I’ve seen a lot of changes over the past year. This past Sunday, in the words of my friend Bella, was my one-year “tranniversary.” I began HRT, or hormone replacement therapy, in May 2015 to block the effects of the testosterone that had poisoned my body for many years. Testosterone does many things to humans. It’s what makes facial and other body hair grow thick. It helps form male reproductive tissues during infancy, promotes bone mass, it changes specific characteristics in the facial bone structure as males age, it lowers the voice of adolescent males, and even helps males develop muscles faster. Did you know testosterone is an anabolic steroid? I’ll be honest, I didn’t until I began researching for this post. It’s a really powerful hormone! But hormones in general are more powerful that people realize.
Women produce small amounts of testosterone, but men produce about 7-8 times the amount produced by women. Just like testosterone, estrogen helps in the development of female reproductive tissues while in the womb. Males produce estrogen as well, but in much smaller amounts than women. Estrogen is really complicated. In fact, there are three different types of estrogen that women produce, and each has a much different potency and function.
The earlier a person is introduced to higher levels of these hormones, the more it changes a person. If hormone therapy is introduced at age 10 or 11, the changes are much more significant than at age 30, or in my case at age 48. My friend Kylie and I began hormone therapy one week apart. We call each other our trans twin. Kylie is 27, exactly 21 years and 364 days younger than me, so the changes she is experiencing have come faster, and are more prominent than my own.
For years, I fantasized about transitioning, but didn’t believe it was a possibility for me. Only with counseling and learning, did I began to see my path. I made the decision to transition around the end of 2014. I didn’t have a timeline, but the decision was made. I had already begun to let my hair grow out.
I typically think about big decisions for a long time. So once I make a big decision, there is rarely a need to look back. When the end of 2014 rolled around, I had devoted a ton of brain power to my decision to transition. When I verbalized it to my psychologist, it was as if the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders. Almost immediately, my overall mood improved.
My psychologist was also convinced I was ready to transition, and wrote a letter to an endocrinologist (hormone doctor) in January 2015 to verify that I had been in counseling, and that it was appropriate for me to begin HRT, or hormone replacement therapy. Not everyone agrees that a person should be forced to receive counseling before proceeding with hormone therapy. I see both sides of the argument, especially where there is a financial barrier, but I believe a person should see a professional counselor who is knowledgeable about gender before proceeding, and should never proceed without being prescribed hormones from their physician. I certainly wouldn’t have had the confidence in my decision-making without counseling, but there’s also the risk of underlying health issues, which demand a physician’s guidance in proceeding with hormone therapy.
I met with the endocrinologist and he agreed to prescribe gender-changing hormones. I wasn’t quite ready to pull the trigger just yet, though. I had made the decision to transition, but coming up with a timeline was challenging. I had to consider the effect it would have on every aspect of my life, and on every person in my life. What would I say to the people closest to me who didn’t know? I not only had to figure out what to tell them, but when and how. I was absolutely terrified to tell my family. I didn’t know how each one of them would react, and whether I should tell them separately, and if not separately, who I would group together for the difficult conversation.
While I was considering all of this, I was also recovering from an unrelated spine surgery to repair some disks in my neck. In March, my mother became suddenly ill and we found out she had a brain tumor. She passed away 31 days after being diagnosed. Some brain tumors can be incredibly aggressive, and mom’s was. Because I was on medical leave from work, I was able to go immediately from Atlanta to Missouri and spend those days at her bedside, and I’m eternally grateful for that opportunity. It was a special opportunity to show my mother how great my love was for her, and to make the most of the time she had left.
Driving back from the two memorial services we had for her, I was struck by how quickly and unexpectedly our lives can some to an end. I remember looking at the cars next to me on the interstate and thinking that any of our vehicles could malfunction and cause us to lose control. I realized that every day I waited to begin my transition, I was wasting a day of happiness. Despite my fears and trepidation, I knew I could not wait any longer.
I got back into town and told the endocrinologist I was ready. I picked up my first prescription on my way into work, May 15, 2015 and took my first dose in the parking lot of the pharmacy. As I walked into CNN, I snapped a selfie and posted it with the caption, “Why the smug look? Because today is the first day of the rest of my life.” We often hear people say that phrase, but this time the statement carried a greater weight and was especially meaningful.
My attitude and outlook began to change when I made the decision to transition. People at work had begun to take notice. After a couple weeks on hormones, I noticed the mental and psychological changes. As weeks turned into months, people began asking me if I had lost weight or why I was in such a good mood.
I began to notice that my emotions gradually felt more normal to me. As I told different people what was going on, they often asked what it was like to be on hormones. I explained that my emotions were no longer muted. I didn’t cry any more or less than before, but when I cried it felt full and normal. I still struggle to find the right words, but “muted vs. full” is the best analogy I’ve come up with. I felt like my emotions were muted before, and I feel like they’re full now. When I cry, it feels like I always imagined it should feel. When I laugh or get upset, it’s the same. It just feels normal. Hormones have allowed me to experience life in a much more meaningful way.
The changes have been both psychological and physical. Estrogen has caused breasts to grow, and I’ve seen fat cells in my face and the rest of my body begin to redistribute. My hips have a little more cushion and my skin is much softer! I’ve also experienced the ability to display a femininity, that I’ve always known was there, in ways I never dreamed would be possible. If you had asked me 6 months ago whether I would feel comfortable in a dress, my answer would have been categorically, “No!” But now I love putting on makeup, doing my hair and wearing dresses.
For years, I was tormented by knowing I was female with no option to do anything about it. I felt that I had to hide behind a mask of masculinity. I literally lived a double life. I was the “real me” to a few select people, and someone entirely different to everyone else.
I am less frustrated – no longer boxed-in and angry about it. I’m no longer tormented and miserable. I am so much happier. But most of all, I’m at peace.