The Case of the Accidental Transgender Woman
By Jo Codde, PhD
2018 © Jo Codde – All Rights Reserved
Once upon a time, in the spring of 1948, a woman named Ellen became pregnant by her husband, Russ, and nine months later, on February 8th, 1949 she gave birth to a boy they named Joseph. Under most circumstances this would be a normal pregnancy, a normal birth, and a normal life for Joe.
But this wasn’t the case for Joe. Unbeknownst to Ellen at the time she was prescribed a dangerous drug by her doctor. The drug – Diethylstilbestrol (DES) – was a synthetic estrogen meant to ease the potential complications from pregnancy and was often incorporated into prenatal vitamins. Hormones, like this estrogen, control a wide range of biological processes involved in the day to day running of the human body and are also key drivers of the development and maintenance of masculine and feminine attributes.
The earliest of these synthetic substances was an artificial estrogen called diethylstilbestrol (or DES). DES was developed by a team of chemists in the UK in 1938. DES is a powerful and potent synthetic estrogen (some reports indicate it’s up to 50,000 times stronger than a birth control pill today) which was prescribed during the 1940s and 1950s and continued to 1971. It was then discontinued and banned for causing birth defects and long-term health problems for both the sons and daughters of mothers who took DES. In this particular case, Joe is a DES son.
Doctors and the pharmaceutical industry quickly realized that synthetic hormones had tremendous potential as medicines, and they were rushed to market with comparatively little safety testing, and even in spite of clear evidence of harm during what few animal experiments were performed. Later research (2011) on lab rats has shown that DES causes male rats to develop as female instead of male during the time it’s administered.
Now, as a transgender woman, Jo has often wondered how and why this happened to her … it certainly wasn’t unwelcome but why wasn’t it? And it seems now Jo has found the answers she’s been searching for. Allow me to share her story in her words ….
“I’ve become, not really intentionally, what I am now calling the “accidental transgender” … I say this is “accidental” as this isn’t something I suddenly decided to do – many transgender women just say they can’t live a lie any longer and then transition. In my case, we’ve learned my mother may have taken DES during her pregnancy with me in 1948/49. The potency of this estrogen medication is extraordinary – many magnitudes stronger than a normal dose of estrogen today.
This medication had a major impact on the unborn fetus. I’ve found there are at least six major symptoms/birth defects for sons of DES mothers and I have all six. Interestingly, some of my symptoms include; 1) hypogonadism (very low testosterone levels and I was first diagnosed when I was 22), 2) testicular deformities which I had and resulted in an orchiectomy – removal), 3) scoliosis (as DES affects growth in the womb and I was diagnosed at an early age), 4) left handiness (it apparently impacts right/left brain development with a high percentage of DES sons – almost double – being born left-handed. And yup – I am), 5) gender dysphoria or the child’s belief they may have been born in the wrong gender and I first realized this at age 5 – long before puberty or a time where this could be confused for anything else, and lastly, 6) a strong desire to transition later in life and I’ve now done that.
My doctors and gender specialists have diagnosed that, as a result of DES exposure in-utero, I was conceived male with a pair of XY chromosomes (I was tested a couple months ago) but when my mother started DES my body and brain were flooded with high potency estrogen up to the time I was born. My doctors have said I was then born a transgender female baby. I was raised male as all the parts were there, but I had a number of birth defects related to the medication. The doctors said I could have gone my entire life without any gender problems or at any point during my life my body could essentially revert back to being transgender female as it was at birth – and that’s just what seems to have happened. About three to four years ago when they were trying to fix the fact I had almost no testosterone (resulting from DES) they gave me a testosterone supplement and that’s when my body revolted and converted the incoming testosterone to estrogen (via the aromatase enzyme and my body (and mind) began changing.
Interestingly, I’ve wanted to transition every day since I was five years old. I can remember my mother screaming at me, “You’re a boy! You’re not a girl!!!” At the time I no idea why she’d yell this at me, but in hindsight maybe she knew. When I was 22 I was diagnosed with hypogonadism and at 24 my doctor started giving me shots of testosterone. I immediately began growing breast buds, so he stopped the shots.
Now, based on a number of factors, my doctors and I made the decision to change my medication protocol from testosterone to estrogen and I’m now on a full course of female hormones (estrogen and progesterone). The decision was made in part as I had a number of other medical issues (some related to my hormones) and I went from feeling pretty bad all the time on testosterone to feeling amazing on estrogen! I use the analogy that before this I was running on bad gas and now I’m running on high octane! And along with this I’ve gotten really engaged in being healthy, eat a healthy diet, exercise every single day, and I’ve lost 100 pounds and 18 inches around my waist.
I’ve come to the point now where doctors have certified my gender as female and I am living my life every day to the fullest as a woman …. I sometimes wonder why me – how my life would have been different if my mother hadn’t taken DES – but that’s in the past and I can’t undo that.
In conclusion, I’ve now completed my transition having gone through puberty a second time as a girl and, according to my endocrinologist, I’m now a post-menopausal woman. I strongly objected to the post-menopausal label asking, “When do I get to be a teenage girl???”