Archive for the ‘bodies’ Category

Stolen Pleasures

Friday, April 24th, 2009

I can’t roam the park, beach, run, or even relax on my back deck with my shirt off. For several more months, while my chest heals, I need to keep my scars completely out of the sun. And because I live in San Francisco, when there’s no sun it’s freezing. And when it’s freezing outside, it’s even colder inside my house. So, basically, due to environmental circumstances and temporary physical limitations, outside of topless activities — shower, sex, dressing, swimming — I haven’t had much topless leisure time.

Shortly after my surgery, I wanted to sleep topless so badly that at night, I’d get into bed and huddle underneath three blankets before taking off my sweatshirt, long-sleeve shirt, beanie, and t-shirt. First thing in the morning, without lifting even one blanket, I’d put the t-shirt, sweatshirt, and hat back on. This got old after a few weeks.

But the recent heat wave in San Francisco has given me the long awaited opportunity to walk around my house in just my underwear. It takes me a few seconds when I get home, about as long as it takes to think, “Fuck it’s hot,” before I realize I can actually take my shirt off, that I want to take my shirt off. I lift my arms, grab the back of my shirt, pull it over my head, and fall back onto my bed. I feel devious, as if I’ve found a suitcase full of unmarked bills, enough to start anew. Freedom. I don’t care where it came from or how I got it. I’m gonna take it and run, run, run…

Vanity Unleashed: The Photo Shoot

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

Last weekend, I coerced my roommate Derek into taking many pictures of me. My favorites are below, including some long awaited chest photos (from only six weeks after my surgery).

 

“Really? A whole photo shoot of me?”

White Hanes T-shirt (5 pack, $8)

Levis 514 Jeans ($29)

 

Make no mistake — This is all about the hair

Hair by Christina at Spunk Salon ($65)

 

“Hey… Hey… Hey…”

Blue Lacoste Polo ($4)

Levis 511 Skinny Jeans ($59)

 

Professor Nick

Outfit designed by Derek and JP

 

And now for the moment you (or maybe only I) have been waiting for…

Chest by Dr. Brownstein ($$$$ and worth every damn penny)

 

But don’t let the chest distract you from the hair

 

And one more because…

I waited a long time to be this happy.

A Day of Boobless Living or Blog Post Desperation

Thursday, January 15th, 2009

This morning I woke up without a shirt on. I looked down and noticed that I was boobless. I showered, remembering to wash my boobless chest, then dressed, drank some coffee, ate some cereal, and sat down at my computer. The sun wasn’t even up yet, and I wondered if it was too early in the morning to be awake and boobless. I wrote at my computer for a couple hours. I was working on a scene about putting on a binder for the first time. I was trying to capture the difficulty of wrestling that damn thing over my upper body, nearly dislocating my shoulder in the process, and the discomfort of pancaking seven pounds (to be exact) of flesh. I contemplated putting on a binder to joggle my memory. But I couldn’t, on account of the boobless thing.

I got on muni, still boobless, of course, and arrived at work. I went to meetings in a shirt that was tighter than the one I wore the previous day, begging someone to notice that I was boobless and prove my roommate wrong for saying, “straight people are clueless.” I did a little work at my desk, hoping as I hope everyday that being boobless will make me like my job more. It didn’t.

At lunch, I went to the gym. I changed my shirt as quickly as possible in the corner of the women’s locker room, a truly horrible place to be when you’re boobless. I went for a run along the embarcadero on this summery January day, and about twenty minutes in, I noticed sweat spots on my T-shirt, right in the center of my chest and nowhere else. My sports bra used to absorb that sweat, but now that I’m boobless it went straight through to my T-shirt.

In the afternoon, I came back to my office and ate lunch at my desk. I acted like I was going to do more work, but boobless or not, it just wasn’t happening. I knew I needed to write a blog post. Unfortunately, I’m braindead, and overwhelmed, and exhausted, and I got nothing, other than being boobless.

Welcome to happyland. Would you like a tighter t-shirt?

Thursday, January 8th, 2009

I am happier and happier each and every day. With not having breasts, that is. Surgery was not some big panacea; it didn’t fix my relationships, job, writing, or eating issues. I’m still not talking to my father. I still can’t focus at work. I still stress about my book. I still eat two bowls of cereal in the morning and two before bed. However, sometimes when I’m walking down the street, I want to leap into the air and click my heels together. Sometimes I break out into a spontaneous smile–For. No. Reason. My baseline quality of life level moved from “Getting By” to “Glad To Be Here.” It is truly a bizarre experience to have nothing and everything change. It’s kind of like playing the same note in a different octave.

A friend once told me that after his surgery, his comfort with himself increased exponentially. I don’t think I understood the power, or the true meaning, of that word, “exponential.” I rarely understand words. It helps when I do math. I started with a very small number in the single-digits, 9, and did some simple calculations: 9 + 9 = 18 and 9 * 9 = 81. Then I took out a calculator to deal with exponents. 9 to the 9th power = 387,420,489 (feel free to check my math). So, basically, if I was a 9 on the comfortable scale before and said that has increased exponentially, which it has, I’d be 387 million times more comfortable.

I cannot stop shopping. It doesn’t matter whether it’s my lunch break during work, or I’m on my way to meet friends for dinner, or I’m late for an appointment, a store will kidnap me. And that’s on a good day. On bad days, I drop what I’m doing, go to American Apparel, and buy tight shirts. Sometimes, I send out text confessions when I feel particularly guilty about my purchases, like the time I bought a charcoal brown V-neck wool sweater from Brooks Brothers. (My friend eased my concerns by texting back: I just bought Diesel jeans). Once I texted, “I loooooove to shop.” My friend replied, “…like every other American.” That one made me pause, and not because of a distaste for our culture of consumption. This is it, I thought to myself, I’m finally like everyone else. I’m human. It’s moments like those that make me realize how much I was missing out on before.

I also have to shop because none of my tops fit me anymore. They look like muumuus. All of a sudden, I’m really puny and scrawny. I had been going for the teenage boy look, but now that I have the chest of an eleven year old, it’s harder. I hope the pedophiles stay away. The other day I showed someone my chest (I cannot stop showing my chest, either) and I said, “Don’t I look like an eight year old?” (The age drops every time). “No, no,” he said. “You have the chest of a Mission hipster.” I’m not sure which is better.

I’ve also recently fallen in love with the white undershirt: Hanes t-shirts and Jockey wifebeaters. When I had breasts, there was nothing worse than wearing a transparent shirt through which I could see the round curvature of saggy flesh. Now that I don’t have them, there is nothing better than the soft white cotton clinging to my flat chest. I have all my undershirts neatly stacked in the same spot in my drawer where my bras used to be. It’s so cool.

Pictures soon.

Love at First Sight

Tuesday, December 9th, 2008

I didn’t know if I wanted to look. I am aware that the body takes time to recover, that I was literally cut open last week and that this would show. I was afraid that when Dr. Brownstein unwrapped me and threw away all of the gauze and padding, there would be Frankenstein’s monster below my neck. But I was curious, too curious. Thousands of dollars and three years of waiting curious.

I was lying on the table when he handed me the hand mirror. What I saw was similar to the images in post-surgical pictures, YouTube videos, on the chests of friends. Small nickel-sized nipples, two long incisions covered with clear tape. The neck and collarbone and trunk, all parallel and perpendicular lines, hard lines drawn with a ruler. Without the distraction of the curves, the extra heaping of flesh, the sternum appeared so close to the surface, as if it was trying to breach the skin.

My chest looked exactly like any other post-surgical chest until I angled the mirror ever so slightly. Then I saw it. My face. It was attached, part of the same body with this perfectly flat torso, the male chest I’ve been admiring, revering, glorifying. Even when Brownstein pointed out the yellow color of my skin, the indentations that would go away, my eyes couldn’t focus on them. I couldn’t even will myself to see that my nipples probably looked like “sausages,” as often described post-op. But then again, I never could see my breasts as attractive either, no matter how many friends and lovers told me, no matter how many times society told me I should.

I only had a chance to hold the mirror for a few seconds. But in that moment, I saw beauty. I wonder how I knew, how I could’ve been so sure that I was there, invisible underneath this breast suit, hidden inside this female casing. But in that moment, the flicker of an image in a small mirror, I saw something I’d never seen before: Me.

Surgery

Thursday, December 4th, 2008

I’m not sure if blogging qualifies as “operating dangerous machinery,” but be forewarned, I’m on Percocet.

My surgery went well yesterday. Or so the doctor told me. I slept through it.

I do remember arriving at the surgery center, which also happens to be in the same building as my dentist, signing a bunch of liability forms, and changing into my gown, compression stockings, booties, and whatever you call that head covering that looks like a shower cap. I looked into the mirror and said, “You can do this, buddy.”

The nurse sat me in a reclining chair, took my vitals, and put in an IV. My mom, whom all the nurses called “The Boss,” looked like she had eaten some bad sushi. This made me feel like I had eaten bad sushi. I wished my two friends who were originally going to accompany me to surgery were there in the room. They would’ve petted me and told me that everything was going to be fine. Maybe my mom read my mind. “Excuse me,” she said to the nurse and pushed her out of the way like a New Yorker hailing a taxi. “I just want to give her a kiss.” My mom planted a big wet one on my lips and told me she loved me.

I started to cry, just a little. The nurse handed me a box of tissues and said, “Don’t worry, all of Dr. Brownstein’s patients do well. They are healthy. This is elective surgery.” My first surgery, I thought. Elective. Why would anyone chose to do this? But I knew.

So, Brownstein, a man who is not known for his bedside manner, but whom I sincerely like and trust, walks in and sees the box of tissues. “Tears, already,” he says. “I hope those are tears of joy.”

When he was about to do the markings on my chest, he asked if my mom wanted to leave. But she stood her ground, protecting her taxi. As Brownstein drew lines on my breasts, my armpits started to rain. “You sure are sweating a lot,” he said. “I am about to have surgery,” I replied. My mom just sat that there, library book open on her lap, pretending to read David Baldacci’s The Whole Truth.

A nurse walked me into the freezing surgery room. I hopped up onto the heated bed, and a few minutes later, the anesthesiologist talked me to sleep. When I woke up, I looked at the clock. It was 12:15. I had arrived at the center only a few hours ago, at 9. “Hiiiiii,” I said to my mom.

The nurse asked me to rate my pain on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the highest. I said 2 or 3. Then I asked for more pain meds. She asked me to rate it again. 1 or 2. Then I asked for more pain meds. And she gave them to me. I was floating, breastless and painfree. It was heaven.

25 Dreams About to Come True

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

25. Hot yoga at dusk, covered in sweat, and wearing only a pair of shorts.

24. The strap of a messenger bag making a perfect diagonal line across my upper body.

23. Doing it on top without the flappity-flap of my flesh. 

22. Plaid boxers.

21. Barefoot, shirtless, and free ballin’ it in jeans while cooking breakfast on a Sunday morning.

20. Pick up bball with nine dudes and taking a charge into the brick wall of my chest.

19. An expensive tailored dress shirt.

18. Skin tight white t-shirts.

17. Long-underwear style shirts.

16. Gripping the back of a t-shirt with both hands, pulling it over my head, and throwing it to the ground.

15. Transgender visibility.

14. Running on the beach in swim trunks and splashing into the shallow waves.

13. Enjoying a hot tub.

12. Small nipples.

11. Making-out with a gay guy, our hard bodies pressed together.

10. Making-out with a queer girl, our physical differences magnified.

9. Embracing my faggy effeminate side.

8. Knowing, even when others can’t tell.

7. No more San Francisco Indian summer days with a sweaty, chaffing, suffocating plate of armor underneath my shirt.

6. Long runs without a sports bra.

5. No more shoulder straps. Ever.

4. Being topless and happy at the same time.

3. More space in my drawer for underwear and socks.

2. A closet and bureau that consists entirely of men’s clothing.

1. A sleeping lover, her head resting on my flat chest.

The Path to Yoga

Monday, October 20th, 2008

I went to a yoga class once in 2001, a couple times in 2002 and in 2003, and maybe once in 2004. In 2005, I gave it my strongest effort, attending a handful of anusara classes at the only yoga studio in the small town of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Back in San Francisco, I bought my own mat, which inspired me to avoid yoga for all of 2006 and 2007. During this time, in the first of many Yoda-grasshopper moments, someone said to me, “When you are ready for yoga, you will open to it.” By the time I set foot in the Castro Yoga Tree only a few blocks from my house, I had attended maybe a dozen classes in a half dozen studios over the course of almost eight years.

Going in, I was aware of some of my struggles. I tried not to let the anxiety provoking length of a 1.5 hour class get to me, and I promised not to berate myself for my novice yoga skills. It turns out this was the whole point of mellow flow, a class that isn’t easy like restorative, but sets the challenge for all of us to go easy on ourselves. The teacher, the much-loved Janet Stone, reminds us of this repeatedly throughout the class, and occasionally I listen. Her classes draw over a hundred people and we all line our mats up, mere inches apart, so that we are nearly sweating onto one another in the warm but not Bikram hot room. As dusk settles onto our Friday, darkening the barn-sized studio, we are instructed to let go of the week’s stress and the American mantra of harder, faster, better. Once a week, I told myself, just go to this class once a week. Sometimes I did, and sometimes I didn’t.

I followed directions well. If Janet said to close my eyes and wag my tail, I did. If she said to take a deep breath and let it all out with a great big sound of relief, I did. Upon command, I introduced myself to neighbors. I chanted off-key. I mooed and meowed. I did this all, perhaps, because I was in the midst of a break-up and I lacked the energy that self-consciousness requires. I needed to blindly trust in something; I was either ripe for a cult or yoga or the cult of yoga.

It took me months to try a different teacher and a different class. I started going to the Sunday morning bhakti flow class because a few friends attended it as part of their forays into yoga. The four of us would set up in the corner, the only ones, or so it seemed, following the level one instructions. Once, during the new age sermon that carries through every class, the teacher said that yoga was an event. All of a sudden, I stopped considering yoga a workout or meditation or something I did for a couple hours in between other things, and I began to think of it as the highlight of my day, an activity of grand importance, an event.

I also treated yoga class like a 12-step meeting in that there was always one going on, waiting for me when I needed it. If I was having a bad day, and for awhile there were some real rough ones, I would look online, find the next class and go. I always learned something enlightening about myself and my body, and I collected words of wisdom like these: “We are here to breathe. If we decide to do some poses, that’s great. But we are here to breathe.”

My favorite part of yoga class is the beginning. We are encouraged to come up with an intention, to think of a person and offer up our wants and needs and benefits of our practice to them. I change up the person every time, but I always hold someone I love close to my heart. I like to start with that person and imagine my well-wishes rippling in concentric circles out through the studio, the city, the world. I can’t help but picture the slow-motion images of a nuclear bomb, spreading not annihilation, but radiations of warmth and light from my own personal point of impact.

I also like the poses themselves. I like to root my hands and feet into the ground, spreading my fingers and toes wide, envisioning them gripping the earth. I like to concentrate on pulling my kneecaps up, elongating my rib cage, letting my shoulders melt into my back, and relaxing my jaw. I like trying without trying to feel the presence of my entire body, to engage muscles it would never occur to me to use in a certain stance. I like the names of the poses, the Sanskrit words and their English counterparts–tree, mountain, warrior, frog, fish–each one rich in metaphorical significance. I like the focus on balance and strength and awareness over achievement.

The other day one of the instructors approached me during a session with guidance on a pose, and he told me my practice was blossoming. I was surprised, convinced that none of my instructors had noticed me. Feigning amazement, or showing teacherly encouragement, he asked me how I did it, and although the question was rhetorical, I spent the rest of the class alternating between beaming pride and a variety of answers to his question.

I wanted to tell him that I was facing the biggest challenges of my life, that I got to the end of the road and it said, “Not a through street,” that I ran out of places and ideas and escapes from the discomfort, that breathing into it was my last ditch attempt at living. I wanted to say that I came to yoga in desperation, or in a failed attempt to battle desperation, I came in resignation. I considered saying that I’m an addictive and obsessive person, and now that I’ve gotten a taste of the spiritual enlightenment revolution, finally a bite of that bliss, I’m back for more, again and again, because I can’t get enough. I wanted to say that my mind is so full of chatter, and I listen when you tell me to place my head on the ground and let the contents spill out, or that I need to hear that yoga is endless, which is why it’s called practice, or that I think I’m being kinder to myself, softer, and more thoughtful to others, or that I feel physically alive, more in touch with my body than ever before, or that when my thoughts become a runaway train, I need someone to remind me to say “thinking” to myself, smile, let it go, and show up on the mat again.

Yesterday, I tried a new teacher. He asked if it was anyone’s first class, and one person raised a hand. The teacher told him, “Happy Birthday.” It was my 28th class in the last five months. I know because I got curious and had the desk person check the computer. I said “Happy Birthday” to myself, commemorating the big event that is my every class. During that session, the teacher mentioned a few different types of breath. He said, “If you have no idea what I’m talking about for a decade don’t worry about it.” I had no idea and I didn’t care. I spent the last decade on the path to yoga, understanding finally, that I am here to breathe. It doesn’t surprise me that I will spend the next decade learning how to do so.

Scars

Wednesday, October 1st, 2008

When I was about eight or nine years old, I gave myself a scar on my upper right shoulder. I denied that I knew the cause of the small raised bump, saying to my parents and a dermatologist repeatedly, “I have no idea, no idea what could’ve possibly been there.” I’m pretty sure it was once a mosquito bite that I scratched, then a scab I picked off, then a divot I dug into, maybe four or seven or eleven times, until only a raw pink hole remained.

I played dumb about the cause because I knew I had done something wrong; I should’ve stopped excavating my wound. Now, after many more years of picking my fingernails, grinding my teeth, toying with scabs (never to the same degree), and participating in a multitude of other disgusting almost obsessive-compulsive physical manifestations of inner turmoil, I realize the self-mutilation of my shoulder was no more my fault than my genes or my upbringing or my temperament.

I also played dumb because I hated my keloid scar and wanted it fixed. The scar was white, hard as a muscle, and about the size of a button on the cuff of a women’s dress shirt. It was tiny, but that determination comes with hindsight and my adult ability to look at all things in childhood, especially stuffed animals, from a vantage point of greater height and size and distance and age, and see a beloved panda bear or a despised scar as very, very small.

As only a child could do, I went to great and unspoken lengths to hide my scar. At summer camp, I utilized the head tilt any time I wore a bathing suit, draping my long brown hair down my right shoulder like a curtain. I held my head at such an extreme angle, I’m lucky I didn’t develop a neck crick. And I fooled no one. I seem to remember a camper pointing out my trick, to which I played dumb. I also seem to remember favoring life jackets. Even though the vest didn’t actually cover the scar, the puffy material served as a distraction, protecting me from the naked vulnerability of my blemish.

I never wore tank tops and dreaded any and all sports that could force me to wear one. Able to wear a t-shirt underneath my sleeveless basketball jersey–royal blue for away, white for home–I thought I’d escaped the athletic problem. But in tenth grade, I joined a traveling softball team, and despite playing a sport that had no rational reason for a sleeveless uniform, my team decided upon polyester muscle shirts that would’ve looked completely ridiculous with a t-shirt underneath.

I came up with a solution all by myself. I decided to wear a skin colored band-aid, covering my scar, across my shoulder. I had somehow decided that drawing attention to that spot of my shame was better than showing the shameful mark, and certainly better than talking about it with my teammates. I did, however, ask my parents to take me to a dermatologist who over several months (or years) gave me cortisone shots, sharp flicks to the center of the scar tissue, to soften the skin.

For that entire softball summer, I would prepare for my games, which filled up my entire weekends, by applying my band-aid before arriving at the field. The band-aid was always the same size and always placed in the same spot, easy to locate because a dark suntan soon framed the band-aided area. When the season ended, I was spared from tank tops for a long while. Sometime during this period, and oddly I can’t specifically remember when,  the cortisone worked and the raised bump faded back into my skin, still a scar yet less glaring.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the extreme efforts I went through to hide my minor disfigurement, especially as I consider undergoing surgery that would leave me with scars large enough to make the horror of the dot on my shoulder pee-in-your-pants laughable. A friend of mine says scars are beautiful, and there is great truth in that, especially the ones he has, markers of a life almost lost, badges of survival.

There are, I think, two kinds of scars, one kind stems from a medical emergency–appendicitis or a wound–and the other is self-inflicted–tattoos, piercings, putting a cigarette out on an arm, ritual fraternity branding. I have heard some regrets about self-inflicted marks, a friend who says she gets tattoos when she is depressed and wishes she didn’t have all of them, and at least a long time ago, I heard the cigarette guy say putting his butt out on himself was stupid.

I used to think that trauma resulted from abuse or war. I used to think that scars resulted from physical injury. Then I discovered therapeutic language and realized living is trauma and scars are the proof of it. Which is why, late at night in bed with a lover, we sometimes share the stories of the body: a pinky knuckle busted from hooking onto a rugby jersey, sun spots from a sailboat trip gone wrong, stitchmarks from a mole removed, remnants of an overscratched  mosquito bite.

Maybe there is no difference between the kinds of scars we have, the distinction I tried to make between medical emergency and self-inflicted scars unnecessary. Maybe the scars I’m so afraid of, afraid of regretting, afraid of hating, and afraid of being especially ugly have been there all along. Maybe I’ve just been covering them up with a band-aid.