I have always said that I’m open to questions about my journey on testosterone. I really am. I don’t want my friends walking around on eggshells. Firstly, that’s uncomfortable and not a true basis for friendship. Secondly, it’s not authentic: it implies support for me when you’re unable to support me because you don’t understand. Please. Ask questions. Let me help you support me. My experience is that people don’t want to sound stupid. If only they realised that we’d much rather have their stupid questions than their silence. At least ‘stupid’ questions show an interest, an “I care about you”.
I’m drawing up this list of questions that you ask, and please keep asking:
Q: do I plan to have surgery or is testosterone treatment the only plan?
A: I plan/need to have top surgery. I am waiting to reach my goal weight as I have already had a reduction (2010) and I need to be at my goal weight so that the original scarring is easier to deal with in terms of the way the chest will look afterwards. This waiting to reach goal weight is a personal decision. My plan is to have the surgery this year. Medical aid does not cover it. I will have to save/borrow at least R30 000 for private surgery or have it done through a government hospital (very viable option) on a sliding economic scale (around R15 000).
Q: Are you on T forever, or does it balance out eventually?
A: If I want to maintain the effects, I’ll have to stay on forever. After a hysterectomy you can take less T. (Effects: Muscularity, fat redistribution, no period; effects that will not go away even if I stop T – any hair lost or grown, e.g. body hair, voice, enlarged clitoris).
Q: A while back you said you didn’t mind what pronoun we use for you – has that changed?
A: (I said that because I am genderqueer, not a trans man). Pronoun is still whatever feels comfortable for you. I’m noticing that people are getting less comfortable with gendering me as female, though. I also feel less comfortable with the female words, but am still going to go with whatever people feel comfortable with. Thanks for asking!
A: The sad truth is that most of the stereotypes are true: a lot of my transguy friends have reported feeling more removed from their feelings; more able to step away from them, look at them, assess them. They feel less inclined to speak about daily things that come up the way they used to with their partners. A friend reported losing his empathy. Because he knew what empathy was from pre-T, he fought really hard to get it back. Men whose testosterone levels drop due to prostate cancer, struggle to navigate directions as well as they used to be able to. They cry less. There are many studies that show that testosterone, and oestrogen in the same way, literally shapes the brain differently so that brains driven by testosterone do think, and feel, differently than brains driven by oestrogen.I try not to think about stereotypes and science and biology. I don’t cry less. I still feel empathy. I do feel more centred emotionally, more able to take a step back, but I put that down to going onto T as an assertive step in owning my life that has just made me more assertive in general. The same with the anger issue. Is T making me angry? Are men more likely to act out anger than women? No. T doesn’t make you angry. An imbalance in hormones makes one angry (therefore ‘roid rage’ when bodybuilders take too much testosterone). My testosterone is carefully monitored. It’s not that T makes me angry, but, as with the feeling more assertive, I’m able to feel my anger more. In being assertive enough to own my journey, I’ve allowed the fear to be replaced with sadness and anger about my past, and anger is a natural way to deal with pain. As women, we’re not allowed to feel anger. It’s actively discouraged, called unladylike. As women we don’t even know we’re feeling anger, and when we do, we don’t know what to do with it. Women recognise sadness more easily because there are so many ways we can acceptably express it: crying, depression, being withdrawn and quiet. Men are more likely to be able to feel anger because there are so many socially acceptable ways for them to express anger: from sport to fisticuffs to wife beating. Men who recognise sadness as opposed to anger struggle to know what to do with that sadness because there is no socially acceptable way of men expressing sadness. This is all very generalised, but there’s a lot of truth to it.
A: My father and mother (both VERY Christian – my father is a Methodist Minister) do not understand the decision to take testosterone, but they’ve seen that it makes me happy, so they’re supportive. My sister is supportive. That is the whole of the family. I don’t see my extended family and am pretty sure, knowing my family, that this would not be discussed with anyone else in the family. We’re a pretty typical, sweep everything under the rug kind of family.
Many trans people are not this lucky. They get called ‘she’ when they’ve been on testosterone for years and have a beard; they get kicked out of the house as teens and have no choice but to pursue sex work for a living; they get taken to conversion therapy, which is illegal in most places; some of my trans friends have not seen or spoken to their parents in years; some, like Leelah Alcorn, have their lives as teenagers so thoroughly unsupported that they commit suicide.
A: It can be tricky, but it isn’t. As an activist I want to share my journey. As self-care, I will not let that sharing threaten me personally. If someone oversteps the boundary, I don’t do polite or social niceties; I tell them in no uncertain terms that their question has been inappropriate and I block them.
A: It’s difficult to tell how much of those first reactions are psychological and how much physical. I did feel a heat, like having drunk tequila (probably physical) and had a lot of energy and anxiety (probably psychological). That’s it.
Q: Can your treatment not possibly also have this side affect (A-Vascular Necrosis)? It is also surely a case of running steroids through your body, and on a continual basis. This is my question. I don’t wish A-Vascular Necrosis on anybody. Before it hit me I had never heard of it.
A: Like any body with testosterone ruling it, I am now more prone to heart disease, higher cholesterol, higher risk of diabetes and, yes, because of the decreased levels of oestrogen I, like someone going through and post-menopause, am more likely to struggle with bone density issues, so I’m on a calcium supplement, eat well and exercise.
Q: I don’t have a question, but I do have this to say: You are an incredible human for sharing your story and being so open with your journey, to the point where asking questions is welcomed. I applaud you.
A: If I, in any way, can contribute to making trans people more human and less of a moving target, I’ll make myself, in my relative safety, open to questions from those who can ask them to help those who can’t ask them for fear of their own safety. (And thank you).