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Emily VanDerWerff

Apr 14 2018

6 min read


A few years ago, for a medical matter, I had to get regular testosterone shots every other week. My levels were within the normal range for a man, but at the low end of that spectrum, and everybody wanted to find a way to boost them to prepare for an upcoming procedure. (I'm being coy about this, of course, but about six months later, we found out that boosting my testosterone was precisely the wrong way to tackle this particular problem.)

The shots worked. My testosterone levels went up toward the middle of "normal," and I felt different, too, like I could dismantle a building with my bare hands. I was quicker to anger and had a much more hair trigger temper, but I also felt it easier to be active, to go out for a run or join a basketball game with friends or something. I'm not trying to portray testosterone as a net negative. Many of the men I know (and, honestly, trans women I know) with elevated testosterone levels have learned how to balance them, and there is something weirdly addictive about being active while under its influence. You do kinda feel like you can fly! But the long and short of it is this: With testosterone coursing through my system, I was much more of a stereotypical guy's guy than I had ever been before.

Except for one thing: I almost couldn't leave my bed in the morning, because I felt so depressed, and I kept thinking about how it might be a good idea to kill myself. (I never even came close to committing suicide -- obviously -- but the thought was present in my brain in a way that it never had been before.) Eventually, my partner and I decided that maybe I should stop getting the injections, especially since they weren't having the desired medical effect, and I had my last one in late 2014.

When I look for warning signs that I should have seen the trans-ness coming, this is a big one. Admittedly, the science on trans stuff is pretty new, and there's still a lot to learn. But there's compelling evidence that if you dump a bunch of testosterone into the body of a cis woman, or a bunch of estrogen into the body of a cis man, their brains react poorly. "WTF is this?!" they think, and it quickly leads to anxiety or depression or even worse. Meanwhile, the brains of trans individuals react differently, often with euphoria, when exposed to the estrogen or testosterone they've been starved of. (Necessary caveat: Yes, yes, all of our bodies include both estrogen and testosterone in some quantities, but cis men have more T than E and vice versa. I just want you to know I paid attention to the part of high school bio when we talked about endocrinology.)

(Second, necessary caveat: There are a lot of slots in between "male" and "female," and I am just talking about my own experience!!!)

I obviously don't have a scientific study I conducted on myself, but I do wonder if this was happening to my brain, which had learned, through compartmentalization, to cope with the normal-but-low levels of testosterone in my body, and was now having to put up with a bunch more of it. And I also know that I was always skittish and uncertain of myself in what I guess I would call "testosterone-heavy" spaces, like locker rooms or all-guys boarding spaces or even the college dorm room I shared with a jock my first year. I have had plenty of great male friends throughout my life -- particularly when I was younger -- but I also always felt a slight disconnect from them in a way I couldn't put my finger on. And I've always had deeper, more lasting relationships with women, though I always found it harder to make those connections, because women have very good reason to be suspicious of overly gregarious men.

So was this my probably-female brain being, like, "What IS all this stuff? What are we doing here?" And did it go nuts when all that testosterone started pumping in? The defense mechanisms held (think of it like the door sealing shut as water pours into the submarine in a movie), but barely. I am scared to think of what might have happened if not.

Anyway, I don't know! The hardest thing about being trans is that the only evidence you can truly present for it is what it's like inside your own brain. You can present science and all of that, but it can sometimes feel a little presumptuous to say, "No, the me you always knew was actually somebody else." Even now, as I type this, some part of my brain is offering a skeptical, "Really?" because no matter how much evidence I present, even to myself, there's a natural tendency toward skepticism when it comes to something so big you can hardly look at it. I think a lot (maybe too much) about how everybody in my life is going to react when I come out, and while it's going to suck when some of them inevitably write them out of their lives, some part of me doesn't blame them. My existence now feels like a plot twist, just waiting to happen to them, and I don't begrudge them their emotions.

But, also, to conclude on a note of supreme nuance, fuck the haters. Everything in my life is so much better since I came out to myself, and then to a small circle of trusted friends and family. That, in and of itself, should be evidence enough.


I am a transwoman or whatever. This is mostly a journal to myself, but you can read it if you want, because I feel like radical honesty is sometimes the best policy, and if I ever come out more widely, I can just, like, point my family to these mad ramblings. I'm obviously not named Emily Sandalwood, because lol, whose last name is Sandalwood? Anyway, you can respond to this, and I will look at your reply and nod sagely and probably never write back, or you can follow me on Twitter, where I am extremely funny.

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