I never thought I’d be writing this article.
Five years ago, I read an amazing article on Elephant Journal that kickstarted my journey to trying to love my breasts.
I’d always hated my breasts. I was sexually molested as a child and also bullied by my mom about my body. These two important things that shaped my outlook of myself made me hate my breasts, at least on a superficial level. But underneath all that, the hatred I felt for my breasts was solely mine. Beneath those layers of trauma, shame, and guilt, it was just me and my feelings. And outside of my experiences, I’ve never truly felt good about my breasts.
I thought about removing my breasts for a long time. As a young teenager, I once duct-taped my breasts in front of the mirror, wondering what it would feel like to have them pressed completely flat against my body, almost like I didn’t have them. I thought about cutting them off myself (this just shows you how young I was; I really thought it wouldn’t be that hard to cut them off myself and sew up the wounds).
At age 18, I confided in one of my aunts that I wanted to get both my breasts and my uterus removed. My breasts because, of course, I hated them, and my uterus because I’d had horrible periods for six years at that point and hated feeling so incapacitated by my body. My aunt responded with “I think you’re experiencing a sexual identity crisis”.
I may have been young at that point, but I knew I wasn’t a lesbian. I’d always been into guys and I identified as a girl. I was ok with my vagina and my sexuality, but I just didn’t like some parts of my body.
My breasts were the most obvious part, as I was a DD cup and they were very noticeable.
By the time I read the Elephant Journal article at age 25, I’d been spending hundreds of dollars every year at Victoria’s Secret on bras, panties, and lingerie that I felt made me feel more empowered and secure about my breasts. Reading that article forced me to face an uncomfortable truth about myself—I didn’t feel empowered about my body at all. I felt ashamed, so ashamed that I had to wear fancy bras to give the impression that I was confident, to my friends, to my boyfriend, to everyone. When I took the bra off, I was so uncomfortable that it was shocking.
I didn’t wear a bra (outside of exercising) for five years after I read that article. So how did I get from there to here, five years later, getting a double mastectomy?
I thought I could embrace my breasts by not wearing a bra. For the five years I didn’t wear a bra, I tried my absolute best to love my body. I tried to not feel weird when my boyfriend, then fiance, then husband (as he transformed over a 10-year period, ha) and I did stuff with them during our intimacy. I tried to feel comfortable and confident in my clothing. The truth was that I was more physically comfortable, but mentally, I was a wreck. I was extremely self-conscious, and although I became somewhat less self-conscious over time, and even hated my breasts less, I still didn’t like them and didn’t want them on my body.
I think it’s important to note here that my feelings about my breasts weren’t about the way my breasts looked. It was about how I felt, both physically and mentally, about having them as part of my body.
Earlier this year, Nadir and Fiver, two of my amazing and beautiful rabbits, died. It was extremely hard (those words don’t do the experience justice at all) and I’m not sure how I’m still here after experiencing that grief. Like any traumatic or life-changing event, it shifted my perspective on things. I’m not sure how to explain this. I know I should, being a professional writer, and maybe one day I’ll have the words to describe how I feel like Nadir and Fiver’s death guided me to this decision. It wasn’t because I was upset. It wasn’t because my bunnies, the most special and important and beautiful beings in my life, suddenly weren’t there anymore, at least not in the way they were.
It was because I realized that I deserved to be happy. I wanted to be happy. Not even because I’d experienced profound loss, but because their deaths transformed me. I was born again, even if I didn’t want to be, even if I would have given anything to have them back. My life after witnessing their deaths was startling—I couldn’t relate to people, I had two bald spots on my head from where my hair fell out because of the grief I’d experienced, and I resented my other rabbits for surviving when I just wanted Nadir and Fiver back.
One night, my husband and I were being intimate before I had to go into work for an overnight shift for my on-call job in DC at a women’s homeless shelter. We were engaging with my breasts and I felt so uncomfortable and embarrassed that my body was literally pulling away from him. He sensed my discomfort, and we stopped. This happened frequently during physical intimacy for us. A lot of times, we didn’t even engage with my breasts because it ruined sex for me. Normally, we’d stop with my breasts and move on.
But something was different this night. Something had shifted inside of me. It was like everything suddenly just “clicked” and I was able to see my desire to remove my breasts with a clarity that I hadn’t experienced before.
On the hour-long drive to work, I thought about what I had experienced. I suddenly, irrevocably, strongly felt that I no longer wanted to live with my breasts. They were beautiful breasts, my husband loved them, they looked ok on my body. But the truth was that I had always hated them and felt so uncomfortable with them. Outside of the way my family made me feel about them, I had just always hated them and wished that they weren’t there.
I thought about A Year Without a Name, a book I read earlier this year by Cyrus Grace Dunham. Cyrus is transgender and I loved reading his account of coming to terms with his gender. He got top surgery (a double mastectomy with a nipple graft). When I read about his experience with his breasts, I both identified with it and didn’t identify with it. He starved himself at one point to try and get rid of his breasts. I didn’t do that. But was I much different, duct-taping my breasts, considering cutting them off myself with a sharp knife?
I decided to write a letter to Cyrus, even though at that moment, I didn’t know how to reach him. In my head, I wrote the letter as I drove. I talked about how I was molested as a child. How my mom made me feel like shit about my body. How my breasts never felt right on my body.
By the time I parked on the street outside my job in DC and finished the letter, I knew. I knew without a doubt that I wanted to get my breasts removed.
That night, I researched extensively about top surgery and elective double mastectomies. I couldn’t find anyone like me who still identified as a woman and wanted their breasts removed (today, I think I’m more non-binary than anything—although I’m not big on labels for myself—and I know of at least one other person who has had their breasts removed and still identifies as female). But I knew, just as I knew when I was 18 and my aunt made me feel like I didn’t know myself, that this was how I felt, this was what I wanted. I didn’t need to question it. I knew it buried in my heart; I would recognize it anywhere.
I found a potential plastic surgeon near where I lived. The next day, I called and made an appointment for a consultation for an elective double mastectomy. Two weeks later, I had my consultation, and the surgeon said he had never seen anyone like me who wasn’t transgender but wanted their breasts removed. But he agreed to do the surgery, and I felt he understood me and that he would do a good job (he did!).
My husband and I had many conversations about my choice to remove my breasts, both over the decade I have known him and in the months before my surgery. My husband has always known that I have hated my breasts, and as I talked about removing them over the years, has always been supportive of my feelings. He has always told me that he would think I was gorgeous and sexy no matter what. I know he can’t anticipate how he’ll feel about me or my body in five, ten, or fifty years, but I do know he’ll do his best to be honest with me and that we’ll continue to navigate this strange (and exciting) new space together.
My family and friends were largely supportive. My friends were SO supportive. My family was more confused but still supportive, even offering to help me pay for the surgery if I needed it. My one grandmother had issues with the surgery and told me she was upset that I was getting it done. A lot of people asked about Ian (my husband) and his feelings about the surgery. I thought that was a little weird since it’s MY body. It’s not Ian’s body. I’m grateful for everyone’s support, and for those that had the courage to tell me their negative feelings (hey, Grandma!), I am grateful for their honesty.
I told my husband in the months before I officially decided to get my breasts removed that I felt like I needed to want to get the surgery, instead of feeling like I needed it. I didn’t want to feel like I needed to have my breasts removed, I felt like I had to want it. After Nadir and Fiver’s death, I no longer felt like I needed to have my breasts removed. I could appreciate their beauty, their uniqueness, but they never felt like mine. I suddenly wanted to have them removed more than anything.
Two months after my initial consultation, on November 23, 2020, after more than 15 years of wanting to get my breasts removed, I got a double mastectomy (no nipple grafts). In the end, I paid over $11,000 to have a plastic surgeon remove my breasts while I was unconscious on an operating table. My gorgeous and amazing husband took care of me after the surgery. That first week was an emotional week. I cried and told my husband that I was afraid he wouldn’t love me anymore. He fed me cinnamon raisin toast and helped me sip water through a straw, emptied my drains and dressed me.
Before my bandages came off and we saw my new chest for the first time, I thought so many things. I thought my new chest wouldn’t feel like me. I thought I would cry with happiness. I thought I would be afraid. I thought that I wouldn’t love it as much as I wanted to.
Turns out, my new chest was scary: it was just so different. But it felt like me. I didn’t cry with happiness. But it felt right. And I loved it immediately, immensely.
I’m still getting used to my new chest (if you’ve read my tattoo grief article, I definitely went through a little like the five stages of grief with my surgery in that first week—I will write an article about that at some point!), and will post pictures soon as well as my recovery journey for those who are interested!