Are We There Yet?

butch-bmw

And it really is a BMW. Really.

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.

24 thoughts on “Are We There Yet?

  1. Lesboi

    I salute you Jamie. I think you’re in great hands with Dr. Weiss. Good luck with surgery in a few weeks. You deserve to finally be comfortable in your body. The rest will all take care of itself.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I hope so. It is hard to go back 2 years to when I thought top surgery was “weird and unnatural” and to remember that quite a few people still think that way (now it feels normal and like a choice),

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  2. Tea With Ess

    Oh, the awkwardness of wearing a binder in public. My dislocated rib is placed under my binder, so every time I have to see a physician or physiotherapist I have to take the binder of… At least the ekg-operator you had seemed to be understanding. And then you have to put the binder back on… I still struggle with putting it on by my self, and have to lay down when doing it. At least my physiotherapist have the decency to leave the room while I get dressed!

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Wearing a binder in public is OK as long as no one sees it. In retrospect, I couldn’t figure out if the EKG nurse misgendered me by telling me to take off my shirt (but not my bra) or if she way cool with it. I know I was very self-conscious. When I went with Donna to the cardiologist a few days later, the nurse (different hospital) told her to take off her bra and her shirt…so who knows.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      See me as I am – whatever that is (and if they can figure it out maybe they can explain it to me). Or as someone else said, I’m not a MTF, I’m not a FTM, I’m a WTF. Thank you for your good wishes and support.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Isetta’s are very odd looking cars, and the front door is bizarre. There used to be one parked in my neighborhood – very easy car to park in NYC because they are so small. Now I see a lot of “Smart Cars” fitting in-between two large legally parked cars. Personally, I prefer my sturdy Subaru, although I wouldn’t mind a 2 seater BMW (convertible).

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  3. Cal

    I want an EEG. I want the brain scan and then compare it to a cis male’s and cis woman’s. Just to see if I can add evidence to the Japanese test studies that show that we really are the mind of one in the body of another gender. 😀

    Needles I can handle. NOT IVs. You can’t put them in the back of my hand unless I’m still knocked out from surgery. You have to put them in my elbow pit, and put on a tourniquet or arm brace to prevent the dripper from coming out (and I’ve learned how to do that ll myself, much to the local nurses’ annoyance 😀 ).

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  4. Cal

    And next year, after I get my first full year in at Starbucks, I am going to my primary caretaker, tell him my situation and show the medical history of my family, and get the double mastectomy and full hysterectomy if possible. If insurance won’t pay for T, that’ll mean a few luxuries I’ll have to forgo. I can live without the reconstructive surgeries for my chest (to make it look more male) and penis; I can handle the idea of having a neutrois body. But the breasts and the reminders of my gynecological organs causes issues. I hate my monthly period; my response is still that from when I was 12, “Ew, gross!” and further reminds me of the physical differences between me and the other guys at work. Ugh.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I hear you. I was able to get a hysto because of fibroids and whoa did it make me feel better not to get my period. I don’t know if it is easier to get breast reduction paid for by insurance or top surgery – the companies try to deny you coverage and then wait and see if you fight it. Good luck with it –

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  5. honest11

    I guess for me, top surgery was that pathway that pushed me forward to want to keep transitioning. I don’t think that has to be the case for you though. Having had top surgery and not being on testosterone..it does seem harder for people to see you as you are… and it is hard at first but after a few weeks you almost forget your chest ever looked any different. I think we may always struggle with people seeing us how we want to be seen… but I guess that is the beauty of being queer and knowing who you are on the inside. 🙂

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I get wanting to be seen as male. There are a lot of ways to be a trans man, and some of them are just as queer as being a topless butch. I know I don’t want to be a stealthish straight man, and the middle age male role models are not as appealing as the young ones. So I will see. Right now, I’m just happy to be contemplating a new chest.

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  6. rimonim

    Huge congratulations on your surgery. Top surgery is among my favorite memories. Talk about getting a weight off your chest! I am so excited for you. There are so many delicious moments: when you get home from surgery get a look at yourself in the mirror, compression vest, bandages and all; when you get all that off and see your chest for the first time; the first time you just throw a shirt on in the morning, without even thinking about it.

    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.

    Of course, you’re transgender no matter what you’re wearing, what surgeries you’ve had, or what other people think. It’s really hard to come face to face with other people’s ignorance, but you live that already. I suspect it will be a relief to be seen in this new way. In my experience, it’s better to have people confused as hell by the real you than comfortably assuming a bunch of bullshit. Let them be uncomfortable for a change.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Confused as hell they are. Or as I like to think about it, they are where I was five years ago (what are those kids doing and why all the fuss about pronouns….).

      There is a great Dylan song about the generation gap – the Ballad of a Thin Man (you know somethings happening but you don’t know what it is, do you Mr. Jones). Sometimes I sing it to Donna just to tease her. Fortunately she is well versed in Dylan and takes it well.

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  7. PlainT

    Good luck Jamie! Maybe because I’m from a younger generation, but I don’t think it’s that uncommon to get top surgery without T; in fact I think it’s getting more common.

    Also, that Isetta is mad cool; impractical for city living though. If it’s parallel parked and say another car parks too close to the front bumper, wouldn’t it be impossible to open the door? What does one do?

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I agree that top surgery is becoming more common, particularly as non-binary identities become more common. What I also see changing (including in me) is the idea that you choose your identity at the age of maturity and then stick with it – even when it no longer feels relevant. I like the idea of this is now, and not necessarily forever. The ability to play with hormones and surgery changes everything, but it is only available to those with access to health coverage (or money) and the medical resources willing to work with you. It is still unfortunately out of reach of a lot of people.

      The Isetta is totally impractical for NYC driving – (practical driving in NYC is a contradiction in terms) – I can’t imagine what it would be like to get cut off by a Taxi in one (scary enough in a Subaru). I think you can open the door even in a tight space – and then climb in. They are a rinky dink car – my Subaru has gotten a lot of dings parking, but nothing that caused it to fold up like an accordion, and I’ve always been able to get out of a parking spot even when sandwiched in-between two cars that were way too close (although it did involve some bumps).

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Facing it is one thing. Figuring out how to live with it is another. And doubly complicated when you are determined (as I am) to not sacrifice my relationship but to find a way to nudge my partner along with me.
      If you are familiar with consensus process, we are at the point where she has moved from blocking consensus to standing aside while still supporting the action. It isn’t the best position, but she is still there, and we are still talking it through.

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  8. Naomhan

    This is a really interesting post because top surgery is something that I definitely want, testosterone not so much. It’s contemplating always being in the middle, or simply being read as a woman with tiny tits that scares me… Some day I’ll make a decision, but I’m glad your journey is moving along! Good luck with the top surgery!

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks for your support. I’m not sure how (or if at all) having top surgery will change how I am read. I’m more interested in how I will feel in my body instead. I’m counting on it having a positive effect on my internalized dysphoria. But I won’t know for a while afterward. I’m not keen on T for a lot of reasons – and I’d like to avoid taking it if I can. But I’ve learned not to rule anything out.

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