I run my fingers down the two horizontal scars, still sore and red, on my chest, and I remember how when I had breasts they would slide to either side when I lay on my back, how they rested against my arms in their weighted softness, or when I was on my side they would swim together into one fleshy protrusion, and no matter how I turned or positioned myself they were always flopping this way and that inconveniently. I remember this, and I don’t. It feels like another lifetime now. A very uncomfortable lifetime that I’ve both tried to forget and tried to integrate as an aspect of my wholeness. In my walk between genders, I am sculpting my body to feel more like home.

It wasn’t until months after I chose to have my breasts removed that I researched breast anatomy to understand what I asked to be taken out of my body. Breasts are comprised of fatty tissue as well as tissue that creates milk, all connected through ducts that lead to the nipple. At one point, I had the potential to nurse, to offer sustenance to a growing being. I no longer have this capability. Now I can birth a baby but cannot offer food. I thought I would only feel relief after surgery, but how I feel is complicated, messy, filled with mourning. I am at once more whole and more fractured. I feel like the warrior who must sacrifice a part of themselves so they can be born anew.

I gently touch my lumpy nipples. They are my nipples, the same ones I had before, but removed and replaced. I imagine them, two slivers of skin caught between life and death, sitting on a metal tray next to the operating table where I am asleep; a part of me cut off, set aside, waiting to find a new home on my body. The surgeon trimmed the areolas before sewing them back on a bit higher and more to the outside of my newly formed chest. I wonder if they feel disoriented, being in a new place, or if they finally feel like they are in the place where they belonged all along.

I often wonder how the tissue was taken from my body. I watch a tube enter inside of me, vacuuming out flesh, and I see globs of myself get carried away through suction, filling up a plastic bag that gets tossed in a biohazard bin. Pieces of me that I imagine will melt into a landfill somewhere, spilling out of the melted bag onto old washing machines, moldy toast crusts, shoes that have lost their soles.

I wish I could have kept this removal. I would have cared for it, like placenta, and honored its existence, its journey from the living to the dead. I would have buried it on my land, offering it back to the earth. I would have said a prayer for my loss, my shedding, my transformation. I long for this part of me that was taken away, not because I want it back in my body, but because I want to remember how I came to be the person I am now. I want to be able to visit my own grave so that I may feel how I am still alive.

At the time of my surgery, I didn’t want anything to do with the tissue that was removed. I thought only of how free I would feel in a mere few hours. And, even bound up with foam and tape, drains coming out of either side of my body that filled with blood and pus, I did feel free; I still do every day. But I also ache for the tissue that is gone. I want to hold the flesh in my hands and say thank you, say I love you for having been a part of me.
Tyler Orion is a queer, trans writer and photographer living in rural northern Vermont. Orion works at a small, independent bookstore, is a reader for the Maine Review and has work published recently in The Offing, Isele, Allegory Ridge, Mount Island, and in an anthology from Damaged Goods Press. 

Photo by Kim Adrian