Junior returns after gender reconstructive surgery

by Stephanie Thomas / Beacon Staff • January 26, 2012

Chrislargent
Largent’s tattoo signifies the presence of art everywhere, even on himself.
Largent’s tattoo signifies the presence of art everywhere, even on himself.

Chris Largent came out of anesthesia thinking it was the apocalypse.

“How many zombie movies start with someone waking up in a hospital?” Largent thought from the hospital room.

After months of planning, fundraising, and waiting, the junior theater design technology major underwent surgery on Dec. 29 to remove his breasts. Largent was born female and has spent the majority of his life becoming male.

“[This surgery] is the only way to match what my brain has been telling me my whole life,” Largent said. “It was a coming of age for me, coming into my manhood.”

Through the blogging website ChipIn.com, Largent raised more than $5,000 over the course of three months to cover the cost of his surgery. A single donor paid for the hotel he and his family resided in before and after the surgery.

“When you’re transgender, a surgery can do a world of difference for you,” Largent said.

The months of preparation made his mother, Anna Leppert-Largent, anxious, but the result was just as meaningful to her.

“I was excited for Chris because this took care of the physical issue and made his appearance match what he was feeling on the inside,” Leppert-Largent said in a phone interview.

Largent said he prepared for the operation by eating healthily, and avoiding caffeine and cigarette smoke.

“I wanted my body to be the strongest it could be so my recovery would be strong,” he said. “A full radical double mastectomy is big surgery.”

The surgery, known as a female-to-male top surgery, was performed by Dr. Charles Garramone, a plastic surgeon based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Prior to surgery, Largent received a packet of information documenting any and all risks, ranging from swelling and allergic reactions all the way to death, which he had to read and sign.

One of the most frightening aspects for Largent was going under general anesthesia.

“I was worried about the possibility of not waking up,” he said,” it’s something I had no control over.”

In addition to this worry, Largent said his brain was abuzz with thoughts.

“I was nervous and...kept thinking about how all the preparation led to this moment,” he said, “it was amazing to look at my chest and know that somehow [Dr. Garramone] was going to rearrange it all.”

While his parents and girlfriend Heather Wise, also a junior theater design and technology major, sat in the waiting room, Largent was placed under anesthesia by a kooky woman with Buddy Holly glasses and magenta scrubs, he said.

During the procedure Wise acted as Largent’s social media coordinator.

“I used both of our twitters to blast out updates and I texted from both of our phones,” Wise said in a phone interview. Largent’s parents kept family members updated and Wise communicated with friends.

The surgery itself lasted 90 minutes, and when Largent woke up he said he kept thinking, “Pain. I’m in pain. I’m cold. I’m thirsty, too.”

After the initial discomfort, Largent said he was prescribed pain killers, while gauze, sterile strips, and draining tubes were used to keep his chest wrapped and to remove any excess fluids. He nicknamed the draining vessels the “drainades” due to their grenade-like shape. The dressings felt similar to the binder Largent wore for years, before the surgery removed the tissue from his chest. A binder is a tight, tank top style garment worn to flatten the chest. Now, Largent will never need it again.

The day Dr. Garramone removed the dressings was nerve-wracking for Largent. The drainades were removed, and the wrappings were undone. Largent said he went into a bit of a shock.
“I’m not naked, but I feel naked,” he said.

The initial shock subsided and Largent returned to his home in Michigan to recover and prepare for his next semester at Emerson.

Because of the tenderness after surgery, Largent said he couldn’t raise his arms too high and likened his mobility limitations to how Popeye carries himself.

“I was so scared that I would hurt it,” he said. “I didn’t want to mess anything up or I would regret it for the rest of my life.

The fear of taking a step backward helped Largent remain cautious in the early stages of his recovery, but he began to think of this time on a greater scale.

“The four year process of this, as a 21-year-old, is 20 percent of my life,” he said. In the grand scheme of things, he views this as a small blip on his timeline. “I was lucky I could go to the bathroom by myself. If you’re 80, that’s ok, but at 21 I don’t want someone helping with that.”

Largent said his support group is varied.

“The oddest group of people [came] together,” he said. “The church community mixed with LGBTQ supporters and artists.”

Though help is always available from a multitude of well-wishers, Largent’s current struggle is asking for it.

“Boston is an independent city,” he said. “If you can’t lift more than five pounds, even opening a door can be an issue.”

To make the transition back to campus easier, Largent signed up for only general education classes for the spring semester. As a theater design and technology major, Largent said he is asked to perform a lot of physical activities which he isn’t capable of doing post-surgery. He timed his return to Emerson well, arriving in Boston last Thursday (meaning 1/19). As of today, (meaning Thursday 1/26) he will be able to lift at most 15 pounds.

Six weeks after the surgery, on Feb. 9, Largent will send photographs of his chest to Dr. Garramone, who will assess his healing progress. Largent currently has two thin scars which run from under his arms to just before his sternum. A tattoo on his left chest reads “Why Art Works,” a reminder for Largent that art is everywhere, even in his body.
Leppert-Largent said that the result of the surgery was remarkable.

“[Dr. G] is very talented. It’s a work of art what that man does,” she said.

Though he isn’t able to take major-related courses, Largent was offered a job as an office assistant by Performing Arts Technical Director Keith Cornelius. According to Largent, this will allow him to be present in the department without doing extraneous movements.
“I found a way to keep theatrically busy,” said Largent.

A struggle he faced in his recovery was getting dressed in the morning, as he could only wear button down shirts.

“I can’t pull shirts over my head,” he said.

After a few weeks of only wearing button down shirts, Largent is finally able to pull on a t-shirt with a little help from his girlfriend. But the overall effect of the surgery did more than help his clothes fit properly.

“The feeling is better,” he said, “I feel like myself.”

The next step for Largent is working out, and he said he hopes to see the results of his training in his new physique. He said he is starting to feel comfortable answering the door without a shirt, but only when the guest is close to him.

“My co-RA, Beata, knocked on the door and I answered [shirtless],” he said, “and she looked at me for a second and screamed, ‘oh my god! You look so good!”

Friends have been eager to embrace him, but he has to warn them before they leap into his arms: “Don’t squeeze me too hard, my nipples might shoot off.”