Now that it’s barely in my system any longer, I’m beginning to appreciate the role of testosterone in human history. Or at least as much of it as I can intuit from its effect on sports fandom. Hear me out here. It sounds silly, but I’m actually kind of serious.
Before transitioning, one of the many things I tried to use as a proxy for the repressed emotions of gender dysphoria was fanatic devotion to my chosen sports teams. I didn’t really fit the normal “guy” stereotype for being a super-fan in any sense except the emotional intensity I invested into the games. I really, intensely cared about the outcome of each game – and especially the outcome of the season as a whole. If one of my favorite teams lost I reacted like someone close to me had died. E learned over time to leave me alone and keep the kids away following any… and I mean ANY… loss by one of MY teams. This seems a little silly to me now, but it was pretty serious stuff in our household. Any time it means the difference between yelling at your kids or hugging them, it’s not a minor thing.
And then came transition. And with transition came a hormone adjustment which stripped nearly all the testosterone out of my system (last checked I was in the very low normal range for testosterone in an adult female). And since I didn’t realize this would change anything about my sports team emotional ride, I’ve been prepared for the same thing. But then… it hasn’t happened. And I’ve got three solid examples now to draw upon for evidence.
This summer I was happily following baseball through the Minnesota Twins. The Twins had a great season, made the playoffs, there was talk of a World Series run… and then they promptly lost three straight games to the New York Yankees, ending their season. I was disappointed. But that’s all. No big emotional toll there. Life went on no worse than if I had disliked a particular episode of any other favorite television show.
I mostly chalked that up to the fact that baseball is not my favorite sport. That would be football (the American kind for you readers from elsewhere). And football season was already underway. My favorite pro team and favorite college team both looked poised for big seasons. Surely this explained why I wasn’t so impacted by the baseball loss.
The pro team, the Minnesota Vikings, faltered first. They lost their first game. Then their second. Won their third. Lost their fourth. A horrible beginning. And in each case I shrugged it off with no more serious an effect than I did with the Twins.
Once again I chalked this up to another factor. Pro football was not my favorite anyway. That would be college football. And my favorite team there was undefeated and rising fast in the polls. With my busy life I supposed I only had time to truly care about this one team.
And so, today, the mighty Nebraska Corkhuskers lost yet another heartbreaking game to the Texas Longhorns, dropping four perfectly placed potential touchdown passes on the way to a single touchdown loss. Many shouts and gasps were uttered as hopes shattered over the course of a few hours. Devastating.
E grew very silent and shooed the kids from the room. Surely, the expected emotional avalanche was about to ensue. I was prepared for it as well. I had been really into the game just like always. And it was a game I had really wanted them to win.
But suddenly I realized… even before the final seconds ticked off the clock… I was already getting over it. It had been a good game. It was exciting. My team was still good. They made too many mistakes, but they’d live to play another day. Why let it ruin my mood? And just like that, I was over it. There was no bout of pouting or “leave me alone” isolation. I not only wasn’t emotionally broken up over the loss, but it didn’t even make sense to me that I should be.
I was suddenly of a mind to remember how my mom and sister – big football fans both – reacted to such things so differently than my dad and brother the whole time I grew up. They’d cheer just as wildly as the games were played. They’d cheer the big wins and curse at the losses (though perhaps more politely). But then… they were over it. Time to get back to the important things in their life. Some game played by other people – no matter how beloved – just didn’t have a serious effect upon them after it was over. Dad and brother (and myself in former days) carried the joy or pain from the wins and losses with us much more tangibly and personally and far longer.
I had never before associated these different reactions with hormones. But I’m starting to think they play a major role. Because I spent forty years watching this stuff with lots of testosterone in my system, during which I reacted just like the men in my family – even though in recent years I was well aware of my transgendered nature, and didn’t feel like I must act that way any more. But just about exactly one year since going on a full dose of female hormones it’s just… different now. Now I’m reacting much more like the women in my family, and it’s not due to any kind of conscious effort to change on my part. Heck I sort of tried to get devastated over the loss today, and I certainly expected to. But it’s simply not there anymore. I simply can’t make myself feel with the intensity I used to feel about the results of a competitive game played by third parties. It’s still exciting to watch and to cheer for. But it’s no longer personal to me or my life.
Now carry that thought into how it might relate to human history. I happen to believe (thought it’s surely an arguable point) that competitive sports fill a social role in modern society much like wars between tribes, cities, and nation states played in the past. Competitive sports provide an acceptable (and less destructive) channel for the same kinds of natural urges to compete and dominate and establish honor which seem universal to human societies across history and culture.
If my first hand observations are correct about the effect of testosterone upon the importance of competition – and especially the emotional importance based upon winning or losing – then just imagine how many wars must have been fought for reasons not all that unlike feeling upset over ones’ team losing a football game.
For all the talk about estrogen making one more susceptible to emotion, and for all the stereotypes about women being more sensitive and emotional in general, I frankly don’t think most women have the faintest idea how seriously and deeply men are driven to be emotionally invested in competition. The depth of caring that goes into competitive results seems to ride along with testosterone level.
So maybe it’s time to stop blaming Helen for launching those thousand ships.