Eli Chi drifted in and out of sleep the morning of Nov. 29, 2012. He could not rest; he was too anxious for the day’s events. Nov. 29 was the day Chi elected to have top surgery to remove his breasts — the first permanent step in his transition toward becoming more masculine.
“It was mind-blowing to me,” Chi said. “I was like, ‘Holy shit, I have had this chest for 24 years of my life, and in a matter of two hours, it’s gone.’”
Chi, 2010 Webster University alumnus, is a transgendered male in transition. He was biologically born female, but feels more comfortable with masculine traits. About a year ago, Chi began injecting himself every Monday with a testosterone shot. He said he liked the effect the testosterone had on him, but wanted to transition further. His next step was to undergo top surgery.
Chi said he felt a certain disconnect, or dysphoria, to his breasts. He wasn’t comfortable leaving the house unless he had bound his chest to make it more flat.
“I didn’t hate my body,” Chi said. “There (were) certain things I didn’t like about it, so I changed that. I got top surgery. I don’t feel like I was born in the wrong body.”
Chi said he struggled at first with his transgendered identity. He could not relate to the “trans” that was portrayed in the media, “Where people are like, ‘Oh, I feel like I was born in the wrong body. I hate my body. I want to be a man,’” Chi said.
Chi did not hate his body nor his female past. He said he was just more comfortable with presenting himself as masculine.
“For every trans person, their dysphoria is different,” Chi said. “And for every trans person, it’s not the same story. … I didn’t know where I fit in. Like, I didn’t know if I fit in. I didn’t know if I was trans enough.”
He said he didn’t want to completely transition to male — he just wanted to be more muscular and appear more masculine. Chi said society tends to view gender as binary: either male or female. But for Chi, gender is a more fluid concept.
“I wish that I just was born with a more masculine body and no tits,” Chi said. “I don’t mind having a vagina.”
A changed man
Kelsey Lamb, Chi’s girlfriend, said she has noticed a difference in Chi since his surgery.
“He’s definitely become more open with his sexuality,” Lamb said. “And more in touch with his feminine side, I guess you could say. But he is very proud to be a transgendered male. He is very proud to have a vagina and he is not afraid to flaunt it. I think that going through the entire process has helped him realize that it is OK for him to have a feminine side and be sensitive.”
Chi said he enjoys the physical changes he has recently undergone. His voice has dropped significantly because of the testosterone and his face has adopted a more masculine shape. While he said it was “awkward” the first time he walked around his apartment and by his male roommate with his shirt off, he is now eager to show off his new body.
“I’ve gotten real ballsy,” Chi said. “And gotten real confident. When I go to the gym, I’m like, ‘Whatever, shirt’s off in the locker room. I don’t care.’”
He said his recent surgery will not affect his four-year career as a drag performer. He will still identify as a drag king because he was female-assigned at birth. Chi said sometimes people get confused because he appears to be a male performing as a male in drag, but to him, drag is just a gender performance. He said he knows several “faux queens,” who are “female-bodied people performing as drag queens.”
“I can’t wait to perform with my shirt off and confuse the fuck out of people, which will be hilarious,” Chi said.
In his own skin
Chi said he first considered the idea of top surgery in early 2012. He started to save money in March and April, approximately a month or two after he began testosterone shots. Through his own savings, the money from a fundraising benefit drag show and some help from his parents, Chi soon had enough money to begin consulting surgeons. He finally booked his surgery for Nov. 29.
“Eight months ago or so, I was dreaming about getting top surgery,” Chi said. “And then it happened.”
Lamb said she supported Chi throughout the past year of his transition because she wanted him to be as comfortable as possible in his body.
“I’m very proud of him for achieving his goal of getting the top surgery by the end of the year,” Lamb said. “I’m happy for him. I really am truly happy for him because I know that he was wanting this and it was something that really was affecting him inside and out.”
Chi continues to heal from the surgery, and he is unsure how much sensation he will get back in his chest. He has two large scars under his nipples, which he puts silicone strips on to help minimize their appearance.
“It’s still unreal,” Chi said. “I get out of the shower now and I wake up in the morning and I’m like, ‘Oh, my God, a flat chest. I have pecs and, like, muscle here.’ It’s crazy. But it feels really good and it feels normal. And, yeah, I enjoy it. I enjoy my flat chest.”
No longer in need of them, Chi plans to give away his old chest-flattening binders to an organization that collects donated binders for transgendered men who need them. He gave away his old bras to his girlfriend.
Identifying with trans-identified youth
When he is not at his job at The Fountain on Locust, Chi volunteers with Growing Youth of America, a St. Louis-based organization that acts as a support center for LGBTQ youth. Chi said he enjoys working with trans-identified youth, or children and teenagers that may be struggling with their gender identity.
Chi said he didn’t realize he was transgender until adulthood. But for some of the children he works with, he said he notices they already know their identity as a transsexual.
“They know that something is different about them, whereas when I was growing up, I was — I don’t know — I was just, like, a tomboy,” Chi said. “I didn’t know. I didn’t know at all.”
Chi said he has no future plans for surgery. His next step will be to legally change his gender on legal documents, including his birth certificate.
He said 95 percent of the time he is read as male, but it still bothers him the other 5 percent of the time when people use the wrong pronouns.
“People might just assume I’m female, which is stupid,” Chi said. “It is what it is and I laugh at it. I try to laugh at it now, because there’s no point in getting upset. … It’s pretty laughable because you are just a fucking idiot for reading me as female.”
While Chi and Lamb identify as a queer couple, Chi is the first biologically born female that Lamb, who identifies as straight, has dated.
“I am a queer, trans man, like, I primarily date women,” Chi said. “So I just say I’m queer, because I feel like queer is an all-encompassing word. You know, like, I can date whoever the hell I want to date. Whoever I find attractive, and that I am attracted to.”