I know I said I wasn’t going to blog until the New Year, and it’s December 27th, but whatever.
An article with the ghastly title of “Bye-bye, boobies” talks about the coming double mastectomy of one non-binary lesbian.
“Marostica is a lesbian who identifies as “non-binary” or “gender-queer” — in other words, she doesn’t solely identify as either masculine or feminine — and as such, she is seeking to have her breasts removed in order to have her physical being more closely match the way she perceives and feels herself to be.
” ‘Top surgery’ is a double mastectomy,” Marostica explains. “I identify as androgynous; I love being a woman, and I prefer ‘she’ or ‘they’ as pronouns, but I don’t identify with my breasts… (after the surgery), when I look in the mirror, I’ll see myself the way I really am.”
The results of the proliferation of queer theory are clearly demonstrated by this couple of paragraphs. Gender is the degree of masculinity or femininity that is experienced or expressed by people. Masculinity and femininity are social constructs that enforce rules about behaviour, dress, mannerisms, speech, and interests of people based on their sex. In queer theory, a person’s degree of masculinity or femininity is what determines whether they should live in the social category of “man” or “woman,” rather than their biological sex. Biological sex is ignored and the reality of the body is obscured. Masculinity and femininity are innate character traits and the body has to be modified to fit the person’s perceived degree of masculinity or femininity. People who feel they are in between masculine and feminine are seen as being neither male nor female—instead they are called non-binary or genderqueer.
Since the body has to be modified to match the person’s degree of masculinity or femininity, females who are masculine or in between masculine and feminine are compelled to get their breasts removed in order to make their bodies “match” their masculinity or androgyny. A lot of women who feel they are masculine or androgynous are lesbians and bisexual women. Sure, some of them are straight, but same-sex attracted women are overrepresented in this group. As a result of queer theory and the casual attitude toward elective surgery, it has become common for lesbian and bisexual women to have elective double mastectomies.
Marostica reports that she ‘doesn’t identify’ with her breasts. Since when do we get to identify or not with our body parts? I have never identified with my nose, and now that I’ve gotten fat I definitely don’t identify with my sagging stomach fat. However, they are a part of me anyway. I don’t think everyone should just go out and get cosmetic surgery for every perceived problem with their bodies. Our appearance is not what’s important about us—it’s the content of our character that counts. Human effort, time and money should not be wasted on trying to force our outward appearance to fit an ideal.
But what about dysphoria, you ask? People can’t live with dysphoria, something has to be done about it! That is true for people with severe dysporia—indeed there needs to be some sort of treatment. I’m not entirely in agreement about body modification as the cure but I can see why it is used to treat people who are unable to live their lives due to overwhelming dysphoria. However, Marostica says “I love being a woman, and I prefer ‘she’ or ‘they’ as pronouns.” Hmmm…she loves being a woman? She doesn’t mind female pronouns? She calls herself a lesbian? I don’t think this woman has such overwhelming dysphoria that she can’t leave her house. I think she just wants to have a certain look.
Further, she talks about how the surgery is not covered in her case because she is not doing a binary transition. The attitude she expresses about her non-binary identity is that it’s different from being transgender. Some people who identify as non-binary do consider themselves to be transgender and in need of surgery, but she considers this elective surgery and doesn’t want to declare herself transgender to her doctor. This does not paint a picture of someone who has to have life-saving surgery because of her gender identity, it paints the picture of someone who likes the androgynous look and wants to remove her breasts in order to look more androgynous. It sounds as though this is a fashion statement on par with getting a tattoo or a piercing.
Why do I even care? People can do whatever they want with their bodies, right? Well, sure, they can, but I do not think we should treat surgery as a casual thing one does just because one likes a different look. We are not Mr. Potato Head toys—a surgery is an injury. The Mayo Clinic lists the following as risks of mastectomy:
- Swelling (lymphedema) in your arm
- Formation of hard scar tissue at the surgical site
- Shoulder pain and stiffness
- Numbness, particularly under your arm, from lymph node removal
- Buildup of blood in the surgical site (hematoma)
Lesbian detransitioner “Born Wrong” made a video about the nerve damage resulting from her double mastectomy. She says:
“Um… nerve damage. That’s not fun. It really did not seem like that big of a deal to me, when I was, um, looking into surgery, I read all my side effects, signed all my papers, went to the doctor… I did everything right, everyone told me what was what gonna happen. Um, but, if you don’t have, like, nerve damage… I mean any medical thing, anything you haven’t experienced yet, you don’t really know what it’s like. But specifically right now, I’m talking about like… if you don’t have nerve damage, you don’t really know what that’s like, you don’t know what you’re signing up for. Um… it’s pretty distressing to have an area of your body where you used to feel something… feel dead. I mean, it feels the same as like… when your mouth is numb. Sometimes. Sometimes it hurts like hell.
And that’s the other thing is it’s like, it’s all over the place? Um, it’s really really weird to go from having normal sensation on a part of your body, to be, you know, drugged to sleep and wake up, and then going forward, for years going forward, you have no sensation, or pain, or no sensation mixed with pain, or like dead and pain, it’s just, it’s crazy! It’s really hard to describe. In terms of like what sensation feels like, nerve damage kind of feels like it’s like, off the sensation spectrum, like it’s not really a kind of feeling I had considered existed before.
Um, and you know… when I was with someone else who was trans, who I felt really comfortable with, who was getting a mastectomy, like, my chest was able- I was able to experience my chest as a part of our like, you know, intimacy together. A lot of other things went wrong in that relationship, but I did experience my chest, as a a part of my sexuality. And that’s very weird, to go from having something… potentially, with the right person you feel really really comfortable with, in terms of those issues, be a part of my sexuality, versus feeling dead, it feels dead, or painful.”
Removing healthy body parts is not a casual and inconsequential thing like getting a tattoo or a piercing. It’s an injury to the body and it can have lasting negative consequences. People can’t fully understand ahead of time what it will be like to no longer have one of the body parts they were born with. I think that surgery should be a last resort for people who cannot treat their dysphoria any other way. Normally in medicine and psychiatry the least invasive option is tried first and the most invasive and risky options are tried last. This woman in the article may not particularly like having breasts but judging by what she says here she would probably not be harmed by keeping them. However, she will likely be harmed by removing them.
The attitude that everyone can do whatever they want and surgery is no problem at all and people should just go ahead and modify their bodies as they please is not a good attitude to have. Women and girls should be taught that their bodies are acceptable the way they are, we should be taught that our appearance isn’t what’s important about us, and we should be safe and respected even while existing in female bodies. We won’t create a world where we can exist safely by getting surgeries, we’ll create it by making political changes.
I don’t think it’s good enough to let our analysis stop at the agency of the individual. Sure, people can do whatever they want to their bodies. I am not going to stop Marostica from having surgery. But I am noticing a trend that it’s getting more and more common for women to have mastectomies, and the important question is not “can people do what they want with their bodies,” the important questions are “why don’t women feel comfortable having breasts” and “why do so many lesbians and bisexual women feel that their breasts are incompatible with their desired look?”
Marostica says that after her surgery, “when I look in the mirror, I’ll see myself the way I really am.” I don’t think that’s true. How you “really are” is the natural you, the one that hasn’t been modified. The real Marostica has breasts because she is female. I don’t think that it’s possible for a woman’s breasts to be incompatible with her personality—women can have any personality they want! And I don’t think it’s reasonable to surgically remove healthy body parts just to have a certain look. The drawbacks outweigh the benefits. Your appearance isn’t important, but your health and safety are.
Lesbians used to just wear flannel and mullets, now double mastectomy is becoming part of the lesbian “look.” I think this is a harmful cultural practice and evidence that queer theory harms lesbians.