Hormones: one month update

Now, to inject some humor into the situation . . . 
It’s a good thing I can take a needling! 

One month ago, I resumed my once-a-week injections of estradiol, which is the proper name for what we commonly lump with estrogen. I had ceased injections in February. As a result, my estrogen and testosterone both were very low and, as it turned out, too low.

In May, I began to experience hot flashes, which grew to an every day occurrence, as often as half-a-dozen times a day and at predictable times. Then, by late summer my leg muscles were adversely affected, and they continually worsened.

I was tremendously concerned that resuming the taking of estradiol would upset the balance I had achieved, in which my gender dysphoria disappeared. But, while I could have put up with the hot flashes for however long they would have continued, I could not live with my leg muscles as they were. I struggled with my running, my muscles were so sore and my joints stiff. I could barely run five miles, and my pace slowed to what I used to be able to do when walking fast.  When I got up in the morning, I could barely move at first.

I resumed the estradiol a month ago, on November 10. As of this past Sunday, I’ve now injected five times. This month brought significant indications that my estrogen has increased.

After two weeks, I noticed the hot flashes to be almost completely gone. It was a huge surprise that this happened so quickly. I found myself saying, “Hey, you’ve not had a hot flash, today. And did you have any, yesterday? Woo hoo!” The few times I have felt one come on, it has been minor, perhaps ten percent of what they were. Whew!

In the third week, two signs came which I expected. My breasts grew tender and my sex drive increased. I expected them because I’ve restarted hormone therapy so many times, and those two areas are always affected, yet they arrived surprisingly soon. It’s as if my body now expects this, so it reacts quickly, with a hearty here we go, again!

With the developments of the second and third weeks, I was hopeful that my doctor’s suggestion might prove on the mark, that I could see muscle improvement by the fourth week. Last Friday, we finally had blue skies, and the temperature rose above freezing. I went running for the first time in thirty-five days.

Having been off so long, I didn’t want to overdo it. I went 3.33 miles, of which I ran two. If I had not experienced the muscles troubles, I would have recognized nothing out of the ordinary. Every bit of out-of-shape feeling I had, and the soreness afterward, was typical and to be expected. Whew!

I ran again on Sunday. I felt great, so I increased it to 3.9 miles, of which I ran three. I felt good.  I’m writing this Monday morning.  I intend to run, this afternoon.

Now, to the biggest issue. How am I feeling about who I am, as in my gender identity? Has this increasing of my estrogen reintroduced feminine feelings?

I am elated to report that I continue to feel completely male. I have noted nothing, whatsoever, to warn me that gender dysphoria might be returning. Whew, whew, whew!

It’s early, and I have learned how turbulent this can be in me, so I am not pronouncing myself as being past any concern. Yet, I am pleased to report that soon after I restarted the injections I have possessed an insistence—almost a stubborn resolve—that gender dysphoria will not be returning, that it is a thing of the past for me.

I was hoping that this December would have me for the first time passing 1,000 miles of jogging and fast walking in one year. I had no surgeries on the schedule, as last year, and I just missed 1,000 miles in 2017. But, rats, the muscle thing rose up and bit me, and I will not make 1,000 this year.

I am using December to get myself back up to speed. I intend to hit the ground running in 2019.

Watch out, 1,000 miles. I will be gunning for you!

Advertisements

Yup, it’s hormones

IMG_20180603_170047883_LL

The human body was not designed to thrive with extremely low levels of hormones, including the sex hormones, testosterone and estrogen. I have been learning this the hard way.

Sitting across from my doctor for the first time in fifteen months, there would be no thoughts of any other situation as behind my troubles.  She confirmed all the suspicions of which I wrote in I am at another crossroads.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

On November 9, I saw my endocrinologist. I had previously emailed with her, so she knew that I had been off hormone therapy since last winter. I now filled her in on what I’ve been experiencing.

I began with the hot flashes, which began in May. She nodded, completely unsurprised. I said, “I put myself into menopause, didn’t I.” She agreed.

I continued, explaining the muscle soreness, stiff knees, burning sensation in my thighs when I stop running, and how hard it is for me to run anything more than a very slow pace. Again, she was not surprised. Again, she confirmed my thought that it was occurring because my estrogen and testosterone levels have dropped to very low.

Remembering how I always had my blood drawn after all of my previous appointments, I asked if that would be the case after this one. When she replied in the negative, I asked why. She said, “I know what your levels are.” She explained, saying that my estrogen and testosterone are obviously, tremendously low; so low, she finished up, that they might not even register on a blood test.

Oh, my.

And, regarding the future, the goal won’t be to know, in numbers, where my hormone levels are, because the goal now is for me to feel better, to feel right, not to reach X, number-wise. My situation now is entirely different than when I was on hormone therapy for the purpose of transitioning, when knowing my levels, and keeping them constant, was key.

I explained my concern, that disturbing my hormones might bring a return of my gender dysphoria. There is no way to know when that might occur, and what levels could possibly cause it, or whether it will or won’t ever return. I told her, more than once, that this not knowing concerned me a lot.

Being a male, we began talking about my taking testosterone (T). I had difficulty explaining why raising my T level was a concern for me. I attributed my concern to my entire life, how being a guy, with the competing feminine gender identity, made surging T very challenging to how I experienced myself. And, crazily, now that I finally experience myself as fully male, the thought of increasing my T still gives me pause.

I then spoke of how I was feeling last autumn, how my muscles performed so well that I was running the most miles of my life, and I was regularly knocking a few seconds off my per mile pace, and my T was really low because I was a half year post-op from sex reassignment surgery. Though, last fall, I wasn’t yet feeling like a guy, I had gone through the period of once again feeling like myself—and not a person who was a different being from Greg, which is what happened with me over the first years of my transition—thus, if I could find the sweet spot with my hormones, it seems to me that it would be with low T and slightly higher estrogen.

She heard me. She said this is all experimental, and then she reiterated what she had said earlier in the appointment, that mine is an exceptional case. She saw the tears well up in my eyes each time I told her that I couldn’t bear to experience gender dysphoria any more, how much I loved finally enjoying what I had been seeking all my adult life—to be a guy, with no gender issues—and that though I had succeeded at transitioning I had no interest in returning to it.

So, she agreed with my idea, that I go on a low dose of estrogen. After pondering how much I should take, she suggested I begin at twenty-five percent of what had previously been a full dose. She said that even that small of an amount might help my muscles and bones, and that it might stop the hot flashes, but not to be surprised if they do not cease entirely.

I told her what Julie had said to me, that I go into this with the idea that I will go back on estrogen, that it will provide the relief I am seeking, and that the dysphoria will not return. At the time Julie had said that, I had little confidence in it. But, in the days leading up to the appointment, as I pondered it, I grew in my belief of it. Thus, when I left the doctor’s office, as I departed the building, as I drove home, and as I anticipated the return of once-a-week injecting myself, I was okay with it.

Even hopeful.

I am at another crossroads

Of all the things I wanted never to do again, I am facing the possibility of going back on hormone therapy. I write about that in the second portion of this post.

1. “Hi, I’m Greg, again!”

Today, I go to the dentist for my twice-yearly cleaning. I will be going as Greg. I will be going as Greg for the first time since April of 2015.

On Friday, I see my endocrinologist. I will be going as Greg. I will be going as Greg for the first time since my first visit to this doctor in June of 2015.

When, after I began my transition in the summer of 2015, I was in the spot of going places where they knew me as Greg, I found that I needed to give them a heads up that I would be coming in as Gina. Indeed, I asked if this would be okay, if they were fine with trans patients. At each place, they appreciated my calling, they were on board with me, and they usually told me that they had trans patients.

Returning as Greg, I do not see the need to inform anyone. Indeed, going to places as Greg, where I had gone as Gina—I’m thinking of grocery stores, restaurants, and the like—I have no hesitation. However, going to the same restaurants and stores as Gina, where they had met or seen me as Greg, I stayed away from those.

Today, when I enter the dentist’s office, I suspect the receptionist will immediately recognize me. The question is, how quickly will she recognize that my hair is short and that I’m wearing guy’s clothes?

Because I love chatting with folks, over the four years I’ve gone to this dentist I’ve gotten to know that woman, and others who float in and out of the office, whom I always see when I arrive for my appointment. She is friendly and has treated me wonderfully, so I want to do things right by her.

I suspect that as soon as she sees me approaching her window, I will smile wide. If her window is open, or when she opens it, I think I will say, “Hi, there! You were expecting Gina. Well, do I have something to tell you!”

I’ll have to do the same thing with the dental hygienist, and then with the dentist. I am so hoping I see one dentist (of three possible) in particular. We’ve chatted a lot over the years. He’s been dandy with me. And we joke around a lot.

When I see my endocrinologist, I won’t be breaking my news to her. I’ve emailed with her. But, the receptionists don’t know. As with at the dentist, I’ve seen these women many times, and have had lots of friendly chatter with them, so if my approach at the dentist works okay that’s how I’ll do it with them.

2. “Doc, my muscles are killing me.”

No one warned me I might be experiencing this. My legs feel that since last winter I have aged twenty-five years.

When I went off hormone replacement therapy (HRT), the only concern which was expressed was for the sake of my bones. Osteoporosis is common in older folks for a variety of reasons, one of which is low levels of testosterone or/and estrogen. Having had sex reassignment/gender affirming surgery, I now produce very little testosterone. Because I am a genetic male, I produce very little estrogen.

Weakened bones is not yet a concern for me (that I know of). Several other things have happened and, if my research on them has proven correct, they are connected to my low hormone levels.

I have been having hot flashes since May.

It took me a couple of weeks to figure out that these episodes were hot flashes. The weather grew hot here in Indianapolis in May. I thought that, when I would do a chore and I grew too hot so quickly, it was because of the outdoor heat, even though we keep our house air conditioned at seventy-four degrees.

And then I noticed I was having these overheated experiences when sitting still.

And then I got online to research it.

And as I sorted through all of the possibilities, there was only one which matched up with me. I had low estrogen.

I was experiencing menopause.

The confounding, uncomfortable, toss-the-blanket-off-me-when-it-hits-in-bed hot flashes have continued. As spring moved into summer, again I initially attributed to the heat and humidity why I was struggling with jogging and speed-walking. Indeed, I found myself speed-walking more often than running, because my body simply couldn’t do a lot of running in the oppressive weather.

Since I had the same problem the previous summer, I attributed it to my having grown older. But, now, I noticed that my walking pace was slower than last year, and it kept getting worse, and the weather didn’t have to be as hot for it to be too hot for me to run.

I looked forward to the cooler weather, which finally landed here in early October. Thankfully, as I had hoped, I was able to run. Within a week, I was running five miles non-stop.

But, wow, was my pace slow. After I had one good run, I fell apart. Last Friday, I had the slowest five mile run of my life. My pace has grown so slow, I won’t even tell you want it is, except to say that it’s way worse than ten minutes per mile.  At this time last autumn, I was jogging six and seven miles per day, and getting close to ten minutes per mile.

Even more, my muscles are constantly sore. Whenever I get up from bed or having sat for awhile, I hurt the way I envisioned I would be when I get into my eighties, not at age sixty-one.

So, as with the hot flashes, I got online and looked into it. Of all the things it could be, one stood out as likely for me. You guessed it: low hormone levels.

Human beings are not meant to work well without a proper amount of estrogen and testosterone.

I was hoping to stave off osteoporosis by continuing to be a distance runner. Running builds bone. I was determined never to return to HRT for fear that it would unbalance my hormones and cause me to once again experience gender dysphoria. I am all but convinced that my gender dysphoria went away because my hormones finally stabilized at levels which work for my endocrine system, as I wrote in The return to Greg—the cause.

I cannot afford to again experience gender dysphoria.  I have been worn out by it.  The thought of it drives me to despair.

I have felt so good this year, experiencing myself as a male, completely as a male, with no female tugging back and forth. This is the way I’ve always wanted to be. I don’t want to lose it.

I was bound and determined not to return to my endocrinologist. I was bound and determined never to go back on hormone therapy. I was bound and determined to be forever done with gender dysphoria.

IMG_20180603_170047883_LL

I still have a supply of estradiol and syringes. I’ll let you know whether or not I’ll be getting them out of storage. Or, might my doctor prescribe testosterone? I wonder.

Or, maybe, neither. Maybe, I’m wrong about all of this. I don’t think I am; all of my symptoms line up perfectly with low hormones. But, my doctor is the professional. I have my notes typed up, so that I forget to tell her nothing, that she might make a proper diagnosis.

Julie—ever the wise one—said to me on Monday, “Go into this thinking that you will resume HRT, that it will provide the help you need with the hot flashes and your muscles, and that it won’t cause your gender dysphoria to return.” I continue to reflect on this, picturing her sitting across from me, calming me as she has so many times.

Regardless of my wonderful wife’s advice, I easily admit:

I am scared.

Robert had a double mastectomy

Screenshot_20180924-090239.png

He didn’t have cancer. Or any other health issue. The breast tissue was healthy. But it had to go.

It was too much for Robert (not his real name) to succeed at living as a male, to have these now too large breasts, which, ironically, grew so large because he was doing everything he could do to remain a male.

I wrote about Robert in Using HRT to remain male.

In 2016, Robert contacted me, having found my blog. He suffered gender dysphoria. Married, with young children, and a Christian of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod  (my former church body), he found that he simply could not transition to female.

He called this desire to be a female “the alluring call of femininity.” Down deep, he wanted to answer the call. But, he knew, as with the siren song of Greek mythology, answering the call would only dash his entire life upon the rocks of being transgender—the rocks upon which so many trans folks have been unfairly crushed.

He had learned of a man, who had gone on hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which people take for the purpose of transitioning, but this man was using it to alter his hormone levels so as to remove, or at least lessen, his gender dysphoria. It was working for the man, so Robert went on HRT.

The idea is that hormone levels, which are typical for a male, are out of whack for some men. So, perhaps, if a guy doesn’t have so much testosterone coursing through his body, and, perhaps, a bit more estrogen, he would feel better. I call it “the sweet spot.”

I liken this to a person who suffers depression, who never experiences total relief while on depression medication. There is fluctuation. Good days and rough days. The need to change dosage. Riding it out. It can be hard to find the sweet spot. It can be hard to remain in the sweet spot.

Robert texts me every few months. This is what he has described, in and out of the sweet spot But, he continually informs me, he’s succeeding in silencing the alluring call of femininity.

Of course, he knew his breasts were going to grow. The other effects of lowering his testosterone and raising his estrogen—softer skin, some fat deposits shifting, body hair becoming more sparse (it’s different for everyone; as the saying goes: your mileage may vary)—likely would never be noticed. But, growing breasts? Those are hard to hide. Of this, I know.

As trans men do, who have not had top surgery, he bound his chest. This works to hide the breasts, but it is tremendously uncomfortable, and even dangerous if the breasts are bound too tightly, and for too long. Robert reported that at times he almost couldn’t breathe. And, of course, the larger the breasts grow, the tighter the binding needs to be.

For Robert, it had to stop. He talked to his doctor about having his breasts removed.

Softly, the sirens sang. They called to Robert, “If you have your breasts removed, it will be that much harder to transition should you ever decide to.” This is my translation of how Robert put it, that there was this little part of him which was mourning the thought of surgically removing his breasts.

He moved forward. He set the date. Two weeks ago, he had a double mastectomy.

Last week, he told me that he is healing well. The surgeon is pleased with the outcome. Robert would be back to work by the time I posted this.

As one who longs to have his breasts removed (this post isn’t about me, so more on that another time), I can easily imagine that Robert now dresses for work and moves about in the world with renewed ease. No more painful binding. No more wondering if people are noticing his chest. Looking like the regular guy he longs to be.

The Lord be with you, my friend, that you are able to continue, to be strong, to steer clear of the rocks on which the sirens would dash you.

For those who are able to transition and it works for them—which means it also works for their family, and for every situation it affects—I am pleased with them, that they have found health and wholeness. For those who do not want to transition or feel they cannot, I am pleased with them when, as with Robert, they can find a way to health and wholeness in their birth sex.

Thank you, Robert, for sharing your story with me, that I might share it with others, that others might be served in their battle with this cursed gender dysphoria.

Update on Robert

Lots of folks, who experience gender dysphoria, do not want to be transgender.  Many hurt so badly that they attempt to kill themselves, to the tune of two out of every five.  Too many succeed.

To date, there has been no therapy, no medicine, no surgery to ease the mental and emotional anguish caused by gender dysphoria, so that a person might be able to abide in his or her birth sex.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

One year ago, I told you about Robert, a man who went on the same hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which gender dysphoric males use for transitioning to transgender women. Robert’s purpose, however, was not to transition, but to help him to remain living as a male. Here is that post:

https://eilerspizza.wordpress.com/2017/06/14/using-hrt-to-remain-male/

Robert now has been on HRT for nearly two years. He recently checked in with me. Every handful of months, he texts an update. His texts have the same theme. Thankfully, the HRT continues to do for him what he wanted, to ease his gender dysphoria that he might succeed at living as a male, a man who is a husband and father, and a Christian of a traditional faith.

No, it’s not been a perfectly smooth ride. His doctor has had to adjust his dosages—a bit more or less estrogen, a bit more or less blocking of testosterone. His experience reminds me of a person suffering from depression, and how treating it is a constant adjusting of the medication.

IMG_20180603_170047883_LL.jpg
This is my stuff.  Note that this is called “estradiol,” but in usual conversation we call it “estrogen.”

I assume that the adjustments are based on two things, what Robert reports regarding how he feels and what a blood test show his estrogen and testosterone levels are. Both aspects—not to forget Robert’s attitude, that he is determined not to transition—have, for two years, allowed him to achieve what he sought.

Two years of reversing his hormones has also done the rest of what Robert knew it would do. His body has feminized. Most aspects of feminization do not have a great impact. One’s skin feels softer. Body hair becomes more sparse (though facial hair growth is left unaffected). Some fat gets redeposited. None of these is dramatic, so it is unlikely that anyone would be the wiser regarding them. I can’t imagine that anyone has commented to Robert, “What’s going on? Your arm hair doesn’t look as thick as it used to.”

The other aspect of body feminizing has had the impact, indeed the negative effect, which Robert knew would come, and it has. He has experienced significant breast growth.

In Robert’s most recent text, he said that he now has trouble presenting as a male and wearing a t-shirt. He binds his chest—do an internet search for “chest binder”—but this is far from a solution. Besides being obvious under light clothing, the worst aspect for Robert is that he experiences shortness of breath.

Trans men—genetic females transitioning to male—report that binders are just plain uncomfortable, even painful. When I have heard trans men tell that they have had top surgery—a double mastectomy—they always report this with joy. The positive aspect, of course, is to get their body toward a shape which fits their masculine gender. The other facet is to be rid of the nasty binding.

This is where Robert is. He says that if he is going to be able to continue as he is, he needs to have top surgery, a double mastectomy. He wrote, “I don’t want this surgery, but if I want to continue to walk the path I have set, I have to have it.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

That HRT has provided Robert with what he sought, to have his gender dysphoria eased, that he might be able to abide with living as a male.  His initial success, and knowing that he sought this because he had heard of another man doing it, should cause us to ask at least two questions:

  • Is gender dysphoria a hormonal condition?
  • Might hormone therapy (HRT) be a viable treatment for those who do not want to transition?

Since I learned about endocrine disruption, and became nearly convinced that my gender dysphoria was the result of my hormone system having been messed up when I was forming in my mother’s womb, I have also become nearly convinced that most gender dysphoria might fall into the category of a disorder of the endocrine system, as are well-known thyroid disorders and diabetes. If a male experiences relief from gender dysphoria with HRT—if, by having his testosterone lowered, and his estrogen raised, takes away, or at least significantly reduces, his sense of being female—does it inform us as to gender dysphoria’s being a hormonal condition?

Even more, despite the side effects of increased estrogen in males (since I have no knowledge of genetic females using hormone therapy to remain female, I am right now only referring to males), might HRT be, if not a cure, a useful therapy for keeping in check gender dysphoria?

For Robert, it’s so far, so good.

Meet a trans person: Colleen

 

unnamed
Colleen, in the autumn of 2017.

Not everyone is “happy” about transitioning. If it were possible for me to NOT transition and live my life peaceably being a grandfather to my grandchildren, I would jump at the opportunity to do so. I don’t want to disrupt my relationships with my children and cause confusion to my grandchildren by my transition. Yet, I see no viable alternative to transitioning. I’ve come to realize that, before I started on the path to transitioning to live my life as a woman, I was slowly dying. I was living each day, waiting to die a natural death. I call this committing “passive suicide”. There was no hope for me in this life. Now that I am on the path to transitioning to living as a woman, my life has gained new vitality, excitement, joy, hope and peace.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The opening quote comes from Colleen, a fellow Christian, who prefers, as do I, to remain a member in a congregation of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), but who has been facing the same obstacles as I. This profile of Colleen is what I hope is the first in a series, in which you will get to know trans folks, to learn of their struggles and joys, gains and losses, unique challenges and our common experiences.

Last spring, Colleen was informed about me at her trans group by a trans guy who knew of my blog and, what he thought would be most interesting to Colleen, that I had been a LCMS pastor. A few days after Colleen’s first comment on my blog, we were talking on the phone. Over the past six months, we have become great friends, especially able to commiserate with each other in our transitioning, our Christian faith, and family concerns.

Noting her Irish ancestry, Colleen, who continues to identify as a genetic male while she now considers herself a transgender woman, says that she chose the name because she likes it and it’s Irish. She quickly pointed out that “Colleen” is Irish for “girl,” which, she giggled through the phone, seemed appropriate.

Colleen is a bit older than me and, in commencing hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in January of this year, began her route to finally, fully transitioning about a decade older than when I began. This is not her first attempt at transitioning. She initially considered it at the age of twenty-two, after finishing her army enlistment and becoming a college student. Fourteen years later, she once again was giving it serious thought, so she began seeing a therapist.

The next year, she backed away from transitioning and found a Christian psychologist. She longed to salvage her marriage, to be the best husband and father she could be, and understand what it meant to be a godly man.

Her story matches that of so many who suffer this terrible sex and gender mismatch. She once again found herself struggling to be the man she longed to be. In 1998, she finally tried HRT, taking estrogen transdermally for four months. When she was diagnosed with lymphoma, which would require chemotherapy and radiation, she feared that the estrogen had caused it. Though she was assured it had not, this was a setback to her transitioning.

As is the case for so many of us, Colleen tried to distract herself from her identity issues, which she prefers to call “gender dissonance” rather than “gender dysphoria,” as “dissonance” means “discord” and “unrest,” where “dysphoria” means “ill feelings.” She finds that discord and unrest speak better to the internal struggle for identity. She sought to ease the dissonance by dedicating herself to her three children, and to work and church. Twice divorced, Colleen was dedicated to the job of single dad, and the person whom everyone saw as a regular man excelled in computer work and was a valuable member of his congregation, even becoming an elder and church convention delegate.

But, “he” had been experiencing identity issues since the age of five or six. Colleen says, “I remember a specific time at about the age of six when I recall watching my mother getting ready for work and I was thinking, ‘when I grow up, I’m going to be like her.’” Around age ten, she had seen a sensational tabloid newspaper article about the USA’s first transsexual, Christine Jorgensen. “I was fascinated by the article and I re-read it numerous times. I realized, after reading about Christine, that this was what I was; a transsexual.”

Toward the close of our first phone chat, I told Colleen that I found us to be kindred spirits. For both of us, our ultimate concern is our faith in the Lord Jesus, along with abiding in right doctrine and living God-pleasing lives. Both of us were concerned, first and foremost, that our desire to be female was nothing but a sinful weakness. It was only in learning that our identity issue was as physically real as any malady that we were able to address it head on. “As a committed, born again Christian,” Colleen says, “I did not see how I could transition without sinning in the eyes of God. I have since come to understand that this is not some sinful desire which I feel and am acting on. I suffer from a physical malady. My gender dissonance is likely the result of something which went wrong in my brain development while in my mother’s womb.”

Colleen has continually displayed a desire to be a godly person. In 2006, her mother now diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and father in the early stages of dementia, the dutiful son left Michigan for Alabama to care for them. Both parents now deceased, Alabama stuck as home.

Though she is at an age when many go into retirement, Colleen needs to be working, so she is facing what so many trans folks encounter: looking for a job, only at the beginning of legally changing her name, presenting herself as male in this situation and as female in that, and for the last several months going through the methodical process of telling family, friends, and business associates about her being transgender. She is diligent about considering every situation, wanting things to go best for her and, even more, longing for those she encounters not to be hurt, offended, or put off in any way with her being trans.

This is commendable about Colleen, and it is not unusual for a trans person. My experience with trans women and men has taught me that it is more common than not that we don’t want to upset others. Also, we realize that the smoother we make it for our families, friends, and coworkers, the smoother things will be for us.

For Colleen, this is of the greatest importance to her being a Christian. As she longs to glorify her Lord Jesus, she is keenly aware that we best do this by loving our neighbor as we love ourselves, always striving to live the Golden Rule, treating others as we want them to treat us.

As Colleen has been transitioning this year, she has been regularly pleased that she is gendered by others as a female. Numerous times, as we have chatted, she’s said, “I was presenting as a male, even with a name badge which has my birth name, and they still thought I was a female!” As one who has struggled in this arena, I’ve regularly told her that I hate her . . . jokingly.

Besides transitioning socially, getting her name legally changed, and with HRT, Colleen hopes to have gender confirmation surgery, a tracheal shave (smoothing out the Adam’s apple), and a face lift. Does she need all of this in order to live as her authentic self, a phrase heard from many trans folks? “I have never felt I was not my ‘authentic self.’ I have always been just ‘me.’ From my earliest years, I have experienced the tension of dissonance between my physical body sex and how I perceive myself to be in my brain. Even today, as I am in the middle of transition, I just feel like ‘me.’ I cannot comprehend that I could ‘be’ anything else.”

For the trans person, issues arise in every sphere of life. Because civil rights are involved, the T of transgender has been combined with the LGB of lesbian, gay, and bisexual, and of late the Q of questioning/queer. Colleen would prefer the T not be included because of a common misconception about trans folks. “I think we are being connected with the LGB people because most other people view us as being extreme homosexuals.”

How do we improve the situation? “This is a good news/bad news question. I believe it is good news that the gender identity issue has been publicized. Cisgender people need to be made aware of, and educated about, the reality of gender identity dissonance. This is also the bad news, because the trans community is being very forceful in demanding acceptance and support from all areas of society. This has caused considerable social conflict and misunderstanding. Finding some middle ground will, in my view, likely take decades to accomplish.”

As Colleen faces every struggle, she never forgets her blessings. “My greatest joys in life have been the births and lives of my children and my grandchildren. It has been so rewarding to see my children grow to become self-sufficient, responsible, capable adults. And likewise, I take great satisfaction and joy in participating in the life and growth of my grandchildren (three of five live nearby). It has also been a joy and a struggle as I work through the process of transitioning from living as a male to living as a woman. I have found great peace and contentment since being on hormone replacement therapy. I have never in my life felt such peace. The process of transitioning is also my biggest struggle. As someone who is well known in my local business community, it has been a struggle to inform my business acquaintances of my transition and to gain their acceptance and retain their respect.”

Respect. That’s a big one for almost every trans person. For Colleen, it extends to her Christian faith, which is the most important thing in her life. As a “born again, conservative, evangelical, liturgical, confessional Lutheran Christian,” she longs not to offend the Lord, her fellow Christians, or any human being. Once again, from the quote which opened this piece: “If it were possible for me to NOT transition and live my life peaceably being a grandfather to my grandchildren, I would jump at the opportunity to do so. I don’t want to disrupt my relationships with my children and cause confusion to my grandchildren by my transition.”

Oh, that every American would be as concerned as Colleen, working to live a highly ethical life, with kindness and compassion for all. No matter one’s gender identity or sexual orientation, what a country we would be if we had a lot more like Colleen.

Trans Ed 101: facial hair

The face presents one of the starkest differences between a genetic male transitioning to female and a genetic female transitioning to male.

When a trans man (genetic female) goes on hormone replacement therapy (HRT), introducing to his system a significant amount of testosterone, in a very short time he can be growing facial hair. For many trans men, significant whiskers appear in a few months. For others, it takes a year or more, or might never grow in well (as happens for cisgender guys, too). As with all things, your mileage may vary . . . er, your personal genetics is the ultimate determining factor.

maxresdefault
A before-and-after of a trans man’s facial hair growth.  He provides a video of his hair growth: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xZ4r-Xq6Qao

When a trans woman goes on HRT, she will lose her facial hair in similar time ranges—

NOT.

Where adding testosterone causes beard growth for trans guys, we gals don’t enjoy the opposite outcome. Though our body hair growth eases—I lost almost all of my chest hair, and my arm and leg hair thinned—our beards just keep-on-keeping-on as if no hormonal changes have taken place.

For most trans women, this presents a host of challenges. Covering one’s shaved face with makeup might work, and it might not. Some have such heavy, dark beards—especially on the mustache and chin—which takes a mountain of makeup to hide and, unless one is a professional artist, one is left looking like she is wearing a bucket of goop.

Even if you achieve good coverage, if you do it early in the day by five o’clock the shadow that’s named for that hour will come shining through. Over the long run, makeup simply doesn’t cut it.  Besides, what woman wants a beard?  It has to go.

There are two reputable options, but for some folks one of them won’t work; that is, the easier, quicker, less expensive one won’t work. Ugh.

For people with darker hair—that’s right, you redheads, really blonde folks, and those gone gray, have to skip to the second, more arduous and expensive option—laser hair removal is the better choice. In as few as five sessions, and up to ten sessions, of perhaps an hour each, most of your beard can be zapped away. Generally, follow-up sessions over the next years will be needed as minimal hair growth continues.

Laser hair specialists usually claim that this procedure produces a bit of discomfort. For some folks, this is true; the zap of each laser pulse, dozens of times across the entire face, is hardly felt on parts of the face (for example, the cheeks) and produces only a pinch of pain in other places (above the lip, especially). I’ve heard gals brag, “I hardly felt it.” I hated them.

Many folks find it to be more painful. I still had enough dark hair above my lip and on my chin to be able to have laser, and had six treatments. Each pulse hurt so much that I had to hold my breath and grasp my hands tightly together. These sessions only took ten minutes, with a couple of dozen zaps, but I was virtually left out of breath and in a sweat.

IMG_20171024_142830606
I took this picture the day after my most recent electrolysis treatment.  Note the red spots above my lip, to the far left.  Barb the Impaler worked all around my mouth, leaving those.  On my chin, note the red areas.  But, chiefly, notice that no stubble is evident.  I have very few whiskers left above and below my mouth.  No more need for makeup cover.

So, you know, your mileage may vary with how much pain you experience. If you experience only mild discomfort, please don’t brag about it . . . unless you don’t mind having zero friends.

There are topical pain creams you can apply. Lidocaine is available over the counter and numbs the skin a bit. For better numbing, a cream which is equal parts lidocaine and prilocaine is available by prescription. I wish I knew about this when I began work on my face. Once I started using it, my discomfort was greatly reduced.

Laser treatments are spread every four to six weeks. Hair grows at various times, with some growing and some resting at any given time. That’s why several treatments are needed, and spread out by several weeks. Besides, each session’s zapped hairs won’t fall out until a week or two has passed. (When the time arrives, t’s fun to watch them just sort of flake away. Brushing at them with your finger increases the sense of achievement.)

As for the cost, I know folks who have invested only several hundred dollars to get the job done—they bought a package of deal of something like ten treatments for $600—while it might be more common to break the thousand dollar mark. If you think that’s a lot—I know it is, but just wait—compare it to the other option—electrolysis—and keep reading.

For those with red, really blonde, and gray hair, electrolysis is the only way to permanently remove your hair. For me, that was most of my gone-gray face. Where lasers zap an area—laser head sizes vary, depending on hair density, covering a pen size on up to a nickel size—the electrolysis needle takes one hair at a time.

One. Hair. At. A. Time.

Oh, and by the way, the male face has from 7,000 to 30,000 hairs.

Since I had neither a light nor a heavy beard, I would guess I was in the 15,000 to 20,000 hair range. How many dark hairs did I have, which the laser got? 1,000? 2,000? The whiskers are the thickest around the mouth, and the laser treatments got rid of my shadow, so I benefited a lot from those six treatments. They reduced by dozens the number of electrolysis hours I required.

2016-03-01 13.32.48
Barb the Impaler and I, in March of 2016, at the occasion of the publication of my article in Indianapolis Monthly magazine.

Last week, I asked Barb the Impaler—she does business as “Arborcrest” and “Barb Clayton,” but I’m onto her—how far along my beard removal is. She hemmed. She hawed. She finally guessed. “60%? Maybe 70%? It’s so hard to guess.”

I sure hope it 70%. As of this week’s hour session, she’s performed electrolysis on me for 91.5 hours.

I don’t like talking about how much this costs. Suffice it to say, Julie and I could buy a really nice used car with what we have invested in removing my facial hair.

I affectionately call Barb “the Impaler” because of how she needles me so badly. The electrolysis is pesky, too.  (Cue the rim shot.)

The process works this way: an electrified needle is inserted into a hair follicle, a pulse of electricity is applied, and the hair is removed.

Shampoo bottle instructions are well known: Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Electrolysis goes this way: Stick. Zap. Yank. Repeat.

Accent on the Zap and Yank.

About every ten seconds.

IMG_20171024_142601322
Another picture from when I returned from my most recent encounter with Barb the Impaler. While a large section of my cheeks is cleared of hair, the gray ones simply didn’t photograph well.  Look by my ear, then follow that to my neck, and you will see some hairs left to be stuck, zapped, and yanked.

Some hair pulls are barely noticeable. Other hair pulls are excruciatingly painful, enough to make me jerk and say “Ow!” Most are somewhere in between. Suffice it to say, I am always glad when the hour has ended.

Because the hair has to be pulled out, one cannot shave for a couple of days ahead of a session. (The opposite is true for laser: shave away!) By the second day, I look shabby. Even with large areas where whiskers no longer grow, there’s plenty left and, despite my appearance in the two photographs, those white hairs are very evident. I try really hard not to schedule anything where I have to meet people those two days.

Looking closely at the two pictures, you can see that the zapped areas are left a bit blotchy, and some of the larger hairs leave little blood spots. It takes a couple of days for this clear up. Thankfully, mine is not so bad that it keeps me from going out in public.

Facial hair removal is the longest process in transitioning from male to female. The progress is painfully slow. Patience is paramount.

When I shave on a daily basis, I am at the point where I hardly see anything before applying my razor, and I can zip across my face really quickly. Gone are the days of exacting work to get a clean shave. Hopefully, in one more year, shaving will entirely be a thing of the past.

And no more Barb the Impaler.