Today marks the one week point from top surgery, which is scheduled for next Thursday, July 24th. I have not stopped much to listen to what feelings are forming as I approached and crossed the eight-week, one month and two-week marks. Here, at the one-week benchmark, I think it behooves me to take a moment to turn inward and check in. This journey from March 1st, 2013 to today has easily been one of the most rewarding and difficult seasons of my life so far, and I want to honor all of the stress, tension, triumph and tears I have lived to bring forth the person now in process. I also want to honor the that beautiful, deliciously feminine, loving, strong, friend-to-all soul, Melissa, who loved me enough to allow me, Seamus to come forth. She is still with/in me and, I hope, always will be. I like to think that we are knitted together somehow through this process and that, though giving light to this shadow-self, we are both coming closer to wholeness.
So, in the spirit of honoring this paramount occasion, is my very (un)official one-week-out interview with myself.
Q: Today marks one week until the procedure. What are your general feelings about this and about the day?
A: I am experiencing such a mix of emotions. Underneath a choppy sea of nervousness, apprehension and impatience (can we just get there and do this already?!) is a current of excitement. When I began to think about physically transitioning (I don’t like the phrase “medically transitioning”) my strongest and most immediate desire was to have the bilateral mastectomy. This is very much a manifestation of a deep desire, and feels satisfying to the core of my Soul. I feel happy to be writing about this today, and happy to be living out a vision for my life: to express myself through writing, and to share my story.
Q: How do you feel about your breasts being removed? Is it okay to refer to these parts of your body as “breasts”?
A: Yes, it is okay to refer to them as breasts and, to be honest, I am already beginning to grieve the loss of them. I have had to work through feelings of guilt and not being “trans enough” because I hate neither my body nor my breasts, as well as the fact that I am okay referring to them by that name. I love my body and I love myself. I feel so much pain when I read or hear other transmasculine folk refer to their breasts as “tumors” and express such loathing about a part of themselves. I know we each have our individual processes to work through and that I do not understand anyone else’s process, even other transmasculine processes. I have made it a point in my own process to be gentle with myself and to provide space for every shape and appearance to be beautiful. I have also had so much support and compliments from friends and even some family, which I know can make a world of difference. This attitude of radical acceptance has opened up a space for grieving the loss of these body parts even though I know I will feel freer without them. I’m not sure how I will feel in the weeks immediately following this proceedure, but I am prepared to feel a sense of loss as well as the freedom.
Q: How do you think this procedure will affect how you generally feel about your body/body image?
A: I think I will feel even sexier than I feel now (watch out, world!). I keep having visions of me never wearing a shirt again outside of work or going into convenience stores, and always having abs so ripped I can scrub my clothes on my stomach before hanging them on the line while white sheets blow in that late afternoon, golden-hour sunlight. Some time after such a vision I’ll find myself looking into a mirror and realizing, for the fifth time that day, that the only thing changing about my body is my chest. About a month ago it really hit me that this surgery was not going to solve all my body image issues: if I thought I was chubby/fat/flabby before surgery, I was still going to feel that way afterward, and perhaps even more so (without a big chest, my belly really sticks out!). This was, and still is, a heavy realization. Being brought up in a culture that praises the impossibly thin/fit and shames everything else (“Strong Is the New Skinny”: I’m talking to you.) can warp cis and trans perceptions of what is healthy for one’s own body, and I have been making a consecrated effort to release myself from that propaganda as much as possible. The proceedure will, as everything else in this process has, continue to illuminate where I can embrace myself more and love myself more consistently.
Q: Are you doing anything to prepare for this surgery? If so, what?
A: Yes, all kinds of things. This is probably a good time to mention that I have the partner of all partners, who is such a powerful and gracious source of support and practical planning. So many times during conversations about the logistics of surgery and recovery I have heard her say, “Well, I’ve been thinking about this since before we moved” or “I started making a list several months ago”. On that logistical front we are doing things like rearranging the kitchen/apartment to make things more accessible for me while I can’t lift my arms over my head or pick up anything weighing more than 5lbs. We also found a sweet deal on Craigslist for a recliner for me while I won’t be able to lay down flat on my back. I bought a bunch of pillows for propping and support post-op and have been meal planning to make sure I get good nutrition and probiotics to curb constipation from the anesthesia and antibiotics. I’ve been working out quite a bit to develop my chest (so the doctor doesn’t have to use too much imagination on shape and nipple placement) and core strength (so I can control my body while not using my arms and chest post-op). I switched to a cheaper gym membership in order to free up a few dollars to pay for surgery, as well as created a crowdfunding account to help offset surgery costs. I did end up financing the surgery, and switched to a different position at work in order to work more hours so I could make the payments. I’ve also bought a few tanktops and other new shirts to celebrate the arrival of the new chest.
I’ve touched on emotional/mental preparations some in previous responses, but I will add that I have been coming out to more folks as surgery gets closer. This may be a response to feeling the very real possibility of losing my visibility as a transperson, and I feel that trans-visibility is foundational to trans-equality and trans-acceptance.
Q: Who will be around you during this wonderful time of healing and becoming?
A: My beloved partner of all partners, my mother and my aunt. I asked my mother to come if she wanted, and she actually bought a plane ticket to come, which surprised me (not even so much because this is trans-related, but because she’s never reached out like that, ever, for me). My aunt’s coming down was totally out of the blue. She basically booked a ticket on the same flight as my mom after hearing that mom was coming to Austin to see me. After a few conversations with my mother to make sure she made clear to my aunt what was happening, I felt excited. This was a whole rush of love I wasn’t expecting and didn’t realize I had, and it is such an incredible, precious gift. I think I may have some new friends from work come by and/or bring food, which is also a beautiful gift and extremely helpful. My partner of all partners is only one person, after all. I hope some friends come by during the week after, but I haven’t specifically asked for that so I don’t know what will happen. I’m grateful for the support I have.
Q: Who is your surgeon? Why did you choose this particular surgeon?
A: Dr. Lawton. His office is in San Antonio, TX. I chose him because his portfolio looks pretty good, he is local, he has the Transgender Bill of Rights posted on his site, he does not require a letter and his specialty is wound healing.
Q: Is there anything we haven’t covered? Do you have anything to say to others considering top surgery?
A: I’m sure there are all sorts of things we haven’t covered, but I’m too tired to remember them at the moment. To others considering top surgery I would say this: top surgery is a really serious decision. I think sometimes in the FTM/transmasculine community(ies) top surgery is talked about too casually, as if it were a new haircut or different clothes. Also, I know for so many of us top surgery feels like a ticket to “passing,” and is therefore talked about as some kind of goal, or some point of arrival. This is not how I see it. For me, it is a permanent body modification for the purpose of my overall well-being and, given that it requires several thousand dollars and general anesthesia, it is a heavy thing. As heavy as it is, it is also just one blaze marking one particular trail in the larger forest of gender and transmasculine/butch identity, and certainly does not mark the “end of transition,” at least, not for me. And while passing is important to me in bathrooms and locker rooms, it really doesn’t cross my mind much in most other areas of life. I am determined to think of myself as bigger than my trans-ness, and to see this surgery as something that, while it is to be cared for and given its proper weight, is just another thing happening in my life. On a less philosophical note, be sure to do your research and find a qualified, affirming surgeon. If you can, don’t let your surgery get you into debt or, if you have to finance it, try your best to have a plan to pay it off ASAP. Plan well. Believe you are worth all your crowd funding dollars. There are some scholarship programs out there: believe you are worthy of them, because you are. Plan ahead and apply for them. Gather every resource you can. There is a loving trans community out there who wants to lift you up: be open. There are cis allies in your world, somewhere: find them. Know that I love you, no matter who you are. In my heart’s vision, we are family. I love you. You are not alone.