I didn’t decide to be transgender any more than I decided to be 5’7″. These are facts of my life that are more constructive to accept than to deny. The only decisions that I’m consciously making are around the details of my physical transition. Step by step, I’m figuring out how much I need to change my body in order to be at peace with myself.
The first decision that I made – whether or not to begin taking testosterone – was incredibly difficult. I considered it carefully for a good part of my life. As I drew closer to moving forward with it, I specifically sought out anti-transitioning points of view. I searched terms like “testosterone side effects” and “FTM regret.” I read blogs and watched videos posted by older transmen who were in committed relationships or had well-established careers. I was looking for people with whom I could identify. I wanted to know if any of them felt they had made a mistake by transitioning.
I found a lot of anti-transitioning websites, but none of them were produced by people who identified themselves as transgender. Every negative point of view came from an outsider or from someone who had begun transitioning and later realized they were not actually transgender. Genuinely transgender guys were incredibly positive about transitioning. The problems in their lives had nothing to do with testosterone. The only regret they expressed was that they didn’t transition sooner.
There are many websites devoted to trashing FTMs. Some are run by feminists who see transmen as traitors to the sisterhood, capitulating to the patriarchy by co-opting male privilege while reinforcing stereotypical gender roles. In other words, people who identify as male despite being assigned female at birth (AFAB) are really women who have bought into their own subjugation – perpetuated by men – and turned it into self-loathing. As a result, they give up on being women and defect to the enemy side. This strikes me as an aggressively uninformed dumpload of feminist philosophy-cum-psycho-babble that has absolutely nothing to do with and no respect for the lived experience of transmen.
I was stunned to find some very hateful blogging by lesbians who have had terrible experiences with FTM partners. Perhaps they were unfortunate enough to fall into the crosshairs of an emotionally unhealthy or just flat-out nasty partner who also happened to be transgender? All of the ills and errors committed by that person were automatically attributed to the effects of testosterone, as if there were a direct cause-and-effect relationship between a doctor-administered medication and an individual’s abusive or otherwise shameful behavior. More than one angry ex-lover has given testosterone credit for everything from adultery to a sudden change in her partner’s sexual orientation. No drug is that strong.
Transmen have the same family conflicts, medical and psychiatric challenges that everyone else does in addition to, not as a consequence of, being transgender. We deal with our adoptive, or bitterly divorced, or deceased, or dying parents; our stacks of bills and our empty bank accounts; our chronic or serious illnesses; and all of the regular stresses of life. Like so many others, we struggle with issues of abuse, abandonment, addiction, and self-hatred, but as a group, we’re disproportionately more subject both to self-harm and abuse by others. Transitioning solves only one very specific problem.
Some bloggers warn that testosterone makes transmen angry and violent, but the medical protocol ensures that transgender men have testosterone levels within the normal range for cisgender men. Are men typically angry and violent? The answer to that question depends a lot on your point of view. They are certainly stereotyped as such. Do transmen then, – men via medicine – fall under the same rubric? Moreover, if a man expresses anger, do we attribute it to his hormones? No. We address the situational cause of his ire. Transmen, however, frequently have their legitimate anger dismissed as “the testosterone.”
More than one blogger warns that testosterone makes people who were formerly lesbians promiscuous to the point of having sex with men. If that’s really the case, then it has a great future as a date-rape drug. It’s far more likely that the shift in sexuality – if there even was one – was triggered by the rush of libido that comes with finally loving your own body. The incredible sense of liberation that people in transition sometimes feel can bleed over into other aspects of life. Once you open yourself to transitioning, many formerly impossible things start to look doable.
I’m sad that there is so much bad information out there about testosterone and how it allegedly turns lesbians into terrible little pseudo-men. I’m angry at the bloggers who feel the need to scare the crap out of some very sad and desperate people by telling us that we’re pawns of the medical industry. My identity is not open to your critique.
Let this post serve as my testimony that testosterone isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It’s been six months so far and no monstrous evil has emerged. If anything, I’m happier and more relaxed than ever, which makes me a better partner to my wife and a better stepparent to her children. Now that my energy isn’t being drained by sadness and anger, I’m finding the time for this blog and many other things worth pursuing, including friendship.
For the first time in my life, I’m looking forward to my future. Blame that on the testosterone.