“That’s … awesome,” I said, looking into the huge floor-to-ceiling mirror in my surgeon’s office and seeing my new chest for the first time.
I was at my first post-op appointment, three days after my top surgery. I was struck by the normality of my chest. It felt so familiar, a seamless accompaniment to the rest of me. My chest was there the whole time, waiting to be uncovered under the weight of what was piled on top. Like excavating a fossil in the earth. There it was. There I am.
Finding a home in my body was always an exhumation: digging and revealing the forgotten, the disregarded, the pieces of me I had deemed unallowable ― that which was too gay, too butch, too visibly defiant. I worried about the unacceptance of those around me growing up, concerned my flagrant displays of masculinity were too strong, my queerness too bold. This added fuel to the engine of my hesitant embrace.
I dipped my toe into the pool of gender nonconformity. A little here, a little there ― careful not to “overdo” it. I dared not exceed the vague limits of the invisible measuring stick I had construed in my mind.
But inch by inch, I submitted: I shaved my head in college and kept my hair short, bought a leather jacket, and bought some butch boots. Once I released myself from the agita of “but what will people think?!!!” I found freedom and fulfillment in masculinity’s dress. Further shirking the norm led me to top surgery.
Through therapy, and mining of old journal entries, I realized how uncomfortable my chest made me feel, and just how long that discomfort had been around. My chest was constantly in the way. It was something to be mitigated and minimized, diminished so much as to not be felt, noticed or seen. I had to make it imperceptible.
Dysphoria around having breasts always seemed like something that belonged to trans men, and so inapplicable to me. But once I stopped stratifying my unease within a normative binary of gender, top surgery became real. The undefinable nature of “nonbinary” filled me with a color-outside-the-lines, choose-your-own-adventure kind of fervor. I felt a freedom from binary gendered expectations ― I wasn’t a man or a woman ― and gave myself permission to stand firmly in the non-categorical, skirting definition on my way to acceptance.
In the days following surgery, I felt myself come into a different focus. What once felt incongruent began to smooth out. I liked my body. I liked ... my ... body. I liked parts of myself I didn’t know I could like. My hips and my stomach weren’t big and protruding; they felt integrated. They were no longer areas to scrutinize and pick apart; they were another facet of this big ship I wanted to take care of.
Alleviating the discomfort I felt in my chest aligned everything else too. After top surgery, I began to see and feel my body as a whole. It was one single entity, not a bunch of different parts cobbled together. I guessed that this is what people talked about when they discussed “embodiment.”
I felt reoriented, and I was unearthing new terrain. It was so strange and wonderful to touch the area right below my incisions, that middle ground between chest and stomach. A place that was once constantly occupied by my breasts, now free range. It felt so special and delicate, this new territory. There’s a mole that’s been hiding under there for years. Hello, mole! I love the existence of the space, now that I get to know it.
Healing was an incremental explosion of self-knowledge. An exceeding recognition of the new, the changed, the wondrous. I was a superhero transforming overnight. At my second appointment, I got my drains out, nipple bolsters off, and stitches taken out. I came home and took so many pictures of myself. My body was still covered with purple markings, my nipples were scabbed over, and there were dried-up little dribbles of blood left from the drains, but I didn’t care. I loved the way I looked so much.
I put on one of my favorite button-up shirts, and when the fabric touched my chest and back simultaneously, I became so overwhelmed that I cried. I stared in the mirror in pure disbelief. I had no idea it would feel like this. How long had those neural receptors laid dormant, now finally awakened to feeling?
So many gleeful milestones lay nestled in the unspectacular. Three days post-op I was getting ready to shower, and, as I gently moved myself around the bathroom, I felt the July breeze sneak in from the open window next to me. I realized the sensation of the current on my chest was a new one. When had I ever felt a breeze on my bare chest before? It was like a christening, my new chest blessed by the Seattle summer wind.
I wondered if it was normal to have regained this amount of feeling so early after surgery, a thought quickly followed by the realization that I was standing stark naked in front of my rickety second-story window for all to see. And I didn’t give a fuck. I didn’t care if anyone looked up and saw me; I didn’t have anything to hide anymore.
I didn’t have breasts that I needed to cover up. In the before times, I buttoned every button on my shirt ― all the way up, sealing myself off. Now I regularly leave the top button unbuttoned and maybe even the one under that. I love how my chest peeks out in the unbuttoned space right under the divot of my neck, or says hello through the droopy collar of a shirt ― a space I now want to draw attention to, not conceal.
Constructing outfits used to be a puzzle to untangle, forceful with unfriendly fabric I would smush myself into. Clothes were an obstruction — a triggering, stark reminder of a body that felt unlike me. Now I look forward to getting dressed. I’m excited to don old shirts I haven’t worn in ages, anticipating how they’ll look, how the soft cotton falls snug and hugs the subtle rise of my pecs. Binders unlocked the beauty of flatness, yet they cost me compression and discomfort. Now, unrestricted, I could stand up straight.
I’d gained so much in such a small amount of time, it was almost incomprehensible. It was self-help on steroids. I didn’t think it was possible to look this good. It broke my brain every time I saw myself. Nowadays, I get dressed and sincerely gawk at myself in the mirror. Every shirt holds a revelation. I grin a big, goofy grin staring at my reflection, dumbfounded at the attractiveness of me, awestruck at my love. I gyrate my hips and roll my shoulders back and forth, dancing across my bedroom floor. My love for myself had been lying inert under some amount of fluid ounces of flesh and fat.
Who knew shedding years of existential sediment would deliver nothing short of a spiritual awakening. I watched my chest heal itself, an anatomical incantation. The incisions on my torso sealed up into reddish-purple rivers, traversing back and forth across my abdomen.
Someone literally cut me open and now my body was just ... putting itself back together? Magic shit.
I couldn’t believe such mysterious intelligence was possible and that it was occurring to me. The rewards of self-definition seemed nearly infinite. I felt anointed — witness to the limitless benefit of my radical self-acceptance, my unapologetic pursuit of the euphoric.
Every day, before I hop into the shower, I look at myself in the mirror and smile. I wiggle my body around from side to side to see my back, to see the rest of me, all of me, because it all feels better. It all looks better. It exists better. The whole damn ship. All hail the gender deviants.
Jaime Lazich is a freelance writer in Seattle. Once upon a time, they wrote about music and regret amid the humid bluegrass of central Kentucky; nowadays, they mostly wax poetic on gender and sexuality. When not pondering the ills of cis-heteronormativity, they can usually be found doing improv or walking a dog. Internet-wise they are @jaimelazich on Twitter and @jamplesjamples on Instagram.