Today I come amongst you* to talk about boobs. All you boys sniggering at the back may want to leave now because I’m not here to talk about real versus surgically enhanced.** I’m talking about the reality of having breasts rather the fantasy where we sit round all day feeling them in front of a mirror. This may not be a fun chat for those of you who want to hold onto your mammary fantasies.
For the last three days I’ve had a painful, lumpy swollen boob. I finally got an appointment to see someone about it today and now I have antibiotics. That’s because I apparently have an infection and not, for example, cancer. This means my boob probably isn’t going to kill me (in the near future at least).
People who don’t have boobs might think that worrying about mine killing me is an over reaction to a lump. No.
My Grandmother survived a radical mastectomy back when the treatment options for breast cancer were losing your entire boob, plus the lymph nodes from your armpit, plus some of the muscle from the top of your arm or a slow and painful death. Her left hand shook for the rest of her life but she lived into her 80s with no recurrence.
My aunt had an operation that was a little more surgery and a little less butchery. For a while it looked like she’d beaten it too but the cancer got her in the end.
My Mother and my other maternal aunt are fine. There’s a good chance that if there is a breast cancer gene in the family neither of them inherited it. If that’s the case then they can’t have passed it on to my cousin or I. So our chances of developing breast cancer drop all the way to 1 in 8.
I have somewhat ambivalent feelings about boobs. On the one hand they are great, on the other they might kill you. They look fantastic but they’re also kind of a pain in the neck, literally if they’re on the larger side. Mine are fun to hold and look ok and have breastfed two kids but they are costing me a fortune in bras (see this post for part of the reason why).
Breasts are these visible signifiers of gender that women are stuck with. They hang out in front of us like a massive sign that says “This person is female. Feel free to talk over her, ignore her expertise and pay her less.” They’re simultaneously public and private. Everybody gets to have an opinion about them but we’re supposed to care a lot about who gets to see them even when we’re busy trying to stick bits of them in a baby’s mouth.
And they do, occasionally, try to kill you. Even if they’re not very big. Even if you’re not a woman. Even if you’re a woman now but you were assigned male at birth.
Everyone is born with mammary glands. It’s female hormones that make them grow into breasts. Anyone who still has mammary tissue is at risk from breast cancer. Yes that does include men. Even the flattest chested, most masculine, cis dude can be stricken.
Check your chesticles for lumps, people. If you find one get it looked at. Breast cancer should never be fatal because none of us needs tits to live. If caught early enough it should be possible to remove all the cancerous tissue. But that means actually doing something about the symptoms. Also keep an eye out for dents, changes to your nipples, discharge or anything else weird.
And try to remember as you go about your day that breasts are just mammary glands, fat and optional artificial enhancements. They don’t contain any morals, or mystical femininity, or inferiority, or l33t domestic skills. A person’s value is in no way linked to the size, shape, or construction of their tidies.
*Pun absolutely intended.
**Actually, don’t go, I have a message for you at the end.