Review: So Hormonal

“A collection of personal essays detailing the various roles that hormones play in our daily lives” – SOLD! It was no surprise to those who know me that as soon as I learnt that this book – So Hormonal, edited by Emily Horgan and Zachary Dickson – was coming into existence through a crowd-funding campaign, during the pandemic no less, that I had to have it (or at least pre-order and patiently wait for it). And for those that don’t know me, in addition to my fascination with hormones on this blog, I also wrote my masters thesis on the feminist value of the ongoing cultural backlash against hormonal contraception, where I started to theorise a little something called Hormonal Feminism. So in short: I was keen.

All this to say, I’ve read a lot of personal writing on hormones, but this is the most comprehensive anthology on hormonal experiences that I have come across. So often ‘the hormonal experience’ is pinned down to either cis women’s (often negative) experiences of menstruation, contraception, pregnancy and menopause or trans* people’s experiences of puberty and hormone therapy. And there are, of course, so many meaningful and important stories under those umbrellas, many of which are featured in this collection, but So Hormonal takes things a step further. It is deeply refreshing to find stories about hormones from cis men, next to essays about hormonal joy, fertility, pain, neurodiversity, osteoporosis, Addison’s disease, PMDD and so much more. The book represents ‘the hormonal experience’ for what it really is: bodies in flux, also known as being human.

So Hormonal strikes a great balance between the personal and the medical, the technical, which matters, as is expertly explained in Sonja Erikainen, Andrea Ford, Roslyn Malcolm and Lisa Raeder’s essay Telling Hormonal Stories. They write:

Hormones are ‘made’ and ‘remade’ in both scientific and cultural stories. Indeed, scientific and cultural stories are constantly in conversation with each other.

Sonja Erikainen, Andrea Ford, Roslyn Malcolm & Lisa Raeder

I will always be curious about the gendering of hormones, individually and collectively, and the above quote perfectly sums up why it is vital all hormonal stories are told, so that ‘hormonal’ can cease to be a negative adjective associated solely with women, femaleness and adolescence, because nothing could be further from the truth.

This book is for everyone – it’s only shortcoming in that regard potentially comes in terms of location, though it isn’t always clear. There might be stories where you relate to something directly. For example, in Sonali Misra’s essay ‘Ten Years in the Making: conversations with partners about polycystic ovary syndrome’, she writes:

I’ve been forced to add an extra step in the dating timeline, a disclaimer of sorts, due to the PCOS.

Sonali Misra

Something I know oh too well, thanks to endometriosis and vaginismus. Again with Aifric Kyne’s essay ‘I’m wearing Docs, Michael: on thyroids, tallness, and teenage suffering’ I was blown away by how Kyne seemed to have perfectly described some of my feelings towards height, eating, control and ignoring my body. Yet still, if you find nothing you relate to personally, the book is full of stories that will move you in ways you cannot anticipate. Some of my favourite essays in the collection I can’t even begin to relate to. While I could honestly just list the contents page, some stand out, including: Tyler Christie’s ‘Getting Off the Back Foot with Male Fertility Health’, James Hudson’s ‘Wanna see my Party Trick? *Stops Taking Testosterone*’, ‘Rianna Walcott’s ‘Banana-Poultices: Black British Attitudes to Healthcare and Medication’.

And then there is the political, burning its way through the book like a hot flush. Many of the essays were written during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it shows. Healthcare systems that have time and again failed in regards to hormonal care, have struggled to deliver the very basic care needed even more during 2020. Jo Ross-Barrett’s essay ‘A period piece: on PCOS, PMDD, and the NHS in 2020’ closes with a powerful call for the UK’s healthcare system to do better: “I wanted to share my story so that people could see the human impact of intersectional feminist failings within the NHS. The NHS needs to offer timely and appropriate person-centred care that focusses on the individual in a holistic manner”. And then in the piece ‘Roaccutane Tubes: On navigating puberty hormones and bodily changes in the wake of sexual abuse’, Madeleine Dunne boldly writes:

Until a point in time where healthcare providers and medical science are prepared to actually see female bodies, trans bodies, and Black bodies as being valid, to listen to the voices coming from those bodies, and to hear, act on, and validate those experiences, I worry that we are trapped in a cycle of gatekeeping, dismissal, misdiagnoses, inappropriate treatments, and loss of lives.

Madeleine Dunne

The quote speaks for itself, as does the entire book, and I recommend you read it.

So Hormonal is published by the independent publisher Monstrous Regiment, based in Edinburgh, you can buy the book directly from them here.

While I have you, I’ll take the chance to implore you to support the #ButNotMaternity campaign, which is lobbying for change in regards to the hypocritical and sexist measures than remain in place for people giving birth in the UK during the COVID-19 pandemic, measures that are leading to traumatic birth experiences. You can learn more about the campaign here and sign a related petition here. I’d also like to draw your attention to this article about a U.S. study where black babies were found to be more likely to survive when cared for by black doctors, demonstrating just how much work is still to be done in rallying against conscious and unconscious biases in medicine.

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