Hormone therapy involves blocking the body's sex hormones and/or replacing or supplementing these with a different sex hormone or set of sex hormones. Sex hormones include estrogen (aka oestrogen), progesterone and testosterone. Blockers include antigonadotropins such as leuprorelin.
Many nonbinary, genderqueer or gender variant people opt not to undergo hormone therapy, or to follow a full hormone therapy regime equivalent to binary transition. However these are not the only options.
Some people take a low dose of their desired sex hormone, possibly combined with a hormone blocker. This may be intended to allow them experience changes very gradually or may be intended as a 'maintenance dose' designed to be the minimum required to maintain the strength of bones, hair and nails.
Each sex hormone has both permanent and reversible effects. Some people opt to take hormones until permanent effects (such as voice deepening or the growth of breast tissue or facial hair) are achieved and then stop so other nonpermanent effects are reversed. Some may combine this with hair removal or surgery to also remove some of the permanent effects, perhaps to achieve a more androgynous or gender neutral appearance, or to reduce gender dysphoria.
Some people opt not to combine hormone therapy with the equivalent binary social transition, or to socially transition in order to access hormone therapy from medical gatekeepers, then later 'de-transition' or 're-transition' to their preferred social role or presentation. This may also occur as an unplanned consequence of following whichever aspects of transition best minimize both social and physical gender dysphoria.
Suppression of natural hormones
See main article: puberty blockers.
Puberty blockers are drugs that postpone or temporarily suspend puberty in children and teenagers. They are used for transgender children, including those who identify as nonbinary, to stop the development of features that they consider to mark the wrong sex, with the intent to provide transgender youth more time to explore their identity. the studies that have been conducted indicate that these treatments are reasonably safe, and can improve psychological well-being in these individuals. In 2019, a study in the journal Pediatrics found that access to pubertal suppression during adolescence was associated with a lower odds of lifetime suicidality among transgender people.
One way of achieving an androgynous look through HRT is by depriving the body of testosterone. There are several ways to do so, which will be listed in this section. Keep in mind that this has health risks and you shouldn't do it without first talking to a professional.
- Progestogens: a high dose of progestogens will decrease testosterone levels by a 70% to 80%, which is a significant decrease (albeit not in the average female range). This is less than GnRH analogues, which can decrease circulating testosterone levels by 95%.
- Surgical castration: gonadectomy is the surgical removal of the gonads (primary reproductive organs). This process, however, is not reversible and results in the permanent loss of the testes and sterility.
- Low doses: a lower dose of some HRT medications will result in partial demasculinisation.
Risks of testosterone deprivation
Testosterone deprivation is not recommended by itself, because it will result in estrogen deficiency (because estradiol is produced from testosterone). Estrogens are necessary for both male and female bodies, and a deficiency of this hormone will eventually develop osteoporosis, as well as hot flashes, mood and sleep issues, sexual dysfunction, and accelerated skin ageing. The risk of weight gain, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and dementia is also increased. There are some ways to avoid these risks:
- Selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs) will reduce bone density loss and osteoporosis risk. However SERMs will also increase testosterone production in AMAB bodies with low T production (not taking into account HRT).
- A low-dose estrogen supplement is much safer than SERMs, but the dose required to avoid bone density loss is enough to cause full feminisation.
Suppressing masculinizing and feminizing hormones in adults
Possible options for folks who want to suppress both masculinizing and femininizing hormones at the same time are described in the Mad Gender Science Wiki.
Feminizing hormone therapy
Regular male-to-female hormone replacement therapy (HRT) has the goal of reducing testosterone and increasing estrogens until the level of an average AFAB body is reached. This is done through the administration of estrogens, which also reduce testosterone, allowing for physical feminisation, and sometimes with antiandrogens or progestrogens, which decrease testosterone in case the estrogen therapy wasn't enough on its own. Medications like estradiol in their full doses cause full feminisation (including breast development), and some nonbinary people might not mind these changes. This article, however, will deal with transfeminine transition where a fully feminine development is not desired.
Prevention of breast development
There are some specific ways to avoid breast development while allowing for the rest of the feminisation process to happen. Possible options for feminizing hormone therapy without breast growth are described in detail in the Mad Gender Science Wiki.
- SERMs (mentioned in the section above) will completely block breast development.
- Topical non-aromatisable androgens (i.e. that can't be converted into an estrogen) applied to the breast will also block breast development, but they are not as effective as SERMs. There is also a risk of the androgen being distributed to other parts of the body and therefore causing masculinisation elsehwere.
- Mastectomy (i.e. surgical removal of breasts) will of course prevent breasts from developing. This is an irreversible option.
- Exposing the breasts to radiation is an irreversible process that might block breast development, although it's not as effective as SERMs. This treatment may increase the risk of breast cancer.
It's worth noting that most AMAB people will not experience a marked breast development regardless of medication. Likewise, breast development will stop and might even withdraw if the treatment is stopped.
Masculinizing hormone therapy
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Possible options for masculinizing hormone therapy without some potentially undesirable effects, such as acne, are described in the Mad Gender Science Wiki.
- Testosterone: testosterone will prevent periods (although the changes won't be immediate). The recommended dose will change depending on the person.
- Progestogens: these will also prevent (or, at least, decrease) periods, although they are not as effective as testosterone. However, they won't cause masculinisation.
- Aromatase inhibitors: aromatase inhibitors increase the testosterone that is already found in any person's body. However, it has menopausal-like side effects (such as fatigue, headache, etc.).
- Selective Estrogen Receptor Modulators: SERMs are not commonly used on transmaculine people for this purpose, as they also cause menopausal-like side effects.
- GnRH agonists: also known as "puberty blockers" within the transgender community, they are not recommended as a long-term solution, as they cause poor bone health.
Methods for permanently stopping menstrual bleeding which are not a form of hormone therapy include uterine ablation, in which the inside of the uterus is cauterized to prevent it from developing or shedding uterine lining, and hysterectomy, the surgical removal of the uterus. Neither of these necessarily prevent other symptoms of menstrual cycles, such as mood swings during premenstruation.
- Stevens, Jaime; Gomez-Lobo, Veronica; Pine-Twaddell, Elyse (2015-12-01). "Insurance Coverage of Puberty Blocker Therapies for Transgender Youth". Pediatrics. 136 (6): 1029–1031. doi:10.1542/peds.2015-2849. ISSN 0031-4005. PMID 26527547.
- "Looking at suppressing puberty for transgender kids". Associated Press. March 12, 2016.
- "Transgender Youth Using Puberty Blockers". KQED. August 19, 2016.
- Alegría, Christine Aramburu (2016-10-01). "Gender nonconforming and transgender children/youth: Family, community, and implications for practice". Journal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners. 28 (10): 521–527. doi:10.1002/2327-6924.12363. ISSN 2327-6924. PMID 27031444.
- Mahfouda, Simone; Moore, Julia K; Siafarikas, Aris; Zepf, Florian D; Lin, Ashleigh (2017). "Puberty suppression in transgender children and adolescents". The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology. Elsevier BV. 5 (10): 816–826. doi:10.1016/s2213-8587(17)30099-2. ISSN 2213-8587. PMID 28546095.
The few studies that have examined the psychological effects of suppressing puberty, as the first stage before possible future commencement of CSH therapy, have shown benefits."CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
- Rafferty, Jason (October 2018). "Ensuring Comprehensive Care and Support for Transgender and Gender-Diverse Children and Adolescents". Pediatrics. 142 (4): e20182162. doi:10.1542/peds.2018-2162. PMID 30224363. Retrieved 23 July 2019.
Often, pubertal suppression...reduces the need for later surgery because physical changes that are otherwise irreversible (protrusion of the Adam’s apple, male pattern baldness, voice change, breast growth, etc) are prevented. The available data reveal that pubertal suppression in children who identify as TGD generally leads to improved psychological functioning in adolescence and young adulthood.CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- Hembree, Wylie C; Cohen-Kettenis, Peggy T; Gooren, Louis; Hannema, Sabine E; Meyer, Walter J; Murad, M Hassan; Rosenthal, Stephen M; Safer, Joshua D; Tangpricha, Vin; T'Sjoen, Guy G (November 2017). "Endocrine Treatment of Gender-Dysphoric/Gender-Incongruent Persons: An Endocrine Society Clinical Practice Guideline". The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 102 (11): 3881. doi:10.1210/jc.2017-01658. PMID 28945902.
Treating GD/gender-incongruent adolescents entering puberty with GnRH analogs has been shown to improve psychological functioning in several domains
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