Testosterone is a transcript of the tapes made by graphic novelist Dean Seagrave about how he tracked down his ex-boyfriend, Pablo, an "emotional serial killer," and what happened later at a Taco Bell. It is a posthumous work by the fierce and original queer film maker-novelist-scriptwright James Robert Baker
Baker's literary conceit, the real-time spoken memoir, gives the book its strengths and its drawbacks. When the story goes, it really goes. You are there. Caught up in Dean's adrenaline rush as he tries record everything that is happening, or has just happened. On the other hand you are reading spoken words and that makes the text awkward and occasionally dull. Dean explains, justifies, rationalizes and then repeats the process again just as a nervous speaker does. The other problem with the narrative style is it confuses the time line.
A gay narrator driving around LA for 24 hours on a violence-tinged adventure is also the makings of Baker's Tim and Pete (1992). That novel, although sex-filled and death obsessed is, I think, better. It has some startlingly original characters, a wicked sense of fun and a kooky kind of innocence (Tim and Pete do end up back together). All that is gone here. There is no redemption, only victims and none of them are innocent.
Baker's need to assign the roles of victim and villain was a weakness in Tim and Pete. In Testosterone, he has moved on only slightly. Now AIDS sufferers are not victims of Ronald Reagan and the Republicans. They are the victims of American society, American Christian society in particular. I didn't think the hypothesis was helpful in 1992 and I don't think it holds up now. There is no empowerment in victimhood. And it strikes me as strange that Baker tries to make his point through fierce, thoughtful, take-charge characters. These guys just aren't victims. "A fag with a gun who needs a chainsaw" as Dean describes himself (pg. 137) is no victim. A man like that knows the virtue of self-reliance (and a machete).
The AIDS epidemic will always be a touchstone of queer culture, but Baker's voice-of-doom speaking from ground zero of the plague feels pretty dated in 2000.
There is a lot to admire in Testosterone. It is a good story well unfolded. It captures a fascinating environment and puts it vividly on the page. That the narrator sometimes gets in the way of these strengths may be just a quibble. I did expect a book with so much power to come with an equally powerful message. Testosterone is a disappointing final word from an artist with so much talent and so many strengths.