Michelangelo's David

Michelangelo’s David

I am still in top surgery purgatory. Purgatory implies hope and patience. Donna is slowly reconciling herself to my having surgery. I’m trying not to pressure her because I don’t want to sabotage her efforts to come around to it on her own.

I’ve tried to take a break from thinking about top surgery, but I can’t. I’ve got the money, I’ve got a doctor, but I don’t want to proceed until Donna says she can handle it, or is willing to try. She mentioned the end of the year. I mentally put the Prosecco on ice.

Meanwhile, nipples are on my mind. I am obsessed with chests. I chest gazed while on vacation. Italian men take more care with their appearance than American men do. They wear their dress shirts, T-shirts, and polo shirts tighter. They show more. I’m not attracted to men, but the Italian men are very attractive. 

I’m used to having a flat chest from wearing a binder, but it is an undefined and schlumpy chest. I’ve thought that I will look the same (dressed) after top surgery as I do wearing a binder, but that is not true. I will look similar. Less up top, a more noticeable midriff. I accept that I will never have David’s chest and abdomen. I will have a middle-aged jelly belly. My nipples could show through my T-shirts. I could end up with moobs.

Some guys wear undershirts to keep their shirts clean and to absorb sweat. It also smooths out the chest. I’ve tried to make sure that my button-down shirts are loose, opaque, and thick enough not to show a bra or binder. Until now, I’ve never given much thought to what I’d wear under them if I got top surgery.  Or how I would feel going out in a T-shirt, with nothing on underneath.

It is acceptable for men’s nipples to bump out of a shirt, but it is a no-no for women’s. Bra’s cover and de-emphasize nipples. Sports bra and swimsuit descriptions are full of text reassuring the buyer that there is no show through. Even when it is cold. If you are “perky” there are products you can buy to cover your nipples. NipGuards are marketed for men;  they reduce chafing while running, but are also used for nipple camouflage for men who are self-conscious.

Dr Weiss tries to keep the nipple attached (pedicle preservation) during double incision surgery, as an alternative to nipple grafts. His goal is a natural looking chest with full sensation. My goal is to be free of my breasts.

Will I be self-conscious if my nipples are visible? I’m butch, I’m used to breaking fashion rules. I’m not self conscious about having hairy legs and armpits. I justify not shaving by claiming that body hair is natural. Shaving is barbaric; a way to make women buy razors and depilatories. The truth is that I don’t shave my body because it is something girls do.

I won’t have a pithy explanation for why I am getting top surgery. I am going to have to tell the truth. I don’t like my breasts, they never felt like they belonged on me, and I hope I will feel more comfortable in my own body without them.

Note: For anyone who wants detailed information on top surgery,  Neutrois Nonsense has several excellent detailed posts on choosing a surgeon, types of surgery, preparation and recovery. Gentleman’s Gazette has a good history of undershirts, and some discussion of the pro’s and con’s of wearing one.

27 thoughts on “Nipplemania

  1. Alex

    An exciting time wondering how a body change will work out :-) I’m definitely a bit envious that y made this step, but very happy for you!

    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Haven’t made the step yet, and I’m sure Donna is going to periodically freak out, but I think she gets that she has to find a way to accept it. At least she is struggling with it. I was surprised when she said the end of the year (part of me was “why not August”, but I managed not to say it – six months is not that long to wait).

  2. txbridgefarmer

    It’s amazing how big a difference just being comfortable in your own skin is. I’ve never been an advocate for surgery for cosmetic reasons. Tummy tucks or lypo were the types of procedures (in my mind) for those with more money that they knew what to do with.
    For someone contemplating top surgery, it’s not just cosmetic. It’s being able to look in the mirror and see the body you feel you were supposed to have. I’ve compared it to a person having a large, benign growth removed: it may not be harmful, but it just doesn’t belong on your body.
    Good luck on your journey!

    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks. I have some crow to eat for looking down on women I know who had plastic surgery – without actually talking to them about how they felt about their bodies or what they expected to get from it (assuming more than catching guys). I know some of my friends are going to have a difficult time with it (think of all the starving children who could be fed with the money) and are already somewhat confused about what is going on with me (not surprising since I am not 100% clear about it either). Mostly, I want it not to destroy my relationship, which means a lot of talking and negotiation.

      1. micah

        I went through a similar renegotiation. Plastic surgery was a reason for ridicule and rebuffing in my house, but I’ve learned we all have our reasons, it’s usually more than just “vanity” and even vanity has its place.

  3. RonaFraser

    “I don’t like my breasts, they never felt like they belonged on me, and I hope I will feel more comfortable in my own body without them.” That sounds like a damned good explanation to me. I think it puts it in terms anyone could understand. I wonder what it will be like to finally walk around bare-chested? Will you be thinking “Ha! I’m showing my chest in a public place and no one is freaking out!”… or worrying whether you have moobs… Time will tell! And I think you are doing the right thing, not pressuring Donna, allowing her to get used to the idea. I don’t know that she will magically be suddenly happy about it, but it will allow her to warm up to the idea and combine it with the knowledge of how it will make you happy in yourself.

    PS. How is retirement? Enjoyable? Too much time to think? (my worry for myself… though I don’t really see when I will be able to afford to retire!)

    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      It is a pretty good explanation, but it “skirts” the transgender part of it – I’m going to have to practice so that it doesn’t sound too awkward. I had a lot of trouble telling people about my name change because I had to bring it up (I don’t have to tell people about the surgery ahead of time – but if I go missing for a week or two they are going to ask and be concerned about why I am doing it). Meanwhile, I have no desire to go topless except around my apartment. I’m just not sure what I’ll look like after surgery (even with a T-shirt on) without a sports bra or binder on.
      On the retirement side it was really nice to go to Italy and to come back and have a pension check sitting in my mailbox waiting for me. I feel a little guilty because I am acutely aware of how lucky I am to have accidentally at 22 landed in a job with a pension and to have managed to hold on to collect on it. I’m the only one in my circle of friends who can retire without having inherited money. It still hasn’t sunk in completely that I don’t have to go to work. It may not hit me for a while.

  4. Charlie

    Why do trans and queers have to explain their surgeries, while heteronormatives can get anything and get away with “because it makes them look or feel better”? Because you don’t like your chest is a good one! It could imply you had a potentially very large chest that caused health issues (there is increasing awareness about this with women), without the need for further explanation.

    When I layer correctly, I look like an overweight man with gynecomastia, i.e. men’s boobs. I can’t wear sport’s bras because they cause me panic attacks. I can’t afford binders right now. I KNOW not to bind with Ace bandages. I wear tight undertees and beaters, then throw on slightly loose polos or heavier tees. Yes, even with small breasts, I still hate them. I want breast reduction, too, though not as bad as I want bottom surgeries. They don’t cause me body dysphoria or dysmorphia as others may feel, but that doesn’t make my experience any less valid.

    Here’s my question: what if Donna never comes around to saying yes?

    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I think we have to explain because we invent and re-invent “coming out” all the time. A few ignorant people on my job asked me if I had surgery when I started to bind because they had no idea what a big deal it is to have top surgery (i.e. how long the recovery period is).
      I’m a 38C and the only way for me to look flat is to wear a binder (I use a velcro binder because it is adjustable) – layering doesn’t do it except in a down jacket. Dysphoria is interesting because it affects everyone differently – and we all find our own idiosyncratic ways to work around it to survive.

      If Donna doesn’t say yes (even a very lukewarm yes, even an absence of no form of yes), then eventually I think I will have to have top surgery and she will have to make up her mind to stay or go. But, I am trying to avoid forcing her into that situation, and if that means waiting 6 months or a year, then I can do it. I would add that since I often procrastinate things and don’t like conflict, it could go longer than that, but I hope not.

  5. halitentwo

    I hate that we have to even consider the judgments of others and come up with a justification of any sort for taking steps to help us be more of who we are. I ended up telling people they had to “walk a mile in my boobs” before criticizing. It at least ended the conversation. I also do a fair amount of chest gazing. I really liked how binders made me completely flat. But also noted how many men actually do have a healthy portion of moob. I dream about being in public (at the beach, mowing my lawn) without a shirt, but cannot fathom actually doing it. And that’s partly because, unlike you, I have not accepted the fact that I will never have the body (I see in my mind) of David. We all have to dream I guess. Good luck with the waiting. It is hard. Especially once you’ve made the decision in your mind. And it is like having to go to the bathroom on a long car ride…. the closer to your destination you get, the more you need to go.

    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I can’t imagine not telling the people I see on a regular basis that I was getting top surgery, plus Donna will tell everyone (probably before I do) because that is just the way she is – she comes to grips with things by talking about them (with other people) rather than thinking and reading quietly by herself. By the time she is reconciled to my top surgery everyone she knows will have heard it from her first. Still, I’ll probably have to explain why, and then I’m going to have to decide whether to stick with dysphoria or to throw transgender into the mix.

      I don’t think I am going to go out in public without a shirt (at least not within a mile of Donna) but I do wonder what I’ll look like in a T-shirt without a binder on, and whether anyone will pay attention to it besides me. In my mind I would love to look like David, but I try to remind myself when I chest gaze that the vast majority of American guys don’t look like him either.

      1. urbanmythcafe

        It sounds like you may need to end up negotiating with Donna’s friends, too.

        I suggest not looking at Davids, Italians, or Bachelor contestants. Look around at normal people on the street. You can fit in as normal among them. If I watch TV, I become self conscious about all kinds of things about my body. But, I look at our close friends, a random group of women from their 30’s to 70’s, and there are those with larger shoulders, bigger hands, taller, bigger tummy, and even balder. I fit in among them as one more woman on the street regardless of where I started from.
        If I watch too much TV, then I start feeling that there is something wrong with my body.
        Nobody can live up to media body images.
        Soon you will be just one more guy on the street. Or on the beach. ( Just not an Italian guy. )

      2. Jamie Ray Post author

        Curiously, Donna’s friends being one step removed from the process (and not having to deal with being the partner of someone who is transgender) are actually pushing her to deal with it and offering support (including hanging out with her in the hospital and helping with my recovery). They are trying to convince her that it will damage the relationship more if she drags it out than if she accepts and we move on. This is surprising since they are “old school lesbians” – but they are also therapists (Donna was a therapist before she retired) and good at working out conflicts.

        I’m trying to make peace with my body (but it insists on its own terms). There is a reason that Abercrombie and Fitch doesn’t have any 50 year olds modeling for them.

      3. urbanmythcafe

        No one has a tough of a time of this as a partner.

        Helen’s ultimate problem is that she never felt that she had a choice in any of it. Which in a certain sense is true. So I say “But I didn’t have a choice either.” Which is also true, but doesn’t help her at all. …

      4. Jamie Ray Post author

        I agree. Other than the “Should I stay or should I go” choice, there are a lot of choices for how to deal with it – and how to deal with conflict in the relationship.
        It is a choice to hear each other out and to try to not be defensive or escalate the conflict; eventually all of the betrayal, resentment, and anger has to get aired and respectfully acknowledged.

  6. anexactinglife

    I am still learning about the surgeries. It took me a long while to realize that top surgery is not just the removal of breast tissue and the nipple grafting, because that would leave an unconstructed area – it also involves rebuilding and contouring the chest. The more I know, the more I can talk it through.

    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I agree; it isn’t as simple as it sounds, and despite what everyone says about medicine being a science, a lot of it is art. The surgeon who took out my fibroids was known for his fine hand at stitching (very small regular stitches) and not leaving a “bikini line” scar, and complained about surgeons who pay no attention to how they stitch up after an operation.

      The approach depends on the build and size of the patient, the desired results, and of course the surgeon’s skill. I’ll be happy with something that looks natural and flat, and hope that eventually the scars will recede.

  7. micah

    I had the t-anchor with pedicle, so my nipples are not grafted. They are my real nipples. And they are always perky. Like, 90% of the time. (I don’t know why this is; it’s hard to describe, but I think the areola was sewed around tightly?)

    I don’t wear an undershirt, usually just tight or thin cotton shirts, so my nipples are showing most of the time. I don’t mind at all, though I do wonder if people think I’m just cold all the time. It’s just an incredible sensation to wear my shirt next to my skin, I am always grateful for it.

    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I must admit that it was as if I spent my entire life not noticing the nuances of men’s chests, and opened my eyes and all I saw were men’s nipples poking through their shirts. I’ll have to see how they look and how I feel about them.
      I’m cutting down on my shirt buying in anticipation of having to change some of my wardrobe post surgery. I’m hoping men’s shirts will fit better without the breasts and the binder; if not I’ll have a couple more shirts custom made with a no-see-um fabric.

    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      My chronological age is 55 (I know this seems ancient, but it really isn’t) but my internal age is much younger. I don’t feel like my age at all – when I was a kid I always felt much older than my age and at some point it flipped.

  8. MainelyButch

    Hey Jamie…as you know I just had top surgery on Aug. 18th…I want to tell you that it’s an AMAZING feeling to wake up with a nice flat chest! My surgeon did a supreme job on me, and I have full nipple sensation, hell they even get hard still when I am cold! So she evidently used the pedicle procedure you spoke of above. AND recovery hasn’t been bad at all. Within 2 days I felt pretty much fine, just a little bruised, but fully able to use my arms and do most everything except heavy lifting. I am getting a little bit of backlash from a few about being Butch identified and having top surgery – evidently some think this automatically makes me Trans…here’s the blog I wrote about it. Let me know what you think!

    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Posted a comment. It is great that you found a surgeon who did a great job. Who did you use?

      I am always surprised by the cult of Garramone; when there are other good surgeons out there. Like you, I want to recuperate at home, with the pup, and not have to fly while I am still stiched up.

  9. J.D.

    “His goal is a natural looking chest with full sensation. My goal is to be free of my breasts.”

    Reading your post I found myself wondering whether you really need to keep your nipples at all. It doesn’t sound like nipple sensation is important to you and you mostly seem concerned with avoiding them showing. Honestly, when I look at post-op photos, I would be unhappy with the majority of results I’ve seen. When I get top surgery I’ll tell the surgeon to throw out the nipples along with the rest of the useless tissue.

    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Fortunately, I’m not considering modeling as a career, nor am I planning on posting my shirtless torso on tumblr so I don’t have to have an Abercrombie body. I know there are going to be ugly scars and I think I am prepared for that outcome.

      I think it would look weird to me to not see any nipples. If I go back to my “kid” chest, there are nipples, just not women’s nipples. When I saw the surgeon for the surgery mark up we went over the nipple size and placement and I went for “masculine” – for me that seems right – even if I end up looking like a centaur – or some other 50/50 animal.

      1. J.D.

        The first time I saw a mastectomy picture as teenager I loved the smooth chest and immediately knew I wanted that. I’m asexual as well as agender so nipples have always been useless annoyances to me. I don’t really care about the scars.

        Good luck with you surgery!

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