Life after testosterone

Testosterone therapy wasn’t an immediate plan for me because I somehow believed I was already male and didn’t think I needed the hormone to ‘turn me into a man’.

I lived my life as a man for two years before I decided to start a testosterone regimen, mainly because I wanted to be sure living my life this way was the right thing for me before I interfered with my body in such a drastic way.

Once I commenced on testosterone, I didn’t think it would change me very much at all, physically. I just wanted my physical appearance to be on the male side of androgynous, rather than on the female side of the continuum.

To prevent me from having unrealistic expectations, my very good psychiatrist regularly threw a ‘wet blanket’ over my belief that testosterone would make my physique more like a biological male. Unfortunately this didn’t deter me at all, for I wholeheartedly believed, despite my biological reality advertising otherwise, I was male already and that testosterone induced changes would confirm that.

I was ‘reassured’ by a medical professional that testosterone therapy would, at best, give me a superficial male appearance, but underneath I would still be female; that I could present as a man but the cold reality was that I wasn’t a biological man. Intellectually I knew this of course, but I was very resistant to helpful guidance like this. I didn’t want to hear it and it made me all the more convinced of my being essentially male from the inside out. I even ignored my knowledge of biology 101 that I was female. Nothing swayed my belief (which I now call delusion) that I was male…apart from niggling doubts during the stark dark smallest hours of the night.

It is clear to me now that I was psychologically locked into what I thought was an irreversible transition to a male appearance that matched what I thought was my male identity. I thought masculinising changes induced by testosterone would bring some sort of psychological relief. I couldn’t contemplate the idea that I didn’t have to continue with testosterone once I’d started. During the three years on testosterone, I sometimes secretly wanted someone to say to me very sternly, despite my protests otherwise: “look it’s ok, you don’t have to do this anymore, you can stop testosterone now.” In fact I think someone did attempt to tell me something like this many times but I seemed unable to ‘hear’ it.

One day during yet another particularly traumatic and tearful psychotherapy session I was told “look, living as a male doesn’t seem to be making you any happier.” This was the first turning point. I realised the unhappiness I had been experiencing in my life before transition was still there. In fact, transition to male was possibly making it worse, to say nothing of having complicated my life considerably.

Despite a grasp on basic endocrinology, I believed that even if I stopped testosterone I would need to take lots of oestrogen to regain a female appearance. My doctor kindly and gently reminded me that I had my own perfectly good female hormones that would kick back in once I stopped testosterone.

I realised that while testosterone had masculinised me, it had actually given me an FTM type of appearance rather than a male appearance. While the early changes had been acceptable to me, testosterone wound up making me feel physically thick-set around the middle and I felt a lot less flexible. I became physically uncomfortable in my body having developed in a stocky direction which to my mind didn’t suit my frame and height. It scared me that my reflection in the mirror was becoming a stranger. Far from confirming my self-image as a young funky dude who would have a young male body with lean male muscles and cool designer stubble, I started looking like a short stocky middle-aged man. Ironically, I realised my androgynous female appearance had been more me than this testosterone-induced one.

It wasn’t just the physical changes; I still hadn’t found any core happiness in myself. One day my psychiatrist suggested again that I could stop, to which I was as resistant as ever, I was that locked in to it. I told her now that I had been ‘living as a man’ for five years I had gone past the point of no return. We looked at my life and I realised that no areas of my then fairly low key life would make it impossible to ‘change back’.

When I realised this I just felt a huge relief that I could stop what had become, in my case, a one-way ticket to nowhere. My attitude towards testosterone therapy falls into two distinct eras: ‘Before’ transition and ‘after’ transition reversal. ‘Before’ – I was always striving for my belief of being male to be realised by intervention or otherwise, which consumed so much time and drove me ‘mad’. There was anxiety about whether testosterone therapy was the right thing for me to do and uncertainty about how it would change my life, hopefully in positive ways. The ‘shall I?/shan’t I?/what shall I do’ was all consuming. There was a life of 37 years lived in a female body that couldn’t and shouldn’t be erased and how would I reconcile that experience if I went on testosterone.

‘After’ meant not having to deal with any of the above issues anymore. ‘After’ means finding peace and getting on with life. The experience of transition is bound to have contributed to shaping who I am today, as do all our experiences shape us as we go through life. My current feelings of confidence, well being and happiness as a female, could be in part due to wisdom gained from my experience post transition back from FTM, although some of this may also be due to finding effective treatment for my depression around the same time of transitioning back.

I suspect that removing the stress of transition decisions from my life after having had life-long gender issues has made a positive difference too. I do have insights now that I simply wouldn’t have without having had the transition experience, and I believe some of these might have contributed to a new found confidence that I lacked before. However, increased social confidence might have simply come from no longer having gender issues in social settings. I don’t regret these experiences and insights as painful as they were.

Having had the experience of being a man in society I am much more confident around men now than before FTM transition and transition back; I had had a five-year holiday, if you like, from being ‘female’. I felt refreshed, ready even, to embrace life in the female gender, but this time it would be on my terms. As a ‘new’ female without the burden of gender dysphoria that had dogged me before and happier in myself because of it, I find I can relate to others more positively. This may have also have been influenced by the fact that my long-term clinical depression was finally responding to treatment.

It is important to listen to any personal doubts, however small, and not get locked into the FTM machine. FTM transition is a huge life-changing experience that should not be rushed into. It is worth waiting for however long it takes to be certain transition is the right thing to do, especially before making an irreversible surgical decisions, for ‘changing back’ is a major process as well. It can take years to undo the original transition, which can leave behind unwelcome physical effects and a stressful bureaucratic paper trail.

Kris (2008). Life after testosterone, In C. Andrews (ed.), Transitioning female-to-male in Australia, (p201-203). Australia: Lulu press.