I thought I was prepared, was thoroughly, utterly ready for anything. The steps of the procedure, the physical pain, the recovery and limitations; all arranged into neat dot points inside my head, objectified, a means to an end. Hours spent online consuming success stories, ‘after’ photos and videos of shirtless people smiling down at their scars. I couldn’t wait to be one of them, and for everything to change. On the brink of relief, there was no reason to consider anything beyond macro happiness, let alone brace for anything insidious. An oversight maybe, but who can really pre-empt how emotions will manifest in a transition? Especially those grounded in the very act of moving from pre to post, from anticipation to reality; in doing so relinquishing the kind of doe-eyed hope that one can only hold in the before. There was no real warning, no way to prepare for the birth of a new kind of dissonance. When I woke up after surgery, I was filled with gratitude. The sight of my chest was like applying ointment to a burn. Top dysphoria at long last was soothed, my identity and body finally intercepting. For the first time, I felt my true self become tangible, blatant, and to others, surely obvious. Yet the world continued to call me something which I am not, have never truly been. I was conflicted between my newly found inner peace and the contrary response from the external; felt cheated and left to ask questions that led into one another like a spiral: “How can they still fail to see?” “Will they ever see?” “What hope do I look toward now that my date has passed?” In the following months, I tried to assemble words into the form of a lens, into which I could look and derive clarity about these unanticipated feelings. This process of transforming mercurial emotion into written expression, like an itch on the brain. I had to scratch, had to create something out of the experience.
The result offered up below, still damp with the foggy residue of post-op depression…
I was used to people glancing and then making up their minds;
Auto-filing me as ‘F’ in the space behind their eyes.
These assumptions based on clay that was molded out of shape.
Mismatched pieces left to burn, spreading chaos in their wake.
Such layered pain I sought to cleanse, by incisions made in flesh.
For who could get it wrong in the wake of absent breasts?
Intentions stretched out plain, by an eloquent public plea.
A letter shared, I’d told the world that I am not a “she”.
“This will be hard to get used to” was the generalised reply.
With sympathy I’d countered with “I ask only that you try”.
In some I found fierce allies, with “they” rolling off their tongues.
Saw others hit the like button and careless words continue on.
Still others closed their minds to my pursuit of affirmation;
Doubt-filled and dismissive of any heartfelt conversation.
My resolve withstood each challenge; despair quieted and quelled.
For my date was ever looming, a burden soon to be expelled.
Breathless, rushing forward; a giddy comet high in space.
The destination calling, with grand promises of change.
I was sure all would be different, after incisions made in flesh.
For who could still to invalidate in the wake of absent breasts?
These thoughts swirled overhead as my wits began to fade.
Moments lost and then awake, vision foggy, dense and grey.
Compression vest and drains in tow, I had reached the other side.
Finally free to throw my shoulders back with nothing left to hide.
Unbridled grin at that first sight, shameless tears upon the floor.
The pure joy of seeing reflection begin to match with inner core.
Yet amidst euphoric throes, a dissonant pull within my brain.
For in spite of presentation, contrary language remained the same.
That hollow sound of familiar voices, still using terms assigned at birth.
Choosing to tend their own discomfort, revealing perceptions of my worth.
So naive were my expectations, of those incisions made in flesh.
It did not stop them inscribing “she” upon the flatness of my chest.
I had cut away the mismatch; an endeavour to feel whole.
Not one regret, yet bitter sweet; a lingering sadness in my soul.
Sustained no more by thoughts, of “when it’s over, I’ll be cleansed”.
Left now to find new strength, to endure the other side of “when”.
Mx René Bennett is a non-binary person who came out through an online post during October 2017, and has since sought some gender affirmation interventions. She reflects on the social complications to these process in her poetry and writings.