Friday, November 11, 2016

On Missing the Girls

"Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There's a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."
- Leonard Cohen  (Everyone's using that bit today, but they always skip the first part of the verse.)

As I started down the road towards mastectomy-ville, I wondered how weird it would feel suddenly not having breasts. I mean they been sitting there, right under my face, for decades. How would I cope with such a drastic change? It doesn't count as an amputation, but still... it's something. I mean, many MTF Trans don't feel complete without top surgery, yet here I go still being female. I've actually always wondered if it's insulting to women with minimal breasts when people insist they can't feel female without getting implants. And it's covered if it's sexual reassignment surgery, but not if you're born female but have a pretty flat chest. Curious. Anyway...

I do miss them at times. When I lie on my side at night, they're not cushioning the space between my arms. When I'm standing and I move to cross my arms, the down-scoop-up motion that nestles them atop my folded arms is now for nought. When I'm in the shower, I look straight down at my belly. When I run up a flight of stairs, I still reach up to hold them in place. When I'm waking around, if I catch myself in a reflective surface I notice the change: I seem longer in the torso without them. But the rest of the time, when I'm just milling about doing my thing, I mainly don't think about them at all. Once in a while, when I see a celeb in a beautiful outfit that accentuates their breasts, I have a tiny pang of grief, but I can still get that look as desired with external prosthetics. Except, once I'm released from this pressure camisole in another week, I expect to be excited to never again wear a bra!

At this point, two weeks post-surgery, there's just a tightness in my chest and a weird tingling sensation like a band of dull needles pressed against me whenever I get a chill (which I seem to get a lot there), or when I think about it all (because I'm still pretty grossed out by the thought of it), or maybe just randomly. From time to time I get a sudden little stabby purple-nurple feeling that usually subsides quickly. When I roll on my side at night, it's a bizarre sensation like it all shifts just under the surface. It's not really painful, but it's intense enough that I wake up every time.

I don't look that strange. I've already started to get used to it, however I've been lounging around the house in loose-fitting tops. That might be my go-to outfit for school for the first while as well. At work, I never dress to look attractive - that's subtly discouraged for teachers. I've had students ask me what to do if a teacher is wearing revealing clothes that the class finds uncomfortable: "When she bends over, we can see right down her top!" They say that in a revolted way. Teenagers typically don't want to see middle-aged booty. I'm in awe of older women who wear anything that acknowledges them as sexual beings; it's so far removed from my own experiences as a school marm. But I do try to avoid being a distraction in other ways. I don't want to gross anyone out.

I push the boundaries of taste already by having hairy legs and pits, and I wear sundresses that showcase both. I also have eczema-type areas of bumpy scaly skin that most people are good about largely ignoring. But some students are brutally honest - well, sometimes they're cruel really - and I feel like I might need to be at the ready with a comeback that's just subtle enough that I'm able to deny any intended sarcasm and insist I was giving straight-up advice. God forbid we ever take students down a notch and inadvertently hurt their self-esteem in our quest for developing a moral centre in them.

But there could also be some kind souls in the room who find it all a little unsavoury. I'm reminded of the beginning of Pay It Forward, when Kevin Spacey's character first turns around to greet his new class and his face is a mass of scars. The class is taken aback, but he soldiers on. Generally we expect that people just have to cope with our disfigurements, but I wonder if sometimes there's a call for a bit of a compassionate attitude to help people ease into radical changes.

When I was a kid, I was sometimes embarrassed by my mom because she'd do groceries in a pink pantsuit with a yellow raincoat. She didn't care what she looked like. Well, I'm not even acknowledging the idea that she might have thought she looked good!  And, as a world-weary teen, I once wished to be dead rather than care so little about how I present myself in public. Many teenagers are very concerned for people who aren't optimally attractive, sometimes to the point of anger that the broken won't better hide their imperfections.

But now I'm at the age of not giving a shit, and it's a significantly better place to be. It's not to say I've given up or grown apathetic, but that I've grown less self-absorbed. Or, at least, I'm less absorbed with how I look and more interested in what I can do.

But I still don't want to freak anyone out!

In more revealing clothes, I worry a bit about disturbing people on the beach or around town if I'm in a form-fitting tank top or bold enough to go topless. The surgery didn't leave me completely smooth. There's weird shit going on: bumps and ripples and blobs, not to mention the horizontal scar dividing the terrain in half. A buddy keeps saying it'll look better when the muscles fills in, which is baffling to me. What muscles will fill in?? If I don't suddenly start to work out (which I won't), then I don't expect to find more muscles there any time soon. I'll have to work with my tattoo artist around the new peaks and valleys of the canvas.

But then I think that maybe we're all freaks in one way or another, it's just that some people hide it better than others. That could be a rationalization on my part, but it seems to me that it's more than just for aesthetic reasons that it bothers us to see people who are a bit off. Perhaps it bothers us because it reminds us of our own broken or twisted parts that we've made such an effort to sequester and smooth over. Someone refusing to hide their flaws is like a wounded gazelle on the Serengeti. We avoid the walking wounded to keep the pack animals from noticing us too, noticing a little lump or limp or lisp that could give us away as ripe for chewing on. It takes a measure of bravery to be a bit off in this sometimes scared and mean little place. But it also takes some courage to stand with the marginalized, and that deserves acknowledgment. It might be expected of us all, but, unfortunately, it's rare enough to be praiseworthy.

Caitlin Rosberg

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