The thermometer hit 80ºF (27ºC) in New York this week. It is T-shirt season. This is the first week I’ve been out in public wearing just one thin clingy layer. Me, my nipples, and my dog.
I like the contour of my chest in a T-shirt. I like the definition; clavicle, sternum, pecs, and nipples. It looks like a male chest attached to a short and not-quite-so male torso.
Last summer I wore a heavy T-shirt over my binder. I didn’t want the binder’s outline to show. I have not figured out how I want my T-shirts to fit. I’m not sure what is too tight around the chest, what is too loose, what is just right. Where the sleeve should hit my bicep. How the bottom should hug my waist. After years of being overweight, I lean towards loose. I’ve bought and/or returned a dozen different T-shirts. The one thing they have in common is you can see my nipple bumps. I’ve kept a boy’s XL from Lands End, a men’s S from Uniqlo, and a men’s M from Bonobos.
My nipples are prominent. My shirts feel oddly transparent. Prior to top surgery my nipples were invisible; smoothed over by sports bras and binders. Women’s nipples are supposed to stay hidden. The last time it was fashionable for women to poke through a sweater was in the 1950’s, when bullet bras were popular. Even now, magazines routinely airbrush out all evidence of nipples. Even on male models.
When I go out walking I discretely eye men in T-shirts to see whether their nipples show. I’m not cruising. I used to work with a guy who never looked women in the eye; he only looked at the headlamps. I’m afraid of turning into him. I’ve confirmed that it is common for a man’s nipples to protrude. It is less noticeable when the T-shirt is loose, has graphics or stripes, or is a dark color. Nipples are more visible on guys who are husky, out of shape, and middle-aged, but some young rail thin guys sport them. Nipples are normal.
My surgeon, Dr. Weiss, asked me, at one of my follow-up appointments, how I felt about my chest. Overall, I’m very happy with it, even though my scars look like they belong on Frankenstein’s monster. There is still a small pucker around the incision on the left side. Dr. Weiss noticed it after the bandages came off and was waiting to see whether it settled in. He will fix it in the office, without charge, after the summer is over. The other lumps and bumps disappeared. No dog ears on the sides.
He asked me if I was OK with my nipples. Dr. Weiss does double incision top surgery with pedicle preservation. Instead of doing a nipple graft, he leaves the areolae and nipples attached to the stem but reduces the size of the areolae. Compared to a standard male chest, my areolae are a little large (roughly the size of a Quarter coin), and my nipples are proportionately big and perky. Despite their size, the placement is good and they look like they belong there. They are familiar. I don’t need to reduce, move, or adjust them; someone else might feel differently. My nipples don’t have to be perfect.
I’m glad I had top surgery. I like the way I look in a T-shirt, even with the bumps. I might try going one size smaller next time I’m shopping. I’m reclaiming my right to present as masculinely as I want to. I’m down to one layer, and at least to me, my chest looks great.
Notes: For models without nipples, here is an article from New York Magazine on how Rolling Stone Magazine edits and alters cover photos. And when you just can’t stand to look at one more airbrushed model, and you want to see what real butch, femme, queer, transgender, and/or non-binary people look like (and which catch phrase they use for themselves) you can look at this gallery of photos from The Identity Project (photographed by Sarah Deragon). And at Meg Allen’s BUTCH gallery, or buy a copy of Wendi Kali’s book The Butch/Femme Photo Project.