Emotions are a major part of our lives. They inform how we react to situations from big (grief, loss or joy) to small (stubbing our toes or finding a buck on the sidewalk).
Precisely how much hormones affect the way we feel emotions is something pretty hotly debated. I've read quite a few papers and articles on it now, but even though there are many of us now who've for various reasons experienced major hormonal shifts in our lives changing which sex hormones are dominant, it's hard to be objective when the rest of your life is changing at the same time.
However, it's hard not to conclude, after living so much of my life 'on' testosterone and now almost exclusively oestrogen, that the emotional difference is, for me, huge.
I'd describe my emotional connection to things going on around me before as being filtered. Numbed. As if I was trying to see something through a semi-opaque window that let light through, but not the details of what was beyond.
Now my emotional reactions seem clearer, quicker and more powerful. At least, my responses to things like hugs, smiles, fragrances and the like seem more intense.
When I finally found myself crying in years past, it'd be like a dam breaking, and it felt deeply uncomfortable.
When I cry now it's a common occurrence - a nice little moment of catharsis that lets me feel better and then move on.
For me, this feels 'right' on a scale that's hard to describe. In retrospect, it almost feels like some part of my brain was expecting a response the other part of my brain wasn't giving up. In short: my emotions feel like they're in sync with my expectations of them. Before, there was an emotional dissonance between what I felt and what I thought (on some subconscious level) I should feel.
A few trans people I know have described similar feelings to me, making me increasingly sure this is a common thing. Not just for people on feminising hormone therapy, either. I've heard trans men describe feeling more 'attune' with their emotional responses once they began testosterone.
When I began hormone therapy, the first things I focused on were not physical changes (it took a month or two before they began, and that was pretty fast compared to what it often is) nor emotional ones, but side-effects. I couldn't not focus on those, really - I was terrified of hormone therapy, even though I felt I needed it (and was proven to be quite right).
But one thing I did feel more and more as time went on was how this emotional dissonance began to slip away. I perhaps didn't notice it as fast as physical shifts, but the more time has gone on the more I notice the difference. The way my reactions to things felt right, and how whether or I was crying, laughing or finding myself aroused by a partner, all these things now felt very different - and very right.
That emotional shift is something that I don't see discussed often enough.
It's important to me that I can be gendered correctly and that I feel physically comfortable in my own body, of course, but the emotional comfort I get from my brain reacting "the right way" to stimuli is something that's done wonders for everything in my life.
So much so that I suspect that, in retrospect, they may have been the most important part.
Breaking that emotional dissonance was amazing, and I've never felt more alive.