Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Better Living Through HRT

Ever so often I will insert a blurb about my gender journey from male to female. This is one such accounting, this time about hormone replacement.


There is always a certain shroud of mystery that surrounds those of us who change our gender. I think lots of people associate some sort of fascination or sexual fetish with women’s clothing and focus on that in trying to understand it. Clearly there are some transsexual women who go all out with fashion and trying to be some Hollywood ideal. In any group of people, including among transsexual women, there will be considerable variety. Others relate to the characters seen on Jerry Springer, drag queens acting out in perpetual high drama, only in six inch stilletos. Again, there are some who might fill that bill, but it was not my experience. It is my experience I try to share.

I’ll not go into detail here the feelings of being misplaced, different, like nature had performed some really massive joke. Nor about the times I had gone out in my alternate persona, wary lest serious bodily harm be dealt because in this country breaking gender rules can carry a huge price. Or the very real concern when I went to my employer to discuss my change how I could just as easily lost my job. Some of those stories will have to wait until another time.

What I want to tell is what happened when I first began HRT. Those are the initials for Hormone Replacement Therapy. For me, that involved large doses of premarin along with a medicine that interfered with production of testosterone (male hormone) called aldactone.

What followed was a near instant ecstatic transformation. No, I’m not talking about breasts. They grew over time of course. Oh I’ll always be a member of the itty bitty titty club, but they are a part of me now. The skin softened, and a new layer of fat was deposited. Frankly with my back problems I’m grateful I did not end up with some double D’s. But what I am talking about here is the removal of the effects of testosterone. It was as if I’d spent a lifetime with a cloud over my brain, and suddenly it was liberated. I became more relaxed, happier than I had ever been before. There were new levels of social discernment that had escaped me before.

Now some will argue that since testosterone sometimes lends to greater agitation, then of course it would be this way. But my female-to-male (ftm) friends describe something very similar when they begin taking testosterone. I can’t tell you scientifically what happens, but I do have a theory. Whatever causes a person to feel disconnected with their gender in the first place, may well feel the presence of their birth hormone as a foreign body. It was like my body, mind, and soul had been cleansed of a detrimental poison, even more so after I had the final surgery that removed the testosterone producer completely save the trace amounts all women possess. It really was testosterone poisoning!

Now there are women everywhere who can attest to the power of hormones. I’ll add my own amen to that sentiment. The sheer breadth of my emotional life grew exponentially with the presence of estrogen in my veins. For me, it was the most glorious liberation I would ever know. Yes I had lots of mood swings early on as I learned to cope with this new terrain akin to an emotional roller coaster. I laugh now recalling how I thought I must be the only person who ever experienced this ride. A girlfriend just laughed, telling me to deal with it. “We’ve all done it, only most of us did it when we were 13.” She was right of course.

I continued on estrogen therapy for some years beyond my surgery, but like so many other women, I quit taking it when word came out of the harmful effects of prolonged estrogen replacement therapies. Since the testosterone production glands were no longer there, it was not essential anyway. Oh guess what! I was treated to the entire array of hot flashes, night sweats, and moodiness that comes with “the change.” Was I ever glad when that was over!

Hormones of course but were one of many things necessary to make the body conform to my natural energy and nature. They were but one step along a way including electrolysis, mannerism adaptations, and of course surgery. They are not what makes a person a woman, but rather are only physical and cultural manifestations of gender. I’ve known biological women who were more masculine than most men I know after all. What makes a woman who she is resides in her spirit and heart, a sort of energy that is readily recognizable as feminine. My attorney in processing name and gender changes, referred to me (and others taking this path) as female to female transsexuals for we are not becoming a woman, only correcting the physical attributes that stand in the way of fully realizing our true selves.

In recent years, I’ve been on a new journey. Early on, it was essential to immerse myself in “all things woman.” A lifetime of denial encourages that sort of thing. I also wanted to hide from that part of my life, in part because it was so often an unhappy time. But now I embrace my feminine side, while reaching back to pick up the parts more masculine I left behind.

See I don’t believe anyone is entirely masculine or entirely feminine. Despite societal rules to the contrary, we are a marvelous blend of the two, with some leaning towards high femme while others are ultra masculine. This is regardless of the original birth gender on the birth certificate. Sadly we place all sorts of behavioral strictures in the world we live in. Mostly I think it was to hold women back by demanding submission as part of role expectations. Anyone recall the sitcoms from the fifties? Things like speaking in passive voice, living a life around making her husband happy without consideration of her own needs, expectations that did not carry into the halls of power. All of society was tilted towards the male of the species. Women have been finding their way out of that quagmire for decades now and correctly so. That is another stereotype with sadly enough examples to lend to the assumption. Transsexual women behaving like June Cleaver. That drives me nuts. Women have worked very hard to be free from those patriarchal notions. Turning the clock back is just unacceptable. To me June Cleaver play-like is akin to someone exchanging one role-play for another. It has nothing to do with self-truth at all, and perhaps much more to do with too much television as a child.

It’s so much easier to be myself! For me, surgery was the only way to be me. For those who don’t understand, feel fortunate you don’t have to understand. A fun exercise though is to imagine if you are male, that you have a female body, but felt just like you are now. How disorienting that could be every day of your life. Today, I’m a whole person, not compartmentalized as before. It’s not for everyone, and there is nothing evangelical about being transsexual. But for those born with this something that demands we correct our gender, it is a blessing to live in this day and time. Rather than playing a role, I’m being rather than acting. Someone in fact asked me awhile back, did I identify as butch or femme. I just smiled and replied, "I'm just Jessica."

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