I was ten years old, when my brother was Bar Mitzvah’d. It was a big deal. The synagogue was packed and there was a big party at a fancy restaurant afterward. I have no memories of the event at all. I don’t even remember what my mother made me wear.
I do remember watching my brother prepare for the ceremony. Week after week, he struggled to read his Torah portion, in Hebrew, out loud. His voice kept cracking. He was becoming a man. I was still a girl.
The next year I got my period. I didn’t want to become a woman. I didn’t want my breasts to grow. I didn’t want to wear a bra. I didn’t want to get my period or sprout pimples all over my face. I didn’t want to shave under my arms. I alternated between being angry and wanting to cry. I hated that everyone was waiting for me to “blossom”. I withdrew. I didn’t want any parties or celebrations.
I think, if you asked me, at age 11, if I’d rather go through female puberty, male puberty, or no puberty at all, I would have answered no puberty at all. I mistrusted adults. I did not understand teenagers. I was scared of dating, sex, pregnancy, marriage, and parenthood. I wanted to be a boy. I wanted to keep things simple.
Denial makes you wish for things that are impossible. There is no escaping puberty the first time around. Even today, with puberty blockers available for transgender children (if their parents consent), the delay is only temporary. By the time they are 15 or 16 they have to choose whether to stop taking the blockers and go through a “natural” puberty or take cross gender hormones and transition.
What would it be like to go through a non-binary puberty?
I am going through a non-binary menopause. I haven’t had my period in ten years (the best side effect from a partial hysterectomy for fibroids). Aside from getting night sweats, I feel better with less estrogen in my system. Calmer. The nagging question is, do I feel better enough?
Every day I think about starting testosterone. One of the things that holds me back is the thought of going through a second puberty. Even if it is a puberty I technically choose to go through, or need to go through. I dread repeating the moodiness, the acne, the increased appetite, and the awkwardness of my body changing.
Going through a second puberty as a transitioning adult is different from going through a first puberty as a child or a teen. It is more controlled. There is medical supervision. There is more information and community support. But I can not shake off that feeling I had as an 11 year old, wishing to avoid the effects of puberty, and hoping against all odds for a reprieve.
Notes: I continue to be as suspicious of testosterone as I am of estrogen, even though there are no long-term studies that show any health risks from taking testosterone to transition. There is a lot more known about estrogen.
Prior to the 2002 Women’s Health Initiative Study, gynecologists routinely prescribed HRT (estrogen) to menopausal women. Women who wanted to go through a natural menopause were often bullied and belittled by their doctors for refusing to go on HRT, and told that they were putting themselves at risk for osteoporosis. Then the WHI test results came out. It showed that the long-term health risks associated with taking estrogen (breast cancer, heart disease, and stroke) outweighed the benefits (reduced risk of osteoporosis, fewer mood swings, improved sexual response).
This is the best article I found explaining treating transgender children with puberty blockers. It also provides a good overall background on the science of puberty.