One of the things I've put off for a while is discussing explicit detail about hormone replacement therapy - mostly because it's a huge subject.
I had been keeping a private HRT diary on my computer (and still do, but the further in I get the less frequent entries need to be, especially as I can put them up publicly here. So, this is my attempt to transcribe those personal diaries into a form.
Rather than a myriad tiny little entries, I am going to begin by summarising the different stages of HRT for me. So each one of these will be a rough break-down of what was happening when, and what some of my feelings were.
I've separated these into parts and sub-parts, and I wanted to begin with a fairly detailed look at what I was choosing to do, and what the process for me to do this was like.
The first period, obviously, came after I accepted my gender identity and began to realise just how badly gender dysphoria had been affecting my life. At first, I wasn't sure what my options were, how they would work, or even if they were real options for me - I had no idea how much any of this cost, how invasive it would be.
Like a lot of people, I came into this thinking it'd probably involve surgery (for a lot of people it doesn't, but then, for a lot of people it doesn't involve HRT at all, either). When I began to research transitioning, I began to read a lot about different reasons for doing so, how they affected people and what the legal state of it was in the Australian state I live in.
After a few days, I had come to realise a few things.
Firstly, that transitioning was somewhat nebulous when it came to just how one goes about being put through it. Everyone I spoke to and every experience I read about began with a GP needing (or, as I found out later - wanting) at least one clinical psychologist to sign off that yes, the patient has gender dysphoria and yes, their decision to undergo hormone replacement therapy was reasonable. But some GPs did it themselves. Others referred you to an endocrinologist (a specialist in hormones & your endocrine system). And I even read up on a few clinics that specialise in it.
Secondly, that much of it was regulated and parts of it subsidised here in Australia, so it wouldn't be prohibitively expensive like it can be for people in other countries.
And thirdly... that I didn't feel I had any choice.
To explain: I had spoken to a few of people who'd transitioned (PS. Deciding on past tense or present tense is a fun challenge here), and read even more in the form of articles and journals.
For some people, a main component seemed to be social. How they felt comfortable acting, and how people treated them, perceiving them as the wrong gender.
Not for me. For me, as with quite a few people I'd seen, it was about my body. I loathed it, and spend every day feeling deeply uncomfortable with it. I couldn't function sometimes. Whether I was skinny or pudgy, groomed in one way or another, I hated looking at myself in a mirror or in photos, I hated how my body felt, and I hated how it looked in clothes. I avoided all situations that required me to wear tight or revealing clothes (so, I very rarely swam, despite loving the water - I was a bit of a nightmare for my parents, though I'm sure they had no idea why i was so scared of swimming lessons).
As I began to realise this, I realisation hit: I can't do this any more.
I decided to transition and go through hormone therapy, because the more I unpacked my own feelings, the more I realised this was damaging me, depressing me and stoping me from being able to enjoy life.
My research had told me that all of this would take some time. Tests, referrals, and probably six or more months with at least one psychologist. So the sooner I started, the greater the chance of this being possible in the near future. And yet the idea of talking to a complete stranger about this... how can that not be scary?
So, realising how terrifying this was, I booked to see a local GP who a good friend had told me helped one of their friends transition in the past.
I booked the earliest appointment I could, not wanting to give myself time to back out.
I didn't sleep the night before. I had come out to a few close friends at this point, but the idea of walking into the office of a total stranger and explaining myself was almost too much.
But I did it, despite being so nervous I threw up that morning.
I sat down and very clearly, very honestly, told him everything I could. I answered every question. For about 40 minutes I spoke about all the things I've blogged about, about my body, my sexual history, my fears, and how I had come to this realisation.
I discussed HRT, showing that I had done my research and knew the risks, issues and costs associated.
"I think you're being amazingly brave," he told me, and sent me off to get a blood test, telling me to make a booking to come back a week after I got it done.
Like everything, this scared the shit out of me. I hadn't ever had a blood test that I could remember - certainly not in my adult life. It's not so much that I had a fear of needles, as that I had... well, erm... a fear that I'd have a fear of needles.
If I was scared before the GP, I was even more terrified before what'd be the first of maybe a half-dozen blood tests over several months.
But, like everything, I just did it, because fears like that are nothing compared to absolute exhaustion I felt feeling so broken in my own body.
A week later, I came back. We discussed my medical history, and he looked up my blood test results. I was healthy, and had no history of anything which could cause a problem with HRT.
At this point, I still had no real idea of what the next stage was, but I suspected it was a bunch of referrals to psychologists - an expensive process I wasn't looking forward to, if only because it sounded gruelling as well as something I knew I'd have trouble affording. But so be it.
"Do you want to talk to someone?" my GP asked me.
I answered honestly. "Not to help me come to a conclusion that's already obvious to me," I said. "But I want to see psychologist to help me through hormone therapy. Anything else would seem irresponsible."
He asked if there was a specific psychologist I wanted to see. I had been researching that too, and on the recommendation of another good friend I had decided on a counselling service - fortunately local once more - that specialised in helping LGBTQ+ clients.
So I got a referral to see a psychologist there and, to my absolute shock, a referral to an endocrinologist.
I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. For someone to bring in all the gatekeeping most of the people I know had been forced to deal with. For someone to say, "Okay, I need you to see these people..."
But no. Instead I had a wait before my first session with an endocrinologist.
About a month later.
I wasn't as nervous seeing the endocrinologist as I was the GP, I guess because I'd been through quite a few things by then, coming out to people - even a stranger, in my GP. But I still wasn't sure what to expect.
I had done a blood test to check all my hormone levels, and had organised to meet up with some friends afterwards at a pub nearby. This made it a bit easier, too.
I was put at ease right away by the awesome secretary at his offices - she complemented me on my nail polish and we had a brief discussion about it.
And the endocrinologist was great. Warm, kind of funny, and very practical.
We went over my blood test results, discussed hormone therapy in detail, and he gave me a physical.
I was lucky, he said - my natural testosterone levels were very low, and my natural oestrogen levels were quite high. During the physical, he even noted that I had signs of early breast development from puberty.
I admit, I went red. Decades of trying to act masculine, hearing this observation still made me feel very uncomfortable for a moment, before I just smiled.
At every point I was waiting for, "now I need letters from your psychologist" or the like.
But that never happened. We sat back down and he said, "So when do you want to start?"
I nearly fell off my chair.
I left the office a prescription for a strong oestrogen supplement and some more blood test forms. He told me to see him again about six weeks in, and to have the second blood test a week before I saw him.
He left it up to me just when I would start, as long as I organised all the sessions around that stuff.
Later on, I'd talk to friends about this, and while I now know legally a GP doesn't need a psychologist to sign off on HRT (it's merely a standard practice, especially with young or potentially volatile patients) I was still confused as to how much faster this had all happened than I'd ever dared to hope.
I was in shock. I wandered to the bar to meet my friends and grabbed a beer. They congratulated me and I got the biggest smile I think I've ever seen from one of my friends.
Getting an appointment to see a busy specialist isn't an easy thing sometimes. I knew that he was booked up for some time, and that I'd have to at least partly work backwards from when I could get appointment with him next.
So, after several days thinking about it and comments from a few trans friends saying things like "Oh my god! How can you resist the urge to go fill the script and start today?" (and they were right, I did feel that way), I made an appointment in the new year.
It timed so I had a one-ish week window in which I could start. I nervously went up to a pharmacy and filled the script, getting a short lecture on the side-effects from the diligent pharmacist.
I decided on the 1st of January, 2016.
I would start in the new year. It seemed poetic, and it would certainly make figuring out how long I'd been going through HRT a lot easier.
It would give me time to have seen my psychologist a few times, to ensure I was comfortable with her, and begin to figure out everything I needed to do.
But that was all about a month away by this point, and I began to build up fears in my mind.
Not that I was making a wrong choice, mind - I am still more sure of this (more so now I'm months in) than I have been of any life decision I've ever made. I was just nervous because... how could you not be?
I was about to start taking hormones that would fundamentally change my body over time, and I had no idea how effective it would be. What would I look like in a month? Three months? A year? How would I fit socially? I knew the kind of awful problems trans people faced, and it's hard not to be absolutely terrified of all that stuff being in your future.
Time crawled towards new years, and I organised to have friends around to binge a bunch of movies, as is pretty normal.
The night before New Year's Eve, once more I couldn't sleep. I was nervous as hell. Would I be able to sleep at ALL the next night? Would I be able to enjoy my new year's eve? I'd spend the whole damn day nervous and fidgety and over-tired.
But I had a one week window. My decision to start on the 1st was my own, and I had nobody but me to be accountable for not sticking to that.
So I didn't. On the 31st of December, 2015, I took the first pill, and I got to ring in the new year with friends, knowing I'd started HRT - even if they didn't.