What testosterone does to a girl

In October 2022, a now deleted Twitter account posted a 95-second video. The text read: ‘This is what almost five years of hormones does to a teenage girl. Remember, I’m 21.’

The tweet drew over five million views in a week, quickly becoming discourse. Lamenting their receding hairline and deeper voice, the author insisted that they’re ‘too far gone’ to detransition. They referred to the changes caused by hormones as ‘what’s happened to me’. As a trans woman, this felt to me like a familiar dismissal of autonomy. Stories like this person’s, amplified by right-wing groups such as Genspect, have come into the mainstream with increasing frequency. When describing transition as something they’ve been subjected to, they play into the transphobic spectre of a malicious doctor mutilating innocent teens.

My current hormone regimen goes like this: four sugar coated 2mg estrogen pills, colloquially called titty-skittles, taken four hours apart. A 100mg progesterone suppository before bed. A chalky 25mg anti-androgen twice a week. After taking over two thousand pills in two years, it’s jarring to hear transitioning described as something that ‘just happens.’ My pills are a deliberate pain in the ass. There are unobtrusive options—pellets that last three months, without the need to stick to a demanding routine. But my medication forces me to stop and think about what I’m doing. I focus on the sweet coating, how each tablet goes grainy as it dissolves on my tongue. Transitioning is a constant choice; one I make and remake every single day.

I have to sympathise, though. For a lot of trans women, what the video describes is all-too-familiar. Hair loss. A deeper voice. A five o’clock shadow that grows every six hours: these are things I grew up dealing with. After I started shaving, it was constant. Every stray hair would fill every smooth surface. Dysphoria is needling and attentive. It made me shave two or three times a day. If I didn’t have a razor around, I would pick out beard hairs until my skin blistered. The permanent solution, currently out of my reach, would be spending just under $7,000 and over 120 hours to have each individual follicle burnt with a needle.

‘What happened to me’ was, first, puberty. I dissociated from my body to the point of not recognising it. The milestones my friends celebrated kept happening to a body I’d disowned. I sunk myself into overstimulation to stop any kind of thought. There’s less than a dozen photos of me from that time because I refused to be photographed. Transitioning was, for me, a way of making my body mine. It let me decide what this body was and what it meant. This is what five years of testosterone actually does to a girl.  From the words of Abigail Thorn, trans YouTuber and playwright: ‘the cause is my will.’

The amplified detransition stories are inverted. People are given a choice that many trans kids cannot access. Their autonomy is carved out. Since the choice wasn’t right for them, nobody should be allowed to make it. They plead that kids, and now adults, should not make these choices for themselves. In a world where the US Supreme Court cited the need for ‘a domestic supply of infants’ when denying abortion rights and pushed to ban all gender affirmation for children; in a society where transphobes ally with neo-Nazis to stoke fear of the ‘mutilated’ trans body and of young women tainted by the ‘original sin’ of testosterone, it’s hard not to read these stories as part of a single push.

HRT works slowly. Early on, I’d spend each day staring at my body, waiting for any hint of a change. Every week, I’d pull my housemate aside and ask him if my face had differed. We lived together, so those tiny transformations from day to day were too little to notice. It wasn’t until months after, looking back at photos from before I transitioned, that we could see the difference (having fuller cheeks is such an upgrade). After two months, my skin started softening. After three, I started noticing breast growth. I still get growing pains in my breasts and hips more days than not. Transitioning is deeply embodied. When I need to change a dosage, I feel it before my bloodwork comes in. Persisting for half a decade then abdicating your role in transitioning feels unimaginable to me.

Most people who detransition do so due to social pressures, and need access to the same gender affirming healthcare that trans people do. The most common reason offered in the study was external pressure—from parents or other family, or difficulty getting work. The sample responses feel familiar to what I experienced when transitioning. They show fluidity to detransitioning, rather than desistance. We share a struggle. People stop when visiting family, or looking for work, or to avoid break ups, then seek out care again. These are not, as is so often portrayed, two groups in opposition.

I wouldn’t have been drawn to this video, if it had been just about being conflicted or wanting to detransition. I wanted to believe that the person who made it was coming at the argument in good faith. That they’re twenty-one with bad politics—projecting their experience onto the world. Between drafts, they announced their intention to detransition, after having insisted that testosterone was ‘ultimately the right choice for them.’ At time of publication, they’ve deleted all of their social media presence. I hope they’re engaging with that fluidity, too, finding joy in its ambiguity.

There’s no world where we only make right choices. Living through the consequences of a choice made for me by biology, then enforced by society, was paralysing. A lot of trans people have similar feelings. More and more frequently, there’s a push to stop us from choosing, for stricter gatekeeping. Taking away our autonomy means forcing a choice on trans people. Yet, there is a world where both transitioning and detransitioning are easier, where our healthcare isn’t gatekept and prohibitively priced and where our bodies are accepted no matter how they exist.


Image: Kyle

Nadia Demas

Nadia Demas is a Coptic trans woman from South-West Sydney. Her focus is on relationships between marginalised people and why they break down, as well as gender. She has a bachelor’s of psychology, is a massive dyke and general menace. Find her @kefayakhalas on Twitter.

More by Nadia Demas ›

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate.

Related articles & Essays