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Plot twist: Doctors try giving men the female sex hormone oestrogen to save them from coronavirus

Vic Parsons April 28, 2020
Coronavirus: The route to saving cis men might be to give them estrogen

The UK is facing a shortage of hormones for trans women. (Photo By BSIP/UIG Via Getty Images)

Men are being killed by coronavirus at nearly twice the rate women are in some places, and scientists are trialling a novel way of trying to save them: the female sex hormone, oestrogen.

Data has shown that more men are being infected with coronavirus than women, more men are hospitalised, and more men are dying.

This has been observed in New York – where nearly twice as many men have died from COVID-19 as women – China, and Italy.

Scientists are considering behavioural differences, like smoking prevalence and likelihood of going to the doctor when sick, to explain why men are being affected more.

Men are also less likely to wash their hands, which suggests they are more likely to be infected by the virus.

In countries like Spain, where men and women smoke at fairly equal rates, more men are still getting sick.

One theory that has emerged to explain the gender gap in coronavirus infection is that female sex hormones offer some kind of protection from the deadly virus.

While scientists are far from unanimous on this – many have pointed out that older women are still less likely to die from coronavirus than men, even though their hormone levels are significantly lower than younger women – research has begun into the effects of giving cis men oestrogen and progesterone.

So far, coronavirus studies have focused on the differences in infection rates between men and women – it’s not clear from reports whether trans men and women are included or excluded in this data, and whether the impact of coronavirus on non-binary or intersex people has been considered.

Researching the way that trans people are impacted by coronavirus would need to account for healthcare disparities.

For example, trans women who have access to hormone replacement therapy will have higher levels of female sex hormones than trans women who don’t have access to that healthcare, or don’t want it.

Two new clinical trials, one in Long Island and one in Los Angeles, are giving female sex hormones to cis men to see if it helps protect them from coronavirus.

“Both hormones are believed to be safe, especially when used for short durations,” the New York Times concluded.

“Participants will be warned of possible side effects that may be a first for many men, like tenderness in the breast and hot flashes.”

The effects of taking oestrogen are actually well-documented – and the first “side effect” tends to be growing breast tissue.

Trans community respond to news that men might be saved from coronavirus by oestrogen.

One community is well aware of the impact of taking female sex hormones – although trans women have not always found it as straightforward to persuade doctors to give them oestrogen.

How can we be sure these men really need oestrogen? I propose a two year period where they try living in-role as having coronavirus before we prescribe anything,” one Twitter user wrote, referencing that, in the UK, trans people seeking NHS healthcare must wait an arbitrary length of time to “prove” they are trans and need the medication.

Many people have pointed out the glaring disparity between trans women’s access to oestrogen, historically, and the access cis men are now being given to the medication because of coronavirus.

And while jokes about inducing gender dysphoria and forcing men to become femme were being made, multiple people pointed out that gender dysphoria is not a joking matter – trans people die by suicide as a result, and this is often exacerbated by the lack of access to healthcare – like oestrogen and progesterone.

Finally, multiple people pointed to what is already a huge problem within trans healthcare – shortages of hormones.

More: Coronavirus, COVID-19, estrogen, gender health gap, oestrogen, progesterone, trans healthcare

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