EXPOSED: The Truth About Top Surgery

CN: surgery, surgery pictures, images of wounds, top surgery.

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So it’s about time I updated you on my surgery. What surgery? Well, on 19th December 2016 (that is a date I will never forget!) I had a double mastectomy, or “top surgery”. It is a surgery many trans* men and non binary people have in order to reduce dysphoria and feel more comfortable in their bodies. I had the surgery for the same reasons. I was previously very large chested and I was binding every day for long long hours and that HURT.

Top surgery, and in fact almost all medical interventions for trans* people are spoken about with such rose tinted glasses, it’s hard to find a story about the difficulties or sad times. Particularly the social aspect of transitioning and the impact of surgery on these things. So rather than a simple before and after I want to share with you journey of this.

The whole run up to going down for surgery I felt nothing but calm excitement. I knew that this was the right thing for me, I’d planned and planned and thought it through so much. I’d talked it through, I’d asked questions. But the only image of myself I truly had was that of a breastless person.

I woke up with my family there, something I feel truly blessed with. I have had lots of people, including GIC Drs, tell me that my relationship would not last as my partner is a lesbian. What the outside world doesn’t know is that my partner and I talk, we’ve talked these things through, we’ve discussed the implications, we’ve aired our worries, and we’ve come to the conclusion that our love for one another is more than gender or bodies.

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(my first post surgery selfie!)

I spent the first week sleepy and worried. I was worried that my chest was swollen, full of fluid, bruised, the nipples were gammy and awful. It looked horrible and not like the pictures of top surgery that I had seen. However I quickly learned that this was because people don’t put the “yucky” pictures up. Just the nice healed ones. So here is a yucky picture just a few days post surgery.

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Recovery was sore, but the physical side was relatively easy. That’s the bit that’s documented, that’s talked about. What isn’t discussed is the rest of it. The way your body shape changes, the fact that now, without breasts, my hips suddenly seem so much more female. Or, most importantly, the fact that having top surgery does not suddenly mean people view me as any less of a woman.

A quick reminder here: I am non binary. I identify as neither male nor female but I identify far more with male. Therefore in places and situations in which I have to adhere to the gender binary and choose, I choose male. I live as a trans man to the wider world, however I am still non binary. My non binary gender identity is still valid.

 So back to the topic. I had this wild idea that having my tits off would make me appear more male. And I guess, yes, it has. If I’m topless. However I’m rarely topless outside the house. And so, short of lifting my shirt to every person I meet, I am still read as female. I thought that this HUGE step, this MASSIVE surgery, would somehow have a huge massive impact on my transition and they way the world views me.

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But it didn’t. And this is the hardest part. Not the pain, not the recovery, not the worry over whether I would keep my nipples or not (the grafts can fail and leave you nipple-less). Not whether I would like the results or not. The hardest part is that on the days I feel most myself, the days I feel connected to my body and comfortable, I still face consistent misgendering.

I have what is now viewed as a male chest, and suddenly it is deemed socially acceptable for me to be topless. But no-one prepares us for this. I have spent my life being conditioned, as a woman, to keep my chest covered. Even more so because I was big breasted – I was subjected to assault and cat-calling in the street and bars and clubs so I learnt to hide my chest. Yet now, I don’t have to. And I know I should be ecstatic, excited, thrilled…but I’m terrified. I feel exposed and naked. No-one prepared me for this. No-one talked about the social side of top surgery. So I’m doing it. I’m telling you.

Surgery will not change the way people see you, unfortunately. Rewiring the social conditioning that we had as children will not be undone by an operation. You may feel like it wasn’t worth it. You may feel startled by the changes. You may feel overwhelmed. But if you know it’s the right thing for you, it is SO worth it. The weight lifted is not just literal, I feel lighter and more free. Despite the fact I wasn’t gendered correctly once today I feel more comfortable within myself. I feel more myself. It wasn’t as easy as waking up minus breasts, but my goodness it was worth it.

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