What They Don’t Tell You About Testosterone

Bailey C. talks about some of the “not-so-glamorous” side effects to be aware of when going on testosterone.

We’ve seen so many videos and pictures of trans-masculine people, before and after they start testosterone. It’s all the same- muscle development, voice change, facial hair growth, rinse and repeat. As guilty as I am of contributing largely to these types of posts, there are other effects from testosterone that can occur that no one talks about.

Hormones can affect our mood, way of thinking, muscles, skin, genitalia, and many other aspects of our mental and physical health. I want to let those of you who are considering or going to be starting T to know there is way more to it than the videos normally display. This is in no way to deter anyone from starting T, but just to prepare people for what to be aware of. The things I want to mention have happened to me personally during the past two and half years on testosterone. Some things here I know for sure have happened to others. Note, for these I will be directly referencing body parts. I will list the ones talking about the groin area first. If desired, skip ahead to number 3!

1. Vaginal Odor
About five months into HRT, I suddenly developed this powerful vaginal odor due to my Ph balance changing. I found myself changing my underwear a few times a day, taking extra showers, and walking around in fear that others could smell it. (I imagine others did, they just didn’t say anything. I could even smell it through my clothes!) I was able to curb it using Vagisil a few times, and luckily this problem didn’t last terribly long; maybe one or two weeks. Puberty, whether our first or second, effects how our bodies smell, especially in the groin area.

2. Vaginal Intercourse
If you do any sort of vaginal penetration, you need to know that the feelings of certain lubricants may not be as pleasant anymore. You may feel these lubes stinging or burning when in use. For that, there are plenty of easily-affordable lubricants that are made for the more sensitive. (One that seems popular with those of us on T is called “Good Clean Love,” easily found at Target.)

3. Mental Health
Depression and anxiety are quite common, especially in transgender, non-binary, and gender-non-conforming people. Though medical transition helped ease my symptoms of both and I was in a better mental place than I’d ever been, I found out the hard way it does not “cure” any form of mental illness. Once my body began to adapt to the dose I was on, I found my depression began to rear its ugly head once more. Always be sure to be aware of any change in your mental health. Transitioning can help with symptoms, but it will not cure it!

4. Foot growth
It was a weird (and painful) day when my shoe size suddenly wasn’t what it had been since I stopped growing in high school. Now, don’t expect to go up several sizes, but your feet do widen and grow enough for you to need slightly bigger shoes. (Obviously, if you start T before you’ve finished first puberty, you’ll see more growth, but this is in the case of being out of puberty before you start.)

5. Singing voice
I know there are quite a few singers out there who start T, and the loss of singing voice can be a big concern. Obviously, your voice will change, and so will your vocal range. But what is that new range? Well, you’re not going to know until it happens. It may be frustrating when you suddenly can’t sing at all for a little while or when you suddenly find a much lower range and are trying to relearn to sing. You may start comparing yourself to cis guys who sing, (and when you’re in school for things like theatre or music, like I am, that can be an almost-constant thing) but a huge thing to keep in mind is it will take time for your voice to settle completely! You are going through puberty and this is not an overnight change! Also, remember that the time it takes for the voice to settle will vary for everyone. Some maybe a year or two, some more than that. In that time, keep practicing and if possible, take formal lessons. More importantly, be patient with yourself!

As awkward as it can be to discuss the not-so-glamorous things, I feel like everyone thinking of starting T needs to be aware of what they can experience. I share this short list in the hopes that more people going through any medical transition will share the nitty-gritty that we wouldn’t see in an Instagram post.

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CaffienEllie
CaffienEllie

As a comic writer who wants to include accurate information about trans people, and the partner to two trans boys who are deciding what exact routes they will take in their transition, articles like these are extremely helpful for me. I want to be able to make the right decisions and be as supportive as possible. Thanks for taking the time to write this one and talk about the less glam side of things, it's so important to understand this stuff!