Up until two years ago, I lived as female in accordance with the gender I was assigned at birth. However, throughout my life I always experienced disconnect from my body and feelings of discomfort with it, which I now identify as gender dysphoria. I was unable to reconcile my body with my male gender identity, which strongly affected my emotional health. After struggling with this for many years, I eventually came out as transgender at the age of seventeen. I have taken steps to transition socially, and I was fortunate to receive a lot of support from my friends and family at the time, which I am thankful to say has continued into my university experience. I will always be grateful for the acceptance that I have received, which I know a lot of other transgender people do not experience.
However, because of the way and the extent to which I experience gender dysphoria, I have also been taking steps to undergo physical transition to become more comfortable in my body through an NHS funded Gender Identity Clinic (GIC). I have begun taking testosterone, which has led to a number of physical changes which have made me feel a lot happier and more comfortable within my body. But there are a number of things about my body which testosterone won’t change, and one of these is the size and shape of my chest.
My chest is one of the biggest sources of my gender dysphoria. In everyday life I wear a chest binder (an elasticated compression vest). Binding has given me a lot of freedom. Due to ongoing dysphoria, I am only comfortable leaving my room or having other people see me when I am wearing a binder. However, for me, binding long term is not practical or good for my physical and emotional wellbeing. Wearing a chest binder everyday takes an immense toll on the body, and after nearly three years of everyday binding, I am beginning to feel the strain. Binding restricts breathing, making it difficult for me to undergo a lot of physical activity safely. This also makes it hard to go outside during hot weather, as the compression on my chest often means that I overheat very easily. More often than not, this gives me the choice of either staying inside, especially during summer, or experiencing a lot of pain and discomfort just to lead my day to day life.
Top surgery is a procedure which will remove most of the tissue on my chest, enabling me to live my life free of binding. On the NHS, top surgery is free. Privately, top surgery costs between £5,500 and £7,000 depending on the surgeon and their location. I intend to go private for my top surgery due to the length of time that it would take for me to receive top surgery through the NHS. Referrals to Gender Identity Clinics have increased by figures of several hundred percent within the last year alone, and funding has not been increased in order to match this demand. As a result, waiting lists for both GICs and surgeons are rapidly increasing all the time. With the increasing demand for surgery, if I were to be referred on the NHS for top surgery, I would be waiting around 1 ½ years (from now) for surgery itself. Moreover, since that time would be during my finals year, and I don’t think I would be able to cope with having major surgery during such a stressful academic year, I would therefore be waiting until after university to be able to have surgery (around 2 years from now). Physically and emotionally, I feel I won’t be able to tolerate binding for that length of time. It is becoming increasingly more difficult to deal with, and the impact of experiencing extreme discomfort with my body on an everyday basis is taking its toll on my emotional health, as well as being physically restrictive. If I were to have surgery privately, these waiting lists would be vastly reduced. Provided all goes well, I could have surgery by the end of this year. This to me seems incredible. After struggling with my feelings towards my chest for so many years, the idea of top surgery happening within six months feels like such freedom.
I am seeking to get private top surgery with a surgeon whose results I have seen I perceive to be excellent, and which I would be happy to live with for the rest of my life. The costs would be around £6,000. I am a student, so naturally my finances aren’t great, and nowhere near cover the cost of something like this. My parents have agreed to help me out by offering to pay half of the cost of surgery (£3,000), but as they are already helping me with increasing university costs for this year I am seeking other ways to self-fund my surgery. I intend to do this through sponsorship from running the Windsor half marathon in September 2017. Yes, exercise in a binder is dangerous, so I will not be wearing one during the race. Yes, that is going to make me incredibly dysphoric and uncomfortable. Yes, I think that is worth it if it means that I will be able to have top surgery by the end of this year.
Top surgery will not alleviate all of my gender dysphoria, but it would certainly help to eliminate a large part of it, and enable me to lead a normal life without being in pain and discomfort for most of the time. Thank you for taking the time to read this, and please consider donating to my sponsorship fundraiser.
- Lucy Enderby
- Sarah Jamieson
- Steph Key
- Joshua Measure-Hughes
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