At the age of 30 I got rid of the 36bs and wound up (after a serious commitment to the gym) with a 39 inch chest. This is part 2 of the top surgery memorial.
The time has come for me to memorialize the breast to chest phase of my transition. In Part 2, I’ll go into some detail regarding the surgical procedure. Reading about a double mastectomy isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I’ll insert an alert before getting too far into the specifics, but they are included for a reason. I gave a lot of thought to the surgical options I had at the time and weighed their pros and cons. The procedure I ultimately chose was important to my sense of myself not just as male, but specifically as a transgendered male.
This post, though, is the lead up to the surgery, a record of living with breasts.
Why now for this blog post?
A variety of recent events have gotten me thinking about my chest. Certainly reading the excellent posts here on tumblr by someone who recently underwent top surgery has been one inspiration. Even prior to reading those, I’ve been focused on the appearance of my chest of late. Last November, I was hit by a car while on my bicycle. No permanent damage, but I had significant medical restrictions when it came to weight bearing exercises that weren’t lifted until March 1. I’ve lost a lot of muscle definition in my upper body, and my eye is drawn to the deficiencies in my chest more than at any time since my surgery over 15 years ago. I learned last year that the surgeon who performed my mastectomy and chest reconstruction is retired and that another surgeon who I had considered seriously for the procedure has died. At the time I was investigating my options for top surgery, I only knew of four surgeons in North America regularly performing this procedure for transguys. Hearing that these two surgeons were no long around – it felt like the passing of an era.
SFJazz opened the doors of its long awaited concert hall earlier this year. Most years my partner and I attend a number of concerts sponsored by SFJazz. We both prefer traditional jazz over the more experimental forms so the shows we attend slant more in that direction. The organization also brings in a variety of musicians from other genres – latin, world and various experimental composers. They’ve even brought in Merle Haggard. This year R and I went all in on the performances. We bought a membership and chose a half dozen shows to attend. As well as a desire to hear the music, we wanted to support the SFJazz organization and experience the much touted new venue.
Last night was the premiere of Hunter S. Thompson’s “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” performed in a retro, radio style. It was sharp, minimalist and funny. The article itself is still entertaining and the presentation in this multi-media format had all the elements of perfection. Firstly, throughout the performance we were treated to the brilliantly incisive Ralph Steadman drawings high rez projected onto the wall above the stage. Secondly, the music – Bill Frisell scored this first piece of gonzo journalism and collected a talented group of musicians on stage to lend the appropriate dose of pomp or propriety suggested in Thompson’s article. I think I heard “My Old Kentucky Home” in about four different arrangements – but I’m not sure on that. Jenny Scheinman on violin – very interesting…I’ve been listening to her on spotify all morning. Lastly, Tim Robbins excelled as the main narrator and I was relieved that his voice – the cadence and inflection – was more or less how I imagined the words coming from Thompson.
Fado would still be an unknown form of music to me if Mariza hadn’t been double billed, unusually, with Anat Cohen. Early ‘90s grunge would hardly have come to my attention if Twice Wilted hadn’t showed up to play at the bar where I was getting drunk with friends. I wouldn’t know the difference between a soprano and mezzo-soprano if a co-worker hadn’t rounded a bunch of us up to see his friend perform in an oratorio. Come to think of it, I might not have learned what an oratorio is but for that invitation.
Point is, live music gets my attention. In the right setting, a piece of recorded music can too, but to enthrall me, to start an obsession, nothing can top a live performance. Classical music was no different in this regard. Except for a handful of cassettes of Mozart piano pieces (I don’t even recall the pianist) and a sizeable collection of Bach (which I did become briefly obsessed with when learning piano), classical music held little interest for me.
I saw a girl on Monday who I had not seen in a long time. More accurately, this should be described as a sighting, I suppose, and it’s been perhaps four years, or five, since my last sighting. ‘Woman’ would also lend greater accuracy to this description, rather than ‘girl’. Her age is likely in the neighborhood of my own.
What’s so unique about her? From my frame of reference, many things. Perhaps nothing in reality.
Let’s start with the fact that I’m attracted to her. Attracted to a her. Rare for me to be sexually drawn to a female. With me and women and sexual attraction, the way it usually works that there is something else I admire about them to such an extent that the admiration takes on the aspect of physical attraction. I become attracted to women once I’ve known them over a period of time.
This woman is different. I know her not at all.
My partner and I attended a performance of Handel’s Messiah by the American Bach Soloists a few nights ago. We go to this nearly every year. It’s become one of our Christmas traditions. We have very few traditions that are shared between just the two of us, but that one has taken hold and added to my enjoyment of this particular piece of music.
We have a rotation that we do from year to year at Christmas time. One year we will go visit his parents who are within a half day’s drive. The next year we will visit my mother and her husband which requires a flight out of state. The year after that we will host his parents down at our place. The year after that we will visit my father and his wife, and my brothers’ families, in yet another state. Sometimes I will visit my parents at Christmas on my own, but most years R will go with me. With all the traveling and visiting to different locales, it’s difficult to establish traditions from year to year. The Messiah performance has become one of them.
‘Tis the season for Christmas carolers. They can be heard where I work, near a large retail complex in San Francisco’s financial district, with some regularity. The merchants organize lunchtime entertainment throughout the year really but most frequently at Christmas. I like the carolers even though they are limited these days to generic winter ditties. Nothing is sung that speaks too specifically of Christmas or Hanukah or Kwanza for fear of offending any of us drones who, midday, emerge from our office hives for an hour of daylight and some sustenance. We hear odes to the winter solstice, or something, but it doesn’t matter much to me. I like hearing voices sing. I like choirs. I like soloists. I don’t care much about the lyrics, I simply like the music of the voices.
The choirs that serenade us are often from local schools which reminds me of a particular Christmas production I was part of in the 6th grade. Back when I was 11 years old, it was clearly a Christmas (not “Holiday” or “Seasonal”) play and given that I lived in the heart of the Bible Belt, the production contained a Nativity scene. All the 5th and 6th graders participated, mostly by singing in the choir. The show opened with traditional Christmas carols, then the acting bit happened, and then the choir closed out the show by leading a sing-along with the audience.
For that acting bit, instead of having Mary, Joseph, the Wise Men, et.al. converge on a manger, the play included the trope of a modern day family sitting around the hearth on Christmas Eve reflecting on the birth of Jesus. Two kids speak - one a believer and one who is questioning. The father delivers a few didactic lines and the mother nods her head approvingly. Then, Linus-like, the father reads the story of the Nativity from the Bible. (Incidentally, the biblical verses were read over a mic off stage by a male teacher. The student “father” just pretended to read this part.) The whole Star in the East/No Room at the Inn/Gold-Frankincense-Myrrh thing happens on stage as he reads. All of those performers are quiet; only the family members have speaking parts.
Strange dream last night. It was in two parts. I’m not altogether sure whether I dreamed the first part on Friday night and the second last night or if the two parts both happened last night but were interrupted by a period of wakefulness. I wanted to capture it in writing early this morning but haven’t had a chance to put it into print until tonight. I’ve thought about it on and off today, wondering at its meaning. That in itself is unusual. I don’t remember many dreams and don’t typically assign meaning to them. The portent of the scene, though, is inescapable. I will footnote the dream as I recount it.
Frustrated in my attempt to find lesbians on campus, and thus determine whether I was one, I proceeded through the next years of my life as a straight girl. Other than some minor tangential intersections, I would not enter the queer women’s community again for some time.
Until about the time I graduated college, the most frequent contact I had with lesbianism was with the word itself and its sister pejoratives. These were tossed at me, not irregularly, by men on and around campus. I heard these most often up on “the hill” which is where the bars and clubs frequented by college students were located. Usually the guys were drunk; I assumed most of them to be fraternity brothers. The interactions were brief and simple. They took a look at me, a complete stranger, and announced “dyke” or “lesbian” or asked “what are you, some kind of homo?” Then with a sneer they would pass by me, sometimes crowding my personal space, but I never felt truly threatened by them.
I was perversely pleased by these comments.
When I set off for college I was conscious of the fact that it would be perhaps the only time in my life that I could live selfishly. I approached it as a brief period of time wherein I could explore my interests, learn about myself, figure out who I was. I was not responsible for holding down a job (though that changed after my freshman year); I had no immediate responsibility to family. I was answerable only to myself and my choices. I had looked forward to college ever since starting high school. The catalogue of courses was almost overwhelming. I wanted to sample everything.
At the start of my second semester, I was settled into classes and I figured it was time to start investigating some of the extra-curricular activities on campus. I wondered if I fit in with any of the student groups that met in the evenings at the lounges populating the dormitories and lecture halls. When figuring out which ones to mark on my calendar, I found myself in a serious conversation…with myself.
The night was cold and snowy and my roommate was out, either studying or working the ticket booth at the university’s performing arts center. I was restless, not in the frame of mind to study and being January, it was dark in the early evening. I wanted to take my bike out for a spin around campus, something I often did when I needed a break from the dorms, even in inclement weather. My dorm room overlooked the racks of bikes. I stared down at the piles of snow tufted on the seats. The conditions were too poor outside even for me. But it was through this window, staring at the bike racks, that the question presented itself.
“What are you going to do about the fact that you should have been born a guy?”