This month, I celebrated my two-year anniversary of top surgery, and my one year anniversary of my nipple revision. My chest is not perfect, but it is perfect enough for me. It is a little uneven. I have a small dog ear under my armpit on the left side (that I somehow didn’t notice because I was worrying about the size and height of my nipples). The scars are visible across my chest. I look like I had surgery.
If I took testosterone it might not look as wonky when I’m shirtless. I’d have more muscles, a little less curvature, and maybe some chest hair to normalize it. Since I’m not planning on sunbathing or going topless in public, it will do. It looks great (I look great) with a T-shirt on. Even a thin light-colored T-shirt. I’m happy with it. Every day. It is a miracle.
I’m relaxed about my chest, except when I’m in a locker room, or when I’m getting an EKG from someone who doesn’t know my medical history. When I’m dressed, I completely forget about it until I find someone staring at me trying to figure it out. Face, chest, face, chest, face, question mark. It feels natural to me. It doesn’t always look natural to them.
Donna was concerned that my post top surgery euphoria would be short-lived. That my dysphoria would resurface and I’d focus on my face or on my bottom, that I would be restless and dissatisfied until I completed a binary transition. Even though I did not experience bottom dysphoria, and I never considered phalloplasty, I shared her fear. Continue reading →
I was at the gym, doing seated overhead dumbbell presses (shoulders). I looked up at the full length mirror to check my form and I didn’t flinch. I didn’t judge. I didn’t wish I had bigger muscles or less flab. I didn’t wish I was using a heavier weight. I didn’t wish I was a boy. I straightened my left wrist and shifted my forearm to get back on course. I did a few more reps and finished the set. I wiped down the bench and racked the dumbbells.
It occurred to me that I don’t hate my body. I’ve stopped running the old tapes through my head.
When I first started telling my women friends that I thought I was trans, and that I didn’t know if I was going to take testosterone or get top surgery, they asked me why I couldn’t just accept my body the way it is. They’d tell me there is nothing wrong with me, that I am fine the way I am. A big strong butch. They were coming at it from a body positivity view. From a we don’t exist for the male gaze view. That you shouldn’t hate your body, you should hate the social construct of body image and beauty.
I didn’t know how to answer them back. What they said was true. Like them, I was taught to scrutinize my body and to judge it against everyone else’s. To fix my imperfections. To strive towards an unattainable standard. They weren’t wrong, but they were missing the point. I used to think that I hated my body. I said I hated my body. Now I realize that hate is the wrong word. I used to hate lima beans. I still hate liver. My body caused me pain. Continue reading →
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. Continue reading →
First, I need to find a less awkward way to tell medical staff that I had top surgery. Second, I need to learn how to ask for help when I need it. Third, no one wants to hear about my colonoscopy.
When you see a new doctor, you fill out a form and list all of your surgeries. I’ve had surgery to repair a torn meniscus (knee), to remove fibroid tumors, to remove my uterus (partial hysterectomy), and to remove my breasts (top surgery). The nurse at East Side Endoscopy didn’t know what I meant by top surgery, so I told her I had a bi-lateral mastectomy. She asked if it was for cancer, and I said no, and left it at that, but I felt her question dangling, unanswered.
I only had gotten three hours of sleep, and I hadn’t had any coffee, and I nearly said cosmetic, but I caught myself. My transition, no matter how ambiguous it is, no matter how much it has to do with how I look, is not cosmetic. I’m still angry that my health insurance refused to pay for top surgery. They claimed it was not medically necessary. I couldn’t find the words to explain to the nurse that top surgery is gender confirmation surgery or to tell her which gender it confirmed.
I’d like to find a phrase that is clear. That isn’t pathologized. That doesn’t sound like a euphemism. That tells the truth. Continue reading →
After the drains came out, after the packing and the bandages were unwrapped, after the swelling went down, Dr. Weiss told me that he wanted to do minor revisions. He was unhappy with the dog ears in the center of my chest and with the size of my nipples. He thought my chest could look cleaner and more balanced. He told me to think about it; there is no charge for the revisions, they are in-office procedures, and they can be done at the same time.
I decided to wait and see. To let my chest settle in. My nipples are prominent, but in the range for middle age guys. I’m still a little self-conscious of them. The puckering in the middle that Dr. Weiss called “dog ears” is subtle; it doesn’t even show when I wear a close-fitting T-shirt. It is only an issue if I’m naked, or topless. It is purely aesthetic. A hard choice for someone not used to looking carefully in the mirror.
When I do look in the mirror I see the scars. Two long scars, one on each side, going from the middle of my chest to under my arms. They are much more noticeable than the puckering or my nipples. The scars are healing well, fading slowly from red to pink. It is hard to imagine that they will ever be invisible. The scars do not bother me at all. I’m adding them to the list of other scars: the one on my thumb from whittling wood (age 11), the one on my leg from climbing a chain link fence after too much beer (age 19), and the one across my “bikini line” from getting a hysterectomy (age 48). Continue reading →
Virginia Prince popularized the phrase “Sex is what is in-between your legs, and gender is what is in-between your ears.” She separated sex and gender into two social constructs: one biological and one psychological. This concept is also used in The Gender Unicorn infographic, which adds gender expression, and romantic/sexual attractions into the mix. The unicorn allows for infinite possibilities, including a continuum titled Other. How do you measure otherness?
My gender identity has been clear to me since I had the vocabulary for boy and girl, and the concept of self (I am). I am a boy. I also got the social construct of gender expression pretty quickly because I kept trying to do it my way instead of their way. I never understood biological sex, and it still perplexes me.
The pre-puberty loop used to run something like this: I am a boy, I don’t feel like a girl, I don’t want to do girl stuff, I want to wear boy’s clothes and look like a boy. It goes from straight from gender identity to gender expression, and avoids the issue of biological sex. I don’t remember thinking that I wanted a boy’s penis. I don’t know if that is because I knew I didn’t have it and couldn’t get one, or because it seemed besides the point. Who needs that stuff to be a boy?
Sex (biological or assigned at birth) is a confusing mess of gonadal hormones, the endocrine system, chromosomes, gametes, internal reproductive organs, and genitalia. It courses through my veins. Legal sex is stamped on all my documents. I did not understand why people kept telling me “because you’re a girl” when it was clear to me that I wasn’t really a girl. I knew that I was the only child who felt they were on the wrong line every morning in the school yard. Continue reading →
Top surgery. The big reveal. Frankenstein’s monster, 1931.
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. Continue reading →