Of breasts and trans men

Breasts have huge cultural and personal importance. I remember the delight of a friend, on hormones just before I was, on finding her nipples were sensitive. I enjoy the sensitivity of my own. I will never suckle a child, but that is not their sole purpose; they are sexually selected, attracting gynephiles. Other mammals have nipples, but not breasts.

Breasts can disappoint their bearers, as too large or too small. A friend said she had envied friends’ larger breasts, when younger, and the way they drew men’s eyes, but they could cause back pain, and weigh you down. NHS reductions are available, not just for trans men. Getting the bra off in the evening could be a huge relief. As one whose eyes are sometimes drawn below chin level, I can report that sometimes quite small breasts- even bee stings- can catch my eye. I am embarrassed. I would rather keep my gaze at eye level, or look down or away, but sometimes I catch myself-

I appreciate that woman’s feelings. Her breasts had suckled her children, and given sexual pleasure, and the thought of losing them appalled her; and that is not how everyone feels about them. They get in the way of people seeing a trans man as he wishes to be seen, treating him as he wishes to be treated. So men bind their breasts, enduring the pain, sometimes more than is healthy.

The surgery is chest masculinisation. It’s not mastectomy, a removal, but creation of a manly shape. I can entirely understand wanting to be seen as a man. I too want my external appearance to match, culturally, my gender. For their eighteenth birthday my friend’s father bought them a man’s suit, and I share their delight in recalling/imagining the experience. It is not the same as my own delight, but mirrors and complements it.

Gender norms and enforcement have changed over fifty years. Women are no longer expected to be housewives; girls are more and more rigidly princesses in pink. One way to escape those norms is transition. If you find the norms oppressive, why on Earth can you not sympathise with others who seek a way to escape them, even if you would not choose it yourself? “Her chest was hollow. It was horrible.” It is the height of arrogance to define others’ feelings and actions by your own. We all do our best under difficult circumstances. You are unlikely to know better than someone what is good for them. They are delighted. Their chest looks just as they want it.

My own breasts have been a bit of a disappointment. Only this year, fifteen years after transition, have I begun regularly wearing a bra with no padding at all. I would welcome divorcing femininity from female, allowing everyone to find their own precise gender, without the conditioning and repression both sexes mete out. I am sure that would profit some of us far more than it profits others, and I don’t think all the outliers choose to transition. But, as things are now, we need the choice.

3 thoughts on “Of breasts and trans men

  1. Yes. ‘As things are now’, is key. My poor son is exhausted, and depressed, at constantly fighting the crap. I almost wish he would jack engineering in, and find a career path that is more gentle, where he can be the beautiful, colourful, sensitive being he is, without constantly having to wade through the shitty, sexist, homophobic behaviour, language and atmosphere that is ‘blokes’.
    Weirdly, the worst of it is often the catty and cliquey behaviour that shuts individuals out, I always thought that was just women, but apparently not. We need to change the world, but culture change is exhausting, endlessly slow, and not even linear – I’m appalled that the advances we thought we’d made, are being chipped away at. Some of my most enlightened (you would think) friends are doing the long hair/short hair, these clothes/those clothes, loud/quiet rubbish that just stores up problems for children.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Today a man wrote on facebook that other men do tell him to smile. I thought that was unlikely, till I remembered that it’s about power and status – higher status people tell lower status people to change their (manner/way of being) to suit the higher status person’s idea of what is right. Which is why women more often experience it from strangers.
    I am back in a formal, client facing job and am once again angry about clothing and expectations thereof. It is a uniquely summertime problem – I am hot, I only want to wear a shirt or t shirt. But convention says I must also wear a bra, then. Bra or jumper?? oh, the privilege, that that’s my biggest concern, I guess. Maybe I’ll buy myself a nice binder, if they aren’t just as hot as a sports bra.


    • You consider something where you lack privilege, and your first thought is all the other areas where you are privileged. The white straight professional men have one thing they do not like, and oppose it angrily.


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