The internet is home to so many blogs and videos of trans people documenting their transitions: binding and tucking tips, clothing advice, surgery and hormone updates — and all the things that surprised them along the way.
But the biggest surprise to me was how good going on testosterone made me feel.
It was my second time at the Planned Parenthood in Springfield to talk about going on hormones, so I had an idea of what to expect. The staff did a finger prick to test for red blood cells, took me through a short questionnaire, went over the various changes that come with going on testosterone, ran through at-home subcutaneous injections and sent me on my way with a prescription.
The pharmacy didn’t have the right size syringes on hand, so I had to wait a day before my first shot.
The next night — after making a creamy pickle soup recipe off TikTok with one of my roommates — we sat in the bathroom, going over the YouTube video explaining subcutaneous (aka sub-q) injections that Planned Parenthood referred me to. I went back over a couple parts, and once we felt like we had the gist, set everything up so he could inject 0.25 mL — Planned Parenthood’s starting dose — of testosterone into my thigh.
All in all a pretty easy experience, even for someone who doesn’t love needles.
But I’m lucky with where I went to for care, that Planned Parenthood was accessible through my insurance and that my family is supportive enough of my being trans for there to not be conflict when the insurance charges appeared.
“Accessing gender-affirming care in Eugene has been a little bit difficult for me because my doctors didn’t know what that was,” says Lane Duckett, a gender nonconforming Eugene resident and University of Oregon student. “I feel like there’s not a lot of medical training involving nonbinary or gender nonconforming people, so it’s been difficult to find doctors that understand what I’m trying to do.”
Duckett says they understand that some parts of medical transition have to fit within certain binary bureaucratic practices in order for gender-affirming care to happen. But they say their experience accessing gender-affirming care in Eugene has largely felt like doctors “trying to put nonbinary people into a binary,” a practice that directly contradicts their identity.
“I think there’s a really big lack of understanding of any gender-diverse people, especially in Eugene,” they say.
Beyond a lack of support from doctors, trans folks have to reach a point where they are comfortable enough in their identities to actually pursue gender-affirming care. Some people know from a young age that they want to transition in a certain way, but I didn’t reach a point where I could admit to myself that I wanted top surgery — the colloquial term used for chest masculinization surgery — until about five years after I’d admitted to myself that I’m genderqueer.
And then there’s the arduous process of navigating a medical system that seems determined to throw as many roadblocks in your way as it possibly can — from confusing administrative red tape to prohibitively high healthcare costs.
While former UO student Ian Miller was able to find supportive medical care in Eugene, they note a similar pressure to conform to a gender binary in medical settings. “It’s definitely been a challenge to navigate how I want to identify versus what I need to be seen as legally or medically to get the care I need,” they say.
While Miller has updated their state ID to the nonbinary “X” gender marker, Duckett says the Biden administration’s decision to allow Americans to select the “X” marker on passports gave them pause.
“With all the attacks on trans rights around the country,” Duckett says, “that makes me a target. And you kind of have to think about that.”
The past few years have seen a dramatic uptick in anti-trans legislation, with 18 states passing bills that ban trans girls from sports and other states restricting gender-affirming medical care — especially for minors. States like Florida have moved to ban Medicaid coverage for gender-affirming care more broadly, while Missouri lawmakers discussed expanding the state’s youth trans healthcare ban to everyone under the age of 25.
As trans historian and author Jules Gill-Peterson puts it in an interview with the Gender Reveal podcast, bills targeting trans children follow a trend of “deliberate attempts to destroy disliked populations or politically targeted populations by going after their kids first” — similar to the goal of the boarding school era for Native American children, which aimed to eliminate Indigenous cultures through genocidal family separation and cruel, assimilationist policies.
Beginning to access gender-affirming medical care at a time when trans identity is hyper-visible and highly politicized is weird, to say the least.
Despite living in a state where trans identity isn’t being challenged, Miller says it’s scary to watch anti-trans bills pass across the country. “It’s this constant paranoia and fear,” they say, “of ‘When will I be next? Am I somewhere that’s going to be safe forever? Am I in a safe haven? And also am I able to travel? Am I able to live a normal life and leave where I’m at right now?’”
But, Miller says, it’s worth it. Despite only being nine months on testosterone and still awaiting gender-affirming surgery, they’ve started to work past some of the discomfort they’ve felt with their body. “For the first time ever, I can look in the mirror — and I have been,” Miller says. “And I’m comfortable. And I feel good. And I’m confident. And I love the way I look.”
While they still have moments of dysphoria or hyper-scrutinizing their body, they say testosterone has changed their perception of themself in a way they weren’t expecting. “I didn’t realize how much coming to terms with my gender and figuring out who I was would make me feel relaxed and would get rid of general anxiety,” Miller says.
I’ve had a similar experience in the six months I’ve been on testosterone. In retrospect, I’ve spent most of my life experiencing varying levels of dissociation from my body — something I didn’t realize until it went away after I started testosterone.
Somaya — a social media influencer I follow on Instagram, who goes by the username @somayamusic — has a post from 2021 Trans Day of Visibility that I think sums it up well. “Part of the reason it took me so long to realize my gender identity is because I only ever heard trans people being talked about in terms of their dysphoria and how difficult their lives were,” they wrote. “In my case, I couldn’t specifically pinpoint anything I was feeling as dysphoria because it was all I knew […] It wasn’t until I discovered the feeling of gender EUPHORIA, literally one of the most positive feelings, that I started to better understand this part of myself.”
That’s what was missing from my earlier experiences as a trans person; despite putting language to the fact that I’m genderqueer when I was 14, I don’t think I pinpointed that feeling of gender euphoria for another five years.
“For me personally, it’s the fluidity, and it’s allowing myself to not be pinned to one box,” Duckett says when I ask them about their favorite part of their gender journey. “It really opened up a world of presentation and self-identification.” The other part, they say, is the community they’ve found: people with shared experiences who support one another and give each other space to express themselves.
It’s freeing to allow myself to follow that sensation, to know that the choices I make about my appearance — whether they’re medical or just wearing certain clothes — are because I want to do them.
My little mustache that’s getting darker each day is there because I want it to be, my voice is dropping because it makes me feel good and I paint my nails because I think it’s a fun way to express myself.
Every Tuesday, before I do my shot, I take a second to check in with myself, to ensure I’m making the choice that feels right. And, right now, I’m basking in the first six months of making that choice every week, of changes to my body that feel less like going down a checklist with a doctor at Planned Parenthood and more like a journey in self discovery and self-compassion.