Essay, Writing

Trans/Masculinity & Safety

TM's Improved Chest

I had my top surgery (ish) in 1997. I dreaded puberty, and breasts, as a child. I hated them from before I even got them. By the time I had them removed, I’d been binding with duct tape for a long time. Duct tape binding prevents breathing well. I was often dizzy. I fantasized about cutting them off with a knife, stabbing them, mutilating them in various bloody ways. I wished I’d get cancer so that I could have them removed. They weren’t a part of me. They were a thing that was done to me.

I was living in Olympia, WA, and to my knowledge, the nearest proper top surgeon was in San Francisco. He wouldn’t operate on anyone who wasn’t on hormones (HRT). At the time, to get on HRT, one had to be, or at least claim to be a proper transsexual (as medical professionals called it at the time). Since I have never wanted to be a proper man, that was not an option for me, and he was too far away anyway. I went to a shitty plastic surgeon in town.

The shitty plastic surgeon’s wife was his nurse/receptionist. When I walked up to the desk and told her that I wanted my tits cut off, she laughed, and said that she’d assumed I was there for tattoo removal. I hated her with every fiber of my being.

The shitty plastic surgeon was short, maybe 5’1”, bald, and 20 years older than his overly-reconstructed wife. I told him that I wanted a boy chest. He sort of sneered at me, but then asked if I wanted a mastectomy, or a reduction. He told me that boys have a layer of fat over their pectoral muscles, so a reduction is a proper boy chest. I didn’t know any better, so I accepted that. In retrospect, I very much wish I’d had the mastectomy.

It was an outpatient surgery. I had no follow up appointments. My mother took out my drains, and when my pain medication ran out, I called them, and they told me to suck it up, so I did.

That surgery is the best thing that ever happened to me. It revolutionized my life. I was bashed a lot as a young adult. The nineties were a dangerous time for queers, especially visible, gender non-normative queers. People look at two things to determine gender: hair and chest. When they mismatch, they believe that you’re queer. In my case, it was true, and that made me visible. I was also poor, and without my own transportation, so I was often walking on the street, and that made me additionally vulnerable.

After I had my tits cut off, I started passing for a boy, more often than not. Unlike many people, my relationship to social recognition as a man is quite complicated. That’s another story, but ultimately, I didn’t and don’t want to join the group of people who had treated me most violently. The group of people who have treated women and queer people most violently. I’m extremely dysphoric, but I don’t want to be in that club.

That said, I love/d being safe. After I had my tits cut off, I was a lot safer. Since then, I’ve been physically bashed only three times. I can walk around at night, and know that nobody will fuck with me. In fact, now I’m safest in the shadows.

That’s only the tip of the iceberg. Everyone treats me with more respect. They listen when I talk. I am enormously critical of transmisogyny because in certain ways I’ve transitioned socially, and I know how it changes a life.

Thing is, we live in a sexist society. Men are safer, richer, and better respected than are women. I quite understand what it’s like to be dysphoric. Really, I do. But that’s a separate thing from what happens socially, when we/you (socially) change gender. Trans men and trans women have extraordinarily different experiences and the obstacles that they face are quite different and shaped by sexism. It drives me crazy when people won’t acknowledge or talk about that.

I have a transmasculine experience, but I often don’t call myself a trans person (except when I do). That’s mostly just to be difficult, but there are two better and more important reasons. First, I’m not a woman, but I 100% am on the side of women (in relation to men). And yes, there are sides. Second, the culture of trans masculinity, in my experience, has often been pretty sexist (not all individuals, just the overall culture). I’m not interested in pretending that all transgenderism is the same, politically. I got safer and better respected when I started passing a boy. If I were to become a proper trans man, every indicator is that I would also get richer. I have quite a few friends who are trans women. They don’t get that.

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