This blog post is going to be off the beaten path of my recent posts. I was inspired to write about my experiences with “top surgery” after reading A Boy and Her Dog’s latest post re: mammograms. One of the highlights in transitioning from female to male is getting rid of those odious boobs.
Most FTMs go through binding their boobs as they begin to transition. I gave only a brief attempt at the effort. I’m too much into comfort, and binding is just plain uncomfortable, especially during the dog days of summer when temps can reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit. I did try a short stint with wrapping Ace bandages around my chest, but it was a — pardon my pun — flop. Even without binding, I was already getting the stunned look of women in public restrooms, with squeals of “You’re in the wrong room!” If someone freaked out badly, I would point at my boobs to reassure them. I also hated the quizzical looks of people who couldn’t decide if I was male or female. In short, I was just too lazy to do binding.
The first worry for most who transition from female to male is how to pay for “top surgery.” I’d covered that one by carefully saving my money while I worked in the computer science field, but I still held out hope that I could have health insurance cover the surgery. Many are not so lucky, some can not come up with the funds to pay for the surgery out-of-pocket.
My second dilemma was whether to start testosterone before or after top surgery. I couldn’t quite stomach the idea of hairy boobs, so I opted to go for the surgery before I started T — or really making them coincide so that the dreaded boobs would be gone before the T kicked in and my chest got hairy. I was more dysphoric about the boobs than anything else, and was quite eager for them to be gone.
There was not a lot of guidance in those days, and most information about chest reconstruction surgery to make one’s chest have a male contour and presentation came by word of mouth from others who had gone before as to who was doing the best surgery and where to get it done. The first step was finding a gynecologist who might be able to find a justifiable reason for the surgery to be possibly covered by insurance. I had my health insurance from work, and I had my savings, but it wasn’t like I was rich, and so better to avoid the cost if possible. My doctor at the time (general practitioner, internist) was a gay man. I thought he’d be sensitive to my special needs. He referred me to the gynecological practice next door to his own office.
As I had planned my strategy, I had started T, but the effects had not fully hit. Even so, I was dressing as a man, and was now more often assumed to be male than not. So I felt very awkward sitting in the waiting room of the gynecologist for my breast exam, averting my eyes and nervously twiddling my thumbs, waiting to be called back to the exam room. The gynecologist’s staff was rude to me, and the gynecologist himself was even ruder. He flat out refused to examine me. And here was me hoping that he would also be the conduit for eventually signing off on a complete hysterectomy in the future — what I intended to be my next step after top surgery.
People have strong feelings about boobs, one way or the other. Jokes abound from every angle. But a transgendered guy must do something about the boobs, because he can’t go around looking like the above. Even man-boobs are anathema. Another caricature.
This funny illustrates why I wasn’t keen on starting T before I had the top surgery done. I was blessed to find the services of a local plastic surgeon through word of mouth who had an excellent track record in performing top surgeries for FTMs. Her name is Dr. Beverly Fischer, and her clinic was in Timonium, Maryland. She does all the standard plastic surgeries as well — face lifts, tummy tucks, etc. She was a delight — professional, skilled at what she did, she had an excellent bedside manner, and carefully explained the options.
I was giddy on the morning of my surgery. At long last, getting rid of the unwanted parts. In the operating room in her clinic, she and her assistants were dressed in cute scrubs with cartoon animals. Pictures of her dogs were displayed on the counter. I was placed on a unique type of gurney that looked like a hybrid of a dentist chair. The arms of the chair rotated to the side so that one’s arms extended outward while the “chair” remained upright. Dr. Fischer used a magic marker to draw where she would make her incisions and where the nipples would be moved to give the chest a sculpting of a normal male appearance. Her anesthesiologist gently coaxed me into oblivion after the “chair” was lowered to a supine position.
When I woke up after the procedure, her staff gave me orange juice and cookies I think. They seemed to fawn over me and I felt very safe. My chest was bandaged, drains had been inserted, I was prescribed a compression vest, and given post-op instructions. It all went without a hitch.
A word of warning: Do NOT pick at the black scabs that form on the nipples. Wait until they fall off of their own accord. Dr. Fischer had given me this stern warning, but I have always been a “picker,” and so couldn’t resist. My bad. 😦 It’s important to wear the compression vest, even if your surgery is done in the sweltering August heat. You’ll retain more sensation the longer you wear the vest. Aside from the one nipple problem I caused for myself, my only other problem was getting an infection in the placement of the drain on the left side. Not a big deal, except that it left more scarring, and had to be removed by a clueless young doctor in the ER (since I didn’t have transportation back to Dr. Fischer to have the drain removed). Removing the drains, even the infected one, was simple. Just a snip of the sutures, and then blessed relief.
I was elated as I healed. For the first time in my life, I could look down and see my feet! I could also do jumping jacks without the “baggage” flapping up and down. I previously shared my after-surgery and my after-healing photos in my Transitioning in Pictures post.
In the after-healing photo, the T had not yet kicked in, and so I achieved my goal of having no hairy boobs. I did have to pay out-of-pocket for the surgery, but it was well worth it.
During the administration of George W. Bush (don’t get me started…), I used to listen to the Randi Rhodes Show on Air America Radio. The theme song for her program was Shake Your Boobies. Read the Wikipedia article about Air America Radio here. This radio network launched the careers of lesbian Rachel Maddow, the host who now appears on MSNBC and comedian Al Franken who went on to become a United States Senator from Minnesota. Franken had actually gotten fame when he was a regular on Saturday Night Live. I still love the Shake Your Boobies song, and it’s good for a giggle. I don’t have to worry about shaking my boobies any more:
I certainly don’t have a roving eye, and I detest infidelity, which you know if you’ve read my other posts, but I do aspire to learn the mating dance of the blue-footed booby, and think my romantic life might be enhanced. Here are a couple of examples:
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