Category: September


Two weeks ago, I underwent surgery to remove my breasts, and to shape my chest into a more masculine profile. Psychologically, the effect of this has been profound. On a superficial level, the smile has barely left my face this last two weeks. On a deeper level, the changes have been surprising.

When you consider breasts in the cold light of day, they are nothing special. Two extensions of the chest, incorporating a bunch of mammary glands, and intended, to the best of my biological knowledge, to provide sustenance to a newborn child. Nevertheless, breasts have taken on a sexual significance which has catapulted them far from providing food, to indicating or enhancing how sexy a woman is. Both succour and sex have meant that breasts have become part of female identity at a very deep level. Which at least partly explains the problems that transmen have identifying with their breasts.

I was aware of all of this when planning my surgery, and longed to lose such potent symbols of femininity in order to allow my true masculinity to show. Bits of flesh they may just be, but to Society, and most of all, to me, they were a constant link to woman-as-mother and woman-as-sex-object. And that’s not even counting the physical discomfort and inconvenience that is caused by having breasts whilst living and identifying as male.

Now they are gone, I feel very odd indeed. I don’t miss them, not one iota. I do not regret the path I have taken. It’s just that I don’t quite believe it’s actually happened. I know I no longer have breasts…but can’t stop THINKING like I have breasts. For years and years I have tried to avoid drawing attention to my chest, using my generally bad posture to minimise the impact of my breasts. Even after a reduction from FF to D, I still needed to hide them away where I could. Imagine going from that instinctive, ingrained thinking to suddenly having nothing to hide.

So far, I’m not doing very well. Despite there being no physical need, I still hunch my shoulders forward and curl over a little, to hide my invisible breasts. And that’s no longer being caused by the discomfort of the surgery. I keep trying to roll my shoulders back and stick my chest out, but there’s a really big demon in my head screaming that if I do that, people will look at me, and dismiss me as just a woman. And please, women, that’s not an indication of how I feel about you, it’s the product of years of misery based around my gender identity.

Despite my surgery, at this point in time, I still have breasts. Although I look at my beautiful new chest and recognise it for what it is, I’m still holding onto the belief that the breasts are still there, and I feel them still. The power of the mind is a scary thing.

I know I have to re-learn my body, to try and reconcile what I can actually see and feel with what my head tells me is true. Every fibre of my body still believes it is a certain shape, and I acknowledge that there is a huge amount of denial going on at a deep level of self. Don’t get me wrong – I couldn’t be happier with my new body, but it’s going to take parts of my mind and body a long time to catch up. It’s going to take a long time to stop my body feeling ‘wrong’, but time I have, combined with the hormones that are working away at changing me slowly but surely. I need to concentrate on accepting myself in a way I’ve not been able to in the past. How do you re-learn your own body?

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…and thanks too for my friend Leigh’s classy and classic suggestion for a blog title. Had to be done really, didn’t it? This blog post may be a little disjointed, cos so is my brain right now!

I’ve spent most of today asleep, which pretty much follows on from every day since my surgery. I’m not sure which bit has whacked me out more…the actual operation, or the general anaesthetic? I do know I’m just not working back on all cylindars yet. Witness the amount of time it has taken to type this. I’m a poor typist at the best of times, but this has taken ages. Still, I’m not complaining.

The actual surgery seems to have gone well. I’ll spare you the details of waiting to go in, the paper pants and compression stockings. I will say though that when the nurse walked me into the pre-op room, and I stood in a corner waiting for them to put bedding on a gurney, whilst I could hear all the beeps and bloops of the surgical ‘stuff’ waiting for me through the door I was totally, utterly terrified. However, the staff treated me with respect and kindness, and the anaesthetist soon zoomed me off into the land of fairies. On the way there I had a few moments to say a little personal goodbye and ‘I’m sorry’ to each boob. It wasn’t their fault, after all.

I came round about three hours later, swathed in dressings and with an attractive drain on each side. I was really scared about having the drains removed. I’ve experienced the pain of having six inches of tubing pulled out of my body before, and the first time round it made me scream. This time was honestly no problem. Either I was just lucky, or I had a nurse with magic fingers. Either way, pain-free. Phew.

As I am allergic to plasters and micropore, I’ve been bundled up in I’m not quite sure what, with a big tubigrip looking liking medical corsetry gone terribly wrong. Apart from itching like a b*gger, it’s all pretty comfortable, and I’ve had no scary ‘what the hell was that’ moments when I’ve moved around. I’m moving VERY carefully.

On a random, but important note for anyone contemplating surgery of any sort, I was warned before the surgery to stock up on Senokot. All these painkillers, apart from making me feel even MORE sick, at times, also bung you up. A lot. Just saying 🙂

Monday is the day of the great unveiling – I still don’t really know what I’ve got left, nestling amongst the dressings. I know there’s a lot of padding, and a fair bit of swelling, but time will tell if I still have two nipples, and where exactly they are! Until then, I’m trying just to chill, move around a bit to keep things going, catch up on all the sleep I’ve ever missed out on ever, and look forward to finding out What Lies Beneath.

I’ve been asked if I regret it? So far, absolutely not.

If any of you are curious to know exactly what went on under anaesthetic, Willemina and I made a very educational video which is now on my YouTube Channel MrHerbertTurtle. It’s pretty accurate, though I think a touch more chaotic than what actually happened…

Only three days now until my chest surgery. I’ve set the Out of Office message at work, palmed all my outstanding cases onto a lovely colleague and made sure there’s nothing that’s going to go rancid in my locker for the next couple of weeks. On the surface I’m pretty well organised – I have a long ‘To Do’ list for tomorrow, including pyjama buying, hair cut and library raid, and I’ve read every bit of paper relevant to my hospital visit at least twenty times.

I am terrified. Not least because I have had a breast reduction previously, so have an approximate idea of the pain to come. I’m scared, of course, of the ‘What Ifs?”. What if the anaesthetic goes wrong? What if I end up a really weird shape? What if I lose a nipple, or both? What if the scars end up a mile wide and florid scarlet? And many more.

I think the terror is a good thing. I’d hate to go into this thinking everything’ll be just rosy. There are all sorts of risks involved in what I’m doing,  life-threatening, aesthetic and practical. They say a little adrenaline is a good thing to get you through a hard time, and I sincerely hope my fear is just the thing I need to get me through the days and weeks ahead.

People have been very kind in their good wishes, a little surprisingly. After all, let’s face it, what I’m doing is voluntary, and also, I’m not totally convinced that people really know what’s being done. One recent friend did look at my tightly bound chest and say “Well surely it’s only a small op – there’s not much there”.

I’ve heard FTM chest surgery described as a number of things, including ‘cosmetic’. I appreciate that in purely linguistic terms, this procedure could be described as ‘cosmetic’. People have all sorts of things done to try to achieve their own vision of how they wish to look. I seek to have my breasts removed in order to look more masculine; to bring my body into line with how I see myself. ‘Cosmetic’ is a word that should be used carefully, though, as the reasons that this surgery is so vital to me run far, far deeper than looks and surface gloss. Can I point you towards my posts Take my breasts awaaaaay and FTM Q&A for further discussion of how my breasts have shaped my happiness (or lack) over the years.

Another word I have heard recently to describe this type of surgery is ‘mutilation’. To be precise, I have read it once, and also been told the story of someone using the word when told about my surgery. Props to the member of my family who put the person she was talking to right on this one.

Mutilation is a strong word. It implies violence, force, malice, gore, lack of consent, darkness and wrongdoing. My chest surgery involves none of these things. It is sweet, longed-for relief from both a physical and a psychological burden. I find it interesting that nobody ever suggested my earlier breast reduction was mutilation. I can only assume that some people might see what I am undertaking as such because of the connections in their own minds between a transman removing his breasts and a woman being de-sexed. They are not the same.

Far from being a dark destruction of some aspect of my gender identity, I feel that this surgery will be quite the opposite, helping me to be grounded and confident in my own body for the first time in…well, since puberty, probably. As easy as it might be to see this as losing my feminine, I view it as a joyful gaining of my masculine. My breasts make me unhappy. They make it hard to function socially. They embarrass me, make it impossible to enter masculine spaces and make it necessary to put in a super-human effort to be accepted as who and what I say I am.

Part of that super-human effort has been to bind my breasts. I have now been doing that for over a year. Binding makes me hot, breathless, sweaty and uncomfortable. My skin is showing all too clearly the effects of being encased in nylon every day. My breast tissue is starting to suffer and break-down. I long for freedom and comfort. I long to put on a cotton shirt and actually feel cotton against my skin. I long to be able to move freely. I long to just be me.

So really, which is the mutilation? Where is the darkness, destruction and wrongdoing? It lies in being unable to live as I wish, to enjoy the freedom of my body as I see it. It certainly is not the surgery I face on Monday.

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It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.

Maya Angelou

A year ago today I entered into a Civil Partnership with Willemina, who agreed to sign the dotted line with me despite my being what I optimistically term “an interesting person”. Or as an ex put it, “you’ve got so much baggage you need a Pickford’s van”. For those of you not living in sunny Britshire, a Civil Partnership is a legally recognised union between two people of the same sex. It affords same-sex couples the same legal rights as a heterosexual marriage. Weirdly, nobody’s thought up a good verb to describe this act. There’s no equivalent to “I married Willemina a year ago”. After all “I partnered Willemina a year ago” sounds a bit silly, and just a touch smutty.

Amyway, semantics aside, that’s what we did. A terrific day was had by all, with skulls and roses, vegan deliciousness, balloon twisting, a bit of crying (me) and 5 inch stillettoes (Willemina and my daughter). After entering the ceremony room to the tune of “I Am The One And Only”, we solemnly promised to love each other whatever life might throw at us.

And boy, has life done some throwing. I knew in my heart that I was transgender long before this ceremony, and Willemina and I both knew, when we promised to love each other, that I would soon start to formally transition. It actually didn’t occur to us once to call things off, because we saw what we were doing as our way to tell the world how we felt about one another. And if I’m honest, we just wanted to be that little bit closer to one another, by sealing it in ink, swapping rings, combining our names, and having a damn good party.

When we felt the time had come to tell family and friends about the changes I was planning to make, we sent out lots of letters, emails and messages. We wanted people to hear from us, not through the grapevine. We were very, very shocked when an old friend wrote back to us and said the following:

“I think you are making a mockery of the fight for equal marriage rights by having a Civil Partnership, then deciding to go ahead and have a sex change [sic] anyway”.

My initial reaction to this was write a two page missive making it perfectly clear what I thought of this person and her ideas. Fortunately, my second reaction was to save that missive, and leave it for a few days. We actually never replied to her. There were just so many things to be said that ultimately silence was the safest response.

For a start, this misguided notion that I might “decide to go ahead with a sex change” is kind of laughable, until it hits home that a lot of people really do think that’s how it works. Maybe life over the last few years would have been easier, if it were simply a case of waking up one morning and deciding “Today, I am going to be a man”. Ha! I am a big fan of Family Guy, but was shocked speechless by the programme’s portrayal of a man walking into the operating theatre, and coming out a statuesque blonde. Who then goes on to revolt all in her acquaintance. All in the one day. As you do. The issue of how long, both emotionally and physically it takes to transition, and the naivete of the idea that identifying as trans is simply a one way street with ‘woman’ at one end, and ‘man’ at the other, deserve more space on this blog than I feel I can give today, but please, if you ever hear anyone referring to someone “deciding to have a sex change”, do me a favour, and do a little educating. Or punch them.

But on to whether we made a mockery of the fight for equal marriage. Willemina and I are both legally female. At some point in the dim and distant future, I may (or may not) choose to apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate. This, amongst other things, would make me legally male, and therefore able to marry Willemina in a heterosexual marriage. This all assumes a lot of things. It assumes I will ever decide I wish to apply for a GRC. It assumes that Willemina and I actually want to be seen as a heterosexual couple. It’s a really complicated issue, and not one that is likely to be resolved in the near future.

We entered into a Civil Partnership because that’s the only option available to make our partnership legally recognised. We also did so because we wished to validate same-sex unions, and make our friends and family aware of the commitment equal to marriage such a partnership brings. Being trans doesn’t suddenly make me immune to feeling passionate about the rights of same-sex couples, and whilst I acknowledge that I did not actually identify as female when we became Civil Partners, we made the most of what we had, and tried to fly the flag for what is still a fairly new institution. Is that us making a mockery? I hope not.

A year on, our passion for each other burns strong. Our tolerance for each other’s farts, bad jokes and general stubbornness is just as strong as it ever was. Our Civil Partnership has made a definite, but hard to quantify, difference. Our year since the ceremony has been peppered with change, some hardship and having to deal with the prejudices of others. We’re not perfect, but I can say with hand on heart that without Willemina, this year would have been impossible.

One year on, we are being truer to ourselves than ever, and if a loving, ever-blossoming relationship between a staunch lesbian and a queer transman is really making a mockery of anything, it’s making a mockery of other people’s perceptions of how relationships should be. And in many cases those perceptions deserve all the mockery they get.