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Saturday, September 23, 2017

You Are Not Your Testosterone Level

Back before I was on testosterone, I was running under a number of assumptions about myself that--although I tried not to say it out loud--I thought validated my transition.  I could reminisce forever about the things I thought validated my transition (I do have excellent spatial awareness) but I want to talk about one thing in particular:  Testosterone.

Before I ever got tested for my testosterone levels, I was running under the assumption that I had high testosterone for a woman... perhaps even immensely high.  Sure, not on testosterone high, but certainly above average for a woman.  My level?  It was... a touch higher than average.  Just a touch, like you could have accidentally bumped a gland wrong and had an extra tiny spritz of testosterone that day.  Not enough to justify my personal assumption that I was some testosterone-driven monster woman for whom transition to male was the obvious option.

I put it out of my mind, and eventually started really noticing the way we talk about testosterone not only in trans male communities but in other places as well.  We talk about testosterone like the level you have is a value judgment.

I mean, we say we don't.  We say things like, oh, "you're a man as soon as you say you are."  But there's still this anxiety related to testosterone levels.  Lots of conversations I've had devolved into people puffing up their chests bragging about their high pre-T testosterone levels, but my favorite is the people who think having an average male level of testosterone is bad.  "My testosterone level was only 600ng/dL today and my doctor says it's fine but IS IT REALLY FINE?!" somebody may ask, having probably stumbled on some obnoxious man health blog trying to get cis guys to buy its supplements.  And other trans guys step in to do some damage control because Aidan #12 thinks a level of 600ng/dL means he'll never get a moustache, but the same thing will happen with #13 next week.

(Clarification: There's nothing wrong with picking Aidan, obviously, speaking as a trans guy with a different but equally stereotypical trans guy name).

Testosterone fever has always been a thing in our communities, but the recent cis male obsession with testosterone levels that escaped from bodybuilder culture is making it a hell of a lot worse, aided by the sweep of advertising for Androgel and other testosterone supplements a few years ago.  As somebody in the wider paleo diet community it's getting hard to navigate past all the gross testosterone obsession, including people suggesting hormone replacement therapy in cis guys.  So you have these whole communities of mostly cis dudes who base their entire dietary and exercise lifestyle on the premise that they should let their bodies behave the way evolution pushed them to also insisting they need pharmaceutical HRT because... reasons?  Because they think having a testosterone level under four digits makes them sick?

Obviously testosterone replacement has its place (and one of my goals in life is to get trans guys who need it on it) but the undercurrent here is anxiety over men becoming "feminized," which is nine out of ten times a huge red flag that somebody is a homophobic and/or transphobic concern troll with large pockets of racism from people who equate low testosterone levels with low fertility and low fertility with "white genocide" and other fake concepts.  These are people who attach absurd, non-evidence-based ideas to testosterone levels, like that having lower levels of testosterone makes a man gay (it doesn't), makes him act in feminine roles (it doesn't), or makes him infertile (testosterone replacement actually makes this worse).

The thing is... you aren't your testosterone level.  People didn't even know about testosterone before less than a hundred years ago outside of some weird experiments injecting extracts of dog balls into themselves, so the idea that this is some yardstick of manliness is patently absurd.  You could have a testosterone level of 15ng/dL and it still doesn't mean anything about who you are.

So don't stress out about your testosterone level (whether you're on pharmaceutical HRT or not).  The number is not the goal, the goal is to get the physical changes you need and to get your levels to a place where you physically feel good.

If you feel good at 600ng/dL?  That's fantastic.  If it genuinely takes more?  That's fine, too.

And if you're like me and eventually feel fine at 80ng/dL?  That's also fine.  Don't let that number mess you up.  It doesn't mean as much as you think it does.