The Joys of Estrogen

November 24, 2007 at 2:41 am (books, feminism, gender issues)

I recently wrote about a transgendered individual who appeared on “Miami Ink” touting the intellectual benefits of testosterone. While I’m still not buying into that horse-shit, I did think it’d be an interesting topic to follow up on. I recently picked up the book “She’s Not There” by Jennifer Finney Boylan. It is the story of her transition from the male to female physical gender. I say “physical” because she was born psychologically and spiritually a female. The book is very interesting and well written. I was reading a section this evening wherein she begins to discuss how she changed upon taking estrogen. It was quite fascinating. We all know that estrogen dictates that women store fat in their hips and thighs. We know it is responsible breast growth, hair texture and skin softness. However, what I found most interesting are the things that women and men experience so differently, small and large differences that we find curious or bothersome about each other. Here are some of the examples I found most interesting, and I will quote because they are so well written to begin with!

  • “The strength in my upper body was another early casualty of hormones…I found it hard to open jars or even lift up my children.”
  • “I shook my arm again, and there it was-the loose flab of the middle-aged female triceps.”
  • “Estrogen and antiandrogens profoundly affected my libido. I certainly thought about sex a lot less often and with a different sensibility. As a man, my sex drive frequently resembled a monologue by a comic book hero succumbing to an evil spell. ‘Must-have! Must! Trying-to-resist! Getting harder to- Must have! Can’t resist!'”
  • “When people asked me, later, what the effects of the pills were, I cleverly said, ‘Well, the one pill makes you want to talk about relationships and eat salad. The other pill makes you dislike the Three Stooges” (in reference to taking both estrogen and antiandrogens)
  • “I noticed that I was more sensitive to stimuli now. I was much more aware of changes in heat and cold, and I was much more likely to complain that a car I was riding in was too hot or too cold, and I was frequently taking off sweaters and putting them back on again.”
  • “I used to cry at things like Pepsi commercials and It’s a Wonderful Life. Now I was less likely to cry at these things and more likely to tear up when a dinner I had cooked didn’t turn out right, or when someone said something cruel…And when I cried, it wasn’t just the stoic silent leaking I was accustomed to. These were big, sobbing tears, and my body shook as they poured out. It felt great.”
  • “Above all, I was aware of a change in the way I occupied my body.  I felt raw and vulnerable, exposed to the world…The thing that I felt testosterone had given me more than anything was a sense of protection, of invulnerability.  I had never imagined myself to be particularly invulnerable when testosterone had free rein in my system, but this new world I was approaching seemed to have no buffers.  Things that used to just bounce off me now got under my skin.”

Wow, those observations really hit home with me and jive with several conversations I have had with my fiance and several other men.  What I think is most interesting is that this is a person who has always identified psychologically as female, yet, didn’t experience things like vulnerability or emotional sensitivity about cruelty, or have the more reclusive “female” libido.  These traits that we associate as being “feminine” are very much the result of physical hormones coursing through our bodies.

I hope everyone else finds this topic as fascinating as I do, because I’m sure its not the last time I’ll discuss it!


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I’m Thankful For…MS Word??

November 23, 2007 at 3:34 pm (grad school, random thoughts)

Yes, something that I have realized that I need to be most thankful for is the lowly word processor.  I was talking with my dad last night about writing my dissertation and I started to think to myself, what would that process have been like 20-30 years ago?  I’ll tell you with certainty that it would have been painful!  I pride myself on being ahead of the MySpace generation, ahead of the text-messaging 24/7 generation, ahead of the I-can’t-spell-or-use-punctuation-for-shit generation.  But I do have to admit, ever since I’ve been writing papers of any substance, they have always been on the computer.  This of course dates back to before the internet, but long before the internet we had the lowly word processor.  Sure there were only 2 fonts to choose from and spell-check was a novelty not to be trusted over the dictionary, but I always had the backspace key and the save button.  My dad was telling me how back in the day when he wrote term papers, they would have to attach footnotes to the bottom of each type-written page, and some teachers wouldn’t accept pages with white-out on them.  Maybe that was really the beginning of deforestation, I mean can you imagine the amount of paper wasted?

In addition to lacking the word processor, people writing scientific papers and dissertations years ago actually had to (gasp) plot their own graphs…by hand! Oh the horror!  It is so automatic for me just to take 2 minutes to use Excel or Prism to graph my data that I cannot even fathom having to do this process by hand.  And last but certainly not least, I have to give props to EndNote.  If you are a fellow scientist, I need not expound on the wonders of EndNote.  For those non-dorks out there, basically, it automatically finds and formats references from the internet, then adds them to you paper according to a specific journal’s required format.  It also constantly adjusts the order of the references to allow for the writer to add and delete sections of their papers.  Its amazing and I am COMPLETELY dependent on EndNote now.

So as I start to think seriously about writing my dissertation, I am pausing to appreciate the fact that I have access to the wonders of MS Word, MS Excel and man’s greatest invention (OK, I may be exaggerating, but only slightly), EndNote.

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Testosterone=Logic? Not in my world.

November 8, 2007 at 1:12 am (feminism, television)

I was watching one of my guilty pleasures, Miami Ink earlier today.  To defend my TV viewing choice, I watch it mainly because I love tattoos and hearing the stories behind peoples’ tattoos.  They had an interesting client for this week’s episode.  It was a man who got a tattoo of a type of fish which can change gender under certain circumstances.  It was fitting for this man because he was actually born a genetic female but underwent gender-reassignment surgery to become male.  This in and of itself is not very remarkable, and I am always very pleased to hear when individuals like this man are able to become their true gender.  Because really, who’s business is it if someone want to change genders?

The point that did get me thinking (and a little peeved) the rest of the day was what he said about the effects he observed in himself upon taking high doses of testosterone.  Basically, he said he was finally able to “think”.  He could be “logical”, he finally understood directions.  Everything just became clear to him.  Umm, excuse me?  Wow, way to give license to the testosterone-dripping tattoo artists to slam women.  I absolutely have to call bull-shit on this guy.  Certainly something changed within him psychologically as well as physically, but to say that only with massive doses of male hormone is he able to think logically?  Please.

I take major issue with anyone who implies that women can’t think logically.  As a scientist, I definitely use that side of my brain more, and I think I am easily on par with my male peers as far as logic goes.  I actually get very annoyed when people (men and women both) use emotional or poorly thought out arguments when discussing things with me.  And as far as the directions thing goes?  This one is such a trite stereotype its barely worth addressing.  Needless to say, I know plenty examples of each gender that are either above or below average with the directions.  I myself have a good sense of direction, which, when driving, partially makes up for my comically bad depth perception.

And what he didn’t mention (not that he had a lot of time on the show) were the qualities he lost out on.  As long as we’re spouting out cliches and stereotypes lets talk about what women are good at.  Did he, for instance, lose his ability to multi-task?  What about his time management skills…his sense of empathy…communication skills…nourishing behaviors…

Actually, in all seriousness, I think that studying trans-gendered individuals would be very valuable for delineating the affects of testosterone and estrogen on personalities and behavioral traits.  Who better to study than those who have experienced both?  I’m not calling this guy a liar (completely), but when you hold knowledge like this, try to do something better with it than to put down women and further stereotypes.  It will serve both genders better.

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Bush Going for Broke?

November 3, 2007 at 6:38 pm (George W. Bush, opinions, politics)

President Bush strikes me as being the type of person keen on leaving a legacy behind. He is clearly arrogant, stubborn and affluent (affluent in the kind of way that you knew he grew up with everything handed to him and can’t begin to identify with the working class), all qualities that I think would lead to a self-aggrandizing individual. So what legacy is Bush going to leave behind, what are his options at this point? I can say assuredly and in an un-biased way that he will go down in American history as one of our least intelligent and nationally damaging presidents. So pretty much anything positive is out the window. Will he be known for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? Of course. Will he be remembered for fostering a weakened economy and one of the biggest deficits in history? Yes. Will he be regarded as having incredibly poor judgement in regards to appointees (Meyers, Gonzales, M. Brown, many more) and for being guided by some of the most diabolical war mongers of our time? Certainly. But those things are out of his control at this point. The question is, what is Bush actively doing to cement his place in history?

In my opinion, he is going for broke as the least popular president in United States history. Follow along with me here, I think I have good evidence for this. Until the end of his 7th year in office, he had only used vetoes twice (against evil stem cell research). Now, he seems to be flying fast and loose with the veto power. First, it was the SCHIP expansion bill. This bill had popular bipartisan support (although not enough to override the veto) and would have continued to provide under-privileged children with health insurance. Bush cited the reason for vetoing this bill as that he thought the expansion was too inclusive and that middle class people that could afford private health insurance would line up for government hand outs. Right, because we all know that if you can afford private health insurance, you’d much prefer to have your child on government sponsored insurance with all the beurocratic fun that goes with it. Bush has also promised to veto any future SCHIP bill that includes expanded funding or coverage, even though the current funding won’t even cover those children already enrolled in SCHIP.

Second, he just recently used another veto to override a bill that would help rebuild Hurricane Katrina ravaged areas of the Gulf Coast as well as restoring wetlands and preventing future flooding. Another smooth move, because if there’s anything the citizens of this country hate more than sick kids, its hurricane survivors.

And here, for everyone to read, I am making a prediction that I really hope is proven wrong. I am predicting the next veto item (that is if SCHIP doesn’t come up again first). As many of you may know, Congress “unintentionally” revoked funding that supplements the cost of birth control for low income clinics and colleges while passing the Deficit Reduction Act last January. The consequence of this is that poor students like myself will now have to pay more than double the previous amount for birth control pills (about $50/month). Because providing health care and welfare for pregnant women and unplanned children will be much more cost effective. Anyway, the Democrats in Congress are attempting to rectify the situation by passing the Prevention through Affordable Access Act. Because I have the utmost faith in President Bush to screw over any member of the poor or working class, I fully predict that he will veto this, citing money (even though it won’t cost tax-payers anything) and his Christian values, always a good fall-back excuse.

The Daily Kos published a map of the United States with states ranked by Bush’s approval rating. Finally, Utah and Idaho have hit 50% or lower. Quite a feat for a good Christian conservative like Bush. His current approval rating is running from 29-36%, depending on what poll you believe. So come on, W. You can do better than that. Instead of just taking away their health insurance, you could actually just start punching kids in the face. Direct, to the point and it’ll get the job done for sure.

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