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.
One layer! In the summer. That must feel transformative.
I haven’t worn one layer since I don’t know how long. As a kid I’m pretty sure I wore a tank top style (with a bow in the middle) undershirt, and then right into bras. It does feel great, and I haven’t had any odd interactions because of it – and I’m not perpetually self-conscious of it.
I think it is going to fall into the category of “things I do that are unusual” like not shaving my legs. No one other than Donna has ever commented on it in public (early on she was encouraging me to shave in the summer and didn’t accept my gender evasive answer- that I thought it was a colossal waste of time and energy).
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Nipples on men are normal like you said and not at all considered sexual, unlike women. Still, a lot of men where a tank or a white t shirt underneath all of their outer shirts. This might be true more of older men but I’ve noticed it quite a bit too. I can’t stand for my nipples to show and I don’t know if getting chest surgery would change that for me since it’s so ingrained and a source of dysphoria. Currently I wear a thin tank under most of my shirts and I like the feel of it next to my skin. My guess is that even after top surgery I’ll continue to wear them most days. I’m glad you’re happy with your chest and have the summer to enjoy your new freedom.
Fortunately my nipples don’t show through when I wear a cotton button-down shirt, so I am safe when I go back to work. I don’t really mind the bump in the T-shirt, it just takes some getting used to – it does feel like I am breaking a taboo.
You might want to talk about this issue when you interview a surgeon. I think nipple grafts might result in a flatter nipple than pedicle preservation – I wasn’t thinking about it when I did my surgery. Dr. Weiss was more than willing to go in and reduce them if it was an issue for me, but I don’t know if he can take it into account in the regular surgery or only afterward. One of the nice things about a plastic surgeon is desire to make sure you are happy with how the results look. This is a link to Micah’s post on top surgery which discusses the nipple issue in detail. Micah went to Dr. Steinwald in Chicago. http://neutrois.me/2012/02/14/top-surgery-analyzing-results/
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Yeah, even though sensation is important to me I’ve been leaning very hard lately towards having grafts and taking my chances on sensation since, for me, it is a double edged sword and I would prefer not to have perpetually perky nipples showing through my clothes. One of the things I actually like about bras is that they hide nipples fairly well. Steinwald was one of the surgeons I was considering because of his use of the T-anchor technique. I recently learned that he has closed up his Chicago practice and relocated to Colorado (Denver, I believe, but not sure.).
Mine still are at ease and need to learn how to get to attention. 🙂
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Donna pays more attention to mine than I do. Fortunately she has made her peace with my chest and thinks it looks “cute” which is good but not exactly the word choice I prefer.
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Kris, I’m curious if you have any feeling in them at this point. Feel free to answer this in an email if you want. Thanks.
Shawn, no sensation with the grafts, but that’s not an issue to me. Aureolas’ size and placement are great and have healed excellently – no visible scars or even minute line. Super! 🙂
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Kris, That’s a bummer about sensation…unfortunately it is kind of important to me. But the rest of it sounds awesome! Congrats on such a great result and I’m glad you’re so happy with it. Can’t ask for more than that!
Interesting, coming at this from the opposite side. When I presented male, I never thought about my nipples, or the fit of a t-shirt. My shirts tended to be too large and too baggy and I just wore them thoughtlessly. An interesting example of privilege, I suppose.
When I started presenting as femme, it took me by surprise to learn that I had been sizing myself wrong the entire time and that clothes that were small and less baggy actually looked better on my body. The sudden need to be very self-conscious and aware of my clothing took some adjustment as well. I wasn’t used to thinking about my nipples — and the thousand other things that, over time, have started to become subconscious reflexes.
In general I think it’s interesting that socially we have so many screwy hangups about women’s bodies and at the same time our clothing standards are almost universally designed to flatter and reveal them far more than men.
I don’t think it is unusual for people who are trans (AFAB or AMAB) to have dressed drably or without interest when presenting in their assigned at birth gender. It is just depressing and alienating to do that. I’m much more interested in dressing masculinely.
The social construct of gender presentation (expression) is complex and perplexing. For example, women can have long hair on their heads, but not under their arms or on their legs. Men, are supposed to cut/trim the hair on their heads, but not anywhere else. All so you can tell us apart when fully dressed. We learn it as children and it gets into our psyche.
Good thing I enjoy messing with it.
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Here’s the page: https://nmwords.wordpress.com/2015/05/14/the-versatile-blogger-award-my-empty-apartment/
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