Writer’s note: i write in lower case; it’s my small rebellion.
i’m mad. i’m mad that gender rules dictating what is “appropriate dress” for female and male bodies have me thinking about surgically altering my body.
i love my body.
i love how it’s feminine and masculine at the same time. i love the curve of my belly and the muscle line when i flex my triceps. i love how my hips and butt hold my pants up because i let them hang down well below where my waist really is. i love my back and my shoulder blades. i love my chest, especially when my shoulders drop, and i let my heart come forward. and i love my breasts, all size c of them. i like how they look naked, and they are an important part of sex for me. okay, now i’m blushing a little. i have never considered chest surgery, never thought that that was for me. however, i also desperately want to be able to be in public without a shirt or sports bra.
i’m talking about at the beach, playing sports, working out, and stuff like that, not just wandering around the city shirtless. anyway, i can’t do that because i have breasts. so there it is, my contradiction. and for the first time ever, i find myself in a serious conversation with myself, wondering if i want to have chest surgery. but i shouldn’t have to surgically alter my body to be able to feel the sun and air on my bare chest just because that chest also happens to have breasts.
there’s this age that it happens — i think all girls and especially girls who identified as “tomboys” are familiar with it. if you’re lucky you might get until you’re 11, but for most girls the body policing starts much earlier than that.
one minute you’re spending your summers half-naked running through the neighborhood (being careful to stay on your block though), climbing trees, playing in sprinklers, riding big wheels, getting hella dirty, and having all the fun with your cousins and neighborhood friends living around your grandma’s house. life couldn’t be any better because it’s summer, school is out, it’s finally f*cking hot out, and you can stay outside playing with your neighborhood friends until the streetlights come on.
and then one day, without warning, you’re suddenly “too old to be runnin’ around here half-naked, especially with all them boys.” it’s almost like it happens overnight, and maybe not even almost. literally, one day you wake up and your body has somehow overnight become a shameful thing that now needs to be covered at all times. even though it’s summer, school is out, it’s finally f*cking hot out, and you’re still just a kid trying to stay outside playing with your neighborhood friends until the streetlights come on.
More Radical Reads: Please Don’t Sexualize My Daughter: Learning the Balance of Freedom and “Good” Parenting
i’ve always identified as mixed gendered, because it feels like two spirit to me without engaging in cultural appropriation. mixed gendered captures both the feminine and masculine energies inside me that get expressed in different ways at different times. my body is female and incredibly feminine and i love that. at the same time, i have a very strong masculine energy and part of me is very much male. in 2011, i started using “he, him, his” as pronouns. i started packing pretty much every day, because no matter how hard i wish and pray, i can’t seem to grow a penis.
over the years my understanding of my gender, and therefore its expression, have grown and shifted as i make space for the boi in me and allow him to come forward even more. however, i’ve never considered physically altering my body through hormones or surgery.
for my journey around gender, surgery felt counter-intuitive to the ways i’m committed to living in those mixed and blended spaces — until now. and i hate that i’m even having these questions, thoughts, and conversations.
current gender rules that girls and women are socialized under shame our bodies, while at the same time sexualizing and controlling them for profit. we all know this. or, you know, most of us know this. yet what i don’t know is how to break out of the rules and be my full self, without either risking my safety or changing my body to fit what a male/masculine chest is “supposed” to look like.
we fight back against gender policing, violence, and oppression. we work for transformation and liberation. however, we’re not there yet. i can’t be in a public space (even at the beach in 106 degree weather) bare-chested with breasts without facing possible violence, arrest, and sexual harassment. even if i’m feeding a baby with my breasts, i am not safe. even if i identify as a mixed gendered boi, i am not safe.
we all saw the harassment and shaming of Muslim women on beaches in france that first broke in the news a few years ago. they were fully covered on the beach and still not safe from harassment and violence because the practice of gendered (and racialized) body policing and shaming is so intense and pervasive, especially for women of color, queer, trans, and genderqueer people existing outside the binary.
so right now i am feeling very confused about how to fully express my gender and my joy in a way that stays true to who i am, in a world that doesn’t want me to do either.
i navigate the daily policing of my body, including what bathroom i’m able to use, while also still acknowledging the very real privileges that my body holds. being able to pass is a privilege. being able to pass without having to physically alter my body is a privilege. being able to pass as male gives me access to male privilege. all of that is very real and true.
at the same time that i hold these privileges, i also hold the ways in which my body, whether or not i pass as male, is intensely policed. i breathe and then widen to hold both the contradictions and the possible consequences for stepping outside those lines. especially as a Black queer mixed gendered non-binary female-bodied boi, i live in a world that wasn’t designed for me to exist.
More Radical Reads: Masculinity Doesn’t Belong to Any Gender and Other Reasons Why Policing Sexuality Does Not Work
i’m no closer to making a decision about whether to get surgery one way or another. i still don’t have all of the answers. however, i am definitely not in the same place i was. i am grateful for that, and for the space and ability to keep questioning this journey as i figure out how to live my gender fully, joyfully, and unapologetically.
[Feature image: Photo of a Black person swimming in a shimmering turquoise pool. They are floating on their back and the only part of their body above the surface is their face. Their eyes are closed.]