I have always hated shopping for clothes. Whether it was choosing between dresses for a school dance or bathing suits for the summer, shopping always made me feel insecure. For a long time, I thought this insecurity stemmed from my fluctuating weight. As I have come to terms with my gender and received top surgery, however, I’ve realized that this isn’t completely the case.

As a kid, I liked to experiment with clothing and gender, even if I didn’t realize it at the time. I always felt more comfortable in sweatshirts than dresses and converse than high heels. I stuffed my hair into hats to look like a boy and wore the boy’s version of my school uniform. For my 6th birthday, I threw a Bob the Builder themed party and gave out construction hard hats as party favors.

When I entered puberty, however, it became clear that my body was not the same as a boy’s. Without the words to describe how I was feeling, I entered a depression and gained a lot of weight. Instead of dressing the way I liked, I dressed to hide my body.

Growing up and gaining weight

My relationship with weight has never been positive no matter what the scale said. At the start of high school, I was a healthy weight. By the end of freshman year, though, my clothes didn’t fit me anymore. I hid in sweatshirts that drowned my body and wore tight sports bras to flatten my chest. I repeatedly wore the only outfits that made me feel somewhat comfortable. By the end of junior year, my self-image was at an all-time low. As a result, I made drastic efforts to change my appearance.

In the months before my senior year, I lost a substantial amount of weight. When I went back to school, everyone was congratulating me. The weight I lost was clearly noticeable and I felt proud of my accomplishment. I posted a before-and-after picture on my Instagram and everyone in my life cheered me on. What no one knew, however, was that I lost that weight in incredibly unhealthy ways by engaging in disordered eating.

As many people know, when you lose weight in unhealthy ways, you are almost always destined to gain it back. I have been through that cycle a couple of times now, and each time made me feel awful. I kept going back and forth between wanting to lose weight through extreme measures and being depressed at the idea that I would never be in a body that I loved. Even at my lowest weight, I still didn’t like myself. For a long time, I resigned myself to the idea that this was just how life would be. I had no knowledge of the transgender community or what the term “non-binary” even meant. As soon as I learned, though, something clicked.

Exploring gender and questioning the binary

I used to attribute my tom-boyish childhood behavior to my sexuality, making jokes about all the “signs” that I was clearly queer. As I have learned more about my gender identity, however, I’ve realized that things aren’t so black and white. While I had absolutely no idea about the expansiveness of gender growing up, looking back it is easy to see how I was doing everything I could to exist within the language I had.

I can distinctly remember going to a therapist during my freshman year of high school and taking a self-assessment quiz. On a scale of 1 to 10, one of the questions asked if I ever thought about being the opposite sex. While I had been racing through the previous questions, I paused for a while when I read this one. I remember wondering what exactly this question meant and if it was common for people to want to change genders. I examined my gender for the first time and let my mind wonder about things I previously thought impossible. Finally, I ended up circling the number 5. I didn’t want to be a boy, but I didn’t feel like a girl.

Transitioning in body and mind

Fast forward to college, and I finally learned about the trans community for the first time. I read stories about people’s experiences with gender and found myself connecting with everything they said and felt. It was like reading a story about yourself that you had no idea you were even a part of. I dove further into the community and by doing so I learned more about myself than I ever had before. I finally felt like I wasn’t the only one who felt this way and that I wasn’t alone.

It didn’t matter what my weight was if the body I was in didn’t feel like me. I started to wear binders, a piece of clothing that one wears to flatten their chest, and instantly loved how they made me feel and look. At stores, I shopped for men’s clothing again and dressed the way I wanted to instead of the way I thought I had to. I let myself explore, and in that exploration, I found someone I had lost while growing up.

After talking to a doctor, I started taking testosterone to help achieve my gender goals. With weekly injections, my voice has become lower and I am hoping that my body fat will redistribute to minimize the appearance of my hips. My ultimate goal and dream, however, was top surgery, or the removal of the breast tissue through a double mastectomy for a flattened chest. After a long and involved process, I was finally able to receive this surgery in March and have been absolutely thrilled with the post-op results. However, it wasn’t until I went shopping for the first time in my new body that I fully realized how life-changing this procedure truly was.

From the closet to the dressing room

For the first time, I stepped into the dressing room with excitement instead of dread. I had a handful of different colored button-down shirts to try on and was hoping that this time would be different. Before this point, I loved button-down shirts but never felt right in them because of my chest. It never felt like they fit correctly and even if I was binding, my chest was never flat enough for me to feel confident.

This time, however, my chest was as flat as a cutting board. When I finally buttoned up the shirt and looked in the full-length mirror, it was like I finally saw myself for the first time. I couldn’t help but stare at my reflection. I had gotten so used to hiding my body in oversized sweatshirts that seeing myself like this was a shock.

The smile on my face had never been more genuine.

There I was, not at my “goal weight” or even concerned about the number on the scale. It didn’t matter that I weighed more than I did in college or that I had gained weight during the pandemic. I finally looked like who I always felt like inside. That doesn’t mean that all of the insecurities about my self-image suddenly disappeared. Self-image and gender dysphoria will always be something that I struggle with.

Thanks to top surgery, though, I am finally able to go through the world in a body that I actually like and am learning to love.

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