I am honored to present Connective Tissue, about Samson’s experience with unexplained lactation. Samson is a genderqueer, transgender androgyne living in the southeastern US. They are an educator, a communication junkie and a lover of many languages, programming and music included. They blog at the Felt Fedora and tweet at @feltfedora.
(This post references my hormones and my history with medical professionals’ reactions to them. If you need more context, this previous post will help.)
I had nightmares last night. They were confusing, fluid, and at times nonsensical, the way my nightmares tend to be, and in an odd narrative spiral, so that each event is continually revisited, never completely allowed to rest.
In the lulls between, though, my nightmares gave me an odd gift. I dreamed I was nursing a child.
It was lactation that finally pushed me to find a trans*-friendly doctor. I went off of birth control last year, back to the hormones my body produces on its own. (I have noncongenital adrenal hyperplasia, so I have higher-than-”normal” levels of androgens, although this was still undiagnosed at the time.) I expected the boat to rock plenty as my body readjusted; I was expecting facial hair growth and irregular and painful cycles, the same as I had before birth control, and I got that. As a bonus, my voice also dropped. I was not, however, expecting to lactate.
I thought my hormones would be swinging toward androgen-heavy, so I couldn’t figure out how that would make me lactate. Was the cause, instead, the fact that I was regularly binding on weekdays? Was it a temporary effect of withdrawal from birth control? Was I sick–did I have cancer?
I recognized that I needed to see a doctor about this, and about my hormones in general, something I was dreading after the experience that left me on birth control in the first place. I knew I needed a trans*-friendly doctor. It was mostly a matter of practicality: I thought it could be binding that was making me lactate, and I needed a doctor who wouldn’t have a knee-jerk reaction of, “Stop binding. Problem solved (and even if it isn’t, you shouldn’t be doing that anyway).”
So I set out to find a trans*-friendly doctor. I found one. And when I brought up binding, he flinched a moment, but continued calmly as if it were nothing out of the ordinary.
“That kind of compression wouldn’t be causing it,” he said, and simply went on.
Over the next several months, I went through a battery of blood tests. Samples and smears. Manual exams. And this all just for the lactation–none of the other hormonal issues being diagnosed. The whole thing was highly pathologized–not that I can blame anyone. I was (and am) a trans person, never pregnant in my life, possibly infertile, no partner to stimulate lactation. What could it be but disease?
As it turns out, there appears to be no reason at all.
My prolactin and progesterone levels were both nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing suggested cancer. There was nothing I was physically doing to my chest that should be causing me to lactate. My doctor and I settled on not worrying about it; he had ruled out anything frightening, and the only cause for concern was any discomfort it was causing me (I assured him there was none). He instructed me to “leave it alone,” and that in time it might wane.
I’ve discovered that I will be very sad if it does wane.
There’s something about it that sits right with me, despite all odds. I am very much not a woman, and used to experience quite some dysphoria about my chest. It surprises me that something characterized as so essential(istical)y female and “woman” is something that I find now familiar, comfortable… organic?
Today I was linked to a collection of stories on breastfeeding and weaning. Leafing through the parents’ stories of breastfeeding, weaning, and the close relationships they had with their children surrounding those things, I felt both a kinship with and a confused distance from the relational experiences described.
Lactation has changed my relationship with my own body. In an endeavour to explore and mend my relationship with my body, lactation somehow made my chest safer to me. (I remarked one day, to a friend, “If I have to have breasts, at least they’re functional.”) I’ve developed a comfortable sort of relationship with it; counter to my doctor’s orders, I don’t “leave it alone.” I manually express. I look at the milk–never more than a few drops–and marvel at how swirled and pearly it is. I’ve tasted it. (Reading stories of weaning and unweaning reminded me of a memory: me at four, not long after my sibling was born, asking to nurse again just to remember what it was like, and my mother, palpably uncomfortable, shortly refusing. I was disappointed, but didn’t think anything odd of my request.) Somehow my chest feels more organically interwoven with the rest of my body; it doesn’t feel like the strange interloper that it used to, the one that showed up uninvited at age nine and started messing things up at skin level. It feels rooted, somehow. Part of my experience. Part of me.
I’m left with a sense of how much it is not a part of anyone else, though. I don’t have a child or a partner that shares this with me. Reality is really much like a reduced-capacity version of my dream: nursing was a connective experience, but it was one that connected me with myself–not with my dream-child, who was not characterized as much more than an animated doll that I carried with me. It’s an open loop, somehow: everything about lactation, nursing, breastfeeding seems to imply a relationship, a purpose, a person or persons for whom the milk is being created. As much as it connects me with myself, I’m missing that other piece, that other who is connected to me through the experience.
I have wondered about how to broach the topic with partners (which has, so far, been avoided by relationships fading before they become that intimate). How do you explain to a partner that if they touch you in the ways you’re asking them to, you will–I mean, you’re going to lactate on them and you don’t mind and actually find it kind of sexy. As a trans person. As someone who is not a woman. Who has never been pregnant. Who has no reason to be lactating.
I’m left puzzled by the whole thing, this unexpected gift. I do consider it a gift–one that many people (I’m thinking of trans women in particular) sometimes go to great lengths to have, that others inexplicably don’t have, and here I inexplicably do. It’s just puzzling to be sitting alone with a gift that seems, by default, to be meant for more than one person.