Trans Folk: You are important enough to be cared for.

Dear trans folk,

Some parts of our bodies feel like they don’t belong to us. God, I get that. I avoid looking at myself naked. Sometimes I feel like maybe if I pretend hard enough that my breasts don’t exist, they will go away.

But they’re there. And I’ve learned that breast health is not something to be ignored, whether you want them or not.

The Friday before Canadian Thanksgiving, I bumped my chest on something by accident while I was at work, and it hurt. “Oh,” I thought. “I must have bruised something somehow.” I didn’t look at it. I didn’t want to give my breasts any attention that I didn’t have to. But I wasn’t feeling well. I chalked that up to lack of sleep.

I didn’t actually look and see what was going on until Tuesday morning. And by then, what had been an infected cyst had grown into a large, painful swelling. I bit the bullet and went to a walk-in clinic, thinking I’d be out in time for my closing shift that night.

A lot of trans people avoid doctors. It can be exhausting dealing with medical professionals. If you haven’t legally changed your name yet, they can be adamant about calling you by the name you associate with the wrong gender, no matter how much distress that causes you. I saw an allergist once, years ago, before I’d changed my name, and the elderly gentleman peered at me over the rims of his glasses as he looked disbelievingly at my chart. “Why on earth do you have a girl’s name?” he said. And then it was my turn to flusteringly explain that I was transgender, I was a guy, but I hadn’t gotten my name legally changed yet. And then he called me “Miss” for the rest of the appointment.

And even if you pass scrutiny and your name is changed, you can’t escape it. When I saw the doctor on Tuesday and told him I was trans, he lit up. “I haven’t seen many transgender people before,” he said. “How long have you been transgender for? What made you come out? What is that like?” And then he said, “I’m just curious!” I don’t usually mind curiosity. It’s better than outright disgust or hatred. But just once, I’d like to be able to go to a doctor without having to educate them on transgender health care. Unfortunately, most of the time the rest of the world feels like the intimate details of transgender persons’ personal lives are fair game, simply because “I’ve never met one before!” Psst: You probably have.

So eventually he looked at my infection and prescribed oral antibiotics. He told me to come back if the redness was spreading. Unfortunately, the redness did spread, but the clinic was closed so I ended up getting it looked at in the ER that night. Well actually, I showed up that night and sat in a chair until 6 AM, when someone finally looked at it. He prescribed IV antibiotics for 3 days.

Today the 3 days are finally up. The infection is clearing and I can go back on oral antibiotics for a week. I finally get to shower again. But the past 72 hours have been a whirlwind of me disrobing in front of medical staff after medical staff. And every time, I cover my chest for as long as I can while haltingly trying to explain, “I’m transgender. Female to male. That means I still have… breasts.”

And then I have to lie back and let them poke and prod at the most humiliating part of my body, all the while wondering, “What are they thinking? Am I a freak? Are they grossed out?”

I know that I can’t possibly know what they’re thinking, and that any thoughts of myself being a freak probably come from internalized transphobia. Growing up in the world today where people are afraid to let trans women use the women’s washroom for the sake of their kids while Trump is allowed to stroll through a teenager’s dressing room because he can “get away with it” makes for a lot of messages telling us trans people that we are not ok.

Since the infected cyst was on my breast, I haven’t been able to bind at all for the past four days. And I have to stay unbound until the wound heals. I’ve always been afraid of people seeing me unbound. Hell, even when I AM binding, people yell homophobic slurs out their car windows at me when I’m walking down the street. I’m afraid of their hate, which I’m sure must be there because I hear about it all of the time.

But today, I had to go to pick up a prescription. I had to take the bus to get there. I was wearing a coat so that my chest didn’t show, but it was very warm in the sun. I was sweating, and it was very uncomfortable — both in the area where the wound was, and also on my hand, where the IV has been attached, taped in, and wrapped with bandages. I looked around. There weren’t many people on the sidewalks, and the cars were going by too fast to really get a good look at my chest. I pushed away thoughts of cars careening into accidents because they were rubbernecking at a man waiting for the bus with a beard and boobs. And slowly, I unzipped my jacket.

I kept it unzipped for the whole trip. Sure, it’s not like I’m parading down the street topless screaming “HEY WORLD, THESE ARE MY BOOBS AND THEY ARE FANTASTIC!” But for a moment, I let myself live with ambiguity. I let myself not care if other people were confused. Or disgusted. Because this isn’t their body. They’re not the ones who have to live in it. I do.

Ok, so I’m a guy who has boobs. Maybe I wish they weren’t there, but I’m not going to ignore them anymore. They deserve as much care as the rest of my body. They deserve to feel welcome, to take up space, to not be neglected and left to get so sick that I had to drag an IV bag around with me for 3 days.

Trans folk: I know it’s extremely distressing to have a health problem in part of your body that you need to separate yourself from for your own mental health. Medical emergencies are alienating and isolating at the best of times, and this just adds a whole other layer to it. But please, take care of yourselves. Get regular breast exams. Get pap smears. You deserve adequate health care just as much as the next person.

If we’re going to build a world where we’re accepted, we need you to stick around.