The author and her husband. (Courtesy of Ann Mallen)
Ann Mallen is a writer of literary fiction and nonfiction.She organized a reading series in her living room which is currently morphing into a local literary nonprofit in West Palm Beach.

I wanted to do them all. Men – young and old, thin and heavy, coiffed and shaggy – walked past my gate in Hartsfield-Jackson as I waited for my connection to visit my sister in Connecticut. Not all rated attractive, but I found the idea of sex with each captivating.

The young man with the tight shoulders, the bookish guy with Clark Kent glasses, the soldier in fatigues? Yes, yes and yes. The sweatshirt-clad-torn-jeans man was not my type, but I ogled him anyway.

I had been taking estrogen replacement therapy for four years prescribed after my hysterectomy at 36. But two weeks ago, my doctor added a special cream to boost my testosterone. She warned me of “odd symptoms,” but she didn’t mention this constant sexual distraction. Or the irrational anger. The day before, I dropped a fork in the kitchen and kicked it. It clattered into the base of the cabinet, but that wasn’t enough. I picked it up and threw it into the sink with a force intended to harm. When the mailman carelessly slammed a box onto the front steps, I resisted the urge to slap him silly.

At the follow-up, my doctor said, “Now you know what it’s like to have your brain bathed in testosterone.” In other words: What it’s like to live like a man. This experience is unusual but might become more common. Doctors use hormones to treat diseases, prevent ovulation, and for surgical conditions, as in my case. Plus, those who are transitioning to the opposite sex undergo hormone replacement therapy to align with their identifying gender.

Doctors alter the hormones of millions. And in that, we have an opportunity to learn. Living for a few weeks with extra testosterone gave me a new understanding of men. Now, when I notice my husband glancing at an attractive woman, I don’t take offense. Testosterone turns your head and makes you look. Sometimes, I whisper, “Yep, she’s beautiful.” He jokes that I’m now one of the guys.

Could I have achieved this compassion any other way? Empathy is complex. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute reported in 2013 that humans are basically egocentric. We tend to view others’ emotions in light of our own. Our brain can counteract this self-centeredness, but we have a better chance if our emotions are neutral or in the same emotional state as the other.

When discussing this with my daughter, she suggested that perhaps in the future, we might choose to live for a while as the opposite sex to learn how the other thinks and functions. Perhaps a few days or a week might be feasible, but unfortunately, the side effects for longer periods are problematic. Both testosterone and estrogen therapies have been linked to heart attacks and strokes. Doctors need bona fide medical or psychological reasons to alter hormones. In fact, the standards of care for people transitioning hormonally to the opposite sex are stringent and include significant counseling and monitoring by a medical doctor.

Some people transition though, and some, like me, spend time with the wrong prescription. We then process the world through a different lens of emotion and analysis. Yet, the lens is the transient thing.

It is possible to live as either male or female.

Which means, of course, underneath the high-pitched whine of our sex hormones, underneath the lens, we are neither.