After surgery, sunbathing topless makes me feel euphoric

I could feel the heat on my chest as my skin absorbed the rays of the Cretan sun.

Something about the sound of the Greek sea was calming me, or maybe it was to do with the fact I was finally comfortable in my skin.

I imagined it was going to be a big moment – the first time I took my shirt off at a beach after having my top surgery (also known as a double mastectomy) in September last year – so I’d been working up to it for a while.

But sunbathing after this operation wasn’t hugely life-altering, or earth shifting. I just felt at peace.

The only thing I had to be careful about was making sure I was topping up sun cream over my scars, as it was nine months after my surgery.

It took a long time to get to this point.

As a kid, I remember arguing with my parents on those long, hot summer days. I would see countless sunburnt men in public and say: ‘How come he can take his shirt off but I can’t?’

When I first started to develop breasts at 11 years old, a classmate pointed them out. Paraphrasing the film, Bend it like Beckham, they said: ‘One day those mosquito bites will turn into juicy mangos.’

Thinking about it, that was a time-stopping moment. Not only did this classmate point out something I was trying so hard to hide, but she did it by turning a line from my favourite film against me.

The very next day, I started binding my chest, which meant using material to compress my breast tissue to give an appearance of a flat chest. At the time, I didn’t know there was a word for it or that it was a thing other people did.

I also didn’t know how damaging it could be for my body – had it gone wrong. Thankfully, that didn’t happen to me.

I used to say that one day I would ‘cut them off’, before I even knew that was a medical possibility. Summer was the hardest because I was unable to hide the curves of my breasts behind the protection of layers and baggy jumpers.

As I got older and realised surgery was a possibility, I began tossing around the idea and at 26, I made the decision that it was for me.

The NHS had me looking at years on the waiting list, which – at that point in my life – felt like something I could no longer put up with.

So with money I had saved for over a decade, the right choice for me was to travel to Scotland in September last year for private treatment.

Going into surgery was terrifying. All operations come with risk, but for me, the potential gains made it worth it. And it was.

When I woke up, still in half a daze from the anaesthetic, I felt energised. Seeing my body the way I have always wanted it to look felt euphoric.

Before surgery, I would shy away from full length mirrors – not wanting to look at this part of myself – now I can’t get enough of them.

After a swift recovery, winter had come. I’d taken up a new hobby – drag. This was mostly because I was bored and had always wanted to try it. But I never would have done so before surgery when I was so self-conscious about my chest.

Performing under the name Dishi Sumac, many of my acts involve taking my shirt off in the basements of East London LGBTQ+ bars.

One of my favourite reveals is to Madonna’s Material Girl. Poking fun at the wealth of Rishi Sunak, in drag, I rip open a shirt for fake money to cascade out. In the moment, it makes me feel powerful. I never know if the crowd is cheering for my body confidence or the political commentary – I like to believe it’s both.

The drag scene was the most amazing space to get used to showing off skin that had never been shown in public before, surrounded by people who understood that my surgery was right for me.

It isn’t just about taking my shirt off though.

I stand taller, I am happier in my body, I wear clothes I’ve always wanted to wear but never fit right, and I am more comfortable playing sports and dancing. This all has naturally had an immensely positive impact on my mental health.

Now, I am working on the confidence to feel less afraid to do my drag act in spaces that are not designed as queer utopias.

My worry is that the scars are visible and hate crimes against trans people are rising. While this target of hatred often disproportionately affects trans women, trans men and non-binary people are also vulnerable.

But as summer is here and June marked the season of rainbow adornment in shops and corporate social media profiles, I feel more emboldened to make the most of my body confidence.

I’ve had a few time-stopping moments in my life.

When I realised the reason I was so keen in English lessons was not because of the content but because of the female teacher I was attracted to. The time I came out to my parents in 2017 while blurting out that I am bisexual as part of a joke, without realising what I had said before it was too late.

Or when I came out as non-binary on air at BBC Radio Wiltshire in 2020.

But rediscovering the joy of taking off my top at the beach and sunbathing is up there with those moments of elation.

That’s why my recent trip to Greece – after looking at the ILGA Europe list of most LGBTQ+ friendly countries and cross referencing that with affordability and average monthly temperatures – felt so monumental to me.

Once I got back to the UK, I realised that there are so few days where we get to clock off half an hour early and head to the local park to soak in the sun’s rays, but I plan to make the most of them.

Last year, I really enjoyed the viral phrase ‘Short King Spring’. This year, for me, it’s ‘Shirtless Summer’.

Pride and Joy

Pride and Joy is a weekly series spotlighting the first-person positive, affirming and joyful stories of transgender, non-binary, gender fluid and gender non-conforming people. Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing [email protected]

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