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?

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