Saskatoon·Point Of View

Being shirtless after mastectomy and chest sculpting surgery was one of the most empowering moments of my life

This summer, after over 10 years of waiting, I prepare to cook on my grill shirtless after finally having undergone top surgery — a mastectomy and chest sculpting procedure.

It surprised me how truly comfortable I finally felt within my own skin

Jack Saddleback says he is embracing his "new found dad bod" by doing his favourite summer activity. (Submitted by Jack Saddleback)

Like any other Canadian after braving eight months of cold weather, summer is a reprieve from harsh conditions where we collectively offer a big sigh of relief that we have all survived another bitter cold.

This particular year for me, however, blooms an extra feeling of relaxation as I prep my barbecue​ for dinner. This year, after over 10 years of waiting, I prepare to cook on my grill shirtless after finally having undergone top surgery — a mastectomy and chest sculpting procedure.

As a transgender man who was assigned female at birth, top surgery has been a procedure that I have been dreaming about since I was 17 and just starting to relax in my gender.

This particular procedure is one that I knew would help me feel at ease within my own body; a feeling that I had not had since I was a young person where I had the support of my family to dress in whatever way made me feel comfortable.

Saddleback as a child. (Submitted by Jack Saddleback)

I distinctly remember the days of being on the beach decked out in my trunks, sandals and hat as we spent summers outdoors with family and friends. Back in those days, I didn't have to worry about being told to wear dresses, blouses or something that was anything other than pink. In those days, I had the freedom to wear those trunks, sport those Ninja Turtles T-shirts and rock my boy caps.

That feeling of ease is one I have long felt has eluded me when compared with others.

To be quite honest, I was a little nervous to be outside in just a T-shirt with no binder, no extra layers and no immediate threat of heat exhaustion from the amount of clothes I typically wore for years.

We all struggle in some form in connecting with our bodies, whether we feel like that extra 10 pounds is holding us back, or that our hips are a little too wide, or the skin under our arms are hanging too low, or that we haven't sculpted those muscles to our liking.

It's a new found feeling for this summer, reacquainting myself with this new found dad-bod.

It's summer and the mercury is expected to climb above 30 today. A good day to head to the beach or relax in the back yard. And if you happen to be a man, you'll likely be going shirtless. It's something Jack Saddleback dreamed about for ten years, But never experienced until a couple of weeks ago. 8:04

Keep in mind that surgery is not for everyone and it doesn't make any trans person less trans or more trans when making decisions around their own journey to undergo any medical procedure.

As a person who is trans and has gone through this procedure, I am not expecting complete understanding of how momentous this event is.

I am not expecting anyone to have an "ah-ha" moment of clarity around the struggles many people who are trans have to go through. I am only detailing to create a shared understanding of how important it is to love your own body.

Saddleback is embracing the summer. (Submitted by Jack Saddleback)

Choosing to go fully topless as I still struggle with those feelings of internal dysphoria due to how society may perceive me was one of the most empowering moments of my life.

In that moment, it surprised me how truly comfortable I was sitting in front of that barbecue​ like any other person, simply enjoying the warm feel of the sun and the inviting smell of the grill.

In that moment, I felt the freedom to take a big sigh of relief from those years of harsh conditions of binding, of body dysphoria, and of being unable to relate to the very skin I live in.

Summer is a time when we can all take a big sigh of relief in how much joy can be had in the simple pleasures of summer, like basking in the warm sun around a good grill.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ. 

About the Author

Jack Saddleback is an award-winning humanitarian, artist and activist from the Samson Cree Nation in Maskwacis, Alta. As an out and proud Cree two-spirit transgender gay man, Jack is an advocate for Indigenous engagement, mental health, student politics and human rights. He was the first transgender and third Aboriginal person to be elected President of the University of Saskatchewan Students' Union in 2015, sat on the Mental Health Commission of Canada's Youth Council for six years, and currently sits on the National Indigenous Youth Council on Sexual Health and HIV & AIDS.