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I Just Came Out as Non-Binary, and Had Top Surgery. I Finally Feel Like My True Self.


Well, it’s officially Pride month. I would love to run around with my rainbow cape and be blissfully happy, but all I can think about is how awful it has been lately for LGBTQ people–especially those of us who identify as transgender or non-binary.

Last year, we saw several anti-LGBTQ laws sweep the nation, but this year hundreds of new hateful laws, mainly in Republican-run states, are being introduced and passed—many of them targeting trans youth and trans athletes. Then, of course, came the wave of “comedians” using gender-affirming surgeries and trans lives as a punching bag for cheap laughs.

To refresh your memory, in October 2021, Dave Chappelle’s gross and hateful comments in his Netflix special The Closer caused an uproar within the LGBTQ community and Netflix’s own trans workers staged a walkout. Even after all the backlash, Chappelle has double-downed and continues to make horrendous anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ jokes.

In the past few weeks, the ever-ignorant Bill Maher has decided his cisgender heterosexual thoughts on gender-affirming care are necessary to share with the world. News flash, they aren’t Bill. Then, Ricky Gervais decided to jump in the fray with transphobic jokes in his new Netflix special, SuperNature. People with no experience coming to terms with their gender or sexuality seem to have a lot of dumb opinions on the matter.

I must say, when I finally mustered up the courage to say I wanted to get top surgery last summer I had no idea that by the time March 2022 rolled around the country would be so vocal about their opinions on this life-saving surgery or targeting these very surgeries with discriminatory and hateful laws. (For those who are unfamiliar, top surgery is basically a double mastectomy that includes a masculinization of the chest.)

But, there I was counting down the days to my gender-affirming, life-saving procedure while tweeting out news that Florida was passing a disgusting “Don’t Say Gay” law and several states were banning this very surgery I was getting for minors.

Getting up in the morning or putting a smile on my face for those days was extremely hard—especially since I found myself waking up each morning to a brand new news alert about an anti-LGBTQ law being introduced. And the hateful bills really seemed to pile up in the weeks before I was set to finally become the me I’ve always been. I was scared, excited and nervous about my upcoming procedure and all I could think about was how so many people in this world hate me just for who I am and who I love.

I am furious that kids who are just trying to be themselves are being singled out and discriminated against. I am furious that so many in my community feel unsafe and targeted, myself included.

To put it very bluntly, I am furious. I am furious that kids who are just trying to be themselves are being singled out and discriminated against. I am furious that so many in my community feel unsafe and targeted, myself included. I am furious that cisgender heterosexual people think they should have any say in what LGBTQ people do with their bodies or lives.

I will say this as loud as I can for as long as I can: coming to terms with your gender identity or sexuality that in any way differs from the cisgender heteronormativity that has been shoved down our throats since we were babies, is absolute hell. And the reason why it is so hard is because we haven’t normalized these very normal identities.

So, I am going to tell you a little about myself. My name is Shannon O’Connor, I have been a working journalist for several years now, I have two loving and supportive parents, a proud sister, the best friends you could ask for, and I identify as non-binary.

Me, the day before surgery!

Shannon O’Connor

It’s almost been a year now since I said those words out loud. Also, for those not sure what non-binary means exactly, it’s when you identify outside of the male and female gender binary. For me, I present masculinely, but have some feminine traits. As I told my friends this weekend, I think of myself like a hybrid car—I have elements of both, but I am uniquely Shannon.

I finally came to terms with my non-binary identity last summer, and anyone that has gone through any coming out journey can tell you that coming out to yourself is the hardest part. I came out as a lesbian six years ago and somehow coming out this second time was harder.

Imagine finally realizing who you are and the first feeling you have is not euphoria, but panic because our society is so intolerable. I eventually got to the euphoric part, but it was a long and hard road.

Shannon O’Connor

I spent weeks in absolute panic and anxiety. I was worried about how I would label myself. I was worried about how society would treat me. I was worried about getting mean or hateful comments while trying to go to a public bathroom. Imagine finally realizing who you are and the first feeling you have is not euphoria, but panic because our society is so intolerable. I eventually got to the euphoric part, I am there now, but it was a long and hard road.

Looking back now it’s overwhelming to think about the journey. I knew from my first coming out experience that it takes a while to become comfortable with your new normal. This was something I had to remind myself of often. And I will be honest, when I first came out to friends as non-binary I was adamant that I would not be getting top surgery—even though I knew deep down that my breasts were the cause of all my gender dysphoria.

This term gender dysphoria is one we hear a lot about but I am not sure if people really understand it. So, I will define it for you, first with the textbook definition and then with what it means to me. But, remember gender dysphoria manifests in different ways for different people.

The Mayo Clinic defines gender dysphoria as “the feeling of discomfort or distress that might occur in people whose gender identity differs from their sex assigned at birth or sex-related physical characteristics.”

For me, my dysphoria has always stemmed from having breasts, but it just took me a while to realize that the distress I had over them was actually gender dysphoria.

Ever since I hit puberty, I have hated my breasts. And thanks to genetics, mine were never a size that I could easily hide away. As I became more comfortable with my androgynous style and sense of being, the breasts caused me extreme stress, anxiety and messed with my confidence. It wasn’t until I actually spoke with people and my therapist about this feeling that I realized it was gender dysphoria. Leading up to surgery my chest binder became my best friend. I would not feel comfortable going into public without it.

It was not until I started to open up to friends and family about my struggle that I started to accept it.

When I was growing up being gay was either taboo or a punchline. And as for gender identity, forget about it, that was rarely spoken about. I figured out the sexuality part first, but something was still missing. So, of course, I ignored it and just tried to be happy. Then, COVID hit and I was forced to spend a lot of time with myself. I could no longer run away from the fact that I was struggling with my gender.

The big eureka moment came for me when I worked on a story here at The Daily Beast that had me chatting with several people who identified as non-binary. Like I said before, coming out to yourself is the hardest part.

Coming out both times was really hard, because I wouldn’t let myself entertain the idea that I was gay or non-binary. I would convince myself that everything was fine. This second time around, I could tell I was doing the same thing, so in some ways I came to acceptance a bit sooner. But, while going through this mental back and forth, I tended to shut people out and withdraw. It was not until I started to open up to friends and family about my struggle that I started to accept it more and more.

Find a friend that won’t let you hide in your bullshit. It’s life-changing

So, how exactly did I get from being adamant about not getting top surgery to getting top surgery? Well, that is all thanks to one of my best friends. In fact, this is the same friend who was one of the first people I told I was gay when I came out six years ago.

She’s known me for a long time and she knows me very well, so she could sense I was hiding how I really felt and that I was struggling with gender dysphoria. Instead of calling me out for hiding the truth, she slowly but surely got me to admit it by just talking it through with me and reassuring me that even with this surgery I am still me. Find yourself a friend that won’t let you hide in your bullshit. It’s life-changing.

From there, she was by my side and hyping me up, along with all my friends and family, every step of the way. She even planned a surprise top surgery/birthday party for me that was Kristen Stewart-themed—true friendship right there. For those unaware, I am not so secretly a massive fan of Kristen Stewart. Not only do I love her acting, but I love the journey she has gone on to discover her true self. Having to do that in the public eye must have been awful, and I have a lot of respect for her courage to be her authentic self.

Three days post-op with a stuffed animal a friend sent me for my surgery.

Shannon O’Connor

During a time that can feel so overwhelming and lonely, I felt so loved and supported by all the people in my life. I know this is not the case for everyone going through this, so I am grateful everyday that I have these wonderful humans in my life.

Some may be wondering now after this surgery if my sexual orientation changed. The answer is yes and no. I am still someone who is attracted to women, but there are a lot of wonderful people who identify as non-binary who I am attracted to as well. I tend to fall under the more umbrella term of queer now. Honestly, I am not a huge fan of all the labels. I think they box us in to help cisgender heterosexuals understand us better. Just love who you love and be who you are.

I am so sick and tired of the pronouns debate. Just refer to people the way they would like to be referred to as. It’s not that hard, it’s called human decency.

This brings me to pronouns. First of all, everyone has a pronoun—even if you are cisgender, so stop acting like they are a new invention. Second, I go by either she or they. I don’t really have a preference at the moment, but that is just me. There are a lot of non-binary people that only want to be referred to as they/them, so respect that. I am so sick and tired of the pronouns debate. Just refer to people the way they would like to be referred to as. It’s not that hard. It’s called human decency.

Any person (also read: bigot) who thinks a surgery like this is a spur of the moment choice that trans or non-binary people will regret, have no idea about the bullshit red tape you have to go through to get the procedure. Just five days before surgery, I had to drive across Los Angeles—never a fun thing to do—to get a new therapist letter because my insurance was going to deny the pre-authorization without very specific wording in the letter.

At one point, I was told over the phone the my letter “needs to fully express her non-binary status.” My jaw dropped, I was honestly too stunned to speak after hearing that glaring contradictory phrase. Oh, and yes, to get this surgery you have to have a letter from a therapist. Yes, that is just one of many pieces of criteria you have to meet. Yes, it is absolutely insane you have to go through all this.

All I remember thinking during the stressful times with insurance was just how hard it must be for people not in a progressive state like California or for minors that want this surgery. They put you through hell, when your stress and anxiety is already through the roof. Thinking back to that stressful time, I still get a little panicked. I really thought I was going to have to reschedule the surgery that I prepared for all year. But, I am now over two months post-op and happier than ever.

Five days post-op when I first got to see my chest. Best day ever.

Shannon O’Connor

Surgery day itself was an absolute blur, all I remember was listening to Kacey Musgraves’ “Rainbow” before going into the surgery center. The recovery, though, especially dealing with drains—the bane of my existence for twelve days—was a journey.

For this surgery, I had two drains that came out of my body right near the middle of my rib cage area on both sides of my chest. The first five days were relatively painless, but showering with drains is an experience and not a fun one at that. I would go through it all again in a heartbeat to be myself, but I do not miss those devils.

Nearly two months post-op and happy as hell!

Shannon O’Connor

The bulk of recovery for this surgery is about six weeks. You can’t pick up anything over five pounds and you can’t lift your arms over your head. In the grand scheme of things, six weeks is very brief but while you are living it, it feels like an eternity. I would also like to take this time to publicly thank my friends for helping me grocery shop and take out trash.

My amazing mother, who has been so supportive of me since the minute I told her, flew out for two weeks to be with me on surgery day and help with my recovery. Her kindness, love and reassurance made a tough time bearable. We forged a whole new, truly unbreakable bond those two weeks. It’s a time I hold very dear to my heart—even though drains were involved.

I almost cried out of happiness when I first put on a t-shirt. Then, I almost cried again when I first put on a tank top. I no longer avoid mirrors.

A lot of people in the LGBTQ community have to deal with the pain of family rejection after coming out, I, fortunately, have never faced that and I thank my lucky stars every day for that. My family has been by my side through it all and, honestly, I don’t know what I would have done without them.

Getting top surgery or any gender-affirming surgery is such a personal and tough decision. But, in the end, these procedures are life-saving. I used to just be a shell of a person. Now, I am the true me.

There is no way to describe how amazing that feeling is. I almost cried out of happiness when I first put on a t-shirt. Then, I almost cried again when I first put on a tank top. I no longer avoid mirrors, in fact I love looking at myself in them now. Sometimes I even forget I had surgery because I just finally look how I have always felt. Just walking down the street, I smile a little brighter, because I am so confident in who I am. Finally. And no one is ever going to take that from me.

First time in a tank top!

Shannon O’Connor

I will never understand how some people can hate or discriminate against anyone just trying to be happy and live a fulfilled life. Every time I think about how happy I am, I get teary-eyed. Just let people be who they are, life is short and we all deserve happiness.

First time putting on a t-shirt.

Shannon O’Connor



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