Largent raises money for top surgery

by Stephanie Thomas / Beacon Staff • September 8, 2011

Chris Largent was born female and has spent the better part of his life becoming a male. By undergoing testosterone injections and receiving ample support, Largent is well on his way to looking and feeling like the man he wants to be. And this man wants to say ta-ta to his ta-tas.

Largent, a junior theatre design/technology major, is currently in the process of raising money for a top surgery.

A top surgery, also know as an FTM (female to male) top surgery, is the masculinization of the chest in a female to male transgender patient. This means that what is left of the breast tissue after testosterone treatment is removed and reformed as a man’s upper body.

“People say my chest just looks like saggy pecs but who wants saggy pecs?” Largent said. “They don’t look good!” Largent makes you feel like old friends after only a few minutes of conversation; he is amiable and witty, talks with his hands and believes in his astrology as a Scorpio. He has tattoos and piercings and a pair of breasts he doesn’t want.

Largent wears a binder, a sort of tank top-like garment which flattens his chest every day. In order to raise money to gain the male torso he desires, Largent set up a blog through a fundraising website called ChipIn. He posted his first blog entry in June of this year.

He did a lot of research online about transgenders, and Largent says he found a community of transitioning people sharing their stories on YouTube.

“I fell upon one [video] that talked about getting a top surgery and using this ChipIn site to raise the money. I thought, what the hell, if he can do it so can I,” said Largent. He had a hard time asking for donations at first, however, and it took a slight push from his girlfriend Heather Wise, also a junior theater design/technology major, to help him over that hurdle. “I told him the worst case scenario would be that people don’t donate,” Wise said. She is confident that Largent is taking the appropriate steps for himself.

“The surgery is right for him; he’ll stand up a little bit taller,” Wise said. “Everyone deserves the opportunity to stand as tall as they can, especially when they’re as wonderful as Chris is.”

Over time, he came to think of his blog as a journal to share his experiences and help people understand how he got to where he is.

“[They] can see the world through my eyes rather than understanding me how they think they see me.”

Despite his willingness to talk about himself and his transition, Largent found that not everyone is willing to listen. When the wife of his high school mentor began discouraging people from using male pronouns to describe Largent, he was hurt.

“My mentor, that I know of, didn’t stick up for me,” he said. As a self-described fortunate transgender, this hardship was taken in and retooled as a way to learn, he said.

Largent’s blog has become an important tool for handling emotions and he has blogged frustrations he deals with now as well as life as a transgendered child who wanted suits instead of dresses and Buzz Lightyear instead of the Little Mermaid. While his blog has grown in terms of subject matter, a light tone carries throughout.

Largent works his blog into his daily routine by waking up early to write and link his posts to Facebook. Coming up with material for the blog is a challenge.

“It can be hard to sift through [stories], and sometimes you suppress memories,” Largent said.

By using his blog as a soundboard, Largent finds ways to make his impending goal accessible to readers.

Largent’s blog thrives on his drive to inspire others and after three months of operation, at press time the ChipIn site has raised $3,647.54 (from 120 donors) of the $5,400 needed for his surgery.

Largent used the Internet to better understand his community.

“When I first learned about the trans population being not a figment of my imagination, I was Googling the sh** out of [it], and came across a ton of terms: top surgery, bottom surgery, pre-op, post-op,” he said. “I wanted to know more about these words.”

Largent set a goal to begin testosterone hormone therapy, which he started as a freshman at Emerson, and then to get a top surgery. Testosterone is administered once every 10 days via an intramuscular injection into his thigh. Largent began treatment in November 2009, he’s injected himself with testosterone about 65 times to date. He compares it to being diabetic because he will have to continue administering injections for the rest of his life. Largent has an outline of Michigan, his home state, tattooed on his thigh which he uses as a bull’s-eye for injections.

“Once I injected in a vein and I was like ‘Oh! Now I know not to stab in Lake Michigan.’”

Largent also found several websites where other transgender patients posted photographs and reviews of their surgeries, but he didn’t like what he saw.

“I thought, ‘This looks horrible, I wouldn’t want to take my shirt off with that,’” Largent said.

Finally he came across Dr. Charles Garramone, a plastic surgeon who, according to his website, has been listed in the Guide to America’s Top Plastic Surgeons for the past five years and has received the Patient’s Choice Award three years running.

Dr. Garramone performs several top surgeries each month and the results of previous patients impressed Largent.

“When I spoke to him, I knew he would be my surgeon.” Largent said. “He figures out what kind of patient you are and what you will need.”

This hands-on approach to the surgery helped him decide to be placed on Dr. Garramone’s waiting list. A deposit of $500 was required along with the understanding that the cost of the surgery would be paid in full two weeks before the surgery date, Dec. 29.

Largent is not alone in seeking this procedure. According to Dr. Sherman Leis, a plastic surgeon based out of Bala Cynwyd, PA.

“I perform one or two FTM top surgeries a week,” Dr. Leis said in a phone interview with the Beacon. Dr. Leis said he has done hundreds of top surgeries throughout his years in plastics.

A social worker or psychiatrist can help to support patients who are unsure and is often suggested, Dr. Leis said.

“It’s not a one way street; if they happen to change their mind they can add implants,” he said.

Largent, however, had lived as a male for the better part of his life and was diagnosed with gender identity disorder by his psychiatrist. This made him eligible for the surgery.

Largent set his fundraising deadline to Nov. 15 and is looking forward to the little things, like having shirts fit correctly.

“It’d be great to just sit in a room with my shirt off when I’m hot and to get guys to feel more comfortable wrestling, which is a big part of my frat.” Largent said.

Largent is a member of Phi Alpha Tau. Jason Kelliher, a Tau brother who grauated from Emerson in 1998, has donated to Largent’s cause. Kelliher said he is proud and inspired by his fraternity brother.

Largent feels it’s important that his donors have a sense of where their money is going.

Kelliher agrees: “A lot of people are friends and students [donating] in small dollar amounts, and everything has really made an impact.”

The prospect of surgery is exciting for Largent. The inevitable recovery period that follows, however, frustrates him.

“I hate asking for help which is the biggest hurdle to come over,” he said.

In addition to feeling uncomfortable relying on others, Largent said he would like to avoid stereotypes. “Asking for help can make people seem not manly. It’s a horrible stereotype for guys,” he said. “We all know it’s a wrong stereotype, but its there and [to be] that stereotype is de-masculinizing.”

Largent has worked hard to feel comfortable around other guys.

Despite having to put his self-sufficient Scorpio tendencies aside to rely on others, Largent is eager for his new physique. “The gift I want to send everyone [after the surgery] is a picture of me shirtless being like  — WOOO! on a postcard  —  even though that’s kind of creepy.”

As for future surgeries, he said he feels that a bottom surgery, genital reconstruction, isn’t something he needs.

“Every men’s bathroom has a stall so I may as well take a squat,” he said.

There is one thing that would potentially change his mind: “If they can find a way for me to make babies, if they find that one little gene so I can make swimmers then great.”

To learn more about Chris Largent, visit: http://chrislargentsurgery.chipin.com/transgender-top-surgery

Jamie Bogert, Beacon Staff, contributed to this piece.