me: i can’t.
progesterone: u can, ur ovulating. make baby
me: no, i’m not. i take u for better breast development
progesterone: yes, big boobs...
progesterone: ...for the baby
me: but it won’t—
my bussy: hey hey, i say we hear progesterone out on this one. it’s worth a try
A conversation with my therapist last weekend got me thinking about something. Growing up AMAB you only ever hear about two aspects of the menstrual cycle, the ones that are inconveniences to men: periods, and PMS.
No one ever talked about the other parts of the cycle, the ways that the other phases affect female mood. I heard a little bit about how body image tanks at the end of the luteal phase, but I never heard about how body confidence spikes just before that. I heard a tiny bit about the way libido rises during the follicular phase, but nothing about how it inverts after ovulation. I learned from my wife that there can be a surge in sex drive in the middle of the period.
But the thing I never heard anything about is the way it feels in the last week of the follicular phase and during the ovulatory phase. Behavioral studies on cisgender women have shown that this stage of the cycle them to react stronger to dominate and virile mates. It influences female social behaviors in subtle ways, making women more flirtatious and promiscuous, attention seeking. This feeling manifests as an intense need to have your love language fulfilled, and a desperation for connectivity. It’s basically your hypothalamus saying “hey, there’s an egg coming, go get fucked so we’ve got some sperm on hand.” This experience is separate from sex drive, however. It’s more of a thirst. It’s the closet thing humans have to being in heat.
I had never heard of this until I started having my own period cycle roughly 10 months into HRT, ago after starting progesterone. I stumbled upon a small blurb while reading a phases guide in a period tracker app that mentioned the follicular cycle causing neediness and a desire for closeness. This is one of the aspects that I wrote about previously in my post about why trans women can have periods, but it wasn’t until this month that I finally found a paper explaining where these feelings come from.
Conventional medical knowledge about the menstrual cycle states that all period symptoms are the result of rise and fall of estrogen and progesterone, because that has been what was observed in cisgender women ever since humankind learned how to measure those hormones. However, trans women do not experience a rise and fall in tune with their cycle. If you’re on pills then your estrogen level remains constant, only rising and falling across 12-24 hour increments. If you are on shots, it’s likely weekly or bi-weekly. Progesterone is taken daily. Our period symptoms cannot be explained by gonadal hormone levels, it isn’t influenced by our hormone medications, it’s directly caused by the hypothalamus’ own internal clock.
In preparation for ovulation the hypothalamus begins to secrete oxytocin and vasopressin into the rest of the brain. This stimulates stronger maternal feelings and pair bonding urges. It encourages the consciousness to seek out a mate, and that encouragement increases the closer and closer you get to ovulation. This process typically kicks in three to four days before ovulation will occur (sperm can survive in the womb for up to five days, so this creates a window of overlap).
When this phase of my cycle hits me, rationality goes out the fucking window. Every single big fight I have had with my wife in the last two years has happened when my brain is trying to trigger ovulation in ovaries that aren’t there. I get so desperate for attention that my depression has a field day. I feel starved for connectivity with my wife, I want all her attention, I want all her desire, without having to ask for it. I get jealous of the kids for how much of her time they get over me. I start to catastrophize our relationship. Rejection feels like the end of the world, and my RSD goes through the roof.
It is the most dangerous and emotionally painful time of every month. We’ve come to call it Danger Week because of how fraught my mood becomes. My period just makes me feel sad, but this makes me feel tragic. When cis spouses talk about their transitioning wives turning into teenagers, odds are this is a big part of it. No one ever warned me this would happen.
I feel so sorry for my poor wife who has to endure this awful awful part of my transition. We have had so many nights full of tears. We always recover a few days later, but god… it is like setting your house on fire every time. She has forgiven me more times than I can count.
I’ve had many conversations about this with my therapist, since it is such a constant source of stress in marriage. This last weekend, frustrated at having to try to dance around the niceties of being a therapist, she finally just said “Fuck it, I’m going to be frank,” and gave me a dose of truth.
Every woman has to learn how to manage the feelings that come from their cycles, because society doesn’t allow us to ever not be in control. The patriarchy doesn’t accept hormonal irrationality as an excuse, you just have to deal with it, or else you would never get anything done.
The problem is in the timing. Cisgender women go through this learning curve as teenagers. The explosions, the meltdowns, the angst, it all happens at a time of ones life with much smaller ramifications compared to having to go through this as an adult. Except… trans women do go through this as adults. We don’t have the luxury of being angsty. It isn’t going to go away, we have to suck it up and learn how to endure it, often through a lot of painful lessons.
I’ve asked on my facebook and twitter accounts if any AFABs out there ever got told to expect this. So far the reaction I’ve heard has been a resounding “Nope!” Female reproductive education is pretty weak in a LOT of cultures (not just the US), and nobody tells ovary owners jack shit about what to expect beyond the blood (and sometimes not even that). Trans women get told even less. Pity the post-op trans girl who has to learn a whole lot about owning a vagina really quickly.
Knowing what was happening early on would have helped me a lot. It wouldn’t have stopped the meltdowns, it still hasn’t even that I know they’re coming now (Clue shows me my fertility window and literally puts a starburst on the worst day), but it would have helped to buffer them early on.
And to think, men believe women can’t control their emotions. What a joke.