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.

Breast screening

breast screening 1I had my breasts squeezed, pinched and photographed today.

Women aged 50-70 are invited for screening every three years, and some women aged 47-49 are invited as part of a study of screening older and younger women. I am an atypical subject for such a study, but, well, why not?

That was what the letter said, though the leaflet says something different: from 2012 the screening programme will be extended to women 47-73, this was decided in 2007 and is now being rolled out. Whatever.

How do I feel about medics touching me? My GP, who has a lovely manner, offered to show me how to examine myself, and I fled: the thought of taking my top off and being touched upset me. I stiffened- if she had touched my clothed arm it would have bothered me.

In 2003 Tim, my friendly Endocrinologist, referred me to a gynaecologist whom I saw three times. He was really really lovely. Just nice. I told him how uncomfortable and difficult I found dilation, and wept. I wanted to talk without crying but could not: I could get the words out if I sobbed in between. Then crying opened me: I could feel my hurt and talk, and he was gentle and understanding.

I saw a surgeon when I was considering implants. I thought I could just be examined, but felt shy when it came to it. He offered a female chaperone, and though I had thought I would not need this, I was glad of it. Sitting with my top off- I can’t respond quite as rationally as I might otherwise.

I cycled a mile to the mobile trailer at the outpatients’ clinic. A woman entered me on the system: hello, how are you? How are you? Oh, not many ladies ask that, I’m fine, she said. I sit in a breast screening 2cubicle where I was invited to take off my bra- indeed I would not like a communal waiting space. There are old magazines.

I go into the end room where the Mammographer asks me to take off my top, and shows me the machine. I remember Josie telling how her breast was squeezed between two cold metal plates- but that was last century, this machine uses plastic. Without intending, I go into a half-trance, so that she can place me as she wishes. I go quite passive. I do not want to make eye contact. She takes some time arranging me just so- it is worse, she says, when people try to cooperate. It pinches. It is uncomfortable, though no worse than seeing the dentist. I will get results, she says, in two weeks.

Some women will have treatment for a condition which would never have caused them problems. 3% of women will have the serious worry of needing further tests, but not needing treatment. Lives get saved by early diagnosis.

I asked if she could show me how to examine myself, but she is not trained to do so. I should ask my GP’s practice nurse. What a job, doing that all day.

Lace

I have not been meditating. Maybe you know how it is. I should be kneeling in my ritual space; and instead I watch TV until I think, no, I have got to go to bed now. Or, I lie in bed, perhaps playing on WordPress, until I only have time to shower and dress and have breakfast before the bus comes.

Well, actually, this morning I had five minutes before the bus was due. I might as well kneel for five minutes as not. So I knelt, and burst into tears.

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Coffee with Quakers. Sue asked how my work search was going. No, I am sorting my spiritual and emotional being, I am not looking for work. Maybe later. I want to do energy healing, and I think it is mere placebo, with a bit of cold reading. K says she does not think “mere” is appropriate, placebo is powerful. And- I suppose cold reading is valuable, it will be reassuring for a person if I respond to her as she really is, now. “Cold reading” is a dismissive term. Perhaps- “clearly seeing” a person. I want to practise Seeing. 

Then onto the usual conversation, this time Ann on how dreadful the World is, environmental degradation, chronic dishonesty in business, growing inequality, against me on how it is improving, the new Transition Towns movement, equal marriage campaigns. I love these people.

Out into the sunshine. That busker has a lovely tone on the higher registers of his tenor sax, warm, sweet and smooth.

I have always slung breast forms round my front. I wore big heavy bras for big heavy breast forms, because I felt that I wanted to appear as if I had breasts. Then in March I fell and bruised my ribs, and the bra was uncomfortable, and I have gone braless since. In the sauna at camp we complimented each others’ breasts: I have felt mine were tiny- almost flat- and misshapen, too far round the side of the body, pointing outwards. But now, I begin to feel a little uncomfortable hurrying, I want some support.

To “Lace” in the high street. I had thought it a normal lingerie shop, but inside I see what they sell is play-wear, basques and fishnet bodystockings, etc. They sell it by dress size. I can try it on if I want. Sorry, that is really not what I was looking for. So, to Natasha’s.

The bra I had felt too big in the cup, and also too tight in the back, so I wondered if she stocked a 40AA. However, I come out with a 36B, a light lacy half-cup. Don’t wear it too low, or it will give no support, she tells me.

I feel transformed. Under my loose sweater I have a shape I find beautiful, so much lovelier than I had thought possible. This is an experience most women have aged about 13, one I did not think I could have.

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I get the bus home. Oh, I do not want to feel this strongly! I want my feelings to be held down, strapped up, not bothering me! At war with the World at least I know where I am- but- to feel this Vulnerable-

I overhear someone on his mobile. “Is he with you now? Is he kicking off?… Are you driving?…
Just pull over and get him to get out…
No, just put the phone down and concentrate on driving. I’ll see you in a minute, yeah…” He explains to his friend that Lorna gave Laurie a lift, and because she could not go as far as he wanted he is kicking off, and she is crying while driving. I’ll kill him, the little shit.

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The song the busker was playing runs in my mind.

I can see clearly now, the rain has gone
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright, bright sun-shining day
It’s gonna be a bright, bright sun-shining day

SHYNATT

Or, Spiritual, Hippy, Yoga, New Age Therapist Types. Possibly getting it wrong. As Newton was right about all motion which could be observed for centuries after he lived, and Einstein corrects him in marginal cases, my Shynatt thinking needs a thorough underpinning of rational thought.

Here is the Mayor of Christchurch responding to a question from Prospect magazine about what it is like to be a mayor. No link, it is for subscribers only:

The best part is that you have the most inspirational connection to the best of the human spirit. You are always exposed to positive, energised thought. But the role also becomes the focus for all that is wrong. The mayor is often a therapist for dissatisfied people, who may be stressed or unhappy with their own life. People face many pressures in their everyday life and they can get obsessed with the negative. But one thing about the mayor’s job that doesn’t change, is that it is never dull!

It would be unfair to judge Bob Parker on that one quote. I do not know how he performs as mayor. Also, it could be a politician’s answer, saying nothing. Remember the Earthquake: now is the time to pull together and build, not the time to criticize. But at worst, it is a way to ignore all opposition completely: if they do not like what I want to do, they are speaking out of stress and negativity. The first question should be, does my opponent have a good argument, not what aspect of his difficult childhood makes him oppose me. Of course seeing opportunities is more important than seeing problems, if the opportunity is a way round the problem…

Image from Christchurch website.

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There I am in my Karl Lagerfeld suit (go to the charity shops in the nicer areas) going to the Bridgewater Hall, carefully made up, toe in the water, trying out going among the Normal people. Park in the gay village, and as soon as I turn into Princess St a man shouts, “It’s a fucking bloke!”

Years later, walking back to the office through the mall, someone as I pass him hisses “fucking nonce”, and I wonder, how did he spot me? Why sex offender? Why that level of hatred for a stranger?

These and other incidents are burned into me. I think I am no longer ashamed of being TS, even of being a lesbian trans woman (not a “primary transsexual”, not a real TS, different and less, some still say, though they are careful that the “less” is implied rather than overt). I have carried that burden of shame so long, and the real fear of ordinary people- I knew that if I let out my vulnerable bit I will be squished.

And the masks are too painful. So it really is worth taking them off. And the moments when I need defences are rare. And defending is paradoxically easier from a relaxed mode than a defended mode: like blocking a punch when you know that is the only thing needing blocked, rather than trying to defend the whole body from imaginary kicks.

And going Authentic is unaccustomed, and needs practice.

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I hate being flat chested. Should I go around with falsies? Should I get implants? Should I go flat-chested, and have an even more mannish figure than I need to? I hate all the options. What I actually experience myself doing, separately from all the arguments and the question of whether I am being positive or negative, and the fact of how many women are terrified of going out without makeup, is going braless, falsieless, flat.

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From the same Prospect article:

The electoral commission has approved the following question on the ballot: “How would you like Birmingham to be run? By a leader who is an elected councillor chosen by a vote of the other elected councillors? This is how the council is run now. Or by a mayor who is elected by voters? This would be a change from how the council is run now.”

This is because the Yes option in a referendum has an advantage over the No option, so how the question is drafted affects the result, a bit of gen I picked up from an earlier Prospect article. So complex, so many considerations…