One of the well-known but seldom discussed effects of HRT is that it can change your orientation. Jenny Boylan discusses this in her memoir She's not There, where her endocrinologist states that of trans women who were only interested in women pre-HRT, about a third remain that way, a third switch to only liking men, and a third become asexual. I have no citations for these numbers, but it's certainly something that's common enough that my endocrinologist made sure to mention it before I began HRT. And it's something folks talk about on reddit.

While I do not claim the label, I'm perhaps best described as pansexual; that is, I'm not just interested in men and women (as bisexuals are), but also interested in androgynous, agender, genderqueer, third-gender, and non-binary folks. In short: sexy people are sexy. If anything, I'm more drawn to non-standard genders. Though that could just be selection bias, since folks with non-standard genders seem more likely to embrace other ideologies I admire.

But the interesting thing, the reason for this post, is that I have always felt the pull of multiple orientations— even when the target of that desire is the same. While I like everyone, I especially like women. Sometimes that attraction has the feel of a man liking women; sometimes it has the feel of a woman liking women. To me, those two desires are completely different. The sense of fulfillment they bring, the sort of activities they evoke, the overall mode of my involvement with those desires and activities; all are different. Just to be clear, this sort of orientation switching is orthogonal to the top/bottom switching you get in kink and gay circles. It's not about who's in charge, or who's doing what to whom; it's something else. In my experience of top/bottom switching, I have a fair deal of control over which I'm in the mood for at any given point; whereas with the orientation/desire switching, it's something outside of my control.

Since starting HRT I've noticed the balance of those two orientations changing. They're both still there, so far, but the gap between them is growing; they feel even more different now than they did before. In addition, those "straight" desires have greatly diminished. And, like many trans women, I am extremely grateful for that. It's so much easier to live life when you don't have to constantly police those desires. So much easier to avoid unintentionally acting like a jackass. On the other hand, while the "straight" desires have been receding, my lesbian desires have only gotten stronger. I have always identified as lesbian, even before recognizing myself as trans. As a teenager, cis guys often made jokes about being "a lesbian trapped in a man's body"; and I was always offended by their jests, because it always felt so true for me.

All this fits into a larger theme I've been pondering lately. In particular, I think the sex/gender/orientation framework taught in Queer Theory 101 is deeply flawed. The reasons why, I'll cover in later posts. But what can "orientation" mean once we take into account the fact that HRT can change people's orientation? or the fact that people can simultaneously experience multiple orientations towards the same target of desire?

Looking back on life, I now see myself as always having been female. However, I only really recognized that I was trans sometime in highschool (iirc). While I have never identified as male or masculine, and have always thought of myself as feminine/girly, it was not until highschool that I became aware of the notion of transgenderism— aware of the possibility that I could be female and not just feminine.

Even after this realization struck, it took a few years to come to terms with the idea, and to realize that this possibility was indeed a fact about myself. This delay was for the most part due to the time it took to divest myself of the transphobic and homophobic parts of my upbringing. But eventually, removing that self-directed stigma, I recognized the truth. This was, literally, half a lifetime ago now. When I entered undergrad I sought to transition but, for reasons I'll discuss another time, decided against it. Still, I recognized that the only way I could be true to myself was to be open about being trans. So even though I decided against transitioning, I've been sure to let anyone who cares to know that I am trans.

After deciding not to transition lo those many years ago, it's a decision I'd never really revisited; much despite my dysphoria getting worse and worse. And then, for whatever reason, this past spring I was driven to reconsider. And, reconsidering, I decided to transition. I've been on hormones now for about half a year. In the beginning I noticed lots of little changes. The most important one was the sudden overwhelming sense of rightness. I've known unquestioningly I was trans for half my life now, and have been publicly open about that fact for well over a decade. But even though there's been no question in my mind for all that time, there's something fundamentally legitimizing about starting HRT and getting empirical evidence that, yes, my brain does in fact work much better on estrogen than testosterone.



March 2014

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