11 August 2023

Isabel turns to surgery to help lift the worry she's had since high school

| River McCrossen
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Isabel West at Port Kembla Beach.

Isabel West is looking forward to feeling free after getting surgery to remove her breasts. Photos: River McCrossen.

Towards the end of high school, Isabel West didn’t feel at ease with her body.

“I was starting to think about my body and how I was relating to people and how I felt about that,” she said.

“By Year 11, which would have been 2015, I was strongly like, ‘I don’t agree with this part of my body, I don’t see it as a part of me’.”

Isabel has gender dysphoria, which the The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners defines as “the distress or discomfort that may occur when a person’s biological sex and gender identity do not align”.

“Where I sit on the gender spectrum is a very solid spot. It’s just that I don’t completely align myself with being a woman,” she said.

“I don’t want to become a man, but I also don’t identify with my chest.

“I still align myself strongly with it [being a woman], but it’s like I’m pivoted a couple steps to the side. So, part of that, especially the physical manifestation of that, is that I don’t think that I need to have a chest.”

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That’s why the Port Kembla resident made the call two years ago to have reconstructive chest surgery, referred to as “top surgery”, to remove her breast tissue.

“It was time to prioritise myself,” Isabel said.

“I want the body that I identify with now, I don’t want to wait until my maybe best years have passed me and then I get to have that. I’d rather put the expense forward, go through it and just get it over with and get to enjoy this time of my life rather than always having this thing at the back of my mind.”

It’s not something you can do overnight, and it doesn’t come cheap.

Her costs will be about $12,000 including psychologist and surgery bookings. She turned to her community through a GoFundMe campaign and plans to sell her car to get over the line.

“Having breasts, as someone who doesn’t identify with them, is like having a weight on you that is always there and you’re always conscious of,” the GoFundMe campaign said.

“It can affect your mood at any time of the day and can make you feel vulnerable and incomplete.”

Isabel sitting on a fence railing at Port Kembla Beach.

Despite the high cost and emotional fatigue, Isabel says she’ll be a lot happier after the surgery.

The crowd funding raised almost $1000, all of which went towards psychology appointments.

“That was people who went to my high school who I wasn’t necessarily friends with, it was from friends sharing with friends or my mum would go to events and she might be telling them about it.”

The price tag wasn’t the only challenge. Isabel said the process had been an emotional drain.

“There’s a lot of mental fatigue, a lot of emotional fatigue,” she said.

“A lot of people do experience doubts and that can be sort of triggering because you’re in such a precarious situation and especially when you’re telling people. It’s treated as an optional surgery and a waste of money.

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“If you’re already having a battle inside of yourself, valuing your happiness, that can be quite destabilising.”

The surgery is planned for November. Minus the recovery, Isabel said she’ll breathe easier off the operating table.

“I’ll be a lot happier. There are so many little things during the day that will remind me that I have a chest and it’s something that I have to think about, whether it’s buying bras, wearing bras or just how the weather affects me or running or walking.

“Once the surgery’s happened that’s just not going to be there.

“I sort of imagine myself just in a field topless, just living my life, doing the sustainable thing on a homestead or something. I’m really looking forward to just, I guess, feeling free.”

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