An April 2013 study in Journal of Sexual Medicine came to some conclusions that seems self-evident, though even things that seem self-evident are best tested and verified. In “Hormonal Treatment Reduces Psychobiological Distress in Gender Identity Disorder, Independently of the Attachment Style,” Colizzi, et al„ report on a study that measured the stress levels of 70 transsexuals both before and 12 months after starting HRT. They found … wait for it … that for transsexuals, starting hormone therapy had a statistically significant positive effect on their stress levels.
Measuring stress levels isn’t as subjective as it sounds. There are actually three vectors in this study. First, they measured levels of cortisol in the blood, cortisol being the primary stress hormone; this is the most objective measure in the study; heightened cortisol was a measure of stress, lowered cortisol a measure of less stress. Second, they measured self-reported stress, as determined by the completion of a Perceived Stress Scale survey. And third, they assessd each subject’s attachment style, as measured by an Adult Attachment Interview.
Not surprisingly, pre-HRT transsexuals had elevated cortisol levels, reported higher stress levels, and displayed insecure attachment issues. In other words, we’re stressed out and we’re having trouble relating to others! Again: shocker, right? It’s no surprise that, 12 months into HRT, the same group reported less stress and measured within the average range for cortisol levels.
As Colizzi et al. put it in their conclusion:
Our results suggested that untreated patients suffer from a higher degree of stress and that attachment insecurity negatively impacts the stress management. Initiating the hormonal treatment seemed to have a positive effect in reducing stress levels, whatever the attachment style may be.
Basically, transsexuals are all stressed out and HRT makes them feel more normal … as any transitioning woman can tell you. But at least now there’s a study to verify it.
Interestingly, PubMed flagged two “Related Articles” when I was looking this study up. One study reported that transsexuals undergoing HRT had lower levels of social distress, anxiety, and depression than those not undergoing HRT. The second study “suggests a positive effect of hormone therapy on transsexuals’ [quality of life]“ when measured on a standard QoL form. Two more for the “shocker” column, right?
So, to sum up: science tells us that HRT makes transsexuals happier and allows them to live better lives. Thank you, science.
[An earlier version of this post appeared at my personal blog, Ali FInds Her Self.]