2 grammar rules to think about while injecting hormones for transition

Illustration of a medication bottle with a label that reads, "Verbs" and, "For subjunctive use only".
Rachel Lee/Staff

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Sometimes, when you’re going through the exciting, intimidating or mundane process of injecting estradiol or testosterone for hormone replacement therapy, you may notice your mind wandering. You may be feeling sentimental, relating the color of your blood to a dark puddle you saw that night you had a pre-pandemic picnic on Memorial Glade. Or you may be bored out of your mind, trying desperately to find something marginally more interesting than “Da Vinki?to think about while pushing the plunger. If you’re the latter type … well, I can’t help you there, unfortunately. But what I can do is give you a couple of less interesting grammar rules to think about while injecting! You’re welcome.

The subjunctive mood

When I went in for my injection training, the nurse told me that because my estradiol was meant to be injected intramuscularly, I should insert the needle at a 90-degree angle to my skin. That can apparently sometimes be a different angle than you use when you’re injecting subcutaneously, so while I’m not a medical professional and won’t give you specific advice, remember to be careful about how you’re poking it in.

Now, if you saw “subcutaneous” and thought, “Haha, that’s a ‘cute’ little word,” why not take a look at this other “sub-” word that isn’t as cute: “subjunctive.” In English, we typically use what’s called the “indicative” mood by default, such as if Andrea Long Chu were to tell her cat, “Because you are a cat, you got bottom surgery easily.” But if she were speaking hypothetically to a human, she might use the subjunctive: “If you were a cat, you would have gotten bottom surgery easily.”

I feel like conjugating “to be” into “are” or “were” is kind of like shifting a needle into 90- or 45-degree angles. The basic verb is the same, just as a needle is always a needle, but depending on what you need for the specific situation, you slightly change the way you shove it in there. Another similarity: Dealing with grammar can be a pain, but that’s probably because you’re thinking about it consciously, even though you normally practice it unconsciously. With grammar and shots, it’s easier and probably healthier to just do it rather than think about it like … I made you do here. Oops.

Essential clauses

You know when you’re about to inject and you suddenly remember that time you couldn’t get your blood tests done because the Tang Center lab was closed due to the pandemic, so you had a panic attack wondering if you’d be able to get an appointment and a refill on your prescription by the time you needed it? Or when your facial feminization surgery was canceled because of a last-minute change marking it “elective” despite the proof your doctor gave you that it was medically necessary? I’d say that’s the perfect time to think about the somewhat arbitrary difference between essential and nonessential clauses.

Essential clauses, aka restrictive clauses, are basically clauses that have important information. The Associated Press Stylebook defines them as clauses that “cannot be eliminated without changing the meaning of the sentence,” which is why they aren’t set off by commas. “People who are trans are cool” is one example: Because some people aren’t trans, I can’t say “people, who are trans,” which implies no people are cis.

But it’s harder to tell if you should use a comma in a sentence such as “I worked at a hospital where I got injection materials.” Is the point of the sentence that you got injection materials? Then don’t put a comma. But what if you don’t have any opinion on whether getting injection materials was as important as or less important than the fact that you had to work in person at your “essential” hospital job? What if, in context, you’re just throwing out random thoughts? The difference between essential and nonessential clauses can be pretty porous and unsteady, just like the one between essential and elective medical procedures — or like your skin.

Maybe the next time you’re injecting and you think about how the heck you’re supposed to figure out what a 90- or whatever-degree angle is on a squishy surface, you’ll also remember the word “subcutaneous” and that it has something to do with verbs. Or you’ll think spitefully about medically essential clauses. Oh, well. I hope, at least, that if you were bored of injecting, you’ll now find it less boring than the grammar you use every day.

Contact Cat Chun at [email protected].