My husband? Not so much. He was raised Catholic, in rural Idaho, and if that Puritanical streak doesn’t get in the way, the fact that his body and his mind haven’t always matched up does. He was an awkward lesbian, but even when he first came out as a transgender man, he had months (maybe years) before his body felt like his own. For months, he wore a binder to flatten his chest while we cobbled together the money for his top surgery. Many trans men wear binders, some wearing two or three binders at once (if they can afford it) or Ace bandages if they can’t (the latter is particularly dangerous as Ace bandages constrict the rib cage, block lymph nodes, inhibit breathing, and damage breast tissue, thus making top surgery much harder in the long run).
For Jake, the day he got his double mastectomy and chest reconstruction — the process that removed his breasts, relocated his nipples and shrunk them to the size of nickels instead of quarters, and showed off new muscle contours we didn’t know he had — was the day he started loving his body.
Dennis Croft, star of AMC’s Small Town Security, understands that well. In the season finale earlier this month, Croft, who has been living as a man for years, had his own top surgery, after days of resistance from his best friend (and boss) whom everyone calls “Chief.”
The episode even showed Croft’s nerve-wracking mammogram, a procedure of particular concern for trans men because any problem can hold up or cancel the surgery. “I did not think about the health risks of having corrupted tissue would be a factor of concern,” he says. “After all I was having them removed, so what was the point?” [Ironically, if any kind of tumor or growth is found, the breast can’t be removed.”]
Still perhaps the biggest roadblock to surgery was Chief. I asked Croft if he was surprised by Chief’s resistance. “No I was not,” he says. “Chief cares for me a lot and it was a procedure that required going under anesthesia, which always includes risk of death. With that it was also a finite point of no return. She was worried about my well-being.”