Hormones and Gender Identity

For a long time, I’ve wondered if there is any connection between my PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome, a condition that produces excess androgen and thus affects my hormonal balance) and my gender identity.  I would be really curious to see some research into PCOS and gender identity, but I can’t imagine such a thing ever actually happening, because the idea that something like PCOS might affect someone’s gender is such anathema to many people.  When you have a syndrome that affects things like your body hair growth and your period (or lack thereof), doctors are very quick to say “don’t worry!  You’re not any less of a woman!”  Honestly?  I wasn’t worried.

I think it’s a sign of how invested we are in gender that doctors would automatically consider the possibility of hormones affecting gender identity an insult.  Maybe it’s just a value neutral thing that might happen to some people.  I would like to see some research on it, and understand it a little better, while knowing that in the end the labels that apply to me and how I experience gender are my own personal choice and no one else’s.  I’m curious what impact not menstruating, having excess androgen, etc., has on me.

I also find it interesting that when it’s the reverse–hormones going along with the gender everyone assumes you are–those hormones are celebrated and praised.  Whoo hoo, all women menstruate, blood is the tie that binds us, we all understand that monthly “curse,” and other variations that I am oh so sick of.  When I identified as a woman, I found that refrain extremely isolating.  Now, it’s more of a physical confirmation that I’m not female, and I’m okay with it.  But it doesn’t really mean anything, nor should it.  Same deal with hormones, which are the explanation for pretty much everything under the sun when it comes to women.  I don’t think it’s all that simple.

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About Avory

Avory Faucette is a queer feminist activist, writer, and public speaker. Zie graduated from the University of Iowa with a JD in 2009, focusing on international human rights and gender/sexuality issues in the law. Hir current work focuses on queer identity, policy, and marginalized identities under the queer umbrella. As a genderqueer person, zie comments frequently on non-binary identity, transgender and genderqueer issues, and media coverage of these populations. Zie also speaks at colleges, universities, and events on transgender and queer issues and conducts trainings on related topics.

Posted on June 25, 2011, in gender and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. But if it’s all about hormones and biology, then no-one has to think about it too hard. Either about what they are (or aren’t) or how others identify (or don’t) and why, and what that means. The vehemence with which some people respond to non-binary people (or those who switch binaries), or even the *mere thought* that sex and gender are not easy, given, Truth-in-binary is telling. Why such importance on how someone else identifies or the fact that people somewhere are having serious discussions about how the binary sex=binary gender thing doesn’t actually fly? WTF does anyone else’s gender identity/biology have to do with them? Some seriously deep cultural baggage.

    • I definitely agree with you that the whole refusal to accept non-binary gender (or switching between sides of the binary) is bullshit. I find it extremely frustrating. I wouldn’t be happy if someone said that because of PCOS I *should* behave a certain way, or if someone did this kind of research that it proved conclusively that X is true of people with PCOS and gender identity. But I would be interested to know if there is a connection–I think biology can impact gender identity and that’s okay. What’s not okay is when someone says that biology determines X characteristic and therefore you aren’t allowed to deviate.

  2. A simple google search showed there have been numerous studies on the relationship between PCOS and Trans identification. There do seem to be higher than average FTM trans people who have never had hormonal treatments who have PCOS. Very interesting.

    I am not transgender, but i am a bisexual female who has PCOS. I have discussed this topic with a close FTM trans friend- my personal experience on being on an estrogen-based Pill, feeling much more emotional and actually depressed. I have known him since he started hormonal treatment, and he says that he definitely noticed feeling slightly less connected to his feelings and even less empathic to the feelings of his girlfriend. Not less loving, just processing emotions differently.

    I have often wondered if my experiences of depression on the Pill were simply myself being unused to feeling as ‘strongly’ as women generally feel. For the most part, I get along with men more easily when i first meet them, and can relate to them more.

  3. I’m a non-binary (neutrois) DFAB adult with PCOS. This was the top result on a google search for “pcos non-binary” so I thought I’d drop a comment to say, hey, I was thinking about this too! Like “supernic” above, when I was on estrogen-based BC I was incredibly depressed and emotional–and it was the lowest dose.

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