Things I Didn’t Expect

Starting with this: I didn’t think I’d wind up writing a series of posts about my surgery and what it means to me.

Long ago, in another lifetime—which is to say, “This past spring,” actually—I wrote a piece for an academic anthology[1] about the experiences of queer athletes, dancers included.

  1. Perhaps ironically, given my fondness for ebooks, it’s not yet available as an ebook. Blargh.

It’s called, “Cut Both Ways: On Being Out and Not Out In Ballet” or something along those lines, and it’s about how I live in this curious intermediate place in my working life.

As a dancer and a gay man, I’m the kind of Out that’s such a foregone conclusion that it’s essentially unnecessary to even mention it.

But as a dancer and an intersex person, I’m really not out at all. (The rest is behind the cut simply because this is going to be looooooooong.)

Historically, I’ve been very selective about who gets to know what in that context. In essence, I harbor an almost superstitious belief that to speak, in the context of my work as a dancer, about the ways in which my body is a bit unusual would be to invite disaster—to invoke the dreaded phrase, “You’ll never work in this town again!” only on a global, industry-wide scale[2]. Or something.


I really, really didn’t want anyone to know about my moobs, so I’ve been very selective when it comes to talking about that in dance circles.

The very last person I told, prior to my running off for surgery, was BW.

For any number of reasons, I didn’t want him to know, at all, ever. As my teacher, he had every right to know—not just why I wouldn’t be in class for a few weeks, but also what I would need to work through when I got back—and yet, still, it was so difficult to say the words, “I’m having surgery because I have gynecomastia, and…”

The funny thing is that when I finally got around to telling him, he said, “Oh! I never would have known.” The rest of the conversation was simultaneously heartening and enlightening in completely unexpected ways.

Still, when I left for Florida, the exact purpose of my trip was something I preferred to keep fairly Top Secret; fairly Need To Know and Eyes Only.

So it surprises the heck out of me, still, that ever since I woke up from anaesthesia, I’m just like, “So I had this surgery, let me tell you all about why and what and blah blah blah…”

I think I might have felt differently if I weren’t so happy with the outcome of my surgery, probably.

If I felt like I would probably never feel comfortable auditioning for those gigs that specify “MALE DANCERS MUST BE COMFORTABLE PERFORMING SHIRTLESS” (yes, this is really a thing), I doubt I’d be shouting to the rooftops about all this. I don’t feel that way—I’m no 100% certain yet, of course, but it seems fairly likely that I will be comfortable with that sort of thing, and meanwhile I’m very satisfied with how things look and feel.

I’ve mentioned that I didn’t expect to be this pleased with the outcome. I regarded the whole process as a kind of greatly-belated damage control: like a post-strip mining “restoration” process that goes: “Maybe we can’t restore the natural topography following the ravages of mankind, but we’ll do our best—we hope you like pine trees, because that’s what we have. Lots and lots of pine trees. No, we can’t put back that stream. Sorry.”

In fact, while I suppose it’s not quite as if everything has been reset back to exactly what it might have been, it’s much closer than I expected. Like, maybe they couldn’t get the quaking aspen, but there are at least bigtooth aspen; like maybe the stream isn’t exactly like it was, but it’s there, and a good start, and already there are newts and things moving in to start little newt families.


Seems relevant. (From the Hitchhiker’s Guide, BBC 1981, via teh G00gs.)

So to speak. I mean, I like newts, but I hope they aren’t living in my chest?

I didn’t count on reading everybody else’s accounts of their experiences with this sort of thing after the fact.

I read quite a few beforehand in order to develop a sense of what to expect[3].

  1. Well, so much for that. My reading left me expecting much more swelling, bruising, pain, and discomfort, and much less immediate satisfaction with my results. Can’t really complain, though. That would be like writing a review of a restaurant that reads, “My friends told me this place was only mediocre, but it turned out to be great. My expectations were not met, 5/10, meh.”

Anyway, my emotional response to the surgery has been incredibly simple, basically, just, “Yaaaaayyyyyyy!!!!!!!”

This is what I mean when I describe it as an “unalloyed good:” that my feelings about it are simply positive, and positively simple. I feel absolutely no conflict about it, and in fact I feel that it was worth the cost.

The past few days, I’ve been reading other guys’ accounts out of sheer curiosity. What do they experience emotionally? (Answer: every freaking thing.) Is everyone this chuffed about it right away? (Answer: surprisingly, no.)

All this has me thinking about how identity (or, really, group-membership identity) impacts perceptions of lived experience (specifically, the experience of ditching one’s moobs).

I am not such a naïf as to miss the fact that my powerful identifications with the group “male dancers” and, particularly, “gay male dancers” and “gay male ballet dancers” influence my experience, here, profoundly. I move in a world in which the answer to the question, “Should I ditch my moobs?” is, “Yeah, of course. Why wouldn’t you?”

That said, the literature addressing the intersection of “male dancers” and “gynecomastia correction” is thin on the ground. I’ve spoken to cismale dancers who’ve had similar experiences, but the only account I’ve read is from a transguy, which has led me down an entirely different rabbit hole.

As an intersex guy, I’m curious about how closely my experiences map with those of transguys. More often than I ever expect it to, the answer turns out to be “less closely than I imagined.” Perhaps that suggests I should spend a little while re-calibrating my assumptions where that sort of thing is concerned.

Anyway, I feel like I’m kind of a natural ally, so to speak, for transfolk, but when I look into things more deeply I tend to discover that my experiences are, in many ways, quite different.

This is one of the areas in which the gulf in experience is often surprisingly wide.

Not to say that there aren’t a lot of transguys who are just like, “Yay, this is great!” I’m sure there are—but, perhaps because that’s the foregone conclusion, there aren’t a lot of them writing about it.

As such, it seems like the question is much more complex and nuanced for a fairly large subset of the transmale population, and not solely those whose identity trajectory most closely resembles that which the uninitiated might imagine as the most typical one: “lesbian -> butch lesbian -> transguy.”[4]

  1. My anecdotal experience suggests that this trajectory is anything but typical, but that may be due to the fact that as an intersex queer guy, I am very much naturally allied with queer transguys and tend to gravitate towards them.

I’m not, by the way, addressing nonbinary folk here, because I guess I don’t find it surprising when someone who really lives somewhere in the nonbinary part of the gender-space continuum feels like neither alternative is really all that great. Then it might really be just a question of, “Which thing makes my life less difficult?” …which always comes with complicated feelings.

Anyway, I suppose that, in part, this boils down to the fact that there are transguys for whom having moobs isn’t (or, in some cases, hasn’t always) been so much an experience of, “Ack, wtf, these don’t belong here!” as “Ack, wtf, other people think these don’t belong here!”[5]

  1. My guess is that there are almost certainly cisguys who experience this as well, but we’re not yet at a point, in the US, where we’re really open to hearing them even in the dim corners of the internet, so they keep quiet about it. In fact, cisguys who have this surgery don’t, in general, seem to spend that much time contemplating its philosophical ramifications on the internet. Like me, they’re more likely to ask, “How much does it cost, and when can I get back to doing the stuff I normally do?” Doesn’t mean that they’re not thinking about other ramifications; just that the space isn’t there for that yet.

There is, I suspect, a significant experiential difference between the sensation that says, “These aren’t mine; they don’t belong here” and that which says, “My life will be easier if I don’t have these, even though they have some other, more complicated meaning for me and do, in fact, seem like a part of me.”

Obviously, I’m feeling around for understanding, here: hypothesizing, as you do, and checking my hypotheses against the database of my experiences (including in the term “experiences” posts and articles that I’ve read and conversations that I’ve had). I’m not at all certain I’m understanding this at all correctly for anyone, and quite certain that for some (many, even) people my interpretation is wildly incorrect.

But, either way, it’s something I didn’t expect, and something I’m exploring. I suspect that this is part of the work of being an ally: trying to understand what other people experience, and to move away from the assumption that everyone’s experience is like your own. It’s like moving away from the assumption that says, “Well, lost weight by [insert method here]; therefore, it will work for everyone and everyone should do it.”

Which brings me to the other portion of this Unexpected Thing: my own stupid, subterranean prejudice. I would not have expected it, and yet rather deeply buried in my consciousness there’s a bigoted little voice that says to people who identify as male and choose to have this surgery but still grieve over the loss of their breasts, “Well, if you feel that way about it, why do you identify as male?”[6]

  1. Someone could just as easily say to me, “You don’t want to have your genitals altered, so clearly you shouldn’t identify as male, either. Or as female, for that matter, if you did. You just need to admit to yourself that the breadth and depth of your identity is Intersex, plain and simple.”

The rest of me, of course, instantly replies to that voice, “Because things are way more complicated than that. Duh.” But there you have it.

I mention that voice because this is part of how I cope with my own internal prejudices: just pretending they’re not there doesn’t work (kind of like with moobs!).

I try to actually look at them, from time to time, unpleasant though it may be, and to figure out where they arise and how to gently shake them loose (or not: sometimes that’s not actually possible, and you just have to go on reminding those voice that they’re incorrect).

There were a bunch of other things I had in mind when I started writing this post, which was intended to be, essentially, a cute little listicle of surprises. In the process of writing, though, I fell down a couple of rabbit holes, and I can’t recall, now, precisely what the other points were.

Am I surprised that I want to wear tank tops, and only tank tops, right now, or that I’m frustrated by the relative dearth of said tank tops in my wardrobe? Um, no.

I suppose that, like any major change, this one has begotten an entire process of discovery (minor changes probably do this, too?).

Anyway, I’m sure I’ll touch back on some of those things in upcoming posts, since I seem to have a lot of time on my hands and not much else to think about right now (unless you desperately want to read about the endless Battle of the Bookkeeping or the Mystery of the Leaky Tire).

It’s weird to think that only a week ago I was still in Florida and still wearing the Great Compression Bandage of Doom and the Grenades of Draining. Weirder still to think that, less than a week before that (my surgery took place on a Thursday; the drains came out the next Monday—still a few hours to go ’til it’s a full week), none of this had even happened yet: I was still running around in my compression vest and trying not to plotz with anxiety over something going wrong before the surgery could even start.

I guess that’s the last surprising thing I’m going to mention here: how quickly the “new normal” has just become, like, normal.

Some time in the near future, the tape should release me from its sticky clutches (I have silicone scar gel to use once that happens). It’s starting to give up the ghost at the ends now, though I’m trying to make myself leave it alone until it decides to come off on its own.

In the next week or two I can stop with the Post-Op Pasties™. Technically, I could probably leave them off now without anything terrible happening, but they don’t bother me, so I’m planning to use them at least through the end of my third week post-surgery and probably through the fourth. (Also, I have all this Xeroform, and I might as well at least finish up the pack that’s been opened.)


About asher

Me in a nutshell: Standard uptight ballet boy. Trapeze junkie. Half-baked choreographer. Budding researcher. Transit cyclist. Terrible homemaker. Neuro-atypical. Fabulous. Married to a very patient man. Bachelor of Science in Psychology (2015). Proto-foodie, but lazy about it. Cat owner ... or, should I say, cat own-ee? ... dog lover. Equestrian.

Posted on 2017/09/25, in adulting, adventures, balllet, dances with moobs, healing, health, life and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.

  1. My guess is that there are almost certainly cisguys who experience this as well, but we’re not yet at a point, in the US, where we’re really open to hearing them even in the dim corners of the internet, so they keep quiet about it.

    I mention that voice because this is part of how I cope with my own internal prejudices … you just have to go on reminding those voice that they’re incorrect

    You’re telling me.

    When I read “gay male ballet dancers” the word ‘tautological’ popped into my head. I think I physically winced. I grew up in a very homophobic culture and I guess I’ll never be completely free of it.

  2. Really ironically, the only other people I know who have gyno surgery are bodybuilders/powerlifters, because steroids. I suspect the felt experience is radically different…although, on the other hand, by the time you’ve taken enough Trenbolone that you’ve grown breasts I guess you’ve got to be pretty comfortable with body modification, and plenty of people get into iron as some sort of self-transformation project.

    (Also, Damn, Americans have a weird relationship with prescription drugs.)

    • Risperdal has been wildly overprescribed in the US, particularly in children and adolescents, and that over-prescription led to predictable side-effects (gynecomastia—that’s how I wound up with it, for one), and the original manufacturer both failed to advise prescribers of the potential adverse effects and ignored data from independent researchers that demonstrated that the drug caused gynecomastia in more patients than the company’s internal trials suggested, so it’s a touchy subject here.

      It would probably be less touchy if we had universal healthcare that covered the cost of corrective best reduction. As it stands, many insurers don’t even cover it based (presumably) on the logic that you’re more likely to die from surgery than from moobs, which makes it into an economic issue as well. I paid over $8,000 out of pocket to have mine corrected, which is something many of us can’t do—hence the lawsuit and the website.

      That said, I’m generally baffled by the American attitude towards medicine in general, so I’m not by any means actually disagreeing that the US has a strange relationship with prescription drugs.

      The point I was failing to make about cisguys discussing corrective surgery was that there might be cismales with gynecomastia who don’t feel that getting it fixed is, on all fronts, a happy thing, but if they’re out there, I haven’t encountered them. I don’t feel that way, but I guess I suspect that there are people who do, and I’m curious about their experiences.

      Tbh, I was quite surprised to learn that anyone who has boobs and doesn’t want them feels anything but relief[1] after having them off, and trying to understand it.

      1.assuming, of course, that everything goes well

    • PS: realized after replying that I totally misunderstood your comment because I’m an idiot.

  3. For a dancer there is no way around this surgery – it’s not only shirtless, but even very tight shirts, too.

    Another thing: Have your teachers really not noticed it? I have really an eye for the hips and bodies of trans men meanwhile, and I think you see it with many of them. At least at your site I have thought about it with your first leggings picture. FYI, I know many trans people.

    Removing moobs was a relief of all of them, together with the other surgery which is even more necessary. Both are payed by the public health insurance here in Germany, after getting the papers.

    I don’t know your exact situation, so please excuse when I’m wrong with something, no offense meant.

    Another funny thing: According to my modern teacher, she is still active dancer, gay male dancer IS a tautology.
    I told her last week about my boyfriend, and she:
    “Oh, gosh, you’re together. I thought you are only friends”.

    We only kiss each other when we met at the dance school (I come later most times) – and not that shy. Seems to be normal to male dancers…

    • My teachers have all commented that they had no idea I had moobs, even though they’ve all been teaching me for at least a couple of years and have all seen me perform in the very tight shirts you mentioned 😀

      Mine, though, were mostly skin–combination of Risperdal as a technically pre-adolescent teen plus Ehlers-Danlos, which affects the way my body makes collagen and thus makes me prone to the effects of excessive stretching. Most of the actual breast tissue part of my moobs went away after I stopped Risperdal, but not the extra skin part, hence the particular surgery I opted for.

      I’m not actually trans, though I am intersex, which makes things complicated, heh.

      The exact cause of my intersex condition is kind of a mystery, as is often the case–like, functionally, it boils down to the fact that my body doesn’t bother producing sex hormones at the normal rate and presumably didn’t when I was in utero, either, but why it doesn’t bother is an unknown.

      Practically speaking, it mostly just means that my body is weird: my musculoskeletal structure is very much male (maps pretty exactly to my Dad’s build, in fact), and I put muscle on ridiculously easily even though clinically speaking I still have hypogonadism (just means I way underproduce sex hormones), while the way I distribute fat doesn’t appear to map typically to anybody, LOL. It just goes on evenly everwhere, pretty much, rather than concentrating in gender-specific areas. I guess, though, if I think about it, kids tend to distribute fat that way, and my natural sex hormone levels are pretty much childhood levels.

      I took hormone replacement therapy briefly, mostly for bone health, and I keep thinking about getting back on it, but OTOH I kind of like being a sleek, hairless twink, and I also kind of don’t want to add things to my system that will make me put muscle on even faster.

      Anyway, The long and short of it is that the combination of really enormous gluteus medius muscles, coupled with a tendency to distribute fat evenly over my entire body (and the fact that I do carry more fat than the average professional male dancer much of the time), makes my hips look wider than they are, especially from behind. My butt is literally square, so add any padding at all and it looks rather more zaftig than is ideal, IMO (D seems to like it, though?).

      Predictably, this has interesting results in acro skills that require people to lift me by placing their hands or feet under my pelvis, since inevitably they expect my hipbones to be farther apart than they are 😛

      Not offended in the least, by the way 🙂 It’s a reasonable question.

      WRT the tautology bit: a couple of years back, I read a study that I wish I could find now that found that about 50% of professional male ballet dancers were, in fact, gay. I suspect that’s a smaller percentage than most of us would estimate even in the dance world.

      Anyway, our company is way gayer than that. There *are* some straight guys, but the vast majority of the guys in the company are gay. On the other hand, the midwestern US is not exactly the pinnacle of forward thinking with regard to gender roles, which might make it harder for straight guys to feel comfortable getting into ballet.

      That said, the straight guys in the company are all legitimately awesome dudes!

  4. manderton2932

    Ash-Man – I just saw this post. You are awesome strong. Just gotta say. Ciao for now.

    • Thanks, man 😊 That helps 😊

      • manderton2932

        Hi Asher- Just wanted to ck in and give you a shout out. Hope you are well. I love hearing how much your dancing has improved over time. I started dancing just before last thanksgiving, and am just starting to feel some marked progress– baby steps though they be. It is so much fun to actually complete a variation nearly mess-up free! Did you get to dance in THE Sleeping Beauty with LB? It would be fun to get to do a performance before my body makes a major turn to not letting me jump, etc. It’s springtime here in Washington state, and the roads are now clear enough to ride bikes. Until i started dance last fall you would rarely see me skipping a chance to log 20 or 60 miles or so on my bike. Damn it if dancing has not stolen the show this spring: I feel I enjoy my free time more dancing on the floor than dancing on the pedals! The test will come when i finally decide whether to sigh up for or to pass on this year’s STP ride in July. Its 210 miles, so to do that I need to focus on some serious saddle time, and soon. I’ve done that ride for some 15 years in a row, starting when i was able to ride more seriously after getting my body repaired (hip replacement). But now, .. … …, well, dancing makes me feel so good, at least spiritually and emotionally. Physically, it still rather kicks me in the behind. … … Any way, i hope you have a great weekend, and i look forward to your next post. M

      • For what it’s worth, dancing did the same thing to my cycling life … it basically obliterated it ^-^’ I figured out pretty quickly that I can’t both dance and put in serious miles on the bike (commuting would probably be fine if I’d just bleeding well learn not to hammer up the danged hills), and dancing won.

        I’m doing okay: got a contract offer for next year, which is awesome, and also successfully auditioned for a different company, which has led me to the unexpected problem of what one might call and embarrassment of riches in terms of dance jobs on offer. I *think* I’m going to stay with my current company, though I will be dancing with the other company over the summer, since they have a summer show and we don’t.

        The last several weeks of the season proved to be rather a grind, because the sheer number of hours spent in transit finally started to drive me bonkers, so I’ve definitely resolved that if I do stay on with my current company I’m going to get a room in town, which in turn means getting a second job over the summer and preferably one I can keep throughout the season, so I’m juggling all those balls whilst awaiting the beginning of rehearsals with the company I’m dancing with this summer.

        Hope you’re doing well, and apologies for just kind of falling off the world for a while.

  5. Do you ever NOT post a reply you receive to the blog? Does WordPress give you that authority?

    • It does. Sometimes I miss a notification and thus the reply doesn’t become visible; sometimes I get an obvious spam reply, don’t approve it, and mark it as spam. Once in a while I get one I’m not sure about (is it spam, or just a shy person without great English skills?) and usually I approve those.

      But the short answer is, yes, every now and then I don’t post one, either by accident or because it looks like spam ^-^

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