Experiences of transwomen with hormone therapy.
Wassersug, R., Gray, R. E., Barbara, A., Trosztmer, C., Raj, R., & Sinding, C. (2007). Experiences of transwomen with hormone therapy. Sexualities, 10(1), 101-
Wassersug et al. take up a biomedical phenomenon (specifically, the use of hormone therapies by transwomen, or MTFs, to ‘more fully’ become women) and examine the experiences of the effects of such phenomena on the subjects studied. Whereas the physical and psychological effects of hormone therapies have been studied previously, to the authors’ knowledge, no studies prior to this one have relied upon the experiences of individual transwomen to illuminate both the personal and social implications of the effects of gender-reassignment.
The authors conduct their study using in-depth interviews with 12 transwomen from Toronto, Canada. They used the data management software NVivo to sort these interviews into the following topic headings: “transitioning before hormone treatment, starting on hormones, matching expectations with reality, tracking changes, relationships with health professionals, reﬂections on gender identity, and impact of hormones” (p. 107). After finding a variety of responses in all of these content areas, the authors generally concluded that most transwomen were happy with their decision to engage in hormone therapy, as it reflected a permanent commitment to their gender identification as women. Interestingly, the authors found that most transwomen adopted a Western, binary viewpoint of who they wanted to be as women rather than questioning the gender binary in terms of their own lives. Despite this, many said they had appreciated having the experience of being a man. Moreover, although the subjects ultimately felt confident about their gender reassignment, many of the transwomen studied experienced periods of depression during hormone therapy. Based on the prevalence of depression among the subjects, the authors suggested that it is important for transwomen undergoing such procedures to have access to both primary physicians and mental health professionals who can be affirmative and knowledgeable resources for transwomen during their process of gender transition.
This work contributes to the sociology of mental health and sexuality in a number of ways. First, the authors examine an important site of biomedical intervention—the use of hormones to make transwomen more feminine—from a social (i.e., being able to better “pass” as a woman) and a personal (i.e., subjectively “feeling” more womanly) perspective. This is a new approach to the study of hormone therapy. Previously, studies of transwomen undergoing hormone therapy focused primarily on physiological changes rather than on the emotional experiences of the subjects. In this sense, the authors offer a novel study of the subjective experiences of those involved in a particular biomedical phenomenon. Second, the authors interestingly note that many in the small sample of transwomen interviewed seemed to view themselves in terms of traditional Western women’s roles, rather than as upsetting the gender binary. In this regard, the authors’ findings seem somewhat ambivalent. On the one hand, the authors challenge biomedical research that usually has no psychological dimension, because they highlight the subjective experiences of transwomen undergoing gender-reassignment that may run contrary to biomedical knowledge or expectations. On the other hand, their findings seem to reinforce biomedicalization as a social phenomenon, because they found evidence of (1) transwomen’s essentialist notions of gender and (2) the techno-scientific ways in which gender modified by hormone therapy.