One of the things that Mary Jo and I talk about, and a topic I see echoed on various transgender message boards, is whether one’s cognition changes under the influence of hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

First, I’m going to try to distinguish cognition from emotion from behavior, which is tricky, but since this isn’t an academic paper, I’m not that worried about it. The truth is that everything is tied up together very, very tightly. I’ll write about emotions in another post, but suffice to say I’m hugely emotional these days, much more so than my old self could have ever fathomed.

It’s notoriously difficult to study yourself, but I have noticed a few things that seem to be different. I took the brain-test on Facebook the other night and was found to be right-brained. You do a couple of things, and it’s surely not scientifically valid (I wouldn’t think), but one of the things you do is watch this silhouetted woman spin around in a pirouette. Depending on your dominant side of your brain, she can be spinning clockwise or counter-clockwise. I did this test a year ago, and she was spinning counter clockwise (left brain), although I could make her switch with a moderate amount of effort. But now she spins clockwise, and despite trying every trick I can think of (blinking, turning away, concentrating), I can’t make her go the other way.

If the theory of transsexual hypothalamuses is to be believed, then I wonder if the removal of birth hormone and the addition of target hormone doesn’t have some kind of effect.

I have also noticed that it’s almost impossible for me to compartmentalize concepts in my mind like I used to. In the past, I could shut out everything else but the topic at hand, leaving related issues to be dealt with later, when I switched compartments. It was easy, for example, to consider the logical nature of a student’s paper quite separately from the quality of her work. Now, however, I find those compartments much harder to build and maintain. I can still do it (it’s not like I’ve gone ditzy), but what’s interesting is the way all the other related categories bleed over into the current compartment. I find this is the case when I’m thinking of my academic research, as I’ve discovered rich and (to me) untapped relationships between ideas and topics. I’m finding so many relationships and thinking about so many possibilities that it’s hard to grasp them all.

A third area I’ve become aware of is in my perception (or maybe the processing of my senses would be more accurate). When I’m in a group of people, I am much, much more aware of their faces, their body language, their stance towards others. In the past, I think I was capable of seeing those things (I mean my rods and cones in my eyes worked pretty much the same), but I didn’t attach any significance to them. But now I feel much more aware of my surroundings and find it harder to block out those things.

A fourth area that’s really interesting to me is in my recollection of how I was before. What I mean is that I have certain behaviors and feelings that are clearly different now, and logically I recognize that they have, indeed, changed. I can recall how I used to behave and think. However, there is a part of my mind that believes that I’ve always been like this, and I don’t feel any terrible contradiction in those two points. It’s not that I’m delusional (at least not in this respect), but that I appear to have two overlapping histories that are semi-independent. Examples? OK, here’s one. I really like to snuggle with Mary Jo in bed and talk and kiss and just be together — could do it for hours, and have done it for hours. She and I have talked about how different this behavior is from the old me, and of course I recognize that it is. But in the same mental space, I can say straight faced, with full belief, “I’ve always loved snuggling with you, Mary Jo.” When I say things like this, we look at each other funny, then burst out laughing because it’s simply not true, at least objectively so. But subjectively, I do feel as if I’ve always loved snuggling, and I’m wondering if our self-awareness of our past thoughts, moods, and beliefs isn’t greatly influenced by our current thoughts, moods, and beliefs, so much so that we are always highly unreliable when reporting about how we were back in our past.

Of course, it’s entirely possible that these areas of possible cognitive shift may have nothing to do with HRT, and may be attributable to my therapy and self-acceptance. There are physical things that are, I think, easy to attribute to HRT (colder easier, redistribution of body fat, finer hair, and those sorts of things), but since the brain is an enormous hormone receptor (the largest in the body), it stands to reason that its functions may be affected as one’s hormone mix changes.