As the first month of Featured Voices comes to a close, take a look back on all the personalized perspectives; it’s obvious that top surgery stories are as diverse as gender. My own story with top surgery is of great personal significance: it’s where my journey started 5 years ago.
Where Does My Story End?
Transgender narratives often revolve around the pivotal event of surgery. Rather than being the culmination of many years of gender struggles, surgery was my catalyst.
Long before I knew what my name would be, which pronouns I wanted or (that I could even change them!), that I would eventually go on T; before I came out to my immediate family and a few close friends; before I presented workshops at conferences; before I even found the perfect pair of square-shaped stretchy skinny jeans, I knew I wanted top surgery. Since my journey’s final chapter isn’t “the sex change,” where does my story end?
My trials with gender – I was always juggling several at a time – have slowly resolved themselves. Barely audible confessions, anonymously public proclamations, documents signed and stamped, injections on each thigh, no celebration or party marking any significant milestone. Except surgery. I never forget to acknowledge February 21st, 2011.
Top surgery was my gateway to the world of gender; it opened my eyes to my trans identity, it enabled me to find a passion and pursue LGBTQ advocacy; it introduced me to the world of queer politics, and gave me a critical lens to examining broader societal issues. Before then, I was naively in the dark.
Instead of moving forward though, let’s go back. Back to before, before I knew exactly what was bothering me, before I broke free from the bubble of gender confusion. Let’s not go as far back as when I was three, and I threw a huge tantrum to have my hair cut short. Or that time I was four, and I warned the pediatrician I would grow a little penis, just like my cousin. Those are too obvious. (I usually omit the parts when I had long hair and wore tight jeans. It’s hard for me to imagine my little girl-self miserably trying hard to fit in, although I wasn’t terribly unhappy either.)
Let’s travel to the brink of it all: college. Finally, I had enough independence to explore life without my parents breathing down my neck, except I still had no idea what I was exploring, or why. My mother was in town for a visit, and we found ourselves engaged in one of our habitual screaming matches.
“YOUR CLOTHES! YOUR HAIR!” (I can’t remember the exact words she was shouting, but as per usual, it was over my appearance.)
“Just because I look like a guy doesn’t mean I want to be one. I don’t.” This was as true as it was false. I just didn’t enjoy engaging in the screaming match.
“Well, you certainly look like a boy,” my mom spat.
“You have nothing to worry about! Because, I’ve already accepted that I’m a girl!” Really, I just wanted the fight to end.
“That’s not something girls have to accept.“
Inadvertently, my mom lit the lightbulb. Girls don’t have to fight themselves to accept they are girls: they just are. That fact gave me license to move forward without trying be a girl anymore. Because I wasn’t one. Despite being in a “top LGBT-friendly college,” I hadn’t been exposed to the terminology of cisgender and transgender. The language to describe my identity would come a few years later. But in that moment, I knew I wasn’t a girl.
Whispers, barely formed possibilities, slowly floated up through the years. “If it weren’t so expensive, I’d get a reduction.” I would ask my friends, “Do you think my butt would look bigger if my breasts were smaller?” I used too-tight sports bras. I never wore a real boob hammock, aka bra. I would stand in front of the mirror and squish my little darlings. Sometimes I would grab them forcefully, trying to tear them out. I didn’t cry… often.
Then, I started endlessly watching documentaries about transgender people. But I wasn’t trans, because to me it was just as clear that I didn’t want to be a man. These people wanted to be men. I most definitely did not. I was fine being a girl. I was fine.
I was slightly depressed, but that was surely because of work. I didn’t want to kill myself. I was fine. I had lived with these breasts for nearly ten years. As late bloomers, my ladies were small at first, but then they grew too much to my liking. They weren’t going away on their own. They had started to bother me a lot more than they used to.
Yeah, I was totally fine.
I serendipitously found out what “top surgery” was – it’s a long story. I was amazed to discover it was not a magical realism practical joke, that surgically removing breasts was an actual thing people did, and that, despite “being fine with she” and “never wanting a beard” and “definitely not wanting to be a man,” I too could get this surgery. BAM! I was immediately on a mission. Gender was the heaviest rock weighing my life down, and now, I also knew there was a solution. Six months later my surgery was scheduled; I never looked back.
It was only afterwards that I began to figure out my identity, and how I wanted to express my gender in the world. Yet I couldn’t have done that without holding on to the one thing I knew, with resolute clarity, to be true: I wanted a flat chest. The rest came later, with more time and research and mental gymnastics, a lot of heart-to-heart talks with myself and my partner, a lot of crying and metaphorical hair pulling and actual hair pulling and more crying.
It only took me four years to get here, that place of comfortable peace. I’ve known others to take forty years, so no rush.
It’s been over a decade since that bitter duel with my mother. This morning I looked in the mirror and suddenly noticed a couple of small wrinkles had appeared without my permission. As the wrinkles have faded in gradually at 24, at 28, and now at almost-30, my gender struggles have faded out into the background without my knowledge. Now I barely notice them at all; what’s left are the funny anecdotes, the memories, the friends, and the scars.
Top surgery was and has always been the only clear step in my process. That’s why I will never stop talking about it, the annual pictures of my chest a testament to a lifetime of healing.
Micah is the tiny typer behind Neutrois Nonsense (this blog) and its new series, Featured Voices. From published articles, workshops at conferences, media interviews, and blog archives spanning 5 years, Micah has written more than enough about gender to write a book about it. Maybe.
From special agent websites, writing coaches, conferences, lattes, and time, Micah is devoted to promoting visibility and informational resources about transgender identities. Micah does not often resort to third person pleas, but Micah is desperate for your support. Donate $1 or two today and make Micah’s day.