I met my first soul mate in 1984. I was 14 years old. She was hanging out with my sister at the time, but I had been eyeing her. She was covered in brown leather, sexy trim, big snaps. She had broad shoulders, narrow hips, that signature 80s upside down triangle silhouette I so longed for… she had it all. One day when my sister was out of town, I made her my own. And afterwards I hid her in my closet. She was a rare…perfect… jacket. Tight at the thigh, but somehow blousy at the top. Pure 80s magic. She was my first “feel good” jacket… and I spent the next 30 something years chasing that same high.
I never felt safe growing up. I won’t get into the novel that is my childhood, but honestly, I didn’t think I would live long enough to be here considering that when I came out to my parents at 15, I got a “hard no” and nothing else.
But I was still a tomboy, dressed as a pretty princess, taking every chance I could get to feel good in my presentation. Like getting to wear a proper tailored jacket, riding horses, or during the gender switch day of spirit week in high school, getting to rock a Wall Street/James Spader style suit with suspenders. And every time someone would die, I got to wear my long, black suit jacket that covered 70% of my body, to the funeral. I remember this one summer I borrowed my friends’ older brother’s jacket while he was away at college. It was acid washed denim, men’s Levi’s with a total George Michael vibe, I felt so good with it on, it was nearly impossible to give it back.
I was always on a search for that one jacket. The jacket that would finally make me feel like…me. Which is something up until 4 years ago I realize I had never really felt.
I was “full blown” dependent on jackets. Convinced it was only a matter of being in the right place at the right time with the right amount of money available on my credit card… and I put them all through the same excruciating checklist:
- Will this jacket give me broader shoulders?
- Will it give me narrower hips?
- Will it disguise my D cup bosoms when I want it to?
It wasn’t just presentation. It was protection. It was preservation.
By the time I turned 40, I was living in a studio apartment on the Upper East size that had a tiny closet FULL of soul mates.
***Twill jackets, tweed jackets, leather jackets, pleather jackets, silk jackets, an assortment of denim jackets in various washes, double breasted jackets, single button jackets, belted jackets, mesh jackets, sheer jackets, short sleeved jackets, post apocalyptic asymmetrical jackets, embroidered jackets, sequin jackets…I was literally living in a studio full of jackets, but still, NONE of them were just right. I would double them up, try different combos, layers, but it wasn’t enough. It just wasn’t…me.
As my dependency on jackets intensified, my romantic relationships with people mostly sucked, probably because my relationship with myself was in flux even though I wasn’t fully aware of the disconnect. But I was finally, consciously, leaning into my masculinity. I started owning my natural walk – still hips, wide legs, shoulders broad. I wore oxfords and brogues- let go of my collection of heels. I cut my hair. I stopped wearing makeup. I was a ferocious advocate for the trans community. I was drawn to all things butch. I worked as a stylist and personal shopper, and I was witnessing others have these “a-ha!” moments in their clothes and I thought that’s great!…for them. But not for me. Not gonna happen. Some women will just NEVER be happy with their bodies, and I’m one of them.
And then I got good health insurance for the first time in a long time. And with a genetic predisposition to estrogen fueled cancers, a long history of needing biopsies and MRIs, never knowing if this would be the time they say the dreaded words, I opted to get a preventative double mastectomy.
When it came time to discuss reconstruction it was super clear to me that I really didn’t want them back. Yes it was more pragmatic: reconstruction can be a longer and more intensive recovery process, but it was also something more. It was actually shocking how indifferent I was to having breasts.
I remember once thinking “NO boobs? NO problem!”
I had no need for breasts, on myself. Don’t get me wrong, I love them on other people, I just don’t want them attached to me permanently.
Of course it took me a full year of trying to convince my surgeon to keep me flat. She was afraid I would later change my mind and try to sue her. I just keep saying “Nope. I demand that flat be on the menu.”
That surgery was four years ago, in June 2015. The recovery was long, arduous, a bit complicated, but by week three, once the drains were out, the swelling had gone down, and the stitches were unwrapped, I knew what I had to do and I slowly, with great effort, walked my tired ass to my closet, to see ALL my loves.
I grabbed my “go-to” pinstripe jacket. She was one of my longest relationships (we spent a joyous night together in ‘97, at a Halloween party where I was dressed like Robert Palmer with my date was dressed as one of his back up singers). I gingerly put her on and… she no longer fit. It was no longer MY jacket. It wasn’t my body. There was this empty space where my D cups used to be. The bust seams puddled over my chest in a very not sexy way. We didn’t belong together anymore.
And that… was perfect. I took off the jacket and I felt safe in that moment. Not just safe from the looming unknown death energy of potential cancer my breasts had been carrying for so long, but also safe as just me. Me without breasts.
A lot of you are probably reading this story and obviously making the connection: yes this was needed for you to reach your truth in your gender identity.
And yes, you’re right. But also… I didn’t know it was about my gender identity at the time. There was nothing in my emotional or psychological vocabulary up to that point that had challenged my actual gender as part of my self-expression.
But there I was, staring at this new body. And I realized that the whole search for that jacket, chasing that high, trying to find something, anything to make me feel more like “me” was maybe, perhaps, me unconsciously advocating for a gender identity I didn’t even know I wanted yet. And I was grateful for something in me, pushing me, not to reconstruct, because for me, taking away my breasts ended up giving me everything my life had been missing.
I still have my fair share of jackets, but now I feel like me when I wear them, and I feel like me when I wear button downs, and I feel like me in T-shirts, and me, more than ever, on testosterone.
This whole time I thought I was a big dyke who was avoiding breast cancer but little did I know, I was a trans masculine, non-binary person who didn’t want breasts at all.
I met my first soul mate in 1984 but I met my truest, authentic self, 4 years ago. And I have never, ever looked back.
By E. Leifer – June 2019