Yup, it’s hormones

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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.

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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.

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Using HRT to remain male

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Not yet forty, he’s still a fairly young guy. Married, with two young children, and a member of a congregation in the church body where I was a minister, he longs to be a man, a husband and father, and everything else he has built over his lifetime.

He does not want to transition. No, wait. That is not nearly strong enough. He has told me there simply is no way he can let this happen. He needs to resist what he says is “the alluring call of femininity.”

This man, whom I will call Robert, contacted me last year, another in a growing list of folks who found my blog and reached out to me. He identified with me in many ways, except that he had resolved not to transition. He then told me the craziest thing. He was about to go on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in order to help him remain male.

Yes, he was going to use HRT as medicine—the HRT that trans women use in order to be female—as the prescription for calming the call to femininity. He was about to do that for which I had longed, but could locate no doctor who found it a possible remedy, and no information on the internet to show that anyone had done it.

Robert told me that he knew a man who was doing it, who had gone on HRT and was having success with it in his effort to remain male. Robert found a doctor who agreed to prescribe HRT for him and, in June of last year, he began taking estradiol to increase his estrogen and spironolactone to block his testosterone.

In other words, Robert set out to reverse his sex hormones, so that his higher estrogen and lower testosterone would reflect that of a genetic female, so that he might continue to live as a male.

I have chatted twice with Robert this year. He reports the good that is happening in him, along with the undesired side-effect. The good? HRT has, indeed, calmed the call of femininity. He is feeling strong, finding himself more capable of being a male. The side-effect? He’s growing breasts.

Since no male desires a flabby chest, especially one in which his breasts are obvious and might invite questions or suspicion, Robert has found himself needing to resort to flattening them. He opts for one of two options, depending on the type of shirt he is wearing. If he can get away with it, a sport bra does the job. When he needs to smooth out his chest the most possible, he binds his breasts, which is the same procedure for genetic females who transition to male.

The goal for many genetic females who transition is to have top surgery, that is, to have their breasts surgically removed. If HRT proves to work for Robert over the long term, he could find himself opting for top surgery.

This begs the question. Will HRT provide the type of relief for Robert, over the long term? Even more, can HRT do this? Does it have this ability?

How much of Robert’s situation is hormonal/physical, and how much is emotional/mental? Is sheer determination on his part a factor—perhaps even the ultimate factor—in his succeeding?

Besides the desire to physical transition from male to female, one of the hopes for taking HRT is that it will calm one’s brain. The person with gender dysphoria experiences fierce mental fighting—I always say that my brain was on fire—and if one does much reading, one learns that trans women report that HRT calmed their dysphoria, causing them to (finally) feel right about themselves.

I reached this point, but before I settled into it I experienced a calm so great that I had no interest in being a female. For the first time in my life, all feminine desire was gone.

My doctor told me to give it eight weeks before I began to feel the effects of HRT. At seven weeks, I did, with the first sign of tender breasts. At eight weeks, the calm arrived. By the third day of it, I wondered what was going on.

I found myself with no interest in being a female. I was dumbfounded. It was so extraordinary, I waited another day to tell Julie what had been happening that week.

Telling her the next day, we both wondered if HRT had gotten my sex hormones to levels which were in proper balance for my endocrine system. It really made sense to us. It’s essentially what Robert set out to do, and he even reported to me, the last time we chatted, that he found that to have his testosterone too low—where a female’s would be—did not feel good for him, so he eased back on the blocking medication, allowing his testosterone to rise but still be significantly under what it had been before he began HRT.

When I experienced the profound calm, I began researching it online. Sadly, I could find no reports of a man’s using HRT to produce the effect where he felt right as a male. Next, I reported it to my therapist. He’d never heard of it. He checked with other therapists, who work with trans folks. None of them had heard of it. Finally, I asked my doctor. He had never heard of it. He did, however, say that if I liked how I felt we could work to keep my dosage where I would feel good.

That sounded great to me.

That didn’t work.

After six weeks, I crashed. Adjusting my meds made no difference.

I went through the experience two more times. I quit HRT, not wanting the physical effects of it and determined not to transition. After several weeks, when my hormones reverted to pre-HRT levels, my brain once again caught fire. I restarted HRT and, in about a month, I experienced the same calm which had me feeling like a guy, with no desire to be a female.

Each time, I didn’t want to stay on HRT, so I quit taking it. Each time, after awhile I crashed.

Retiring from the ministry and moving to Indianapolis, I found an endocrinologist. I explained to my new doctor my history with HRT. As with the others, she had never heard such a story, and she has had loads of trans patients. I asked whether she thought HRT could be used to keep a guy feeling like a male. She was veritably blunt in her reply. “No,” she said without hesitation. “I don’t.”

Still, I restarted HRT and hoped for the calm. Sure enough, it arrived . . . and remained for exactly one day. From there, for weeks, I was in and out, until I finally settled into feeling female and, in the summer of 2015, undertaking living full time as a woman.

My Indianapolis therapist thought that my determination to remain male had worked with the HRT to provide those periods of calm, of feeling good as a male.  Determination, however, was not enough to uphold me. It would be like telling a person with cancer to convince himself that his tumor no longer growing and cause it to cease.

I hope Robert continues to have success. I hope others hear of him and decide to undergo HRT for the purpose of remaining in their birth sex, if that is what they want and find that they need.  I hope doctors would do more research into this, that it might be an effective therapy for all with gender dysphoria who prefer not to transition.

As Robert keeps me updated, I will report on his progress. Later this month, he passes the one year mark of being on HRT. So far, he’s doing well. Indeed, he is doing better than I thought he would be able to do.  Maybe, just maybe, he’s onto something good.

My life as a chick

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So much variety!  Too many choices!

Not everything associated with transitioning is a landmark event, as with going to court to change one’s name.  Here is a lighthearted and completely true look at some of the normally-less-than-noteworthy noteworthy things of my life these days, as I regularly say to myself, “I never experienced that when I was a guy!”

Getting a heal stuck in soft asphalt

The first time this ever happened to me, it happened three times. It was a few weeks ago. We were heading into church. Because I am 6’1″, I don’t wear high heels, but I do have some nice shoes with short, spiky heels. We parked for church and departed the car. Squish! There went the first one, stuck in a tar-patched spot in the parking lot. Nearly losing my shoe as I pulled it out, two steps later I did it again. As if that were not enough, after church I managed to land on the same spot for number three. Yet, I can claim a small victory: I did not lose my shoe any of the times.

Hair in my mouth

In the late ‘70s, my hair was pretty long—the style of the day—reaching below my ears and down the back of my neck. But it never was long enough to reach my mouth. Now, this long hair business has me constantly yanking hair from my mouth or spitting it out, finding myself ranging from bemused to amused.

Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE having long hair. But when I am sampling a dish I am cooking, and lean over to take a taste off the spoon, and my hair joins the food causing me to wind up with sticky hair, um, yeah, that’s a bit frustrating, and that leads me to . . .

Wearing barrettes

The more I’ve gotten hair in my mouth, the more I am remembering to put in barrettes, on either side of my head, above my ears. Even when mowing and gardening. But not yet when jogging.

Fuming when I tear a fingernail

Do I even have to elaborate? It seems that just as I am getting some fingernails to a nice length, I do something to catch one and tear it, and then have to cut it short and, ugh, start all over again.

Bra shopping

Of all the things I’ve done in my life, this has to top The Weirdest List. Yes, weirder than using women’s restrooms. Yes, more bizarre than any other aspect of transitioning.

A year ago, on the first occasion of doing this—yes, Julie was with me—I was thankful to land a sales associate who was very kind and helpful. She made me so comfortable that when I was having trouble finding the right fit, she stood outside the dressing room door and convinced me to let her see the bra on me, so she could better help. “Oh, gravy,” I thought, but I did it. She treated me as I am sure she would treat any woman, and I was able to relax.

I’ve, um, grown since that day of July, 2015, and Julie and I need to do this again. No, I am not looking forward to it.

My arms bump into my breasts

When one transitions at my age, the motto is not “Busty or Bust!” And, no, despite the fact that hormones do not work as dramatically in older people as when younger ones transition, I am not going to get breast implants. I will grow what I grow and be content.

I am pleased to report that I am getting on just fine, thank you, which brings me to the topic at hand, or rather at arm, when one of them bumps the fleshy tissue which now extends from my chest way farther than it did a year ago.

Please, think me not silly, but I am so pleased to have grown my own breasts. They make me very happy.

Crying

I write about this very carefully. On the one hand, I want to make fun of this estrogen which is easily blamed for my having so, so many crying episodes. On the other hand, I don’t want to make fun of women or the reality of what can lead one to be a quick crier.

Before I became a minister, I managed a department that was staffed almost exclusively by women. A couple of them wept easily, in delicate situations. I got so frustrated. I had no clue as to why the tears came so quickly. The one time I had to have a serious conversation with the only man in our department, not only did he not cry, he dug in his heals. Ah, testosterone!

Goodness, my waterworks can come on at the silliest sweet or sad moment in a movie, or seeing news of a child who died in an accident, or—true story—something goes horribly wrong when I am preparing a meal. The day a favorite glass bowl literally broke in my hand, spilling the beloved leftovers onto the kitchen floor, I was inconsolable!

Keeping my eyebrows trimmed

Guy me trimmed the middle and ends of his brows, never finding bushy brows to look good on this fact. Of course, gal me has them thinned way up.

This is doubly important for me because, with the brow bones of a genetic male, my brows do not sit as nicely above my eyes as a genetic female’s. So, at least once a week, I go at them. I have it down to a science. Sort of.

Letting others open a door for me

Wow, is this ever strange for me. Years of striving to be a gentlemen, I was quick to get doors for Julie and other women. Now, I am letting men open doors for me. And thanking them.

When it comes to Julie, we pretty much split the duty, one opening the door for the other, but I don’t open her car door anymore, though that’s generally a moot point. She usually beats me to the car.

Sitting to pee

And you thought I went too far with the bra shopping!

I KNEW you were expecting this. It’s the one that popped into your head as soon as you saw the theme of this post, and who am I to let you down?

Worry not, I will not elaborate. I will leave it at this and set off on pondering other ways my life is different as a chick.