I don’t walk around my apartment naked. I wasn’t raised that way. My older brother and I shared a small bedroom in a small apartment. We wore clothes until bath time or bed time, changed into our pajamas in the bathroom, and went to bed.
Once we were old enough to wipe ourselves and dry ourselves we were not naked in front of our parents. Nor were our parents naked in front of us. They were buttoned up. They did not hang around in pajamas, bathrobes, or loungewear. If you were awake you had all your clothes on. Except at the beach or the pool.
The four of us shared one bathroom. There was a mirrored medicine cabinet over the sink; the only full length mirror was on the inside of the door to my parent’s bedroom. To use it you had to close their door. I never looked at myself in it dressed. I never looked at myself in it naked. I did not want to.
I was protecting myself from the truth. I knew there was a physical difference between men and women, but I continued to believe that the only distinction between boys and girls was their haircut and what they were wearing. When I wore boy’s clothes I felt like a boy. When I wore girl’s clothes I felt out-of-place. I stayed ignorant.
I never developed an accurate idea of what I looked like from the neck down. I only use the full length mirror in our bedroom when I’m getting dressed up. Donna is always telling me to look in the mirror; I am afraid it is going to crack.
When I first started reading queer theory, I tried to read Gender Trouble by Judith Butler. Then I realized I needed to back up and read Foucault. Then I realized I needed to back up and read Lacan. All three were impenetrable and too academic for me to read cover to cover. Lacan’s contribution is the Mirror Stage, when a toddler realizes that the image in the mirror is a representation of themselves, an image of what they look like from the outside. That they are recognizable to others, the same way their caretakers are recognizable to them. How do I want to be recognized?
Donna asked me what I wanted my chest to look like if I had top surgery. The question took me by surprise. I hadn’t thought about it. I had thought about what I don’t want (breasts) but not about what I do want (other than not to have breasts). I had no vision of what I would look like without a shirt on. Or what I wanted to look like naked in the mirror. I hadn’t thought at all about what Donna would see.
I am contemplating top surgery because I like how I look when I wear a binder. With my clothes on. I don’t want to wear a binder for the rest of my life. I don’t want to feel constricted, contained, and compressed. I want my chest to be free.
I need to stop focusing on what would be removed, and think about what would be created in its place. I can’t ratchet the clock back to when the difference between girls and boys was clothes, and I don’t want to hurtle forward and become a man. I can not relive my childhood as a boy; I can not retroactively change my body. I need to live in the present, look to the future, and not be afraid to make plans.