September is around the corner.
After next week, we’ll be at the month of pumpkin spice latte and apple crisp season. Ceramic human skulls will share entire store aisles with witch puppets on brooms, the ones that cackle when the red button installed in their backs is pushed by the tip of a curious finger. The moon will wax and wane in a sky that darkens the earth an hour earlier than what we humans are accustomed to, the wind and descending temperature encouraging many to tug the air conditioner out of the window until further notice.
When I was a child, I didn’t care too much for Autumn—if at all. It was too close to Winter, to me having to replace my worn-out sneakers or the soles of my bare feet with chunky snow boots that left prints in the white cold powder (I still feel that was even as an adult). This time in my life, my perception of the fall Equinox has completely shifted—but because my patience for the holidays has returned. It is because the changing months bring me closer to January 10, 2019.
This is the day that I am officially eligible for gender reassignment surgery—or top surgery. In non-cis lay man terms, this means I will have my breasts removed. Though I can get the procedure at any point, January 10 is when Medicaid will fund it without much authorization outside of documentation from Trillium Health. It is then that I can finally disconnect from the dysphoria that plagues me on a regular basis. Until that moment arrives, until I’m lying in a hospital bed in a hospital gown while recovering from the fog of anesthesia, I’m stuck with gender markers I no longer connect with. In fact, I never have and I must be honest about this part of my personal history regarding gender and my breasts. And since they aren’t going anywhere soon, I choose to at least reflect on when the disconnection began.
It all started when I was nine years of age when my breasts swelled into existence. My young mind didn’t understand the magnitude of such a significant change and I figured that they were just another part of me, another development that would be explained if I were to ask someone who knew better. So when I pulled on my pink tank top, I thought nothing about how much the fabric clung onto my newest additions.
I was one step out of my room when Mom approached me. Her sight stopped on my chest, her critical gaze sweeping across my tank top. She then looked at me, the seriousness staining her face.
“You got breasts now,” Mom pointed out, her voice stern. “And I can see through your shirt. If a man see that, they’re gonna want to touch you and try to rape you!”
As she spoke, the volume of her voice rose while her stare grew colder. She stood over me, the shadows draping over half her face and shoulders, making her appear sinister. Possessed. Meanwhile, my attention shot down towards the center of my tank top, the bulbs of flesh stretching the fabric. Images of grown men reeled through my mind, their extended arms attached to hands eager to caress my breasts, smiling while exposing teeth that were cracked and rotted. I spun around and hurried to my dresser, snatched open the middle drawer and yanked out a t-shirt. After I quickly pulled it over my head, I felt my breath become steady as the strangers in my head disappeared. When I faced my mother once again, she nodded her head as a ghost of a smile traced her lips.
“Much better,” she complimented before she turned and walked away.
That one moment was far from an isolated one. The possibility of sexual violence associated with my breasts was brought to my attention on more than one occasion. According to my mother, someone was always attempting to or fantasizing about “touching me” or “raping me.” And I often responded by shielding my breasts with my arms. But what she failed to understand was that my perpetrators weren’t hypothetical males. It was her sister, my aunt Joyce, who introduced me to pornographic videos before introducing me to her full body. Or some of the children living in the projects where my father used to work (one girl actually pulled one of my breasts out of my shirt—even when I asked her not to).
The curiosity and sexualization of my breasts didn’t stop at my childhood. Men and women fixated on them even when I tumbled into adulthood. They were the first part of me kissed during sex. The first part of me people admired quietly when I wore low-cut blouse on a night out. The first part that brought out the kindness of men when I worked the front desk at the university library. This only continued because I didn’t know of any other options. At this point, I knew I wasn’t straight, but also fell into the cis-identity trap by thinking that all female-bodied women were to act sexual simply because of the body parts they were born with.
The irony was that I was most comfortable with my body when my chest was close to non-existent, hidden beneath flowy shirts worn with bell bottom jeans. A sigh of relief came from not being mistaken for high femme behaviorisms, only wearing heels and makeup on the night of the blue moon.
My coming out in 2017 made sense; my masculinity felt as natural as the shade of my skin and I immediately reset myself energetically and psychologically. But I still had my old body—those two lumps on my chest that I never asked for. As time dragged on, the contempt towards my breasts intensified—so much so that I requested that they be removed earlier than required by my insurance company. My dysphoria elevated when my insurance company denied my request because I’ve only been on testosterone for eight months. Though I am in the middle of an appeal, the chances of Excellus budging are slim.
So here I am, giving myself the permission to confront the monster—the other reason why I want my breasts removed as soon as possible.
Since they were sexualized since the day they were formed, I began to believe that my breasts were the only aspect of me that either brought happiness to or pleasure for someone else. Since I craved the attention that didn’t involved me being yelled at or ridiculed, I allowed people to sexualize me, regardless of how much I disgusted I felt. I assumed that, as a “woman,” sexualization and being sexualized because of my breasts was all I was good for. And it was always followed by an overwhelming sense of shame.
My breasts are a constant reminder of the sexual humiliation I put myself through in the quest to find true acceptance. Of the sexual abuse I endured as a child by a family member who concealed her intentions with humor while providing a false sense of protection. Because it was often ridiculed and molested, I rarely felt connected to my body and having my breasts blamed for someone else’s conduct made it worse. So with them gone, my body will never again be used as a scapegoat. And I will no longer have gender markers that remind me of the trauma I endured. The top surgery will do more than allow me to live comfortably with my body. It will allow me to move forward and on with my life as me.
In other words, I will no longer be haunted. Instead, I will finally be free.