When I had top surgery, my nipples were left untouched. The plastic surgeon had measured their width during the pre-examination, concluded that they were “perfectly good male nipples” already, and moved on to considering and discussing the rest of the surgery.
I was irrationally proud of my nipples for the rest of the day, and also half-laughing and half-crying about the irony of the whole nipple situation.
If I had posted a topless picture of myself on Facebook prior to my transition, it would have been removed for the “female” nipples. And yet a topless picture of myself after top surgery would contain the very same nipples, unchanged and untouched, and be allowed to stay.
And it’s not like the flesh around them was the true problem – I could have posted a picture of the whole boobs prior to top surgery or even hormones with nothing censored but the nipple and gotten away with it. Hell, in and around June 2015, there was a whole movement of women posting topless pictures with “male” nipples photoshopped over theirs – there’s not much to be found on how that turned out, and it seems like pictures with more subtle photoshops were removed and pictures with more obvious photoshops allowed to stay, but if I photoshopped my post-surgery, officially “male” nipples over my pre-surgery, officially “female” nipples, it would be the exact same nipple. (Hence the quotes. The only gendered thing about them is the gender of the person they belong to, and that is male and has been since before any kind of transition. I was reminded of the whole story today when my girlfriend sent me a link to this article about an Instagram account which posts close-ups of nipples without a gender label attached – so far, a few pictures have been removed by Instagram’s censorship algorithm, and – surprise, surprise – some of the censored nipples were attached to men.)
And the official designation is a whole different, equally ridiculous story: in Austria, legal gender can be changed without any surgeries.
I could have made myself a Facebook account in perfect alignment with my official name and gender before I ever even started HRT, posted a topless picture of myself, and given Facebook official, legal proof of my maleness. And then leaned back and enjoyed the chaos I’d caused.
I even thought about doing it, or posting a progression picture including pre- and post-surgery pictures at least (with the same set of nipples, naturally), but I don’t actually use my legal name on Facebook, really don’t want to (let alone give them official proof of my identity), and also feel quite uncomfortable with the notion of having topless pictures of myself on social media, let alone seeing them spread around.
Fortunately, other trans people are less inhibited: in September 2015, Courtney Demone started posting topless pictures of herself throughout hormone therapy on Facebook and Instagram, challenging them to decide when her chest (with largely unchanged nipples) was sufficiently female to fall prey to censorship.
I’ve spent quite a bit of time trying to find out what became of her project (occasionally distracted by pictures and videos of her extremely cute dog, which I had to share with you), but most of the content and sites associated with it have been removed (or repurposed) completely, and while she repeatedly mentions plans to write follow-up posts, it hasn’t happened so far. I did find this lengthy interview on YouTube, though – I’ll probably watch it tomorrow (for lack of time today), but according to the description, Facebook and Instagram started censoring her pictures a couple of months into the process – including her “before” pictures. Apparently, her nipples retroactively became female in their eyes. (Wonder how that would work for mine!)
(Also, did you know trans women can breastfeed? I did not!)
Update: she talks about how pictures of trans men are handled from 30:00 onwards, and also about an initiative by women who have had mastectomies – apparently, topless pictures of people with breasts (regardless of their gender) and women (regardless of whether they have breasts) get censored, although the initiative’s account was reinstated after public outrage.
Guess the next step is to get some non-women with ambiguous chests and possibly some cis men with gynecomastia for further exploration/messing with censors!