Naked in the Mirror

mirrorI 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.

22 thoughts on “Naked in the Mirror

  1. amediablogger

    Wow! What a great post. I did a lot of reading around this subject and I thought that this article may be an interesting read for you and point you to further reading (this piece is not thick in academic content but very interesting)

    http://www.academia.edu/3994392/QUEER_SOCIALITY_AND_OTHER_SEXUAL_FANTASIES

    I have done a lot of academic reading on gender and the “other”. I know I do not come across as being academic and I try to distance myself from that dreary side of me but an area I am absolutely interested in is Gender and Difference in the Arab World. If you want something dreary yet fascinating an interesting but long read would be Simone de Beauvoir The Second Sex.

    In respect of your post and on a personal level, I believe that it can take a lifetime for us to be happy in our own skin. Life is a learning and growing process and you seem to be coming along quite far. I really do wish you the best of luck and I look forward to reading more of your posts.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thank you for the link; it looks like an interesting read (for later tonight, not for work). I find the cultural/historical part of gender studies perpetually interesting – particularly how it is different over time, by class background, religion and national/tribal culture. Throw in the impact of colonialism as well. I have to keep reminding myself that my view of gender is shaped by my birth circumstances (NYC, middle-class, second-generation American (Polish/German), and Jewish).

      I read The Second Sex (and a little Sartre) somewhere around college/grad school, but it would be worth revisiting it again from a different perspective.

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      1. amediablogger

        Kimberle Creshaw coined the term intersectionality, How on earth did I forget to mention her. If you Google scholar the term intersectionality and gender there’s endless work on this theme. Yes Butler touched on it in gender trouble but there is a lot more out there on this theory in respect of queer studies and gendered identites/differences.

        I think you may like this work because slowly many themes are being addressed as third wave and post third wave feminism. For example an area that was almost absent from first and second wave feminism was those with disabilities in society which left those invisible within national and cultural discourse.

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  2. urbanmythcafe

    Self image is a funny thing. I realized years ago that I had no realistic self-image of myself. Now I know to ask others about my own physical state, and appearance, and to try to believe their answers.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I’ve always been good from the neck up, but since puberty not from the shoulders down. There is a part of me that espouses the feminist mantra “my body, my life, my right to decide” and another part of me that questions why I can’t make peace with my body and accept it the way it is (and the other part that says if you can’t accept it, you can’t accept it, and that is OK too).

      I actually used writing this post to help me stop procrastinating making an appointment with a surgeon in NYC for a consultation (Dr. Weiss). It is in a couple of weeks. I’ll see how that goes – if it completely freaks me out or if it helps me clarify what I want to do. If I do the surgery, I’d like to do it in NYC. I’m a NYC chauvinist and it is hard to believe that I couldn’t find a good surgeon here (with NYC prices to match no doubt).

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      1. urbanmythcafe

        My feminism, which was instilled into me from a young age (I am grateful for that), plus my innate Buddhist perspective have held me back quite a bit, over the years. Yet, at the same time, these views the world have made me into what I am, and of which I am proud, which is simply myself. Although I still identify as female, I walk through the world as neither male nor female. It is a peculiar place to be, as you know, but then again it is peculiar merely to exist.

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  3. RonaFraser

    Great post. I think I mentioned another time that I don’t have a very accurate self-image, and I just realized that we never had a full-length mirror growing up. If I wanted to see how my entire body looked, I had to stand on my parents bed, and I certainly wasn’t gonna do that naked! (My nudity upbringing was similar to yours, except nighties/pjs were more accepted.) But that’s no excuse for my lack of knowledge of my own upper body… I think I was/am a combo of not interested in what I look like and not wanting to change my self-image. The day I realized what my nose actually looked like from the side was a shocking day (I was at least in my 20s if not 30s!), and served to confirm that examining myself too closely in the mirror was unwise…

    But I totally agree that Donna has a fantastic point. It is easy to say and see what we DON’T want, but you don’t just want to be walking away from one thing without walking towards another, so you need to get a clear view of what you are going TO. Otherwise you STILL may not like what you see in the mirror. In my outsider’s view, I would think it is better to have a goal of what you want to look like and then reach it (or at least get closer to it), because then you will be happy when you get there… whereas if you just go for getting rid of what you DON’T want, you may be looking in the mirror afterwards being confused and still unhappy with the view.

    PS. Am coming out of a stomach flu. I was happy to see a new post from you to gently bring me up to computing (and thinking!) speed! Thanks!

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Glad you liked the post and are feeling better. It is interesting how something so simple as where the mirrors were when you grew up could affect your self-image. Even though Donna is older than me, her parents were bohemians and very forward thinking – big house – lots of mirrors – no hang ups about nudity. She has almost no self-consciousness about walking around naked with the shades up!

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  4. halitentwo

    As usual, I enjoyed your post. I can completely relate. It’s both fascinating and ridiculous that I am still shocked when I look in the mirror. What I see in my head and heart are just so different than what I see in the looking glass.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Right. For me, I continue to see myself as I wanted to see myself as child. I never quite believed that I was really female, and that being a girl/woman was permanent and immutable. Somehow I managed to hold onto that, despite all the physical evidence to the contrary (which I ignored to my mother’s chagrin).

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  5. urbanmythcafe

    Another thought ( nosey and opinionated): don’t let uncertainty of the future hold you back from something if you know it is right for you. The day that I had my “parts” removed was the happiest day of my life. I went under with a big smile on my face, and awoke with an even bigger smile on my face. (the surgeon even commented on my smile). My life is far from perfect, but I will never regret my decision to have surgery.
    The future will be what it is, and probably be nothing like what we expect or envision anyway.

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  6. Jays-Heaven

    The difference between a male chest and a female chest is basically the position of the nipples. Since my breasts were huge the Plastic Surgeon had to take away a lot of tissue and they minimized my nipples. The shape of my nipples is more like a man BUT the position of where they placed them is not. The nipples of a female are more towards the center of the chest, while the nipples of a man are more towards the armpit. (I hope you understand what I am trying to explain)

    Because I do not feel male nor female I asked the surgeon if she could replace my nipples in between the known male and female position and so she did. So mine are not replaced on the female position nor on the male position. They are where I thought they should have been all along.

    I hope this helps.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      It does. It is weird how even nipples can become an either/or binary when they don’t have to be. I also have to remember that no matter what I get, I won’t look like some muscle ripped 25 year old. I’ll look like a middle aged butch who had top surgery. Hopefully a happy one.

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  7. P

    I found your site while searching for appropriate swimming attire. This post really hit home for me. I’ve been forcing myself to look in the mirror more. It’s a difficult exercise for me along the lines of what you wrote. Thanks for sharing. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one spring through this.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Glad you found my blog. We don’t write about Queer/butch/trans body image enough, even though we think about individually all the time. Swimming is the one activity where it is difficult to layer, wear mens stuff, or go baggy. Ice skating is much easier (I have a great pair of boy’s hockey skates). If you find a solution that works for you, let me know.

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  8. The Little Butch That Could (TLBTC)

    I figure I was given this body for a reason. . . why, I do not know. Maybe that is part of my personal journey while here on earth. Do I like it, hell no. I like to think God has a sense of humor and he used my body as proof. I have a difficult time accepting what others (people I love and trust) say about my physical features because I do not see what they see. I kid around with sk, telling her it’s okay, I just have body dysmorphic disorder. I know it’s nothing to joke about and that it’s a serious issue but it’s my way of deflecting attention.
    Another quality piece with lots to think about. And by the way there is nothing wrong with watching documentaries and reading non-fiction. My Netflix list is filled with Ken Burns contributions and our bookshelves are nothing but non-fiction and classics. We nerds need to stick together. . . joking. Peace.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      On my job we use the saying “do the best you can with what you’ve got” when there is a real problem with no solution and not enough resources are available to properly respond to it. Sometimes I feel that way about my body – and then I think “do I really want to keep binding for the rest of my life? what happens if they stop making binders and all I can find are push-up wired sports bras?” Then I remind myself that there are bigger problems in the world than my dysphoria. Then I remind myself that maybe, just maybe, I could be rid of dysphoria. And so it goes.
      I justify my body issues by thinking about natural variation – I’m a natural variation that is unusual and up until recently not talked about very much.
      Thanks again for your comments. I’m glad that you did not fall off in to the abyss of discarded blogs/bloggers.

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  9. Lesboi

    TLBTC’s comment reminded me that for many years I held a notion that it was somehow sinful to change my body and that God would punish me in some way if I even got a tattoo. I felt like it was mutilation to change anything “God” gave me. Now, I’m not a terribly religious person but I do have a strong spiritual side and my feelings about this topic have mellowed tremendously over the years to the point where I don’t really think God cares what we do with our bodies. In my opinion, God only cares about my soul, not my body. I now have a tattoo which I got with reckless abandon about five years ago. I’m hoping to have top surgery this year and I’m still working out the details of what I want my chest to look like in the end. I don’t think there are any guarantees with surgery as to the end result but I do think that Donna asked a very good question. I have trouble envisioning anything other than the hairy, muscular male chest that I’ve dreamed of most of my life but I think taking the time to really create a strong, realistic vision of what you desire will go a long way in how content you (and I) will be in the end. Good luck!

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks. I keep trying to remind myself of how bad middle-aged guys mostly look when they take off their shirts (real ones, not the ones in the movies). There is no way I would look worse than them. At worst I’ll look like Porky Pig.

      I just took a look at the Google Images for Porky Pig and Baby Hewey. There must have been a strict code- Hewey is wearing a sports bra in all the pictures, and Porky is wearing a very small jacket open to the front, but no nipple grafts for him. I may have to write about this; thanks for putting it into my head!

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I think it is the difference between being middle-aged and being in your 20’s – whatever I am doing I am doing solely for myself, not for how I will be seen by others. It is the self-recognition (and the ability to be present) that I am looking for.

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