TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Preparing for your first Plume appointment
- What is testosterone (aka T)?
- What Physical and Psychological Changes Are Possible?
- How can I take testosterone?
- What is “Microdosing”?
- Are there any possible risks?
- All about T (webinar)
Preparing for your first Plume appointment
It is really helpful to think through your goals and preferences before your visit with a Plume provider. This will help you get the most out of your visit. Before your visit, be sure to read carefully through the materials we send. These include the consent form (which reviews the side effects and risks of hormones) and the hormone information (FAQs) we send through the Spruce app. As you're preparing, you might want to write down any questions you want to ask your provider during your visit - it's easy to forget them all when the visit starts! Here are some important questions to consider, but don't worry if you don't know the answers yet:
What physical changes, if any, are affirming for you?
Which uptake method would you like to try? Injections, or topical gel?
Would you prefer a low dose or a higher one?
Do you have any questions that we haven’t addressed?
What is testosterone (aka T)?
Testosterone is a naturally occurring hormone that is typically produced in all bodies. Different bodies produce different amounts of this hormone. Plume prescribes synthetic bioidentical testosterone to encourage physical changes in your body. These changes—both dramatic and subtle—can help you to live as your authentic self by changing your gender expression to reflect your gender identity.
What Physical and Psychological Changes Are Possible?
Most folks start to notice changes like lower voice, facial hair growth, and stopping of monthly bleeding after 2-3 months on T. While there are many things that contribute to our mental health, many folks notice feeling better emotionally shortly after starting T. In particular, they notice decreased anxiety and increased confidence. Physical changes will occur more gradually and become noticeable after six months. Most folks will max out on physical changes somewhere between 2-5 years after starting T.
Not all of these changes are irreversible, but this can vary for each individual. Typically, the changes that are most likely to be irreversible are lowered voice tones and coarse hair growth, such as beard growth. The degree of these “masculinizing” changes is different for each person’s body. Your results will vary, based on your genetics. The effects of T that people most commonly experience include:
Body fat redistribution (decreased in the buttocks/hips/thighs increased in the belly)
Increased muscle mass
Increased and darker facial and body hair growth
Redistribution of facial fat / changes in facial structure
Increased libido (sex drive)
Enlargement of some genital parts (ie: clitoral growth)
Deepening of the voice
Increased oily skin and acne
Increased dryness or discomfort in the genital area
Hair loss at the front and top of the head (this change is more dependent on family history of baldness and typically is more of a concern after a year on T)
Change in menstrual periods (typically stopping within 1-6 months of testosterone, depending on dose)
There are also some changes that can be less desirable. Fortunately, we have treatments to help make these issues more comfortable:
Increased oily skin and acne
Increased dryness or discomfort in the genital area
Recession of the hairline, although hair loss is more dependent on family history of pattern baldness and typically is more of a concern after one year on T
How can I take testosterone?
Testosterone comes in several forms - including a weekly injectable, or daily topicals (cream or gel). Each of these methods are effective in raising your T levels, which will lead to the physical changes discussed above. Choosing a method usually comes down to deciding what feels most comfortable to you, and what fits into your budget.
Injection is the most common way of taking testosterone. It is a popular choice because it is relatively affordable and doesn’t require daily application (compared to the topicals). Injecting can also make it very easy to adjust your T dose by small increments. Because of this, injection is a good option for “microdosing.” (You can read more about microdosing below). There are two methods of injection. They both use the same dose of T. Both are administered once a week. Both work the same.
intramuscular (IM) injection an injection into the butt, glute, or thigh area. Alternate your injections between each of those areas and change sides of your body for each injection.
subcutaneous (SC/subq) injection uses a shorter, thinner needle. This type of injection is given just under the skin into the belly fat.
If you want, you can always change injection styles. Just let your provider know if you want to switch. Your prescription includes syringes and needles, so you have everything you need. With your prescription, you will get a larger, wider needle to draw up the T because it is in a thick oil. The larger needle enables you to draw the liquid out of the vial quicker. You will also get a thinner needle that you will inject with. You draw up with the thick needle, switch over to the thinner one, and do your shot. We recommend and prescribe the 1-ml syringe because it is easier to see all the markings, especially if you are injecting less than 0.5 ml.
We know some folks can be anxious about injections.. If you feel nervous, that is completely normal! We will provide you with teaching videos and walk you through how to inject if you choose to do injections. Our goal is for you to feel as prepared and relaxed as possible for your first injection, but most people will tell you that it can take weeks to feel comfortable. So slow down, take a deep breath, and do your best! In the end, we have other forms of T that are just as effective. So if it’s simply too overwhelming and you want to switch methods, let us know and your provider will gladly send a new prescription to the pharmacy of your choice.
With a GoodRx coupon, a 2.5 month supply of T costs about $25, depending on your dose.We typically prescribe testosterone cypionate 200 mg/ml concentration, to be injected once per week. If you have an intolerance to testosterone cypionate, we can prescribe testosterone enanthate instead.
Topical gel is a great, effective alternative to injections. Many people choose a topical if they prefer to avoid injections. You apply it every morning after your shower on clean, dry skin (usually to the shoulders or upper arms, but you can talk to your provider about other areas that might work for you). After applying, you should wash your hands, and wait a few minutes before putting a shirt on. Depending on the gel you use, it’s best to wait anywhere from 2-6 hours before showering or swimming. This is when the gel is completely dry. Before this point, anygel that isn’t covered can rub off onto other people, increase their T levels, and cause physical changes in them—unwanted ones! Topical testosterone costs about $50-60/month depending on the formulation and is eligible for a discount with a GoodRx coupon.
Testosterone patches used to be a way that patients could dose testosterone. However, in early 2023, T patches stopped being manufactured entirely. We will update you if these become available in the future.
What is “Microdosing”?
Microdosing is a newer term that describes using a small amount of a medication to achieve subtler or different effects from more common dosing recommendations. For example, some nonbinary people do not want to look like “men,” but want more masculine features such as more defined facial features or a lower voice. A microdose of T will achieve these changes over a longer period of time, and the changes will be less dramatic than the ones someone might notice on the full dose of T. Microdosing is a very individualized process and we cannot pinpoint specific physical traits or rate of change. However, we can support you while you find the dose that is right for you.
If you want a more subtle physical change, you can choose to go with a lower dose option. If you want to take the quickest route to maximizing physical change, then your Plume provider can help you start at a higher dose. Just let your care team know what feels right for you and we will help you reach your transition goals!
Are there any possible risks?
When used appropriately under supervision of a medical provider, testosterone has been shown to be safe. Of course, every medication has its risks and it is important to understand these so that you can make an informed decision about your care. We will discuss some of the risks here, but be sure to review the informed consent form (sent through our app prior to your medical visit) and discuss any questions about your medications with your medical provider.
T increases the hemoglobin/hematocrit
“H/H” for short. Think of H/H as markers for red blood cells in your body. For example, anemia is low H/H because people with anemia have a low number of red blood cells. But, if someone’s H/H were to go too high, there is a theoretical risk of blood clots and stroke because of the blood being too “thick.” There have been no documented cases of this happening with gender-affirming care. It is only a theoretical risk, based on people that have genetic conditions which cause their H/H to go very high—much higher than the levels that T causes. However, to ensure that your H/H stays in the healthy range, we will check your red blood cell count every three months, along with your T levels.
T is a teratogen
A teratogen is a substance which is known to cause severe birth defects. So, if anybody who is taking T were to become pregnant, there would be a high risk of birth defects in the fetus. If pregnancy is a possibility at all (based on your body parts, those of your partner(s), and your sexual preferences), we strongly encourage contraception to prevent pregnancy while taking T. All forms of birth control are safe to use if you are on T and do not interfere with the effects of T on your body.
T could cause infertility
Over time, T causes levels of estrogen to drop. This, in turn, causes changes to other body parts, such as your ovaries and uterus. These organs are essential for carrying a pregnancy to term. It is impossible to predict who will be affected by infertility; besides, there are many factors that can contribute to infertility that are not related to T. We recognize that there are many ways to build your family, and that using your genetic material is only one of them. However, if preserving your fertility is important to you, or if you would like to have children who share your genes, then we strongly encourage you to see a reproductive specialist regarding freezing of your eggs.
If somebody on testosterone wants to become pregnant or use their genetic material, they have to stop taking T for 6-9 months beforehand. When T levels have lowered, it’s then possible to become pregnant and carry to term or to store genetic material for future use. Whatever your hopes are for starting a family, know that you have options. The most important thing is to be aware of the impact T can have on your fertility before starting the medication. We understand you might not yet have a clear answer for yourself and your future family, but as a side effect of your medication, there might be a possibility of becoming infertile later.
All about T (webinar)
Tune in for expert, trans-affirming information all about Testosterone with Dr. Alann Weissman-Ward (he/him), Plume doctor and trans man and Alex Guerra (he/him), Plume Community Collaborator and trans man, in conversation about testosterone-based gender-affirming hormone therapy (GAHT).
The information in this document is derived from national and international guidelines on gender-affirming care, expert opinion, and the personal practice experience by the medical providers of Plume. Guidelines include the UCSF Transgender Center of Excellence, the World Professional Association of Transgender Health and the Endocrine Society