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86 - Hormones & Identity with Bob Ostertag
Episode 869th September 2022 • Gender: A Wider Lens Podcast • Stella O'Malley & Sasha Ayad
00:00:00 01:14:11

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Bob Ostertag published his book, Sex Science Self: A Social History of Estrogen, Testosterone, and Identity in 2016. At the time, few people took much notice. Six years later, however, this book is causing a stir among gender critical circles and provoking considerable thought and discussion.

Today, Bob Ostertag expands on the book, which explores the way pharmaceutical companies have been marketing testosterone as the essence of manhood and estrogen as the essence of womanhood. Pioneering physicians have also been looking long and hard for a condition, even if they have to fabricate one, for which these hormones offer a solution. Bob’s work raises important questions about the beliefs people hold about these substances and what those substances mean for their personal identity. And of course, these beliefs are changing rapidly as society expands its understanding of gender identity, for better or worse.


Bob also reminds us that no aspect of history should be off limits for exploration. Studying the history of hormones, in and of itself, can be upsetting to people who hold strong beliefs about them. Nevertheless, knowing this history is important for anyone curious about the intersection between medicine and identity.


Bob’s writing style is powerful, witty, and gripping. As you’ll see, he is a very thoughtful and cautious conversationalist. Towards the end of the discussion, Bob also raises some challenges to me and Stella about our show, and how some of our guests frame the biological or organic determinants of sexuality and identity. This conversation gave us much to think about and we will continue exploring these ideas in subsequent episodes. So without further delay, here’s our discussion with Bob Ostertag.


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Extended Notes


  • In his book, Sex Science Self: A Social History of Estrogen, Testosterone, and Identity,

Bob describes the extraordinary claims by big pharma and the medical establishment about hormones determining gender.

  • Is human gender chemical-based?
  • Bob offers examples of the meaning of how hormones affect the body and how that meaning has changed.
  • A deeper dive into the marketable idea that testosterone represents masculinity.
  • How to better anticipate the landmines of pharmaceutical propaganda.
  • Pharmaceutical hormones were the miracle cure without a disease.
  • At the time, the thought was whoever could synthesize testosterone was going to be rich.
  • Gay liberation groups did not want to talk to the medical establishment.
  • Transgender issues are reflective of all the problems we have in the world today.
  • In the past, a transition was only accomplished through physical surgery.
  • All human identities are becoming chemically constructed.
  • A project out of UC Berkeley is attempting to debunk the Low T campaign.
  • Bob dispels some myths about hormone imbalances and the medical conditions they supposedly cause.
  • Inspecting the ethical dilemma of consumer-led medicines.
  • For 10 years, Bob’s book was mostly ignored.


This podcast is sponsored by ReIME and Genspect. Visit https://rethinkime.org/ and https://genspect.org/ to learn more.


For more about our show: https://linktr.ee/WiderLensPod.



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