‘Like Elliot Page, I had top surgery – this is how it changes your life’

·5-min read
 (ElliotPage/Dylan)
(ElliotPage/Dylan)

Elliot Page has shared a photo of himself by a pool with the caption “Trans bb’s first swim trunks” following top surgery. The surgery is a common surgical procedure for trans men, according to the NHS, and involves removal of both breasts and then reconstruction, including nipple repositioning. Last month, Page told Oprah getting access to the treatment had been “life changing” and that it is “life saving” for many people. Dylan, 28, from London had top surgery in 2013. He told Sophie Gallagher his story.

One of the first things I remember doing after my top surgery was posting a picture of myself topless. I had my operation on 26 June 2013 and after your operation you are meant to wait for a while and not get your scars in the sun but I didn’t bother with that - it was the summer. There is a photo of me on one of those rented deckchairs in Hyde Park in London with my mates on either side, I have still got tape on my chest and the visible scars, but I remember feeling really proud - in fact, you can see it on my face - I was like ‘yeah this is me’.

In 2012 I changed my name by deed poll, and a year later started on testosterone. Then in 2013, I got my top surgery. I was lucky enough to have it done privately so the wait wasn’t as long as it is on NHS lists. Exactly what the surgery involves can depend on your body type and your surgeon, but I underwent a bilateral mastectomy where they remove all of your breast tissue and leave you with two scars under your pec line - it seems this is what Elliot had done too. They’ll also take off your nipples and resize and replace them as part of the process.

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The day itself was a big moment for my family - my parents came to the hospital in Brighton with me and stayed in a hotel. Although it was my first operation, and general anesthetic, I wasn’t worried about the surgery or how long I’d be out or whatever, all I wanted to know was that they [my breasts] were gone. When I woke up the first thing I thought was - are they gone?

Prior to the top surgery I had been binding [a technique to flatten the chest] for around 18 months. In an ideal world if you start transitioning young and go to professional clinics you’d get guidance on how to do this safely but I got my guidance from Tumblr. I already knew I had gender dysphoria [a feeling of mismatch between your biological sex and gender identity] and wanted to make it look like I didn’t have a chest.

In the media you see images of bandages wrapped around but this is a really unsafe way to do it because the bandages can tighten and compress your airways. Instead you should wear something more like a vest that pushes you flat. The goal is to be able to look in the mirror and feel more like other men. But I still couldn’t take my top off and be comfortable.

I hadn’t even wanted to take my top off in front of someone I was in a relationship with - it is that level of discomfort with your body

I wanted the freedom of top surgery - the ability to live as much as a male as I could and be seen by others as a man. With breasts there is all the stuff that comes associated with it that I didn’t want: society views having boobs as such a feminine thing so it’s not just you saying to yourself ‘I shouldn’t have this’ but everything in society mirrors that as well. Everything around us says having boobs is only a thing that a woman has.

Then there is the practical stuff: I wanted to go into changing rooms and whip my top off, I wanted to be able to go on holiday and go swimming, even sunbathing was difficult. And then I wanted to be comfortable in relationships. I hadn’t even wanted to take my top off in front of someone I was in a relationship with because it is that level of discomfort with your body.

You hear a lot of the cliches about gender dysphoria that you look in the mirror and you see someone else’s body or a man’s body. But I didn’t feel that. I knew it was my body but it was not right in my mind and made me feel uncomfortable to look at it. It was my body but I hated it, I wasn’t how it was meant to be.

The only way I can even think to try and describe it is say you’re unhappy with your body image, such as too much weight somewhere, and that is something you really want to change. But with the gendered aspect as well. For me it was just a total hindrance.

When I woke up after my surgery I remember just feeling so relieved. For two weeks it was really swollen and had bandages so it didn’t feel or look too different to binding. It was at my post-op appointment back at the hospital that I had the first moment of seeing my chest.

We often talk about gender dysphoria but we don’t talk about the euphoria that happens after you’re actually able to get access to treatment

It is then that it emotionally hits a lot of people. I couldn’t stop looking at it, touching it, taking pictures. I sometimes think the surgeons don’t realise how emotional that moment will be - they’re asking you to pop your shirt back on and you just want to stand there for 10 minutes.

You’re having all these thoughts and feelings, you can’t believe it. It was like euphoria. We often talk about gender dysphoria but we don’t talk about the euphoria that happens after you’re actually able to get access to treatment.

Being able to blend into society and live your life as a man, to want to live as much of a ‘normal’ life as possible. It massively helped my mental health and cleared the way to be more stable, one less worry, one less anxiety.

Before top surgery I would never have taken that picture on the deckchair. I wouldn’t have thought about doing that but I’m very proud of the way I look now. I’m happy to be showing myself off and I think it’s really cool that Elliot has posted that picture of himself too.

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