One of the biggest milestones for many transgender males is, of course, starting hormone replacement therapy. Your first testosterone shot (or gel) is something you'll remember for years to come, as it often marks the first step in your physical transition. Over time, the testosterone will change a trans man's body to truly match how he feels internally, allowing him to grow more comfortable in his body and within society in general.
Something I've been asked often is how testosterone has affected my libido, as that's something that pops up quite regularly in the resources available for trans folk. When researching the effects of testosterone, nearly every article or blog post will state that one will experience an increase in sex drive or libido after starting testosterone. However, that doesn't seem to be the case for everyone.
I spoke with a couple trans guys to discuss how testosterone and their physical transition have affected their sexuality and sexual relations with their partners. Aydian Dowling is a transgender activist and founder of Point 5cc Clothing and Point of Pride, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to support and benefit trans people in need. Viktor Belmont is an award-winning trans male escort and adult entertainer from San Francisco.
Aydian Dowling (left) and Viktor Belmont (right)
We got down into the nitty gritty of transitioning and any changes they've noticed in their sex lives.
POPSUGAR: What was one of the most exciting things about your physical transition?
Aydian Dowling: I think the most exciting thing about my physical transition was actually realizing that I could potentially become embodied in the physical form of the male gender that I identify with internally. I really felt like my body was never going to actually meet up with how I truly felt inside, and I think when I started to physically transition with hormone therapy, I actually realized, like, "Wow, I might actually be able to live a full life in a body that I actually kinda like." Yeah, maybe it's not biologically male but it's pretty good!
Viktor Belmont: I think the most exciting thing for me was a sense of calmness that came with changes that hormones allowed. Not all trans folks feel the desire to pursue a medical transition, but for me it was a life or death situation. I felt affirmed in seeing my body change, about being referred to as the gender I identified as, and when I saw changes happening to my physical form, every day I felt less dysphoria and more like myself.
PS: Have you ever had a difficult time in explaining being transgender to a sexual or romantic partner?
AD: Luckily for me, I have never had to actually explain this. My ex-girlfriend who I was dating at the time I realized my identity was transgender — she actually let me know that she thought maybe I was trans and that was kind of how I actually discovered it. So luckily I didn't have to actually explain what being transgender meant to them. And then when I met my wife, I actually met her pre-T — pre-hormones — and she had actually previously dated a transgender man, so again, I got extremely lucky in that sense. But, of course, when it comes to being sexual with a partner, everybody's different so I did have to obviously explain with both of them and all of my previous partners, you know, my comfort level in the bedroom.
VB: I've had my fair share of hard times when it came to partners. I've been rejected and denied countless times due to the fact that I'm trans and potential partners getting hung up on my anatomy and identity.
A couple years ago I really stopped giving a f*ck about anyone who had negative things to say about my transition and my desirability.
I became unapologetic about my experience. My identity. Because no matter how much I didn't want it to be the forefront of my personality, by not talking about being trans and my experience, it wasn't servicing me with potential partners. By not talking about it, I was denying a huge part of my existence. I have the privilege of being 110 percent out in my daily life. I live in San Francisco, I've already lost everyone close to me who's had an issue with my identity, and I really don't feel the need to tiptoe around the fact that my experience is different than a cis person's.
Now I just say it how it is. I'm trans. It doesn't make me any less desirable. It shouldn't be the thing that stops you from falling in love with me. Cause if you have an issue with that, maybe you should check in with yourself and really boil down why you think of people as walking d*cks or vaginas and not as a fully formed, unique, beautiful human who you can share wonderful experiences with.
PS: Was there ever a point in your transition where engaging in sexual activities was difficult? Was it due to dysphoria or something else?
AD: Definitely when I first started hormones. After the first couple of months, when I was fully really feeling in tune with my body, I definitely had some issues with sex, and that's just because my body really was — it really was due to dysphoria. My body didn't really feel good. I didn't feel sexy, I didn't really want a lot of areas — specifically my breasts — at the time to be touched or even really seen in any way. I mean, it really was based on dysphoria and just not feeling comfortable and sexy in my body, so then not really even believing someone else could find me attractive. So really being restrictive with how sex went was very much an issue in the sense that I didn't feel comfortable. As I developed feeling more comfortable in my body, I came to be more comfortable in the bedroom as well.
VB: There definitely was. What I'll say is that I'm also an incredibly open person when it comes to sex. I've had to navigate a lot of different scenarios that were either super affirming or really damaging to my mental and physical health. Especially being a gay trans man. I had so much shame around my desires to sleep with men. Specifically because I didn't know you could be trans and gay. There wasn't anyone in media whose body looked remotely like mine that I saw, and I'm more of a top in my personal life. I wanted to be dominant and have penetrative sex with men. I would then think about my body, my anatomy, and just spiral into a pretty dark place.
The amount of men who made fun of me for my anatomy or told me they wouldn't touch my anatomy "with a 10-foot pole" sort of wore on me after a while. It wasn't until fairly recently that a lot of men were open to having sex with me and being open about their attraction to my body, while still affirming my gender identity.
I also had a couple of incredibly affirming sexual encounters with folks who were learning with me. It was awkward at times, but after having a conversation about our wants and needs, I had some really hot, healing, incredible moments that helped shape me into who I am today.
PS: Have you felt that testosterone has affected your libido and/or your sexual or romantic relationships?
AD: So this is actually a funny question because I know tons of people who are like, "Oh my gosh, I started testosterone and I am so horny!" and I don't relate to that. Personally, my sex drive didn't necessarily go up or down when I started hormones. But then again, I also got into a new relationship within four to six weeks of starting hormones, and we all know how new relationships go, so . . . However, a lot of people very distinctly remember starting T and then their sex drive just rocketing through the roof, and I really don't relate to that at all.
VB: Good LORD. I was already a very, very openly sexual person before I started taking hormones. Testosterone made me feel more comfortable in my own skin. I gained a confidence I didn't have before. I think because my presentation started to match how I felt in my heart, I got a swagger that wasn't there before. I feel overwhelmed by a passion so all-consuming the only way to describe it is electric.
As for my romantic relationships, I'm a very tender person. I've always been very sensitive and testosterone didn't affect my sweetness. I'm intentional as a human and value someone's commitment to learning and growing with me. I process emotions differently than I did before. I have to sit with them more. But self-awareness and reflection come easier to me than before HRT.
PS: Have you ever experienced discomfort in a physician's office due to being transgender? How do you come to terms with that?
AD: So, yes, I've definitely felt discomfort in a physician's office. I actually — back in 2010 or 2011 — I really needed to get a gynecological exam and I called (including Planned Parenthood, at the time) numerous, numerous amounts of gynecologists in my area. I very descriptively explained that I was transgender and asked, "Will you see me?" and nobody would see me. Two physicians' assistants very distinctly said that their doctor does not work with transgender clients. Planned Parenthood didn't know what I was talking about. They said that they only serve women. I said that you are LGBT friendly, I'm part of the T. They didn't get it. Again, this was in 2010 or 2011, before Laverne Cox, before Janet Mock, before Caitlyn Jenner, before any of these people.
So I ended up going to a very, very, very, very sketchy abortion clinic in Southwest Florida and I was — I mean, I was treated nicely, but the facility was just . . . it was really scary. The woman was typing on a typewriter and I asked her why they don't have a computer. I'm like, "That's crazy that you have a typewriter, like, look at all those files." And she pretty much told me that, because it's an abortion clinic, they have all their files on paper so that, if they ever needed to, they could burn down the establishment and then all those women who had gotten an abortion would be protected.
So, coming to terms with that was really, really hard. I mean, I put myself in a situation that I did not want to be in because I felt like I had no choice. I did get a gynecological exam from this physician, and I was very scared. It was not any place that I suggest anyone to go to and that was really tough for me. I really learned at that moment that being transgender was going to mean a lot of obstacles in my way as far as health care, and the way I went about that was just starting to really advocate more and more and more for trans health, for transgender awareness and visibility period.
VB: Most of the time. I feel awkward at the doctor's office. I have a chronic illness, I'm a sex worker, I'm gay, I'm trans, and I don't have private insurance. I'm on [the state's health insurance], and my choices are pretty limited in who I can get care with (I'm very lucky to have it and it's a huge reason why I live in San Francisco; health care here for trans folks is amazing), but it does feel a little awkward sometimes.
I go to the doctor if I need hormones, Truvada, and to get tested. Beyond that, trying to talk to a physician about anything feels daunting. Everything seems to come back to me being trans. It's hard to build trust or believe a physician has your health care in mind when someone is tripping on your trans status and kind of blaming all your health problems on it.
PS: Is there anything your current/past partner would say testosterone has changed about your sexual relationship?
AD: Hmm, that's a good question. I'm not 100 percent sure because I don't have my partner with me. I think my wife — I believe that she would probably tell you that, as I've been on testosterone, I've just gotten more comfortable with my body, which in turn has led to more comfort in the bedroom. So I think she would probably just say that testosterone really helped, because in the very beginning I just really — I mean, you could barely touch me in a lot of ways. And now I feel like I'm way more comfortable. I've had top surgery — I'm just a lot more fluid in my expression of sexuality. Just that as the years have gone on with T that I've gotten more and more comfortable with my body because it's falling more in line with how I feel I truly am. My true identity as male.
VB: They'd probably say that they didn't think it was possible for me to want cuddles or makeouts more than I already did. But the testosterone has made me into even more of a giant cuddly, kissy, puppy of a fella.
You can find Aydian's clothing line here. Each purchase directly supports Point of Pride, his nonprofit that provides resources and benefits to trans folks who are struggling for access to health care or trans-specific resources.
Viktor's website provides information about his work, photography, and links to his online profiles. You can also view his video series, MSTRVKTR, a passion project to raise awareness about intimacy between trans men and cis men.