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Beretta pointed out that females seeking to become males tend to throw fundraising parties, but males becoming females don't. The FTMs, he says, tend to be just out of college and working low-paying jobs. Beretta was working at the bar where he threw his first party, pulling in only $2,000 on a good month.
Beretta's first party raised $1,000. But his surgery was postponed when his job working in the nightlife industry didn't provide enough cash. A second party then brought in $2,000. It took a benefactor's loan to bring in the final $5,000, and Beretta is still paying it back.
Not everyone thinks the benefit parties are a positiveor necessarything. One of the world's most prominent trans men, porn star Buck Angel, thinks that benefit parties only lessen the seriousness involved in transitioning to a new gender. "Ugh, don't get me started. That's my hugest pet peeve," he says. "You wanna be a man? Act like a man. Men take care of themselves. Very rarely do they fucking beg for money. Get a fucking job and save your money, and save money like a man. Asking a handout for surgeryit really bothers me. It's just wrong, and it adds to that element of trendiness. It's 'Let's have a boob-removal party!'"
For Kerry Downey, the benefit scene is uncharted territory. "I don't know what a top surgery party is like," she says. "I'm just throwing the birthday party that I've always wanted."
At Galapagos, a giant pink poster hung on the back wall. It read "Sayonara!" and featured a cartoon drawing of Downey cutting off her orbs with scissors. An artist who lives in Queens in an artists' collective called Flux Factory, she has a healthy sense of humor about her situation. She handed out bright pink pamphlets titled "Kerry's Bye-Bye Boobie Manual" which featured a section called "A Brief History of My Boobs." The party invite featured Downey's grinning mug Photoshopped onto a buxom, pigtailed woman's body, proudly announcing, "Help us say goodbye to man's two best friends in one ho-down!" Her Flux Factory buddies made a video set to the tune of Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal," in which giant melons were smashed and cut to bits by people wearing medieval costumes.
A day before her party, at a café on East 18th Street, Downey talks about growing up and hating the way her body was changing in puberty. The more her breasts grew, she says, the more she grew to loathe them. She is lean and slight, and has a shock of curly reddish-brown hair that resembles Lyle Lovett's pompadour. She has fair skin, light blue eyes, and an easygoing manner. She was wearing a fitted, light-pink button-up shirt and tight-fitting pants, but the shirt only accentuates her bust size. As she describes how much she disliked her breasts from the moment they began to emerge, how they caused her back and neck pain, and how she wants to avoid an elevated risk of breast cancer (her mother fought the disease and had a double mastectomy), it becomes evident that her ample chest is incongruous for her wiry frame. But what's wrong with a simple reduction?
"I love boobs. Boobs are great. Not on meany amount of boobs is too much boobs. I want a dude's chest. It just makes sense," she answers.
Her choice is also political. "The queerness becomes a really positive aspect of your identity," she says. "That's why it's much more comfortable for me to take this in the direction of trans surgery, because gender-queer people understand that it's more than physical discomfort. Moreover, it's that the physical discomfort cannot be separated from psychological discomfort. They're deeply interwoven."
Downey is fortunate. Her parents are supportive and understanding; she told her father about her plans last month, and was surprised that he didn't make much of a fuss. "I was afraid that he was going to say something like, 'Aren't your girlfriends gonna miss out on fondling your breasts?'" she says. "He was a little shocked, but he did come around and say, 'All right.'" Her father then immediately talked about breast cancer in his family's history. "That made me feel goodthat he was thinking about it just in terms of health, physical transition, recovery."
When she gets the surgery in Baltimore this week, Downey's mother will be at her side. A friend will document the event, photographing Downey and her mother with their shirts off before and after the surgery. In a way, a puberty-blooming Downey actually envied her mom's new flat chest. "It's a strange position to be into be jealous of your mom's surgically removed chest. I didn't really understand what cancer was. All I knew was that my mom had come home from the hospital titless." She says she learned from her mom that "a woman can still be a woman without breasts."
It was this past December, when she was lying on the table at the gynecologist's office having her breasts checked for cysts, that Downey finally had it. "The last experience of it was so uncomfortable and so horrendous for me, to be exposed on this table. All of a sudden, I'm just bawling on the doctor's table. In that moment, I was like, 'I'm doing it this year!'"