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Testosterone: Love it, Leave it or Tolerate it?

Lisa shares with us her experiences.

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?

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19 Responses

  1. Lisa, an interesting and thought provoking post!

    To be honest, until recently I’d never given testosterone much thought. Boys become men, their voice breaks, facial & body hair grows and all of that sort of thing was just taken for granted. I never saw it as an impediment for the inner woman because, until very recently, ‘Amanda’ was part regret and part fantasy. The regret part was down to my chromosomes and the fantasy part was driven by a belief that I could never resemble the woman that, deep down, I wished I was.

    But over the past couple of years, I’ve been able to make the inner woman a reality and with that has come a bigger awareness and consequential hatred of the effects of testosterone – all of the things like voice and facial & body hair that I previously just accepted as going with the territory. Of course, the existence of testosterone is entirely as a result of my chromosomes but the reality is that whilst I can’t do anything about the chromosomes, hormones are far more malleable and prompt ‘what if’ thoughts as a result.

    To be clear, though, I’m reasonably happy being me. I like the idea of having dual personas particularly as they are so different to each other. There’s nothing I like more than having Amanda time and spending time & effort to look & dress as good as I can. But I also like the idea of being able to be ‘him’ when I don’t want to make the effort because there’s no inherent ambiguity in my presentation. There’s a part of me that likes the idea of replacing T with E and experiencing the changes that that would bring but I am a realist and doing that would bring challenges that would be difficult to resolve in my life. Stepping too far over the gender divide to me feels little different in consequence to completely renouncing all things Amanda in my life – it’s just untenable.

    So I guess the answer to your question is that I tolerate testosterone but, at my age, it’s outlived its usefulness and I wouldn’t miss it, or the consequences of its presence, if it was to disappear from my body.

    1. Amanda,

      Me too. E is not a magic potion that will make me a cisgender woman. That is impossible. Plus, the male me still needs to be there for many people in my life, my wife particularly. So, I tolerate it and accept the fact it brought me good things I cannot deny. I also remind myself that women need T too.

      Lisa

  2. I too have had a love / hate relationship with testosterone over the years. I got the physical benefits in strength and libido, of course. Oddly, for a long time, I assumed that I was somehow deficient in T because of I didn’t have much hair on my body. I wasn’t hairless, but what was present was blonde, like the stuff on my head. At times, this proved advantageous, because I didn’t really have to shave my legs…though I often did just for the enjoyment of it.

    Somehow, I thought my relative hairlessness might betray the inner conflict I was having with my gender identity.

    For a time, my now ex-wife worked for a doctor who built a lucrative practice around peddling overpriced hormone supplements to men and women seeking the fountain of youth. So, In my 50s I had access to discounted Testosterone shots. Frankly, I think they had minimal benefits from a clinical perspective, and the elevated T did nothing to diminish my desire to crossdresser.

    Now, almost a decade later, my testosterone levels, though declining, are in the normal range for males of my age. I at times to miss the strength and stamina, but living alone, I don’t miss the libido, and living much of my life as a woman, I appreciate the minimal body hair and fine facial hair. I have not ventured into HRT, however. My health is good for someone my age and I am reluctant to tempt fate.

    1. Kim,

      Don’t tempt fate, for sure. I am careful to monitor my health, which remains excellent. Ironically, I have heart disease and the E is actually good for me in that category. But, I must admit that changing one’s body chemistry is not to be taken lightly!! I worry that some people do HRT because they have depression and think hormones will fix that. Hormones make me feel whole, not happier. Thank you for your thoughtful comment.

      Lisa

  3. Lisa – like you I have always had a mixed relationship with testosterone. I was actually tested a few years ago for low T, and it showed that although my levels were low it was not abnormally so. Therefore I could not blame it for my lack of facial hair,muscle development or anything else for that matter. However, at age 69 – presumably as my levels had decreased further still – my active crossdressing began. Connection? I don’t really know but it doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, I think it enhances my appreciation of my dual expression.

    1. Kris,
      That’s the problem with being transgender we have different starting points and possible explanations .

      My T kicked in early at the age of 8-9 which combined with the conflict with mind and body from birth caused a traumatic time for me . It wasn’t until I sought gender therapy in my late forties that I finally realised what the inner conflict was all about . I haven’t had my T levels checked but I’m assuming they were on the high side and at 72 they are very gradually reducing . I’m trying to reduce heavier manual work but at times it can be useful , I totally rebuilt my patio area which meant carrying 140 paving slabs and a few tons of sand up flights of garden steps from my lower drive area . While some women would also be capable it doesn’t look very feminine and I did get some second glances when using my chainsaw to collect some windfall branches for my woodburner .

    2. Kris,

      I once researched the scientific literature, thinking like you that there must be a connection between TG/CD and Low T. I even worried that it might be my low T later in life that led me to increasingly seek an outlet for my inner woman. But, there is no such link, and when I started getting tested quarterly for my hormone levels (for HRT), I found that my T was in generally in the “high” range for someone my age AMAB. It took a year on HRT to see me drop out of the male range (and even then, not nearly as much as people who are intentionally taking extra steps to depress their T — which I am not doing). So, my dear, the likely answer (from someone admittedly not trained as an expert) is that you are just you, and that makes all the difference!

      Thank you for your comment.

      Lisa

    1. Chris,

      Thank you for letting me know. I was a bit hesitant about submitting it to Kandi, out of concern that it is just too terribly personal. But, my goal is not to convert, but to converse.

      Lisa

      1. You’re welcome Lisa. I’m only new to Kandis land. I’m learning so much and really appreciate reading other peoples experiences and stories. I wish there had been something like this years ago!

  4. Amanda,
    Excess of T isn’t always a male thing the side effects on women can be devestating and of course we mustn’t forget the F/M transgender group who can’t get enough of it . The comment about smell is an interesting one , I’ve found that total body shaving or other methods of hair removal on a regular basis reduces charactersistic smells because it’s the bacteria in the hair follicles that cause it . I’ve been using womens deodrant for years which with regular shaving eliminates male aroma .

    Personally I’ve come to the conclusion most of us just have to learn to live with T , hormone therapy doesn’t provide all the answers because as individuals they affect each of us in different ways . I have friends who have fully transitioned and some restricted to hormone therapy , their lives are as complicated as mine , one set of problems are often replaced with different ones . A transgender lifestyle is full of compromises , I would like less body hair and larger natural breasts would be wonderful but I could be one of the unlucky ones that achieve none of those benefits . Hormones or lack of T could also play play tricks with your mind , I know some who have had their sexuality turned on it’s head , being a woman or living the lifestyle is wonderful but I have no interest in men .
    A few days ago my ex-sister in law dropped in for a cup of tea and catch up with my home improvements .We got onto the subject of my progress and going further , she said I would always be Terry to her no matter what I choose to do in the future . She is totally comfortable with me as Teresa , in fact we have met for coffee in the town and even introduced me to a friend we bumped into . Hormones and surgery wouldn’t have made any difference in those circumstances , if we can accept ourselves as we are do we really need to risk screwing up our lives ? We may not improve upon what we have already achieved .
    Perhaps we should stand back and consider we are the lucky ones , we can call on traits and knowledge from a male lifestyle and yet enjoy what a female lifestyle can offer .

    1. Teresa,

      As always, you provide a further perspective. It sounds like you love your T even as you have socially transitioned pretty much 100%. I have a friend who physically transitioned but is down on E (she gave up on it) out of frustration that it didn’t do anything for her. Of course, she has had multiple surgeries. That is something I am committed to avoiding at all costs. I can stop microdosing at any time, but surgery is forever. But, then again, that is how I have chosen to express myself. Isn’t it interesting how different our choices can be? No two TG/CD persons are alike in their choices. That is fine with me, as I am not looking for validation.

      Thank you again.

      Lisa

      1. Lisa,
        My feelings for my T levels are fairly neutral , it’s part of me so I live with it , I admit I could change it, but would it really make a great deal of difference to my everyday life ? My thoughts on transition have changed over the years and now I live comfortably full time as Teresa I don’t consider any further steps necessary . I feel those that live in flux , never quite achieving full acceptance consider their goal is only achieveable through hormones and/or surgery . It’s possibly self validation , ” I can’t be the woman I wish to be without those steps !” In saying that I mustn’t overlook those with severe GD , to hate your body to the extreme . I admit I’m not comfortable with how I look until I’ve showered and shaved , applied my makeup , popped my wig on and dressed for the day , then I’m ready to face the World , my T level is irrelevant to those feelings .

        1. Teresa,

          GD is the enemy I am vanquishing. I now swim in public with just a little waterproof lippy, eyeliner and blush. Before I started microdosing I had a hairdresser in Chelsea who told me I could get away with it. I didn’t believe her, but I do now because I have so many interactions with people with no negative outcomes (to date – it could still happen). In any event, I don’t know if it is the actual hormones or the positive mental effect that has come with them, but it makes me happy not to need anything “extra.”’ I realized recently that I hadn’t worn a wig in two months and I was overjoyed to realize that I finally have accepted how I look without one, even if that look can be pretty scary. I am pretty sure that is the dysphoria speaking, by the way!

          Thank you.

          Lisa

  5. Lisa,
    It’s all about body chemistry. Unbeknowst to me, my body chemistry was messed up for over 25 years. I had a gland over producing another hormone, cortisol. That gland was finally removed in April of this year and my body is recovering. Blood pressure dropped, belly fat disappearing, blood sugar, etc.
    I have thought about low dosing E, even took birth control pills for a short period of time in the late 70’s. But my body has been through too much trauma to add E to it now. Besides, I have blended my male/female sides into who I am today, so I feel my “transition” is done, at least for now.

    1. Cali,

      It is so wonderful to hear that you have figured out your body chemistry and that you are well-blended. Being able to be “two spirits” and doing it successfully is my goal, so if you don’t mind I will use you as one of my examples to follow. I do think I have made great progress, as I have an active social life in both genders. But, I have to admit to wanting more.

      Lisa

      1. Lisa,
        I learned a lot about how different girls and boys interact when I coach a girls soccer team and a boys baseball team. It really softens my approach to life in general.
        I realized 40-50 years ago that transitioning would not be in my best interest, especially in those years. I have a professional/public life.
        However, life has thrown me some things I had to deal with. I damaged a bone in my hand and can’t cut my toenails and I need acrylic to hold my damaged fingernails together. My feet fit women’s shoes thousands of times better than men’s shoes, and high heels reduces hip pain. I need my legs hairless so I can tape them. And I need to keep my eyebrows hairs out of my eyelashes.
        As a result, I get to enjoy some things that are thought of as traditionally women’s:
        I get a mani-pedi with color at least once a month. Having a scheduled “spa” day is wonderful. I have nails to envy and truly enjoy my nails.
        I have been wearing high heels everywhere for almost 10 years. I enjoy my shoes, not only are they exquisite, but the pain reduction is also awesome. I have a large shoe wardrobe as the result. (Heels to envy…lol)
        I hate shaving, so I get my legs waxed and brows “cleaned up” on a regular basis. I just started getting Brazilians too. The smoothness one gets from waxing is so much nicer than shaving. Sometimes after I get my brows done, she will paint in my brows.
        This just the tip of the iceberg of life, where the female part of me has become part of the everyday male me. Incorporating the female me has made the male me more confident.

        1. Cali,

          Color on my nails changes how I feel in the morning. Thank you sharing more about your experiences!

          Lisa

  6. Chris,

    Tell us about your experiences too. We learn a lot from each other — the most important lesson is we don’t have to explore our gender exactly like anyone else, but we do need to support each other because almost no one else supports us.

    Lisa

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