I remember the first time I ever took off my shirt in public.
I was moving into a new apartment with a few other guys in the height of summer and, by some awful, cosmic moving law, the weather was sweltering.
So it was by no surprise that we all ended up shirtless as we worked, trying to beat off heat stroke by just one more box, one more flight of stairs.
After about 30 minutes of this, I was caught alone on the porch by the locksmith, your characteristically burly man that looked like he’d take any reason to make someone else feel smaller.
My heart did double-time as I saw him approach me. I waited for him to size me up, figure me out, something.
The thing is, I knew I could technically be arrested for indecency and public exposure if I offended this man. At least, I think I would have.
You see, I was categorized as a girl upon birth. And even though I’ve long since transitioned to be seen more as the man I am, I’ve never had top surgery.
I’m in a rare position. Such a rare position, in fact, that I’ve never come across another trans man whose breasts were so small that he just plain passed without top surgery. I simply have a scrawny, twink-boy chest to the point that reputable surgeons wrote letters in my favor so I could bypass certain documentation protocol to obtain my precious, precious “M.”
But the point of this story isn’t for me to gloat about how lucky and blessed I am (though I recognize I am and am thankful for it every day)
It’s to point out how freaking ridiculous breast policing is.
This theory that female-appearing breasts must stay covered (read: kept “decent”) so males won’t be compelled to act on uncontrollable, primal instincts. Or to somehow be offended by… what again exactly?
The fact of the matter is that breast policing doesn’t have anything concrete to it. It’s not a matter of somehow keeping men civilized and women safe. If it was, then the same rules wouldn’t apply on social media as they do in real life.
Rather, breast policing is a highly subjective form of gender control in terms of which breasts, whose breasts, the size of breasts, the shape of breasts, the color of breasts, the usage of said breasts in the moment, and probably something about nipples.
This highly subjective form of policing is just as rampant online as it is in real life – with no legitimate reason given whatsoever – because cis men want to remind cis women and trans people who’s boss. Who gets to call the shots, say boo, and get the long end of the stick.
Don’t believe me? See these four examples of breast policing on social media and tell me by the end if you still think it isn’t utter crock, both online and in real life.
1. The Great Facebook Decency Debate of 2014 (Breastfeeding)
There’s something about the attempt to desexualize (cis) women’s bodies that rubs a lot of guys the wrong way. I assume it’s because that through the desexualization of women, men are less able to control them.
A perfect example of this is the Great Facebook Decency Debate of 2014. Essentially, while FB didn’t give a rat’s ass about hate posts towards women (warning: lots of triggering stuff in that link), they sure did jump at the chance to take down breastfeeding photos.
(What was that thing again about wanting to keep women safe from awful, awful men…?)
And while they’ve since moved on to accept most breastfeeding photos, they have yet to accept all of them (it’s turned into a case-by-case thing) nor call themselves out for their double standard in their own freaking rules when it comes to suitable FB content.
Also, the only reason Facebook finally allowed breastfeeding photos was because of huge public outcry and 15 of their advertisers leaving their platform. So there’s that.
Facebook didn’t allow some breastfeeding photos because they realized they were wrong. It was because they as the controllers were in turn being controlled. And they didn’t like that.
In other news, the fight for the site to actually take hate posts toward women seriously continues.
2. The Great Facebook Decency Debate of 2013 (Mastectomies)
So our history class has just covered the Great Facebook Decency Debate of 2014, but what about the Great Facebook Decency Debate of 2013?
Once again, FB dominated with its inability to understand basic concepts. They quickly took down photos of women posing after they underwent single or double mastectomies, intended as an act of solidarity, education, and/or personal strength.
But, you know, that terrifies the patriarchy. So down they went.
In the end, just like the breastfeeding issue, mastectomy photos were eventually let back online. But only some. Mastectomy photos are only allowed if they don’t show any nipple or fully bared, non-altered breast (as would be the case for a single mastectomy).
Uhh…so pictures of breasts are allowed as long as the breasts aren’t actually there? Okay then.
This is no sort of victory. This is Facebook pretending to have met in the middle with cancer survivor demands without actually having changed anything about their breast policing of them.
And while we’re on the topic, why is so much money being poured into saving women’s breasts a la breast cancer as opposed to, say, their ovaries? Neither is actually necessary to possess in order to constitute womanhood, so why the hype about reducing women to their breasts in the name of saving them?
Campaigns such as “Save the Ta-Tas” have been problematic at best, raising money and awareness with such sexualized slogans as “My wife has great ta-tas,” “Save a life, grope your wife,” “I love my big ta-tas,” “They are new, and they are bigger and better,” “Save second base,” and “Cancer babe,” according to GirlTalkHQ.
Raising awareness about breast cancer is supposed to be about saving a person, not saving a rack.
How again is sexualizing and claiming ownership of ill women’s breasts helping them, but disallowing them from baring their strength and recovery putting their safety at risk?
3. The Non-Existent Facebook Decency Debate of No Year (Gynecomastia)
We’ve covered so far two examples of blatant, nonsensical policing of (cis) women’s breasts on Facebook. But how about the men?
After all, if the problem with having identifiable mounds of fat on the chest is some sort of true hazard, such as the risk of taking out someone’s eye, then the guys should be subject to the cultural fines too, right?
Enter gynecomastia, otherwise known as (cis) men’s breasts. It’s a condition that – from factors ranging from hyperthyroidism to puberty to kidney failure to marijuana abuse – creates an enlargement of the glandular tissue of the male breast.
In short, their chests can begin to appear like that of the stereotypical female.
But hold the phone! They still get to walk around in public with their shirts off even though they have chests that present female qualities? You betcha.
I guess it’s because they’re men and, you know, are somehow capable of controlling their primal urges when they get a gander at their own bodies.
And to add insult to injury, it’s up in the air as to how prevalent gynecomastia is.
According to Medicine Net: “Studies regarding the prevalence of gynecomastia in normal adolescents have yielded widely varying results, with prevalence estimates as low as 4% and as high as 69% of adolescent boys. These differences probably result from variations in what is perceived to be normal and the different ages of boys examined in the studies” (emphasis mine).
But wait! There’s more! For just $1.99 more, you can see how surgeons are allowed to post before and after photos of their gynecomastia clients on Facebook with no problem whatsoever!
(Seriously, take a look at that video. It’s only 20 seconds, you don’t need the sound on, and no, it won’t cost you $1.99.)
If this isn’t facepalm-worthy double standard, I don’t know what is.
4. The Great Facebook Decency Debate Nobody Knows Is Happening (Trans Men)
Damn us trans people! Why do we need to keep bucking the system?!
If cis men are able to walk around with their shirts off when they have gynecomastia, then why can’t trans men walk around with their shirts off without top surgery? It’s the same freaking thing.
To demand any type of chest alterations for trans people – legally, culturally, or otherwise – isn’t some sort of call to help keep trans people decent. It’s to reinforce the breast policing already in place, conveniently turned around to look like the natural way of being.
To do otherwise would be to admit to the arbitrariness of how breasts are viewed, thereby dismantling the entire thing.
Oh. Wait. Did I say “would be?” I meant “already.”
Because now I have a plot twist for you. Surgeons who do top surgery for trans men frequently also do gynecomastia surgeries for cis men. Why? Because many surgeons view the surgeries as the exact same thing.
I’m telling you this because gynecomastia/top surgery doctors have been known to include before-and-afters of their trans man patients on Facebook without saying a word. Even better, they mix them in with the before-and-afters of their cis men patients.
And nobody has noticed.
Now, I have no idea about the surgeon I linked to above. I purposely linked to a surgeon I had no connection to or knowledge about because I didn’t want to get anybody in trouble. But know that there are plenty of surgeons for trans men out there who simply don’t advertise that part of their clientele because they don’t want to scare off the cis people.
I’m just sayin’.
So the locksmith guy. Nothing happened. He took a simple glance, ensured that my apartment was indeed the one to have the locks changed, and went about his work.
I’ve since gone on to be shirtless in several public venues, virtually all of them beach- or pool-related since I’m trying to keep a balance between solidarity with my trans siblings and baring the rare, breast-dismantling phenomenon that is my chest.
I also occasionally post photos of myself on Facebook when my shirt just happens to be off.
And in all of the times I’ve been shirtless, nobody has batted an eye. No scoffing, no suggestions that I cover up, no screaming that I’m scarring children for life, no warnings on Facebook that I’ll be banned. It’s nice.
And it’s an obtainable goal for all of us, should we want to run around with our shirts off. But it’s going to require some teamwork.
Each one of us needs to finally stop and recognize our own breast policing, how we view them on whom while they’re doing what, and stop freaking out when we see a nipple.
Because in the end, people, it’s just a nipple. Seriously. Cis women’s don’t have the power to send cis men into a drooling frenzy, cis men’s aren’t visual white noise, and the size and shape of a trans person’s doesn’t magically make them male or female.
The very nature of feeling its necessary to police breasts on social media should be evidence enough for this.
James St. James is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. He isn’t particularly fond of his name, but he has to admit it makes him easier to remember. When he’s not busy scaring cis gender people with his trans gender agenda, he likes to play SEGA and eat candy. Follow him on Twitter @JamesStJamesVI.
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