250,000 Eunuchs?

Laurie and Debbie say:

Richard Wassersug is a eunuch.

It all started with a diagnosis of prostate cancer in 1998, when I was 52. Two years later, after failed surgery and radiation, I started hormonal therapy. This meant taking chemicals that slow the growth of prostate cancer cells by depriving them of androgen — in effect, castrating the patient.

Chemical castration is the common treatment for advanced prostate cancer, and more than 250,000 American men are taking these drugs. But few people know of any men taking them, simply because we hide. It is shameful to be castrated.

That’s an understatement. Wassersug is remarkable, not only for coming out, and talking about what it’s like for him, but also for connecting his experience (and the experience of another quarter of a million men) with the ongoing cultural conversation about gender. If you’ve ever read any transgender (or intersexual) narratives, this article will sound surprisingly familiar. He’s on the same hunt for identity, and talking about it in the same ways. (In fact, he wrote about it a few years ago for Out Magazine.)

Part of the experience of looking for identity (as queer, as Jewish, as Chicano) is exploring your cultural/historical context.

Given the pervasive stereotype of eunuchs as ineffective wimps, it is no surprise that men dread this label. I became curious about whether the stereotype was true, and how eunuchs functioned in the past.

The first thing I discovered was that eunuchs were anything but mindless, cowardly automatons. There were philosophers (Abelard, Origen of Alexandria), saints (Ignatius of Constantinople), military leaders (Cheng Ho, Narses) and even assassins. They were the chamberlains, diplomats and senior government officials in the major long-lasting, dynastic governments across Asia for 3,000 years. Furthermore, descriptions of eunuchs’ physique and psychology mirrored many of the anatomical and emotional changes I experienced.

Another aspect of the identity quest is locating yourself in a spiritual or religious tradition.

Then I discovered the classicists’ hypothesis that the eunuchs of antiquity were models for our depiction of angels. God is thought to surround himself with angels as advisers and emissaries, who are identical in appearance to males castrated before puberty: tall, beardless, nonsexual beings with voices like the legendary castrati.

This eunuch-angel connection has helped me understand and adapt to the side effects of androgen deprivation. I don’t recall crying much as an adult, but since my castration I’ll weep while watching Mothers Against Drunk Driving commercials…. The truth is that I’ve become more sensitive to the trials and tribulations of others. I am thus no longer embarrassed by my tears. I consider them humanizing, just as they are for angels.

Yet another aspect of coming out is finding community:

Singing in a group never appealed to me before my castration, because it offered little opportunity for individual advancement. But recently I joined a choir, where I now enjoy the richness of the collective sound born of collaboration — and how much I’ve gained by accepting how much I’ve changed.

eunuch, chemical castration, coming out, gender, identity, testosterone,

androgen, Body Impolitic