Tag Archive: chest surgery


Those of you who have read my earlier posts about my breasts will know that for most of my life I have had a rocky relationship with my body. Remember ‘Men in Black’? The bit where the alien ‘borrows’ the body of a hapless human? He can’t get the body to fit right, and spends half the film trying to hitch it round into a comfortable position. That’s a pretty good metaphor for how I have always felt about my body. Discomfort, and that nagging feeling that something ‘wasn’t quite right’. Clothes never felt good, and I was never happy with how I felt or looked. In short, I was uncomfortable in my own skin.

It’s been 5 months since I had chest contouring surgery. Over the course of a few hours on September 12th 2011, my D-cup was transformed into a chest suitable for a man. I’m not flat as a pancake – as my surgeon pointed out with a wry smile, what man my age and weight has a flat chest? Instead, I have a chest that feels and looks right for me.

I have been left with long welts of scars, stretching from my armpits to nearly the centre of my torso on both sides. They’re not pretty, but I don’t care, and I know they’ll fade. What’s far more important than a couple of scars is that the stress, discomfort and horror I used to feel looking at my own body is also beginning to fade. It’s not an overnight process – you can’t just miraculously disappear issues years old – but it’s happening.

I can run now. Not fast, or with any diginity, but without automatically folding my arms across my chest to a) stop people seeing my flying boobs b) avoid doing myself a damage and causing pain. I still occasionally catch myself clutching my chest, to run up the stairs, then realise half way up that it’s no longer necessary. The feeling I get at those moments is enough to make me want to cry. Happily, in relief, and huge gratitude to myself that I’ve made the decisions I have.

Before my surgery, I knew how desperately I wanted to rid myself of my breasts, and anticipated I’d feel better for doing so. I could have had no idea what a dramatic longer-term effect my surgery would have on my self-esteem and body-image. It’s mind-blowing. My posture still isn’t all it should be (I’m a huncher) but it’s improving, and damn…I look and feel good! (Ironically, as I type this, the radio is playing ‘Sexy and I Know It’…well, I’m working on that)

With my surgery 5 months behind me, and nearly a year into testosterone therapy, I am starting to feel comfortable in my own skin for the first time in my life. The feeling is beyond compare.

Advertisements

There is an assumption, which I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, that transitioning involves starting at point A, and ending at point B. This rests primarily on the idea that gender can be neatly bisected into A and B in the first place. Whilst there is some acknowledgment these days that gender is largely a social construct, it’s fair to say that the majority of people are only really willing to accept that gender identity is fluid for *some* people, ie: people like me. I hope that as time goes on there will be a wider realisation that none of us are entrenched at opposite ends of a yawning gender chasm, and that the things by which we measure how ‘male’ or ‘female’ someone is are not the whole picture. To horribly misquote, genitals maketh not the man.

I digress a little. My point is that I am not simply ticking as many boxes as I possibly can until I can apply for Man Membership. It is a common assumption, though, that in transitioning I am on a one-way street, via hormonal and surgical support, to become the ‘opposite sex’ [sic] from that which I was assigned at birth. There’s this idea that I have a definite end-point, when all my ‘problems’ will have been ‘sorted’. I rather get the impression that people want to know when I will be “done”, like some kind of transsexual boiled egg. In saying this, I appreciate that for some transguys, the destination of their journey is achieving the masculine status that they know is theirs, and that for many, this is about crossing a chasm. Even these guys, though, may well have different end-points in mind, and it is impossible for any of us to make assumptions about a transgender person’s aspirations, motivations or beliefs regarding gender. I know this is a really obvious statement, but we’re not all the same. Obvious, but it does seem to get overlooked.

Now I have been on testosterone for over six months, and have had my chest surgery, when will this particular egg be done, then? What next? Once most people got their heads around there not being one big Sex Change Operation, I now face questions about when I will be having my next surgery. Answer, I have no idea. For very many reasons, I may never have more surgery. My gender identity does not rest on what’s nestling in my boxer shorts, nor do I feel that I need to subscribe to a regime of constantly trying to get funding for/preparing psychologically for/taking time off work for/putting my body through hell for/whatever the next step along the one-way transhighway might be. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not some sort of gender theory purist who feels he’s too good for what some people see as the ‘normal’ route. It’s just that I’d rather make these massive decisions for the right reasons, not because the medical establishment, or my own socially-constructed perceptions of “what trans people do”, say is ‘next’ on the FTM path.

So really then, what next? My main aim in embarking on this transition is to recognise and embrace the masculinity that I feel, and masculinise my body sufficiently that I feel comfortable in my own skin. I am having to re-learn my body, and get my head around some pretty heavy dysphoria, but with every day my confidence is increasing and I feel that I am actually growing into the person I’ve always felt was me. It’s a fantastic feeling, and I owe it to my mind, body and inner being to actually allow myself time simply to be. Rather than constantly worrying about the ‘next thing’, I aim to spend time getting to grips with the changes that are taking place, and enjoy them for what they are, rather than simply as signposts I whizz past on the road to some far off, pre-prescribed destination.

What next? Nothing. For now.

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?

…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.

.

.

.

.

.

*****************************

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

Maya Angelou

Those of you who follow my vlog on YouTube (MrHerbertTurtle) will have seen that my latest offering was talking about patience. I try not to duplicate the things I say in my videos with what I write in my blog, but suffice it to say I was talking about how little patience I have, in particular related to my plans for chest surgery.

I am extraordinarily lucky to live where I do, as Norfolk PCT currently has a pathway for transgender people which bypasses a lot of the waiting most people have to endure. I say currently, because things are a-changing, and I am probably one of the last people to take this particular route to treatment. I really have no right to be impatient. None. But sometimes, when things don’t happen as and when planned, it can be hard to be mindful of my good fortune. That’s why I was grumbling on my vlog that trying to ‘lead’ this self-proclaimed patient-led process has been a bit exasperating recently.

I received a phone call today, though, which didn’t just make my day, it was like a thousand and one birthdays all rolled into one and blasted into the skies like a giant joy firework. My surgeon’s secretary called to say they’d got the funding approval letter from my PCT that I’ve been chasing so doggedly, and when did I want my surgery?

I tried briefly to sound cool. I failed. Quite badly. In between my happy burblings, we plumped for 12th September. Not long now!

***

For anybody interested, the photo is from the Telegraph’s Pictures of the Year 2009, and is an artwork called The World’s Largest Breasts, by Chinese artist Shu Yong, being towed by an ox in Qingyuan, Guangdong Province, China

Yes, another song reference – it’s a habit, both when talking and writing. Have a look back through my posts, and you’ll spot them. Top marks if you got the ‘pretty piece of flesh’ reference in FTM Q&A. My partner didn’t get that one – apparently she just thought I was being weird again. Again?? I’m hurt.

So, back to the breasts. I have had a week chock full of visits to doctors. I went to see the doc in London last Friday, who has declared my progress ‘hunkydory’ – good to know. Also went to see the doc here in Norwich – more of that later. Both have agreed to refer me to a surgeon for ‘top surgery’. I’m over the moon excited about this, but at the same time in shock. When you start a long process like this, you really just have to prepare for everything to take ages. As I am transitioning courtesy of the NHS (National Health Service), I am bound by their timetable, and their funding availability. So I’ve had it in my head that I’d be looking at chest surgery sometime in 2012. Now it looks like I may be able to get it done this year.

I have hinted previously at my hatred for the Evil Twins, aka my breasts. Don’t get me wrong, I am a great lover of breasts, in all their warm wobbly glory, just not attached to me. They cause me huge feelings of dysphoria, and I wear layers of painful restrictive nylon and lycra to keep them out of sight. Chest surgery will be freeing – I can throw on a t-shirt in the morning without worrying about my shape; I can go to work without being turned cross-eyed by midday by my binder; I can go swimming again; I can take my top off without fear of arrest.

Those of you who know me from way back when will know that I have already had chest surgery once. I used to be a 32FF, and those enormous puppies were the scourge of my existence. I felt like a dairy cow, could never get clothes to fit that weren’t tents, and had to get used to people either talking directly to my tits, or just bringing them up in conversation like that’s ok. I had a reduction, largely to reduce back and neck pain, but mainly to give me a little sanity. Now I am a D cup, but dream of having no breasts at all, just a clean, manly chest. Of all the things that transitioning involves, this one is the most important to me. For my self-esteem, body-image, and ability to face the world with my head high. They give me no pleasure (literally, as since my reduction the whole area is numb) and I cannot wait for the day I wake up without them.

I need to wait to have my funding confirmed before I book a consultation with the surgeon, but from then, we’re talking a handful of months, which is nothing to wait after years of toting around the Evil Twins.

On a tangent, I learned a valuable lesson earlier in the week when I visited my Norwich doc. Never, EVER admit where you work. For the record, I work in the Customer Relations department of a railway company. When people write or email in to complain, it’s me that answers. I like to think of myself as a writer – after all, I spend time delicately honing my words, playing with nuances of meaning and crafting a (hopefully) perfect response. More often than not it boils down to “no, you can’t have a refund because the train toilet was smelly”.

My doc asked how work was, and I told him about my change in jobs and how well it was going. I only had to mention the words ‘railway company’ and he was off. Of a 30 minute appointment, 15 were spent with him giving me his opinion on the company I work for. I just wanted to know about my chest surgery…

 

*****************

Cartoon courtesy of the very talented Jiro. Check out Jiro’s work at The Bosoms (link on the right)