Nice Tits

Gynecomastia makes adolescence even more confidence-crushing than usual for boys.

After the end of junior high, my family moved to New York City, and in high school I stopped doing any after school activities. I turned into an empty shell of myself. My self-confidence was gone. I slouched, wore many layers of clothing, and hid my body from the world, trying to avoid the ridicule that being a boy with breasts creates. I couldn’t talk to girls; I gave up everything I loved; I fluctuated from overweight to underweight, binging and starving myself in an attempt to make it less noticeable. It didn’t always work, and any off-hand comment was soul crushing.

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In the past several decades, men have been force-fed an impossible-to-obtain image of the male body. From Hollywood stars working with on-call nutritionists and personal trainers, to heavily air-brushed, dehydrated, professionally-lit, and oiled photos for magazine covers, men are told that in order to be attractive, you MUST have this impossible body. We are told that we must be masculine, and that strong, ripped bodies are masculine. If there is one thing that is not masculine, it is having breasts.

Gynecomastia—specifically pubertal gynecomastia—is the presence of breast tissue in men, and it develops in a large minority to a majority of adolescent boys as hormones fluctuate in the body. For most boys, these nodules of breast tissue go away as their hormones return back into balance. Unfortunately, for millions of boys, this is not the case and they are left with breast tissue. The severity of gynecomastia ranges greatly from barely any tissue beneath the nipple making them appear slightly puffy, to full-blown pendulous breasts.

“Nice tits.”

This is a phrase that the vast majority of women would probably consider harassment. For millions of adolescent boys and men, it can cause such severe emotional distress that many consider taking their own lives. Our culture and politics have created a perfect storm where a treatable and relative common medical condition ruins the lives of millions of men. Gynecomastia is a problem that the vast majority of people don’t even know exists.

Few have the courage to public discuss the issue, and fewer still are trying to take the steps to address the issue. For years, I have longed to see someone speak out for the millions who suffer in silence, to tell my story.

I discovered that for most guys, it went away after a few months. I was relieved. But it didn’t go away after a few months.

I have gynecomastia. It first developed at around the age of 12, and being incredibly lean and active year round in sports—I ran cross country in the fall, basketball in the winter, track in the spring, and swam during the summer —I knew that something was amiss. I felt afraid and ashamed, and after a good deal of research on the internet, I discovered that for most guys, it went away after a few months. I was relieved. But it didn’t go away after a few months, and for another year it continued to get worse, and I became ever more ashamed. I thought that maybe it wasn’t noticeable to others since I had yet to be teased about it. Then one day in gym class, I was.

Depression, social isolation, acute underperformance, body dysmorphic disorder, and suicide are all too common results of developing gynecomastia. It is a condition that causes such unbelievably immense shame that there is very little public awareness.

Currently, the only way to fix gynecomastia is through surgery. In the United States, insurance companies consider surgery to fix gynecomastia a cosmetic procedure and do not cover it. Even with the severe psychological trauma that it causes, insurance companies will very rarely cover the cost of the procedure.

I got a few steps into the medical process before learning that surgery to correct gynecomastia was not covered by insurance. Worse, because I also have a genetic condition that complicates surgery, it would cost me $100,000 to buy my relief, instead of the usual $6,000 to $10,000. For individuals like me with complications, fixing the problem remains nothing but a pipe dream.

At 23, I still struggle immensely with the problem, and I feel such an overwhelming disgust at my appearance. One of my greatest passions in life is swimming, and from the age of 5 to the age of 13, I spent all summer, every summer in our pool. In the past 9 years, I have gone swimming 5 times. I live for the water, and I feel more at home under the surface than I ever do on land, yet my gynecomastia keeps me from it.

Having secondary sexual characteristics of a woman as a man is not a purely cosmetic problem. Millions of men are underperforming in every aspect of life because they have gynecomastia.
It causes debilitating psychological problems for millions of men, and it has a negative impact on our economy. Because there is so much shame associated with having breasts as a man, the problem remains tucked away on message boards dedicated to men who suffer from the condition. There is no movement to get insurance companies to cover gynecomastia treatment; there is no funding for research into a non-surgical solution, and very few studies are being done on the enduring psychological effects of gynecomastia on young men.

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In high school, my mother knew about the issue I was facing. I delicately brought it up to her, once. Her reply was, “Do some push-ups, chubby.”

Gynecomastia is not a joke. It isn’t “not a big deal” and it isn’t something that can be fixed by working out or losing weight. Men and boys with gynecomastia need greater awareness of the severity of our problem so that regular people like my mother, the other kids and teachers at school, and other boys developing this condition will know about it. We need insurance to cover the procedure, and research into gynecomastia effects and treatment. We need compassion and understanding for those who are suffering; and we need to start today. I would like to encourage everyone to sign my petition or contact the White House to encourage the administration to take action on gynecomastia awareness and treatment.

—Photo credit: jayneandd/Flickr

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About Collin Slattery

Collin is a 22-year-old business owner and entrepreneur from New York City. While an avid writer for years, he is just starting to articulate and share events from his unique and interesting life story. Follow him @cslattery89 or see his website here.

Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing this, Collin. I am glad to hear others talking about it.

    I have both a thyroid problem and gynecomastia, and developed very large and pronounced breasts around 1991 (called “chronic mastitis in adolescent males” back then), when I was just going into junior high. I was the only boy in my school of 800 that developed the problem. The humiliation that the other boys put me through was unspeakable.

    My breasts became the butt of a lot of cruel “jokes” including multiple sexual assaults inflicted on me by other boys in grade 7 and 8. I moved to a much larger area when I went to high school, and there were at least a few other young men with the same problem, albeit less pronounced. The bullying, and the sexual violence, didn’t stop throughout high-school.

    Having a soft voice and a very neutral face meat I was consistently mistaken for a woman everywhere I went. I was sexually harassed by men making the mistake at my first job. Between the sexual violence the harassment, and the identity problems I always faced, I found suicide a pretty appealing option. I started writing my suicide note twice.

    Having my psychiatrist when I was 14 recommend I undergo surgery actually made the shame and humiliation of it seem much worse. I actually couldn’t bear to go back to therapy after that because I lost all trust in his ability to empathize with me. I suspect in the long run that made it much harder to cope with it all.

    I have never had the good fortune of running across others willing to talk about it, on the Internet of off-. I would really appreciate it if you would email me some links.

    If I were to add anything to your article it would be to mention that for some of us who have the condition, the breasts are a source of chronic physical pain, or pain during sex. It took over a decade for mine to stop hurting constantly, and I suspect it is more a matter of acclimation than deadened nerve endings. They still ruin a lot of love-making sessions because of the pain they cause me.

    As I got into my 30s, it stopped mattering as much. I wish I could tell others what changed in my life that helped me to just let it and all the emotional pain that was connected with it go, save that it happened as a part of dealing with the trauma of sexual violence.

    I hope it helps you and the other, silent readers to hear that there are lots of women out there to whom this simply doesn’t matter so long as you take care of the rest of your body and mind. I know that I was terrified of putting myself out there sexually for a very long time. I wore a shirt through my first few sexual encounters, because I was so worried they would be a turn-off.

    Keep shouting!

    • Thanks for your comment, and thanks for signing the petition! I am all too familiar with people mistaking you for a girl, as I have had that happen many many many times. I will send you a couple links that you may find helpful!

  2. Brian Reinholz says:

    Collin, Brian, thanks for sharing. I didn’t know such a condition existed, but it’s not hard to imagine how many hardships this would cause. It’s easy to take for granted how difficult it is to be “different,” if that difference falls into certain highly-stereotyped categories. I appreciate your courage in speaking up about this and raising awareness.

    This kind of courage is what it means to be a good man, not having an airbrushed, stereotypical male figure.

    • Thanks for your kind words. If I ever get the surgery, I am certain that I will probably over compensate by finally being able to attain the body I want by going over the top with creating an ideal figure.

  3. My karate buddy of 3.5 years is a 6′ tall, previously 250 lb. (although shrinking as we speak!) teddy bear of a guy, who also has gynecomastia, …among other things (like manic-depression, multiple medical problems as a baby, which included a deformed windpipe which earned him a tracheostomy and seizures due to the lack of oxygen to his brain, etc. etc.)….

    Anyway, he is the sweetest and sometimes funniest guy in the karate class…and despite his laundry list of medical/psychiatric problems, at his size, he can easily kick all of our skinny little asses and break our toes and fingers when we try to strike him… Okay, sometimes he has trouble remembering some of the katas or the sequence of kyu kumite (pre-arranged sparring exercises), but he is a natural in overwhelming someone in a one on one fight…Sometimes Sensei is tough on him (as he is with all of us)….sometimes Sensei wonders why I defend him when he says or does something goofy…all I say is that I know he is trying his best and that he has a lot working against him and that he needs our help to get to the next belt level (brown belt soon, I hope!)….

    And, may I add, he works full time, goes to college, and has a longtime girlfriend!

    Rooting for you, Collin!

    • Heh, thanks. I don’t like my chances, but I’m going to try to fix the system anyway! Either fix it or die trying.

  4. Reading this was hard. I know the feelings all too well. Every time you meet someone new it’s the first thing they notice about you, even if they try not to stare. I try to have a decent personality to compensate but it’s tough not even being able to move around much or run or turn quickly because you make yourself look ridiculous. Suicide has definitely been an option. I don’t know why anyone would want to be with me.

    • I hear you, Nath. I’ve been wearing compression garments underneath my clothes for a while now; they aren’t perfect but they definitely help. Of course, they’re really expensive ($50-$80 per undershirt) and they don’t fix the problem, they just make it less visible.

      • D.R. Bartlette says:

        I hope this doesn’t sound insensitive – I’m honestly asking – couldn’t you wear sports bras? I’m a large-breasted woman, and boy, do they compress mine…if compression is what you want, and don’t want to pay big bucks…

  5. I’ve known a couple of men with this issue and after much time in the prior-auth world with their insurance they were able to get the removal covered by their insurance. There were some insurance gymnastics that had to be done and it was long, tedious process but the right healthcare provider would do the right thing and help you through it if that if it was at all possible with your insurance.

    Thanks for sharing. And I agree with Brian from a female point of view. It wouldn’t bother me in a relationship at all. It’s a part of who you are but it isn’t solely who you are.

    • Hi Kat,

      The problem is, of course, the fact that it is virtually impossible to get insurance to cover it. I have read stories from a small percentage of individuals who have accomplished it, but it is very rare. As for the whole relationship thing, I can’t say from experience. Like I said, I have never had a woman say yes to me.

  6. Tom Matlack says:

    Collin thanks so much for bring this story and awareness to GMP. Shows great courage and goodness as a man. We need more guys just like you!

  7. great article to raise awareness about this issue. As a pre op FTM transguy, i understand about how having
    breasts affects a man. More awareness needs to be raised about this issue to help support
    boys and men who have to live with this issue. Surgery is, of course, a way to help guys feel
    better about their bodies and themselves.

    If a woman loves you, she loves you for ALL of you. My girlfriend loves me and treats me as
    the man I am, even with breasts and a vagina.

    • Thanks, Alexander! You are quite right about raising further awareness as well as the importance of surgery. That is a big if! I know I do not have, and never have had, a woman that loves me, and I know that a major part of that reason is because I have this condition.

  8. I’m sorry that your mom reacted to you telling her that.

    But it is good that you’re talking about it here. You are bringing up something that needs to be heard.

    Would you by chance be interested in something for the “Large But Not Quite In Charge” call for submissions?

  9. I found your story heartbreaking. It is horrible, too, that insurance won’t cover surgery for this condition. I love your honesty in talking about it and wish there was something tangible I could do, but for now I commend you for sharing your story and letting other people share theirs. I wish you only good things and hope you can find a way to deal with this issue that gives you peace.

    • Thanks Lisa. It is unfortunate that there isn’t much that can be done — aside from signing the petition — and I can’t say I’m optimistic about dealing with it. It’s not really something that you can “deal” with… at least I cannot. It is the single worst thing that has happened to me in my entire life and it has single handedly altered my life trajectory in an incredibly negative way.

  10. I never knew it had a name! Thank you, Collin, for your courageous article. One summer as a ten-year-old, I stood on the beach at summer camp, bitterly homesick, tears of relief in my eyes as I recognized my mother coming for a longed-for visit. Her first words to me as she came near were, “My, Honey, you look like an Irish washerwoman!”

    She was a truly good mother and I know she was unaware of what she did. Naturally I never told her, but for years after that I carefully draped my towel over my neck so it hung down covering my breasts. I was excruciatingly self-conscious. I don’t know that it was clinically gynocomastia, and ultimately, I largely grew out of it and slimmed down enough to put it behind me. Perhaps I was just chubby. But fully 62 years later, I still remember that moment, and it still burns. I think I know what it must feel like for you. Thanks for your courage.

  11. Collin, hate to be the one to break this to you, but being this is a mens issue, don’t expect anything but sympathic words from anyone. Insurance companies and our esteemed Federal government won’t even do anything about fatal male health issues, don’t expect any help on this. No ‘Awareness’ weekends or marches, no pro athletes wearing specially colored wristbands. We just don’t do that for ‘Male health problems. Your best bet is to try hitting the gym and building up your chest (try flys, dumbell bench presses cable curls etc.) It helped me (although at my age, there referred to “man boobs” or “Moobs”)

  12. Collin,

    This is my first acknowledgement of it. I got it too, got the comments continuously. It was a major point of emotional pain from age 15-on. I did not hit puberty till age 15.5 (a bonus factor in making me stand-out as a freak in a class of 365 peers). It was devastating to me in so many ways, but also in that I use to spend loads of time on the beach, and had to stop going shirtless at 15.5-years. Even with the sexual abuse, I did not have a bad body-image until that time. I was never bashful or hesitant to wear speedos on the beech and never use a shirt. By the end of my 5 years in high school, I pretty-well hated human-kind and myself. I dressed as you described and avoid anyone seeing me above the waist. But the “condition” solidly secured my future as never recovering from the childhood traumas.

    Its yet another “issue” in my silo of pain from childhood. At least now in life, no one dares to say anything like that unless they are drunk, and then I send them to meet the floor (or worse). I’ve developed a nuclear-response to TSA pat-downs if the touchy dork dares to say “what’s…” and then I end it in Drill-Instructor fashion. I never touch them or hit them, but I can make them cry with my rap about their “pitiful existence.”

    Viciousness and violence IS a valid method of dealing with anyone who would be so nasty as to intentionally hurt you with snide comments. Lifting weights will never make “it” go away. if anything, it will only serve to build a base of muscle. Rather, do upper-body work to dish-out similar pain that they feel so free to splash on you.

  13. Hello there! This article couldn’t be written much better! Looking at this article reminds me of my previous roommate! He continually kept preaching about this. I will send this information to him. Fairly certain he’ll have a good read.
    I appreciate you for sharing!

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