The Other Side of the Shore

bras-across-the-bridge

Bras Across The Bridge – Breast Cancer Awareness – 2011

I managed to make it this far without going through the social rites of passage for a Jewish-American girl. No Bat Mitzvah, no Sweet Sixteen, no Prom, no graduation party, no wedding. No ceremony to mark the crossing of a line, the shift in status from childhood to adulthood. No ancient rituals, no reading of texts, no scarifications.

Maybe scarifications. I’m counting down the days to top surgery (December 8). If top surgery is my rite of passage, it is not clear to me what is on the other side of the shore.

I’ve been low-key about it because I don’t want to put a hex on it. I am thankful that Donna remains nominally onboard and reconciled to my going through with it. I’ve read up on tips for top surgery and what to expect while you are recovering. I ‘m making a list of what I need to do around the house to prepare. I want to make it as easy on Donna as possible.

Over the last fifteen years I’ve had four surgeries (one to repair torn knee ligaments, two to remove fibroids, and a partial hysterectomy). I learned that I get nauseous and depressed from anesthesia. I learned that I am impatient to recover, that I get bored staying at home, and that I don’t like to ask for help.

But, I am channelling all of my anxiety about top surgery into the realization that I don’t have the right outfit to come home from the hospital in. Or for lounging around in while I recover.  Or for taking a walk to cool my cabin fever.

I threw out my old sweat pants last year. I found an ancient pair of flannel PJ bottoms and my moccasins in a storage box. I have some soft loose button-down shirts. I have my gym shorts. Otherwise, all I wear are denim jeans, corduroy jeans, and twill cargo pants.

I’m going to have limited use of my arms. I probably won’t want to pull up my jeans and deal with buttons and a zipper fly right after surgery. Or take naps in my jeans. I need a layette set. I need a couple of pairs of sweatpants, and a light zip-up hoodie.

bringing-Jamie-homeI have a vision of the top surgery stork bringing me home from the hospital and dropping me down the chimney. Swaddled in yellow and green. All fresh and new. Innocent. Reality check: Donna will bring me home in a taxi and I’ll take the elevator to our apartment.

I am skeptical of born agains. Skeptical of people who assume that transitioning will solve all of their problems, that they can leave their old life behind in a cloud of dust. Still, I think of top surgery as a way to reclaim a part of myself distorted by puberty.

What should a butch or genderqueer person expect to get out of top surgery? I will be happy if I can look at myself in a mirror larger than the medicine cabinet, and if I can stand up straight and breathe deep without feeling self-conscious about my chest. I don’t expect top surgery to alleviate my social anxiety or make up for the traumas of my childhood. It will likely complicate my already complicated presence in women’s bathrooms, dressing rooms, and locker rooms. Despite this, I think looking queerer, and less female-bodied, will feel right. At least to me.

I am looking forward to never wearing a bra or a binder again. To the freedom of an unrestricted chest. I’m going to donate my binders to In a Bind, a group that collects binders and distributes them to trans youth who need them. I’m going to donate my bras to Free the Girls, a group that collects new and lightly used bras and assists women in developing countries to resell them in their local used-clothing markets. I hope they find good homes.

Note: While thinking about what to do with my binders and bras, the two things that came to mind were burning or composting them. I vaguely remembered that “bra burning” is a myth. This video debunks the famous “bra burning” demonstration at the Miss America contest in 1968. This site explains (to ignorant fools like me) why most bras are not compostable.

29 thoughts on “The Other Side of the Shore

    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks. I’m trying to look forward to the results, and not obsess about the surgery/recovery, but it is hard not to have it on my mind (I’d like to write about something else, but right now I can’t).

      Like

      Reply
  1. MainelyButch

    I just donated all my sports bras to the local thrift shop that raises money to support breast cancer patients….also, I have a ton of stuff left over from my surgery, like new bandages and tape and stuff…if you would like it I would happily pack it up and send it off. I think you will find that the recovery is very quick. I was up and doing normal stuff in 3 days time, and I felt awesome because my body was finally “right” for me. So try to look at it that way, that this is a major great change for you, and maybe you can head off the depression. Take it easy, but don’t over restrict yourself. Once those drains are out you are on your way!!!! Congrats on setting your date! Rock on my friend!!! MB

    Like

    Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Everyone tells me I need to accept help, so I will start with accepting your kind offer. I’ll email you off line with my address. I’ve read up on Joshua Riverdale’s scar care guide (Freudian slip – I typed it out as scare care – which is more apt) on http://transguys.com/features/scar-care and also on perpetual tomboy http://perpetualtomboy.me/2014/10/30/post-top-surgery-tips/ but I haven’t laid in any supplies yet. My surgeon recommends the scar guard strips.
      I like the idea of using some “butch energy” in the healing process – or does that sound too 1970’s?

      Like

      Reply
  2. krisalex333

    You are right: top surgery alleviates and complicates. I hope the alleviations for you are more than the complications. I’m marking December 8 on my calendar to send good vibes your way. All the best.

    Like

    Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Everything is relative – but I know I don’t want to go through the rest of my life with dysphoria and breasts. I can navigate “women’s spaces” and get stares from strangers – I want to be comfortable in my body for myself.
      Curiously Donna just started asking questions again like “how will it feel when I put my head on your chest?” and I had to answer her “I don’t know, but it will feel the same when you hold me from the back (i.e. spoon)” and that seemed to work…

      Like

      Reply
      1. gok9go

        Congratulations on surgery in 32 days!

        Public restrooms: What I’ve noticed with the women’s restroom is that it’s the same feelings I had before–I don’t know how others feel. Whenever possible I looked for the family restroom and use that. My justification for using the single-stall larger restroom that might be needed by a family right after I go in (yep, that’s the Jewish guilt kicking in…) is that neither the women’s nor the men’s room is appropriate for me. When I have to make the choice, I still use the women’s restroom, it does feel like before with the caveat that I am a little more sensitive to wondering what other folks think. I try to be as inconspicuous as possible, which is what I did before surgery.

        Post-surgery hugs: It’s good that Donna is asking questions again. My girlfriend and I were just talking about how she feels with respect to my chest (she’s knew about the surgery when we met, which was pre-surgery, and fortunately for me never saw my chest pre-surgery). But, what she mentioned yesterday is that there are ways we can cuddle and hold each other now that would have been impossible with “those things” still on me. We can be closer when we hug, she can really put her head on my chest comfortably, etc. There’s the ability to really hold each other closer that comes because I have a flat chest. I hope that you and Donna make your way to that point, that Donna finds some great new feelings because of how close she can be to you.

        Scar care: I suggest going with your surgeon’s suggestions. I did the same thing you did in terms of looking up everyone’s suggestions–so much information, and who’s right. My surgeon was happy with lotion on the nipples and massaging the scars with some lotion. Based on his comments and what I saw, I went with Lubriderm for my nipples and Palmer’s cocoa butter for massaging my scars. I try to massage them twice a day, morning and night. Ryan Sallans has a nice video where he talks about massaging scars: http://youtu.be/mLIhxGbsMTw.

        Happy Chanukah!: Someone commented that when your drains are out you will be good to go. There are still some limitations, but even one week after surgery you will notice how much better you feel (don’t overdo it!). In checking the dates, your drains should be out for Chanukah. I know that Chanukah is not a major holiday for us, but this year it is for you. Each time you light the candles, enjoy the first of lighting them with the chest you should have always had.

        Congratulations, Jamie! I’m so excited for you!

        Like

      2. Jamie Ray Post author

        Thanks for the update and surgery info.

        Donna had finally started to accept that this is really happening; I’m still not sure if the freak outs are over or if there is going to be one or two more – I’m holding my breath and hoping that she got it out of her system.

        I’m a little worried about undressing in the gym locker room as I’ve already freaked out a few women there. But, I’ll deal with it and change/shower at home if I have to.

        I intend to eat the usual fried foods for Chanukah. Although jelly donuts were not a big holiday food for us growing up they are big in NY now (a few Israeli bakers have set up shop) and I will indulge. I usually make latkes in a heavy cast iron pan, but I’ll skip it this year.

        My family was not big on gifts (we didn’t do a 7 night extravaganza) and I was kind of thinking of top surgery as a birthday gift to myself (I am a Christmas Eve baby). It beats buying a motor boat, a jacuzzi, or a sub zero fridge (3 sure signs of mid-life crises).

        Like

  3. genderneutral

    That is great about the surgery!! you might do a search on ‘prepare for surgery, heal faster”. Peggy Huddleston sp? did a bunch of research on consciousness while under anesthesia and the power to speed up healing when we introduce positive thoughts. My first surgery that I used this for, the doctor was shocked at the speed with which I was walking and off pain meds. pretty much has remained the case ever since. Honestly I read little of the book and listened to the cd a couple times a day starting a few weeks before the surgery. Now on the website you can just get the cd/mp3 and not the book. Anyways, here is to a speedy and joyous recovery.

    Like

    Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks for the tips; I’ll download it. Mostly so far I’ve been trying to eat healthy and work out – but I’m a bit obsessive and anxious about the whole thing – I could use something (non chemical) to help me calm down.

      Like

      Reply
  4. honest11

    I am so excited for you. Surgery is not so fun, but after it was all done I definitely felt a sense of peace. It can seem to complicate being gendered.. using women’s bathrooms and etc. I think I was hyper aware of it all right after surgery but then you kind of just get used to it. Looking in the mirror is a lot more pleasant..now I probably just look more strange because I can’t stop touching my chest. 🙂 Will definitely be sending positive vibes your way on Dec. 8th. Comfy clothes are a must. I would say sweat pants with an elastic waist band ( pulling up your pants and pulling them down was NOT fun even though I wore loose b-ball shorts ). Definitely a button down shirt as well. Putting on a regular shirt will not be fun. So stoked for you to not have to wear a binder. I look at mine and think about how I want to donate them, but then feel sad for the people that still have to wear them. Many deep breathes in your near future 🙂

    Like

    Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      This weekend I’m going to make the rounds looking for a couple of pairs of sweatpants with pockets and a zipper hoodie. I’m also going to rearrange things so that everything I need is at counter, desk, or coffee table level – including my phone and ipad rechargers…

      Like

      Reply
  5. DogDharma

    I am really wishing you well for your surgery and hearing about your experience. As to “bra-burning,” I was 12 years old in 1968. I don’t recall the Miss America episode or mass bra-burning, but it was definitely thought to be symbolic of feminism. I imagine a heck of a lot of women attempted it privately. I never did, but I surely would have liked to give it a go. I did a spoof of the old “Living Bra” commercials once. You’ve probably already read it, but the Wikipedia article is interesting: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brassiere

    Much good luck!!!

    Like

    Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      It sounds stupid, but, my life changed when I discovered compression sport bras. I was a chubby kid and my mother was always trying to get me into bras that were wired and restricting – and once she tried to make me wear a girdle to a family function (I refused to go if I had to wear it – the fight was ugly but I won). I am really looking forward to wearing a T-shirt with nothing on under it.

      Like

      Reply
      1. DogDharma

        Yes, those compression sports bras were the best alternative. I went through my share of those also. Girdles — ack!! No way, no how. I guess I was lucky that my mother was from the era of garter belts and hose. I never succumbed to binding because I’m a sap for comfort, but there is nothing like wearing a t-shirt with nothing under it. And even more so, once or if you get to that point, going completely shirtless while swimming or just mowing the lawn on a sweaty day. Good luck again on your journey, Jamie!

        Like

    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks for telling me the name of the artist, I will look them up. When I went into google images looking for storks and babies it was the sweetest image. I used translate and was surprised to find out it was a happy new year card, not an “its a boy/girl” card. But it seemed accurate since I will be starting out the new year with a new chest.

      Like

      Reply
      1. Tea With Ess

        I love this artist, well, so do most swedes… Her images of the Swedish “Santa Claus” has forever changed our images of him. (The Swedish Santa Claus is basically an angry gnome who demands rice pudding with butter on Christmas Eve in order to not mess up the farm for the rest of the year. He also appears at all houses on Christmas Eve to deliver the presents and drink glögg and have gingerbread cookies.)
        The card you have chosen is more of a New Years wish of a baby the coming year I guess, but I think it suits you and the text perfectly!!! It is a mark of a new start!

        Like

  6. Lesboi

    I wish you all the best for your surgery and look forward to hearing your thoughts throughout the process. I’m sure you will be elated with the results and the process of donating your old bras and binders will be very healing and rewarding to you.

    Like

    Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks. I don’t want to just throw them away – I try to recycle stuff under normal circumstances – and it is a big thing psychologically to be free of bras for the first time since I’m eleven years old. I want to lay them to rest.

      I used to just take them for granted (even though I hated them) – then I made my peace with wearing compression sports bras for years and years – then the last couple of years I’ve been wearing binders (except at the gym) – and then I realized I just didn’t want to keep doing any of it. I want a chest – however it gets phrased (my old chest, a boy’s chest, a reconstructed chest) that doesn’t have large breasts attached to it.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  7. Jamie Ray Post author

    I got into this by thinking about burning and composting as a way of letting go of that dysphoric part of myself. There are no communal rituals that I know of for transitioning (although I did see some prayers on a UU site).

    In a money is no object world, I’d go find a beautiful natural hot spring and relax in it until it dissolved my dysphoria. A couple of years ago Donna and I went to a park outside of Xela in Guatemala – it was set in the mountains and was a day-use hot springs with several different natural “pools” to soak in. A magical place.

    Reality is a bit harder. Perhaps I could hire a few witches to chant at my bedside while I am recuperating. Otherwise I am just going to visualize having a boy’s chest and let myself smile while I think about it.

    Like

    Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks. There is a part of me that thinks that this should not be such a big deal – like flipping it around and saying – what if I was a cisgender straight woman who was getting a larger cup size, would I be lining up support and worrying about rites of passage? Or would I just be looking a big lacy bras on the internet?

      Like

      Reply
  8. Pingback: What to you do when your alone? | MainelyButch: Butch Lesbian Perspectives

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s