Friday, December 18, 2009

The Magic of Hormones

"And if rain brings winds of change,
Let it rain on us forever.
I have no doubts from what I've seen,
That I have never wanted more."
-- VNV Nation, Solitary

I've been on hormone reassignment therapy (HRT) for about five months now, and I finally decided that I should share what I've experienced as a result. While there are a lot of things hormones can't change, I'm constantly amazed at all the things they can and do change. I currently take two medications, once a day: estrogen, and an anti-androgen, which dramatically slows the effects of testosterone.

Quick and generalized biology lesson:

During the first few weeks of fetal development, humans essentially have the potential to develop as either male or female. Usually, the chromosomes will determine gonad differentiation, which causes hormone differentiation, and the presence or lack of *androgens determines the other primary sex characteristics. (*Andro is a Greek prefix meaning "male" or "masculine"; androgens are "masculine" hormones, including testosterone.) Secondary sex characteristics are mostly caused by estrogens and androgens, respectively, during puberty. HRT mainly only affects the secondary sex characteristics, especially those involving skin, fat deposits, and hair, since these are always changing anyway.

Keep in mind that this is from the perspective of a MTF (Male-to-Female). First, let's start with the things HRT won't do:
  • HRT won't dramatically change bone structure. Most of the skeletal differences are developed during puberty, though some bones will continue to very slowly change shape or definition over the course of years.
  • HRT won't change the voice for MTFs (Male-to-Females). Once a voice is "broken", it can't be "unbroken". For FTMs, taking testosterone causes the voice to break, but MTFs simply have to practice their voices, or learn to live with them.
  • HRT won't significantly affect already developed facial hair; laser hair removal or electrolysis are required for that.

And here are the changes I've noticed since being on hormones:
  • Within the first few weeks, I got mild hot flashes (mild meaning they weren't painful, but still very strange and obvious). Apparently hot flashes can happen any time there's a quick change of hormones in the body, and some women get them throughout their lives as their natural hormone levels rise and fall. Mine only lasted for a few days, and I haven't noticed any since.
  • Also within the first few weeks, I noticed that my skin was much softer and more sensitive to the touch. My skin was already pretty sensitive before, but now, Erin loves to run her hands down my back and watch me writhe.
  • My skin is somewhat thinner and lighter in color, especially on my face. Combined with subtle differences in the fat deposits in my face and cheeks, my face looks a lot more feminine now.
  • The fat stores on my body have been rearranging themselves. My butt is nearly twice as big as it used to be, I swear.
  • Within the first month, I was already noticing some chest growth. This has continued slowly, though sometimes in small growth spurts.
  • Within the first two months, I noticed tiny hairs around the corners of my forehead. Since then, even more dormant follicles have been sprouting all over my head, causing annoying fuzzies that are only about an inch or two long. They stick up all over through the rest of my hair, and I can't do anything with them (though my hair stylist was pretty fascinated).
  • Body hair growth has slowed down considerably. Some body hair has become lighter and more sparse.
  • After a couple of weeks, I started getting noticeable headaches off and on. For the most part these have gone away, but I still get mild headaches slightly more than I used to (which was almost never).
  • My finger nails have become a bit more dry and brittle, though they're still stronger than the nails of a lot of girls I know.
  • Temperature changes around me are much more noticeable now, both hot and cold. When it's cold, my hands and feet turn into ice sculptures.
  • Erin says I now "smell sweeter and more feminine", even without any added scents.
  • Recently I've noticed that when I drink alcohol, I feel the effects more and faster. I've always been a "light weight" drinker, which I've been happy with, because drinks are expensive. =P Unfortunately I also seem to sober up more quickly.
  • What little upper body strength I had is being slowly but noticeably sapped. I could probably get it back to where it was with a little working out, if I were worried about it.

The psychological effects are harder to define, or pin down as being specifically caused by the HRT, mostly because my mind is already reeling from all the other things going on in my life right now. I'm a skeptic, so I think that most of these can be chalked up to placebo effects, but the below are the mental effects which could be related to HRT. I'll let you make up your own mind:
  • I seem to move from one emotion to another more quickly, though the range and intensity of my emotions is about the same.
  • I cry a lot more recently. I think this is mostly because I've been under a lot of stress, and because I've been allowing myself to. I used to cry a lot when I was younger.
  • If I forget to take my hormones, shortly after the 24 hour mark I get moody, and usually depressed if I'm alone. This happened a few times before I made the connection, but now if I get moody in the evening, it serves as a reminder. This part especially annoys me, because of my control issues.
  • Extremely cute things sometimes get to me more. A couple of weeks ago, I giggled uncontrollably at a kitten video on YouTube for about 10 minutes. I've always liked cute things, but what really startled me was the intensity of this experience.
  • Sometimes I feel more "cuddly", with a similar intensity. This one's also tough to describe, but when it really hits me, all I want to do is be as near to Erin as possible.
Trans people report a huge variety of other psychological effects, but the above are really all I've noticed. Whether or not these are mostly caused by the hormones, it's likely that genetics and a predisposed mindset play a pretty big role in shaping those effects.

All of the physical effects I've listed are pretty standard, but I feel lucky to experience them all to some degree so quickly. Judging from what I know of other trans peoples' experiences, I'm responding to the hormones really well. It's especially exciting, because the full effects are supposed to take years, meaning I still have plenty to look forward to. =)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Word Vomit - Halloween, Vacation, Work, and Family

"You can try the best you can,
If you try the best you can,
The best you can is good enough."
  -- Radiohead, Optimistic

I'm long overdue for an update. Most of my friends already know the below, and it's pretty rambly, but I still feel like it's good to get down, if nothing else, for completeness sake. I'll try to rush through most of it, and I'll try to post more often in the future, instead of saving up for massive posts. =)

A couple of entries ago, I mentioned coming out to more people. Since then, I realized that there were still a lot of people that I have to tell personally before I'd feel ok just posting it on Facebook though, like the rest of Erin's family, the rest of my family, and work.

So, a while back we told Erin's mom and stepdad. They took it pretty well, though I still don't think they quite understand what it means to me and Erin. Erin's mom told her parents, and Erin's oldest brother, so now everybody knows except her dad's side of the family. We aren't sure how Erin's dad will react, so we don't plan on telling him soon, which is depressing, but he lives up in Ogden, so I guess it's not too big of a deal for now.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Self Deprecation: A Daily Routine

"I can't handle this but I can't handle anything else,
It's my own mistake, it's based on me and not on my groin.
It's the little things in my pants that we're all living for,
I never really knew what that thing down there was used for."
 -- Mindless Self Indulgence, Kill the Rock

I've been meaning to write again for a while. I have so many subjects swirling around in my head, but it's so much easier to procrastinate. =P Just a warning: this is a pretty long entry.

A few days ago, I came home after an average day, when suddenly a wave of pressure hit me like a ton of bricks. I remember bawling to Erin for half an hour, all the while repeatedly asking "What am I doing? I feel so crazy. I can't do this! What am I doing?"

Despite the fact that I'd woken her up, she was as sweet as ever, and stayed up to comfort me until I fell asleep sobbing. The last anxiety attack I can remember before this was at least five years ago, back when I was with Bitchface. I sort of thought I'd grown out of them. Turns out I've just had it easy for the last few years. My life honestly isn't that hard right now. I have a lot of great friends, a great job, a wonderful girlfriend, so what hit me so hard that night?

I did.

I try so hard to be strong outwardly, because I want people to be happy for me. I want people to see that this is right for me. I don't want them to see how much self-doubt I always have, or how afraid I am, but I am, and I need to stop bottling so much of that up. I'm not sure how to convey the kind of punishment I put myself through, other than to simply expose my daily thought process, so here goes.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Telling Mom

"I can’t say that you’re losing me,
But I must be that which I am,
Though I know where this could take me,
No tears, no sympathy."
   -- VNV Nation, Epicentre

I've been talking a lot about wanting to come out to my family, and I'm happy to say that I've finally done something about it!

A month or two ago, I found out about National Coming Out Day, which is October 11th. I tend to procrastinate a lot, so I decided that setting that day as my goal was a reasonable way to pressure myself to do what I want to do, and tell more people.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Seeing Through the Fear

"And now I think I am alive,
And that I see reality,
But the truth behind my mind,
Is your insecurities"
   -- Dub FX, Rude

Fun fact about being trans: I wake up every morning feeling like I must be completely insane.

Maybe I should back up a bit. Stick with me if I wander, please.

I've said before that the reason I like the word "transgender," is that it allows me to continue finding a definition for myself, but this is really only part of the story. While it's true that I don't like to be confined to boxes, the main reason I like the word is that I am absolutely terrified of failure. If labeling myself as transgender has the least specific meaning, then it has the least expectations to live up to.

"Transgender" covers a lot of gender variant groups, most of which I don't identify with, and some of which I don't even understand. It includes crossdressers and transvestites, who often retain some form of identity matching their biological gender, but temporarily take on aspects of another. It includes drag kings and queens, who exaggerate gender cues for fun or entertainment value. It even includes those who like to genderf'ck, mixing cues from both genders in order to break down the social binary.

Though none of the above fit me in any major way, there are other terms that I do identify with, including "transsexual." A transsexual identifies with a different sex / gender than the one they were assigned at birth, and seeks to remedy this by taking steps to change their body to match their mind. Like most things in the trans community, the word transsexual changes its scope and definition depending on who you talk to and when.

Many people want to pin down the meaning of transsexual, and remove it from the transgender grouping, out of fear that the medical community will stop supporting us if they suddenly realize how little GID (Gender Identity Disoder) really follows any rules. Some people want to abandon the term completely, since it seems to imply that this has to do with sex, when in fact there are transmen and transwomen of every sexual orientation. More on these subjects later, I'm sure.

My therapist once asked me as a session was ending, "Would you say you're a woman?"
To which I replied "If I felt free to say anything I wanted, yes."
She told me that I could say anything to her, and I just smiled and left, knowing that's not what I meant, but not knowing how to explain it. What I'd meant was that I was afraid of how the world would look at me if I went around saying how I feel.

This journey has a lot of uncertainty, and though I knew the risks when I began it, this is, without a doubt, the most difficult thing I've ever done in my life. I, who don't do anything without being sure of success, am going through this without knowing how it will turn out. I, who value personal connection and identifying with other people above almost anything else, am risking alienation. I, who have never moved to a better state, out of fear of losing contact with people, am risking burning bridges.

Yet, after waking up every morning with so much self doubt, I still know that this is what's best for me. Why? Because of the excitement I feel with every step forward, that I am finally becoming myself. Because I can see with my analytical mind, that I am not changing myself, I am correcting a wrong. Because I know, though it took me a long time to understand it, that I am female inside.

So please, though I know my body still doesn't fit the part, and it never truly will, forgive me if I call myself a girl. It may sound crazy to you, but it keeps me sane.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Funerals and Family

"Some of us fall by the wayside,
And some of us soar to the stars,
And some of us sail through our troubles,
And some have to live with the scars"
   -- Elton John, Circle of Life

My grandma died last week, and yesterday I went to her funeral.

I've always sort of wondered how well I'll deal with death. My dad's parents both died when I was very young - I barely remember his mother. I think the last funeral I went to before this was for my dad's brother Bill, and that was... almost twenty years ago.

It's odd, because I'm such a mix of both strong emotion and strong logic, plus the fact that I've recently started on hormones, which I'm still getting used to; For the most part I've noticed that my range of emotions is similar to pre-HRT (Hormone Replacement/Reassignment Therapy), but I think I snap from one emotion to another more quickly.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Control Issues

"All the people slip away,
Despite connections I have formed.
In my struggle to be human,
I feel more and more deformed."
-- System Syn, Beneath the Sand

I've escaped my shackles only to find myself in a larger cage.

I'm supposed to feel less anxious, damnit!

It's been almost a year since I put the pieces together and realized what they meant. Eight months since I told anyone else. Seven months since I started doing something about it, and since then I have done a lot.

I tell myself that these are relatively short time periods, and I am honestly very proud of myself for continuing to do what I know is right for me. I feel elated with the progress I've made, and that's exactly the problem.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Story so Far

"When everything is going wrong,
And you can't see the point in going on,
Nothing in life is set in stone,
There's nothing that can't be turned around."
-- Garbage, Androgyny

Hi! I'm 27 years old, I live in Utah, my favorite color is blue, and I am transgender.

To give you the basics, I was born physically male, and while I don't think that I truly identify with either "traditional" gender role, I feel more female than male internally. I will not ask you to agree with this. All I ask is that you keep an open mind and make as few assumptions as possible, and I will gladly answer any questions you have. Questions, as I've really learned in the past few months, can be a great sign that people care.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Overcoming Scriptophobia

"Paranoia strikes deep,
Into your life it will creep."
-- Buffalo Springfield, For What It's Worth

I often have a difficult time writing, because I write for an audience. In the same way that I have a hard time jogging just to jog, rather than to get somewhere, I have a hard time writing without a purpose. An audience fills that purpose, even an audience of one, but being the analytical and overthinking person that I am, I constantly wonder what a person who reads this will think.

I will erase, re-write, erase, re-write, and pore over the words for hours on end. More often than not, this ends in me permanently erasing the whole work.

Another issue is that as a cynical person, I am always certain that the reader is judging me. While I have no problem being judged by someone who knows "the whole story," I am terrified of being judged based on small pieces of information, so I often tell stories backwards. As I write a paragraph, I remember a facet of another story that would put this one in a better light, or make it more easily understood, and I begin writing its prequel.

I need to write this down, so please excuse me, while I attempt to deviate and leave the words in place long enough for you to read them, or at least for me to believe you have. It's difficult, it probably won't work, but I have to try.