Sunday, July 20, 2008


It's two years minus six weeks since I had chest surgery. I remembered because I had to have my deposit in by July 19th, which was six weeks before my surgery date, and which also happens to be my partner's birthday, so the six week mark stuck in my head.

I've been walking around shirtless a lot this weekend, mostly because it's been hotter than an overdone porkchop here in NYC, with fiendish humidity, and so I'm walking around as nakedly as possible. I've mostly gotten to the point where taking off my shirt no longer produces a little thrill of excitement every time I do it- for most of my first year post surgery, it was still so novel and exciting and satisfying just to know that I COULD take my shirt off at any point. But now I don't think about it as much, I just take my shirt off when I'm too warm.

But! This weekend I've been shirtless in two (rather diametrically opposed, actually) interesting situations that have given rise to the following thoughts.

First, yesterday my sister and I went to Coney Island for the second year in a row to see the AVP Tour and see some amazing professional volleyball. It was great, and just as much fun as it was last year, but being around all of those incredibly chiseled folks can give a guy a complex! It reminded me of the various body processing I've been doing on this blog recently, about my hourglass shape and how I'm not so fond of it, partly because (like most guys in our body-obsessed culture) I want that Adonis ideal V-shape with broad shoulders and a narrow waist (and no hips!) and partly because those flaring hips and narrow/high waist seem like blinking neon "girl" markers to me, problematic though that sentiment is.

I felt like the scrawniest guy there, and not just compared to the super buff players. A big percentage of the audience looked like they played some kind of regular sport, and had the physiques to prove it. More than 2/3 of the guys there were walking around just in their swim trunks- we were at the beach, after all- but I kept my shirt on not just to protect me from the sun, but also because I was suddenly shyer than I've been in months about my hips, my lacking muscles, my sparse chest hair.

Not once has a stranger ever asked me about the scars on my chest, but I found myself rehearsing my favorite potential excuses: Shark attack! No, seriously, I fell off a boat and got tangled in the propeller. No, no, just kidding, just some surgery.

Anyway, later in the day I shed my inhibitions and bright pink (I'm not THAT insecure in my masculinity!) tank top to go jump in the ocean when the heat got too bad, but I kept trying to imagine how others were seeing me or noticing, and I kept looking for, and not finding, guys with bodies that looked like mine.

Later, on the way to the subway, I walked further down the boardwalk and suddenly found myself amidst TONS of guys who looked much like me: pasty pale (actually, I don't mind my 'library tan'- skin cancer is scary stuff!), kinda short, thin arms and potbellies, no muscle definition.

I almost laughed out loud when I realized that duh, Eli, naturally the audience at a professional sporting event is going to be filled with a greater than usual percentage of jocks and athletically-bodied folks. I'd been feeling bad about myself in comparison to everyone around me, but it was a skewed sample! There ARE in fact plenty of non-trans guys in the world whose arms have no visible muscle definition!

(Of course, my next thought was 'Why are all these hipsters at the beach?? Until I remembered the the Village Voice's music festival was that day.)

And then today I looked at the pictures we uploaded, and saw this one Kate took of me just before I dashed down to the ocean, while we were waiting for the men's semi-finals to start.

And of course, I look just fine. I remember distinctly walking down the stairs, thinking morosely 'everyone here looks bigger/buffer/manlier than me and my distinctly female-looking body.' Of course, I was trying NOT to think like that, but I remember being so conscious of that little part of my torso where my hips flare out a bit in contrast to my high-ish waist, and discreetly checking out every other guy I passed to see if his waist nipped/flared like that, which of course no one's did.

But, looking at the photo, I realize that you can't even see, it's not that obvious, etc, etc, I look fine and nothing like what my head was telling me I looked like. Body dysphoria, so strange!

Anyway, after that little interlude, I'm back to feeling tip top about my chest, and happier than ever that I made that decision two years ago to go to Dr. Brownstein.

Which leads me to the second situation I'd mentioned, which is that a friend of my sister is staying with us this weekend, and so we've been all hanging out, slumber party style.

Normally, especially during the kind of despicably hot weather we've been having, I go about shirtless in the house quite a bit. Often as soon as I get home, I lose my shoes and shirt; it's fine when it's just family, of course, but I don't really know the protocol yet for guys on shirtlessness around friends vs. acquaintances vs. strangers.

I mean, clearly, at the beach or the pool, it's fine. Pride parades, pickup basketball games, moving heavy furniture, doing lawn work, also fine. I'm not so sure about the guys I see just walking down the street or hanging out on the corner with no shirt on- seems fairly inappropriate to me, and rather unfair since women can't walk around topless without attracting much (probably unwanted) attention and/or indecency citations. And what about at the park, playing frisbee, or just lounging on a blanket?

And then I'm really not sure what's appropriate when in one's home, with friends over. I mean, I guess it depends on the closeness- acquaintances or whatnot it wouldn't be appropriate for. But how about with semi close friends? I guess I should just use the yardstick of what would or wouldn't weird me out if I went over to someone else's house- and in fact, I remember Rochelle and I going for dinner at her cousin's place on a hot night, and her cousin's boyfriend was shirtless, and stayed so for the entire evening. I would've put a shirt on had I been in his situation, but since he didn't, I guess it's considered acceptable.

Annnyway, I say all this because it's my habit to generally err on the side of politeness, and put a shirt on if anyone who's not my immediate family or girlfriend is around. But! This weekend, while our friend has been visiting, I've been walking around shirtless as per normal, which is to say, more than I usually would in front of a houseguest. But! Our houseguest was a transguy, and he hasn't had chest surgery yet, so I thought it might be okay/a good thing to relax my shirt rules.

Before I had surgery, I relished every opportunity I could get to see guys who'd already had surgery. I wanted to see scars and nipple placement and everything, and i wanted proof of guys living happily and nonchalantly in their own skins, post-surgery. I thought my buddy might be of the same mind, and glad of a chance to observe my doctored body, or at least, not mind observing it.

Though, it just occurs to me, maybe I was totally insensitive to parade about in my happily flat chest in front of someone who (as far as I know) is unhappy with his chest and pursing surgery. I remember just before leaving for San Francisco two years ago I was out with a bunch of guys after Group (the transmasculine support group at the lgbt center) and I mentioned that I was leaving for surgery the following week. One guy said something like "Oh, you lucky bastard, I hate you! Watch out when you get back, I might punch you."

Clearly joking, of course, but there was a definitely audible undercurrent of seriousness/jealousy that made me quite uncomfortable. It's hard to want something very badly and not be able to get it, but be around others who can. I hope I didn't bring up any such hard feelings for my friend this weekend with my casual semi-nudity.


kkryno said...

Number 1: You look great! There are so many other men who would love to look as fit as you. Number 2: You're probably right about your guest wanting to see what could potentially be in his future. I guess just being forward enough to ask the question if all are comfortable and informed of your situation (and their's as well!) The direct approach might just be the hot ticket! :)

Will said...

Man, you look fitter than half the guys at my gym. Nothing to be shy about in that distinctly male body of yours.

I come from a different cultural background (Latin American), where male shirtlessness is probably more widely acceptable at your age than in the USA, but I don't think that you have to worry about it being inappropiate at home. And asking your guest would be a surefire way to find it if he's comfortable with it. Frankness never hurts.

I keep coming back to your journal. Not being a trans myself, I find it immensely enlightening. Thanks for sharing.

Liza Cowan said...

I just drove by a guy on the road who was hitch hiking shirtless. I thought, Ugh! Who would want to pick him up in his semi naked state!! Gross.

Of course, gross to me isn't gross to everyone, but I thought it was just stupid. It's not even that hot out this morning. And who would want to see the sweat dripping down, or, worse, getting on their car seats?

I am female - born and continuing - and I find it both unfair and unpleasant to see men walking around the city with their shirts off. I know this wasn't your question, and that you are sensitive to the issues.

The only time I've seen women walking around topless is at women's music festivals, and that was pretty educational, witnessing how differently built we all are.

Men are all built differently too, and that's a good thing.

Bonnie said...

Seriously, if I saw you walking along the beach or whatever, I would not have any thoughts in my head other than, "there's some guy". Even already knowing that you have hips, I can't see them in this photo.

lunatopaz said...

not sure that your partner's cousin's boyfriend is an ample yardstick for what's acceptable. just like you can't represent an entire population and its preferences and mores, neither can he.

on another note--you look super, seriously.

Codi said...

My girlfriend is looking into getting the surgery, and we're totally confused on the topic. Looking at you I would never have guessed that you used to be a woman! I was wondering if we could possibly talk to you about the whole transition, costs, & what not?

Eli said...

hey Codi, there are lots of great resources on the internet (, just to start) where you can get a lot of that information. why don't you check some of that out, and if you still want to chat, leave a comment with your email address and I'll drop you a line!

kkryno said...

Hey, Eli! You haven't posted in awhile. Just wondering if you're doing okay?

Anonymous said...

I am surprised you let "Codi" off so easy...

Tynan said...

I really like how thoughtful you are. I've read a lot of transition journals over the years, to the point that I generally roll my eyes at them now, but I really enjoy reading your thoughtful (and thought-provoking) explorations of your experiences. $.02 on #2 is that whether other FTMs want to see you shirtless depends on so many factors. One, of course, being their own comfort with shirtlessness in general. But also experience in the trans community...I've seen lots of post-op chests (some quite intimately ::cough::) so there's no novelty factor there, for me. And I find it a reminder of society's sexism that everyone can't go shirtless, and the unfairness of life in general that I haven't been able to have surgery, whenever I see individual FTMs shirtless. (Of course when it's a parade or something, and a bunch of guys are shirtless, it doesn't really have the same effect.) It's not that I feel it's sexist or insensitive of the individual, or that I'd blame you (or anyone else) for going shirtless, but it does serve to remind me of what I can't have, and what half the US population can't have. It's not a pleasant feeling. So I don't think your questioning how he might have felt is off-base necessarily.