Are These Hormones Even Working?
Why does it feel like we are always waiting? As transgender people going through transition, it seems as though we have to wait in line for just about every step of our journey. Six months with a gender therapist just to get a letter to see an endocrinologist. Finally, you get the letter and have to wait even longer for the doctor’s next available appointment because they wouldn’t book you prior too having the letter. If you decide on any kind of surgery, it could be years before a good surgeon has an opening. Oh yeah, and you are going to need some more letters for that as well; that is if you have the money or the right insurance coverage.
There are a million hurdles and forms of gatekeeping that you have to go through in order to be who you are. I get it; there are standards of care. It would be easier to digest if they had such standards for cisgender people. A cisgender woman doesn’t need therapy and letters in order to have their breasts enhanced or have gastric bypass surgery. Believe me when I tell you that if there were a surgery available to make you “not transgender” the procedure would probably be available at your local Walmart, no therapy or letters required. But I digress.
I remember the day I finally met with the endocrinologist and I received that first shot of estrogen. All the waiting had led up to this moment. I was on my way. The experience in the office was strange; it was unlike any doctor’s appointments I had been to before. This doctor was supposed to be one of the more experienced endocrinologists in my area when it came to hormone replacement therapy for transgender patients. To be honest, the whole thing felt like we were doing something illegal, and I didn’t feel confident that this doctor really knew what they were doing. It would be something I would end up encountering every step of the way in my journey, but at this moment I was elated. I finally received my first shot.
"I TOOK TO ESTROGEN LIKE A FISH TO WATER."
It was probably in my own head, but within hours I felt different. I was euphoric, excited for all the possible changes that could occur that I had been hearing about. I took to estrogen like a fish to water. For the next three months, the changes were amazing. My face started to change, and my body started to shed some of those “masculine” traits that gave me so much dysphoria. Next came the chest pain, no I wasn’t having a heart attack, my breasts were beginning to grow. It was as if the person I suppressed for so many years was now bursting out of me. “Why didn’t I begin this journey earlier?” I thought to myself. Finally I was going to see “me” when I looked into the mirror. I was the happiest I had ever been. It was amazing, until one day when it all came to a screeching halt.
Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zero. Here I was, three months in and nothing was going on. Suddenly, I found myself waiting again. I should have been grateful; many transgender people would later tell me their experience was the opposite. Many felt no changes at all in the beginning. Here I was doing so well, and it all seemed to just stop. I thought it had to be the endocrinologist, they didn’t have my levels right. I ended up changing doctors anyway after hearing some transphobic things they were doing at their office. The new one was nice, but she did not like shots, so it was pills from there. Those little blue green wonders. We would start with a new dosage and over the next six months to a year we would be modifying it with each blood test. Any increase in estrogen would have to be fought for on my part, and she was taking me on and off testosterone blockers as my levels seemed to never be right, either nonexistent, or a little too high for a woman. Still, the whole experience with the doctor had a backroom feel to it. I was again convinced that nobody really knew what they were doing.
"THE PROBLEM IS THAT WE SEE OURSELVES EVERY DAY, AND WE OFTEN DON’T NOTICE OUR SUBTLE EVOLUTION DAY IN AND DAY OUT."
I learned over time my experience would never be like those first three months. What I did learn was that the major changes would come in spurts. I now look forward to that chest pain when it does happen. In those moments, I know something is going on. The problem is that we see ourselves every day, and we often don’t notice our subtle evolution day in and day out. I guess that is why some people document their transition with daily, weekly, or monthly photos, just to see the changes. The same goes with people who you see every day. They may not notice the subtle changes. In reality, it does not mean that they are not happening, but I often find myself getting impatient.
There are many factors involved. Genetics, your hormone receptors, age, and so on; they all affect your results on hormones. I have learned to deal with the lulls that occur. Just when you think nothing is happening, you wake up one day noticing some changes. Nothing in life is a straight climb. I am now on my third endocrinologist, and I am still fighting to try and get the best care possible. It still feels like a backroom deal, and I often find myself having to educate the doctor. We argue about progesterone, which many transgender girls swear by, but I can’t find a doctor willing to prescribe it. I also find it strange that they often point out concerns about “male” bodied things such as prostate cancer and not breast cancer. There is still a stigma attached to the experience. I guess it will always feel like some sort of science experiment that I am going through. I will keep hoping to find a doctor that actually gets it.
In the end, hormone replacement had a profound effect on my transition, even if the process could have been managed better. With each day, I see more of myself in the mirror. Over time, I still see parts of my body change, and that is a good thing. I still go through the lulls as well. Looking at old pictures, I can see how much my face has changed, even my nose. I have more curves in the right places and way less body hair. I am two inches shorter than I used to be, though they say it is actually due to changes in the muscles and spine. My feet are even smaller. My stomach, which I thought would always look masculine, is now even starting to look more feminine in shape. None of these changes happened overnight, but I am glad they happened. So if you find yourself wondering, “Are these hormones even working?” I am sure in many ways they are.
We all experience different results. Some of us have to fight with doctors to get it right. Some of us use informed consent and go it alone, but I recommend using caution if deciding to do so. Not having the right levels could be dangerous. Make sure you do your own homework when it comes to your own transition regardless of how you go about it. Either way, we will often find ourselves waiting in some shape or form, and often wondering what will come next. It is all part of the journey.