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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