By Lisa P.
Standard disclaimer: The following observations are those of the author and done so under medical supervision. Consult your personal physician with any questions.
I will admit to having a complicated relationship with my hormones, particularly testosterone. Most of the time I have tolerated it. Right now, I prefer to leave it.
Before puberty, I never thought much about how I felt in my body. I liked girls and girl things, but I also liked boys and boy things. More gender non-specific than “all boy” (as my mother would say). Then, along came this powerful drug that upended my world. I was very unhappy when I first felt it coursing through my body. What was it doing to me? How as it changing me? I didn’t like hearing my voice get deep. I didn’t like what would happen spontaneously “down there.” I particularly didn’t like that it made me angry – so angry that I grew fearful that I would hurt someone and I started to push my feelings deep down. Testosterone in me in such large quantities meant that I was pushed farther away from the feminine part of my identity and my ideal.
But, one day in late middle school I had a revelation during a track and field practice when I discovered that I could run like the wind! I felt powerful, as if I could run forever and leap over tall buildings in a single bound. This drug wasn’t so bad, after all, if it made me feel like that. Then I noticed that people took note of what I said, because my voice was deep and powerful, with resonance to match. It felt good to be heard. Maybe, since I loved my dad and admired him, it wasn’t such a bad thing to become more like him.
Also, I began to think of testosterone as something that could help me to do ten times as much as I could if I had been born a girl. I buried myself in school and activities. Frankly, I became a workaholic starting at age 14. It was my escape, because it gave me no time to think about how my body was working against my identity. Inevitably, I grew to like some of the things testosterone provided to me: particularly, power and sexual drive. I doubt there are many human beings, male or female, who wouldn’t find those two features rather enticing.
There was another positive element that I noticed that I should highlight, since I am married to a woman and am very attracted to her. Women began to smell and feel wonderful to me. Was all of that due to the testosterone? I don’t know, but I am guessing testosterone had a lot to do with it.
Testosterone certainly is one hell of a powerful hormone. It makes a male feel powerful, enhances a male’s sexual attractiveness and desire, increases a male’s muscle mass, changes a male’s body structure and face significantly after puberty, and even makes a male’s body odor more “pungent.”
Yet, I must add that I never came to terms with all the changes wrought by testosterone. I believe my workaholism was a direct effort to avoid having to face the changes I had not expected and did not want. If I couldn’t stop the changes that were happening to me, however, then I could at least put the negative parts to the side while I tried to take over the world.
In a story all too familiar to persons who are reading this essay, by my 20’s I was already pushing back even as I continued to strive to be the best in my job, as a husband, and as a father. I removed body hair at every opportunity (even while keeping some facial hair for a long time to “hide” my feminine desires). I wanted to look good in a dress and hair worked against that goal. I hid my genitals to create a smooth silhouette, because I wanted to see myself as a woman, not a “guy in a dress.” I pushed the fat on the sides of my chest forward to simulate breasts for the same reason. I did that for four decades, gradually spending more time out as Lisa and learning to hide the effects of testosterone (more or less) fairly well.
When I finally fully accepted my gender identity early in my sixth decade, long-term exposure to testosterone had both done what it was designed to do (fantastic sex with an amazing woman, three children and a successful business life supported by male privilege and competitiveness) and what I frankly didn’t want it to do (making many of my physical characteristics permanent and making it more difficult for me to express my female gender identity).
Which is how we arrive at this moment in time, where I microdose estrogen to help me feel more whole inside. For better or worse estrogen is a much weaker hormone than testosterone. It doesn’t immediately or ever completely feminize someone who is not young and has been exposed for a long period to the powerful effects of testosterone. Over time my testosterone has dropped well below a typical male level. That drop has been good news in terms of hair growth, smell (yes – I am a bit obsessed with smells), skin and a “real” (albeit small) female chest. Today I feel much more “myself” than I have felt since before puberty.
But, you may ask, what about those great things I liked about testosterone? You are correct that I have sacrificed some of those things on the altar of change. I am not as strong, and I don’t feel like I even want to conquer the world any longer. My sexual drive has diminished (to the chagrin of my lovely spouse), and I have had to take remedial steps in that regard. To that extent, I have “left” testosterone for the lovely land of estrogen. Most of you will not be able to relate, as you have not taken that drastic step. If it makes you feel better about staying in “T-world,” I will reconfirm that one should tread lightly down the path I have taken. Certainly, I am happy where I am, and I rarely miss my testosterone. But I understand that not everyone can or will seek the remedy I have chosen (for, as they say, for some the cure may be worse than the malady).
The question remains and I am curious about your response. Testosterone: love it, leave it or tolerate it?