Shedding

The following are several pieces of writing about my experience before, during, and after top surgery and all the affirmations I wrote to myself as I processed.

[Content Note: Pictures of my body before and after surgery, including some which show swelling, bruising, and some blood]

12/8/20

Why top surgery?

Because I’ve not felt at home in my body for most of my life. 

12/11/20

Because I deserve to be at home in my body for the rest of my life.

Because everyone deserves that and who am I to let fear hold me back? It might help others be willing to live life on their own terms, too. 

Because as I sit here, drinking coffee and nursing a mild hangover from the shot of Fireball Whiskey I put in my eggnog last night, I know in my heart that this is right. 

That all is well and all will be well. 

12/14/20

Dear Future HL:

Today, you get top surgery. Congratulations! I know you’ve been waiting such a long time for this. Your recovery process will be hard but totally worth it to be at home in your own skin. That feeling may not be immediate. If it’s not, that’s ok! It doesn’t mean you made the wrong choice. It just might take a while to sink in. 

You’re going to be ok. You have survived so much to get to this point. Take it in with every breathe–in and out–of that new chest of yours. This life is yours and no one can take that from you.

So much love,

Past HL

Three Days:

A lot can happen in just three days. My advent–this period of waiting and longing–is almost over. In three days, I will have top surgery. Three days after that, it will be Christmas and I’ll be able to shower again. 

In three days, Jesus rose from the dead as a whole new person. So can I. Parts of who I was before are being removed as scars take their place. How remarkable that we can choose who we want to be and just be. How fucking remarkable is that? 

Tomorrow we celebrate the last Sunday of advent with the theme of Love–love that breaks through barriers and structures that cause destruction and pain. A love of yourself and others. This is love, that a man gives up his life for his friends. I’ll see you on the other side. 

Today, I feel ready. I feel confident. I feel like I’m so ready for this to happen to me after years of waiting. Soon, this transition will be complete. Well, the physical transition at least. Transitioning itself, for me, feels like it’s something I’ll be doing for the rest of my life. 

12/23/20

My top hath been surgered. It still doesn’t feel real yet and probably won’t until the bandages come off for the first time.

I will say that it just feels right.

12/28/20

Tomorrow (hopefully), I’ll get my drains out and be able to see my chest for the first time. Also tomorrow, I’ll be a week post-top surgery! Not sure if I’m emotionally prepared for it yet but I am excited about it! Fingers crossed that the drains come out too because otherwise, I’m stuck with them for a little bit. I think I can handle that. 

1/2/2021

A binder, stitches, and glue…I feel like that’s what holds my body together currently. That’s what makes me real. Once all that goes away, will I fall apart? Or will I become brand new? Will I become…?

By far, my favorite picture of myself, which my wife, Amy took of me after they took my drains out and I could shower.

1/8/2021

Top Surgery Tales:

A little over two weeks post-top surgery, and I still don’t quite have the ability to process it. I thought it would feel real once it was over, once I saw my chest, once…etc. But I think, the reality will be once I’m no longer required to wear a binder and can truly live in my new body without it feeling like I’m still binding my chest because it causes me dysphoria.

On the day of my surgery, I got up three hours before I was required to be at the hospital and took my meds with the prescribed 8 ounces of water. And then. I waited. Most trans folks know all about the waiting. I had waited this long and the day was finally here. My stomach remained in knots and it took several trips to the bathroom to get the nerves out even though I hadn’t eaten anything past 10pm the night before (also as prescribed). 

Once my wife, Amy, and I got to the hospital, things moved rather quickly. We got checked in and sat and waited for me to be called back. Amy wasn’t allowed to come back with me to the pre-op area because of COVID restrictions. I wish I could remember the names of all the nurses who helped me get ready but sadly, with the side effects of anesthesia, I can’t really remember all of them. But they were very kind and respectful, asking what name and pronouns to call me. 

My surgery was supposed to be at 11:30am but my surgeon finished up her previous surgery early and they came to get me ready about thirty minutes ahead of schedule. My surgeon arrived to mark on my chest where she was going to cut alongside two residents and her energy and excitement made me feel less anxious. It also helped that my surgeon was cracking jokes and felt at ease.

The anesthesiologist came into the room next and was probably the kindest of everyone–thankfully, since I was most nervous about going under general anesthesia for the first time, he gave me a dramamine patch to keep me from getting nauseous. The fact that I remember most of the details of my day of surgery is somewhat of a miracle.

The CRNA (certified registered nurse anethesthetist) was who came to help wheel me back for surgery and she warned me once we got there, all the other nurses and doctors would come at me all at once to get me ready. At this point, there were already drugs in my system to calm me down but I was thankful for the head’s up.

Post Op Woes:

Waking up in recovery/post-op after surgery is one of the most disorienting and bizarre tales.

There was a nurse with me the entire time checking in on me. She gave me ice chips when I woke up because I was thirsty, and gave me some pain meds. Also, sprite which was the most refreshing drink I could think of at that moment.

Constipation–by far the WORST experience post-surgery other than dealing with the drains.

1/10/21

Welcome to the Party, Pal

Bodies are weird. I’ve spent some time recently trying to reconnect with my body through meditation, body centered practices, and masturbation. 

Today, I’m realizing I’ve divorced or disassociated from my body for so long.

Mine is a body that has experienced pain.

It has experienced both sexual pleasure and sexual assault.
But this body of mine is just that. It’s my body with all its history and stories to tell.

1/19/2021

As of this week, I’m a month post-top surgery! I don’t even know how to feel right now. Today, they took my dressings off and told me I could resume normal activities other than swimming or laying on my stomach. And, I don’t have to wear the post-op binder anymore! Strangely, that’s the weirdest part. I keep reaching for the binder that’s no longer there so I can pull it down. Binders have been a part of my life for at least three years now. So, I guess an adjustment period is perfectly normal.

Yesterday at my second post-op appointment when they took my dressings off!

1/20/2021

Shedding

Today, I told my therapist that getting top surgery and reaching new milestones in the recovery process felt like shedding layers.

Just a moment ago, I googled how many times a snake sheds its skin in a lifetime, and the answer I got was that most snakes shed their skin on average about 4 times a year. Why do they shed their skin? Because their bodies keep growing throughout their lives but the skin doesn’t grow with them. 

Some of you are probably getting the creeps by now but this is the closest analogy I can think of to how my body feels. I got top surgery about a month ago, and after one week, I got my drains out, after four weeks, I got my dressings off, and now, I’ve entered a new stage where my skin is scaly and scabbing over as my incisions heal. 

No one told me transitioning would feel quite so…gradual and…itchy. Metamorphosis is a process butterflies, moths, and the like go through as they grow from larvae to caterpillar to butterfly (or moth, etc). During which time, they spin a cocoon around themselves and become goo only to emerge later with a completely different body and wings that give them the ability to fly. I thought metamorphosis would be sort of like that and in some ways, it has been. Emerging from top surgery with a new chest/new body is certainly similar and I felt like I was trapped in a cocoon for a few weeks while the most crucial parts of the healing process required me to rest and not move much.

But today, I’m a snake shedding its skin and it feels uncomfortable. I am both delighted and astonished that I can just put on a shirt and walk out the door without a second thought, except it takes me about a hundred more thoughts to process. 

For three years, wearing a binder felt like a security blanket that also felt like armor protecting my body from the gaze of society that can barely understand much less accept me.

Now, the “protection detail” as it were is gone leaving me with a chest that feels right on my body and feels vulnerable to attack. After being under the watchful, suspicious eyes of the general public for so long, I do not know how to carry my body any differently. I have new skin so to speak but the same body memories. 

For someone who has most often not felt safe or at peace, safety and peace feel like a threat. As a trans person, my existence has been haunted by fear, isolation, trauma, panic. In the future, it may be slightly less so only because I might blend in a bit better. Do I build a new protective layer to blend in? Is it any safer out there for trans folks when we saw our greatest levels of violence and murder of trans people–particularly trans women of color? 

What does it mean to celebrate my body and reconnect with myself? When others want to pretend I do not exist, and yet now, I have the scars to prove it? 

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not all gloom and doom. I have come home to myself and I don’t plan on ever leaving because this body of mine is finally mine. 

I’m a gooey caterpillar-turned-butterfly, an itchy snake shedding its skin. And I am home.

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