The following is a an essay that I submitted to Newsweek's My Turn column four months ago to no response.
Fine, I can handle rejection. But there's no reason you great folks shouldn't have to read this piece anyway. Hope you find it interesting.
Boys (Would Like to be) Boys
On a late August evening in 1978, a classmate and I enjoyed a dip at the city pool. A cool breeze hinted at autumn’s approach, but we paddled languidly through the silky water and savored the dwindling days of summer.
As we stood on the warm asphalt and toweled ourselves dry beside my dad's rusty Dodge Dart, my friend proclaimed, "You sure have big boobs!”
Flushed with shame, I wrapped my towel tightly around my chest during the ride home.
I didn’t swim again for nearly thirty years; after that night at the pool, I saw myself as a freak. I even coined a secret, hateful name for myself: Tit-Boy.
For months, my breasts had been swollen and tender, but I had no clue what to do about my problem. So, from puberty on, I did my utmost to hide my feminine chest.
Gym class posed a serious challenge, but I had an exemption from showering—a precious doctor's note describing the potential peril of water entering my perforated right ear-drum. If I was always first into the locker room, I could quickly change without being seen. Problem solved.
It was a good system, but a bum ear couldn’t excuse me from the annual scoliosis check.
“Shirts off and line up, ladies!” bellowed my bull-necked gym teacher.
With no means of no escape, I waited with the other boys, who had flat, muscular chests.
Finally, my turn came. The verdict was swift and brutal.
“Nice jugs, Dilley!”
The dank locker-room echoed with my classmates’ raucous laughter.
For men with gynecomastia—abnormally large breasts caused by hormonal imbalance—life is a series of such mortifying moments.
For twenty-five years, I lived in constant fear of being “discovered.” I hunched my shoulders, shunned the beach and the locker room, and sweltered under bulky clothing that obscured my hated man-teats. Even a simple game of pick-up basketball became a source of panic, as players were divided willy nilly into “shirts” or “skins.”
It never occurred to me to ask my parents about the troubling changes in my body. In my strictly Roman Catholic family, any subject remotely related to sex was taboo. Even if my parents would have talked about such matters, my shame about my physical abnormality would have silenced me.
For years, I successfully hid my gynecomastia from my mom and dad, but that changed abruptly with the physical examination required for college admission.
“Well,” said my doctor somewhat disdainfully, “you’re not exactly normal, are you?”
Six weeks later, I was at the Mayo Clinic being prodded by a brusque, icy-handed Filipino endocrinologist and a gaggle of medical students who discussed me as though I weren’t even there. I counted the discolored ceiling tiles above my head and wished the earth would swallow me up.
I received a clean bill of health, but to my dismay, I learned that only a mastectomy could give me the flat chest I desperately craved. Surgery terrified me, so despite the doctor’s awkward, well intentioned advice that the operation would “make dating easier,” I firmly rejected the idea.
“Oh, this won’t affect my dating,” I blithely assured him.
Sadly, that was true.
At nineteen I was resigned to celibacy. It was far preferable to a life of ridicule. (Even now, if Viagra commercials are any indication, men suffer less stigma for having permanently flaccid penises than needing a sports bra when jogging.)
Reassured that I was physically healthy, my parents never mentioned my “problem” again. I started college and found a baggy sweatshirt to drape over myself for the next four years.
Essay concludes tomorrow...