An excerpt from Beautiful Monster: A Becoming.
The day of the surgery we show up early to the small clinic. After a brief wait we are taken into the back, where the doctor draws a map of my body-to-be on my now-body, detailing the road to my new life. The anesthesiologist works his magic and as they wheel me out, I flash Ferguson a genuine, open smile. She’s never seen me this happy—or so she tells me afterward, fighting off tears. I guess the more life pulls on that sari, the closer I get to my innermost essence.
The days following are uncomfortable and nondescript. The surgical binder around my chest, so tight that it makes it hard to breathe. There are drains and other gnarly discomforts. But nothing can stop my joy. Not even the pain. Because no matter what, they’re gone. Forever.
A week later as I await the unveiling, a kaleidoscope of butterflies going nuts in my belly, I think about what this doctor has done for me—offer me back to myself. How incredible that is. Knowing I will never be able to thank him appropriately for what he’s done. I think about how important having access to this procedure was for me after forty years. And I’m humbled by how fortunate I am to have received it. I really don’t think I could have continued without it.
Finally, we are ready. I stand in front of the floor-length mirror and unbutton my shirt, still wrapped in my chrysalis of gauze and bandages. Everyone leans in. The Ancients, peeking from behind Ferguson and Todd. Collectively, we hold our breath.
The doctor unwraps my torso carefully, methodically. When the bandages are off, he stands aside. MY CHEST IS FLAT. It looks horrible, all stitched up, nipples black and caked with Neosporin. BUT MY CHEST IS FLAT. And … all I can see … is beauty. Beauty in his artistry. Beauty in the depth of my gratitude reflected in the mirror. Beauty in Ferguson’s and Todd’s complete awe at my reaction. I explode into tears. A giant weight lifted from my shoulders. Literally. If I could’ve donated my breasts to someone else, I gladly would have. They were beautiful. They just weren’t meant for me. I am so relieved they are gone. We are all crying now. It is too much to bear. The looking. The seeing. This pincushion of a torso—the most me I could ever have imagined.
Forty years not my own.
From here on out:
* * *
Six weeks post-surgery, I’m back in Bogotá.
Susie sizes me up at the door. “You look good.”
It means a lot. Not just the compliment, but more the acknowledgment that change is happening. For Susie, this change has come hard.
In academia, she studied the die-hard feminism of the ’70s with some of the radical lesbian activists who spearheaded the movement. Whose beliefs are consistent with the views of today’s TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists), making it seem to Susie like I was betraying my womanhood to become a man, and thus a soldier for the patriarchy. The enemy.
But I’m not abandoning my womanhood, rather, I’m expanding its container to allow for my masculinity. Maybe this makes me less of a woman, or more of a man, I don’t know, but it doesn’t make me any less of a feminist. If anything it makes me more of one. I am also not becoming a man. I am becoming myself. The gender expression of which might appear more masculine, but the gender experience of which is still TBD. And even if I am a man, feminism needs men and cannot succeed without us.
Susie’s resistance rears its head one night at dinner when she complains flippantly, “The name Miles doesn’t even translate well into Spanish. You should try Cami or Milo.” (Milo—the name of a South American soft drink.) Without asking me about its origin, without even knowing that Miles had chosen me. Borreros have a way of telling each other what to do. Her words “you should” send me over the edge and I lash out, “Susie, it’s not up to you!” She backs right off, staring at the floor.
For the last three years I’ve had to continually ask people to use he/him pronouns. A humbling ask, reminding me daily—and somewhat painfully—that I don’t “pass” as male. Harder than not being read as male, though, is needing people to remember my pronouns. Not just once, but every time they refer to me. This feels like I’m making a big deal of myself and simultaneously asking too much from them. Especially when I’m not even sure they’re the right pronouns. The only way to find out, though, is to experiment. And for that, I need others’ help.
I wait until I’m sure before involving my family, trying to be as respectful as possible and do the least harm, and acknowledging that this is a huge transition for them as well. But when I finally ask, everyone just ignores me.
Except for Santi, my nephew. We’ve always been thick as thieves, and he’s always known who I am. He finds a neat, innocuous way around my pronouns that is respectful even for others who find them jarring: he replaces the pronoun with my name. And that takes care of that! This blows my mind, and I adore it because pronouns feel like such a huge hurdle for so many, insurmountable even. Although, in my mind, they’re the easiest gesture we can make that has an immediate impact on someone’s well-being while exerting the smallest effort. All we have to do is watch what we say. We hold the power, with just words, to make someone, anyone, feel amazing—euphoric even, instead of like crap. And with Santi’s method, you don’t even have to use the damn pronouns! It’s genius!