On Testosterone and Mental/Emotional Changes

I just read an interview with Chaz Bono in which he states that he has a lower tolerance for women after beginning hormone therapy. Why? Because they talk too much. “There is something in testosterone that makes talking and gossiping really grating. I’ve stopped talking as much. I’ve noticed that Jen can talk endlessly. I just kind of zone out.” He goes on to say that testosterone has made him more interested in gadgets. I’d like to call bullshit. Feeling more male, in part thanks to testosterone, is what made him more inclined to do things he understood as male with the context of white North American culture – such as tinkering with gadgets and not talking much. It also seems to have made him a misogynist, and no doubt, finding women annoying is a very reassuring feeling when one wants to convince oneself that one is a man.

As you have probably divined, I have no patience for the kinds of guys who assert that testosterone made them suddenly like and understand all culturally “male” traits and activities like science, fixing engines, and remaining stoically taciturn as if hormones were wholly determining of mental and emotional life. Sex hormones do not change one’s personality, likes, dislike, and intelligence. Transition, as a whole mental-physical-social process, on the other hand, can change these things, insofar as it involves a gradual discovery of what it means like to be seen as male, what people’s expectations are of someone perceived as male, what strategies one can engage in to keep feeling pleasurably male, and so on. Because for many, having a solidly male social identity brings both comfort and pleasure. There are pleasures to being seen as “really” male and to feeling “really” male that can prompt manifestations of “typically” male behavior in trans men who were not inclined to such behavior before they began transition. The rewards of gendered identity, I would argue, are, in fact, the primary reason for changes in personality and behavior during transition. People begin to treat us differently as their perception of our gender changes through our physical transition. We, in turn, consciously or unconsciously modify our behaviors in response to what we like and dislike about how we are being treated.

That said, I do believe that sex hormones affect sex drive (naturally enough) and, to some extent, emotions. Some guys say T makes them rage. I have not experienced this, but I’m willing to believe it. Some guys say T makes it all but impossible for them to cry. I have experienced a diminished ability to shed tears since starting T, though I have the same emotional range as before. (This might also vary from person, as I have and FTM transsexual friend who is a cry baby!) One thing T certainly does is cut out female hormonal cycles and, with them, any emotional side-effects of PMS (this I’ve certainly experienced). In addition, many trans men report feeling more emotionally stable, overcoming depression, and even feeling elated when they start taking T. These feelings are easily understandable as responses to taking positive steps to overcome gender dysphoria and to being seen how one wants to be seen.

I am sick, however, of trans men shoring up culturally specific sexist stereotypes about what constitutes “male” and “female” along with the notion (itself sexist) that sex hormones dictate every aspect of gendered behavior. Testosterone will only make you the man you already are. You do the rest.

I am, essentially, the same person I was when I started T. Just one year older and wiser, and all but free of gender dysphoria.

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17 Responses to On Testosterone and Mental/Emotional Changes

  1. Terrific post! I really liked reading your perspective on this. As someone who has never taken T, I always wondered how much of T is a placebo effect. I know there are many very real changes (physical, sexual), and I don’t mean to disparage the psychological importance of T, either. But it’s really interesting to read your thoughts about what makes someone feel like a “real” man–and it raises all sorts of great questions about gender essentialism, too.

  2. Somewhere I seen…I think it might’ve been Sebastian on XXBoy.tumblr.com, who said T gives you more of what you already have, so if you have no patience for women after T, you probably had no patience for them to start with.

    I also wasn’t fond of Chaz’s use of “The (biological) difference in men and women,” when it was pretty clear that what he meant was “The difference in myself before and after taking T.” Yeah, I know it’s a small point, but these small points add up….especially when you’re presenting something for a mainstream audience….

  3. Faggot Boi says:

    @southcarolinaboy, yeah, that’s really bad phrasing on Bono’s part!

  4. Whenever I see Chaz Bono referred to by his last name in type, I see Bono from U2 in my mind and I have to correct myself…

  5. Kyle says:

    I agree with BW, great post and a perspective I wouldn’t know from my own life. I do know, from experience around trans guys, and butches, that there can definitely be overcompensation when a person takes on a masculine identity. What do we have to go on for our male role models? There are some good ones, but the recognizable ones are often sexist, misogynist and chauvinist. I believe one reason for this (and it happens on the other side, when people are claiming a feminine identity) is that transitioning and claiming a gendered identity at odds with the expectations of the people around us is hard work. It’s a risky undertaking, it’s a big damned deal and we want to be recognized for what we’re doing. It’s pretty anticlimactic to go to all the trouble of top surgery and taking T — or even binding and packing — and have no one notice. Stereotypical male (and female) behaviors may look like the best way to be noticed in that newly claimed gender space. And, even it this isn’t conscious, most of us work from the examples and role models around us. If we want to be accepted as male in the place we live, doesn’t it make sense that we’d take on those characteristics we see and recognize in males around us?

    I don’t have personal experience with T, but my gut instinct about people and behavior agrees with your observations and opinions. Hormones don’t make the man, or the woman. I’m not a doctor, or an academic, this is based on my observations of those around me as well as of myself, as I pushed further and further into masculine territory. Even though I can understand the behavior, that doesn’t mean I’m happy to see it in myself or others. And (caution, here comes the pitch) that’s why I’m doing an Intentional Masculinity workshop at Butch Voices this year. Because I want to get more people thinking about masculinity and considering being more conscious about what traits and behaviors we adopt in order to express it.

  6. Faggot Boi says:

    I totally get masculine overcompensation in female-assigned people. I think it’s hot, albeit somewhat annoying, in butches. But I get that butches have to practically hit folks over the head with masculinity in order to get any masculine recognition at all. And typically “male” behavior is one route to this. I get more impatient with it, however, in trans men who have physically transitioned and are perceived as cis, and get really pissed when these men go on the air or in print attributing their “male” traits to testosterone. I understand why all of these things happen, of course, but I think that, as a community, we need to dialogue about it, fight against it, and make other modes of living masculinity and other narratives more available. For instance, I know quite a few trans men who experienced the opposite when they physically transitioned, finally feeling able to let go of typically “male” traits that really didn’t suit them once they were able to get male recognition with their bodies alone. What if testosterone were seen as freeing us to express our masculinity in atypical ways rather than as the magical elixer of True Manhood?

    Your workshop sounds great and really necessary.

  7. Larkin says:

    Dude, YES.
    Your whole post.
    THANK YOU for calling out Chaz Bono. He is a part of the Gender Odyssey conference in Seattle this year, and I have mixed feelings about that. I have mixed feelings for sure about Chaz being one of the ONLY publicly seen trans men–that places a lot of weight on him to represent! And he definitely represents some fucked up shit, amongst the other good stuff!
    THIS: YES.
    “For instance, I know quite a few trans men who experienced the opposite when they physically transitioned, finally feeling able to let go of typically “male” traits that really didn’t suit them once they were able to get male recognition with their bodies alone. What if testosterone were seen as freeing us to express our masculinity in atypical ways rather than as the magical elixer of True Manhood?”
    Totally speaks to my feelings.
    It’s complicated and beautiful and YES we need to keep in dialogue and keep evolving and critiquing one another! Otherwise shit’s all fucked up! Cheers for your SWEET AWESOME WRITING bro, as always.

  8. In regards to steretypes–

    1. I went on testosterone, and I DEFINITELY felt no increase in sex drive.
    2. It didn’t “make me gay” either. I realized I was attracted to men a few months prior to starting.
    3. I actually became more depressed–I had to leave school. It took awhile until I could appreciate the changes. I’m not saying testosterone caused this, but I can’t rule out that adjusting to new hormones was *perhaps* a factor.

    My point is, nice post. Everyone’s experience is different and that’s so important to remember.
    I hated that article too–actually wrote to the editor to complain. I was so mad that people might think trans men are all like that. But I had to let it go. We’re all entitled to express how we feel. Chaz is just not the kind of guy I’d personally want to be or be with.


  9. Ione Black says:

    Hey!!! I am a 28 y/o MtF transsexual currently about 6 months into transition. I stumbled across your blog via your post on parental approval etc and have been voraciously reading since. I decided to respond on this particular post for a couple of reasons, but most notably because I have been on estrogen therapy for about 2.5 months and have a completely different perspective (heading the other way) that I thought might be valuable in the context of the overall discussion! I had also during my early twenties experimented with steroids and have an understanding of how I felt with a huge testosterone excess.

    First, I think you’re entirely correct about transsexual elation and cross biologic sex hormones. I know that my first dose of estrogen made me absolutely elated, and I still get goosebumps when I put on a patch just thinking of all the potential inherent in such a tiny package! I think you are correct in stating that this stems from taking positive steps in one’s chosen direction. I know that for me, the experience was both emotional and validating to a tremendous extent, but is probably not a fair example to use as a metric in weighing the general cross biologic sex hormone experience for us trans folk.

    Beyond that, I know that while I was an emotional child, under the influence of testosterone and male peer bonding my level of emotional response gradually tapered off until during my mid 20’s the only emotions I was really capable of on a daily basis were anger and fear. While I did still feel love and compassion, etc, they were never of an overwhelming character like my bouts with anger and fear sometimes were. A major difference for me has been the gradual intensification of the entire emotional spectrum, which I had previously regarded in male mode as “the ancillary emotions” =). Considering that “ancillary” comes from the Latin word ancilla or “serving girl” and currently means secondary, I think it describes how a lot of men feel about the “rest” of the emotional palette. Is this true for trans men or does female socialization and early estrogen exposure confer a greater degree of emotional facility than those men born male bodied?

    A lot of trans women talk about how they felt more emotional almost immediately on commencement of estrogen therapy. While this is almost universal in MtF accounts and blogs, my own experience is very different. I too became elated on starting hormones and making positive steps in the right direction, however I noticed absolutely no difference in my emotional response for almost 2 months. Halfway into my third month now though, I am starting to notice a much more significant change.

    For me, this new sensitivity manifests in two different ways. First, the character and texture of my emotions are more intense and much more difficult to dismiss. While I experienced sadness as a man, it was both less intense and much easier to minimize and cope with. The sadness is the same now, however much more intense and absolutely impossible to ignore when I am in the grip of it. Consequently, I’ve found myself avoiding situations where I fear my newfound ability to react, sometimes dramatically, to the emotional flavor and context of things.

    The other way that I’ve become more emotional is in my general mental landscape. The whole world is filled with emotional flavors and undertones that I just never noticed before. I’m more open with how I feel and accepting of my internal responses. Part of this is definitely due to not feeling like I have to wear “the man hat” anymore, however I do believe that a substantial part is purely biological too.

    When I tried steroids in a vain attempt to “solve my gender problem” during my early twenties, I noticed a huge increase in confidence, sex drive and aggression. I could only listen to metal and I wanted to sleep with every remotely attractive woman I saw. I also spent all my time not working out talking to women. I also experienced a strengthening of bisexual sex urges during this time and had a couple of gay experiences which scared the shit out of me at the time (like whoa man, do I really feel this way? Turned out that I did lol). I felt that my general emotional level was actually higher than normal, however this could have been due to testosterone conversion into surplus estrogen via aromatase. I did however take an estrogen receptor antagonist (clomid) which did not seem to have an effect on steroid induced moodiness, anger and sadness. I must say though, that most of the time I felt confident as hell, a little edgy and generally great. My dosage was 1-2 amps of sustanon 250 every 5-7 days, which is a relatively small steroid dose, but probably higher than FtM HRT?

    There are a couple of really oddball behavioral changes that I hesitate to attribute to estrogen but which I’ll mention anyway. I have noticed that I am a faster and more aggressive driver and that I sometimes do not use my turn signal now until I have already started to turn. This is interesting because it was a HUGE pet peeve of mine up until I caught myself doing it repeatedly and could no longer justifiably maintain my indignation at others. Can I say that estrogen caused these changes though? No… I really can’t.



  10. Faggot Boi says:

    Hey, thanks Ione, your perspective as someone who has experienced naturally occurring adolescent testosterone, steroids, and estrogen injections is a valuable one. I find your eloquent description of the intensification of your emotional spectrum through estrogen use particularly interesting. I was concerned when I started testosterone that I would lose emotional range and/or depth. I’ve tried to be vigilant about it, but it’s hard to tell for a few reasons. 1. Going on T did away with one major source of (negative) emotional depth – severe PMS. Did it also lessen my non-PMS emotional depth? Hard to tell. 2. Going on T also coincided with adulthood, a career, responsibilities. I.e. learning to govern myself and temper my emotions and valuing maturity over emotionality. 3. Going on T coincided with me leaving a place where I had been living for 7 years, in which I had intense, deep, and vulnerable emotional attachments, and in which I had recently been in love. So my emotional spectrum was greatly reduced just by virtue of being around new people with whom I had necessarily shallower connections.

    I would say that, yes, overall, this year had less emotional range and depth than the last (even if we correct for PMS). However, I believe that much of it is situational. When I (briefly and ill-fatedly) fell for a straight trans guy, and when I spent a month in the old location surrounded by those I loved, I experienced the same depth and range of emotions as previously. I remain undecided on the effects of hormones on emotional palette.

    I have to say, I identify with your description of yourself on steroids – confident, sexual, and aggressive. Could testosterone have heightened these qualities in me? Perhaps. Again, it’s hard to tell, because I identify with these qualities as part of my character and part of my gender expression. So it’s hard to separate my sense of maturing and becoming more myself from any specifically hormonal effect.

    It can be disturbing to think that hormones can alter how one experiences emotions. If I went off T now, would I become less confident and more sensitive and empathetic? Would I enjoy that? Hwo would I feel about the loss of the confident, no nonsense man I was before? These are, for me, troubling questions. I can only say that I like who I am and how I feel now, and am able (to a fault) to experience powerful emotions other than anger and fear when called for. I promised myself when I went on T that I would seriously consider going off it if I lost a rich emotional life, and I can honestly say that this hasn’t happened. It is strange though to realize the extent to which I identify with my aggression (my Pops does too, though, and she is not on T).

  11. Linda Huntley says:

    I am on this page because my husband is on testosterone and since he started (after experiencing prostrate cancer) he has changed. I find him more detached emotionally. Sex is no longer a sharing of intimacy but a declaration of his ability to maintain an over-active sex drive at 73. I don’t know if it was me, or the cancer, or the testerone; but, if you could post and share with me any insight into what emotional changes take place with its use, I would appreciate it. I always knew that it was used in transgendered individuals, and I often though how horrid life would be as a man in a woman’s body, or vice-versa. Do you lose compassion? Do you become self-centered?

  12. Faggot Boi says:

    Hi Linda, it sounds to me like your husband might be on a dose of testosterone that is too high for him, or else he might be working through issues related to masculinity, aging, and prostrate cancer through sex. You, presumably, were with him at other points of his life in which his body was producing the amounts of testosterone it needed, and it seems he was less detached and more intimate during sex then. There is no reason injecting testosterone should make him any different than he was in the past unless he is injecting more than what his body was producing before.

  13. Lucas Silveira says:

    Although I agree with you that T doesn’t create an association with all things “male” like all of a sudden wanting to become a mechanic, I disagree that it doesn’t change your personality. I’m an artist and emotions are my office so to speak and I know my experience isn’t everyone’s experience but there is no way in the world that you have escaped not becoming a different person or had a personality change. Your emotional responses become completely different and go from being “moods” to being your natural emotional responses. This is extremely confusing at first but eventually, takes over.
    As well, I had no sexual interest in men pre t and do now. That is totally personality changing and it has nothing to do with me feeling more in my body. I can very much tell that it’s completely an effect of T in my body.
    Although I totally agree that some guys go way overboard in their need to fit in to the status quo of “masculinity”, I also think it’s irresponsible to say that T doesn’t change who you are at the core because it does. It doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing, it just means that testosterone affects your emotional responses and this new you is the you that you wanted to become.
    In a way, I feel my spirituality has been affected by T because now, I see the evolution of my “soul” as being informed by my physicality and biology whereas before, I never really considered the two intertwined with such significance.
    I think most trans guys need to take lessons in self awareness before starting T. It’s what’s lacking when you say stupid shit like Chaz says sometimes. Even though I totally appreciate him being out, it’s annoying to hear that shit because we all get painted with the same brush.
    Trans guys don’t talk about emotional changes enough. If you’re at 1 year into your transition, wait till you get to about 2-3 to see the full range of how it affects your personality. Almost every guy I meet tells me the same thing.
    It’s a beautiful thing and yes, there is such a thing as being “male” in a sense of similarity in emotional reactions but it doesn’t mean I want to drive a fucking truck now. That’s just shallow shit.
    And dude, I have no idea how you escaped the heightened libido. In every sense of T, I find that odd simply from a medical perspective as that is just a basic physical response. I don’t want to be presumptuous here but I would be inclined to say that either your T levels are lower than most or that there are underlying emotional issues around sex that you are not dealing with.
    I know that sounds huge but I’m simply saying it because in every guy who’s had that response that I’ve met, that’s typical of not having a heightened libido. Not trying to be a dick, just trying to perhaps point out something that’s common.
    So in conclusion, agree with most of what you said but please don’t tell guys it doesn’t change who you are at the core. Of course it does. You’re a different person now. Same memories, same traits, but your emotional responses within all that change. It’s being self aware that’s the key because that is what will inform you on how to proceed within those ranges of emotions. For Chaz, who is obviously not the most self aware guy and proves it by simply not recognizing that saying shit like that is stupid, he doesn’t realize that this feeling of “zoning out” isn’t that women’s conversations are grating, it’s that people with higher testosterone levels focus differently. If he perhaps realized that, he would recognize that his emotional response in context with his now physical response to being unable to focus is his own issue, not that women are grating. This is all about not being self aware!
    You will change. Don’t fool yourself. It’s basic psychology in connection to a new hormone taking over your body.

  14. Faggot Boi says:

    Hey Lucas,

    After talking to more trans guys who have taken testosterone, I do think that many people experience more emotional/mood changes than I did, so I don’t disagree with you here. I think the two questions, then, are 1. How can we really know where the boundary is between personality changes that are truly hormonal vs. personality changes that have to do with a radical shift in social positionality – being seen and treated as a male? and 2. Is a change in emotional response a change in one’s personality or core self?

    I certainly did not say that I didn’t experience an increased sex drive on T – that would be far from true! Someone else wrote in saying that, and yes, I do think your tone is presumptuous in terms of you telling him that either his dose is off or he has psychological issues with sex.

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  16. andrew says:

    I am known to cry often but just after I took my first shot, I experience an inability to cry. I am more calm. I feel something going up upstairs in the brain that is changing how I think, feel, and react but that is just about all i can say now. I have lived with depression for so many years with constant crying after a break down I had in 2006. I am so tired of crying. This is a relief and to know I expect the changes however my body reacts to T at its own pace as everyone reacts differently to T. Even with problems in my life, I feel relief.

  17. steve says:

    Hey guys
    Thanks for calling chaz bono out….I am happy he found himself, but he is a mysoginitic pig…forgive any misspellings. Now i can too be a pig, my fiance tells me so and i know it…however my feeling about women have never changed…everyone is equal to me….and the talking thing, i know guys who cant shut up
    Now i have been on T for over a decade, and if anything it has made me more confident as myself. I am a good man, and all the brothers i have met so far are too. who you are as a man depends on you….No one else can tell you what kind of man you should be. Gut check yourself…what do you believe makes a good man?

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