This is a guest post by a good friend of mine. It deals with a question I've often received, but can't write about from personal experience: top surgery for non-FTM folks. Intrigued? Read on...
Top Surgery for Genderqueer, Gender Neutral, FAAB, or Otherwise Non-FTM-Identifying People
The decision to get top surgery—via a bilateral double mastectomy—did not come easy. I spent years agonizing over the fact that I had (quite large) breasts. I dumped heaps of cash into sports bras and binders, in search of the perfect containment vessel to make them less obtrusive. I spent years wishing boobs were detachable (like Wanda Sykes’ detachable v-jay), so I could keep them in a dust covered box in the back of my closet.
Why all this suffering and agony over a pair of breasts? Why, as an ardent feminist, could I not learn to love and appreciate that part of my body? Well, for starters:
You know when you’re out shopping and you see the male mannequins in the windows, looking all dapper in their vests and button down shirts, and you think, that’s my style? So you step into the store (in all your butchy genderiness), and try some on. The shirt won’t button around your breasts, the vest hugs your boobs all wrong, and the fit across the shoulders is too broad (and too narrow around the hips).
So for me, there was a disconnect between how I saw myself in the mannequin’s classy getup, and how the clothing fit my body. But fashion design is only part of the problem, since lots of cool designers are remedying this. It was also about how feminizing my boobs were—I’m blessed with fairly narrow hips that actually allow men’s pants to fit, and the curves of my boob-heavy upper body were psychologically unsettling. (Pro-tip: Post-surgery, shopping for tops in the boys’ section is where it’s at!)
It’s a psychology I still can’t exactly articulate, even after many therapy sessions (one of the hoops to leap through en route to surgery approval). But basically, as I grew older and explored more of the world, I met all sorts of queers who broadened my horizons and made me aware of this thing called “top surgery.” Wait... you mean they ARE detachable?
It was a big decision—especially since I’d never had surgery. That was the scariest part—letting someone cut me open, remove a bunch of tissue, and sew me back up. But the fantastic images running through my mind of having a flat chest, of throwing out the constricting undergarments forever, and of flexing visible pec muscles far outweighed my fears of surgery.
Still, there were lots of other factors to consider. First, I do not identify as a man, and have no intention of transitioning. Big psychological fear: my gender presentation already confuses people; will top surgery cause greater confusion? I’m okay with confusing people, but sometimes confusing people makes them oddly violent, and some people like to hurt people who don’t fit their idealized gender norms. I was, frankly, afraid of increased gender violence and social taunting. How would I negotiate public restrooms when I could no longer point to my boobs to ease the concern of the woman giving me sideways glances through the mirror? What about locker rooms or dressing rooms? Would I be mistaken for a teenage boy even more than I already am? Note: Again, I don’t mind the “sirs,” but when people think you’re a teenage boy, they don’t treat you like a capable adult. (But one perk is getting the giveaway toys and prizes for children 16 and under at festivals and special events!)
Well, here’s what I learned: People determine gender in sooooo many more ways than a glance at your chest. In fact, I am still mostly read as female and mistaken for male with about the same frequency as I was before surgery. Most people read me as female as soon as they see my face or hear my voice. They may silently wonder where my titties are hiding, but nobody has said anything about it.
In the three months since my surgery, I could not be happier with how I feel in my body, how my clothing fits, and how my chest looks.
Understandably, you might also be concerned about scarring your perfect body. I am doing lots of scar treatment to try to reduce and minimize my scars, though scarring was, to me, a small price to pay for living the rest of my life comfortably boob-free. Maybe surprisingly, I have actually grown fond of my scars; they’ve come to seem like a natural part of my body’s landscape, and my body seems more perfect with the scars than with boobs.
Another concern is dating. Who would want to date you if you hack off your tits? (Well, I’m actually a bit of a misanthrope, so dating is the least of my concerns, but I can certainly understand how scary that can be to find a person who will accept you and your boobless body.) Guess what? There are people out there who will love you just as you are (with or without boobs). And if they don’t, you probably don’t want to date that person anyway.
One big fear that persists is how medical professionals would treat me post-op. Sure, I’ve navigated doctors’ gender weirdness with my hairier-than-your-dad’s legs and armpits. But fear of seeking out medical treatment is multiplied when you’re living in a surgically modified, non-gender-normative body.
Recently, I found myself in need of medical treatment (unrelated to my surgery), but I hesitated. What if the doctors and nurses were jerks to me and didn’t treat me well? Eventually, a loved one forced me into the car and drove me to the ER. After a moment’s hesitation, I told the first technician who was rigging me up to a machine that I’d had a double mastectomy so he wouldn’t be shocked when he had to stick some tabs on my chest. It didn’t faze him a bit, and we talked about gender and gayness and queerness and how much he enjoys boobs and sex with his girlfriend, all while the machine measured the electrical activity of my heart.
When I put it out there and seemed comfortable explaining that I did it for gendery-type reasons, every doctor and nurse and tech I interacted with was pleasant and understanding. Will this always be true? Maybe not, but hey, you get better at navigating this over time, and in the end, as long as you can get treatment, it’s a small price to pay for the comfort of everyday life without boobs.
This is all to say: for people who do not identify as FTM and want top surgery, you’re not alone. You may think it’s not an option for you, because of social pressure or because of the mistaken belief that you have to be FTM to get top surgery. But I want to tell you that you can make the choice that is best for you and you can safely navigate this world as a female, androgynous, non-FTM, etc. person without breasts.
Yes, it is a great privilege to have access to top surgery (thank goodness for my progressive insurance plan), and unfortunately plenty of people who need and want it can’t access it. But if you can, and you want to—even if you don’t plan to transition or take hormones—it’s a viable choice.
There’s plenty more information about top surgery (even specifically for non-FTM people) that you can Google, Bing, and Yahoo on the Internets, but I am also in the process of compiling a centralized comprehensive guide to top surgery for non-FTMs. In the meantime, feel free to ask me your questions or voice your concerns by emailing me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.