Don't let your schooling interfere with your education.
~ Pete Seeger

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


I consider myself a feminist, and I agree with just about everything the feminist movement stands for. However, there is one aspect of the movement's philosophy with which I take issue. That is the idea that women are just the same as men, except for socialization.

That is not my experience, and, thanks to synthetic estradiol (estrogen) and spironolactone (an androgen suppressor), I've experienced both male and female hormone balances – though I lack the progesterone, etc., to achieve a complete spectrum of female hormone balance. Lately I've noticed some powerful changes I didn't really expect.

One of the most stark and measureable changes I've noticed is my chess game. It took about a year of hormone replacement therapy, but since then it's gone way downhill. I used to play online regularly, and the computer rated my game (against other live players) at about 1850. (Master level starts at about 2000.) I was competitive with anyone rated up to about 1900. Lately, as my drive to play the game has waned – I still enjoy it, just don't feel compelled to play – I find that my level has gone below 1700. I have trouble beating anyone over 1700, and at 1800, forget it. Which means that I've lost more ability on estrogen than I would have needed to gain master status on testosterone.

It's a loss – another loss – that I feel strongly.

One that I don't miss so much is the violent or sexual graphical fantasies that used to play out in my head. I used to daydream in fine detail the life I would live as a cisgendered woman. At other times visions of mayhem and murder would pop into my head, or I would visualize in fine detail long sexual encounters. Frequently it felt like some foreign creature had taken over my brain and was controlling my thoughts. Eeewww. I am so glad to have moved on from there! Now, my brain feels like it belongs to me, and my thoughts feel natural, though they are nowhere near as detailed or graphic. Sexual fantasies have become more holistic than visual, and violent imagery has almost completely faded away. It's weird and hard to describe, but it is also profound.

Then there is focus. Even when I'm completely focused, my attention seems wider and more encompassing – but not deeper. Multi-tasking is far easier and less frustrating than it used to be when I was on testosterone.

A relational aspect has become clear. I have a deeper need for human connection, and that connection comes easier (though sometimes it remains difficult). I feel more socially graceful and competent. Again, there are aspects of this that I find very difficult to describe, but that nevertheless are profound.

The bottom line is that men and women are biologically different. They think differently. I know, because I used to think like a man, and now I think like a woman. Thinking like a man helped my disguise, even as it tore me apart in internal conflict so bad that sometimes it felt like I was two people at war with each other; like some mild form of schitzophrenia. That difference isn't good or bad in a cisgendered person, it just is. One way is not better than the other, they're just different – and, note that there are some women who play chess at well above master level, and most men still aren't as good as me. There are female architects, engineers, and mathematicians every bit as competent as their male counterparts. The fact that male and female brains are different doesn't detract one bit from the goals and principles of feminism, nor does it necessarily mean that women have lesser spacial/mathmatical ability and men less relational ability. These are generalities, but they are still real.

And I believe that feminism would do well to embrace the difference, and not deny it.


Anonymous said...

Men and women both produce and respond to the same sets of sex hormones, but in different proportions, as far as I know. And the structural differences extend to the number of binding sites programmed in by the X and Y chromosomes and stimulated or suppressed by the same hormones when puberty hits. So I don't want to invalidate your experience, but a cismale body simply can't become a ciswoman's body; you would have to go back to conception and intervene.

Having said that, it is quite fascinating to experience the effects of hormones on the body/mind/spirit system. I was born with a defect in my cholesterol metabolism, which protects me from atherosclerosis, but means that I don't produce endogenous steroids in great quantities. The free testosterone test I took has a range of 200 to 800 (probably micrograms per centiliter or something like that). My score is down at 225-250. My doctor refuses to prescribe testosterone for me, so I have used three or four designer analogs that convert to the big T internally. They are now illegal, but while they were around, the were quite effective.

My experience with them was that without the supplement I went around feeling that something was terribly wrong all the time. I was deeply depressed and often suicidal. I was (am, really) very introverted and socially uninvolved. A lot of this is attributable to other more strident issues in my life, but the lack of testosterone contributed to feelings of inadequacy and especially self-doubt and passivity.

Even a small dose of t-analogs results in a great improvement in demeanor. My self-confidence appears; my nervous apprehension goes away, or at least diminishes;I become much calmer.

Too much, however, makes me into a conscienceless wrecking machine like the Hulk. My body simply wants to use strength and brutality as a solution to any obstacle or deviation from my goal. It does not feel at all abnormal; on the contrary, it is exhilirating and freeing, though utterly sociopathic. Since my body is big and strong, I take this to be a lion let out of its cage and in no hurry to return.

It has some effect on libido, perhaps an increase of 10% or so. My libido swings around during periods of four or five days where it doubles or triples and then goes back to a baseline, according to some cycle I have never bothered to investigate. My sexual fantasies are like porn movies clips, free of context or story and largely of humanity, and this does not change with or without testosterone supplementation.

All my life I have had more woman friends than men, but only a handful of short-lived and mostly unhappy sexual relationships. Over and over women tell me that I treat them differently than "other men", presumably men with an average or greater amount of testosterone.

My observation is that women are both attracted and repelled by men with the kind of "testosterone confidence" best exemplified by, of course, James Bond. And they are both attracted and repelled by low-test men, who don't come on to them like purple-assed mandrills - but don't come on to them at all.

It may sound as if I complain. At 56 I look back at my life and my relations with women seem stunted and extremely unsatisfying. It is as if I lived as a monk in a lot of ways, even when in relationships. As I say, I have a number of other problems around interpersonal relationships, which were probably aggravated by the low-test problem, but which make untangling the threads an unhappy and difficult exercise.

There must be substantial records of comparisons between male and female differences in chess playing and face recognition and smell sensitivity and hundreds of other things that could, taken together, build up a picture of what it is that the various hormones promote or inhibit.

Seda said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Abdulkahhar. I'm quite aware that my body will always be genetic xy, and that the combination of socialization, body morphology, and hormonal balance will prevent mre from ever experiencing life as a woman. On the other hand, the fact that I have a female brain prevents me just as effectively from ever experiencing life as a man. I have a typical trans experience, a litte man and woman, a bit of neither. It just is what it is.

Having said that, I'm a hell of a lot more comfortable living as a woman - with a female name, female pronouns, women's clothing, women friends, and estrogen, than I ever was or can imagine being faking it flawlessly as a man. At least now I'm honestly revealing who I am, and no longer live an invisible life locked in a psychological prison far more stifling than the prison of my body.

The question of "who am I?" does not lie solely in the mind, and I think most people would agree it is not determined by your body. It is a combination, the interaction of both mind and body, along with spirit. For transpeople, that's complicated by the fact that our minds are at variance with our body morphology. It is an inherent conflict that can never be fully resolved. It sucks. But it also provides a clue into the interrelationship of hormones and thought, the interplay of mind and body as they affect each other.

I keep thinking there must be a purpose for it, besides punishment for being a Nazi in the last lifetime, or something like that. But I'll be damned if I have a clue what it is.

jaqxun said...

i agree tht there is a difference- having experienced the other end of the transitional spectrum, and then back again. on testosterone, i experienced anger, in a vivid graphic way- something that i'd never come close to feeling in my previous experience.
my sexual fantasies became graphic and intense, and seemed to happen faster than i could think.
my smell changed so significantly that i had a hard time sleeping for months.
my metabolism shifted, hair grew, voice deepened...
i have to say that sometimes i miss it. i had so much more energy for gettin things done, which is so valued in our culture. but i relish the return to my attentivness to others human experiences, to my own smell, to sexual senses rather than specific fantasies...
and for me it's impossible to sort out context from hormone balance. was i more angry on testosterone because i was more confronted with infuriating circumstances? the graphicness of my sexual fantasies actually shifted before i stopped testosterone- it seemed to even out after my body adjusted to the new order. did my nergy level have to do partly with how much joy i had in the things i was doing and the relative roaming/freedom i had at the time?

i don't know.
i never will, i imagine.
it will be interesting if i start testosterone again, to see what happens the next time around.

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.
~Helen Keller

Reading List for Information about Transpeople

  • Becoming a Visible Man, by Jamison Green
  • Conundrum, by Jan Morris
  • Gender Outlaw, by Kate Bornstein
  • My Husband Betty, by Helen Boyd
  • Right Side Out, by Annah Moore
  • She's Not There, by Jennifer Boylan
  • The Riddle of Gender, by Deborah Rudacille
  • Trans Liberation, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transgender Emergence, by Arlene Istar Lev
  • Transgender Warriors, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transition and Beyond, by Reid Vanderburgh
  • True Selves, by Mildred Brown
  • What Becomes You, by Aaron Link Raz and Hilda Raz
  • Whipping Girl, by Julia Serano
I have come into this world to see this:
the sword drop from men's hands even at the height
of their arc of anger
because we have finally realized there is just one flesh to wound
and it is His - the Christ's, our