April 25, 2011 § Leave a comment
I was lying in bed feeling myself up. Why I was feeling myself up I’m not entirely sure, but if this were the strangest thing a sixth grader were to do without cause that would be quite an enigma indeed. I was chubby and so I had little man-boobs, or moobs I guess is the colloquial portmanteau. And in the course of gently going to second with myself on this particular night, I discovered hard, quarter-sized disk things behind my nipples.
Understandably concerned, I got out of bed and crossed the hall into the bathroom. I turned on the light and I looked at my shirtless body in the mirror. What a chub-toad, I thought. I leaned toward the mirror and I squished my man boobs, gently fondling the little disk things and I noticed that, now that I was attending closely, my nipples were a tad puffy and sort of, dear God, popping out just a little bit because, as became all too clear, the disk things were taking up not insignificant space in there.
What were these hard, quarter-sized disk things was the obvious immediate question. Certainly this wasn’t normal. I remembered discovering my testicles when I was four. I squeezed one hard. I told my father this and he said in no uncertain terms not to squeeze them hard, and that they were very important for later. This was not like that. This was perhaps idiopathic. No. Cancer. Of course it was cancer! Lumps mean cancer. Oh! And to die so young! Would it be quick? Or would I lose my hair and become pale and skinny and wear a robe and a wrist band and get to make a wish to meet a celebrity, the obligatory flowers and balloons, as if you give two fucks about some balloons at that point. I imagined myself sucking in the helium of the balloons to the protests of onlookers. You’re weak! They would say. It isn’t good for your health! Why should I – and here I would take a big inhale of helium – give two fucks about my health. I’m dying of cancer. And it’s hilarious to talk about cancer in this voice. Cancer cancer cancer la la la. It’s always tough to think of clever things to say when you’re speaking on helium. So much pressure.
I realized that I must tell my parents that it was likely I had cancer. But how? It wasn’t the cancer and death bit that bothered me so much as the talking about my breasts. My family, close as we were in our own dysfunctional ways, did not discuss anything remotely having to do with the physical body, especially any part classified as a primary, secondary or tertiary sex organ.
But alas, the gravity of my self-diagnosis necessitated that I breach this forbidden territory. And so the next evening I approached my parents, sitting in the living room, Dad engrossed in Zig Ziglar and Mom engrossed mostly in Dad. Mom and Dad? Yes buddy boo? Mom asks. I have cancer. What! You don’t have cancer. Dad puts Zig Ziglar down. What makes you think you have cancer? he asks. Well, I have these, uh, er little like lumps in my chest, behind my nipples, little hard disk things. I told the floor, sort of sotto voce. That isn’t cancer. You don’t have cancer. Mom said, with a certainty and lack of concern she did not normally exhibit when it came to health concerns.
Well…then…what is it? I asked, obviously. It’s nothing. It will go away. Go to bed.
And with that, I went to bed, not to speak of the disk things again to my parents for six miserable years, years I spent in anxious anticipation for their withdrawal, but lo, they were steadfast.
Sixth and seventh grade passed with little eventful with regard to the moobs themselves. My chubbiness actually served me well in the way of a camouflage for my breasts. Of course I was mocked extensively for my plump stature, but, as horrible as it sometimes was, I preferred it to the persecution I surely would have suffered had the sadism to which teenagers are so wont been focused entirely on this one unnamable flaw.
Of course, it’s really a Hobson’s choice now isn’t it.
And then I began to grow taller.
Had my physique not transformed into that of a slender, slightly awkward fourteen-year-old girl with newly blossoming breasts, this growth spurt would have been quite a boon. But having been stretched thin by this strange custom of puberty, the full majesty of my breasts was revealed. Perky with nipples suspended in a swollen state by the hard disk things behind them, my breasts could have comfortably filled an A cup and given even a self-respecting fourteen-year-old boy a raging erection.
And so as I entered high school, hiding my nymph-like breasts became my biggest concern. For the most part I was quite successful. Swimming week in gym class was the one time I was powerless in protecting my secret, and I dreaded it in the deep way you might dread death or having to go somewhere where there’s loud and terrible music. For the 51 weeks a year I wasn’t required to go shirtless in front of my peer review panel, I wore at least two shirts all the time: usually one thick, plain white cotton t-shirt and a stiff button-down shirt a size or so too big. On occasions when I couldn’t choose my wardrobe – band concerts and the like – I taped my boobs down with duct tape. I’d put on a small, tight fitting undershirt and then wrap my chest many times over with duct tape as tight as I could manage while still being able to draw breaths enough to fill my horn.
I walked hunched over, so that my shirts fell slightly forward, concealing completely the typography of my chest and making it seem like I just had bad posture. There is comfort and safety in the slouch.
I often fantasized about cutting my tits off with a sharp kitchen knife, just slicing them right off like you might the butt of a ham or the heel of the bread.
On a few occasions I tried to enjoy them, standing on a short stool in my bathroom so that I could see my body in the mirror but not my face. I would then caress my boobs like I thought one might caress Maggie M-‘s recently blossomed bosoms, trying to pretend that no, these weren’t my breasts, these were the breasts of a nubile goddess. But it takes more than hiding your face to convince yourself that the breasts you’re feeling aren’t yours. Just like you can’t really switch hands and pretend you’re getting a tug job.
Why do you change like a girl, I’d get asked in the locker room or the band bus or the theatre dressing room, as I would carefully do that thing at which girls are so adept where they change shirts without ever taking one completely off. Hey fag, why do you change like a girl?
Increasingly my breasts became the chief recipients of my cognitive and even haptic attention. I thought perhaps I could will them or even squeeze them into remission. Lying in bed at night or sitting in class leaning forward covertly I squeezed the little lumps, those cursed nascent mammary glands, squeezed just until it hurt, like if I couldn’t obliterate them with sheer force I would torture them until they relented and retreated back to the dark corners of puberty from whence they came.
My voice began to change. My pubic hair came in (the first of which I discovered while sitting on the toilet one morning and, thinking it was simply a hair that had fallen from my head onto my crotch I proceeded to tug at it quite forcefully before I realized oh shit that hair is actually like attached). I had my first wet dream. I continued to grow taller. And still my breasts remained, determined to make my gender-confused hormones known to the world.
It was at this point that I started to pray with fervor, every morning and every night and sometimes silently or just under my breath during the day. Dear God, I would beg, please, please take my breasts away God please. At night I would beg God to do me this one favor until I cried. I made the typical promises – do this one thing for me God and I will dedicate my life to your service, I will never think of another girl naked again, I will be kind and obedient to my parents always. What do you want from me? I would ask, feeling at this point quite like Job. Why are you doing this to me? What have I done to deserve this? And while other kids went swimming in the public pool during the summer or made out with girls and took their shirts off or played on the skins team during weekend youth group basketball tournaments, I hid. I hid from everyone, wearing my stiff layered shirts and occasional duct tape, waiting for God to answer my prayers, waiting and hiding and cursing my moobs.
The years passed and my breasts remained. By my junior year, I was thin, had armpits and a crotch full of fluffy, curly hairs, was singing bass in the choir and was feeling increasing urges to let girls touch my penis. And yet my breasts remained. Perky, soft, with large, pink and puffy nipples, and still harboring those hard, quarter-sized disk things behind them. And I continued to beg God daily, please, please God take these away. I just want to be normal. I just don’t want these tits.
The breaking point came when Eric H., a real dickwad who used to call me lardass in gym class when I couldn’t climb the stupid rope, gave me a titty twister one day. He had to really reach down and around as I was walking at this time with such a Quasimodo-esque slouch as to make my breasts undetectable and unreachable. He grabbed my right tit and twisted- hard. And then: nice breasts, he said. Nice breasts.
It was all I could do to not run to the band room that moment and cry and curse God and tear my hair out and rub my head in ashes. Not knowing where else to turn, I had that night the first conversation about my breasts with my parents since I had first told them I had cancer six years earlier. I sat down and began to try and say what I needed to say, but tears were all that came. My mother put her arms around me. What’s wrong buddy boo? Here I was, a seventeen-year-old man, weeping in his mother’s arms because of his emasculating man tits. Mom, Dad, I said between pathetic sobs and attempts at catching my breath, I still have tits. I still have those hard disc things beneath my nipples. I’m half-woman. I get it. I get it now. But I can’t take it anymore. I can’t. I really, really can’t. And I don’t know what to do.
So well had I hidden my secret tits for so many years even my parents didn’t know about my suffering. Not knowing exactly where to start the next day, we booked an appointment with our family doctor, a Dr. D, a very good natured guy who made a lot of dry jokes about teens behaving and winking after each one. I sat on the examination table, both of my parents in the room, and sheepishly pulled off my shirt. Dr. D. fondled me as if he were giving me a breast exam. Gynecomastia, he said. Gyne-what? Gynecomastia. It usually occurs in boys just starting puberty. It’s extremely common actually. Something like 60% of boys I think. And almost all of the time it goes away in six months or so. How long have you had it? Over six years, I said. Oh, well, and he sort of took a breath looking at the floor, and then looked up at me and said in rare cases, it just doesn’t go away. So that’s it? I’m just a man with breasts? Well, there are options. Like what? Well, you can wait longer. At this point they’re probably not going to go away. It’s possible, but not likely. You could wait until your chest hair grows in a bit more, which will cover your puffy nipples a bit. Maybe do some butterfly lifts at the gym to sort of hide them. Build muscle around them. Or we can take them out. That is an option. I want them out, I said, I want them out right now. Well, hold on. It involves surgery. I don’t care, I want them out. And your insurance probably won’t cover the cost, since it’s technically cosmetic, and the surgery is not inexpensive. Cosmetic? I’m deformed, I’m a mutant. What do you mean it’s cosmetic? I’m not asking for a nose job. I’m a dude who grew tits and I want them cut out of me! Cut right the fuck out. Erik, watch your language around your mother, my father said. Would you have called surgery on the Elephant Man cosmetic? Ok, ok, my parents said. Let’s think about it and talk to the insurance company and we’ll see.
And so we did the insurance company dance. There was no way we could have afforded the surgery if our insurance company didn’t cover it. They said yes, then a couple days later they took it back and said no. We didn’t realize it was cosmetic, they said. It isn’t, I said. There was a lot of praying, though I was by that point beyond having any sort of real hope in prayer. The Church used to say that God answers prayers in one of three ways: yes, no, or wait. Well, then what is the fucking point then? We prayed. We waited. We pleaded with the insurance company. Finally they said fine, since we first approved it we’ll go ahead and cover it. See, mom said, God answers prayers. God is good. Right, I said.
I went in for surgery. Where would you like the incisions, Dr. D. asked me. We can cut two long incisions perpendicular across your chest or we can cut around the nipples. Either way, you’ll have scars. In the first case your scars will be bigger and more noticeable. If we cut around your nipples, you’ll probably lose a good deal of the feeling in them, perhaps all of it. Cut my nipples, I said, cut my nipples open and rip those hard quarter-sized disk things right out. Looking back I’m not sure why I made the choice to have the incisions in my nipples. Perhaps I saw some symbolic catharsis about cutting them that made the choice so easy at the time.
The tissue and glands Dr. D. removed left caverns in my chest that filled with pus and blood and other liquids. For several weeks I had to go back to the doctor’s office regularly to have my breasts drained. I would lay down while they stabbed the side of each breast several times with an oversized syringe and sucked out the bloody liquid that had filled my chest and made my tits even bigger than before and gave them a sort of nice, heavy, warm quality, like the developed breasts of a woman in her twenties. A nurse would carefully empty the syringe into a bedpan, stabbing each tit again and again until they were dry inside and I would go home and wait another week for them to fill up once again. And eventually they stopped filling up. Eventually they stopped growing. Eventually all of my bandages came off. I looked in the mirror at my newly flattened chest and for the first time in six years I felt ok with myself. I put on a single soft t-shirt and stood up straight. I watched the way the t-shirt fell across my flat front. I smoothed my t-shirt over my chest. I smiled.
I still have scars, though they’ve lightened over the years. My nipples are still sort of wonky-looking, slightly inverted and maybe more oblong than is normal. Some feeling has returned to them; not the pleasant feeling I imagine one might get from having one’s nipples explored in a sexual context, but if you bite those fuckers hard enough, I can feel it. They aren’t perfect, but I go swimming in the summer, I stand up straight-ish, I wear t-shirts and get naked with girls.
We are like some subatomic particles, the one’s you know are there until you look and then they’re gone. We try to find ourselves by changing ourselves. How does that work? When I see a woman with fake breasts now I catch myself thinking why? Why did you do that to yourself? I’m sure you were so beautiful. I know you were. You didn’t have to do that. But then I think of my own ‘cosmetic’ surgery. And the truth is that I just don’t know. We hide so much. Shame is the fabric of our shrouds of solipsism. And it hurts like a pain, sometimes much more than being cut with knives.