Feminising Hormones: What to Expect, What Not To

Clara Barnhurst

I’ve had a few friends approach me with questions about hormone therapy and the truth is, most of the questions people have I can’t answer. There are certain things we can expect, but the deeper fears the folks that came to me with this week with are unknowable. So here’s a quick summary of what we can expect and what we just need to find out for ourselves.

First off, if you’re taking feminising hormones, it’s probably because you want your body to change or your feelings are wrong in your mind. Or both, but whatever it is, hormones will absolutely change your body, thoughts and feelings. Change is the one certainty with hormone therapy, so at least we know that whatever is bothering us before we start, it will change.

Do not expect things to happen right away. Mileage varies, for a start, and we have no way of knowing how far hormones will take us or how long it will take to get there. The commonplaces are incorrect: things keep changing after two years or so. Breast growth is not consistently a cup below your mother. These are old wives’ tales that hold true often enough for people to keep repeating them, but not often enough to be true. So just set all the commonplaces aside.

Physically, you can expect breasts to happen, your face and skin to soften, and your weight to favour hips/thighs over belly. Your musculature will also change, particularly in the intercostal area, shrinking your body’s profile. Your hair will strengthen and if you were unfortunate enough to lose hair, you might get some regrowth.

However, mileage varies. That’s the key to all of this, so don’t get wrapped up in outcomes. We don’t know what the outcome is. We have no real way of predicting it either; this is puberty folks, and nobody knows what puberty is going to do beyond the general. If you’re going to have a photo journal or something, don’t torture yourself with it. The changes take time and the things we read as feminine vs masculine are actually quite subtle. I found that if you do review old pictures, a year is a good place to start if you want to notice changes.


Mentally, change is a thing and we have no way of comprehending what that change is until it happens. But we do have hormone cycles. Every human, regardless of hormone dominance, has hormone cycles. People with estrogen dominance cycle in a more pronounced way. Yup, periods. What kind of period you have is as variable as humanity. Some end up with a raft of physical symptoms, some get none of that and only the PMT, and everything in between. It’s worth noting the same is true for cisgender women: there are cis women out there that don’t bleed but still experience some physical and emotional cycle. More, these periods synch up with the women around us, same as any other period. Apart from the bleeding they are in every respect the same, and as I already said, even the bleeding isn’t universal.

Our thoughts and feelings shift, and it’s different for everyone. One thing people consistently share with me is they forget how the old feelings felt. They lose the context of the old thoughts as well, leaving them with a clear memory of their past and an objective understanding that the emotional context isn’t the same, but without knowing what the old context was. It can be a little jarring but after a while, but you just don’t know any different so you stop noticing. I only notice when I’m directly asked about hormone therapy these days.

Hormone therapy will not solve all of your problems. It will not make you happy. If it’s for you — and you will learn very quickly whether it’s for you — it will ease your dysphoria. Easing dysphoria is a wonderful thing that increases our capacity for happiness while also clearing emotional space to handle the problems of life. We are given greater ability to solve the problems we have. The problems don’t go away.

Like the physical changes, it’s important to just take things as they come and not worry about outcomes — something dysphoric people are notably bad at. It’s the fate of all adolescents to want the end result, whatever it is in their head, and want it right now. That’s just not how it happens.


Remember this is about comfort. If hormone therapy makes you more comfortable in yourself, then it’s right for you. Don’t be afraid to say it isn’t. You don’t need to be on hormones to be trans; there are people in my local community that took hormones long enough to develop breasts and then stopped. Your body is yours to do with as you see fit, and if hormone therapy isn’t going in a way that makes you feel comfortable, then stop. Reflect on the changes and go from there.

Nobody has any comprehension of what they’re getting themselves into with hormone therapy or any other aspect of a transition. It’s a thing that requires experiential understanding, and before you dive in, it’s impossible to know. Don’t try, it will only stress you out — but it does make for a good laugh when you go back to your journal, however many years on, and read what you thought things would be like. So, every cloud.

It’s impossible to have a proper discussion of all the changes that happen from hormone therapy in one thousand words, but this is a start. For those of you out there getting on the ride, have fun with it. It’s a crazy train we just get to sit and experience. Let the experience of others inform you, but don’t let them rule you. And above all, don’t get wrapped up in the outcome.

Comments (1)
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Kaylie Jackson
Kaylie Jackson

Outstanding and concise!

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