I went for my pre-op physical for top surgery. No big deal. Blood test, urine test, and an EKG. Montefiore Hospital. An hour on the subway; the next to the last stop on the #4 line in The Bronx. I didn’t read or listen to music. I looked at everyone else on the train and wondered what they saw when they looked back at me.
I was anxious about the blood test. I am afraid of needles. I have a 50/50 chance of fainting when I give blood or get a shot. I told the nurse I wanted to recline so that If I fainted I wouldn’t fall out of the chair. We talked about our dogs until she finished drawing blood. She has a brindle pit mix. I survived.
It was the EKG that got to me. Another nurse left me behind a curtain and told me to take off my shirt and lie down on the gurney. I remembered that I was wearing boxers that stuck up above my jeans and a binder (Air Max velcro). She attached the EKG electrodes to my arms and legs and then she struggled a little to get them under my binder. She didn’t say anything and I was just about to offer to loosen the velcro when she got the last one attached.
While I was on the gurney I realized that once I have top surgery this is going to happen every time I have an EKG or a physical. It will be awkward. With my shirt on, I will be a hard to read flat chested butch. WIth my shirt off, I will be transgender. In no-man’s land.
After the test I took the train back downtown to see Dr. Weiss for the “mark-up” – the agreement on what he was going to do and where he was placing the nipples. I remembered that this is something I really want to do. I saw his office manager and paid for the surgery. My insurance company keeps requesting more information. For some reason I am taking this as a good sign.
The hard-core butches I know, whether they consider themselves transgender or not, do not try to look like women. You have to work to read them. They do not give you any hints or make it easy for you, even if they have soft skin and lack male secondary sex characteristics. You can’t tell right away if you are looking at a gray-haired teenager or a 50-year-old butch.
My butch friends minimize their chests by layering or using elastic. None of them have had top surgery. Only a handful of butches write about it or talk about it. We are a strong and secretive bunch. There is a rational fear that top surgery is a pathway to testosterone, that once you get a taste of transition you will be unable to stop.
I need to face my fear. There are butches who went this route and transitioned and I do not question, regret, or mourn their decisions. There are some who remained butch. It is an individual choice in an uncomprehending and hostile world.
By having top surgery and not going on testosterone I am putting myself in a position that most trans-masculine folk want to get out of, i.e. perpetually looking like I am in that awkward stage of transition. Are we there yet? I am clearly queer, I am clearly trying to look masculine, yet I am clearly missing the mark of looking like a man my age. The answer is to look harder and to see me as I am.
Notes: That funky little car, like my funky path to top-surgery, is a BMW Isetta. The front door is literally the windshield and bumper. See this article for a short history and more pictures of the BMW Isetta.