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So I'm writing a story that features a highly speculative Neanderthal society, and the protagonist is a trans woman. (Specifically, a priestess, not unlike those in Mesopotamian or Scythian cultures.) What I'm wondering is, is there any plausible source of feminizing HRT that would be available to her? I know that some herbs have anti-androgen properties; the sticking point would seem to be estrogen, since getting animal estrogen is a lot more difficult in the absence of livestock culture. There is technically magic in this setting, so I could invoke that if necessary, but I'd prefer to use a medical approach, if possible. Are there any options that would actually be feasible for a hunter-gather society?

Edit 1: HRT is hormone replacement therapy. So feminizing HRT would be HRT that changes the body's hormone regime to an estrogen-dominated one.

Edit 2: I'm pretty sure most cultures that are trans-accepting have had HRT of some kind. The modern stuff is a lot more sophisticated than the traditional approaches to it, but it's still all HRT. The issue is, estrogen is generally derived from animal sources.

Edit 3: Honestly, I'd like to know if there's some real life approach that would work. That's what I'm asking, if anyone knows of one. Such as a way to extract animal estrogen that would be feasible for hunter-gatherers, given that the traditional means seems like it would be impractical without domesticated horses.

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    $\begingroup$ Can you explain what is HRT? $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Aug 4, 2022 at 3:40
  • $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch HRT is hormone replacement therapy. So feminizing HRT would be HRT that changes the body's hormone regime to an estrogen-dominated one. $\endgroup$ Aug 4, 2022 at 3:57
  • $\begingroup$ What conceivable need would be met by this? Lots of societies had/have trans, both natural and manufactured, none I know of saw a need for anything like HRT. Most simple societies won't do anything if there's no need. $\endgroup$
    – Kilisi
    Aug 4, 2022 at 5:31
  • $\begingroup$ @OneSpaceDown (a) When asked for clarifications, please edit your question and place the answers there. Never believe that people will read the comments to get clarifications (and if one person asked, there are others who will benefit from the answer). (b) Since I doubt there is a plant on the planet that can do what you're asking, should I assume that what you're looking for is a plant that is a candidate for suspension-of-disbelief? In other words, you're not looking for a Real Life solution, you're looking for an example you can use to build your world? $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Aug 4, 2022 at 5:51
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    $\begingroup$ I remember hearing that white pine nuts had so much estrogen that they were used for birth control by some natives, but I have not been able to find that reference when searching now. $\endgroup$
    – David R
    Aug 4, 2022 at 13:52

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Many chemicals found in in plastics, food packaging, shampoos and pesticides accumulate in the environment and mimic the female hormone estrogen when ingested. Most of these are biochemicals derived from a petroleum base and synthesized in industrial processes.

But, it isn't too hard to imagine that areas near natural petroleum deposits that bubble out into the environment couldn't be processed by local mineral structures and plants to cause nearby water, if consumed regularly to have a similar effect, visible to the trained observer, by the fact that fish in the area are almost all female.

Most locals would learn that this water is not recommended to drink, but a trans-seeking religious order or shrine in the area might induct locals into the group, in which this chemical laden water was regularly consumed to produce the desired effect.

There are also various herbs that are reputed to have feminizing effects, historically favored by women seeking to enhance their femininity, such as:

  • Black Cohosh Root

  • Dong Quai

  • Fenugreek

  • Green Tea

  • Hops

  • Licorice Root

  • Pueraria Mirifica (Kwao Krua), and

  • White Peony Root

Whether or not these particular plants actually have that effect (see also, e.g., here), it wouldn't be hard to imagine the existence of some little known plants that are indeed potent in this regard, and for essential oils from these plants to be used prehistorically to feminize people.

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  • $\begingroup$ Plants seem good for antiandrogen effects. I'm less certain about estrogen. Does phytoestrogen work on humans? I've often heard it doesn't. $\endgroup$ Aug 4, 2022 at 3:54
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    $\begingroup$ Phthalates are known endocrine disruptors. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8157593 But almost all afford to intentionally manipulate human hormones hew much closer to the chemical structures of the hormones that they are seeking to act upon. In a primitive society, though, you'd need to rely on serendipity. For world building purposes, one need only claim that some mystery herb or contaminant has the desired properties and this could be plausible, rather than identifying a particular one. Neanderthals wouldn't know modern scientific plant names anyway. $\endgroup$
    – ohwilleke
    Aug 4, 2022 at 4:01

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