It is a parlor game. If you could swallow a pill that would change your body shape into whatever form you wished, what would you wish for and would you swallow the pill?
My first reaction is I’d like to be a few inches taller (5’7 instead of 5’4) and have a masculinized chest (i.e. top surgery). My second reaction is whoa slow down and think this through. I’m good at procrastinating. I can wait until I am clear about what I want to do, or until I have no choice but to take action. I promised Donna that I if I was going to have top surgery, I would wait until she was ready. I am still waiting; neither of us is ready.
When I first started to think about what it meant to be transgender, I was both intrigued by and repelled by top surgery. I am still ambivalent. I’ve tried to write posts before about top surgery, but they have not felt right. This is yet another attempt. If the thought of a butch (or me in particular) considering top surgery creeps you out, stop here and read another post. Otherwise, continue down into the rabbit hole.
From the time I first recognized myself in the mirror I have been gender dysphoric. I’ve managed it since kindergarten by having short hair and wearing boy’s and then men’s clothes. I’ve managed it by being visibly queer and butch. Some days I do better than others. When I lost weight, my dysphoria shifted to my chest. My breasts were more visible, or seemed more visible to me. For psychological comfort, not physical comfort, I’ve been wearing a compression sports bra or a binder. I like the flat look; but my body is not naturally flat. I wish I had a flat chest.
If you offered me the pill, I’d take it. I’m not so sure about anesthesia and the knife. I’ve had four surgeries between my knees and my uterus. I put off a partial hysterectomy for as long as possible. In retrospect, delaying was a mistake. I believed in natural menopause. I thought I could handle the anemia and hemorrhaging from the fibroids. I felt immediately better after the surgery (after I recovered from the anesthesia) and was ecstatic to never have my period again. I was not aware of how dysphoric I was about menstruation until it stopped.
There is no way to know how I would feel about having top surgery. Would I wonder why I waited or would I think that nothing really changed except for the size of my chest?
Below are some of the arguments against top surgery that have I have heard and considered. Some are transphobic (i.e. they deny the validity of a transgender identity).
- Even if your breasts make you uncomfortable you should keep them because they are a part of you.
- Do the best you can with what you’ve got. You are strong and you can deal with the dysphoria.
- You think your dysphoria is about your breasts, but if you had top surgery it could resurface attached to another body part.
- Think of all the starving children and ask yourself if it is right to spend the money on cutting off your breasts.
- You do not need medical intervention to be transgender.
- It is just a phase you are going through. If you wait it out it may pass.
- You are perfect just the way you are.
This is the other side:
- There is no butch narrative or transgender narrative that you need to hew to. Having top surgery does not make you less butch or more transgender than you are now.
- Dysphoria is a horrible thing to deal with day in and day out. If top surgery would lessen your dysphoria then you should consider it.
- Binding or wearing a sports bra is not comfortable, do you really want to do that for the rest of your life?
- You do have privilege and money. If you feel guilty about it donate your time or money to a worthy cause. It has nothing to do with top surgery.
- Trust your self to make the right decision; you will know when and if you are ready.
I’ve spent some time on You Tube, Transbucket, and Tumblr. I’ve looked at a lot of graphic depictions of top surgery. I don’t have a clear vision of what I want my chest to look like. I’ve read and re-read Micah’s top surgery posts on Neutrois Nonsense. I’ve researched a few surgeons, but haven’t found anyone in the New York metropolitan area who comes highly recommended (Taub or Weiss). The lazy New York chauvinist in me is hesitant to travel to Chicago (Steinwald) or Cleveland (Medalie). I don’t have a plan.
Deciding whether or not to get top surgery is not a parlor game. It is serious. The more time I spend thinking about it, the more accustomed to the idea I get. The less appalling it seems. It starts to sound like a rational solution to an irrational problem. I can either compress/bind or I can have surgery; there is no going back to how it was before. There is no magic pill.
Note: The post title is from the Jefferson Airplane‘s song “White Rabbit“. The song is based on Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, illustrated by John Tenniel. The text and drawings are in the public domain and available through Project Gutenberg. Growing up, I did not like the book (I only liked books about boys), but I re-read it in college. I wanted to understand the references in the song.
I wish you could simply go “ask Alice… I think she’d know…” [Great song]
As usual, your post got me thinking… 2 main thoughts. 1 [me me me me me] If I could take one magic pill to change something about my body, it would be to go from 165 lbs to 135 lbs. I toyed with the idea of changing my face — it’s just not a “pretty” face (or sexy or beautiful or whatever) — it doesn’t have those proportions that make someone good-looking, and I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be so. But I think that would change “me” too much, so simply the being slimmer (and then more in shape) would be nice. Although as I squint to see what spellcheck is underlining, I can’t help but think getting my eyes back to 20/20 would be nice… ANYway…
The other thought was about your situation. I remember seeing this Oprah episode with John Gray (Men are from Mars…), who said we have a bunch of love tanks: romantic, self, family, friends, community, spiritual, etc. And he explained how at the beginning of a relationship, our romantic love tank gets more and more filled until it is completely filled up, and then we start feeling like something is missing, and we think it is something in the relationship, because we were happy before… But the reason is that now that our romantic love tank is nice and full, we are noticing the other tanks aren’t so full (either they weren’t full before or maybe we’ve been ignoring them while in the throws of new love). In your pros and cons list, you mainly listed your self image and a bit of money stuff. I would think your relationship with Donna should be in there somewhere too. You DID say you are waiting until both you and she are good with it, so I know it’s not like you haven’t thought of it, I am just pointing out that it should perhaps go in the list. I would think it is a bit like when women have breast(s) removed due to cancer — hopefully it doesn’t really change how their partner feels about them in the long run. But as yours is not really just a physical change — it’s sorta psychological as well… I dunno. I remember seeing an interview of Chaz Bono (yes, with Oprah… no, I’m not obsessed with her… but ok she is a big influence on me). Anyway, Chaz and his girlfriend talked a bit about how it was when he started taking hormones (I know – not the same, but bear with me… or bare with me – I am bad with homonyms). His girlfriend said how she wasn’t really prepared for him to get all kinda macho… not really macho… they described it really well… just kinda more… masculine. It was a challenge but they worked through it. Anyways, I know that simply having the chest surgery wouldn’t involve taking hormones (I think), but just wanted to make the point that just because your romantic love tank is pretty full… don’t forget about it.
Jeez I take a long time to get to a point.
And longer than usual for me to answer it. I have always requested Donna’s support in any major change I make (like getting a dog or changing my name), and have tried to give her time to adjust to the concept. I do not want to put her in the position of having to decide “should I stay or should I go” – to quote The Clash. I do have to push her along sometimes in order to get my way, but she usually comes around.
Even though I am not “transitioning” my viewing myself as transgender puts her in the position of having to question exactly what our relationship is – is it a lesbian relationship between two women, or is it a relationship between a lesbian (her) and a transgender partner (me) and is there really any difference between the two ways of looking at it, and does it affect her identity as a lesbian if I alter my body or not. She is still mulling that over.
I’d also like the extra 3 inches of height (to which Donna would have no objection), but fortunately there is no surgery for that. I am 5’4, and my employer used to have a height requirement of 5’4 but I worked with a guy who was really 5’3. The day he was taking his medical to be hired he went early in the morning to a chiropractor to be stretched out, and was using posture techniques to make sure he stayed at 5’4 until he was processed!
Re: the point about whether it is a lesbian relationship or a lesbian with a transgender relationship. I think all that should really matter here is it is a partnership. If gender and sexuality are so fluid then the ‘normal’ relationship boundaries no longer apply as they dont fit the new ideas.
I personally have over thought and over thought my sexuality and gender. Only just taking steps to answer both but I just couldnt get my head around whether I would still be a lesbian if I took the steps to be non gender specific. Recently I came to the conclusion that it just doesnt matter. I am who I am (under construction) and im hoping whomever I have a partnership with respects and accepts me which it seems your partner does.
Really enjoyed this post!
One of the problems is that Donna and I think at different speeds and I’m always a few thoughts ahead of her. This is exacerbated by my not talking to her until I feel comfortable with my thoughts, at which point I spring them on her.
In some ways, I wish all the gender stuff did not have affect her. But when your partner changes, it forces you to change too. She really considers herself a lesbian, and doesn’t quite get butch but not lesbian identified.
We’ve been together a long time, and eventually she comes around, but the process is not always pretty.
If it were always easy we would never appreciate the good in our lives. I really hope things work out. Lookong forward to reading about the progress
I really enjoyed reading your post. Thank you for sharing on such a personal level. First I will answer your pill question…If I could take a pill to change anything I would take one to stay at a thin weight with a nicely toned body. For sure I would take that magic pill. At least thats how I feel now that I am just in the fantasy world with the pill 🙂 As for your top surgery dilemma…. I feel like you will do it when you are ready and you will know when you are ready. I imagine you will feel it on a cellular level, when the time is right. You are on your journey and your path and heart will guide you. Be strong. Be happy. Be you.
Thanks for your support. Weight is tricky and so much easier to put on than take off (and too many good things to eat).
One of the things writing this post raised for me is how obsessive I can get about a subject (whether it is top surgery, or losing weight, or writing a post, or finding jeans that fit me) to keep me from having my feelings. Lots of work to be done here while I wait for inner guidance.
Been thinking about this post a lot. I find that most times I think of myself as having a more masculine appearance … a flatter chest, straight hips, less curves, more angles, more sinewy and muscular. It’s only when I’m in the shower or getting dressed or catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror that I am reminded of how I appear to others. Weird, I know.
As for the magic pill … I’ve always wanted to be taller even though I’m about 5’5″. But, yeah, a pill to stay trim and fit. I’ll have to go with that one.
Butch body image is a tough one to be honest about. I think all short butches (who can’t fit in boy’s clothing) would like to grow a little taller. I know I would like men’s shirts to fit better – my fantasy is to have my sleeves end at my wrists instead of at the end of my index finger, and to be able to wear shirts un-tucked without minding the gap. I have had some dress shirts custom-made, but that seems expensive and extreme for casual, and I can’t quite imagine going to a custom tailor for a flannel shirt (plus it would cost over $100).
It is interesting that no one thinks it is problematic or pathological to want to be taller, or that we should just be happy at whatever height we ended up as (I almost wrote whatever height we were born as).
For me, I felt the same way for a year or so. I first found out about top surgery through a video which depicted butch, genderqueer, or trans individuals who opted for top surgery. Imagine me with stars in my eyes as I watched this, saying, “I can still be a girl but have a flat chest!” At that point in time I was horribly internally transphobic towards myself, so the thought of being trans terrified me. Then I started binding, and I knew I needed a flat chest. I would look at myself in the mirror and start crying because it was all so wrong, but I could barely even articulate which parts (if any) were so wrong on my body. Ultimately it came down to the fact that I liked my chest flat. I hated binding, and would do it only minimally at first. It was a matter of practicality: I could either bind for the rest of my life, potentially causing myriad health issues and/or physical disfigurement, or I could get top surgery. And so my surgery date is Feb. 20th of next year.
Taking hormones was more of the ordeal that you seem to hint at surgery being for you. I didn’t feel I NEEDED it…but in the end, the pros outweighed the cons, I hope you can find peace with whatever decisions you make about your physical self in regards to your gender identity and expression. I know that kind of angst can just be terrible.
I am a contrarian when it comes to pharmaceuticals, I don’t want to take anything (including anti-depression meds, hormones, and anti-biotics) if I can help it. Fortunately, there are surgeons who will do top surgery without hormones or intention to transition.
That’s great that you have a date set and are going to be done binding forever. Good luck with it.
Oh, and I’d definitely take the taller pill. I hate being 5’4”, I’d LOVE to be 5’8” with longer fingers (for instrumental purposes only!).
Wow. See, I’m thinking about top surgery too- but unlike you, I think, it will be almost a decade, give or take a few years, before I have the money, time, and medical freedom to even seriously consider going through with it.
Your list of the pros and cons of having top surgery struck close to home, especially the bits about your breasts being a part of you. One in particular that struck me was “You think your dysphoria is about your breasts, but if you had top surgery it could resurface attached to another body part.” I’m terrified that if I ever do go through with top surgery, I’ll regret it, miss sensation in my breasts, feel unfeminine or even want to go backwards and get my breasts back. I’m scared that having what’s between my legs will tear me up inside, or that my hips or my height will become sources of pain and distress for me.
I don’t want to hate my body, or even not recognize what is love and what is hatred towards myself, from myself.
Thanks for commenting and saying where you are with the process. Top surgery is not a “slam-dunk” for me either.
I’ve never been fond of my breasts and they’ve been off limits in sex. There are a couple of surgeons who try to keep the sensations in the nipples (Steinwald in Chicago, Weiss in NYC) rather than re-grafting them on surgically. I was thinking that I might feel differently about them with a masculinized chest, so if I have surgery I’d want to keep the sensation.
I’ve worked very hard to make peace with my body (lots of therapy, reading, writing, gym etc.) and I’m not ready to throw in the towel and live with what I’ve got. But I am also trying to be less miserable and dysphoric, and more accepting of myself and my struggle to survive with my authenticity intact.