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.

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