An excerpt from Abigail Shrier’s “Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters,” published June 30.
Alex Bertie, a British female-to-male YouTuber, and perhaps the most popular (he has over three hundred thousand subscribers), vlogged about his first year on testosterone: “This is the day I never thought would come,” enthused boyishly adorable, scruffy-jawed Alex. “I’m officially one year on testosterone. Before hormones, I was struggling with severe self-hate, jealousy, and just the urge to isolate myself from everybody Now, a year after starting hormones, I couldn’t be happier. The changes from testosterone really have improved my quality of life and just made such a difference in shaping my future.”
His voice has deepened. He’s sprouted body hair and a beard. His shoulders are broader, his arms are bigger, his jaw squarer. His fat is redistributed (less in the thighs and hips). And perhaps most thrilling of all: his period—gone. “Luckily, after two months on T, mine completely stopped, thank God. Within the last year, I also had top surgery. Now this is its own thing. I can make a million videos about how much top surgery has helped me. But hand-in-hand with hormones, this seriously just wiped away my dysphoria. So all in all, testosterone has been pretty amazing.”
Because of the mercurial and subjective nature of the trans identity, tension naturally arises about who is really trans—or trans enough. For that reason, testosterone can be an important means of establishing one’s bona fides. As Chase Ross puts it in his “Trans 101” video series, testosterone “brings more legitimacy to your transition.” But then, Chase rushes to reassure: “the legitimacy of your transition is how you define your transition.”
Not every trans vlogger shares Chase’s moderation.
Male-to-female Instagram guru Kaylee Korol, a blue-eyed and blue-haired waif who seems like an average teenage girl, offers this “trans tip”: “[Y]ou don’t need to be a hundred percent sure you’re trans to try hormones, you don’t,” Kaylee assures viewers. “You can try hormones for three months. After three months there starts to be permanent effects, but until around then you can just try hormones and see how you feel. It’s great, it’s that easy. Hormones aren’t as scary as everyone makes them out to be.
You don’t have to be certain you’re transgender in order to go on hormones. In fact, Kaylee adds, going on hormones is “probably the best way to actually tell if you’re trans anyways.”
You might have heard that testosterone comes with bad side effects— but you’ll rarely hear them mentioned here. YouTube and Insta gurus are about fun, and increased risks of various cancers and prophylactic hysterectomy are certainly not that. The most common side effect of testosterone that gurus talk about is the one that burnishes their trans bona fides: pain. The pain is acknowledged—even conveyed with relish. Like a barefoot dash across fiery coals, braving the agony of an intra-muscular injection proves you’ve moved beyond playing dress-up. You really are “trans.” And you’re not messing around.
“So basically I lay down on this little chair thing, with my butt hanging out,” an obviously female Alex Bertie vlogged at age seven- teen, documenting her first injection of testosterone. A nurse “shoves a needle in, and I’m kind of like, ‘Uh, uh, that hurts a little bit more than I thought it would.’ There was like a spike of pain. And then as she injects it, the pain kind of like goes up a little bit, just slowly increasing.” Alex Bertie was more than up to the test: “I’m not going to lie, it hurt. It f*ing hurt.”
But you can’t join a church without a baptism—can’t claim to be blood brothers unless you spill a little blood. This is the trans bar mitzvah, and it is joyously undertaken. Pain is proof of commitment to the cause. “Obviously it’s a bearable pain and completely worth it,” Alex Bertie reassures his viewers, before exclaiming, “Yeah, I’m on testosterone! . . . I’m not pre-T anymore!” You can almost hear him address his YouTube congregation: Today, I am a man.