Why I (Almost) Regretted Top Surgery

This is a story about how I regretted top surgery and how this relates to my choice of underwear.  Bear with me here.

I’ve talked before about how I was anxious for top surgery.  After top surgery — or at least for the first 5 days — I was okay with things, because I honestly felt like I was just binding again, except for the ridiculous bruising and drains sticking out of my armpits.  Then, five days after surgery, I got one drain taken out and the foam removed, revealing my post-operative chest in all its swollen, colorful glory.  Spoiler alert: it was not pretty.  I spent the entire 6 hour drive back home trying to dispel my rising fears and concerns, but by the next afternoon I couldn’t take it anymore.

So I had a heart to heart with my therapist.  I verbally bitch-slapped my surgeon for his horrible bedside manner, for not checking with me before surgery to clarify that my anti-depressants cause excessive bruising, and other such minuscule concerns.  We were able to share in my frustration that I was still healing, and would be for months to come.  And I felt a lot better; I haven’t regretted surgery since.  If anything, I only look in the mirror and feel an agitated sense of curiosity for how my chest will heal up and ultimately look.

Okay, so now let’s talk about my nether regions, or rather what I choose to wear over them.  You see, as with, oh, everything about my transition, I did not make the choice to wear men’s underwear lightly.  I did my research, which meant dragging my best gay friend out to Target, H&M, and MisterLady (mostly whilst in Germany) to help me understand the labyrinthine byways of men’s fashion.  I bought my first (and only) package of boxers at Target my sophomore year of college, but they faded into my “I have no more clean underwear to wear” supply.  In Germany I started wearing trunks and/or boxer briefs.  This lead to a tortuous, anxiety-ridden ride on the Straβenbahn whereby I was trying to convince myself that no, the locals could not see that I was wearing men’s underwear.

In the end, I realized that just because I wear “men’s'” underwear, it doesn’t make me a man — just as wearing girl’s underwear never made me a girl (or at least, not much of a good one).  By giving up one thing and adopting something new, I was better able to explore myself and my identity, which in turn made me better able to live my life.  This is what top surgery did for me, and continues to do every day.  Did I have my concerns?  Of course I did; I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t.  Were (and are) the results still scary?  Of course they are, and will probably look a little off for 2 more months at least.

But was it worth it?  Without a doubt.  As the next few months come and go I’m using this as an opportunity to truly get to know my body, because for so long my top half was obscured by the knowledge that my chest was not exactly as it should be.  And don’t worry about the underwear  — that’s a story for a different day.

Top Surgery: 4 Days Post-Op

Since I’m barely camera-friendly at this point, I decided to do a quick post-op update.  There will certainly be many more to come, but I wanted to get my immediate impressions and experiences out before I forget about them completely.  (And you know I would.)

Firstly, by the time I was prepped and had my IV in I was excited and generally at ease with everything.  I’d made my peace with the reality that I would be losing a part of my body that had been with me since puberty.  Sure, I despise change, and yes it was hard to accept…but accept it I did.  Realistically, both then and now I recognize that change has to happen, and even though having top surgery necessitates a mental adjustment of my physical self, identity-wise it’s a change that has to happen.  I’m pleased with things overall.

I wasn’t entirely prepared to be post-op.  I woke up feeling like a million dollars, because I’d just gotten some very good sleep.  But after this I had to adjust to being bed-ridden, bruised, swelling, and wearing my post-op surgical binder.  My old binders have nothing on this one, and the extra foam padding doesn’t help.  I still have very little concept of what my chest feels like, since all I can feel now is overwhelming compression.  However, I am pleased to note that my left side is fairing better in terms of both bruising and mobility, and the drain is not nearly as uncomfortable as the right one is.

I wasn’t expecting so many bruises in so many (seemingly) random places.  Note to others: invest in some kind of bruise cream or gel.  I just tried some yesterday, and my bruises are changing colors faster than it took them to appear on my body.

At this point I have only two major things left: getting my drains out and seeing the results.  Since I was covered in a surgical foam substance that adheres to my skin, I haven’t felt comfortable taking it off to take a peek.  I’ll let the surgeon and his nurses do that.  But I was hoping to be able to see my nice, newly flat chest right after waking up…and instead I have to wait five days post-surgery.  Thankfully, that fifth day is tomorrow, so my waiting is almost over.

On the whole, I’m glad I had surgery.  Now all I need is to get the packaging removed so I can see the finished — if not healing — product.  Healing, ho!

Top Surgery Concerns

Since I’m now working in my very own office with constant access to a computer, I decided to do my typical “I’m about to go through a major life change and would like to freak out now” jeremiad via blog.  Plus, my office computer doesn’t have a webcam, and I’d feel weird talking to myself about myself in the office.

I went through a mopey period between November and December where I would look at the calendar and think, I’m never going to get top surgery!  And then January hit, where I looked at the calendar and thought, Holy *!&@, I’m going to have top surgery… and started having my normal doubts.  Then February came, and I was overwhelmed with excitement.  The moment I had my phone consultation on February 12th I suddenly hit my normal mode — which is to deny anything major will ever happen to me until the moment it happens.  It’s my brain’s natural way of coping with changes; it likes to sit there twiddling its thumbs, acting oblivious to the obvious.

But since January in particular, I’ve been able to come up with a few concerns which I’m sure are natural for everyone about to undergo top surgery…I just have never heard anyone voice them.  Here they are, in no particular order:

What if I regret surgery?

To be honest, that was a big one for me in January.  I would look down at my chest and, while still acknowledging that what’s there is completely unnecessary, would wonder if I really needed to change what I naturally was given.  My current chest is all I’ve ever know…what if I don’t like my new one?  I know this is my normal self-sabotaging type of doubting myself, and I’m almost 100% over this particular concern.

What if my dysphoria shifts downward?

This is a legitimate concern for me.  While lower anything is generally not my list of concerns or dysphoria (or at least, not much), I’ve heard many a trans person say that after top surgery they become more and more discontent with their lower half.  Considering I’m both gender neutral and asexual, I’d rather not have to think about that part of myself.  And yeah, maybe I’ll get some sort of lower surgery someday, but that’s not something I’m overly fussed about right now, nor do I want to be.

What if the results look God awful?

I’ve done extensive research, and know that based on his results I chose Dr. Medalie for a reason.  Of course it’ll look scary immediately after surgery, but it’ll heal and look better.  Overall, I’ll get the results I’ll get, and there’s not much I can do about that.

What if he does a surgery I don’t prefer to have?

Again, a legitimate concern.  During my phone consult I learned that he had me scheduled for the peri-areolar procedre (a.k.a. Keyhole procedure).  This is absolutely not what I wanted, because at the end of the day this procedure usually requires revisions more often than not.  And I don’t care about how much scarring I get, but rather how flat and natural my chest looks afterwards.  I’m going to be incredibly, uncharacteristically firm about the surgery method I want to have.

Overall, these are my major concerns.  But overall I’m looking forward to surgery…even if my brain is still sitting on its butt and acting like nothing exciting’s about to happen.

Barneys Launches Spring Campaign Featuring Transgender Models, and their Families


Very cool, well done Barneys!

Originally posted on National Center for Transgender Equality's Blog:

Thank Barneys New York for Supporting Transgender People: www.ThankYouBarneys.org

Barneys New York became the first major retailer to launch a campaign exclusively featuring the lives and stories of diverse transgender models and their family members.

The campaign, called “Brothers, Sisters, Sons & Daughters,” was shot by renowned American fashion photographer and filmmaker Bruce Weber whose photographs have also appeared in GQ, Vogue, and Rolling Stone covering brands like Calvin Klein, Versace, and Ralph Lauren. Each model was interviewed by longtime arts journalist, and Contributing Editor at Vanity Fair, Patricia Bosworth.

The Spring 2014 campaign created a safe space for models from diverse walks of life–from African American Ball culture in NYC to life in Tulsa, Oklahoma–to share their empowering struggles and inspiring victories. These stories highlight the enduring connections and support of family, friends, and community members that showcase the deep roots of transgender people in American culture…

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Doubting and Self-Shaming

As should be no surprise to those who’ve read my pre-transition posts, I very much enjoy waffling around on things.  Or rather, I just so happen to do this very well, and very  naturally.  Maybe it’s a byproduct of my dysthymia, anxiety, depression, take your pick–regardless, I’ve become a master at self-deprecation and self-doubt.  And if I don’t doubt myself, I find ways to shame myself for being “too sure” of myself.

For example, around the start of December I started doubting my transition and identity.  I woke up and, as I was headed off to work, saw an old postcard from my sister on the coffee table.  It was a relic long lost in my sister’s belongings, which she’d gone through over Thanksgiving while visiting our family.  So voila, a two-year-old postcard arrived at my apartment with my old name scattered sporadically throughout the contents of the message.

A nasty little voice in the back of my head seized on this opportunity to lambaste me into the next decade.  I was forcibly reminded of how, on the whole, I hadn’t minded being called “Steph”; it was only the feminine pronouns that inevitably followed the name that I hated.  “Steph” wasn’t overly girly, not in my mind, and so for 22 years it suited me well.  Why change my name when there was nothing wrong with it, the voice reasoned.  Why put your family and friends through such an inconvenient and difficult change, just because you couldn’t cope with the pronouns?  After all, now that I pass as male, couldn’t I just show up and be he’d even if I said my name was Steph?

For a good week or two I was rather depressed about my transition and beating myself up over the decisions I had or would soon be making on my behalf.  For a day I even contemplated cancelling my top surgery.  But the voice of reason (a.k.a my therapist) as well as my own common sense finally kicked in.

I didn’t force anyone to change.  I’m the only one who’s electing for change–and these changes are for my own benefit.  I’m transforming myself into a person I can stand to be around, someone who is happy and enjoys the life I’ve been given.

Some of the doubt and shame comes from negative experiences with friends and my girlfriend’s family, experiences which sadly left me jaded toward more dogmatic forms of Christianity.  But a greater portion originates within myself, which is more commonly known internalized transphobia; that is, a prevailing sense of negativity about transgenderism which is taken and directed inward.  Every negative stereotype, slur, or attitude about being transgender that I’ve ever come into contact with–regardless of its validity–eventually makes its way back around.  And depending on the space I’m in, I’m more or less likely to believe the transphobic thoughts, even if I know in my heart that they’re not true.

So why doubt my transition?  Because there are people out there who do, and will make arguments against the progress I’ve made within myself.  And the first step I need to take is to take back control of myself and my identity.  For my own sanity and health, I cannot let others control who I am and what I’ve chosen to do with my life.  There are so many more people in my life who are supportive of me and have been with me through everything that’s transpired in the past two years…so why focus on the few who haven’t?  And why leave myself open to those anonymous people who would do nothing but cause me grief just for being who I am?

As I start yet another new year, I resolve to examine myself with a more open and positive eye, and to allow myself to love who I am and who I’m becoming every day.  While I will invariably doubt myself from time to time, I go into it with the knowledge that I’m myself, through and through, and I have never once made any decision lightly.  As God so aptly put it, “Ehyeh asher ehyeh.”  I am that I am.  If God can say this, and I’m made in God’s image, then by every god that’s ever existed, so can I.

A Call for Submissions/Volunteers

I have been dreaming of creating a queer mish-mash of resources for the broader queer community.  This involves creating a YouTube, Facebook, and WordPress account and melding them together to help inform and support those who feel under- or misrepresented by the LGBT+ community.  If this describes you and you wish to help me with this endeavor, please comment below.  With your help we can give my dream some wings to soar!