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Body Positivity / Health / Nonbinary

My Non-Binary Tits (And Their Many Sizes)

I didn’t know I was trans because I didn’t know that was an option.

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Written by Shaina Rose Woolley.

Art by Athena Lawton.

The first time I went to a breast reduction consultation I was 18 years old, had hair down to my waist and presented relatively heteronormatively. I was perceived as a cis girl, if perhaps an awkward and uncomfortable one. I didn’t know I was trans because I didn’t know that was an option. When the doctor asked me what size breasts I wanted, I responded with “as small as possible.” The doctor said okay, probably a B.

I didn’t know I was trans because I didn’t know that was an option.

After diving into the work of queer authors, I began thinking deeply about what it would mean for me to change my body. I thought if I had plastic surgery, I would be a hypocrite– I would be someone who allows unrealistic standards to infiltrate my self-perception. In their book, She Wants It: Desire, Power, and Toppling the Patriarchy, Joey Solloway writes, “[h]ow in the world could I take a stand for women and feminism, demanding that all of our bodies are perfectly fine as they are…and then cut my own tits off?” That is exactly how I felt. Keeping my gigantic breasts became something I had to do to prove that I wouldn’t allow capitalist, misogynist standards to affect me. So, I declared to myself that I didn’t need or want surgery. I made art about it, putting nudes of me and my giant boobs on display for everyone who came to my photo exhibition to see.

Keeping my gigantic breasts became something I had to do to prove that I wouldn’t allow capitalist, misogynist standards to affect me.

A few months later, I still had the same problems: deep discomfort and unease with my body (what I later came to learn is dysphoria), back pain, and a myriad of physical limitations (like, soooo much boob sweat in a Los Angeles summer).

I visited another doctor at age 23. At this point I was noticeably more queer; I was rocking a weird phase in the grow-out of a shaved head and dressed head to toe in clothes from the boys section of Marshall’s. When the doctor asked me what size breasts I wanted, I responded the same as before: “as small as possible.” This time the doctor asked me if I was looking to have a “male-chest” by way of top surgery. I stumbled over my words, and said “No, no, no, I don’t want a “male-chest.”

While breast reduction was something I had been aware of since puberty and something I had always dreamed of getting, top surgery was not something I knew about. When I found out about it, I thought it was a surgery exclusive to binary trans men, which I was not. While, I knew I hated having boobs and really had no connection to keeping them, as an AFAB non-binary person, I didn’t think I was allowed to get top surgery. I decided breast reduction was what I wanted.

A close friend of mine, Felix, who helped me discover my own non-binary identity, wrote to me in a DM, “I’m starting to go through the process of seriously thinking about getting top surgery… and thinking about the ways that will affect [how] the world treats me…  and [how] trans people who are transitioning are on the front lines of the gender wars… like [the ones who are] actually getting killed…”

I was not able to articulate this when I decided breast reduction was the procedure I wanted, but this sentiment had a lot to do with it. I could be a visibly AFAB queer person with small(er) tits and people wouldn’t be so confused as to who I was. But if I was an AFAB queer looking person with no tits, how would the world treat me? After years of uninvited comments about my big boobs, I wanted to be left alone. If I got top surgery, would I still be stared at on the beach in a bathing suit? Would my body again become a topic of conversation, just for different reasons? Would stares lead to transphobic violence? Black women are the most at risk of experiencing transphobic violence and my white privilege undoubtedly keeps me safer from violence than trans people of color. And still, being visibly gender-non-conforming has been reason enough to feel unsafe in my body at times.  

As my identity and involvement in the trans community progressed, I started seeing a repeated sentiment that I needed to have top surgery to be trans. I went from thinking I wasn’t allowed to get top surgery as a non-binary person, to thinking I had to have surgery to be legitimized by other trans people in my non-binary identity. The gatekeeping in the trans community made me question my own identity and even wonder if my trans identity was harmful to other binary trans people. This led me to a much healthier and supportive community of trans people who preach that transness is about gender euphoria rather than gender dysphoria. While I had dysphoria about my breasts since puberty, I didn’t realize I was trans until I felt the euphoria of being referred to with they/them/theirs pronouns and being both seen and celebrated as a non-binary person.

Transness is about gender euphoria rather than gender dysphoria.

Now at age 25, sometimes I catch a look at my reflection and feel dysphoric about my boobs. Sometimes, I see the outline of my breasts and I still don’t want them. Sometimes, I wonder if I should have gotten top surgery instead. Other times, I feel happy looking at my reflection and seeing the faded scars, which allowed my body to become so much more of a home to me. Right now, I’m pretty comfortable with how things are. If that changes, maybe I’ll consider getting top surgery in the future.

I am learning to reject the notion that my breasts make me less trans. There is no right or wrong way to be trans. I am a trans person and I have boobs. It has been a bumpy and beautiful journey coming to the understanding that there are infinite ways to exist in a body as a trans person. Surgery is not a prerequisite for transness or something reserved only for some trans people. Unpacking the gatekeeping that exists within the trans community and working to dismantle it has made me realize that my experience being a non-binary person who had breast reduction is just as valid as every other glorious way trans people exist.

Unpacking the gatekeeping that exists within the trans community and working to dismantle it has made me realize that my experience being a non-binary person who had breast reduction is just as valid as every other glorious way trans people exist.


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