bandages off (shot 23)

The two feelings are completely distinct.

The first, the need to get rid of my breasts, I was prepared for. Since the moment in my childhood where I learned what being a girl meant for the future of my body,  I dreaded the day puberty set in. This was followed by years of sports bras turned chest binders, layers of shirts and hunched shoulders. July 31st, the day of my surgery, I was finally able to experience the fulfillment of this need. Even under the layers of bandages and through the haze of the pain killers, when I came to after the procedure I felt the lightness. A huge weight had been lifted, quite literally. It was exhausting. It’s like I’d been holding my breath since I was fourteen years old. On July 31st, I exhaled.

The possibility of having a male contoured chest is the second one. Throughout the years of growing disconnect I had with my chest my focus was on wanting them gone; I hadn’t been able to imagine what would be in their place. I’ve imagined an empty void. I couldn’t picture what it would actually look like for me to have a masculine chest. And I didn’t care. Anything was better than what I had. On August 6th, I had the bandages removed and was able to see my chest for the first time. It was the opposite of drowning. It was taking the training wheels off the bike. It was the second after the roller coaster starts its decent, past the building anticipation and into the moment where you throw your arms up and scream. It was seesaws and slides, it was my first home run, it was red popsicles and roller-skates. It was my first kiss, it was tree houses and love letters, it was falling in love.  It was a feeling of knowing that things were going to be better than just ok. It was gold.



3 days post-op (quick check in)

It all happened really quickly.

Mom and I returned to the hotel after my pre-op appointment and dinner with my cousin. We had to be at the surgery center at 6am, so I began packing up the few things I’d brought that had been strewn about. I folded up the shark shirt and left the hawaiian button down hanging in the closet for tomorrow. I stacked a pair of basketball shorts and briefs on top of my shoes on the floor. I stepped into the shower and shaved my armpits for the first time in a decade, instructions from the surgeon to make the bandaging process easier. I looked down at my chest. I expected to have some sort of moment. Something akin to a moment of silence, or any sort of feelings of fondness, memories, or morning. Nothing came. I stood for a few minutes as water ran down my brow. Finally a smile grew from the corners of my lips, I stepped out of the shower, wrestled my nipple rings out, looked at my breasts for the last time, and pulled on a binder.

I dreamed of birds, not of flying. I studied the plumage of their wings. The birds were healthy, full, and their colors drab. Thinking back, they could have easily been quails. I held them and felt the lightness of their weight, the softness of their feathers. They weren’t alive, they were prepared specimens. By holding them I was studying for something I couldn’t define.

shayleeleThe elevator in the hotel surrounded us in mirrors. There was a never-ending cascade of Shayles and Moms. It was still night and google maps wasn’t accessing enough internet to tell me how to get to the surgery center. We pulled into the parking lot at 5:54am, the lights in the center flickered on as we walked towards the doors. Two kitties rounded the corner eagerly awaiting breakfast. I took a selfie.

I started scribbling in my medical history on stacks of forms. I saw “M” printed in the gender box and felt a fullness, a pride like I felt when I received my drivers license at 16. I awkwardly stumbled over my words as I pointed this out to the nurse, this was great but I hadn’t changed my legal documents yet. Everything had to be reprinted. Every identification was double thick. If you looked closely, you could still make out the “M” under the new id stickers.

Southern hospitality filled the pre-op room. Garramone and I talked genetics and tacos while he sketched I remember counting down from 10 when I was being wheeled to the operating room. My mom was allowed to follow as I was pushed, and the last thing I remember is 6.

I made the short video above at the peak of a round of pain meds. At those moments I can focus, move around a little bit, and think. I’ve started saving up work to do when I know I’ll hit that peak; Science, Neat emails, friend and family check-ins, PhD program search. The pain is real though. Sleeping on my back, and sitting most of the day, is painful. Not being able to take care of my self is a huge mental challenge. I can’t cook, I can’t lift the water pitcher out of refrigerator, I can barely get myself in and out of bed. I’m like a T Rex. A T Rex on pain medication. A T Rex that wants to go for a run, and do yoga, and focus long enough to work on my DNA alignment. This is a huge exercise in patience, in self-love and care. A T Rex that is ready to evolve feathers. And take flight.