Top Surgery: More Than A Body

Words Drew Lor

The human body is a naturally strange thing to live in. Our semi-permanent mobile home, most people have some form of discomfort with their lot – an insecurity to tell a therapist, a part of us we feel we need to work on, even something that brings a constant source of shame. Some things are unchangeable but in the modern age we can easily do a few things to feel better about our insecurities; a trip to a hairdresser, a spa, a gym, creating a decent self-care ritual at home, putting on makeup or wearing different clothes, self-love inspiration, all make us more than our bodies, create our uniqueness and bring us more into ourselves. 

For a few of us, our bodies go beyond the everyday insecurities of people. I would argue it goes beyond the meaning of what insecurity even is. Sometimes, we can only change it with certain help – especially if you have gender dysphoria. 

As a trans person, I’ve been asked a lot about my body and mainly why. You can be trans but why would you need to change your body so drastically? Why would you “butcher yourself” to change yourself? Why conform to what a man/woman means? We are all insecure too, why can’t you learn to love your body like everyone else? 

All these questions that I honestly can’t fully answer as these questions are rooted in structures I find myself stuck in. The questioner on the outside looking in with, albeit, curiosity but the curiosity about a caged animal in a zoo. First off, it requires an understanding that I can’t “just be trans”, be misgendered daily and not feel like I want to change my body but to fully explain, I would have to elaborate on the differences in myself about what is an insecurity and what is dysphoria. A lot of people aren’t sure what that is. 

To start, I’d have to say that a lot of people realise they are trans when they are younger – some know when they can first formulate words – but a lot of us don’t realise until much later. Well, that’s not fully true. I think I knew when I was very young. When I was five, I went to a princess and pirates kids themed birthday party. My mother got me all set up to be Princess Aurora from Sleeping Beauty, when I burst into tears and begged to be a pirate – more specifically a boy pirate with a moustache and beard. There’s a picture of me looking the happiest I’ve probably ever been since then, looking like a boy with the boys.

“This is just a girl suit, that I’m a boy underneath and that one day I can take the girl suit off. I’m still trying to.” 

Then, I had a crush on a girl in Kindergarten. I told her I wanted to marry her and that we would go live in a castle with an ungodly amount of pets (something along the lines of 5 dogs, 3 cats, 6 budgies and 8 guinea pigs). She came in the next day to tell me her mum said girls couldn’t marry girls. I obviously had my heart smashed into a hundred pieces but I was a very imaginative kid so told her it was fine because this is just a girl suit, that I’m a boy underneath and that one day I can take the girl suit off. I’m still trying to.

The problem with this interaction for me was that I grew to about 6 or 7 and then put all of these signs I was trans away and just thought it was a “weird tomboy” phase that I had to get over. I dressed the way I was supposed to dress, I pretended to like boys, everything.

I grew up as a girl and hated every second. The thing about growing up as a girl, is that girls have a hundred different reasons as to why you would hate being one – girls are taught to hate their bodies, to hate their existence, to feel self-conscious, taught that their lives will be a constant struggle filled with monthly pains, childbirth and constant harassment from men. So naturally, when I felt like I hated being a girl I always thought it was just “one of those burdens” I had to deal with. 

In fact, I wanted to feel like a woman so bad. I tried really hard to feel like one. I thought if I dressed the right way, if I grew breasts, if I got a boyfriend, if I put on makeup, got my period and tried really hard I would feel like a woman.

When I became a teenager and my body started changing into something I hated, I just got told that was natural for women to be insecure about – that puberty just sucks for everyone. Later, I started to learn about feminism and thought my hatred of being a woman was from some hardcore internalised misogyny that was imprinted on me from the world of men. 

Maybe, I hated being a woman because I probably wanted harassment from men to stop, that I wanted to be respected. I refused to accept this and actually became even more feminine – if I wasn’t going to allow masculinity in my life, I couldn’t let the patriarchy in either. But I was miserable being not just anti-men but anti-masculinity, I would constantly ask “other women” about how they felt about having boobs – we all secretly hate having them though right? But I didn’t really ever get the answer I was looking for. 

“My transness was not out of my suffering but out of my joy, my reality was birthed out of euphoria not dysphoria.” 

When I realised I was attracted to women, I had another wave of doubt – it’s not that I don’t like women or women’s bodies, that much was very clear. I love women endlessly. I just don’t love it on myself – like an outfit that doesn’t fit or look right and is super uncomfortable but when a friend wears it, it looks amazing.

Coming out as trans masculine saved me in many ways. I have constantly battled with depression that eased when I knew the real me, got referred to as a boy, handsome, Drew over my dead name, it made me feel unknowable joy. I want to emphasise this – my transness was not out of my suffering but out of my joy, my reality was birthed out of euphoria not dysphoria.

However, dysphoria is also a very real reality of my transness. I know what my insecurities are. I have weird insecurities about my feet looking funny or that I get acne sometimes but dysphoria is a whole other feeling. It doesn’t nibble, it consumes. I lived for the moments of euphoria when I get called something masculine, but in between then, my main focus was my chest and how it mostly made me want to die. Whether anyone knew it or not, hugging was horrific – all my clothes were bought three times their actual size so that if I hunched over enough there wouldn’t be a sign of them. I remained in a binder as long as I could. I started microdosing and then fully dosing testosterone to just start the process of change.

Unlike having common cisgender insecurities or medical issues, dysphoria has taken years to get help medically. In my home country, the UK, I saw a doctor who told me there is only one trans medical specialist and that I have to be placed on a 5 year waiting list for even a simple consultation. Even in Germany, I’ve had to fight from day one to be heard by any doctor, I’ve been told that I need to still be “diagnosed” with “transexuality” by a psycho-therapist (that I needed to see monthly for at least a year), that I have had to be prodded and poked by gynaecologists to “prove” my genital state (like that has anything to do with getting a mastectomy) and had to beg and plead with my health insurance to help me pay for it. 

Here we are, years later, and on the 5th July 2022 I was finally able to get my top surgery. The whole experience has been wild and even though I’m up and about I will still be recovering to an extent for the next 4 months. It was such a wild and mentally straining of a process, I find it difficult to talk about – from the lead-up to it, which caused me no end of stress and fear of it being cancelled, something going wrong, not getting help I need after, not being able to do the things I love after but knowing it would be worth it. 

In fact, I was panicked right up until they put me under – but not for the reasons most people would think. I could never regret doing this. No matter what it looked like, what the results may be, what complications there could be. It was more fear of how I would be, me, in a body I dreamed of – what new me would come out of it? 

When I woke up I cried. The nurses actually came to know me as the cry baby of the ward because I couldn’t stop crying whenever I, drugged up to the heavens, kept remembering they were gone. It was probably one of the happiest moments of my life since I wore that pirate’s costume at 5 years old. I spent the next week horizontal with drains hanging out of me, watching trashy TV shows, writing and eating bad German hospital food (slice of bread for dinner anyone?).

As for my after surgery journey, I am still undergoing and processing and constantly evolving my outlook and ways of seeing my body. I see my body in an entirely new light but what light that is yet I don’t think I’m at the point of being able to describe that in writing. It’s a new person, but also a person I’ve known longer than I thought – a new body but also a body I feel I have known for lifetimes. Old dysphoria melts away, new ones may pop up, maybe new insecurities alongside it, but I’ve prepared for it all. It’s been the most euphoria I’ve ever had and I feel more in my body than I ever have, but of course it is an evolving and changing process. 

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“Today, with hundreds of trans people dying because of a lack of accessible healthcare, we aren’t doing enough.” 

I have undergone a strange mourning process. Like mourning for a truly bad person but someone who was family and been there my whole life nonetheless. Goodbyes are goodbyes, no matter if it is also a “good riddens” and this was something I was actively conscious about day in, day out, since I first hit puberty.

This has never been an insecurity, never been something optional for me. It has always been one of my biggest life goals, something that ate me up whether I showed it or not. “Plastic” surgery sometimes isn’t an option, especially for trans people, medical intervention in general sometimes isn’t an option. The long wait I had was worth it, but today, with hundreds of trans people dying because of a lack of accessible healthcare, we aren’t doing enough. Yes, even in Germany, where people claim to have the best health insurance and understanding in the world. 

So… Why then? To survive. And not just survive, to fully live. I have not run in 15 years, because of my chest. I have not gone to the beach with my shirt off. I have not held my partner in my arms skin to skin. I have not hugged my friends without squirming at the feeling. I have never felt the splatter of rain or rays of sunshine on my chest. I have not showered without my stomach dropping in disgust and anger. I have not looked in the mirror and smiled. I have not given myself basic respect, kindness or care. But now, I can do it all. That alone, that joy, is all that matters.

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