The idea that the human body, if left to its own devices, undergoes a single puberty is an oversimplistic explanation, or an outright lie. Trans people who take hormones can sometimes be said to undergo a second puberty, depending on their dosage. But I think puberty, as a concept and a physiological phenomenon, is just as nuanced and unique to every individual as “biological sex” itself – a Frankensteinian construct cobbled together from a constellation of chromosomes, hormone profiles, genital appearance, among other things.
I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve undergone three different puberties over the course of my life – maybe four, depending.
The first was what most people would recognize as the puberty. I started getting periods, growing body hair, gaining weight around my hips and chest, and grew a few inches. I started being drawn to material I understood to be sexual (whether anyone else agreed with me or not is a whole different ballgame), and started developing what I now know to be a very kinked sexuality. I began to understand myself as a potential target for the sexuality of others, too. That was when I was about 11-12.
My second puberty happened when – ugh – I saw the 2007 Transformers movie. It opened some kind of floodgate in me, flipped a switch, however you want to describe it. Either way, it changed (ruined?) me forever. I suddenly had a completely new, completely unprecedented direction welded onto my already nebulous grasp of sexual orientation. Out of the blue, giant robots that turned into vehicles were now officially fair game. It was like seeing a new color for the first time.
I was talking about this with my husband the other day – the urban legend, “ghost story” aspect of Transformers mythology that nobody hardly ever explores in the franchise. That feeling I got when walking out of the theater after that movie and looking around at the cars parked in the parking lot or driving in the street, this feeling of they could be alive! For years after that I couldn’t shake the feeling that cars parked along the street might be looking at me as I walked past them, or that I had to be on my best behavior when sitting in one because it was courteous to the car, and not necessarily the owner. Sometimes I’d see the same car being driven around my college neighborhood in midtown Manhattan – a four-door Jeep Wrangler being one of them – and I’d wind up with a spring in my step as I straightened up and looked my best as though there was somebody there to impress.
I don’t really do that anymore – and this is honestly something that I’ve never told anyone in my life – but I do still get crushes on cars (…Jeeps in general and green Wranglers in particular), and lately, with my current comic work, WW2 aircraft. I always thought that the Jeep thing was because my favorite character, my “uberfuck”, as a friend calls him, turns into a Jeep, but the airplane thing is new. This is all just at looking at photo reference, reading specs, studying their interiors and gear and crew. Not in a million years could I imagine myself saying, “yeah, nightfighters are kinda hot”. Those floodgates that that stupid franchise rent open? To mix my idioms, there’s no putting that genie back in that bottle. This is going to be with me for life. Thank god I can’t afford to own a Jeep and have no love for modern car culture whatsoever – otherwise I’d have to really start calling myself poly.
I was 18 when that movie came out.
My last puberty happened over the course of 2015, after my hysterectomy. I went off birth control at the same time, too, and was expecting to get my libido roaring back like I’d done almost every month up until I was 19 and went on the pill for medical reasons. And it did, though not right away. Hysterectomies fuck with your hormones, even though the uterus isn’t exactly part of the endocrine system, and it can take months to get back to normal. Which it did for me, but I was also going back to a pre-pill normal – that is, raging with testosterone and adrenaline until I ran myself ragged. So come back it did, and my first few months of dealing with it were really intense. I was rabidly hypersexual – and this is where the open-marriage arrangement for me came in – but it came in waves like it always did. A week of being “on”, and several of being almost completely “off”, and so on. But I’ve noticed that, like a pendulum, each pass is getting shorter and less intense, and now, over a year post-op, my days of being “on” feel less dysfunctional. I don’t know if this is because I’m getting better at curbing myself (because it’s easy to let it sort of spiral out of control, especially where adrenaline is concerned) or if it’s because my hormones are finding equilibrium, or a combination of both. But last year, I feel, was a kind of puberty. That’s another genie that’s not going back into its bottle – that uterus is not coming back.
I was on the cusp of 26 when I had my surgery.
The other puberty that may or may not be considered as such, is a similar such moment as the one I had at 18 – that is, I was imprinted with an orientation suddenly and by chance. I was probably 5 or 6, and that’s when I became fascinated by size difference thanks in no small part to television. (But you’ve heard that story already.) But this, and I guess by the later imprinting experience too, depends on whether sexual “awakenings”, or imprintings, really might count as part of puberty. I don’t know, and there’s so little research done on what prompts someone to develop one sexual orientation over another that I’m not even going to bother with conjecture beyond what I can extrapolate from anecdote. (Not to mention that such research would be very difficult to structure in an ethical way, so I’m actually kind of glad that science is staying out of our heads.)
To end, here’s Wikipedia’s explanation of puberty for reference, with the essentialist crap removed:
Puberty is the process of physical changes through which a child’s body matures into an adult body capable of sexual reproduction to enable fertilization. It is initiated by hormonal signals from the brain to the gonads[…]. In response to the signals, the gonads produce hormones that stimulate libido and the growth, function, and transformation of the brain, bones, muscle, blood, skin, hair, breasts, and sex organs. Physical growth—height and weight—accelerates in the first half of puberty and is completed when an adult body has been developed.
Notable among the morphologic changes in size, shape, composition, and functioning of the pubertal body, is the development of secondary sex characteristics, the “filling in” of the child’s body[…]. Derived from the Latin puberatum (age of maturity), the word puberty describes the physical changes to sexual maturation, not the psychosocial and cultural maturation denoted by the term adolescent development in Western culture, wherein adolescence is the period of mental transition from childhood to adulthood, which overlaps much of the body’s period of puberty.
I like the connotation of ‘puberatum’.