by Dominic Bradley (they/them)
This op-ed is the second in a series of pieces through our TransLash News & Narrative platform, launching in 2022. Subscribe for alerts. For more #TransBodiesTransChoices content, explore our film series guides for My Abortion Saved My Life and I Didn’t Think I’d Make It.
I am unapologetically non-binary. I am unapologetically a survivor of sexual violence. After considerable time distinguishing between body dysphoria, gender dysphoria, and assault trauma, I decided to pursue gender-affirming surgery.
On August 30, 2021, about a year before my 40th birthday, I had a radical chest reduction. Prior to the big day I wrote in an online support group “I need a place to put some difficult feelings. I’ve seen lots of posts about how amazing their surgeons and support teams were. I don’t think I will have that experience…I think I will feel good after it’s all said and done, but I’m already experiencing grief about the process not being particularly affirming.”
The first time I was assaulted my chest was involved. I froze. The psychiatric treatment I received afterwards made the bottom fall out of my appetite. My chest grew and grew. In a matter of months I was unrecognizable to myself.
I had made a couple of half-hearted attempts to pursue surgery, but I was stopped by money and insurance issues. Last year, I realized I deserved to inhabit the body I wanted to inhabit. I refused to go into my fourth decade of life with a body that caused me physical pain, did not reflect my gender identity, and served as an unwelcome reminder of what happened to me. I recall something I wrote pre-transition for a now-defunct online publication: “I deserve to modify my body as I see fit.” My transition goals are valid even if they are partially inspired by my SA history. People modify their bodies for all sorts of reasons including aesthetic reasons.
During this journey I was told that my transition goals were too permanent and that I would live with regret. Some people believed that I had not done enough healing work to make a clear-headed decision about this, and wondered if I might be able to make peace with my body without going under the knife. Many people, working from their own biases, mourned a grave for my femininity they’d dug themselves. I had to tune it all out. I wanted to be more open about how my survivorship played a role in my transition. I wish it wasn’t minimized or met with expressions of doubt.
Money, insurance, and backlash weren’t the only barriers. I have significant medical trauma, not only from the time of my assault, but also from subsequent psychiatric intervention that included forced drugging, and unfortunately, additional assault. Pursuing gender-affirming surgery can be a lengthy process that involves interacting with a number of different healthcare workers. Also, limitations imposed by my insurance led me to a surgeon who, while good at his craft, was not trauma-informed. I was thrust back into an environment that could trigger feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, numbness, and fear, but I needed to maintain my momentum.
I remembered I could advocate for myself and used my past successes to encourage me.
When talking with the surgeon in my consultation, I stated I wanted to go down to a small A cup with no nipple grafts. This felt like the most authentic choice for me as a non-binary person. He paused, scrunched up his face, and asked me, “Wouldn’t that look weird?” I took a deep breath and reasserted myself. He was also fatphobic, but having seen beautiful post-op pictures of larger folks, I refused to be deterred. He eventually agreed to do what I asked.
Everything between the consultation and the surgery felt like a whirlwind.
I had mammograms, physicals, COVID testing, and filled out endless forms. The mental and emotional burden was severe, and I was overwhelmed by the system. A few weeks before my surgery date, I had a suspected staph infection on my chest. I rushed to urgent care to get the site drained and a course of antibiotics so that my surgery could proceed as planned. The doctor I saw initially declined to drain it, but I knew my body. I refused to leave until he did what I asked, and he later admitted I made the right call.
Some stresses are inherent to the process, but the frequency of hostility and shame-inducing treatment from health care workers leeched the joy from getting gender-affirming surgery.
At my post-op appointment, I was eager to have my drains taken out to get my first glimpse of my new chest, but the surgeon completely ruined my moment. He volunteered the amount (in pounds) of tissue removed, and while I was still exposed, said I shouldn’t use that as an excuse not to watch my calorie intake. “Take care of your lower body,” he said. I felt utterly violated. All I knew is that I wanted him to stop touching me. My immediate response was to make a polite noise, put my clothes on, and step out into the hallway. I fought with myself about getting out of there as fast as possible. Instead, I marched back into the office, called for the surgeon, and let him have it right in front of his staff.
As much as I felt some things had been taken from me before and after surgery, I also believed I had snatched a little something back for myself.
I am very happy with my results, but I wish some things had not happened. I know I am not alone in believing those involved in trans-affirming care can do a better job of fostering choice and agency for our community, particularly trans-survivors.
Feelings about my gender-affirming surgery are complicated and messy. At some point, I gave an enthusiastic yes to gender-affirming surgery, and it is unfortunate that people and systems struggled to meet me in that yes. No is a complete sentence, but so is yes. Please follow the yes. Everyone is worthy of a body that feels like home.
Trans Bodies, Trans Choices: Resources
Trans Bodies, Trans Choices Films
- Watch Trans Bodies, Trans Choices here and access the transcript.
- Watch I Didn’t Think I’d Make It here and access the transcript.
- Watch My Abortion Saved My Life here and access the transcript.
- Watch the Trans Bodies, Trans Choices: Having a Baby IG Live replay here and access the transcript.
- Watch the #TransBodiesTransChoices Online Townhall replay here and access the transcript.
Getting an Abortion
- Under 18 and need an abortion + free legal representation for judicial bypass? Call or text Jane’s Due Process: 1-866-999-5263
- The National Network of Abortion Funds connects abortion seekers with grassroots organizations that can support financial and logistical needs here
- Tips on how to choose a good abortion provider and questions to ask a clinic
- The Brigid Alliance arranges and funds travel, along with related needs, to support individuals across the country who are forced to travel for later abortion care.
For Clinicians and Providers
- Trans-Inclusive Abortion Services: a manual for providers on operationalizing trans-incluslive policies and practices in an abortion setting
Calls to Action
- Sign on and Demand #AbortionWithinReach: Abortion funds have come together to deliver an unprecedented bold statement, explicitly identifying what it means for abortion to be truly accessible for our callers. As we shine a light on these demands, we also want to spotlight independent clinics, who are our partners on the front lines giving support and care to abortion seekers. Independent clinics perform the majority of abortions in the U.S., and show up big as plaintiffs in the monumental cases of the past few years.
- Expand the Supreme Court & Save Abortion Rights. Sign the petition here.
- Urge federal elected officials to end the Hyde Amendment, the Global Gag Rule, and the Helms Amendment. Learn more and take action to expressly urge support for the EACH Act, the Global Health, Empowerment, & Rights Act, and the Abortion is Healthcare Everywhere Act.
- Invest in abortion clinics, especially community-led health care facilities.
- Talk about abortion! Change culture and shift stigma through powerful, values-based conversations. We believe dialogue, storytelling, and intentional conversations are powerful tools to organize and strengthen our movement. This guide for heart-to-heart abortion conversations from NNAF and this toolkit from Chicago Abortion Fund will support you to hold a small group gathering, house party, or action space where you can invite your friends, family, and acquaintances into meaningful conversations about abortion, issues that relate to abortion, and why you support abortion funds.
- Support the Black reproductive justice policy agenda, which outlines proactive policy solutions to address issues at the intersections of race, gender, class, sexual orientation, and gender identity within the situational impacts of economics, politics and culture that make up the lived experiences of Black women, femmes, girls and gender-expansive individuals in the United States.
- Invest in long-term sustainable models of care that supplement existing structures of support and center the expertise of those who have been laying this groundwork for years so that communities have reliable support systems that contribute to one’s current and future ability to thrive.
- We urge all individuals knowledgeable about a person’s reproductive choices to make a commitment to not – under any circumstances – punish, criminalize or report any person for any pregnancy decision or seeking medical assistance for a decision. This includes abortion funders, public health authorities, clinicians, law enforcement, prosecutors, and community members.
Resources on Pregnancy as a Transgender Person
- The Queer & Trans People of Color Birthwerq Project
- BOOK: How We Do Family: From Adoption to Trans Pregnancy, What We Learned about Love and LGBTQ Parenthood by Trystan Reese
- Meet the birth workers helping transgender parents bring babies into the world and break stigmas.
- Preparing for Pregnancy as a Non-Binary Person (Family Equality)
- Transgender Pregnancy: Moving Past Misconceptions (Healthline)
- From erasure to opportunity: a qualitative study of the experiences of transgender men around pregnancy and recommendations for providers.
- TransLash Podcast, Episode 13 ‘Trans Love’ feat. Precious Brady-Davis, who appeared with her husband Myles on the TLC special, My Pregnant Husband.
- If a transgender man stops taking his testosterone, his menstrual cycle often returns, reportedly within about 6 months.
- Explore TransLash’s guide for trans dads and TGNC parents.
‘Trans Bodies, Trans Choices’ Press
- Teen Vogue [EXCLUSIVE]
Featured images courtesy of Dominic Bradley.
Dominic Cinnamon Bradley (The Johns Hopkins University BA | Columbia University MSW) is a Brooklyn-based Black, disabled, non-binary artist reared in the crunk-era “Dirty South.” A former Roots. Wounds. Words. storyteller, Dominic writes primarily creative nonfiction. They are also a freelance sensitivity reader who has reviewed author manuscripts for various publishing houses. Dominic recently completed the inaugural RiseOut Activist-in-Residence Fellowship (2021) at The Center and focused on creating mental health resources for the LGBTQIA community. Currently, Dominic is an editor and disability justice reader for an upcoming book project on disability artistry. Dominic’s writing appears in such publications as Color Bloq, Rest for Resistance, HuffPost, and The Guardian.
Did you find this resource helpful? Consider supporting TransLash today with a tax-deductible donation.