On Being Visibly Trans

On May 6th, 2016 (just over a year ago), I had a boobectomy. Top surgery. De-boobing. Double mastectomy. Whatever you want to call it, it was one of the best days of my life (despite being stabbed three times by the anesthesiologist trying to find a good vein, unrelenting nausea after surgery, and pain) and one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

I have my scars, my battle scars, my freedom lines, to show for it. They’re slowly fading. I’m a slow healer, but a good healer. Those scars will soon fade until you can’t really see them. I’m okay with having them. They’re a reminder of all I’ve suffered, of how far I’ve come, and that I am still here, with the marks to prove my worth and my bravery (yeah, I’m going to say it).

I know a lot of guys worry about the scars. They’re hard to hide, especially if anything goes wrong (the list is long: infections, complications in surgery, poor healing, keloid scaring, graft rejection, etc.). Most of us don’t want constant reminders sent out into the world that we’re trans, that we had to cut into our bodies in order to reveal our true selves.

It has been my experience, however, that most cis people have no idea what our scars mean. I, too, was worried about revealing them when I danced (shirtless). At first, I covered up my scars with bandeau tops and large vests so that no one would have to see them. I didn’t want to make people uncomfortable, or risk having them focus on my chest and not on my dancing.

Three times now (that I know of), however, I was mistaken for a cis man, even with my top off.

The first time, I was dancing for a crowd that didn’t know me well, in a suburb of Chicago, at an event I’ve only been to twice. I danced in a teeny-tiny vest that easily showed most of my chest, including my scars and nipples, and with a sword (also a note for those who don’t know, but I’m pretty curvy, with really wide hips). Afterwards, a cis man came up to me and talked with me at length about my piece. He loved the sword, thought my makeup was amazing, and was really glad to see a guy dancing. I didn’t really think anything of the conversation, as it was pretty “normal” and comfortable. After I got home, his wife messaged me and let me know that he had no idea that I was trans, and that he was flabbergasted he had spoken to me and never even suspected. The makeup he had complimented? He thought my scars were really, really good special effects makeup. He thought I had literally given myself battle scars as part of the sword piece.

The second time was similar. I was dancing in only a large tribal necklace and body chain, baring my entire chest. Afterwards, a guy I didn’t know said he thought my scars were cool, really fit with the piece, and was impressed with my makeup skills. I just thanked him. He went away having no idea also.

The third time was when I was being filmed for a show. It wasn’t until I told the videographer that I was trans did she realize, and she told me afterwards that she hadn’t known what my scars were, and hadn’t really thought about what they might be.

More and more I encounter people, just regular general public people, who just accept me as “he” with no prompting, even if they’ve seen my chest (I typically keep a tank top on while teaching, but sometimes I have to take it off). Either they don’t notice the scars (though they are hard to miss) or they just don’t really know what they mean. Few people have connected my top surgery scars to those they may have seen from breast cancer survivors, especially since I have cis male-appearing nipples.

I know that it might not always be this way and that not all trans guys will have this experience. Being visibly trans is a valid concern that many of us have for our safety, privacy, and well-being. I never thought I’d pass, especially with my shirt off and my scars and curves bared for all the world to see. But we see what we want to see. For most people, due to cultural training, shirtless person in public + no boobs = has to be a dude.

So take some heart in that not everyone knows what our scars mean. That your scars may not (for now) mean that you are always going to be clocked. As trans people gain more visibility, and as more people are aware that trans men exist, this may change. Hopefully by then, though, it won’t be such an issue.

We’ll just be guys with scars on our chests. Because that’s just what we are anyway.


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