It's been over two years. I know I need my annual exam. But I had such a crappy experience last time that I haven't been able to make myself make an appointment. I definitely need a new one, which means having to disrobe in front of a total stranger. Ugh.
I know a ton of you are in the same boat, so here's my idea: let's butch up together. It's super important for our physical health, and it will be a heck of a lot easier knowing that we've all got each others' backs.
Here's what you do.
So let's do this! Are you butch enough to join me? (Genderqueer, straight, trans, whatever--ALL readers whose genitals warrant an OBGYN visit should participate.)
What Sex Ed Should Be Like
I don't remember much about my sex ed class. I attended a handful of different elementary and middle schools, and I remember: (1) the girls being separated from the boys; (2) being shown some kind of cartoon about sperm and eggs; (3) our PE teacher telling us we needed to use deodorant from now on. I also remember leaving the sex ed video being suddenly unsure about whether sex was what made babies. I had thought so going into it, but the movie hadn't said anything about sex, and the animated version of fertilization seemed pretty divorced from two people doing it.
There was, of course, nothing at all about homosexuality, bisexuality, or gender identity or expression. The curriculum basically assumed that when girls grew up and got boobs, they would suddenly be interested in boys, dresses, and makeup. Growing up meant a continued separation of the sexes, and it meant that girls and boys couldn't really be friends after puberty. If you were a "tomboy," you'd grow out of it. Even if the curriculum had included something about homosexuality, the culture in the various working-class suburbs from which I hail would have never allowed it to be taken seriously. If anyone had "come out" in my high school or middle school, they'd have been ostracized and probably beaten to a pulp.
I know that some schools still teach sex ed basically this way, and in other schools it's way more progressive. I was super heartened to stumble on a blog post written earlier this year that translates part of a pamphlet that Dutch girls are given. I was floored by how incredibly progressive and awesome and inclusive it was. Here's my favorite part:
Take the time to figure it out! Are you uncertain whether you’re lesbian? That’s perfectly natural. Often, you’ll know after puberty what you are exactly. In any case, try to enjoy it if you fall in love, whether it’s with a girl or a boy.
Wait, what? Seriously? No big deal either way? Love is love; just enjoy it? Can you imagine having been given something like this when you were a kid? Would it have mattered? And can any of my younger readers talk about what sex ed is like in the U.S. these days?
Butches without Boobs
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.
The other day, I had to go get some blood drawn. Because of the bizarre way my medical provider structures itself, the immunology clinic is in the children's wing. As a result, the latest chapter in my "why-do-I-get-mono-so-often" detective mystery takes place amidst Disney characters, cartoon trains, and primary colors. It's far cheerier than adult hospital, plus you get to choose a sticker before you leave.
Anyway, after the phlebotimist works his or her magic, they usually press a little square of gauze against the place where the needle went in and tell you to hold it there for a minute. Then they wrap it with that self-adhesive rubbery wrap stuff. But since the office is so child-friendly, instead of having plain old boring beige gauze, they have waaay cooler ones. Check out the types below:
Specifically, my office had the hearts, the dinosaurs, and the race cars (pink, green, and blue).
So my own, personal, bearded, honey-haired, thirty-something whippersnapper of a phlebotomist has finished the draw, and I'm dutifully holding the gauze, and next thing I know, he's lassoing my elbow with the pink one. "Why did you--" I sputtered. Then I smiled and chuckled. "Oh, I see," I say. "Girls get the hearts and boys get the racecars?"
...To which he replied, without irony, "Yep." Not being able to let it go, I said, "Wait, really? Blue for boys and pink for girls and green if you run out of either?" "Yeah," he said again, at this point seeming a little puzzled at my inability to grasp the concept of gendered self-adhesive medical wrap.
"Well, if you would have asked, I'd have preferred the race cars, or even better, the dinosaurs," I said. I grinned, hoping to convey that I didn't actually give a hoot what was on my arm at the moment, but that he might want to ask kids their preferences. "It's just like when I was a kid," I continued. "They gave me the pink, but I wanted the green or the blue."
At this point, he gave me a look that--albeit not the least bit mean--made it clear he had more useful places to be, told me to have a great day, and headed out of the room. I didn't stop him, but I hope that next time he phlebotomizes a wee one, he thinks twice before slapping on a gender-normative wrap. Is one wrap a big deal in the context of things? Of course not. But these little signals add up. They are the stuff of society, and they are the stuff of gender normativity. They are the way, brick by brick, we come to build the beliefs we hold about the way men and women "are."
Yeah, I'm butch enough to sport pink hearts around my left elbow. But just the same, I made sure to conspicuously choose a big ol' Spiderman sticker on the way out.
Butches and Body Image
I attended an amazing event this weekend, where I got the privilege of spending two days with some of the most accomplished, dynamic LGBTQ folks I've ever met. More on that in a future post, but while I was there, someone asked me what topics I've wanted to address on BW but haven't gotten around to, or that I've found it too hard to write about. I had two answers: (1) Butches and race; (2) Butches and body image.
The former is hard to write about because, as a white woman, it's impossible for me to speak from personal experience about how being a racial minority interacts with butchness. Sure, I can talk about whiteness + butchness, and maybe I will--but I'm still looking for a guest blogger of color to write a post about this (hit me up if you're interested). Number (2) is hard to write about because it's such a touchy topic for so many people. But I'm going to take my new friend up on his challenge anyway, and delve into the topic of butches and body image.
First, my experience. I'm not exactly "fat," and I'm usually pretty active (well, when I'm not dealing with mono, whooping cough, or a broken foot). But I'm carrying around about 30 pounds more than I'd like, and the BMI scale puts me solidly in the "overweight" category. I've lost 12 lbs this year without giving up ice cream (because, like, let's be realistic, people), and hope to lose a bit more. So I know firsthand what it's like to be hefty, though admittedly I don't know what it's like to be obese. (And I really don't know what it's like to be thin.)
I've had multiple butches confide body image issues to me, though always one on one, and sometimes anonymously. There's a sense out there that it's just not "butch" to talk about being insecure about your physical appearance. Most butches don't talk about this with one another; to whom are we supposed to talk about it? A girlfriend in front of whom we're trying to appear confident? A male friend? A straight female friend? Frankly, none of those options sound appealing.
Furthermore, diet and exercise present special problems for butches, which mirror some of the problems faced by straight men. Butches trying to lose weight may think they'll lose butch points if they admit to dieting. The diet industry paints monitoring food intake as something "feminine." I know I wouldn't feel comfortable telling a butch buddy that I'm on a diet. And when it comes to exercise, many of us want to look competent, because physical fitness is "butch," right? But what if we're wheezing after a half mile? What if we can't bench press as much as our femme friends can? Overall, it can be a lot easier to hide behind your butchness than to risk making yourself vulnerable. It's easier to "puff up" as you walk by the gym, but to avoid going in. And don't even get me started on swimsuits.
On the other end of the spectrum, some butches suffer from anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders. And these folks can feel invisible. It can feel decidedly un-butch to seek help for this. And available support groups may not contain a heck of a lot of people who look like you.
I hope to post more on this issue soon, but for now, I just wanted to get the topic out there. We think about our bodies, too, and a lot of us are self-conscious--and we don't always talk about it.
What do you think, butches? Is butchness and body image an issue you've ever thought about? Experienced? Heard about from others? What kinds of issues related to body image would you like to see addressed on BW?