"I’m genderqueer and have been wanting to take testosterone, but something’s been holding me back. I recently realized men make me uncomfortable and there aren’t many I like so my brain says men=bad. If I take T I will be masculine looking and people will probably think I’m a guy, so brain says me looking like a man= me being what i don’t like. I know I want that for my body, but my mind is suffering. I don’t know if that makes sense."
- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Liam Lowery as a part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions.
To me, your question makes loads of sense. It’s a really important question, and I’m really glad you asked.
I’ll start out by telling you where I am at today: I am on testosterone, I have had gender affirming surgery, I prefer he/him pronouns, and I wear what are widely considered traditional men’s clothes. But I am not a man. What I choose to do with my body does not make me anything at all—that is solely the province of my heart and my mind.
It took years to get here, but let me try to simplify the processes that got me here as much as I can.
Before starting testosterone, I thought hormones were a thing that definitivelymade you a man or a woman. And why shouldn’t I have? All the men I knew had physical similarities to other men, and the same was true of women, and I didn’t know any trans people. More than that, after an 8th grade sex ed class focused on how the hormones men and women have determine everything from emotional intelligence to sexual desire, I was pretty sure hormones were the secret ingredient that made gender what it was.
Imagine my conflict when I longed for those “manly” physical qualities, which were attached to people whose socialization and way of being repulsed me. I felt icky, to say the least.
I thought that simply the act of starting hormone therapy would make me into something I didn’t want to be, a man (cue vomit noise—in case you couldn’t tell, I also have issues with dudes, you are not alone) and felt so trapped because I wanted the physical effects badly, but didn’t want to lose myself or be seen as a man. There was one night in particular where I laid on the floor of a powder room in my parent’s basement and cried out into the void, “Why does arm hair have to be a man thing?”
What I really meant was, “What the hell does it mean about me that I want arm hair?”
Short answer, I would come to find out, is it doesn’t mean anything. It just is. So I decided to start testosterone. I signed all the waivers at the doctor’s office about the permanent effects with informed abandon, thinking This has got to be better than how I feel now.
Holding the amber vial in my hand for the first time felt very much like holding a pipe bomb. That’s because, at best, you can only be about 82% sure you want to start hormones because you can’t calculate the effects they will have on you or not, since they effect everyone differently. But after reading the list of side-effects, you can be 100% sure that you want to try, that it will make you better off. So as I plunged the needle into my leg, I thought to myself I’ll figure out the rest of this stuff later, I guess.
It turns out what I thought was the end of my figuring out that divine question, (“Who am I?”) was only the beginning. That was three years ago and I can still ponder for hours.
I will tell you what helped me decide to start testosterone:
Imagine you are on an island. And on the island there is an unlimited supply of testosterone and needles and alcohol swabs, and no one there to lay any judgment on what it would mean for you to start T, no men there to say ”You’re like me now!” and no women to say “You are less like me now,” and no other members of the trans community to analyze your choices. There is only you. There is also food and clean water of course, so whatever decision you make you will have to live with for a while. What would you do then?
This may sound like a silly hypothetical, but the truth is no one has to live in your body but you, so in a way you really are on an island. And when you lay down your head on the pillow, you will be the only one who feels your body breathing, you will be the one who has to live in this shell, this envelope, this body for the rest of your life. The question is less about what it will mean if you modify your body with hormones, and more about how you want your body to look and feel.
I can testify that T doesn’t make you into anything. It does, typically, make you hornier and hairier and deeper-voiced. It might make you slightly more muscular; it might make it harder for you to cry. It might also make you crave buffalo chicken when you never even liked buffalo chicken before! But no one determines whether you a man or a woman or a beautiful snowflake living in between except you. For better of for worse, you alone are the one who knows who you are. And no, I am not doing a Yoda impression.
That being said, I realize you don’t exist in a vacuum, and some things that happen after you start T and start passing or pass more can’t be changed. Now, women on the street at night walk a little faster when they see me walking behind them, men make comments about women’s bodies in my company, and I throw up in my mouth. But perhaps most painful of all is when other trans folks question my choices about hormones and surgeries, call me an assimilationist because I dress and appear a certain way.
I can tell you that these experiences feel gross, and that they make me want to change how people see me. So I come out to people as often as I can—a general rule for me is that I want to be out to anyone I will see more than once. Part of this is to help increase trans visibility, but an equally large part is that I want to correct the errant assumption that to look masculine = to be male. We all deserve better than that.
No decision around starting or not starting hormones is wrong, and it’s important to think about why and how you are making that choice. Additionally, you can decide something today, and change your mind later—many trans folks postpone hormone therapy or stop it at some point, and the world never stops turning. So take your time and let your mind explore what you’d hope to get out of hormones, and what you’d be afraid to lose.
Hormones could never change you inside, my friend. They could never turn you into a man, regardless of what people may see. The flawed assumptions people make based on your appearance about your experiences just go to illustrate how little room there is for trans people in the minds of cis people, and how many trans people pass judgment on one another’s choices. For every one person who may applaud you, there will be one hundred who think you are shirking your identity or trying to gain male privilege. So you can only be accountable to yourself in this decision, and take care of your own needs.
Inside you, there are oceans of contemplation that no one but you will sail. You are on a journey. Don’t let the way others see you or the way you may see others slow you down, just do what you must to get to a safe port. You can always sort out the problematic nature of conflating some physical qualities with gender identity later.
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