Boob-Bearers, Top Surgery, and the Freedom to Go Shirtless

June 29

Hey Les, the other day, I found a message request on my Facebook. It was from someone named Jess who had just read my Boobed and Not-So-Dangerous piece on Neutrois Nonsense.

Jess wrote:

Hi Emily, this is totally random and maybe a little bit creepy – and I really hope this is the right person, but I’m pretty sure it is..anyway, I’m a queer stranger who just saw your guest post on Neutrois Nonsense from February and I just wanted to say that you’re SO BRAVE and I love you for it. I gave in. I actually had top surgery preeeeetttty much so that I could go publicly topless. And now I do. (Though since I still have a very feminine body, I attract a lot of stares and it always requires a lot of mental energy to do it…) The freedom is great, but I always have a little niggling sense of guilt for having abandoned other boob-bearers for my own selfish plane ticket to freedom in the process. Nobody really talks about this issue much and I wish they would. So that’s it. I just want to say I wish I’d had the courage to just go fuckin’ topless breasts and all, but I didn’t. But you did/do and you’re awesome. Cheers.

I was moved. I know I write letters to you on the Internet and anyone can read them, but it’s still surreal to have strangers reach out and say my writing resonated with them. Because I was still reeling from the hugely positive response to my nonbinary post the previous night (so much love!), I let Jess’ message sit for a day, then responded last night.

Hi Jess, that’s not creepy at all. Thank you for your very kind words!
Also, please don’t feel guilty. You don’t have an obligation to other “boob-bearers” to keep yours if they cause you discomfort. That you had the means to have a surgery you desired and went for is wonderful. It’s incredibly brave and beautiful. I wish you much comfort, confidence, and freedom in your body.
And I may not go topless as often as much as I’d probably prefer (I also just get cold often and shirts are great), but when I do, it is thrilling and sass-inducing. One day, I hope none of us will be made to feel shame for the decisions we make regarding our own bodies. Thanks again and best wishes. Cheers to you!
Most important to me was expressing that they shouldn’t feel guilty for decisions they make about their body. Outside of protecting the health and safety of others (through wearing condoms or the like), we don’t owe anyone certain decisions about our body. While Jess may feel that they have “abandoned” other breasted individuals by undergoing top surgery, the truth is that there are multiple ways to arrive at the freedom of topless expression. Most people are physically capable of removing their shirts. The main deterrents are laws, social norms, and discomfort with one’s body—sometimes dysphoria. If this dysphoria extends from having breasts or not being able to go topless because one has breasts, surgery may be a great option if one has the means.
But top surgery just isn’t for everyone. Most ciswomen probably don’t want their breasts removed. Neither do some transmen, or some AFAB nonbinary individuals like myself.  The path to comfortable freedom from shirts for those of us who are fine with our chests most likely lies in changing social norms and laws. That’s something that everyone, including folks who’ve had their breasts removed, can participate in.
At the end of the day, I hope that we can all find some comfort in our bodies in societies that do not marginalize or objectify us for our bodies.


Here’s a photo from Portland’s World Naked Bike Ride last Saturday. My sister, a ciswoman with breasts, P, my nonbinary friend who’s had top surgery, and my nonbinary boobed self rode shirtless together. It was excellent.

What would you say to Jess?

I came out

June 26

Dear Les,

On Friday night, I came out to my parents. So much has happened this week and month, it was difficult for me to write anything anywhere. Tonight I finally shared some words on Facebook. I’ll include them here, but first I want to say thank you to everyone who has offered me support on this blog. Fellow queer and trans bloggers, other writers, and your own life, Les. I’m not quite done here (don’t mean for it to sound that way), but I do want to offer thanks. Writing about gender and sexuality has been a challenge lately, and I still need to respond to a post by Kameron (I appreciate your thoughtful nomination, and I want to do the same when I’m in a better headspace), but I’m grateful to have a place to help process this difficult and rewarding topics.

Below is my Facebook post.

Yesterday was my 24th birthday and yesterday was my first full day out as nonbinary trans to my parents. After years of working up to it, I finally shared that I am not a girl two nights ago. Yesterday was filled with love, sweet sunshine, and a raucous nearly naked bike ride. Yesterday I was on the verge of tears most of the day. I wanted to find a nest in which to curl up and grieve because this month has been filled with joys but also heartache and frustration.

Two weeks ago, I spent the weekend in Seattle with my cousins. On our second night, I scampered down Pike and Broadway ahead of them jumping off steps and yelling “parkour” then giggling. Passing storefront after storefront with Pride flags or safe place stickers, and with much anticipation, I finally got to skip across a rainbow crosswalk. I wasn’t thinking QUEER WONDERLAND because I question the protections afforded to LGBTQ people by corporatization of a movement, but I was celebrating rainbows. What a happy human I was to be laughing on rainbows. My cousins convinced me to remain still for a moment for a couple photos.

The next morning, while looking through those photos, I learned about the shooting in Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando on Latin Night. Casualties were still being counted.

When I laid my head to rest the previous night, shots were already being fired.

My first reaction was fear that Muslim communities and brown folks would be targeted. An act of violence by an extremist is not a reason to harass a community that that extremist person claims connection to. One attack does not justify another. Hatred displayed towards one community does not warrant hatred towards another (and no, being queer and being muslim are not mutually exclusive).

In following weeks, I have been in a state of grief. What do queer clubs represent to LGBTQ folks? For some, they are the only place a person can go and feel comfortable in their skin and more safely display affection for those they are attracted to.

Last week I attended PRIDE for the first time in my life. I started coming out as queer when I was 12 but Portland’s PRIDE parade has always been on Father’s Day. Over the years, I learned to not be interested. This year, I told my parents where I needed to be (“because Orlando”), walked out my front door, and bused alone downtown. I stood in a crowd alongside the parade clapping, cheering, and weeping. 8 days prior, the faces in photos had still been breathing.

Being queer means that every time I hold hands with someone I’m sweet on, another person could perceive it as a political act. Ask any queer you know if they feel safe holding hands at night when they see a strange man or group of men in the distance. I know when to let my lovers’ hands drop. Being queer means every time I use “her” or “their” in reference to a lover, I out myself as an other. This means much less to me than it did a few years ago. I don’t care anymore. Largely because I live in a place where I usually don’t have to worry about being mistreated or fired. I also forgot how to give a damn.

Survival means knowing how to adapt.

Spiritual survival is learning how and when to stand up.

While working up to coming out to my parents last week, I read about the attack on Michael Volz, a transgender activist in Seattle. They were leaving a fundraiser for victims of the shooting in Orlando. In Capitol Hill, near rainbow crosswalks and rainbow stickered storefronts I scampered past two weeks ago, their attacker said “Hey, Happy Pride,” made a sexualized slur, then beat them to the ground.

Loving queer and trans people means I constantly pray for their safety. Especially if they are black or brown and/or trans, I wish them protection. I wish them light, love, and safety from bigotry.

I wish my friends and lovers access to restrooms, healthcare, and employment.

Being nonbinary means every time I walk into a women’s restroom, I look at the sign and think “not me.” But I have to pee. I just need a restroom. Being nonbinary but being mistaken for a girl by almost every single person in my life every single day means that I am safer than many trans people. But being mistaken by a girl by almost every single person in my life every single day means that I feel less visible and less human.

I’m human.

Emotional survival is allowing “girl,” “woman,” and “lady,” to slide off me and picking another time and place to correct someone, if at all.

Being a gender other than woman or man means that I have to explain my identity to almost everyone I meet but I do not have the time or strength to explain it to everyone I meet. Being trans means that although my parents’ love for their children is a beautiful force of light, I made sure I had emergency savings before I came out.

Because 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ and I know my parents love me to pieces but transphobia dominates our national history and broad narratives.

Survival means being practical.

I worked full-time for above minimum wages as a white college graduate before being unofficially laid off by one of my jobs a couple weeks ago, and I can’t afford to move into my own place and save for next steps in this rapidly gentrifying Portland. Imagine how greater the challenges are for queer and trans youth of color and youth without high school diplomas or college degrees.

Despite progress for most communities, we are not a postracial, postcolonial, or post any kind of systematic and interpersonal discrimination society.

As a queer and trans person, I struggle to find workplaces where I can dress in a way that does not give me excessive gender dysphoria. I struggle to find work which aligns with my values that will not burn me out.

Last night I biked shirtless in underwear with my sister and first partner/now good friend. I wore shiny green shorts, a fannypack, and a rainbow spinny hat that whirred in the wind.

We were alive and laughing, but much of the time, I was also reserved and distant. I was finally out as trans to my parents and it had gone better than hoped, and I was still grieving.

I’m working for a world in which I do not worry about the wellbeing of my loved ones and loved ones I’ll never meet because they are trans, queer, female, and/or people of color.

Survival means dreaming of and working toward a better future.

We’ve got work to do better loving each other.

We hold each other’s lives in our hands. Every day, we hold each other’s lives in our hands.

I’m out. I’m queer and I’m not a girl or boy.

And I love life. I love life, and I love you.