The following two questions are actually quite different, but there was enough of a connection that I was able to pair them under the same headline. So to keep the Ask Matt questions from getting too backed up, that’s exactly what I did.
A reader writes: “I’m a mid-twenties FTM (four months on T) and a devout meathead. Now I KNOW you’re not a doctor, but I was hoping I could have some input regarding body fat during transitioning. At what point, if ever, are transmen able to use the male standards for body fat percentage? And is there a general point in time when body fat redistribution steadies? I’d appreciate any technical info or just personal accounts. Thanks!”
This is an interesting question, because I have wondered this myself on occasion and have never thought to ask my doctor. Although I no longer work out to any extent, when I look at Body Mass Index and Basal Metabolic Rate calculators online to try to figure out where I should be weight-wise or what a realistic calorie intake is, I always question whether I should enter “male” or “female.”
Testosterone has given me a little extra muscle mass, which is waning in my golden years, and I went through a period of time when I worked out frequently and added some more, or at least enhanced what I had. But even without a lot of muscle, it seems that T does have some influence over metabolism, and it definitely influences body-fat distribution, so it would seem to me that “male” would be an appropriate selection based on that.
However, I still have a “typical” female bone structure, and my forty-two years with minimal testosterone and a lot of estrogen had a strong influence on my body type and structure, and some of that no doubt remains. Based on that, do I choose “female” when trying to decide how many calories I should have or what my “healthy” weight should be?
I don’t know, and I hope someone out there with medical or health and fitness training can tell us. I would be inclined to say that, given your age, the fact that you are a muscle guy, and the fact that T, combined with working out, is going to greatly influence your muscle mass over time, you should probably be able to use “male” standards after six months to a year on T.
T tends to do its most significant work in the first two years, with five years being a pretty good marker of getting what you’re going to get, although changes can continue to happen throughout life (I didn’t start losing my hair until year eight). But my experience has been that most noticeable body-fat redistribution will probably occur in the first couple of years.
However, I could be way off base with this muscle-mass thing, and I really am curious about what is appropriate. My “hot body” days (at least as a guy) ended before they began, but I am still baffled by what constitutes “male” and “female” on those body charts. So I hope readers will have some answers for us, or at least be able to tell us their own experiences and what they have done and why.
A reader writes: “I am pursuing a degree in Mechanical Engineering from a public university and am worried about paying tuition, room and board. There are thousands of dollars in scholarships available specifically for female engineering students. While my sex is female, I do not identify as such. Do you think it would be dishonest to accept those scholarships? I am not out as trans on campus and not sure if I would want to be any time soon.”
This is a tough one because there are some ethics involved, as well as the risk of the usual complaints and finger-pointing – “You can’t have it both ways. You can’t be a man when it suits you and a woman when it suits you. You can’t benefit from being one and then turn around and benefit from being the other.”
Besides my response of “Why not? This almost never happens, and the fact is that trans people (and genderqueer and bigender people) rarely benefit in any way, so maybe cut us some slack once in a while,” I would say that, for the purpose of these scholarships, it appears that you are female.
You were designated female at birth. From what you describe, my guess is that your birth certificate, your driver’s license, your school paperwork, and your student ID have you as female. You possibly even go by your birth name at school, which, odds are, is some variation of a traditional “female” name.
You feel male or masculine inside – or at least you do not feel “female.” What you are going to do about that, if anything, appears to be undecided at this point. And even if you come out as trans, that does not mean that you are going to transition to male, either socially or medically.
You might transition at some point in your life. You might not. You can’t base your life right now on what might happen at some unspecified time in the future. The only thing you can act on is what exists at this moment in time. And at this moment in time, you are legally female.
These scholarships generally exist in an effort to lure talented women who might not otherwise be able to afford it into “traditionally male” fields. It seems to me as if you qualify, and I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t go after them.
If you had already socially and/or medically transitioned, were living full-time as a man, and tried to slip by with one piece of “female” paperwork that you just hadn’t changed yet, the ethical considerations would, in my mind, be muddier (regardless of my above “why not?” argument). At that point, you would have the privilege that these scholarships were meant to offset.
But that’s not the case now. And if you get one of these scholarships, later transition, and find yourself happily ensconced in the life of a male mechanical engineer who has not been discriminated against for being trans and who happens to have some money, you can always donate to a similar scholarship to benefit a female or trans student who is struggling.
For now, my opinion would be that you should apply for the scholarships. What do readers think?