3 years of HRT, and 8 things I’ve learned (Gender Analysis 11)

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Hi, welcome to Gender Analysis. For the past three years, I’ve been on hormone replacement therapy as a part of transitioning. Hormone replacement therapy, or HRT, is usually comprised of testosterone blockers and estrogen for trans women. The physical changes include breast growth, fat redistribution, muscle loss, genital shrinkage, and an overall feminized appearance.

But these are only the most basic and obvious aspects of an experience that’s so much more, and I’d like to explore some of the more profound personal changes that can come from HRT. This is just what I’ve learned from my transition – not every trans person takes hormones, and they don’t have exactly the same effects on everyone. But for me, HRT has been completely awesome.


#1. Everything feels right

My gender dysphoria didn’t limit itself to gender – my entire world felt uncomfortable. Existence had been slowly suffocating me for 23 years, and I didn’t know why being alive hurt so much. How could everyone else find it so easy just to enjoy their lives without feeling so wrong all the time? Everything was constantly on the verge of being unbearable, and any goals or desires just ended up being a pointless distraction from a permanent uneasiness.

After so many years, I thought this was normal for me – I assumed I was an inherently miserable person who could never figure out how to let go and enjoy life. And that never would have changed if I hadn’t started HRT. Within days, all of this started to turn around. The anxious and self-critical voice in my head went silent for the first time, and the tension was gone. The veil keeping me separated from the world completely fell away. Being able to go out and have fun and get outside your head sounds like such a trivial thing, but when you’ve never felt like that before, it’s miraculous.

I had been searching for the answer my whole life, but I had no idea HRT could do this. I can be a real person in the world, and all I had to do was be a woman. HRT didn’t just fix me – it’s a fundamental improvement to who I am.


#2. Emotions are amazing

I’d like to share a story from someone who recently started HRT – my girlfriend Penny:

Penny: Dysphoria is an odd thing. When it’s something you grow up with, it can be very difficult to realize that you’re not “supposed” to be feeling that way, that your normal is not the norm. Even recognizing what’s going on, finding the language to describe your feelings and experiences, is insufficient. You really can’t assuage those feelings with deeper understandings of them. You can’t wish them away. Imagine my surprise when I started HRT and found just how much I could do.

The physical changes were undeniably nice: skin and hair becoming softer, fat deposits shifting to my chest and hips and cheeks. But that was all so pale next to what it did to my mind, to my emotional core. Seemingly intrinsic feelings of dread, hopelessness, and rootless melancholy melted away, lifting the lifelong haze that had clouded my vision of not just the world but even my own self.

I’d heard the occasional trans person make note of such things, on forums and in video blogs, but it was always so overshadowed by the focus on physical changes that the mental and emotional effects seemed to me to have been purely psychosomatic. As though they felt they were finally allowed to experience their true feelings now that their transition was starting. But I was already presenting as myself full-time before I began HRT, and I already felt better than I had before. Surely increased emotional awareness was an illusion stemming from presenting as your true self, and surely I’d be immune to it, right?

So I didn’t give it much credence – and that was an incredible mistake. Growing breasts is not nearly as fantastic as everything that happened up here. I used to bury my feelings under layers of emotional deadness until they broke through to the surface in unbalanced bursts, but I can’t anymore. I can clearly access my emotions now, and I don’t have to lock myself in the bathroom once a month to cry for an hour just because I can’t properly process it all. I can cry tears of happiness. That’s something I never knew, a part of myself I couldn’t hope to access until I was 28 years old. And at 29, I cry happy tears every day for all the wonderful things in my life, and all the wonderful things ahead of me.

For the first time in my life, I can like what I see and like what I feel. I anticipate and enjoy physical contact against which I would have been bracing myself before. I have confidence in myself I’ve never had before, and I’m happy. Nothing’s perfect, and these aren’t magic pills – I still have a long way to go. But there’s a light at the end that I couldn’t have hoped to find before all this.

HRT didn’t overwrite who I was – it let me unlock what was already there. It gave me my life.


#3. Sex is amazing

I used to be uncomfortable being touched sexually, and I didn’t know why. I really did want it, I just couldn’t understand what was getting in the way of relaxing and enjoying it. At the same time, I had to deal with the compulsive urges distracting me every day. My sexuality was giving me nothing that I wanted. But HRT gave me everything I needed.

If I don’t want to think about sex, I can completely ignore it for weeks and weeks. But when I want it, it’s amazing, and there’s a lot more to it now. I’m finally present in my body during sex, and it’s easy to get into it and forget about any anxiety. This happened within a few months, and my body wasn’t even all that different – my mindset was what changed.

As the years went on, it just kept getting better. With HRT, I have such a vivid and embodied imagination that visualizing something can feel almost like it’s actually happening. Arousal affects every part of me, and it goes much further than the quick, sharp, barely fulfilling climax that vanished between my legs before it really began. Now, I can have full-body orgasms one after the other until I’m just too exhausted to keep going. For the record, I haven’t had any surgeries – this is all happening with the original anatomy. HRT did that.


#4. My skin is amazing

My face used to break out easily, with deep-rooted pimples that would leave discolored marks. My upper arms had been covered in fields of red bumps for years, and my thighs were overgrown with coarse, dark hair. I was not at all comfortable with this.

Luckily, HRT improved my skin and hair in almost every way. I’m so much less oily than I was before, so my skin stays effortlessly smooth. Breakouts have become a semi-yearly event at most, and you could never tell there was anything wrong with my arms. The hair on my thighs actually disappeared – I don’t have to shave there anymore. And the rest of my leg hair thinned out so much that it takes weeks to grow back out. Even sweating doesn’t feel gross anymore. HRT made my body feel much better.


#5. Clothes fit better

Even before HRT, I had an entire wardrobe of women’s clothes that I wore all the time. I assumed that I just had to settle for the slightly awkward fit, too tight in some places and too loose in others. As it turned out, there was plenty of room for improvement.

After a year or so, clothes that had bunched up in odd places suddenly fit me better. Shirts and pants that I’d had for years started hugging the curves they were meant for. I put on weight on my hips and thighs, and my shoulders even got smaller due to changes in musculature. My whole shape feels right, and so does everything I wear.


#6. My gender is less fragile

Being a woman is just who I am, but presenting as a woman used to feel like a carefully maintained shell, something outside of me. I was anxious about making sure my clothes and hair and makeup were perfect every time I went out, and I was constantly on edge about how everyone might perceive me. I let my hair grow out for years because I was just that attached to it as a key aspect of my gender.

After HRT, my gender feels like it comes from within, and it’s been wonderful to be able to relax in how I present myself. I don’t even wear makeup most of the time. I can throw on whatever I want and go to the store without a second thought. For a while, I even had a Skrillex haircut. This isn’t just about the cliché of “making your outside match your inside”. It’s about not having to be preoccupied with it anymore. Now, I have the flexibility and freedom to do what I want with my body, without worrying about my gender presentation.


#7. I should have done this sooner

I lived as a woman for years before I started HRT, and I waited until I was comfortable with the idea of making substantial changes to my body. Looking back, I wish I had ventured outside of my comfort zone a little earlier than that. The costs and benefits are pretty clear: if I didn’t like HRT, I would have found out pretty quickly, but I knew I loved it as soon as I tried it. If I had known how good it would make me feel, I would have started much sooner. The problem is that hardly anyone seemed to be talking about this:

Penny: There’s a popular narrative of trans people being “born in the wrong body”. It’s such an oversimplification as to be laughable were it not harming us – and it certainly harmed me. I delayed HRT for years for a multitude of reasons, and one of the biggest was the emphasis on the physical aspects of transitioning. When I started taking those pills, and the days turned into weeks, I was shocked at the emotional changes. I never knew I could expect that.

Some of the most wondrous aspects of hormone therapy have been long overshadowed by the broad strokes of a cis media that has no business writing our story. It’s disturbing to realize that trans people have put off bettering their mental health due to this sensationalized, stripped-down image of what transitioning is.


#8. I’m one of the lucky ones

When it comes to being trans, I’ve been fortunate in a lot of ways. I had plenty of feminine-coded features before HRT, so I didn’t have much distance to close before I was satisfied with how I looked. I also have really good doctors and therapists nearby, and it only took two months before I got my prescriptions. Not everyone is this lucky – some trans people have to wait months or years, or travel hundreds of miles to find a doctor who will treat them.

This lack of access is a serious and immediate problem. HRT is so clearly life-changing that trans people should be able to receive it as early as possible with a minimum of inconvenience. Everyone should have the chance to experience what we have. And if our wholehearted endorsement seems one-sided, keep in mind there’s already a side discouraging us from transitioning by making it as difficult as possible. It’s called society.

I’m Zinnia Jones. (And I’m Penny Robo!) Thanks for watching, and tune in next time for more Gender Analysis.

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About Zinnia Jones

My work focuses on insights to be found across transgender sociology, public health, psychiatry, history of medicine, cognitive science, the social processes of science, transgender feminism, and human rights, taking an analytic approach that intersects these many perspectives and is guided by the lived experiences of transgender people. I live in Orlando with my family, and work mainly in technical writing.
This entry was posted in Awareness building, Biology of transition, Gender dysphoria, Outcomes of transition, Personal, Sexuality, Transgender medicine and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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