Hormones are potent things with entirely unpredictable effects on the mind and body. But we knew that. One of the joys of second puberty is that we get to rediscover food. All of it. Amid the horror imposed on us from medical bodies and society treating us as cast offs, this is one of the few unique pleasures that only people undergoing a radical change in their sex hormones can appreciate.
Course, radical changes in sex hormones happen in the menopause and pregnancy, too. I have had many women listen to my description of my changing sense of taste and smell - alongside a host of other effects - as quite like what happens in pregnancy. It’s gratifying to know that I have some experience that is comparable.
"THERE IS A RANGE OF SENSORY EXPERIENCES THAT I JUST DON’T KNOW WHETHER I LIKE ANYMORE."
The result of this shift? There is a range of sensory experiences that I just don’t know whether I like anymore. At first, this was a bit jarring. My first chocolate foodgasm I was completely unprepared for; I nearly lost my composure and my work mates did laugh when they clocked that I was sat there completely wrapped up in the moment. Pleasure amplified.
“The hormonal response to good food is the best.”
A friend said this to me nearly a year ago, and that’s when I internalised that my body was actually responding to food in a way it wasn’t before. I mean, it’s hormones. Of course this is a bodily response, but having people talk about tastes changing since hormones isn’t quite the same as having someone saying they have a hormone response to food. The framing of the event changed how I thought about food.
It also meant I was a private crusade to try all food all over again to see what responses I got. This is deeper than like or dislike. This is the knife’s edge between filling a hole and utter contentment. I just never know what will set me off next.
The other day I was coming off a drunken dysphoric attack. I had spent the night at a friend’s as part of the drama and she emerged some time mid morning to find me sat on the sofa in my PJs tapping away on my ipad, in my element. She asked if I wanted some toast or something.
“What do you want on it?”
Oh dear. Then she listed off choices, one of which was marmite. For you American folks, marmite is a yeast extract that tastes like, well, yeast. It’s brown and a bit runny, like a syrup only a bit thicker. This has a decades-old marketing campaign that just says you either love it or you hate it in various inventive ways. Honestly, I was ambivalent about the stuff. I remember my ex handing me a slice of marmite toast waiting expectantly for me to love or hate, and my response did not give her the rush she had hoped for. She was actually disappointed that I had no violent reaction, but I decided it wasn’t my favourite so I was placed in the hate pile.
It’s interesting how humans seem to be so dualistic. Love/hate, trans/cis, gay/straight. Not even my toast spread preference is immune - how are we supposed to allow for grey areas in questions of identity when I’m not allowed to be in the middle on marmite? But I digress.
The taste reminds me of when I was a kid, there was a certain family we would spend time with that had a habit of putting brew yeast on their popcorn. It tasted a lot like that, only warm, sticky, and full of butter. With bread involved. But yeast.
Marmite was not a thing I’d had an occasion to try since hormones. I really didn’t know how I would react: I could love it or hate it (or just not-dislike it as I did before). I mentioned to my friend that this was the case and she pointed out that you either love it or hate it - every English person seems to do this when marmite is brought up. It’s an ingrained cultural response. I just smiled and said that we’ll find out.
So she went off to the kitchen and I was sent into a reverie about food and how it’s changed for me. Not all for the good, either, but there is a singular joy in trying new things. I actually found myself texting friends about the marmite. One friend pointed out that this was one of the fun things about transitioning. One of the few things that we just get to have with no drawbacks: we get to rediscover our senses and nobody has any way to twist that into something hurtful.
"IT’S A GLIMPSE OF HOW BEING TRANSGENDER COULD BE."
It’s a glimpse of how being transgender could be. How it’s possible to just have that particular experience of the world without it being a political statement. How maybe, we could just make our discoveries when we make them and then have that identity just happen without the scorn or inappropriate curiosity of gatekeepers, politicians, and the general public. A big part of my withdrawal from the transgender community in my private life is how exhausting it is to be under a microscope all the time.
I was interrupted by the arrival of toast. With marmite on it. I was weirdly anticipating being thrown into a love or hate pile, even though that kind of categorical thought is something I consciously object to. There is a visceral need to belong, even if the belonging is troubling or inconsequential.
“I didn’t put too much on it. I figured I better not drown it, just in case!”
So I went ahead and ate the toast thoughtfully. You know, it was pretty good. I’m not sure if it’s love, but it’s enough love to make me want to have marmite in the house. If I ate toast at home, which I don’t. So that’s that mystery solved. I guess I’m in the love pile now. Estrogen is so much fun!