Boy Medicine

My nonbinary journey with T

(Shelby Criswell)

When another nonbinary friend of mine casually asked if I’d ever tried taking testosterone (aka T), I was completely surprised. I wasn’t trans enough for that. But then they shared how for months they’d been microdosing to look more androgynous and had never felt better, and I was intrigued.

They spoke of increased energy, muscle mass, sex drive and subtle masculinization of their physique without a big voice change or outgrowth of body hair, which sounded pretty damn good. Over the coming months, I couldn’t get the idea out of my head, and I wondered what I would choose to do to support my gender expression if I could move beyond all the pesky internalized transphobia implanted in my mind by a seriously conservative parent and a severely transphobic world.

I tried to push the idea of taking T out of my mind because I was worried it could threaten my already ailing marriage and destabilize my sense of self. But it lurked around the edges of consciousness until finally, after almost a year, I decided to move forward. I met with a local doctor known to prescribe hormones; underwent the routine blood work; received the routine paperwork warning me of potentially irreversible changes to my body and voice; and filled my first prescription. I assumed nothing too drastic would happen to me because I was on such a low dose. Wow was I wrong.

In the early months, I was enthralled with the experience of taking T. My mental health improved dramatically. I felt less depressed and had fewer mood swings; I quickly started passing as male much of the time. After years of being misgendered as female, it was such a relief to be perceived as anything else, even if binary male wasn’t quite right either. I started putting on more muscle, having a greater sex drive and feeling more powerful. I never wanted to stop.

But what I did not expect so soon was the thinning of my hair, the unbelievably heinous acne or the complete destruction of my singing voice. Over the course of a couple months, I dropped from a soprano to a baritone. Apparently, I was a serious champ at metabolizing T, and all of my changes happened on a timeline that might be considered fast even if I’d been on a full dose. So much for the gradual charm of microdosing. Instead, I quickly found myself in a real dilemma about whether to continue. I’d sprouted a small mustache and lost a lot of hair on my head, and I grew concerned that if I kept on with the T, I would cross some invisible line into being read as a middle-aged man. My nonbinary self wasn’t sure I should cross that line.

My experience of gender has never been linear, binary or unified. I don’t identify with the man-trapped-inside-a-woman’s-body narrative. I identify as having a lot of parts inside, and some of those parts understand themselves as female, some as male and some as something much more expansive than either. I tried on another framework for understanding my gender, offered by a friend who described his experience as having two souls inside him; for the first 40 years, the female soul dominated, but for the second 40, the male soul is getting a chance. This felt relevant and illuminating, but not entirely complete to my experience. There’s more multiplicity in my system than that, and more movement back and forth between the extremes.

Eventually, I stopped taking T. I told myself it would be temporary—just a couple months to feel it out, but it’s been seven months now and it’s hard for me to imagine resuming. I like being able to cry again, something T had eliminated; I like that my hair stopped thinning so aggressively; I like that I stopped looking quite so much like a middle-aged man; I like not having unrelenting acne. I like feeling like me, whatever that means, even if I still can’t sing and my voice remains unrecognizable compared to my former self.

I have some regrets. I wish more educational resources existed specifically for nonbinary trans people on the risks and benefits of taking T. I wish microdosing wasn’t suggested so blithely as a remedy for gender angst. I wish I had truly, deeply understood what I was getting into, but part of that’s on me, because I’m not sure I fully wanted to know. I wanted to believe the contents of that little vial could solve my problems. I wanted to pick a side of the binary, and it seemed like medical transition was a way of doing that. Living in the in-between space can be so deeply unsettling, and I think that’s what I actually needed support with, from all corners of my life. I don’t think I needed a pharmaceutical solution, but I might have needed a spiritual one.

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