Transitioning While Butch

I’m three months post top surgery and I’m happy to report that I’m as comfortable in my body as I can ever remember myself being.

If I could do 100 of these I'd be buff.

If I could do 100 of these I’d be buff.

This morning I did push ups in the privacy of my living room; I was only wearing boxer briefs. The push ups were hard, but it felt great to have nothing bound, bra’d, or flapping around. I will do them at the gym when I can crank them out faster and in better form. Vanity.

I’m writing this post because I don’t know if the feeling is permanent, or fleeting. I’m writing this post to remind myself that right now I feel good; if I slip back into dysphoria I will still have proof that this happened.

Ten years ago I was on an escalator in Macy’s Herald Square. I was wearing work drag – olive-green wool pants and a black turtleneck (both women’s but adequately man tailored). The escalator was lined with mirrors and I could not avoid looking at myself in the reflections.  I saw a chopped up flabby drab butch with breasts, rolls at the waist, and bulges at the hips. I panicked, ran home, and changed into jeans and a flannel shirt.  As transforming as Clark Kent turning into Superman (or in my world view, Superboy).

It was at a point in my life when I thought I should make peace with being butch and female, accept my body, and stomach wearing women’s clothing for work and dress-up occasions. I told myself there was plenty of time left in the week to wear jeans and T-shirts. I shouldn’t have to do it 24/7.  I needed to dress and act more like an adult. I needed to push through my anxiety. I failed.

Of all the ways I’ve tried to manage my dysphoria, top surgery seems to be the best. I’ve pried my body back from the zombie puberty body snatchers. I tried therapy (still trying). I tried only wearing men’s or man-tailored clothing. I tried binding. I tried losing weight. I tried going to the gym. And although I felt a little better every time I did something to alleviate the dysphoria, I didn’t feel right until I got my chest back.

The $64,000 question is why.

I now accept that this is the way I am. I am somewhere out there on the butch, genderqueer, non-binary, trans masculine, transgender spectrum. I may never find the one or two word label that works; I may never fit neatly into a medical or psychological diagnosis. I’m not going to force myself into someone else’s limited definition of butch or transgender.

I used to think that I had to either make my peace with being butch or transition. Be female, or be male. Repress the boy within or become a man. Do nothing or do everything.

The third hand is empty.

A false dilemma. The third hand holds a rainbow.

I was afraid to change my name, play with my pronouns or honorifics, take any form of testosterone, or get top surgery. I thought transition had to be binary, a package deal. I thought I needed to take testosterone to have top surgery. It was a false dilemma. If I had not untangled myself from this thought process, I would have transitioned to male, for better or worse.

I didn’t start from a binary place and I’m probably not going to end up in a binary place. I’m transitioning; but not from female to male. I’m transitioning while butch. And while it is difficult to categorize a transition that is less tangible than FtM or MtF, it is just as real, even if I can’t tell you what I’m transitioning to.

Notes: An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments describes many of the common logic mistakes in public and political discussions. The whole (short) book can be found here, False Dilemmas are on page 18. Male or Female is a legitimate choice for many; but for those caught in the transgender high-beam headlights it can be a false dilemma. Instead of either/or it can be neither, both, a mix, or not applicable.

27 thoughts on “Transitioning While Butch

  1. Xiomara

    My partner’s transitioning while butch as well. I don’t know where this journey will take hir, but what an honor & a privilege it is for me to be a part of it. Thank you for sharing your experience!

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      It is definitely a challenge to transition/change and stay committed in a relationship. I don’t know if our relationship would have survived if I had gone the whole medical transition route, and I don’t know if it would have bee the right thing for me (it is possible that there are many right routes that would have positive outcomes). It was important to me to do everything I could to be true to the relationship and true to myself – many things to balance.
      Overall, because I feel better and more present, our relationship has strengthened and Donna sees the changes in me as positive (although not necessarily an honor and a privilege – probably more like a trek through the desert).

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Red pill had a different meaning and some repercussions for Neo. Nothing so drastic or cataclysmic for me (but then I am not in a major motion picture, just a minor WordPress.com blog). But I am hesitant to take drugs I don’t absolutely have to take for similar reasons.

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  2. blakeajax

    This is great. And I know what you mean about being binary/presenting as one’s assigned gender seeming like “growing up” or “being adult” – something one knows one is ‘supposed’ to do, but which seems narrow and restricting. It’s wonderful to realise there are other possibilities.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      it is a real Catch-22. I don’t want to be a model masculine woman (“See women can do anything and look as masculine as they want to be”) but I get co-opted into that if I don’t come out as transgender. I’m hoping that this continues to change and that our society will become more accepting of genderqueer and non-binary individuals.

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  3. Kit

    I like this *so* *much*. I’ve taken to thinking in terms of “butch” and “femme” – with my own femme nature having it’s own unique expression. I don’t think I’ll ever identify as a woman or a man. I’m just femme.

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  4. isadolly

    I’m so happy for you! The only way I could compare what you’re feeling is when a MTF gets her breast implants. As a transsexual woman, I can relate. The first surgical procedure was my breast and it was nearly impossible to bring me down from that high. Before you do more surgery, don’t neglect your very being. Cosmetics only mass your dysphoria.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I agree. I’ve struggled for years to accept my masculinity and to listen to who I am (after a lifetime of everyone telling me I should act more like a girl). Most transgender adults have a number done on them by well-meaning (or not) parents, educators, and families/partners – and by the time we hit adulthood we have a lot to overcome and deal with. Transition without self-acceptance and self-respect is not going to be successful, no matter how your gender is read.

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  5. Pixie

    I remember the first time I did push-ups after top surgery. It was (and still is!) awesome, no danglies! And even more for me, the first time I lay on my stomach in the grass (because I like to stare at tiny ecosystems of life, yes I’m weird!) and not having that sensation of pressure. That (not so) little thrill of delight and rightness is intoxicating.

    I sometimes run my hands over my chest just to feel that, on really dysphoric days it helps some. Helps to touch more than look, for me. Even more helpful is having one of my partners run their hands over my chest, they enjoy touching me and knowing that they like my chest too is a great counter to feelings of dysphoria.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I always thought of mine as floppies not danglies, but they are gone now! I run my hands over my chest in the shower, and it feels good – for so long I could not enjoy them because of what they meant to me (now I think of it as a chest (singular) instead of breasts (plural)). Also looking forward to lying in the sand and on grass when it warms up – we still have snow on the ground.

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  6. Cai

    I’ve been wearing binders for the last two weeks, and while it feels like my chest is still there, when I go to feel it, my chest is totally flat. It’s like phantom symptoms. The same thing for down there–I always felt like I needed to “readjust” myself when there was nothing down there. I’m going to start HRT next month once my new insurance card arrives with my name on it, and when the first paycheck of that month comes in. I’m going to sometime late next year for chest and a complete hysterectomy, because my insurance covers “women” beginning at the age of 30. If they won’t cover the reconstructive parts, I’ll feel much better with a neutrois body than what I have now.

    I am lucky to have found good binders from GC2B. They don’t hurt at all. I accidentally fall asleep in them on occasion, only to wake up an hour or two later because that’s when the discomfort sets in.

    Can’t wait for the physical part of my transition, now that the name change is complete!

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I’ve only heard good things about GC2B and I’m annoyed that they weren’t there when I started wearing binders, I wore velcro ones so I could readjust if they felt tight, because I could not tussle my way into and out of underworks every day.
      Some guys save for a new shiny convertible; we save for surgery. I’m glad that Starbucks provides you with decent insurance that allows you get on with what you need to do for yourself.

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      1. Cai

        Becoming a store manager will have nowhere the salary I could get, if I decided to stay with programming and eventually graduate to the IT department to help me afford any aspects of transitioning my insurance may not pay for. But I think this will also help our visibility as members of the trans community, too. I have been into coffee far longer than into programming, this is my initial love. Always wanted to be a barista and run my own store, but was pressured to do this or something else that would be “more financially stable”.

        Starbucks is one of our biggest allies. I’m not leaving them.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. MainelyButch

    I totally hear you here! Top surgery, 6 months ago now, was the BEST thing I EVER did for MYSELF exclusively. I have felt so “freed” since I got rid of my breasts. Now I run my hands over my chest and it feels much better and more like it always should have been. I see my gender as Butch, it’s a noun to me, I don’t fit into the binary male/female thing either, so I happily just say Butch. Rock on! It sounds like you are doing quite well!

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I feel like top surgery was taboo for butches for so long – we were supposed to love our breasts – even when we knew we couldn’t – uh-oh this needs to be a post…..
      Anyway, I think it is important for us to talk about how this is an affirming thing to do, not some shameful secret misogynist thing. That if it makes us feel better about ourselves and our bodies then it is good.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks. I’ve gone back in forth in my own mind many times about whether to consider myself butch or something else. I’ve been butch for so long that I can’t quite give it up for a newfangled label.
      Sometimes I wonder if it is similar to what civil rights activists went through in terms of self-identifying as colored, Negro, black, or Afro-American. At a certain point you feel like an anachronism.
      Thank you for the Liebster – I’m going to respectfully decline – but I appreciate the shout out.

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      1. NotgigglesButchuckles

        I remember reading an essay by Rayford Logan, who had an incredible life. WWI vet, traveled around Europe afterwards living off currency speculation, then got a PhD in history and was one of the first black history specialists. In that essay he was maybe 70 and totally rejected the new name “black” because he so preferred and identified as Negro. He was very light skinned, so that’s part of it–he was tan, not black. But it was also trying to switch from a word he’d used for so long to a new one. And also, he was in the generation that fought for a capitalized Negro. It felt like going backwards to go to lower cased black.

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  8. UnknownJamie

    Humm, you are just unique and individual as anyone yes? You know what your range is and it’s good for you to know you don’t have to sit somewhere within it, it’s all yours! Without knowing exactly yourself why, your disposition knows what is outside that range makes you uncomfortable, so you do your best to release yourself from what doesn’t fit. Keep doin them press ups, yaaaay more more more! So glad your recovery has been so positive 😀

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks. Even though the goal of transition is to be rid of dysphoria, it is very strange to have it surgically removed! I’m enjoying it immensely but can’t quite wrap my brain around being free of it. Hope it lasts.

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  9. lostinthelakes

    Language is so interesting. It’s so fluid. I was recently taking a class at my work that teaches folks how to be allies to LGBTQ folks – I have the ally part down, but I was just really interested in what people were being taught. In the class, they went over language and acknowledged that it was :fluid and contested,” – we had to define terms like cisgender, transgender, and queer, and though I knew those would mean different things to different people, of course, I was fascinated by how 3 generations of people viewed certain words. Queer was one of them, as you can probably imagine – for some it could only be a pejorative because of context. And whenever you mention the word ‘butch (in this case I am referring to this string of comments, because I know it is a word that you often use),’ I think about how my opinion of that word has shifted. My view has shifted, because I am standing in a completely different place. It was always a pejorative when I was hearing it – I ran from it, and tried to wriggle out from underneath it whenever someone threw it on me. But now, I embrace it, and don’t mind it at all. And I think that has everything to do with coming to terms with myself as a person, and feeling more comfortable with my body. Glad to hear that your surgery went well, and that you are enjoying unencumbered push-ups!.

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  10. lenpan74

    Really interesting post… I’m coming from a similar place I think- though still figuring myself out 40 years on (and it’s an ongoing business I can tell you!) but in my case- although I identify as gender-neutral -at least since I’ve known that was allowed 😉 – I don’t mind my boobs too much- they’re microscopic anyway, and have fed 4 kids (which helped- them having a point, and all that) but if I could get rid of my childbearing hips I’d do it this minute- and sadly there’s nothing I can do about those (although I’m sure they were handy too)- because even if I lose weight they’re still there- taunting me! When I was busy hating them as a teen my mum used to not help much by moaning about her hipless, boyish figure which was *exactly* what I wanted. Still, shows we’re pretty much always lumbered with something we don’t consider right for US as a person. Glad you’re getting good results following your surgery- hope it’s onwards and upwards from here! Maybe I’ll pin myself down one day…*sigh*

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks for reading-glad the post spoke to you. Dysphoria is strange – hits everyone differently. I slumbered along ignoring my chest until I lost weight and there it was! So I understand how that could happen to hips instead.
      Still the goal is ultimately to be comfortable with one’s gender and one’s body, and I think that is tough in a culture that teaches women (esp straight cis women) to hate their bodies.

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