Tug-of-War

tugofwar

2017, so far, has been a lot more tolerable than 2016. Which is not weird considering that social media declared 2016 “worst year ever”. For me 2016 could be summed up as “fractured two bones, complex regional pain syndrome, wheelchair and crutches, suicidal, self-harm, depression“. Starting T was a turning point.

Although taking hormones has made a big difference, things are not great. Whereas in the past I used to suffer major depression and crises, now I have moved into a tug-of-war that involves optimism and pessimism. Optimism says; things are better than before! Now, you can soar to great heights!

Pessimism hangs on to the negative, with an obsessive tenacity that I have described when I wrote about The OCD Monster. Instead of normal dysphoria, I experience crippling rage at the fact that the chesticles are still there, and do everything in my power to make them disappear, using kinesiology tape and a binder.

As I´ve proven in the past, I am perfectly able to ignore the chesticles and downward area when I am in a state of mindfulness. When I achieve that state, pretty much nothing bothers me. Mindfulness in today´s society however is a rare thing to achieve, and getting there does not mean it will stay, either.

Since the workings of our brain are complex,  imbalance of any kind can easily destroy your new-found ability to cope. Too little sleep, lack of a certain vitamin in your body, hormonal fluctuations, lack of sunlight, lack of neurotransmitters… they all influence your ability to be Zen. And then well, you might fall apart.

Pessimism will use these negative situations to its own advantage, and is not easily persuaded by any optimism. Battling it has taught me that you need  to outsmart it at every turn. When it tells you to freak out, remain calm. When it tells you to hide in your bed, go outside and sit in the sun.

By taking away credibility from it, little bits at the time, it will essentially subside. It takes cojones and a good deal of insight in who you really are. After all, the tendency to be pessimistic is not a part of my personality, and neither is it part of your personality. Pessimism is fear, fear of personal change.

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My Body and Me

Today I stumbled upon a picture that made it easier for me to understand why I loathe my own body. This picture feautured a hairy guy with excess body fat and gynecomastia (breast growth), who had checked in to a plastic surgeon to reconstruct his upper and lower torso. After the surgery had taken place they took another picture, this time completely transformed.

From time to time, when I tell people that I would like to have gender reassignment surgery (SRS), I get a puzzled reaction. Women in particular cringe at the idea of having a scalpel inserted into places they most cherish, and see it as a kind of auto-mutilation. They aren´t the only ones, as there are countless less than friendly websites dedicated to this idea.

But how can you do that to something so beautiful?” they´ll say. It is as if I were comitting a crime towards myself. I have to be careful to adress certain part of my body with respect when I am trying to explain my dysphoria to other people, because frequently my aversion and utter revulsion is met with concern. “Your body is beautiful the way it is“, they´ll say.  Why not be androgynous.

I´ll tell you why. My brain knows it´s male. When I´m not doing anything in particular, I experience my body as being male – flat chested, lean, and with a different set of genitalia. When I go to the bathroom, take a shower, walk around, or try to work out, I´m confronted with a reality that flies in the face of this feeling. And yet I don´t experience my body as being female.

I experience my body as being male with female anomalies. The female traits don´t feel like they belong on my body, and having them does not feel healthy. I am willing to bet that the man in the picture felt the same way, and yet nobody tells him that he is “beautiful the way he is” or aks him why he is about to mutilate himself. At least I don´t think anyone would ask.

I´m pretty sure people would understand where he is coming from, and understand him when he says that surgery can help him feel less emasculated, stronger, and more confident. After all, you´re not going to get a lot of admiring looks on the beach if you show up with that preoperative body, and neither am I, with my guy face.

moobs

Xenohormones II

xenoestrogen1JPG

In my last post (link), I talked a bit about what xenoestrogens are and what they can do to our bodies – in particular, our endocrine system. In this post I´ll tell you a bit about the products in which xenoestrogens abound, and which ones you´ll probably want to avoid if you´re interested in keeping your hormone levels in check.

I´ve looked around the internet and made a list of products which feature an xenoestrogen abundance. As you will notice, this is applicable to products with which we are surrounded and use on a daily basis. However, with a bit of ingenuity it is possible to avoid most of these and replace them with more sustainable products. I will include these strategies as well.

  • Foods that have been treated by insecticide or pesticide and possibly contains residues (grains, fruits, nuts, legumes and veggies). Wash your veggies thoroughly before you eat them (boiling will not eliminate chemical compounds). You can also buy them organically, buy them locally from a farmer, or cultivate them yourself! Soy-based products contain estrogen too.
  • Commercially raised meat and dairy products. This includes beef, pork, chicken, butter, beef and ice cream. If you don´t want to become a vegetarian, you can cut back on your meat (and replace it with yummy, omega 3 rich fish), or buy animal products that have been organically raised (which means they have not been fed any growth hormones or antibiotics).
  • Products that have been treated with chlorine. This ranges from drinking water, to sanitary products like wipes, diapers and disposable female hygiene products. The latter have been associated with dioxins, which is a chemical contaminant that increases the risk of cancer. The solution is to filter your drinking water and buy care products made of cotton or other natural material.
  • Personal care products that contain parabens or phenoxyethanol chemical compounds. These are present in most shampoos, lotions, soaps, toothpastes and cosmetics. There are plenty of alternatives out there which don´t include any of these chemicals. Check the ingredients: usually these products boast of having no parabens right on the label.
  • Soft plastics, most often used as containers, microwave dinners, hot beverages in Styrofoam cups, re-used plastic bottles. The solution is to not heat up any food in plastic containers, and to use an average (travel) mug to drink hot beverages from. Recycle any used plastic bottles, or just don´t purchase them at all (less plastic is better for our planet anyway).

 

 

Xenohormones I

Xenoestrogens

Let´s talk a bit about xenohormones. They sound incredibly interesting, right? A bit like a boring science class. In this post I´m going to try and explain what they are, what they do, and then (possibly in a second post) ways in which you can manage the role of xenohormones in your life. Now it is possible that you don´t care about this at all, but I believe transgender people care about hormones.

Switching from one hormone system to the other often gives us tremendous insight in how exactly hormones work and the incredible influence they have – not just on our physical well being but also on our mental outlook and our behavior. For this reason, we observe our hormonal levels and our endocrine systems* like hawks. However, hormones shouldn´t just matter to people who take hormones.

In fact, you eat, drink and absorb hormones everyday. These hormones can be natural or artificial (Wikipedia), and mimic estrogen or testosterone. These are present in plants and animals, but also occur in countless products that we use everyday, including our drinking water. In nature, the exchange of hormones frequently has a balancing purpose (a plant with estrogen can affect the hormones of predators).

However the way that we consume xenohormones, they act as a disruptive rather than a balancing force. Basing myself on the Wikipedia page (this isn´t intended as a scientific article), chemical xenoestrogen has been most present in our lifestyle for the last seventy years, and are used by industrial, agricultural and chemical companies, for example in pesticides, but also in household items like shampoo.

Why you should care about this, is xenoestrogen is capable of upsetting the endocrine balance in our bodies. A surplus of estrogen is created, creating side effects such as increased PMS (volatility and mood swings) in women, greater risk for breast cancer and endometriosis. In men, it can have possible feminizing effects such as gynecomastia (breast development), prostate cancer and infertility.

Granted, those are extreme examples. On a small scale however, hormones affect our disposition to mental problems, our level of energy, the distribution of fat in our body, and our physical well-being. In a society where men are concerned about their masculinity and women are faced with disruptive amounts of estrogen, this is cause for alarm. In my next post I´ll discuss the products in which xenoestrogen abounds.

 

 

Hormones & Fertility

uteurs

I have shortly written about Shark Week before, (and this week in the context of starting testosterone), but did so in a setting where imagining a shark-week-free life still seemed like a remote dream. I never explored how cross-gender hormones impact the reproductive system or how long it takes. Hence this post.

The moment when you start taking the hormones that fit your brain but not your body (cross gender hormones), all kinds of things start to change, and some simply shut down. For example, when I take testosterone, my body just assumes that it already made hormones and production of estrogen drops. I will still produce some amount of estrogen though.

This is normal, as both men and women produce estrogen. In masculine bodies it contributes to healthy bones and plays a role in the maturation of sperm (yes, I learned that recently), and in feminine bodies it regulates menstrual cycles and fertilization. When testosterone takes over the paying field, these will stop, either slowly or immediately.

In trans women, estrogen slows down (and potentially stops) sperm production. In both transgender men and women there´s a chance of (permanent) sterilization, but there have been quite a few guys to go off testosterone and conceive children. While it is an option, it´s not for me.  I knew I did not want kids long before my coming out.

Hence, hormonal cycles (including the mood swings and l unpredictability) have always felt rather pointless and nonsensical to me, and even though I identify as a guy, I´m sure there are many ciswomen who agree. Personally I´m looking forward to the day my “friend” packs her bags and goes on a permanent holiday.

While for the time being there is no child-rearing on the horizon (I still feel like I am just starting my own life), adoption is a feasible alternative, and a fail-safe against passing down genetics that will potentially unleash all kinds of mental health concerns. I am happy to have the option, should I ever choose to consider it.

Trouble or Testosterone

chicken&egg

In my last post, I wrote that I did not support the idea that trans* individuals need to address mental health problems before they can start hormone therapy. The trouble with this is that you end up having a chicken or egg debate. Can testosterone treatment exacerbate preexisting mental instability, or can testosterone treatment actually ease said instability?

The answer is, I guess, that it differs from individual to individual and from one diagnosis to another. However, when you take the blueprint of therapy and take a look at their modus operandi, the logic seems to depart from the assumption that testosterone can exacerbate trouble, not from the possibility that testosterone might ease any instability.

I conducted a little poll on different FTM Facebook groups, dedicated towards those who had experienced significant mental and emotional turmoil before they started testosterone, and asked if the testosterone had had a positive or rather a negative impact on their stability. Fourteen people replied to my post, all of whom had additional diagnoses.

They said they suffered from the following: bipolar disorder, depression, OCD, emotional regulation (anger), mood swings, anxiety, autism, CPTSD and suicidality. Twelve of my fourteen “respondents” said that their symptoms had significantly decreased due to hormone replacement, one said he felt temporarily worse, and one said he felt the same.

I am not exactly a scientist (I did study sciences for four years, but didn´t graduate… partly due to instability!). But no one replied that their symptoms got worse while on testosterone, or that they had a harder time dealing with preexisting problems. Several said that their mood did depend on the level of testosterone taken.

They reported: higher incidence of irritability, depression and anxiety with low T levels, whereas too high a level could instigate aggression. The solution to this, in most cases, was to receive a lower amount of testosterone during a smaller time frame (once every week, rather than a higher dose every two weeks).

Concluding; testosterone can magnify preexisting trouble, but in most cases, it seems that it can also really help. For this reason I don´t think that the chicken should be first and the egg second, or vice versa. Rather, I think that both diagnoses (gender dysphoria and any additional ones) should be addressed simultaneously.

Transition Explained III

diversity

In this third (and last) part of “Transition Explained” I want to give a little attention to the aspects of transition that are related to the individual way in which everyone transitions, and the emotional as well as mental transformation that takes place alongside the physical one. Much too often, transition seems like an A-B-C process, where A automatically leads to B, but this is rarely the case.

The best way to comprehend why transition is so different for everyone, is to understand that in the first place transition is a search for those aspects of gender that really, really match the person in question. Sure, they decided to transition, that´s a big step. It means they realized something about themselves – but that doesn´t mean they´re done. After all,  our entire lives are about searching for truth, the truth of who we are.

So while they might´ve decided that they´re trans, non binary, gender-queer, gender neutral, there is no one ready-made recipe for how they should transition. Consequently, transition involves self-reflection, and sometimes, it involves trial and error (going on hormones, deciding to stop for a while, maybe later resume). In any case, transitioning forces you to consider your feelings every step of the way.

That having been said, hormones themselves influence the way we think and feel in a way that most people aren´t aware of (simply because it seems self-evident). There was a time when I thought men and women aren´t really that different, and in some ways, that is  true. However as I´ve moved more and more towards the male spectrum, there have been slow changes in my way of thinking and perceiving the world.

If my way of thinking has changed solely because I´ve moved along the gender spectrum, imagine what can happen if you throw hormones in the mix. Without a doubt, the way I experience the world, and the way I feel about a lot of things, will be fundamentally different from the ways in which I experienced the world a year ago (when I still thought of myself as gender fluid).

To sum up, transition is a big adventure. It´s time consuming, different for everyone, and quite confrontational in the sense of finding out what you´re all about. It can be difficult, tiresome, sometimes even daunting. But think about it. How amazing is it, that we can journey along the gender spectrum, and cast aside the binary?