A Letter to my Surgeon

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Dear PK,

It was about a year ago I walked in to your surgery and asked you to remove my breasts. You were shocked – you saw me as a healthy young woman with no reason to have a double mastectomy, but I was not and am not a woman and this extra tissue did not belong on my body. It had taken years to come to understand myself, years of self-hatred and torture. Years of starvation and exercise regimes trying to defeminise my body. That is not to say that I always knew I wanted a double mastectomy, I wanted smaller breasts. I wanted to be able to hide them easily, but I wore dresses and low cut tops, I tried to embrace my femininity as the women around me did. There is this dangerous idea that trans people always knew they were trans and therefore have always hated their bodies completely, that is not always the case. I knew I was uncomfortable but that could be put down to bad skin, to self-image, to chronic illness and a body that didn’t function how I wanted it to. I didn’t relate the feelings to gender at all – because I simply did not have the understanding or vocabulary to express that, not even to myself.

To some on the outside it may have looked like overnight I became a different person, but in truth it was months if not years of internal dialogue and arguments with myself that brought me in to your office and I thank you every day that you took me seriously. Each morning I wake up feeling more content with myself and my body. Simple things like getting dressed or having a shower are easier without feeling disgusted or “wrong”. There are days when I am disappointed, though that is with the world and not my body or the surgery you did. I am disappointed that the world doesn’t see the me that I can now see and I still get constantly misgendered. I am disappointed that what I saw as the most female part of me is gone, yet I am still seen as female.

These are not things you could change though, you did your job. You cut away the parts of me that I had long wished were gone and though you may have been confused or may have not understood entirely, you always made me feel comfortable. After that first meeting you saw through the body and recognised me. You made me feel comfortable and enacted changes to make sure my identity was respected throughout my stay – changing the pronouns you used and the title on my paperwork. It may not seem like a lot, it’s not, but it is more than other healthcare places have done and it made the process so much easier for me.

I cannot put to words how much I wish to thank you for my new body, for my life and my freedom. I cannot describe the joy I have running my hands over my flat chest while I rub sun cream in and sunbathe topless with friends. I cannot tell you how my life has changed, I will always remember you and thank you for believing me, for believing in me and for doing the surgery.

 

LJ.

LGB…what about the T?

So here we are, in the month of Pride all over the world. A month of declaring the rights of LGBTQIA+ people. A month of raising awareness, being visible and marching to change the world. To make the world a little more welcoming, a little more open, a little more understanding.

There is a lot of horror out in the world, something which I have felt keenly these last 2 weeks with 2 terror attacks in the UK. There are a lot of haters who want to tear us apart and the LGBTQIA+ community is supposed to be one of safety and acceptance for those of us who belong to it, to any part of it.

And yet those spaces which are supposed to be safe, welcoming places to be ourselves are all to often excluding the very minorities who most need to find a safe space. Take, for instance, an LGBT bar in the “rainbow” end of Leeds. In an area that is designated as the “gay” scene, with a huge rainbow painted across the bridge and the place that hosts our Pride celebrations. A bar called Fibre, that on the first Friday of every month welcomes transgender patrons as part of “First Friday”. A bar who’s owner speaks at Pride events and whom I saw speak at a vigil for Orlando victims on the need to maintain our safe spaces and stand together. Such a bar, you would think, would be incredibly open and welcoming to trans people.

But it was this bar where I was subjected to one of the MOST humiliating and embarrassing incidents a transgender person can go through. I walked down to the toilets with my two female friends and, saying “I’ll meet you here” we separated with them going into the women’s and I went in to the men’s. I walked past a staff member who seemed to be guarding the toilets. I walked past a sign that said “male” and stepped through to be faced by a wall of urinals. I walked past a man. I walked in to a stall and undid my trousers.

And then someone knocked on the stall door. I ignored it, they continued until I opened the door. It was the staff member from outside – he had watched me say goodbye to my 2 female friends and walk past him in to the men’s toilets and then decided that, at that moment, it was appropriate to follow me in and bang on the stall door to tell me “The ladies is the other one”.  With men in there overhearing. Leaving me to slam the door and sit scared to piss, anxious about leaving, scared of who heard.

WHAT THE FUCK??

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This isn’t the first time this has happened, however it’s the first time in an LGBT* bar. I don’t always pass as male, I know that but in this particular instance the fact I walked the opposite direction to my female friends should have indicated I didn’t want the female toilets. It was also a night for transgender people, a night which many transgender people attend. And it’s worth mentioning again, this was in a bar that flies the pride flag.

Unfortunately the worst part isn’t that I was humiliated, hyper anxious, dysphoric…It is that I wasn’t surprised. Not really. I’m not surprised that a gay bar is not welcoming or safe for trans people. Too often every letter after LG is forgotten in the LGBTQIA+ community. If you are not gay or lesbian, if you do not fit into one of their many subcategories, if you are disabled or an ethnic minority, if you are trans or intersex, bisexual or asexual or queer (yes queer the Q is not for questioning) you are not an equal. You are not truly welcome. The gay scene does not cater to the needs of the LGBTQIA+ community, that is not a secret.

It is not a secret because we have had to carve our own spaces, there are trans* nights in gay bars and nights for POC. It is not a secret because the trans women of colour who began the pride movement have been forgotten. It is not a secret because the transgender latinx people were just “gays” at Orlando.

So, here we are in the run up to Pride and lets not forget it is NOT gay pride. It is NOT just for gay people – though you would be forgiven for thinking so with the coverage you will see. Pride and those gay villages in your local town are for more than gay people, they are safe spaces for ALL LGBTQIA+ people, and we need to start making changes so they truly are safe spaces for all members of the alphabet club. It is not the responsibility of transgender people to educate you, take some initiative. Use your common sense; a person walking into a toilet, seeing people and no immediately leaving probably knows which toilet they are in. 

And to Fibre, the bar that has not responded to my complaints. To the manager who said “we can’t do anything other than apologise”. You can do more, you should do more. In a world that shows our community so much hate, in a world where we are killed for our identities and nothing else, in a world where are love is illegal…we should be standing together and fighting for our space, TOGETHER. 

Chronic Illness and Trans* Identities

The last few weeks have been tough. I live with a chronic illness, a genetic liver disease called alpha 1 antitrypsin deficiency which has led to cirrhosis of the liver. It doesn’t mean too much, I don’t take medication I just have to have check ups. I don’t drink alcohol or smoke and I have to be careful with medications, but none of those have really ever bothered me.

However, the one thing it will now affect is my choices in transitioning. I will most likely not be able to take testosterone to masculinise myself – the risks are high and I have to weigh that up. Risks of liver cancer aren’t small, is it worth it to see a few changes? It was not something I thought about really, taking hormones. It wasn’t on my radar as there are only a few things I every considered wanting to change – my voice and my body shape are what make me most dysphoric. I thought I would be able to work out to make myself look more masculine, I thought my voice wouldn’t be too big a give away.

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Yet I feel less and less like myself and less and less able to change that. I have no choice, it has been taken away from me. This is the first time in my life I have grieved for the life I would lead if I were physically well, the things I would do and the person I would be without alpha 1. I didn’t miss drinking, or smoking. I didn’t miss nights out. But now I mourn the person I cannot be. Every man is a taunt of who I could be. Every “ladies” directed to me is a reminder of the body that betrays me.  I feel the stab of jealousy for signs of masculinity that I won’t have; well fitting suits and strong shoulders. I don’t know what it is, I don’t know if it is that I hate being feminised and viewed as a woman so much.

I’ve said previously that I had hoped my surgery would somehow change the way people view me, that it would lessen the misgendering. It hasn’t, and every day is an uphill battle to be taken seriously as a non-woman. As a “not your darling”. As a “mate”, not “pet”. Nothing seems to change that and I wonder constantly whether hormones would make a difference.

I have fought and fought for the ideal that our outward appearance should not reflect our gender – that my gender isn’t reliant on the body that people perceive me to have or how they match that to pronouns. And I truly do believe that. I believe that my non binary gender is not dependent on me having a sexless body. I believe non binary people can be femme and masculine and both and neither. But for me it is becoming more clear what is means to me to be viewed as more male or more female. I feel comfortable moving in male spaces, I feel comfortable being feminine. But the world is not comfortable with that. They cannot cope with a man who is feminine and they cannot cope with a non binary person who is masculine. There are days when it doesn’t seem worth it, when it feels like no ground will ever be taken.

Sometimes standing on the parapet is terrifying, one slip and the ground will swallow you. Sometimes it means standing above everybody, neck out. Sometimes it means getting shot down in flames. But no matter what, it means I have to explain constantly why I am there.

Nearly 30 years of living with a chronic illness has never stopped me, until now when it may just stop me being. Full stop.

Authenticity tells lies

**Edited for TDOV – 31.03.2017**

Today, 31st March, it is Transgender Day of Visibility. Here I am, trying to be visible. I am trying so hard to live my authentic life right now, to live fully and honestly as myself. Yet every step I find myself telling lies. Not malicious, not “big” lies. But lies nonetheless.

I find myself coming out as a transgender man, asking for male pronouns and male privilege. But I know that I am not really male. Some days I feel more male, and most of the time I am happy to pass as male, but I am not and I don’t think I ever will be.

However, I find myself answering the questions of “did you always know you were a man?”, “do you feel like a man now?”, “when will you have a beard/low voice?”, with the untruths that I always knew in some way, yes I do, and I won’t ever have a beard or low voice due to not taking hormones. I utter lies when I say that I’m devastated by this, when in fact I’m upset some days, horrified others, but mostly fine with it. I didn’t ever imagine I would be able to take hormones, so it is no real loss. What I lament is that I won’t ever fit society’s vision of a man without hormones, so I won’t be recognised as “not a woman”.

I come out again and again, I remind people that it’s “he”, not “she”. It fits better, but it’s not my authentic self. It’s not really me. I come out, and by doing so I hide myself again because I am not declaring my true identity.

There are few places I can truly be myself, and those are queer places, not gay spaces, not straight spaces, but those spaces that welcome those of us who fall between the cracks. The “real” world, the world of work and bills and taxes, it has no place for me as a non binary person. There is no “NB” box. There is no Mx option on most forms.

I am doing my best every day to live authentically and yet I feel like I fail at each hurdle, though not for lack of trying. I wonder how to continue, when every day is so exhausting yet I am still telling lies, to a degree. I wonder how authentic I can really be, without full honesty. And I wonder how to change the world so my true identity has a space.

It is transgender day of visibility, yet so many of us cannot be visible because the world will not see us.

Sometimes coming out doesn’t mean being true to yourself, but true to the idea of what people expect you to be. Sometimes coming out means agreeing you feel trapped in the wrong body, because that is easier than trying to explain you are happy with the body you have and it is not “wrong”. Sometimes coming out means still having to tell lies, to appease the fears of others, to sweep past their fear of the unknown. Sometimes, Authenticity tells lies.

 

All Men (and Women) Are Equal

This week Jenni Murray of radio 4 was given a huge platform, in The Sunday Times, with which she was allowed to publicly proclaim that transgender woman are not “real women”. She wrote “Can someone who has lived as a man, with all the privilege that entails, really lay claim to womanhood? It takes more than a sex change and makeup”.

And yes, a man cannot lay claim to womanhood, however a trans woman IS NOT AND NEVER WAS A MAN. That is the very crux of this matter, the false belief of the cisgender world that trans people somehow “become” their gender, that they come to a point where they suddenly change, from man to woman, from woman to man. Yet that is just not the case.

A transgender person’s sense of their gender identity is just as innate and real as anybody else’s. Yes, a trans woman’s experience of womanhood will be different to yours, Jenni Murray. But so will every other woman’s. The experience of a woman in the UK is different to that of a woman in India, or China. The experience of a white woman is different to that of a black woman. You would never say that they are not real women, so why say that about a trans women simply because her experience differs from yours?

Of course, we are socialised according to our designated gender. I have been socialised as a girl and a woman. I have experienced misogyny, sexism, I’ve suffered verbal and sexual assault because of my perceived womanhood. And that is exactly what it is, perceived.

Just because you view someone as a woman or a man, it doesn’t mean that is who they are, it is simply how you perceive them. The fact that I was raise as a woman is not an indicator of my gender, my parents didn’t know my gender because I wasn’t able to articulate it to myself, let alone to other people. But my ability to communicate my gender does mean that it is not real.

So, Jenni Murray, and anyone else who says that trans people aren’t not “real” men or women. Just because I wasn’t born with a body that you deem acceptable for my gender, it does not mean my gender is less important, that my experience is less real. In fact, how about this….Trans people are MORE of a woman, or a man, than their cisgender counterparts. Because trans people spend their entire lives fighting to be recognised as their gender. They undergo humiliating tests and invasive questioning to be allowed to transition. They spend hours correcting your misgendering, fighting for gender confirmation treatment, for the right name of their paperwork.

Trans people’s experiences are valid. And just because they are not the same as yours (Jenni Murray), it does not mean they are not “real” or authentic, it doesn’t mean that they are less worthy of the position of woman or man or human. After all, we are joined in our experiences as humans, and separated in our experiences as individuals. That is all there is to it.

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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The Reality of Non Existence

The reality of life as a non binary person is that of non-existence. That statement might seem dramatic, yet it is true. Certainly in some, if not all, areas of existence. The simple act of going to the toilet is one of deciding who you are, male…or female? Will my appearance get me thrown out of one? Do I feel comfortable using the other?

Sometimes, or in fact most of the time, the world around us insists on a binary gender system. On a system of male / female. Therefore a non binary person is often forced to play the role of male or female. They are made to assume the feminine  or masculine appearance that most closely aligns with the way they feel or want to be regarded. Can you see the difficulty here, for someone who is neither male nor female? In our society there is no real way of presenting as neither, every person it seems simply must be categorised as one or the other. There is no grey in between.

A non binary employee is forced to change in the disabled toilet so as to “not upset” other staff members. They don’t have a male body, nor do they present as female. There is no space for them.

A non binary person is not welcomed at either the male nor the female sports teams. They were assigned male so “have the advantage over women” yet they do not look “male enough” with their make up and skirt to join the men’s team.

A non binary person hold the desperate urge to pee because they do not feel safe in the men’s or women’s and there is not disabled access.

A non binary person stares at the form in front of them, there is no box for their gender. No option for their title. No acknowledgement of their identity.

There are days when it truly feels as though I (we…the enby population) are non existent. There are days when I have the energy to fight for my identity, and other days when I accept that a binary gender is just what I have to deal with.

However, when we discuss other “in betweens” we seem so much more ready to accept that the world is not black and white. A white person may be half middle eastern. A black person may be half Caucasian. We readily accept that addiction isn’t as black and white as a choice to continue, that poverty isn’t just caused by overspending or unemployment. We are fed the lines “it isn’t that black and white” from a young age.

And yet, here I am, trying to convince you and the world just that. Gender isn’t black and white, it’s just not that simple. Take some time to consider the ways in which you recognise the grey areas of existence. Realise that there is no easy black and white answers. And come to terms with the reality that maybe, just maybe, you are the one who needs to change your thinking.

Why Jenny Swift’s Death is a Tale of Our Times…

Jenny Swift, a woman, was found dead in her cell in an all male prison this week. That is what the headlines should have read. Jenny Swift was denied her ongoing medication and life saving medical treatment while in the care of the state.

“A friend said Swift, 49, had asked to be placed in a women’s prison and had become miserable, sad and ill after being refused female hormones in HMP Doncaster.”

(credit: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/jan/05/transgender-woman-jenny-swift-found-dead-at-doncaster-prison)

Instead headlines focused on the fact that Jenny Swift was a transgender woman, and that the life saving medication she needed was her hormone therapy. We are not discussing just another death in a prison here, and we are not discussing whether or not Jenny Swift was guilty or whether she should have been in prison. And this is NOT a discussion of mental health and suicide in prisons. This needs to be a discussion about why transgender people have their experiences ignored. Why a transgender identity is given little consideration or respect. Why a transgender person is treated as less of a human being.

Despite this being a conversation about transgender people we don’t need to preface every description of Jenny with transgender. We just need to know that she was a woman, and when we drop the unnecessary adjective we come to the plain old truth which is almost too awful to believe. We come to this…

A woman was knowingly incarcerated in an all male prison.
She was denied female clothes.
She was denied life saving medications.
She was called Sir/Mr by prison staff.

If this was not a trans woman we would be in uproar. If this was a cis woman there would be no question of the illegality. And this is where our conversation starts..

WHY IS A TRANS* WOMAN LESS OF A WOMAN THAN A CIS WOMAN?

She’s not. But you would think otherwise with the way she is treated. If we really believe in equality the treatment of trans* people would not differ from that of cis people in these cases. The fact that Jenny Swift was jailed in a male prison shows us that the view that trans* people are in fact “dressing up” or “playing a role” is still a widely held view. It is one that is perpetuated by the mainstream media with everything from RuPaul’s drag race to Nike adverts.

This is what needs to be addressed, and not in a week, or a few months, but now. It needs to be addressed before more of our trans* siblings are killed. It needs to be addressed now. A woman, whether trans* or not, is a woman. And she does not belong in a male prison. We need to start respecting gender identities, however they present. We need to respect all trans* identities, trans* women who don’t like to shave, trans* men who hate their body hair. Trans* men who like to get their hair or nails done, trans* women who lift weights.

In a country where a trans* woman is jailed with men, we are not living in a country where trans* identities are considered equal or valuable. It may seem incidental, an accident, something you see in passing in the newspaper, but the story of Jenny Swift’s death is a tale of how invisible trans* people are and how much work there is still to be done.

New year, new you?

The end of 2016 is fast approaching and what a year it has been. On a global level we have grieved over the loss of many icons, we’ve watched in horror at the atrocities happening in Syria and we’ve stared in disbelief at the USA election results. For me, and I suspect for many in the LGBT* minority groups, it has been blow after blow, losing icons, losing fights for equality and feeling the ground tilting underneath us.

It may seem that we live in a world of wide open eyes, of acceptance and equality. We have, after all, got equal marriage rights in the whole USA and UK now. (Steady there…I know it’s a shocker but it really has happened!). However 2016 has been the year to prove us wrong. It has been the year of the so-called “bathroom bill” which calls for transgender people to be forced to use the toilets of their assigned-at-birth gender.

2016 was a year of changes for me too. Mostly in the right direction, I have come out more fully, begun the process of transitioning (though I still don’t fully know what that will mean for me) and I now sit here with some smarting scars in the place of my unwanted breasts. I am becoming myself. So what will next year hold?

I don’t make resolutions, I have found too often the pressure to execute them perfectly have driven me to anxiety and illness. In my mind I imagine I will sit here in a year’s time with a buff body, slim hips, a face that passes more as a man than not. I will have aced my second year at uni and be breezing through my third. I will be married to my beautiful wife, it will be perfect. And yet, in reality, I know that only the last in that list will really happen. So you see why resolutions are unrealistic.

Instead the new year will bring a different kind of new me. I will fashion a new me from actions and words, a new form sewn out of relationships and strengthened with self confidence. I will endeavor to look in the mirror and like what I see, or find something each day to like. I will try my best to love more, to love stronger, to be kinder. And I will continue my fight to make a place in this world for me. For us. For those of us who fall between the lines, who slip between the cracks. I will shout louder and shine brighter so I cannot be ignored. This time next year I hope that I can sit here and say that, somehow, I made a difference. I brought freedom. I brought hope.

Happy New Year everybody. May the next one be even better.

Post Op Post


So here I lie, 3 days before Christmas and 3 days post top surgery. It seems both a long time coming and no time at all… I know for some people the time I waited will be nothing compared to how long they wait for surgery. People around the world wait years and years just to have their gender identity confirmed by a couple of strangers (doctors). I recognize the enormous privilege I have that I was able to have the surgery privately, though the fact I did have to go private angers me. Though it is technically elective and cosmetic, this is life saving surgery for me and others. From puberty to now I have tried to take my life too many times, I have hurt myself and neglected myself in order to inflict injury and pain. I have punished myself for not being the right thing. 

Heading down to be drawn on, then waiting for the op, walking to the anesthetic room…people commented on how chilled out I was, was I not nervous? No. Not in the slightest. Not even a tiny bit. Because I was going to wake up with the body that I should have. 

And I did. I woke up sore and groggy but smiling. My worst fear was that I lose the person I love by becoming myself, but she was there waiting for me. She hadn’t run away. And when the surgeon came in to have a look I cried. In fact, I cried about 3 times that evening each time the blanket was pulled back and I saw my chest. I cried tears of relief and joy. 

I am finally post top surgery. I am finally my authentic self, and apart from some excess fat from my front, I have lost nothing worthwhile in finding myself.