We Are More Than Our Chests

Lifeguards, Australia, 1971

Lifeguards, Australia, 1971

I love my chest, but I don’t want to be defined by it or judged for it. For years, in-between puberty and top surgery, I hated my breasts (and my hips).  I didn’t know the word for dysphoria but I experienced it. I had a lot of body shame. Now, when I take my morning shower and get dressed, I give thanks for my top surgery. But my chest is not what defines me as trans.

I am tired of seeing articles (popping up in my Facebook feed) that feature some variation of hot young trans guys without their shirts on. I’m put off by the media obsession with trans men who have chests as sexy as sexy cisgender men’s chests. I’m put off by the search for the perfect trans chest. For trans torsos with a narrow V shape. For trans chests with no visible surgical scars or dog ears. For trans models with small nipples and chiseled abs. For guys who are young, ripped, and (usually) white.

Articles about trans men that show them going shirtless (or in boxer shorts injecting testosterone) are as obnoxious as articles about trans women that show them putting on their make-up. We are more than our surgeries. We are more than our make up. We need to see the widest range of trans possibilities, not just the ones that reinforce the stereotypes.

I’m not going to exchange my dysphoria for the muscled hypermasculinity that dominates the media (or the svelte androgyny that is used to represent genderqueer). I want to look like myself, but comfortable, and with a nice, flat, masculinized chest.

I haven’t posted pictures of my chest on my blog. I don’t want them up there for everyone to see. My chest is fine, but not fabulous. My revision scars are still healing and my pecs aren’t exactly even (they are even enough). I have emailed pictures of my chest, and taken my shirt off, to show my results to a couple of people who were thinking about going to Dr. Weiss.

I saw a lot of trans chests at the “show and tell” workshops at the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference. Many of them are a little funky looking. There are a wide range of idiosyncratic trans chests (and cis chests) out there, including mine. I have no shame about my chest (particularly after getting my nipples reduced/resized) but I still compare it to other people’s chests. I caught myself judging an actor’s chest at the movies this weekend (Elmer Bäck in Eisenstein in Guanajuato), and asking myself if I’d be content if I had his nipples (I like mine better).

In real life, the only time my shirt comes off in public is when I’m changing in the locker room at the gym. In another life, my shirt would also come off at the beach or by a pool. I can’t think of any other situations when I’d want to go shirtless. I understand why some trans guys post shirtless selfies, but no matter how cool my chest looks, I spend almost all my waking time wearing a shirt. So does everyone else I know. I’d rather look at guys with their clothes on. And the truth is, I haven’t met anyone whose top surgery doesn’t look great when they are wearing a nice shirt.

Notes: This article “16 Trans Men Who Don’t Own A Shirt”,  kept showing up in my Facebook feed last week, as did this article “Meet the First Trans Man on the Cover of Men’s Health in Europe“. Both offer a hypermasculine approach to chests. A more realistic peek at what three different trans chests look like is in Davey Wavey’s video “Transgender Men Get Shirtless” which also has a link to this video on nipples by Ryan Cassata with Davey Wavey.

15 thoughts on “We Are More Than Our Chests

  1. Fredrication

    Thank you! I totally agree with you!
    I’m member of a FtX group on FB, and while most members that post pictures show their newly operated chest with drain or tape over the scars there’s one very ripped guy that posts very “showing off” pics and it totally bother me! I haven’t really contemplated over why until I read your post.
    I’d be very happy if my future chest looks male with clothes on and doesn’t freak out my wife when I take my shirt off. I’m also content with my soon middle aged, slightly overweight and unfit body. Sure, it would be nice to look that fit, but for me the effort it takes is not worth it.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I’m with you. I have neither the desire, nor the time, to dedicate myself to having a prize winning chest. But there is also something about being “more trans” if you have a chest that looks “natural” than if you have a chest that looks like you had surgery. I’m all for the “first reveal” photos and the tapes/drains just to celebrate getting surgery, and I don’t begrudge anyone having great results, but one or two pics is plenty.

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  2. Lesboi

    I think that stuff is no different than what happens in the greater cis-world out there. All the beautiful people get the attention by the media. I think it does help to normalize being trans to the public, but I also get how it can make others feel bad about their own bodies. Young, hot people are always the ones people want to look at and idolize. It doesn’t bother me. I’m happy those guys are getting to live the life they dreamed of for themselves.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      You are right, there are a lot of teenage boys out there trying to look like they belong in muscle and fitness – and they take enhancers and do exercises that are not safe. But, if your object is to be read as male in everyday life, then you should be able to keep your shirt on (except when every other guy has his off too). My concern is that people will think that is what a trans chest looks like, when most trans chests don’t look anything like that at all.
      Also, through my support group I know a couple of under 26 trans guys (yay Obamacare) who are very sensitive about having “soft” chests post top surgery, and feel uncomfortable taking off their shirts because they don’t look like Aydian Dowling.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Glad you enjoy my blog! I don’t normally do movie reviews, but here are a couple of thoughts.
      I didn’t really like the movie but I’m glad I saw it. Donna reminded me afterward that I prefer neorealism to surrealism, and I’m also squeamish. I thought that the portrayal of Guanajuato, streets and people, was too “clean” and somewhat romanticized and exoticized. Or, that may be exactly how Eisenstein experienced it. Eisenstein is also not a very appealing main character. Luis Alberti, who played Palomino Canedo, was much more appealing. Hope that helps.

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  3. halitentwo

    Thank you! You really nailed it. I’m also a member of an online group for trans guys and there are a few who seem never to have a shirt on. I find myself feeling irritated (put your damn shirt on asshole you’re in 2 feet of snow!). You clarified why my nerve gets touched. I want to feel comfortable in my body, not aspire to glorifying societal stereotypes that are ridiculous regardless of gender.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I was actually thinking about you when I was writing the post, because I didn’t want to sound like everyone’s top surgery is perfect, or that they should be happy with whatever they get (I did get a revision and I’m glad I did). A perfect chest shouldn’t be the goal of transition given all the other issues and obstacles.

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      1. halitentwo

        It didn’t come off like that at all. And I completely agree with you. And actually, I just got my letters from social worker and doctor, so I should be getting the revisions I need in the near future. And I will still wear my shirt 🙂

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  4. Jays-Heaven

    Thank you for expressing some of my thoughts and feelings about this issue. I am as well a member of an online Transman group and I saw and see these pictures as well. I felt both ways when I was looking at them…sometimes with horror but there were even some pictures from top surgeries that while comparing them to myself, it made me feel better about my results. 😉 🙂

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I always like seeing the “reveal pictures” and the series of post op, one month, six month, etc. I’m glad people post pictures because it helps you get a realistic idea of what it looks like (particularly if you are not 25 years old and buff) and they are for the community. My real problem is articles that are also meant for people who are not trans identified and not considering top surgery – I think they fetishize trans bodies by making it all about these sexy chests that are not representative of what people really look like. And I guess it is clear that I’m attracted to women – I think some of the gay trans guys may like looking at them for eye candy.

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  5. Kai

    I have no jealousy of the men who could get away with doing the keyhole or scarless chest surgery. I plan on wearing my scars (my doc is going to have to do a double mastectomy as chest is very uneven) with pride, especially at fandom conventions or when I hang with other “whovians”—fans of «Doctor Who»—because my scars can show I have “two hearts” (because Time Lords, an alien in the Doctor’s universe, got two hearts).

    I’m no looker. I’m 50 pounds overweight on a 5’4″ frame. Facial acne. Still easily clocked. Big butt. Large hips. Huge gut. But right now my chest does define a large part of my life. I have to scrutinize every purchase now—do I need it, or should the money go toward my deductible or savings for when I take time off.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Top surgery made a huge difference in how I felt about my body – I could not look at myself in the mirror without a shirt on before it – I could not “recognize” myself in the mirror when I still had full size breasts. I can look at myself now and take it in and like how I look (I’m no handsome prince either) – and I like my chest – but it isn’t going to win any prizes on Buzzfeed – and it doesn’t look like most of the chests pictured in the media by professional body builders, athletes, or models.
      Too bad you can’t put out a tip jar to go towards your surgery – I bet your regulars would ante-up.

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  6. Pingback: Featured Voices: We Are More Than Our Chests | Neutrois Nonsense

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