Saying Goodbye To My Period As A Trans Man

I’ve seen myself as male since before I knew what the word meant. As a small child, I knew I looked like a girl but I’d tell people I was going to become a boy when I grew up. Raised on the Kent coast in the 90s, I was lucky in that my parents let me express myself – they only made a fuss if my clothes were muddy and ripped, or if I was refusing to be a bridesmaid for a family wedding. As a teenager, I tried my best to crush and ignore the sense that I was male. I told myself I was just a late bloomer and protected myself with snark and counter-culture obsessions. My secondary school uniform involved a kilt, which I was made to wear, and I still have a happy recurring dream in which my teacher realises I’m a boy and gives me permission to wear grey trousers. That never happened. In 2005, I went to university in Scotland. In my final year, I watched a documentary on YouTube about trans kids and realised that being trans myself might not be the end of the world after all. So, after graduating, I talked to my GP back home. Three years later, I started testosterone (T). In my case, the wait was a blessing in disguise. It took me that long to build the requisite confidence and resolve to socially transition and come out to everyone, not just my mum and a few close friends.

"Trans" is how I think about my body, which is only a certain part of me, and things I have to do, like packing, taking T and hitting the gym.

Since my first testosterone shot (T), three years ago this month, I’ve never looked back. Nowadays, I identify as trans as well as male, because that’s my physical reality. "Male" (not necessarily masculine) is a more fundamental part of how I see myself and, thankfully, it’s now how the world sees me. "Trans" is how I think about my body, which is only a certain part of me, and things I have to do, like packing, taking T and hitting the gym. Doing these things gave me a second puberty – a chance to get it right the second time. First, my face and skin became less soft and my voice dropped. I got sweatier and smellier until I learnt how to prevent the latter. My hips very slowly shrank while my shoulders got broader and I could eat a lot more, even as I got leaner. I grew hair all over and now, at last, I grow facial hair. Though I’m paying the price by thinning up top. I also stopped getting periods. A doctor recently explained to me that trans men on T don’t have two sex hormones battling away inside them. Intuitively, it seems like this might be the case. Guys like me often worry about whether our T levels are optimal, imagining that they’re fighting to keep oestrogen at bay. In fact, having enough testosterone in my system sends my body a message to shut down its natal (i.e. present at birth) hormone production. And the same is true of my reproductive cycle. Having spent hundreds of hours watching transition diaries on YouTube, anecdotally I’ve found that most people on a high dose of testosterone stop getting their cycle within a few months. I was lucky; mine stopped after my very first shot. Some people continue getting theirs for longer, for reasons specific to that person’s body. Another UK guy vlogged last year about his period returning out of the blue after two years on T. He was distraught and his solution was a speedy hysterectomy. Many trans men have this surgery, but if and when is up to the individual.

I didn’t feel emotional about getting periods because I didn’t feel much of anything about my body after hitting female puberty

It was great to not get periods anymore. I guess lots of people who get periods – male or female – would feel the same; they’re usually painful, tampons are stupidly expensive and periods remain an inordinately huge social taboo. For me, being trans didn’t make my dislike of periods particularly profound. In fact, I didn’t feel emotional about getting periods because I didn’t feel much of anything about my body after hitting female puberty. At the point when the world stopped agreeing to see me as a boy, I began disassociating from my body. It was a kind of survival tactic.
Having my menstrual cycle disappear felt like every other aspect of physical transition: It made perfect sense. It left me calmer and more grounded, not excited or euphoric. I felt like life could be, in at least one essential way, as simple as it used to be. And I could be physically present again. A key part of that for me was going to the gym. Then I had chest surgery in Florida in April 2014, which healed beautifully, and I landed my dream journalism job, which led to a year-long stint in Australia. Though career success isn’t part of transition, the increased confidence and clarity of mind that made it possible certainly were.

That unmistakable twisting, nauseous cramping... I began to panic

Until the middle of 2015, my transition felt like an uninterrupted blast of forward momentum. Then, one stormy June night in Sydney, I had abdominal cramping. That unmistakable twisting, nauseous cramping. I began to panic, as it returned every evening for the next few days. The cramping lasted almost five days; I could hardly believe it. There was no blood, but after two and half years on T, the shock of that old sensation might as well have been a full blown period. I assumed it must be connected to my reproductive system and more specifically my menstrual cycle. My doctor, however, was not a specialist in trans healthcare and all she could say was my T levels were fine. So, the next couple of months became a prolonged and haphazard reintroduction to female reproductive care, including blood tests and scans of my abdomen to find the cause of the pain. At every appointment I clocked the initial confused look of practitioners, while appreciating their efforts to use gender-neutral language. I let utilitarian talk of ovaries, wombs and cycles wash over me while nodding gently. They were talking about that other body again. 'Just make it go away,' I thought, frustrated. And on top of the creeping return of dysphoria, the physical pain was sometimes agonising. Eventually I wound up at a private gynaecologist's office in the suburbs. She came highly recommended and by that point, I was willing to pay. I sat in the waiting room trying to focus on a podcast, trying to block out the women sitting around me. 'What are they thinking?' A teenage girl to my left whispered to her mother. I shifted on wooden armrests and raised my chin to signal a confidence – one I could not back up. The gynecologist was cool as a cucumber. Within five minutes she gathered some first-hand information and needed no more of my Google-powered theorising. "You’ve got the strongest pelvic floor muscles I’ve ever encountered. Do you go to the gym a lot?" she asked. "I think you’ve been overtraining, sir. You’re having muscle spasms. Lay off the chin ups." Still feeling happiness tinged with disbelief, I got a cramp that evening. This time I wasn’t afraid of what it might signal. I focused on consciously relaxing the muscle and the pain vanished. Rather than laying off anything at the gym, every time the pain came, I breathed and relaxed. Within a week, it stopped happening all together and I realised the bigger problem had been one of perception. The idea of revisiting my internal struggle between male and female had left me almost rigid with anxiety. If I had just been able to relax, I’d have felt fine.

I can’t do anything about how society sees me, but I can change the way I see myself

The whole experience made me think a lot about accepting my whole body as it is, whether or not it changes in the future. I can’t do anything about how society sees me, but I can change the way I see myself, which is enough to protect me from internalising society’s prejudices and norms. Trans or not, most people struggle to make peace with their bodies as adults. But being trans can make that process harder. A year on from sitting in that gynaecologist’s office, I’m back in the UK and I’ve never felt more at peace. The way I see it now, for things my body can’t do that most male bodies can, mine can do something different and rare. For instance, it can potentially carry another life. And that's special. It’s realisations like this that make the tough process of getting here worth it, and make the future – even one that includes temporary periods again, in pursuit of potential babies – seem truly exciting.

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