The Nature and Properties of Hormones

My Very Unprofessional Guide

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Part 1: What Are Hormones?
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  1. Hormones are extremely variable. Everyone’s bodies will react differently to different medications and doses, because we are not all perfectly average human beings. The effects one person gets from a given regimen may be completely different from the effects someone else gets. There are general expectations you can go in with, but everyone will have different hormone goals, and it will often take different approaches to meet those goals for different people.
  2. HRT is sort of like puberty. Puberty is a process initiated in teenagers when their bodies are flooded by naturally produced hormones and start to develop in accordance with those hormones. HRT is synthetic and manual, but it mimics a lot of the same biological signals, and causes a lot of the same effects. Many trans people refer to taking hormones during their transition as a “second puberty” for this reason.
  3. DNA is just a blueprint, and hormones are just a signal. Everyone has biological processes programmed into their DNA for how to develop any biological trait that any human can develop. The main function of the Y-chromosome is to increase testosterone exposure in the womb and throughout puberty. The testosterone tells other cells in the body to do things like develop a penis or chest hair, but those cells themselves are what do the heavy lifting, and they know how to develop pretty much any human part.
  4. Hormones can build, but they can’t un-build. By changing the signals our cells receive, we can change the things they build. However, there’s nothing in our DNA about how to un-develop boobs, or how to un-deepen a voice, so these changes require other interventions if desired. When I took estradiol, my body was able to develop boobs, but a transmasculine person taking testosterone wouldn’t see their boobs disappear. The closest thing to un-building that HRT can do is allowing atrophy by suppressing certain hormones. Without as much testosterone, for instance, a trans woman might require more manual upkeep to avoid losing some muscle mass or *ahem* other things. Similarly, fat can be redistributed, because you’ll continue burning fat in the same pattern as before but new fat will go to different places.
  5. You never stop taking hormones. Because it’s a common myth, I want to make it clear that hormones aren’t something that you take and then forget about once you’re “done” transitioning. Transition is a process that you live with forever, and hormones are a part of that, especially if you decide to remove the parts of your body that produce your original hormones. Don’t get me wrong, it’s entirely possible to go off hormones, but it will result in an HRT-esque process happening in reverse. Nothing will be un-built, but some things will be built back to where they were.
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Part 2: Trans Kids and the Right to Choose

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A section from South Dakota’s HB1057 which makes one of the aforementioned exceptions.
A section from South Dakota’s HB1057, which would’ve banned hormones for minors under 16.

Part 3: Concerning Very Reasonable Health Concerns

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  1. Hormones are partly irreversible, but not to the degree that some people claim. For one thing, they act very slowly. The only changes you usually notice early on are subtle things like skin texture and physical sensitivity. Like with puberty, it takes a while to develop the kinds of entirely new body parts that won’t decay if you stop hormones. However, after a few years of HRT, there will be changes that can never be un-built without external interventions. Of course, since HRT is sort of like puberty, these changes generally can’t exceed those normally brought on by puberty, even when HRT is taken in place of puberty.
  2. Hormones can sterilize you. HRT replaces the hormones that activate sperm and egg production. Naturally, then, it will prevent your body from producing either due to the absence of a reproductive system which can handle your new hormones. If you go off HRT, you may see your sterility return, but this isn’t always the case. And, of course, if you get your ovaries or testes fully removed, you will be permanently sterile, at least until some means exists to give you a new reproductive system. This is important to understand going in, but it’s a pretty easy thing to wrap your head around.
  3. Your bones need hormones, eventually. This is why you can’t stay on puberty blockers forever. You need some form of puberty and subsequent hormonal maturity to maintain bone density. Fortunately, bone density takes years to decay, giving you plenty of time to decide what hormones you’d like to use. Your bones will also recover once you’ve started taking hormones, so there’s not much to worry about in terms of permanence.
  4. Hormones increase the likelihood of diseases. This is true in the same way that the statement “cooking spaghetti reduces its shelf life” is true. If you use hormones to develop breasts, you will face an increased risk of breast cancer, surprisingly enough. It doesn’t go much farther than that — your risk factors for certain ailments will fall relatively in line with the risk factors of other people on the same hormones as you.
  5. Hormones are an imperfect match. Basically none of the medication trans people use for HRT was actually developed with us in mind, so it’s not exactly a perfect replacement for your body’s endocrine system. Medication can’t be quite as subtle or bespoke as the hormones your body generates, nor can it be administered as evenly. All a doctor can do is test your blood and try to get your dosage within the right range. However, medical science is improving all the time, and the things we can do with our current understanding are already very impressive. Ultimately, I don’t think it matters that much whether hormones are perfect, so long as they’re having the effects you want.
  6. Medications have their own side effects. Every HRT medication has possible negative effects. Spiro can cause general drowsiness and dizziness, in addition to the potential for potassium overdose. Cypro sometimes leads to depression. Testosterone could contribute to heart disease. The thing is, though, that you could say this sort of thing about almost any medication. You should absolutely be aware of your medication’s possible risks before taking it, but we always take medication expecting the positive effects to outweigh them.
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Part 4: Hormones (might) Change Your Life
  • There can be emotional effects, but they are very personal. A lot of testimonials from trans people about the effects of HRT talk about their opinions, feelings, sexualities, and so on completely changing as a result of HRT. Others may talk about having a fog lifted, or being able to smell roses for the first time. These things can happen, but they are deeply personal, and it’s near- impossible to separate the psychological impact of starting hormones from the physiological impact of taking 2 mg of estradiol by mouth twice daily.
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Part 5: The Future

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Trans Internet Creator with an engineering degree. She/they.

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Trans Internet Creator with an engineering degree. She/they.