici). Additionally plants have a unique relationship to transgenesis through Agrobacterium Tumefaciens. A.Tumefaciens is a soil bacteria that is able to genetically modify plants in the wild, inserting genes for the production of sugars A.tumefaciens can uniquely feed on, and the growth of plant tumors that it lives inside of. In a sense they are wild extra-human genetic engineers, genetic architects, and genetic farmers. Their xenoproduction of traspecies chimeras through horizontal gene transfer queers conceptions of the GMO as synthetic or “unnatural.” Their life ways represent just one example of what is referred to as “horizontal gene transfer” in contrast to the “vertical gene transfer” of sexual reproduction. In this rhizomatic horizontality there is a queering of not just the synthetic/natural binary, but of conceptions of biosex, heterosex, and species boundaries.
Some of the first laboratory produced transgenic plants were actualized by using A.Tumefaciens' abilities. Prior research has shown successful modification of soy and tobacco for accumulation of fats which serve as substrates for growth hormone production, as well as successful production of pregnenolone and progesterone in transgenic plants (Schaeffer et al., 2000)(Fogher, 2013)(Spivak, et al., 2009)(Spivak, et al., 2010). Plants in general are of interest because of the lowered potential for contamination with a plant bioproduction system as well as the reduced infrastructural needs and subsequent reduction in the cost and environmental burden of producing drugs (Ma, 2003). Other research has demonstrated successful accumulation of campesterol (a primary sterol in yeast) as a substrate for growth hormone production, as well as successful production of progesterone in transgenic yeast (Duport et al., 1998)(Du et al., 2016).
(fig. 1) Diagrammatic protocol for production of transgenic steroid producing organisms. Left of center is a list of 5 enzymes isolated from the KEGG Steroid Hormone Biosynthesis Reference Pathway involved in transformations of cholesterol or other suitable substrates into progesterone, testosterone, and 17beta-estradiol.
The bulk of OSG experiments with metabolic engineering have been performed in DIY biohack spaces as well as academic and biomedical park laboratories accessed through bioart initiatives, collaborations, and residencies. Experimentation is ongoing, having started with historical research, patent mining and scientific literature review, workshopping, speculating ~ moving into in-silico work and gene design ~ machine executed gene synthesis, and then the use of “molecular cloning” techniques to construct plasmids (circular DNA molecules). These plasmids contain variations of relevant gene sequences along with other fragments to facilitate their integration into tobacco, soy, and yeast genomes. Physical archives of these circular genetic constructs and the microbes they’ve been incorporated into comprise the OSG gene library. Frozen racks of plastic vials containing isolated plasmids suspended in water and glycerol stocks of bacterial mutants reproducing these xenogenes.
Figure 1 includes the names of five enzymes that are implicated in human steroid hormone biosynthesis ~ able to catalyze conversions from cholesterol, campesterol, or other suitable substrates to pregnenolone > progesterone > 17𝛼-Hydroxyprogesterone > androstenedione > testosterone > 17𝜷-estradiol. Genetic modification to integrate xenogenes for production of these enzymes into organisms is part of the metabolic engineering process. The other part is to engage with the complexity of the living being itself, its’ needs, its’ desires, the way its’ own metabolic processes and life ways will interact with the new desire engendered. Anywhere along that pathway from cholesterol to estradiol there can be metabolites that might become toxic (or beneficial) to the organism. Intermediates within the pathway might be attracted to other metabolic processes as molecular agents within a cell tangle, forking substances into new paths. In intracellular space, metabolism is radically non-linear, poorly represented by the textually linearized path from cholesterol to estradiol. Intra·action occurs stochastically, as molecular agents vibrate and morph with their own charged liveness, responding to each-other’s transformative, attractive, and repellent fields. Working within this unfolding microperformativity is an engagement with a plexus, matrix, or topology unfathomably complex and unpredictable: unfolding an organism -- a porous body lyric within a hormonal hyperobject.
Outside the occluded space of academic laboratories, OSG takes shape through TRANS FUTURES workshops. In these events we create temporary wetlabs where, with storytelling and discussion, we excavate entanglements of the hormone hyperobject while performing laboratory choreographies to genetically modify plants. Rupturing the sterility and seclusion of the academic lab into social and creative community hubs—fermenting collaborative imaginings and collective learning—is essential to the aims of OSG. Just as much as steroid hormones are technologies, the technoscientific discourse on sex/gender is also a technology of gender to be hacked and collectively refigured. It’s with this understanding that these workshops approach collaborative hacking as a way to formulate liberatory reappropriations of biotechnology, as well as interventions that hack the technoscientific discursive construction of our bodies and subjectivities. The first version of this workshop was developed in collaboration with MediaLabMX in Mexico city thanks to the generous labor of Leonardo Aranda Brito and Belén Chávez Ramírez. Run in February 2020, the event was framed for participants as:
...an introduction to Synthetic Biology and plant transgenesis from a queer perspective. We will go over the basic concepts of cell biology and learn techniques for in-silico (on a computer) DNA design. We will also do an in-vivo (in a living plant) genetic modification procedure called Agroinfiltration. Together we will look at the violent colonial patriarchal structures that have produced these technologies and ask if and how it’s possible to, "repurpose technologies for progressive gender political ends..." as challenged by the 2016 Xenofeminist Manifesto.
Mexico City’s particular history and geopolitical position became important to how we approached the hormone hyperobject, as it was here that some of the very first plant-based steroid hormones were developed and mass produced (for use in birth control pills) in the mid to late 20th century. During this time period, a plant called Barbasco (or Caparazón de Tortuga)—used by Indigenous populations of the area as a medicine and as birth control—became the subject of legal battles and geopolitical struggles involving the US government, Mexican government, and transnational pharmaceutical corporations. Barbasco was first monetized by Syntex, a US based company with tentacles sprawling outwards into a neocolonial constellation: its headquarters in Palo Alto, California, its raw materials purchased from Campesinos who wild harvested them in Mexico, and the manufacturing of steroid intermediates occurring in Mexico City. For tax evasion purposes, Syntex also maintained a headquarters in Panama, as well as manufacturing facilities in Puerto Rico and the Bahamas where steroid intermediates were turned into their final pharmaceutical forms (Soto Laveaga, 2009)(Gereffi, 2017). The figure of this colonial constellation exemplifies the types of biopiracy and wealth extraction that underlie the contemporary project of technoscientific progress.
We must understand scientific knowledge as situated in and animated by a rich ecology of knowledges: social, historical, sensual, ancestral. It is the fiction of scientific objectivity as “neutral” (rather than situated from particular perspectives, with biases, limitations, and economic influences) that has given science its position as a singular authority on truth. The notion of objectivity as neutrality is itself a technology of colonial power: a construction which Kim Tallbear calls “an emerging form of whiteness,” mobilized to silence critiques of power or challenges to colonial paradigms. Importantly, in Tallbear’s formulation, whiteness is not necessarily referring to skin color, or European ancestry, but to the privilege conferred by scientific authority to silence those coded as “irrational,” or “uncivilized.” It is only by engaging technoscience as a knowledge system situated horizontally alongside other knowledges that we can formulate and realize an anti-colonial technoscience. A technoscience whose products and processes are in support of a just and abundant world where resources and access to life-chances are distributed equitably. Worlds where a diversity of forms, beings, and lifeways are encouraged to flourish and thrive as we shed the colonial capitalist impulse to progress towards a singular, fictional perfected form.
Thanks to all those who have shared, schemed, collaborated, hacked, and otherwise been sources of support and guidance through the course of this work: Aurel Haize Odogbo, Sara Luan, Lisa Scheifele, Tom Burkett, Tamara Walsky, Sebastian Cocioba, Casey Lippmeier, Zhen Wang, James Berry, Solon Morse, Paul Vanouse, Millie Chen, Matt Kenyon, Tobacco, Yeast, E.coli, Agrobacterium Tumefaciens, Castor Plant, Kangaroo Apple, Soy Plant, and Pine Tree, Bio-Family, and Queer-Family alike. Deep gratitude to the Trans and Queer folks whose lives, struggles, and joys have made my life possible, and who’s works have helped me to find my way.
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