Editor’s Note: written on 2/14/18
Valentine’s Day is a bit odd in prison. On the one hand you have people that are (understandably) pining for a loved one that they can’t be with, or pining for anyone at all really. On the other, you have that people that have been hooking up, breaking up, and hooking up with someone else all year going boy crazy. Like, scary stalker crazy. And on the other other hand (don’t question my math), we have the folks that do everything but makeout on the sidelines of the basketball court that are (according to them) “absolutely positively not gay.” Of the three categories, the third is the most entertaining, at least to me. Mostly because it’s that third category that hits on me the most.
This year’s Valentine’s day will be more or less the same as any other year for me. Filled with the disappointment of missing the “day after Valentine’s day chocolate sales” (Priorities ordered… check).
It also is the 8 month mark from when I began taking estradiol, so it feels like as good a time as any for me to reflect on what the process of medical transition and HRT has been like for me emotionally thus far.
My emotional transition has been complex, but not nearly as complicated as I had feared. Detailed descriptions of what HRT does to one’s emotional landscape is few and far between. My penpals did an awesome job of sending me what they could on the subject, but even the fairly detailed accounts were kinda light, and they seemed to contradict each other in various ways. This served to heighten my anxiety surrounding what HRT would do to my emotions.
Then I started hormones and what people had written made more sense, but still left something to be desired. I have always had a touch of philosophical introspection and I think I was able to puzzle out a few things based upon my experience thus far, and having read other peoples accounts, plus talking with my gender-neutral penpals that are on T.
I think that a cultural dislike of talking about emotions, the English language not having a good lexicon for discussing emotions, leftover programming from being socialized male, plus there not being any kind of proper study of a “change of affect” in trans people starting HRT has resulted in there being very little guidance for what to expect one’s emotions to do when starting E.
Here’s my first of many attempts to combat all that.
I think of my emotions in terms of a landscape. I don’t become angry or happy or sad, I travel across my emotional landscape into anger-ville, happy-stan or sad-burg. If I am feeling multiple emotions at once, then I just happen to be in multiple places at once in my emotional landscape and that is perfectly okay and normal. Each region has roads that connect them to other emotional regions, like the 6 lane highway between happy and content, or the bumpy dirt track that runs from anger to forgiveness. The deeper I get into a particular region, the stronger the emotion. Between most regions is a band of my base emotional state, melancholy.
I explained all that to be able to say this: estrogen changed the paths, roads, and highways. Not where they run, but how wide and easily traveled a particular road is. Same emotions, same network of roads connecting them, different ease of travel from one emotion to another. I had never taken the almost nonexistent path that leads to “happy tears” before E.
Now there’s a paved road to it from places like “unexpected joy” and “selflessly happy for another person.” My ability to experience these emotions is unchanged, but my ability to move from one to another has. I think this is why so many people report that it becomes easier to feel their emotions, many of their dirt tracks are getting upgraded to gravel and pavement.
The other thing I noticed is that I was forced to learn how to actively manage the emotions that I have always been the most comfortable with. I grew up running on fear. Then I came to prison. Terror is my emotional air, like sadness and pain are my cognac and caviar. (I know I’m messed up. It’s okay, moving on) I am used to waking up and feeling a deep abiding foreboding that develops into existential fear as the day progresses. It is normal for me to appear perfectly calm in the face of a crisis, while being nothing but panic under my skin. E changed that. Now when I feel terror I don’t just automatically “relax” into it for lack of a better term. Now I have to do what normal people do, consciously acknowledge that I am scared, breath mindfully to still my racing heartbeat, and keep one part of my mind for fear, and one part for rational thought. Fear used to be my jam, now I have to work at keeping my mind together when I experience it. I believe I will eventually get back to the point I was at before, but now it will be mastery and not just innate talent.
Each person will have different emotions that they have to learn to deal with. But with the highway losing its carpool lane… I had to adjust my relationship with fear. For someone else it might be nervousness, or anger. Or maybe even a positive emotion?
Perhaps that’s where the risk of depression comes from. Someone that is used to being super happy all the time suddenly finds their relationship with joy is complicated. Of course, a suddenly complex relationship with sorrow could also lead to depression.
Again, this is just a theory based upon what I observed in myself. Maybe I’m onto something, maybe I’m completely off my rocker. Either way, hopefully this helps someone.