Jules Gill-Peterson reunites with Daniel Lavery in: The Case Of The Barely-There HRT

Jules Gill-Peterson (@gp_jls) is a historian and trans writer. She is the author of Histories of the Transgender Child and writes on Sad Brown Girl, her newsletter.

DANIEL: Hello, my cherub!! 

JULES: The invite! Sorry I had such trouble with it. I was a luddite, which I have no right being at my age.

DANIEL: so it was you who smashed the wool-mill on Atlantic Avenue last spring!

JULES: guilty as charged, I just think a machine can't spin as well as the nimble fingers of a child laborer

DANIEL: if anything, I should think the machines were what produced the conditions that made widespread child labor possible, right?

JULES: oops. and I'm a literal historian!

DANIEL: I mean of course children would have been working all the time, but at least before machine-led weaving, there must have been a limit to how much work they could have done, since it's skilled work that requires a lot of training

I really don't know! I know very little about the history of craft work

or Kraftwerk for that matter

I just feel bad for Luddites getting remembered as vague opponents to technological progress and not embattled union workers

JULES: you're quite right. I unfortunately do know a lot about that history, it being also the history of modern Anglo-American childhood, and well, yep. kraftwerk becometh machine werk.

DANIEL: SHOULD trans people unionize, Jules?

JULES: Danny, trans people need to go on STRIKE.

if only to better bargain with ourselves on twitter

speaking of: we are both transsexuals--one of the T and one of the E persuasion – which naturally means we are very annoyed this week

DANIEL: well, it might be worth clarifying my own affect

I wouldn't describe myself as primarily annoyed so much as interested in providing alternatives to some approaches to HRT that I think are self-defeating and generally unhelpful

JULES: ever the optimist!

I'm only annoyed when I'm tired--and that's because of harassers or bad faith reply-gals, not my kin--underneath that feeling is the genuine interest in offering interesting ideas and challenging all of us to be less self-defeating. well said.

so, tell me, is TESTOSTERONE evil man juice that one must microcode?

*microdose. don't know what it would mean to code it.

DANIEL: that's what people mean when they say "learn to code"

JULES: no one tell Abigail Shrier that "girls learn to code" is actually code for transitioning!

DANIEL: I don't believe it is such a juice, no. I had certainly heard lots of questioning/transmasculine people talk about wanting to try HRT as part of a trial run, or take a 'lower' dose (the 'lower than what' part always remained vague, if I were to guess I would imagine most of them had a sense of 'whatever dose you all give the 'regular' trans guys just cut into halves or quarters and I'll take one of those,' but that's just my guess)

but one of the first times I really heard ‘microdose’ to refer to such an approach was last November, when Alyza Enriquez published A Beginner's Guide to Microdosing Testosterone During Your Transition. I really appreciate their description of figuring out an HRT schedule that suited their needs without much guidance; that's meaningful and important. But I found that title added to that vagueness, rather than introduced clarity! I don’t think this term serves us well.

“I began taking a low dose of hormones to achieve subtle masculinizing effects, a process that I call microdosing testosterone (or “T”).” But lower than what? Subtle as compared to what? And why the use of a term with a specific definition (drug doses low enough to be termed 'sub-therapeutic,' generally for the purposes of studying cellular reactions) to refer to something so subjective?

I think this is an example of this odd (and widespread!) idea that there's a single, universal dose of testosterone for "regular trans men" and that anything less than that is “microdosing.” Often, but not always, “anything less than what I believe to be the ‘standard’ dose is a very new practice” predominates.

JULES: Danny, as a historian of science, may I first herald you for coming with a bibliography, a genealogical story, and taxonomic questions? genuinely love to see it.

DANIEL: I cannot resist being an occasional teacher's pet

the reason this was all on my mind this week is because I was tagged in a similar article for Allure magazine by a young writer who cited me, and requested the editors change the title to remove microdosing (they did)

I thought it was an important correction – I’m troubled, for example, to see on Dr. Mosser’s site the following claim: “Microdosing” refers to taking a lower dose of hormones for hormone replacement therapy (HRT), in this case, testosterone” –

But I didn’t want to come across as discouraging or insensate either: "that's the wrong term, how dare you write about something vulnerable and confusing without knowing the proper terms first, get outta here"

JULES: one thing I want to note at the outset, as a non-T lady, is that this is one of the underappreciated asymmetries of trans masculinity and femininity, or a way our many genders don't actually fit under the umbrella “trans” as similar: femmes don't have this worry of “too much” in the same way mascs do. estrogen and testosterone operate differently in their physiological effects, particularly over time, and so the issue of “I want to slow down masculinization or avoid it” is a problem of masculinity that is at once social (an ethical/political/aesthetic thing where mascs worry about becoming accidental men) and a little bit biological. I have never met a trans femme worried about becoming “too much woman.” but that's a conversation for another day...

DANIEL: I certainly know some trans femmes who worry about physical changes outpacing their sense of preparedness, but I agree this dynamic doesn't seem to operate under the same principles — a lot of people talk about testosterone like it's a runaway train or a bucking bronco

“Oh, you're gonna ride....THE WIDOWMAKER?”

JULES: I'm a big fan of Alyza Enriquez! and I want to heap some praise on their work with qtpoc people to open up new ways of talking about and imagining masculinity as queer and less gatekept. as is often the case, I think the original problem here is generated by medicine: as the anti-Black and misogynoir bullshit with the olympics this past few weeks has reminded us, people have absolutely dumb, made-up ideas about testosterone that have nothing to do with what T does. they become moral panics and modes of control. so medicine decided once upon a time that there is a “normal” dose of T for everyone, which is absolutely not how the endocrine system works, and now trans people have to pick up the pieces of their laziness and disregard for reality. 

DANIEL: I think that’s part of why I’ve felt eager to make it clear that I appreciate and value Enriquez' and Lisner's work rather than solely focus on my resistance to “microdosing,” and especially because so many of us have to become overnight endocrinology enthusiasts just to manage our own care

JULES: but one thing I want to underline that's curious about “microdose” is that it's a drug term! when you take microdoses of, say, mushrooms, it's because you presume the psilocybin will, in fact, tinker with your neuroplasticity, just without intoxicating you. there isn't quite an analogy there with T. hormones require thresholds and time to work.

DANIEL: And the way the FDA approaches microdosing trials is of course distinct from psychedelic microdosing, where any individual person might have a variety of goals/interests/desires in taking a smaller-than-usual or even extremely-small-indeed dose. But if one were actually microdosing T, they would not receive any virilizing effects, since a microdose exists at a sub-therapeutic threshold. 

I think that’s an important distinction, rather than an attempt to split hairs, because at the heart of so much of this is “what are the likely effects of T and how can I best gauge my feelings about them in the context of a wildly transphobic society.” I suspect many people who use the term “microdose” mean something more akin to “having the sense that I am experiencing physical changes slowly enough to pause if I don’t like it.” Which is an internal, subjective sense of autonomy and preparedness, not a difference in milligrams.

JULES: YES

that's what I wanted to ask you more about: the issue here is not so much "is it true T does X or Y" but "what stories are we allowed to tell about why we want or don't want to be men"? why do some queer adventures in straying from the binary have to be a penalty on transsexuals?

DANIEL: and why do so many just repeat uncritically some version of "well, testosterone's really powerful" so often? I mean, it certainly can be, but so estrogen is very powerful! it directs and shapes the body and mind!

JULES: and let me say this, as someone who literally removed the maleness from my body: it's not bad to want to be a man. trans people desiring masculinity is not anti-feminist, or suspect. it's just, like, not the problem we face in the world when it comes to patriarchy. let's not caricature T to assuage our ambivalence about how to be feminists.

I think the “testosterone's really powerful, dude!” discourse is actually about people's deep rooted fear of admitting their desires.

so they sadly try to punish other people--trans men, or their fantasy of trans youth somehow going to a gender clinic and being shot up with T before they can realize all they will ever want in adulthood is to get pregnant and have babies--instead of own up to their own ambivalent desire for something they think might be toxic: masculinity. which they reduce to T because, well, the medical complex and our culture coached them to.

DANIEL: And it sometimes also sounds like the endocrinological equivalent of garden-variety sexism: “T is really powerful and E is [file not found].”

“men are strong and women are doing their best."

“what is a woman? the science simply isn’t there yet.”

JULES: omg how did you know exactly what my cursive tramp-stamp tattoo says?

DANIEL: what was your entry point for the broader conversation about test-driving or half-dosing HRT this week, by the way? 

JULES: I think it was Emily Zhou getting wayyyy too many replies that pissed me off — I am nothing if not a mama bear about my familiars! Her original statement was, “I’m a big proponent of ‘if you feel ambivalent about your gender try cross-sex hormones for a little bit and see what the vibe is’ and I need to remember sometime how extreme that comes across to a lot of people.” truly the kindest tweet

DANIEL: A generous and uncontroversial statement, I think!

It is not dictation that anyone reading it is obligated to follow

JULES: and how much trans speech is taken as dictatorship? every time I say “people should be empowered to have bodily autonomy” I am truly pissed off by the amount of “SO YOU WANT TO FORCE ME TO TRANSITION?” replies. I’m like, don’t lie about my own words that are printed on this website. but also, thanks for telling me that you have a forced-feminization or forced-masculinization fantasy, that's cool — pay a pro if you want, don’t badger me!

[Part II of this conversation will run on Jules’ newsletter later today.]