January 8, 2019
On January 8, 2008, I said goodbye to the breasts that were born from this body. I opted for a preventive double mastectomy, following a positive BRCA1 test result. I chose to have breast reconstruction with silicone implants with another surgery. In that process, there was no unbiased discussion of other options. “Women are happiest when they reconstruct after this surgery.” I do not remember my original breasts, or the fake ones I barely tolerated for 8 years.
Today, in particular, I am pondering the experience of the mastectomy, the pre- and post-surgery discussions and the choices I made through a more magnified lens. As I deepen my personal commitment to racial justice and gender politics learning and work, I am cognizant of a few important aspects of what this chest signifies:
1) We are brainwashed by capitalism and the lens of Whiteness that, when we remove something, we must replace it with something of equal greater. Somehow the idea of remaining in the open space or the emptiness equates to failure, settling for “less than,” or a state of “lacking.” What if we were to instead acknowledge we are whole, in spite of whatever “brokenness” is projected upon us?
2) We are not static creatures. I am still forming a sense of what it means to live in this body. I do know that embodiment does not come in one uniform package, nor does sensuality, sexuality, happiness or beauty. For a while, I expressed that, in my flatness, I was “embracing my femininity more deeply.” Yet that particular language feels like it plays into the stereotypes and frameworks that caused whispers to stir within me when I first heard, “Women are happiest...” There is no universal path to feeling at home in our bodies. What you see on the outside is not always a reflection of what lives on the inside. More than ever before, I have a sense of what it means to feel embodied and to exist at home in this human shell. It is personal, and it is a feeling beyond label.
3) Today, as I trace the many scars on my body, I sense how they are laced with empowerment and homecoming, as much as they are with privilege. They tell the story of my bravery to let go and my desire to feel at peace. They tell the story of my privilege to afford genetic testing that allowed me to dodge another potential cancer diagnosis and to have insurance to pay for the preventive and many other surgeries. I am sitting with this truth lately. The systems that have long created a racial divide that bestows good care on some (mostly whites) and not on all (often people of color) must be acknowledged, dismantled and built anew. The structures that protect and honor some bodies over others must be torn down and remade. My location in this conversation around privilege, and how I have benefited from it my whole life, has me committed to learning more and continuing to do my part to be an active participant in the change.