Tampa “Man Claims Hair Loss Drug Made Him a Woman.”That is the sensational—and sensationally misleading—headline that’s burdened Mandi McKee this past month. After appearing in a handful of news articles, including the New York Post and France’s Closer magazine, McKee’s troubling and ultimately inspiring story has been spun into something more tabloid than truth.
McKee, formerly known as Will, says he suffered negative side effects from a hair loss drug, but otherwise the articles—and a troubling appearance on Anderson Live—have painted a mostly inaccurate picture.
“Over the course of my life as a man, there were times when I felt I may have bisexual tendencies. I was always attracted to women, and I had thoughts about men,” says McKee. “But I was happily married for 10 years. I had a son. I may have had thoughts from time to time about men—and even about gender—but nothing ever close enough that I considered taking action.”
That is why McKee believes that taking finasteride—the generic form of Propecia—did not cause her to become transgender, but rather brought otherwise dormant feelings to the fore and amplified them in distressing ways.
McKee is referring to “Post Finasteride Syndrome,” a documented condition characterized by physical, mental, and sexual side effects that remain even after use of the drug has long been discontinued. There are so many individuals claiming to be affected by this condition that there is currently a class-action lawsuit against Merck, the manufacturer of Propecia.
McKee’s story has received widespread publicity, but it was McKee’s guest spot on Anderson Live that garnered the most attention, and created the most misinformation. McKee says the format, focus and time allotted to the interview changed at the last minute, giving her little time to prepare.
“They initially said it was going to be 20-40 minutes out of the hour-long show,” says McKee. “But when we got to the studio, everything changed. The producers were coming in and out saying ‘The questions have been changed,’ and ‘The theme of the show has changed.’
While in the waiting room, McKee also learned the expert doctor from Washington, D.C. who was set to be a guest, and who done studies on Post Finasteride Syndrome and had evaluated him, wouldn’t be there. They replaced him with an expert unknown to McKee.
“I was comfortable that [the first doctor] knew my symptoms and would be there to confirm that what I was saying was true,” McKee recalls. “Now he wasn’t even there.”
On air, the segment was cut to around 10 minutes and the focus shifted from the science of Post Finasteride Syndrome to her personal life.
“It felt like ‘The Trial of Mandi McKee’,” she says.
According to McKee, it is necessary to start at the beginning to fully understand her journey. Four years ago, as Will, he moved to West Park Village with his then-wife Michele and their one-year-old son. A software engineer of 10 years, he rented a nearby office space where he ran his successful company, Tampa Bay Interactive. Alarmed by his rapidly receding hairline, he began taking a generic version of the hair loss drug Propecia in 2008 that he ordered online and without a prescription.
By Christmas of 2008, he began to notice slight changes in his emotions. His mother came to visit for the holiday, and while making Christmas dinner a minor incident turned into a monstrous blowup.
“That was unlike me to be so emotional,” says McKee.
The following year McKee experienced problems at work, saying he felt ‘spaced out’ and unable to focus on tasks. A major project was cancelled, and he faced increasing stress over financial difficulties and also escalating emotional changes sexual dysfunctions. According to McKee, it took a massive toll.
“It went beyond sexual dysfunction, it was a total loss of interest,” McKee says. “It became evident that something was just missing, and I started to get depressed. My body just wasn’t responding like it used to.”
By early 2011, McKee’s marriage had ended, and he attempted to move on. He found a new place to live in Tampa’s Ybor City, and took advantage of the rich night life and other activities. But a mounting internal struggle loomed.
“I started returning to questions I had when I was younger—maybe I’m bisexual, maybe I’m gay’,” says McKee. “I made a lot of friends [in Ybor City], but it became evident to me during that time that my problem was not just a question of sexual orientation.”
Still living as a man, McKee says he suffered from panic attacks and sunk into a deep depression, often not leaving home. Finally he realized that much of the problem was rooted in his resistance to a powerful desire to live as a woman.
“To say I struggled with it would be an understatement,” says McKee. “But I knew that what I was feeling inside were feminine-type emotions.”
By May of 2011, McKee had crashed. At rock bottom, he decided that he needed to move forward and take steps to get his life back on track. By December, he was in transgender counseling and began self-identifying as a woman.
Now Mandi, she shared her wish to transition with a transgender support group. McKee set an appointment with a doctor to talk about hormone therapy, but before the meeting she decided to do some research of her own. It was during this research that McKee had what Oprah would call her “aha” moment. She discovered that one of the drugs used in transgender male-to-female hormonal therapy is finasteride.
“I thought, ‘You have got to be kidding me,” says McKee. “Generic finasteride is the drug I took for hair loss.”
McKee did more research on Post Finasteride Syndrome and found that many men claim to suffer emotional, sexual, and mental effects after using the hair loss drug.
Trans*Action Florida executive director Michael Keefe understands the effects of Post Finasteride Syndrome, but he isn’t convinced they apply to the degree claimed by McKee.
“There are thousands of other men who have taken the same drug who have had these side effects, but they aren’t claiming to be transgender now,” says Keefe. “Gender identity is more than physical appearance and hormones, it’s also based in the psyche. That’s where it typically begins, actually.”
Keefe noted that changing gender identity can be enormously confusing, and that McKee’s experience and perceptions should be respected. He also expressed sympathy for the sensational approach taken by the media.
“The [transgender] community at large doesn’t necessarily support this particular claim, but there’s a great deal of support for Mandi personally,” Keefe says. “And we’re disappointed with Anderson Live and other media for taking such a sensationalistic perspective.”
In the end, McKee just wants people to learn something from her story.
“Always accept people for who they are today,” she says. “Not just for who they are, but for who they are today.”
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