‘I woke up as me’: Trans and non-binary people on joy of top surgery

A graphic composed of images of trans and non-binary people who have had top surgery

Gender-affirming healthcare saves lives. Having top surgery, a procedure to remove or augment breast tissue, helps trans people “enjoy life”, “feel happy” and affirm their identity.

The Umbrella Academy star Elliot Page said the procedure “transformed [his] life”, and Yellowjackets’ Liv Hewson has “never been happier” since undergoing surgery.

While anti-trans pundits raise their voices against the treatment, studies show there’s scant evidence to show that trans people regret their gender-affirming care, including top surgery. 

Everyone has a different journey to towards becoming their authentic self. For the following trans and non-binary people who went through the procedure, it’s a source of pride, euphoria and freedom.

‘Top surgery lets me enjoy my life’

When Oli came out as trans, it “took a while to realise” top surgery was for him. Starting testosterone at 18 highlighted that he “needed top surgery so much more” because his chest dysphoria got worse. 

“Because all of a sudden, things are changing, and you’re very aware of the thing that isn’t changing,” he tells PinkNews.

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“For me, the main reason why I needed top surgery was because I was spending every single day of my life just thinking about it, very aware of the fact that I’m trans. 

“Now, I’m almost five years post-surgery, and I don’t think about it. 

“I don’t think about the fact that I’m trans, and that has been so freeing. I want to do my hobbies, to enjoy my life and spend time with friends. 

“I couldn’t do that before. I was too busy being sad and worrying about how other people perceived me.”

Oli, who has top surgery, and his non-binary sibling hold up a trans Pride flag while standing on a Brighton beach
Oli (L) recalls how “lovely” it was to take off his shirt and stand alongside his non-binary sibling. (Oli)

During COVID-19 lockdowns, Oli wasn’t able to have that “take your shirt off, go to the beach” moment, which had been on his bucket list for years. At Trans Pride Brighton last year, he finally had that experience, surrounded by trans people doing the exact same thing. 

“That moment on the beach, taking my shirt off with my youngest sibling, who is non-binary, and just holding up our flag – it was so lovely,” he says. 

“Then we swam for two hours, and we were surrounded by trans people.” 

‘To look at yourself and feel happy is incredible’

At age 21, Pennie underwent breast reduction because they “always hated having massive boobs”.

They thought the reduction would “make [them] feel better”, but the result wasn’t what they wanted. 

Learning about non-binary identities over the following decade “gave [them] permission” to take steps towards top surgery. 

Before having the procedure this time last year, Pennie said there was never a moment when they stared in the mirror, or at a photo or a video and thought: “You look great.”

Pennie goes on to say: “I don’t know if I even have the words for how wonderful it feels to have spent 20 years just feeling like s**t at my mere reflection or image [and] to suddenly feel good. To look at yourself and feel happy is incredible. 

“Regardless of all the nonsense from the TERFs who want to hate on people because they’re bored and have nothing else to do, this surgery was the best thing I have ever done.”

‘Top surgery gave me licence to play with my gender more’

Mizzy’s trans journey has been more of a “gradual unfolding” than a “very stereotypical linear trajectory”. As he grew older, it became “progressively more painful to have a chest” so he looked into top surgery. 

“It became more like there was this block on my life and my happiness, and I [felt I] needed this and I don’t make sense in this way any more,” he says. 

Mizzy recalls feeling nervous about looking in the mirror after undergoing gender-affirming surgery in August because he feared it “would take time to adjust”. Instead, he “spent quite a long time” admiring his body and “marvelling” at his top surgery scars.

Trans, non-binary person Mizy, who has had top surgery, wears jeans and a dark top as they pose while sitting on some stairs
Having top surgery gave Mizzy “licence to play with [his] gender more”. (Mizzy)

After getting the “horrible” post-op vest off, he tried on all his shirts, feeling the ability to explore more of his identity through fashion. 

“I’m not particularly effeminate, but I like playing with the whole pretty boy thing,” he says. 

“Being able to do that and feeling I have licence to play with my gender more and not have to compromise my style to stave off dysphoria … I don’t worry about it anymore. I just get dressed. 

“If someone doesn’t know what it’s like not to be able to just get dressed, they don’t understand how massive that is.”

‘I woke up as me’

It was a “10-year process” of figuring out if top surgery was right for Dr Erin Baker. After working with a coach, they realised that they didn’t want to keep “this fear of [them] not living [their] truth” so they finally decided on top surgery. 

“I very much tell people I woke up as me [post-top surgery],” Erin says. 

“I have a picture of one of the first moments I put on a button-down [shirt], and it was flat. I also remember a lot of people on the outside, who loved me, saying afterwards that that’s how they’d always pictured me. 

“They said” ‘Now you match how I saw you’.”

Dr Erin Baker, a non-binary person who had top surgery, smiles while wearing a button up shirt and bow tie
Erin Baker ‘woke up’ as their authentic self after getting top surgery. (Dr Erin Baker)

After top surgery, they had an immense support network consisting of their now-ex wife, mother-in-law and a “bunch of straight white ladies”.

Their allies stood alongside them when they “walked topless along the beach”, surrounded by “Trump supporters” and helped them feel safe exploring another new environment: the dating world. 

“It’s a little vulnerable to share, but I’m back to dating after 10 years,” Erin says. 

“I went through top surgery with a partner, who was very affirming, and I just had my first date in 11 years. 

“This person was adoring the fact that I have a masculinised chest and was like, ‘Can I touch it? Can I hold you?’ It was amazing.”