“Don’t get surgery.”
I read the first comment posted on a beloved’s Facebook announcement about their upcoming chest surgery. It’s also the same thing my mother said to me when we spoke about transitioning.
Now, I should preface this article by explaining that I’ve never wanted chest surgery and still don’t. I’m genderqueer and was assigned female at birth. My body doesn’t fully fit the map I have of it in my brain, but I don’t experience the same levels of dysphoria many other trans folk seem to.
I have the privilege of having been comfortable with my body for most of my life, and while I do have moments or days where that is not the case and I lament the fact that the “man inside me” seems invisible and stuck with a curvy woman’s body, I still, at this stage, have no plans to surgically alter my rather large boobs.
So what could I possibly say about someone’s chest surgery when I myself don’t want it?
Well…not much. And that’s exactly my point.
This isn’t a note to the many trans-masc folks who want to get surgery, it’s for all the people who feel inclined to comment on it. Except, of course, the never-ending line of a-holes who troll the internet abusing trans people, spreading lies and telling them what they should do with their bodies—whom I won’t dignify with a response.
I’m going to address this as kindly and thoughtfully as I can, to all the people who are well-meaning, and who care about their fellow trans beloveds, but for whatever reasons have major qualms about surgery.
If you are one of these people, chances are you have a friend or relative who has gone through or expressed wanting to go through a medical procedure that affirms their gender.
Maybe this is a person who you have known a long time, even before they changed their name or their pronouns, and it’s just a bit scary to think that this person, who you’ve known and loved just as they are, would want to change their body so drastically. And perhaps the idea that they aren’t happy with their body makes you really sad, and you wish you could just make it better for them so they didn’t have to hurt themselves to look different.
Now, as someone who doesn’t want surgery and loves at least one person who does, I have to say that I kind of get it.
I mean, I understand loving someone else’s body just the way it is. Sometimes I also wish that expensive, painful surgical procedures weren’t necessary to make someone I love feel better.
Yet, as someone who also knows what it’s like for gender to be a more complicated issue than most, I want to say that there’s more to this story. There is more than good or bad and right and wrong—because life is rarely this black and white. And certainly not when gender and gender expression are concerned.
Firstly, I’d like to say that it’s great that you care about the pain your dear one may experience by getting surgery. And it’s great that you mean well by not wanting them to have to hurt.
But I have a feeling that if you understood the pain they go through from not having surgery, you may reconsider.
Gender dysphoria is the emotional and psychological pain and discomfort triggered by a person’s gender identity not matching the gender assigned to them at birth. And while cisgender people don’t understand what this is like in the same way that having good hearing means I don’t understand what it’s like to be deaf, it doesn’t make it any less real. Couple this with the very real social implications of threats and violence frequently directed at trans folk when they don’t appear cis and you have two clear reasons (of many others), why the pain of surgery is often way less than the pain of not having surgery.
That being said, you might still be worried that your beloved will regret their choice and be even more unhappy. To that, all I can say is sorry.
Sorry that you’re going through those worries, and I hope you find ways to deal with them that don’t impinge on the time and space of your trans beloved.
Yes, they may regret their choice. But if that happens, they will deal with it, and if you’re supportive and loving, maybe they will even trust you enough to lean on you in that unlikely case. Until then, it’s best if you find your own way to cope with your fear, because they aren’t going to change their mind based on your worry.
Please consider how patronizing it is to assume that the person getting surgery hasn’t considered other options. That they haven’t already tried everything they could think of during the years they probably spent researching the procedure and saving money for it to happen.
When my dad told me that he didn’t think people should get surgery, I explained that his tattoos, despite being “unnatural” are a valid way for him to express who he is on the inside, and therefore, so is this. He agreed with me and I think it helped him become more open-minded. But it’s a poor analogy: people get tattoos when they are drunk or feeling impulsive, and all you need to do to get one is walk into any parlor on the street and point to a picture on the wall. I got one when I was 15, before the boobs I have now had even grown.
Chest surgery (and any other types of gender confirmation surgery) is a much bigger deal than a tramp stamp or a portrait of Elvis on your arm.
Most trans people have a medical support network that includes professionals from various fields, including but not limited to psychology, endocrinology, osteopathy, speech therapy, sexual and reproductive health, and more. If you are still not convinced that your beloved knows what they’re doing, please consider that you are also disagreeing with a team of people who spend their lives specializing in this. They are there to help the person you’re worried about be safe and well. And your support rather than your opposition, when it comes to trans health, means that this can continue into the future and trans people won’t have to seek dangerous “black market” means of affirming their gender.
Also, unlike a tattoo, chances are that the person getting surgery doesn’t actually want it. No one wants to get cut up and have their skin rearranged and not be able to move properly for weeks. People who get surgery don’t want the experience of surgery—they want their body to be like it is in their mind, and if they were born like that to start with, they probably wouldn’t be thinking about altering it. Those who get surgery don’t want to hurt themselves, they want what only surgery can give them: to stop hurting.
So consider this: you were born inhabiting the body your brain tells you is right for you. You don’t understand what it’s like not to have that privilege, and so while it may be hard to imagine, it does mean that you’re probably not the best authority on what your beloved should or should not do with theirs.
But you know what? You can get closer to understanding.
There are lots of fantastic resources available that will help you avoid overloading your trans beloved with questions. That being said, asking questions and listening to the person’s personal needs can also be useful. Something like, “What is this like for you?” or “I don’t understand completely, but please tell me how I can best support you,” is much better than, “Don’t do it.”
Remember, you’re speaking to an adult who has a very different experience than you do. Not every trans person will want to answer your questions. But generally, if someone you love hears you approach them with patience and a willingness to learn in order to love them well, there’s a good chance you will be let in.
Lastly, I’m a trained holistic counsellor and complimentary therapist. If this is something truly impacting you, then I highly recommend chatting to someone like myself who is not only qualified but also has an understanding of trans issues. There are a few of us out there and numbers are growing as demand increases.
Connect with Bianca on its website, and it is happy to help in person or via skype, or send you in the direction of someone else who can.