Performed at Corporeal Writing on Oct. 7, 2019
Last week, my tits flew away. I use the word “tits” for three reasons: because I like it, because it is a single syllable, and because it’s the name of a passerine songbird. Tits are small, stocky, woodland birds with short, stout bills. Tits nest in cavities and tend to be monogamous.
Mine were not always monogamous.
Six days ago, I had a double incision mastectomy with nipple grafts: top surgery, the aesthetic masculinization of my chest. I’m wearing an industrial strength medical compression vest right now, packed with so much gauze that it feels like my tits are still crammed together in there.
The process of transition taught me new ways of understanding what I already know. The taxonomical distinctions of “ass man” and “leg man” affirm that “breast man” is a redundant classification. Men like breasts. Even the men who say they are attracted to your “soul” or something ineffable about you lose their minds when you put your tits in their face. Breasts have power because men, even the leg men, are captivated by them.
Men loved my body, but only in a shape that appealed to them. Once my body switched teams, men stopped loving me the same. My last boyfriend used to say that if I had a dick, he’d suck it until my eyes rolled back in my head. A dick, no problem. But my breasts were a dealbreaker. He valued his desire over my happiness and acted as though I was stealing from him when I said my transition was non-negotiable. I considered sending him my tits in a box, post-op, since he fucking loved them so much.
One female friend asked me. “Why would you get rid of them? They’re so nice.”
How can I explain that they weren’t my style, and I resented having to walk around in a body that was coded female, against my will. I’d been such a pretty girl, she said. I had what so many women wanted, and here I was, just throwing it away.
The days before my surgery, I posted pictures of me and my tits: a last hurrah. I used to wear bikinis and hang out at nude beaches. Just because I didn’t love my chest doesn’t mean I felt compelled to hide it. It wasn’t mine; I wished my tits would go away, I made the most of what felt like an unchangeable situation. Few people listened to these feelings when I expressed them. Men loved me the way I was, women encouraged me to work on “self acceptance.” It never occurred to them that, for me, accepting myself meant taking action to change the way my body looked instead of gaslighting myself into thinking my profound discomfort was linked to my self esteem.
There’s a 3 percent “regret rate” for transgender people who undergo gender-affirming surgeries. I am not in that 3 percent. My surgeon marked my chest with purple Sharpie and folded my tits like soft origami. She drew the places where she would make the incisions, peel my skin back, cut the excess pieces away, and scrape off the yellow tissue over my pectorals, relocating it higher inside my chest. She drew nickel-sized circles near my armpits. My nipples would be trimmed down into smaller circles and then stitched on, with only part of their original nervous structure intact. The whole procedure was supposed to take three hours.
For reference, we looked at photos of Ryan Gosling with his shirt off and River Phoenix with his shirt off and then we joked about men, how easy it is for them and all they have to do is be born the way they are. I asked her, When am I going to get my male privilege? We both laughed. Male privilege doesn’t exist for people like me.
The men who loved my tits messaged me all week before my surgery.
“They’re great tits and they had a good run,” one of the men said.
Another man said, “They had their moments in the sun (and other fun places) but we have to stick to the plan. You can fund part of your surgery with a peep show!”
One man, a friend I’ve known for more than 5 years, called me on the phone to make sure I was sure I wanted to go through with it. He called me “buddy,” a first for him. “Hey, buddy.” He talked to me with the ease of a hunter who bends over a still-leaking deer corpse and jokes about slipping her a roofie. He was inviting me to be part of his team, the male team, like wouldn’t I just be a pal and show him those tits I keep behind the counter? His tone suggested, Wouldn’t it be great if we met up and fucked my body together, no homo?
When I hung up the phone, I realized that I’ve always been friends with men who loved me like that, in a three-way with me and him and my body the sweet object we both operated on. How many times have my tits and I been invited home for some good clean fun, no strings attached? If my breasts could go on dates without me, I’m sure we would’ve all been much happier.
My tits have left for good and hopefully, so have the men. There are many types of tits: azure tit, blue tit, varied tit, somber tit, marsh tit, coal tit, and ashy tit. Mine were plain but cheerful, attracting mates primarily through their intricate, bouncing mating dance. The taxonomy of my tits doesn’t matter as much, when you get down to it. A bird is a bird; a breast is more complicated, harder to remove, both a magnetic force and a piece of my motherhood.
Great tits are migratory. I know mine were. When it was time for them to leave, nothing — no amount of expectation or praise — would keep them in one place. Elsewhere, it’s breeding season, and I am happy to see them go. Pick a color, pick a song. I’m whole in a new way, and waiting for the winter birds to find me where I am.