It’s almost 2015, which means that in a few months, it will be two years since my last testosterone shot. These last 20+ months have given me a number of experiences and helped me understand both my body and social processes regarding (de- and re-)transition and how our communities (both cis and trans) very often put a lot of pressure on gender presentation and its association with bodies affected by hormones.
Yours truly on December 10th, 2014
But first, a disclaimer. This article is not about making others feel bad about their identities, experiences and/or bodies. Neither does it try to convene the idea that quitting hormones is an experience to be shared by everyone. It is simply a narrative of a person who chose the path they are currently following. Nothing is set in stone and one day you may read a 10 things that made me come back to testosterone article. Until that, please enjoy this completely personal list of lessons I had to learn and situations I found myself in.
And second, a little background. This particular piece has been in my head for the past 15 months and only now I found the will and comfort to sit down and put my thoughts on virtual paper. Even though I have been sure about my choice from the very beginning, the thought of sharing it with others, and not just with my friends and community, but also with my family, has been quite dreadful. It felt like another coming out story (and still does!) and I am really tired of these. Not because coming out is not important (although the concept is problematic on a global scale), but because once you do like 2 or 3 of these, you think you’d be done at this point. All I can say at his point is, enjoy these 10 lessons I’ve learned for the past year and a half and don’t think about it as a coming out text. Just enjoy the ride.
1. Quitting hormones is NOT a big deal
For more than a year, I did not break the news about the decision to go off hormones to anyone. The only other person who was aware of what was happening was my ex, with whom I didn’t just share an apartment but most of my personal life as well. That closeness created so much comfort, that I didn’t think it was necessary to discuss my choice with anyone else.
Until a few months ago, when I decided to break the news with very close friends who have been there through my whole transition. I still remember my palms sweating and throat closing, unable to share what I back then thought was the ultimate confession a trans person can share. A moment when you openly renounce most of what modern medicine gave us to be able to celebrate our bodies the way we intended them to be in the first place. (I can’t deny, I did feel like somewhat of a trans-traitor).
“It’s been a year” I whispered “12 months since I’ve stopped taking hormones”.
One of my friends looked at me surprised. ‘This is it’ I though. The very person who gave me so much strength when I was first dealing with my dysphoria a number of years ago was about to shake her head in disbelief. But she didn’t. She smiled instead, poured some tea into my empty cup and nodded.
“Oh, I’ve stopped a while ago, dear child”. I looked at her surprised, she continued without hesitation “If it’s not good for you, why take it?”.
Why? That was one of the questions that were missing in my ‘off hormones narrative so far’. I knew I stopped, and the reasons were many, but that one rhetorical question brought everything together. No one was forcing me, and I didn’t want to force myself either.
“It’s no big deal” another friend looked at me “You’re not the first person to come over with exactly this. The world is not crumbling and neither are you. Many of us have chosen to let go”.
At that point I was a member of a few online communities where exactly this issue has been discussed (and have spent HOURS looking for similar experiences on live journal archives or tumblr), but a real-life conversation brought me to a broader understanding of how often we think we know everything about our trans sibling when in fact, we may not be knowing anything.
2. You do not have to explain yourself, it’s your choice.
I feel as if I don’t have to underline it, but my own experience has shown me otherwise. When I finally was ready to casually open this topic in various conversations (in support group meetings first, when discussing hormones with other trans masculine persons second and finally when I met friends I have not seen for a longer time) I found myself answering the “why?!” question in many, often completely different things.
Someone who talked to me in January was convinced that going off was a health decision because of high blood pressure, in March you would have known that it was still related to health, but came as a package with quitting smoking and drinking, in May a number of my closest friends learned that this decision was part of a plan to start a family. And to be honest, all of these could have been true.
I did suffer from high blood pressure while taking testosterone and that was exactly why a few months earlier I quite smoking. Other issues pushed me to stop drinking, too. And for some time me and my ex were seriously considering bringing a baby to this world (In Central Europe. Can you imagine?).
All of these could have been important reasons for going off hormones. And all of these should not matter at all. Because what we do with our bodies is a choice we are entitled to. That is an important fact I have learned in late 2014 and now, whenever someone asks the dreadful “why” question, I smile and politely say: Because I can.
And that is exactly enough information.
3. Still, people will ask…
This doesn’t stop people from asking a number of questions. Some come from actual health concerns, some are simply absurd and in some cases can trigger dysphoria. For some reason people think that once you have decided to quit hormones, it also means that your body, especially your brain, quit dysphoria on you. Unfortunately, that is not the case. As much as one can suffer from dysphoria even years into one’s transition and without a break from hormones, the same is true for when you decide to go off.
Remember your first trans coming out? I surely do. I remember my first and then that whole wave of coming out sessions when friends, strangers and family members asked inappropriate questions about my health, genitals, mental stability and everything they thought was ok (but in reality was not) to ask a scared young person.
Surprisingly, telling someone you’re off hormones is quite similar to that. Except you need to get ready for a whole new experience of personal and improper questions, going even beyond what a trans coming out conversation looks like.
There are a number of things I have learned so far. My favorites include: not being trans enough, being scared of having an actual trans experience (?!), quitting on my trans brethren and being a victim of wrong diagnosis. The latter meaning that I should not have received the F 64.0 diagnosis Transsexualism.
4. …and they will talk, too.
Not everyone has the courage to say mean things to your face. Therefore, once you have revealed to someone that you are off hormones (whether you’re taking a break or decided to quite forever), you are in for a lot of talks behind your back and if you’re available through social media, you may experience (anonymous) online bullying.
If there’s a community around you, you are definitely in for some comments that, even if shared outside of your closest circles, will eventually hit you. There’s never a good way of dealing with them. A lot depends on context, whether you trust your sources and so on. There’s also never a good time to be ready to work with information like this. Personally, I have chosen to not extend my contact circles and either ban or delete those of whom I have information that have been sharing different comments through social media. Sometimes I choose confrontation, but that goes only for those people whom I find important to me and who may be scared to talk to me about everything that is happening.
Questioning my experiences, diminishing my trans identity, telling others I am not “manly enough” or that I am “probably just a woman who’s confused” – all of these comments have been and still are shared about me. They pop up during conversations, are part of online discussions on social media and have also reached me through anonymous questions on my ask.fm channel or through my community network.
Although I am definitely a fan of talking things through with your closest friends to unwind and not bring any frustration online, as it is easy to use against us later, I can see how that is not possible for anyone.
Look out for yourself. It’s a dangerous online and offline world out there.
5. Hormones are not ‘the final trans experience’ and you won’t stop being trans if you stop taking them
Remember “all these studies” cited in online discussions that all it takes to “cure” someone from being trans is to give them hormones that are “in accordance” with sex assigned at birth? I think about them every time I experience estrogen boost from my body, because there is never a time when I feel more on the right track in terms of my trans identity and experience when this happens. And that is simply because coming back to my pre-testosterone body did not change who I am in any aspect.
Quitting hormones did not make me ‘less trans’. On the contrary, it made me appreciate every single second I thrive in everything I have achieved so far as a person. My name, my body and my work as a trans advocate. In fact, a number of us come to terms with our identities sometimes long before they are able to start receiving hormones. Does that mean that before that moment our identities were not actually there?
Our communities still have a hard time accepting the fact that we are entitled to pursue our own narratives of transition. We transition at our own pace and every single transition is a unique act in itself. The fact that we are so diverse in these experiences makes us so strong. Both as individuals and as a community.
6. Your body will change
Whether it’s an interesting or dreadful experience (I can see both sides), your body will change and that may be one of the hardest experiences when going off hormones.
Sometimes it can become a triggering experience, especially if it makes you confront quite drastic changes like repositioning body fat, disappearing or reappearing body hair, some minimal changes in your voice and even your weight.
In my case, most of these changes have been manageable. Not all of them, though. In some instances, I had to go back to my pre-transition clothing style to hide some aspects and make others more visible. Although contrary to my pre-transition experiences, I have learned to use different clothing styles to my advantage and can manage both with a super manly appearance and a bit of gender queerness.
And even though sometimes my changing body will give me a hard time, I remember that this is the most self-aware time of my life and I should use this awareness to my advantage and not be bothered by how I am read by others.
Dealing with dysphoria, however, is an absolutely different experience and whenever I have a dysphoric day, I would just take a break, do things a bit slower and try to find at least some joy in life. Nothing helps me go through a dysphoric episode better than realizing that most things in my life are fine.
7. Passing may be tougher
It may seem weird coming from a person who became bald shortly after starting hormones and got loads of facial and body hair, but – yes. In some instances I will not pass as I used to.
In my case shaving and covering my head does the work for me. Lack of facial hair currently leaves me with either being read as a young boy or (so I think) a woman of exactly my age. Usually, I tend to keep that fresh out of the meth lab Walter White look, which leaves my gender read as male and only male.
However, this year I had an interesting experience of being read as a creature whose gender needed to be openly discussed on the street and all because I chose to shave my mustache, leaving only a lovely beard. Which, to my surprise, apparently made me look less like a man and more like Ether Darling from American Horror Story Freak Show. In other words, my expression and identity are judged differently based on extremely small changes and hence I do not have either the nerve or cultural wisdom to predict how I may be read by strangers.
Definitely something I had to learn and accept.
8. Checkups and monitoring one’s health is extremely important
To be honest, that goes for every person, whether off or on hormones. And I cannot stress that enough. However, going of testosterone is best consulted with an endocrinologist or – even better – an endocrinologist and gynecologist. If one happens to have undergone hysterectomy or ovariectomy, this type of consultancy is even more relevant.
I must also admit, that I did not consult anyone when I first went off hormones, which was mostly related to the fact that I lived in a country where such expertise would not have been possible to access. The only thing I could have done was to go off and then visit my old healthcare provider in another country to confront her with already happening changes and her recommendations.
Finding a good healthcare provider who is educated on trans healthcare is very difficult, so one should not be afraid of asking your peers for advice. If it’s impossible to find a proper expert for consultation, one has to, unfortunately, create trans expertise with a healthcare provider of one’s choice. It may sound difficult or even impossible, but persistence is a good advisor. Finding a healthcare provider open to trans issues may not be difficult, the most difficult aspect of this particular experience is the fact that you will be the one to have additional talks, educate that provider and ensure that they know what they’re doing.
Fortunately, I was lucky enough to find a person like this a few years ago. Between our two appointments (about 6 months between) her knowledge rose from an entry to a “I know everything about your issues” level and all it took was an approachable yet proud attitude. “I have chosen you to be my healthcare provider from now on and expect that you educate yourself” I proclaimed on my first visit. “OK” she said, quite surprised and there it was.
Although I’m not sure whether I could stomach this today.
9. Make sure you are ready
I wasn’t. My first initial going off testosterone was a well-planned endeavor which ended up with so much dysphoria that the only possible solution was to forget about the whole thing and quickly go back to taking shots.
A few months passed when I realized everything was in place and that me and my body are ready for the adventure. One important thing I’ve learned through this experience was that my initial need to go off was not wrong, there was simply no time for it at that very point in space and time.
But I eventually found myself in the right spot on the continuum, and here we are.
10. You can always go back if you feel uncomfortable
I did once and may do it again one day. Maybe one day I decide that I want to have my broader shoulders and thick body hair back. Or maybe I will not.
Whatever my decision will be, my only hope that it will be mine and that it will be respected. Especially by my peers.