A reader writes: “I was inspired to write by a question you posted recently from a parent asking about their genderqueer teenager. I felt like that teenager could have been me if I was born a couple of decades later.
“I started to have issues with my assigned birth gender at about age 13, but the message I got from so many people was that I was just going through a normal adolescent phase and I would grow up to feel comfortable being a woman. I spent some years thinking I must be a trans man, but that didn’t really fit either. By the time I was 19, I was pretty sure I wanted to change my body to create something androgynous and knew that meant taking hormones.
“But this was the 1990s and everything I read and heard about transition was that it was only open to binary-identified people who could complete a ‘real life test.’ My brief experiences with therapy where I tried to bring up gender issues did not go well – my therapists took the ‘normal adolescent phase’ tack I was hearing everywhere else. So I did my best to push my issues aside and accept living in the body I was born with, because I didn’t think I had another choice.
“Fast forward to the past couple of years. I started hearing about non-binary and genderqueer folks who were pursuing partial transitions to achieve androgynous bodies. They were finding therapists and gender specialists who were supportive of this, even managing to get their transitions covered by insurance. I’m re-evaluating my decision not to seek transition in light of this.
“I’m really wishing I could go back and tell my 19-year-old self this was an option, but of course the past is the past. I have to deal with the present, and the present I live in is one in which I know I could have hormones if I decide I want them, but in which I have the weight of nearly two decades of convincing myself I didn’t need that weighing down on me (I’m 37 now). So I guess the question is, if I’ve lived without T for the better part of two decades, do I really need it?
“On the other hand, if I’ve lived without it all this time, but the feeling of wanting it never went away, maybe that means I really do. Complicating this decision is the fact that I am married. My spouse identifies as agender, but to him that means he just expresses himself however he wants and if other people project gender onto him that’s their problem and not his.
“He’d really rather not even think about gender – in that we agree, but unlike him, I feel like I have no choice but to think about it. So he would rather I not spend so much time stressing about gender issues, and he’d also rather I didn’t change my body in any way because he likes it how it is now.
“I know my rejection of binary gender assumptions was a lot of what attracted my spouse to me in the first place, but now I’m taking that rejection in a direction that he’s not comfortable with. I guess the question is, how much should my spouse’s feelings matter? Is it even worth it to risk alienating him in order to get some vague approximation of recognition from the world at large that will never even be a true recognition, since so many people reject non-binary identities anyway?”
There’s a lot of stuff here, but I think that the answers are pretty straightforward. You’re right that “transition” was more binary in the past, and very few doctors would consider giving hormones to someone who did not want to move into a “male” or “female” body with an identity that was considered in line with that.
Things have changed. “Transition” can refer to a wide variety of movements in various directions, and some people are using testosterone to move toward a more androgynous body that is more comfortable and “right” for them.
If you read the post linked to above, you are aware that testosterone can produce changes that you might not want, but if you read the reader comments, you are also aware that many people are very satisfied with what the hormone has produced for them.
The positive thing about your long wait is that you have had plenty of time to think this through and live with the idea of being on testosterone. If you do start it, you won’t be rushing into anything. The fact that you have lived two decades without it, even while wanting it, might mean that you could continue to live the rest of your life without it – but even if that is the case, is that what you want to do?
There are many people who literally cannot live without hormones and/or surgery. That’s why it is a medical necessity for those people. But there are others who actually could live without any medical intervention – they just have to decide what kind of a life that would be.
I don’t know whether or not you should start hormones. But you’ve been thinking of this for almost twenty years and you have not changed your mind. The only thing that has prevented you from doing this is your thought that you wouldn’t be able to get them because you don’t have a binary gender identity – and, later on, possibly because of your spouse.
So I think the question here is not “Can I live the rest of my life without hormones?” I think the question here is “Do I want to?” That’s what you need to think about and answer for yourself.
With regard to your spouse: It would seem that people who identify as agender and don’t care enough about gender to even talk about it or think about it would be more flexible than most with regard to gender expression in their partner, but we can see here that this is not the case.
Your spouse seems to have some very clear, and possibly very narrow, parameters with regard to what he wants his partner to look like. There’s nothing wrong with that. Everyone has a right to their preferences.
However, everyone also has a right to live in the best way possible for themselves. Should your spouse’s feelings matter? Absolutely. But that doesn’t mean that he gets to dictate who you are and how you will live your life.
It’s true that, at the present time, the world at large (or at least the “world” in Western culture) might reject, or at least not understand and not truly recognize, non-binary gender identities. That might or might not change in your lifetime.
But I know a lot of non-binary people who are very happy and would not give up their right to live in sync with who they are, even if it presents difficulties for them. Those difficulties, including rejection or non-recognition, are what they endure to live authentically, and they hope that change will occur and that they will be a part of making that happen.
I’m not saying that you should not seriously think about those difficulties. You have to be honest with yourself with regard to what problems you might face, such as having a harder time getting a job, constant misgendering, and maybe harassment or even threats.
It’s possible that none of those things will ever happen, but to be aware that they could might make them easier to deal with if they do. It’s also possible that your spouse will leave you if you make physical changes. It’s possible that he won’t. It’s another thing that you have to be aware of when you ask yourself if you want to live the rest of your life as you are, without hormones.
I think your spouse’s feelings should be considered in your decision, in that I think you should have long discussions about this, and about what will happen to your marriage if you decide to start hormones. I don’t think your spouse should have a say-so in whether you do or don’t.
He gets to say, “I might leave you” or “I will leave you” or “I’m just not sure of anything.” He doesn’t get to say, “You can’t do this.” You need to hear him out and then take whatever he says into consideration when you’re making your decision.
Remember that you are on no one’s timetable but your own. Thirty-seven is not old. I know people who have started hormones in their 50s, 60s, and even 70s, so there’s no hurry. Now that you know the option is there, you have plenty of time to decide whether or not to embrace it. Good luck to you.
Readers, what do you think?