Hormones. Everyone has them, but do you know just how powerful these molecules are? How they affect your entire existence, as you know it? So let’s talk about them, but with a focus on what happens when someone undergoes hormone therapy.
When many people hear the phrase "hormone therapy," the common thought is: It is only for women going through menopause, but we’re going to look at hormone therapy used for transitioning genders.
No matter what your gender, age or race, everyone has both estrogen and testosterone in them. Estrogen and testosterone are the main components in the body that makes a person look male or female. Now what makes a person feel male or female, well, that’s an entirely different post...
In females, the ovaries and adrenal glands produce estrogen and testosterone. Testosterone in females is important for muscle strength, sex drive, and a sense of well-being. Now men have about 10 times more testosterone than females, and males can produce testosterone, in the testes, much faster than females can in their ovaries.
In men, testosterone is chemically converted to estrogen, as the body needs it for maturing sperm and possibly regulating sex drive.
So when a person transitions to the opposite gender, they undergo hormone therapy to adjust the levels of estrogen and testosterone in their body. This essentially puts a patient through a second puberty. While the new hormones can’t totally reverse the effects of the first puberty, it’s the development of the secondary sex characteristics which makes the person begin to physically appear as the gender they identify with.
When males transition to females (MTF), they’re also given anti-androgens. These block testosterone from doing what testosterone is supposed to do and lowers the amount of testosterone overall. This significant reduction of testosterone means the typical secondary sex characteristics in men will start to go away. Muscle mass will shrink, fat will redistribute, and body hair will become thinner and lighter.
In order for the female attributes to develop, transitioning males take forms of estrogen in gels, pills, or shots.
Although hormone levels may reach target levels in the first year of therapy, it takes roughly 2-3 years for the physical changes to occur, but hey, that’s still quicker than puberty.
Females transitioning to males (FTM) are given testosterone, sometimes called T. Does that mean cup of tea? Nope. Ice-T? Still no. Mr. T? Um.. Testosterone - that’s the one. T can be applied topically with a gel or through routine shots. The increase of T lowers the voice, produces facial hair, and increases muscle mass. This increase of T also lowers the amount of estrogen in the body causing the breasts to decrease in size, the shoulders and hips to broaden, and the menstrual cycle to stop.
It takes about one to two years of being on these hormones for a born female to attain male levels of estrogen and testosterone.
So there you have it. Estrogen and testosterone through hormone therapy play a huge role in physically transitioning genders. And since these hormones are so powerful, you should never take hormones without talking your doctor first. I hope you enjoyed this dose of biochemistry for you.
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