Written by Tanya Azari.
Art by Adam CJ Strauss.
The day after the bandages came off I had my first panic attack. It came on slow, building up for hours until it pinned me down on my bed, hand on my now-flat chest. This fear, born the moment I unclipped the surgery bra and saw my torso—unrecognizable, bruised, beautiful—came from the sudden knowledge that I had dreamed my whole life of having this body, and now that I had it, I was terrified.
I can’t remember a time where I ever felt at home in my body. Not when I was 9, being teased for wearing a white undershirt “like a boy;” 12, flushing with unexplained shame in the bra department; 13, starting to feel like I was seen as my breasts before I was seen as a person; 16, suffering the headaches, neck and upper back pain, soreness, and difficulty exercising associated with a large chest; 19, with 32H breasts that had grown at least a size every year.
I had dreamed my whole life of having this body, and now that I had it, I was terrified.
Every year that my breasts grew, I felt more at odds with my body and never felt right in the gender that I was assigned at birth. I started identifying as nonbinary or genderqueer in my late teens. In my early twenties I started to think about getting a breast reduction surgery; I considered the ways it might either tighten or loosen my ties to queerness. Would the straight world see me as apart from or a part of it? Would the queer world? Would either of them see me as my gender? Would I?
I didn’t know if I was making the right choice for my body and my identity. I told my sister I was worried I would wake up with smaller breasts and realize I really wanted them gone altogether.
I was worried I would wake up with smaller breasts and realize I really wanted them gone altogether.
Entering into the unknown, I decided to prepare for this new experience the only way I knew how: reading about strangers’ experiences online. However, the articles I found (written by cis women, for cis women; or by trans men/transmasculine folks who opted for full breast removal) left some of my most burning questions unanswered. What size should I go to so I could feel both masculine and feminine, or both at the same time, or neither, depending on the day? How long until I could bind again? Would I still feel dysphoric?
My surgeon didn’t have those answers either. I had to argue my way down to a smaller size; assure him that yes, I was ready to deal with the possible side effects (lack of sensation and inability to breastfeed) and educate him about gender—mine, specifically.
My surgeon mentioned each appointment how I might want to breastfeed someday; or, more specifically, how I might want to become a mother someday. I came out to my surgeon in our first or second meeting, telling him about my pronouns, my gender identity, the connection between my dysphoria and this surgery. It seemed promising, but ultimately, he started collapsing my gender with my sexuality, forgot my pronouns, and just resorted to addressing me as a woman.
I love my surgeon—just like I love my therapist, my parents, my coworkers, everyone who cares for me as a person even if they don’t know or fully understand all of that person—but he didn’t get it. I’m used to important people in my life ‘not getting’ my gender or how to navigate it. But sometimes it just makes me tired.
I’m used to important people in my life ‘not getting’ my gender or how to navigate it. But sometimes it just makes me tired.
Two and a half years later, I have never felt so comfortable in my body, like I own it. But, I’m a millennial at heart—sometimes it still feels like I’m a renter. Like there’s a lease on this body and I don’t know when it will end. The fear I felt when I first took the bandages off comes back to me in bursts. I kept being afraid of my new body—afraid that I would lose it, afraid that I would lose my understanding of the person I was versus the person I had become. I loved myself unconditionally for almost a year, then doubt and uncertainty crept back in.
It is hard to unconditionally love your body under late-stage capitalism and the cisheteropatriarchy, where you are told at every turn what to buy to be beautiful, handsome, healthy, happy. It is hard to reclaim your own body, have it be something that exists and fits just for you.
I’m a millennial at heart—sometimes it still feels like I’m a renter. Like there’s a lease on this body and I don’t know when it will end.
But also: the other week I thrifted the most beautiful white lace shirt, wore it butch on a Tuesday and femme on a Friday. I can wear a button-down now and have it lay close to flat. I never have to wear underwire ever again, or pay $70 for something to hold my chest back. I haven’t yet tried binding again, my old XL g2cb remains folded quietly in my dresser, but I also don’t feel like I have to. My gender dysphoria is lower than it has ever been before. I wear my hair a little bit longer, because I like it. I wear whatever I want. Never in my life have I been able to wear whatever I want. In all my time with my old body, I had to tell myself, over and over again, that I could not have what I want.
I still am misread regularly. I still have days where I put on twenty outfits and it feels like nothing fits. As a nonbinary person with a body in transition, my body doesn’t always feel like home. It might feel like an apartment, or cabin, or guest house (or even a really nice Airbnb that I like a lot but am anxious about the ethical implications of its existence).
But I live here, in my body, and I’ve made it my home. My surgery has liberated me in a way that I didn’t realize would be possible. My body feels like something I live with, not in spite of. My torso is no longer unrecognizable; only sometimes bruised, and always beautiful. And mine. Most importantly, mine.