The Heavy Burden of Breasts

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A psychiatrist told Daniel Valter Jensen that “you can’t live like a something in between,” yet that is precisely what he had been doing for many years, waiting for the top surgery he needed to continue his transformation to male from the female body he was born into. In this searing account for Information, Line Vaaben explores the 10 years Daniel spent in limbo waiting for surgery — years spent struggling with addiction and homelessness. Daniel lives in Denmark, where transgender acceptance has increased in recent years, along with a corresponding rise in inquiries about surgery: “In 2013 at Rigshospitalet, 65 people were referred for examination. By 2019 the figure had climbed 600 percent.” However, in the years prior, many trans people were denied surgery, and in 2010 Daniel was one of them. After being turned down for gender transition, Daniel located a doctor willing to prescribe testosterone for trans women, not caring that it wasn’t legal.

A four-milliliter bottle of testosterone costs 1200 Danish kroner – about 200 dollars. Daniel gently draws the small bottle from his backpack and places it on the table in the doctor’s waiting room. He calls it »my elixir« and gets the injections from his GP every three months. If he delays, he becomes teary and his period returns. He’s had to delay buying his antidepressant and blood pressure medicine, and even skimping on cat food to afford testosterone.

But recently his application for free medicine was approved and he felt greatly relieved.

»Daniel?«

An elderly man in jeans, shirt and Birkenstock sandals summons Daniel into the consulting room. That’s Daniel’s doctor, Jesper Nielsen, who holds up syringe and bottle and draws back the plunger. Daniel lies on the examining table, his striped boxer shorts down, exposing his right buttock. The doctor pierces the skin with the needle and slowly injects the liquid, then pats on a small band aid.

Daniel is finally scheduled to have his top surgery in January 2020, and his excitement is palpable, despite being unable to stick to his doctor’s prerequisite to give up smoking: “There is always a risk of the nipples being lost … And smoking is especially damaging to the nipples.” Sigrid Nygaard documents the surgical process alongside Vaaben’s words with incredibly powerful, honest, and sometimes graphic photographs. After the surgery Daniel, finally, feels on the road to becoming “just a normal guy.”

Hours pass. His head clears. He texts a few friends. He texts his supervisor from The Homeless Unit. And a lot of hearts and smiley tumble back at him. Four years earlier, when he was homeless, he’d felt completely alone in the world. But now he feels the love and care of so many people.

He’s still feeling the anesthetic, so everything makes him cry: When another text message dings. When the nurse carries in a plate of meatballs. When he hears Bee Gees’ ’To Love Somebody’ in the background of a car commercial on television.

He’s not sad. Simply overwhelmed. It’s been a long time since he’s cried that much. Years come to think of it. Perhaps it’s release from the frustrations of a lifetime that now flow out of him. Again and again, he pats his hands along his chest. The breasts are gone! He’d had to wait so many years and then, it only took an hour-and-a-half.

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