Packing Truth

FTM Packing Truths
by: Thomas Cole

“Will you get surgery… ‘down there’?”


We sat together on a sunlit patio, red bricks packed in sand and tall grass blowing in the wind. We met gazes across the wooden picnic bench. It was new wood – the bench – a bit yellowish and smelling of sap, slightly warped from rains, but sturdy. She looked up at me, hesitantly, expectantly, but with a flash of reluctance – as if she had asked herself this question several times before in a series of hypothetical conversations held in her mind, but now speaking out loud the words appeared to cut emotionally deeper than when ideas are only imaginary and the consequences don’t hold real weight.


I took in a deep breathe. It shook a little as I swallowed the warm air. I held the question in my ears, letting it ring around until it finally settled down deep, permeating into my bloodstream, trickling through my nervous system, and setting things afire. My throat had suddenly gone dry. My knee was now bouncing in an uncomfortably rapid impression of a jackhammer. I held these bodily responses close, although none were controllable, and I responded slowly, meeting her eyes across the knotted table, they were glistening with a fear brewing a springtime storm above her brow.


“No, mom. I don’t think so.”


It was a reassurance offered out of love – I think, out of love. At least, it felt, at the time, like each of my truths – and potential truths – was sticking into her flesh like daggers. Confirming those truths was like reaching across that yellowed table, through the springtime breeze, and pulling out the knife. It hurt me to feel how much my truth could hurt her. There were only so many truths I could bear to share in any one conversation. So, I kept my answer short, and I told her what I knew she wanted to hear. It was easier that way, and maybe, I thought, if I could delay these conversations then her wounds from my truths would heal before I had to rip them open. Too many rips and I couldn’t be certain that she would survive – that we would survive.

My answer wasn’t untruthful though. It just wasn’t my whole truth. The complication to that answer came from what my mom didn’t know about me at the time, and something we have never talked about together – packing.


By the time my mother and I had that short, anxious conversation, I had been wearing a packer consistently for months. I often would wear my packer 24 hours a day, only taking it off to shower and to exercise. I loved nearly everything about packing – how it made me feel, how it looked, how natural it felt for me. Despite all of this though, I felt hesitation, because when I would question myself about bottom surgery and whether I ever thought I would need it, my answer was always a “No…?”. The question mark at end of that sentence held a lot of confused and conflicted weight.


When I would hear other transgender men describe their understanding of their bottom dysphoria, or need and pursuit of bottom surgery, I could never fully hear myself in those narratives.


Anatomically speaking, I have never had many complaints about my “downstairs”, and when I would hear other transgender men describe their understanding of their bottom dysphoria, or need and pursuit of bottom surgery, I could never fully hear myself in those narratives. I didn’t feel desperately in need of a flesh and blood penis. In fact, when my first packer arrived in the mail a couple of months after I had started hormone therapy and before coming out to my family, I didn’t expect to enjoy it. I simply told myself I was just exploring all the different ways transgender men, like myself, live their lives. I thought because I couldn’t hear myself in the narratives of other’s dysphoria that this exploration likely was not going to be for me, but still, I was curious.


I stepped into my first pair of packing underwear, slipped my packer into his pouch, and I examined myself in the mirror. The maroon boxer briefs rested tightly, but securely, on my thighs. The white waistband had a complimenting thickness about it, and the bulge – the bulge sat prominently, but not arrogantly, between my legs. In that reflection, there was something within me that clicked. A wave a relief seemed to come over me, releasing buried tensions I didn’t even know I had.

Thomas Wearing Red Jockmail Briefs

“That looks like me,” I thought to myself.


It was one of my very first moments of truly feeling a deep euphoria rising inside of me – a confirmation of my spirit and of my gender that was, and still is, hard to put into words. At the time I was only a couple of months on testosterone and pre-top surgery. I was binding or taping my chest regularly, but as good as all of that felt, it didn’t feel quite as good as this feeling.


My very next thought though was, “Oh no, so what does this mean for me?”


Could I really love and need to pack, but not want or need bottom surgery? I found myself in the same breath of flooding affirmation that my reflection in the mirror had brought to me, then questioning my validity as a man altogether. People who wear penises, I thought, probably want flesh and blood penises, right? But I didn’t want a flesh and blood penis. So, what did that mean about me? What did that say about me?


A penis – society’s proverbial pole with which to wave the flag of masculinity. If I didn’t want my body changed to embrace that iconic statue of maleness then could I really claim to be the man I knew myself to be?


I spiraled. I put my packer back in my sock drawer, and I tried to think about anything else. But now that I knew what it could feel like to be me in that way my dysphoria started snapping at my heels. Every day without my packer felt like walking around missing a piece of my body. I was folding into myself, detaching from the people around me, and lacking any semblance of confidence or self-assurance. I thought about my packer sitting in that dark, cotton walled drawer, shamefully hidden – out of my sight, but not at all out of my mind.


If you identify with maleness then it’s already yours. You don’t have to go proving it to anyone, especially yourself.


One day, I couldn’t take it anymore. I woke up that morning, put on my packing underwear, pulled my packer from his forced hibernation, and welcomed him home. I became certain in that moment that just because I didn’t want to surgically create for myself a new appendage didn’t mean I wasn’t a man. For me, my packer is a part of me – all the manhood I need, sitting right in his little pouch. My packer makes me feel so naturally myself, and to me, that’s what “being a man” is really about. It is about having the courage to live your truth no matter how many daggers you have to pull. It is about embracing your body whether you need surgery, or a packer, or nothing at all to feel like who you know yourself to be.


Maleness can’t be erected out of societal standards of genital normativity.


If you identify with maleness then it’s already yours. You don’t have to go proving it to anyone, especially yourself.




Thomas Cole (pronouns: he/him/his) – Thomas is a scientist by day, writer by all other available times, based in San Francisco. To read more of his writing and keep up with his day to day follow him on Instagram @creating_thomas.


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