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. =)


  1. I wish I could describe the smell better, but "girly" is the best I can think of. =/

    And the cuddling is nice, even if it did freak me out the first few times. =)

  2. "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."

    I would have to say that this is because of your meds. The reason.. The last time I saw you (well anytime I see you) You tell me how "adorable" I am. That is something that you did not really do before you started your meds. AND no one in the right mind would think that I am "adorable" ;P

  3. Erin - <3!

    Tess - I'm definitely not in my right mind, so that's a fair point, but I've certainly always thought you were adorable. Maybe I just feel more free to say it now. ;)

  4. I am so glad you finally posted about these effects! I have been incredibly curious and since we haven't been hanging out as much recently (thanks to my body and the dumb changes it has decided to bestow upon me) I haven't gotten a chance to sit down and talk with you about this! The few times I have been around you and Erin I have definitely noticed the cuddleiness. It is cute! And maybe thinking your butt is twice as big IS a psychological effect. All girls seem to think they have a big butt :) Let's go grab coffee sometime (sometime before Jan. 2nd) and talk more if you're free.

    Oh-and Tessa- I think you're adorable!

  5. Are the hormones in HRT similar to the ones used in hormonal birth control? Some of the side effects you mentioned reminded me of things I experienced after taking it.
    Anywhoo, I found this post really interesting. The whole thing really makes me wish I'd paid better attention in Gender Studies.

  6. Yay for more frequent posts!

    Hormones sound fun. Can your doctor give me any to make me more butch but that have no side effects? :-)

  7. Birdie - I don't know much about hormonal contraception, but I think a lot of them do use an estrogen as one component.
    I sometimes assume that everyone is just as fascinated as I am by all this, only to come to the humbling realization that they aren't. It's nice to hear that it's at least interesting to someone else. =P

    Tyson - Is that a trick question? lol