What my friend's top surgery taught me about self-love
Meet my friend, Lazarus Killmer.
Laz loves to draw and write poetry. He’s always been comfortable calling himself an artist.
But his gender was a different story.
For this story, I talked to Laz about his identity and experiences as a young trans man, both before and after top surgery.
Laz has experienced gender dysphoria for most of his life. Dysphoria is a feeling people experience when the gender assigned to them at birth doesn’t match up with how they feel inside.
“It feels like a void that sucks your emotion," Laz told me. "It sucks your will to live, sucks the determination out of you.”
For many years, to help with his gender dysphoria, Laz wore a binder. He described it as a restrictive piece of clothing meant to mask the shape that breasts give to shirts.
“When you put it on, it looks more like a barrel shape to your chest. It looks more masculine,” he said.
But wearing a binder took its toll. Laz told me that his back started to hurt, and when it was hot, he would sweat a lot. After six years, who knows what kind of problems it's caused?
“But in the end,” Laz said, “I’d say it’s worth it because for me ... that flat chest feeling and appearance ... it really matters to me.”
His journey of self-discovery has been rocky. Laz questioned his gender identity for a while in junior high. When he first decided to come out to his parents, he was ready for the showdown of the century.
“What I learned from wider society and media is that any aspect of LGBT is bad,” he said. “Your parents are going to kick you out and hate you for it.”
But his parents basically just shrugged and said okay.
Coming out to his parents went smoothly. But not everyone was so accepting.
One summer, in junior high, he and his girlfriend at the time were sitting on a concrete barrier outside the school when a kid rolled up on his bike in front of them.
“He waits a second and goes, ‘Are you, like, a tranny?’" Laz recalled.
Laz was confused and didn’t know how to respond. “Do I say, ‘Yes, I’m trans,’ because that affirms the slur?" Laz asked. "Or do I say, ‘No, I’m not a tranny,’ because I am transgender, but I’m not comfortable with the slur.”
Despite events like this, support from his family and friends help times like these feel less painful.
Laz has decided to move forward with his transition, and the next step for him is getting top surgery.
Medically, top surgery is a double mastectomy, followed by a bilateral reconstruction of the chest so that it looks flat.
But for Laz, coming to terms with his gender isn’t like putting on a different pair of shoes. Laz said that it’s like killing someone, except their ghost comes back to haunt you every day.
Here’s part of a poem Laz performed in front of our school in January:
Now it’s July. Four days have passed since Laz’s surgery.
Laz and I have texted, but we haven’t talked face to face. I know he went camping on Saturday, so I guess he’s feeling okay.
I go to check up on him. I sit in the car outside his house. I’m a little nervous.
Laz, his mom, and I sit down to eat some soup. Laz talks about how he’s feeling, physically and mentally, after the surgery.
“I’m still trying to rebuild or re-explore my relationship with my body now,” he said. “Because I think what happens to a lot of people is that... like during puberty, you kind of know how you function, and now I have to re-explore that aspect of how I interact with my body.”
Part of me is confused. I’m expecting him to be super happy right now. But I have to remember that changes like this take time.
All this time, I was looking for a single big moment where Laz had everything figured out.
But being there during Laz’s journey taught me that figuring yourself out takes time, and loving yourself is harder still.
Laz has accepted that.
“Leave space for yourself to grow because you’re always going to be changing,” he said. “And there’s no shame in not knowing right away.”
“But once you’re comfortable with the idea of who you are in the moment, everything else becomes a lot more easy.”
I ask Laz what he’ll do with the binders that he wore for six years.
He said he’ll give them to other kids.