An Avalanche of Shame

Train-blocked-by-snowTomorrow I’m going in for a revision to my chest. I’m having a small pucker in my left pec “let out”, and I’m having my nipples slightly down-sized in diameter and height. I’m still a little ambivalent about it.

I like my chest. I ignore the flaws, but I’m still a little self-conscious of my nipples. I’m aware of them when I’m working out in the gym, when my T-shirt is sweat soaked, when I’m watching my form in the mirror. I could live with them as is. If I had to fly to another city for the revision, I might not do it.

The surgery is straightforward. It is in Dr. Weiss’ office, not in the hospital. He is using twilight sedation instead of anaesthesia. I should be in and out in an hour and a half. I should be back to my usual activities by the weekend.

The surgery is the easy part. Asking a friend to take me there, wait for me, and take me home is the grueling part. I procrastinated asking, and then belittled myself for being unable to ask. It is a hard cycle to break.

I’m not ashamed of being butch and trans. I’m ashamed of being butch and trans and needing help. Somewhere, in the back of my brain, I don’t think it is OK to ask people for help if it has anything to do with being trans.

When I was working full-time, and had thirty people reporting to me, I had no problem asking my staff to do work. I was confident. I knew what was reasonable and what was out-of-bounds. I’m not confident in my personal life.

I’m ashamed to discuss top surgery with anyone who is not transgender. I’m ashamed that I need/want a revision. I’m ashamed that I’m not on testosterone and I don’t use he/him pronouns. I’m ashamed that I don’t have it all figured out. I’m ashamed that I haven’t embraced a specific label.

It is all internalized transphobia, and I am ashamed that I have that too. I am ashamed of being ashamed.

I didn’t tell Donna I needed someone to come with me. I didn’t want to her to feel guilty about not going with me (she has a broken ankle). I talked about it a little in therapy. The clock ticked forward.

I went back and forth with myself about raising it at my transmasculine support group meeting. I didn’t message the group members before the meeting, or ask directly at the beginning of the meeting. I was afraid that no one would feel responsible to volunteer, and that they’d all be hoping someone else would go with me. I was afraid of the awkward silence.

Even though it is a support group, and I needed support, I didn’t want them to think I was desperate. I have people in my life that I ought to ask, and I needed to figure out why I couldn’t. I asked the group to help me ask Tracey,

Tracey is someone I’ve known for years – I met her right after I adopted Lena, my first dog. At least twice a week we walk up to the dog run together. We talk about our dogs, the neighborhood, and other people’s dogs. We talk about Donna and we talk about Randy, her late husband. She’s seen me go through my name change and top surgery, but I’ve never had a long conversation with her about it. Or about being trans. Or about shame.

I hate telephones. After the meeting I composed and edited a short direct text to Tracey. The next morning I sent it out, and held my breath. A half hour later she texted back that of course she would go with me. For her, it was no big deal. Unless she reads this, she will have no idea how big a deal it is. I’d like to believe that I learned an important lesson from this, instead, I feel like I dodged a bullet. To learn the lesson I will have to ask for help, and ask again, and ask again, until I believe that asking is the most natural thing in the universe.

Notes: There is an art of asking. It requires that you believe that you are a part of a community and trust that the people in it want to help you. Dar, from An Exacting Life, referred me to Amanda Palmer’s book The Art of Asking (in real life Dar is a librarian and Amanda is a punk-cabaret performer). Before writing the book, Amanda Palmer gave an excellent 14 minute TED Talk on the subject, which you can watch here. Thank you Dar!

 

33 thoughts on “An Avalanche of Shame

  1. Lesboi

    Good luck on your revision. I’m sure it’ll go great! Asking for help is tough sometimes. I usually chicken out and have Candace do the asking for me. So I get it. This particular thing is loaded for you with a lot of emotion too so that doesn’t help. What I’ve found is that people like to help because it makes them feel good about themselves for doing something nice for their friends. If you can think of it as a gift to the person it might help. I know that I like it when I can help someone out and it makes me feel good about myself. We all need a little help from our friends now and then. Next time Tracey needs something she might not hesitate to ask you and you get the chance to reciprocate her kindness and feel good about yourself too.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I very rarely feel put out by anyone when they ask me to help them (except when Donna asks for computer help). It is the same way that I am empathetic with friends, but critical of my own problems –
      I’ve done oodles of small favors for Tracey, but because this is trans related, it became disproportionately big.

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      1. Bunnies!!!!

        “I don’t think it is OK to ask people for help if it has anything to do with being trans.”

        It’s ok to ask for help, regardless of what it is, when you need the help. It can be hard to do it, but it’s ok to do it. It doesn’t make you weak or vulnerable, just human. None of us can do all the things, regardless of how powerful or autonomous we are.

        Having ferried people home from colonoscopies, I think your doctor would be correct in saying NOPE NOPE NOPE to you trying to get yourself home.

        When I took Matt for his hernia surgery, I had to hang out for about 3 or 4 hours. Not a big deal, wifi and an iPad, and I was just fine. (he was not, he kept asking me if I knew how to get home. That’s the drugs for you…) I’m sure most people who have to take their friends home from something like that, feel the same way.

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      2. Jamie Ray Post author

        Sometimes the truth does sound stupid!
        A very long time ago (before Donna and I lived together) I had my wisdom teeth removed and rather than ask her to cancel patients and come with me, I went home by myself. My plan was to take a taxi, but it was raining and I was on Madison and 57th St. and it was 5PM and there was no way I could hail a cab, so I walked to Columbus Circle and took the train home. The pain meds wore off at 28th St. and I was an unhappy camper until I could get home to take another pill…of course the lesson I learned from that was to have the pills and a bottle of water handy, not to arrange for help.

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  2. Veronica Haidar

    I find it hard to ask for help too, but Lesboi is right – it’s a gift. It’s saying to someone “I trust you enough to share my vulnerability with you” – that’s a huge compliment, so you shouldn’t feel bad about it. Also, I bet you’d help any of your friends if they asked you and you were able to do it!

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Donna used to refer to me as her “boy scout” because I like helping people…other people…
      I think in my youth I rejected a lot of what I considered feminine character traits, and threw asking for help into that pile – I was going to be a a rugged individualist (too much Ayn Rand at too early an age) – and take care of myself without asking for financial or emotional support. It is hard to undo that attitude gracefully.

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  3. genderneutralSky

    I scheduled my revision for the first of the year. I am still in the struggle of who to ask. I also have a hard time asking for support. A lesson I have been learning for more than 30 yrs. it’s maybe a little easier in the end. But always a dilemma. This is made more difficult by having to schedule a bigger surgery to fix deviated septum, remove polyps and terbinates (?) that are too big all screwing up my sinuses. Dec. 2. Interestingly I asked someone to help with that, then mentioned it to my ex, still a good friend, and she felt sad that I didn’t ask her stating she would like to help and take care of me for a couple days. So a good reminder to me that those that love me really do want to be there in support.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I scheduled two appointments that needed an escort (the colonoscopy and the revision) within two weeks of each other, which made sense at the time but doesn’t now.
      You were smart to ask and line up your help so far ahead of time, I let the pressure of the deadline force me to ask.
      Good luck with both of your procedures.

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  4. halitentwo

    Once again Jamie, we are in very similar places. I can totally relate to what you wrote and I absolutely feel for you. I also need revision (read that NEED as opposed to want) but it’s been 3 years and I have only just scheduled a consult. Why? Because I am ashamed. Why? Because I don’t feel I deserve to have what I need/want. Why? Because it will require asking others to go out of their way for me. Sigh. Good luck with your revision and glad you did get the help you deserve.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I hear the NEED! It is almost impossible to take the space to say this is important to me – even if I can live with it – even if it is a “first world problem” – even if it sounds like it is cosmetic – it has a psychological depth to it that is very, very, difficult to explain to anyone who hasn’t gone through it – but it is still important enough to make a priority (cost, time, inconvenience).

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  5. saloys

    I hope all went well with your procedure. That’s a lot shame you’re dealing with. Shame is no stranger to me, either. Shame is such a terrible emotion and has ruined so many lives–I hope it does not ruin yours. You are strong. You are being who you need to be. I totally understand and support what you are saying: (this is important to me – even if I can live with it – even if it is a “first world problem” – even if it sounds like it is cosmetic – it has a psychological depth to it that is very, very, difficult to explain to anyone who hasn’t gone through it.)

    On a side note, I am very self-conscious of my nipples now and I thought having top surgery would make me feel better about that. (Haven’t had it yet–went for consult last week.) Could you explain how you were still self-conscious of your nipples after top surgery? Did they show when you worked out? Did they stick out? Did they show under t-shirts? Man, I was really hoping top surgery would take care of my issues. I absolutely do not want my nipples showing at all–ever, even though cis men’s do.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      It is something you should talk to your surgeon about. My nipples do not show in heavy T-shirt or a loose mid-weight shirt, but they do show prominently in a thin or close fitting T-shirt. I do notice them in button down shirts (a bump in the cloth but not really visible) and I have made my peace with them.
      There are three (?) different ways to do a bi-lateral mastectomy – most surgeons remove the nipples, resize them, and graft them back on. Some do a T-anchor, and mine did “pedicle preservation” – both of these keep the nipple attached during surgery to preserve the sensation in the nipple. They do some resizing, but what you end up with is closer to what your initial nipple looked like but with a smaller areola.
      If your goal is to go to the beach and take off your shirt (and have a normal looking male chest) you will have to have some nipples – you should find out how small the surgeon is willing to go. I do have one reader who had top surgery and specifically asked to have a smooth top with no nipples – so it can be done if that is what you want, but you will need to negotiate it with your surgeon ahead of time. Good luck with it!

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      1. saloys

        Thanks. Actually, I had a breast reduction about 8 years ago and she did preserve the nipple as you described. However, mine either hurt at times or are mostly numb. Also, they are erect all the time and it is very irritating. It’s one reason I’m so self-consious about them. I don’t want a smooth top with no nipples, but I’m definitely tired of this.

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      2. Jamie Ray Post author

        After my surgery one of my nipples was super sensitive, and the other normal. Not sure how they’ll be now post surgery – I didn’t mind the extra electricity, but I agree that the “erections” were not what I had in mind….

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  6. RonaFraser

    I am also someone who does not like asking for help. I blame it on growing up an only child… with parents who did NOT like to ask anyone for help! What helps me ask, is thinking whether I would be happy to help if THEY asked ME for the same favour. Usually, I would be totally happy to help others, and even feel special that they felt they could ask me and that they kinda honoured me with their trust. (Hmm… I may be a bit needy.)

    Just as an aside, I too recently needed a lift from hospital after surgery! I drove myself TO hospital (as the doc had recommended I go to emergency with my gallstones), and was there Wed to Fri. A couple (who I work with/for at one of my 2 main jobs) came to visit (with magazines) on Thurs night, and I asked them to drive my car home (crap – just realized I never reimbursed them for parking!), but I didn’t know what time I would be released on Friday, so I couldn’t plan ahead… So they finally tell me I can go home and I try texting that couple (they CAN if I’m STUCK but it sounds like it would take some rushing around), I text my morning job boss (no reply, I forgot she was at a meeting), I text a friend who’d said to text if I needed anything (no reply – she was away tech)… So I was sitting there wondering whether to just put a call out on Facebook for a lift… when my morning boss texts that she can pick me up if I still need. So awesome! I am very luck to have such great bosses, that I am friends with as well as work for. I mean, morning job is just me and her, and afternoon is the couple and I… so makes sense we are tight. ANYWAYS, best of luck with it, and consider that you are doing others a favour when you ask them for help (especially if they are people-pleasers like me!!)

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Sorry to hear that you were in the hospital for gallstones – sounds miserable. You are lucky that you can count on your co-workers and boss for that kind of assistance – says a lot about how they feel about you.

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  7. anexactinglife

    I am so glad you liked AP’s TED talk! She is one of my favourite people 🙂 I have to agree with the other commenters. I rarely ask for help but I am flattered to be asked. And in the case of close friends and family, I am kind of offended if I’m not asked! So I should really connect the dots and realize it’s the same for others and I just need to ask.

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      1. Lesboi

        Even superheroes like Superman needed help now and then. There’s no shame in needing a hand occasionally. If I lived up there I would hope you’d feel comfortable asking me for an assist if you needed it.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. C.W Toklas

    Hi, I have been reading your posts and thought it was time to say hey. I hope it goes well. I like it when my friends ask me for help, it makes me feel trusted and needed. As for labels and pronouns, you are in charge of that and other people need to respect your decision and not judge. My “butch” partner hates labels, she is frequently misgendered in public, uses female pronouns and if pushed to define herself in terms of her gender/sexuality, she will use either “lesbian” or “queer”. I guess what I am saying is, be you, don’t stress the labels because what is important is that you are who you are, whatever the descriptors.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Hi, and thanks for adding your thoughts into the mix. I hadn’t had a “shame attack” for a while and was surprised by the double whammy of this one.
      What I hate more than labels is the idea that I have to choose “sides” – when I am just trying to be myself. I sometimes lean towards queer, because I really don’t see myself ever identifying as a straight guy.

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      1. C.W Toklas

        I like queer because it isn’t so definitive. There shouldn’t be sides, but people think that there are, it’s a cultural phenomena. Just enjoy being you x

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I feel like the cowardly lion (even if I did slay the dragon I did it with my eyes closed and just flailing the sword around lucky I didn’t hit myself in the process).
      So I’m home, the surgery is done, I’m doped up on a little Tramadol, and reading cookbooks.

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  9. Fredrication

    I’m not ashamed by asking for help (anymore…) but I don’t feel like I deserve to be helped. I still feel awful even just asking my wife to grab a glass of water for me when the dogs and baby are occupying my knee. Actually I’d rather be thirsty than ask for help or disturbing the dogs and baby. When I come to think of it it’s rather embarrassing how little I value myself!

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  10. Mxtrmeike13

    I highly, HIGHLY recommend “The Art of Asking.” I’ve been a huge Amanda Palmer fan for years, and I went to her book talk/performance/Amanda Palmer extravaganza last year when buying it. She’s definitely worth following, because it really helps me put myself into perspective and realize that if she can so boldly go out into the world and be herself, completely unashamedly, then why can’t I?

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I downloaded her book from the NY Public Library and read it. I liked the anecdote where the masseuse told her she was “good at receiving” – probably more of an art than asking and something I could be better at.
      I think the problem with asking is that our fan base is kind of small, and we don’t get a lot of support for putting ourselves out in our quirky true ways, and there is a fear of failure if the support doesn’t materialize right away. It is very easy to get lonely and mired in self-doubt if you don’t have solid unconditional love coming back at you.

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  11. Caidin

    Wow dude, the more of your stuff I read, I really feel like you’re stealing the thoughts from my mind and weaving them into your own experiences. It’s kind of weird but comforting in a way to realize that someone else has these same thoughts going through their head. The stuff about shame, having such difficulty asking for help, internalized transphobia, not feeling “trans enough” or being able to define a specific label for your gender identity…that’s so me, I can’t even explain it because I’d go on and on and I feel ashamed of myself when I do that because I don’t think I deserve to share that much with other people or I think that if I write too much they’ll think I’m just complaining or something or I’ll take up too much of their time if they have to read this long email or post or text and I’ll bad thinking that I’m wasting their time. So I’m just gonna try and stop typing now. I’ve gone off topic I think but anyway, yea the asking for help thing is something I struggle with every day, and also the flip side like at work this happens all the time where I’ll say I can carry a big, heavy dog across the hospital and people are always like oh no let me help you or they’ll ask a guy to do it, assuming I’m not strong enough to do it cuz they all see me as a petite little girl. Then I do it and they’re surprised every time. I get so pissed when they automatically ask a guy to do something that they assume I can’t do because to them I’m a girl and girls can’t do manly things. But then any time a guy does anything, any stupid little thing, it’s like all hail the king and they get tons of praise and it’s so amazing. Wow now I’m really going on a tangent and it’s almost 1am so I really do need to stop. In summary, your blog things are awesome, and get out of my head. 😉

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Caidin, glad that the post resonates for you. Eventually the people on your job are going to realize how awesome you are and how good you are with the dogs – and they start coming to you for help (on my job it took a couple of years before guys started to ask me for help, and then I became the “go to” person for all difficult tasks…except anything that required lifting). They were willing to let me do all the heavy thinking.
      I still hate it when some random male stranger tries to hold a door open for me because he automatically shifts into a “man holds door open for woman” routine. It just feels awkward and wrong.

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  12. MainelyButch

    I’ve been encountering quite a lot of stuff regarding “shame” over the last few days. Perhaps this is because I am currently feeing ashamed of the situation that I am in with my moving and having to “ask” my cousin – who actually volunteered her help, so the asking when it came time was a bit easier on me – for help with a place to stay until my new place was ready for me and the dogs. I find it difficult to ask for help, but I am ready and willing to help someone else out. Like someone said above, it’s a way that I feel wanted and needed to be asked to help someone else out. But when it comes to asking for myself I feel ashamed that I am not able to handle things on my own. It’s a case of pride I believe, I am just too proud to admit that sometimes I need a little help too. Have you seen Brene’ Brown’s TED Talk on shame? It’s a wonderful piece if you get a chance to see it. Easy find with a quick Youtube search! Hope all is well with the revision. ~MB

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Shame is so strange – I can say to you – it is great that you sold your place and are about to get into a new and better community – and a bummer that it couldn’t be coordinated to be seamless, but it is hard for me to locate the shame in that – or in needing a temporary place to stay in-between. I know that it is because I didn’t have to worry about it or ask or be afraid of being a burden. Shame is complex, and individual.
      I’ve seen Brene Brown’s TED talk and read two of her books that I got from the library – but I can be a slow learner. I need to learn though because, like you, I’m getting older and not as able to take care of everything by myself.
      Good luck with the new home and getting a “new” truck – hope Nola and Lulu will like the new digs.

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