How to Test Nipple Sensitivity the Painful Way

Setting: Pajama party, 1985, East Windsor, New Jersey, in the suburbs. About six or seven teenage girls are hanging out in a family room, watching racy movies and nibbling at chocolate chip cookies and potato chips. It is something like 1AM. The movie ends and conversation starts up, mostly about who’s dating whom, which teachers at school are the worst, nothing terribly unexpected as topics go. And then someone arrives at the bright idea of playing truth or dare. Dares are written down on scraps of paper and tossed into a hat, should a game participant select dare over truth for their turn. Dares seem to be winning out as the choice of the night, and quickly all of the dares are exhausted.

I figure that we’ve gone through the worst of them, so when it’s my turn, I pick dare and consider myself the cleverest person of the evening. It only takes about five seconds to reconsider handing over my mantle.

“Put this chip clip on your boob.” She held it out to me. It was all bright yellow and innocent-looking.

I was 15. What did I know of the nerve endings there? I’d only had boobs for something like nine months.

Instantly, I was on fire, in a very bad, excruciating, this-was-a-terrible-idea way. I ripped it off and crumpled over on my side. I pretended we were all sharing in the good laugh.

As body parts go, I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about my nipples, so I suppose in that way I’ve been ungrateful. My head, face, brain, knees, hands, skin, teeth, stomach, and feet have received way more in accolades and attention. Nipples rank somewhere in the midst of armpits, ass, and that space between my shoulder blades that I can’t reach. Not exactly honored territory.

I suppose I forgot about the fact that there are two big bundles of nerve fibers on my chest when I decided to get one of my nipples pierced. I was trying to get good with having breastage, I suppose. It’s not unheard of for transfolk to try to find ways to like their body more, and heck, a barbell piercing seemed as good a way of getting in touch with my body as wearing a fried egg on my head, so why not give it a shot?

I had, after all, pierced my tongue with no fanfare (or pain) whatsoever. I forgot that tongue piercings happen in front of the main tongue nerve. Nipple piercings go right through the nerve cluster.

My entire torso, which is of considerable size, turned dark purple when the piercer stabbed me, and I let out a scream that I’m sure was heard all up and down Connecticut Avenue in DC. I looked down at my wounded nip. The piercer smiled at me.

“People come in here for 10, 20 years looking for a sensation like the one you just had,” he said.

“How nice for them,” I said. I walked back to my car pinching my shirt away from my chest because even air molecules hurt me as I walked past them.

The poor piercing never really healed, and 18 months later, I removed it, tired of trying to keep it clean and infection-free. In no short order the hole closed, thankful I was finished with my titanium foray into stupidity.

Setting: Strip mall, Halloween 2007, Timonium, Maryland, suburbia. I am scheduled for top surgery to remove all of my breast tissue and excess skin, and recreate a male-looking chest. This means that my poor nipples will be physically removed from my body, cut smaller, and reattached. I can’t think of any other time when any part of my body hung out and chilled while not attached to the rest of me. I’ve had things taken away — eye muscle tissue, the aforementioned breasts, bone chips, but nobody’s ever put them back except for this. There are many ways to accomplish the FTM top surgery, but this is the one the surgeon wants to do for me, and she knows what she’s talking about. I count down from 10 on cue from the anesthesiologist, and make it to 7. I’m certain the last image in my mind is the abstraction of my nipples floating in saline.

According to the surgeon, it will be years before I have nipple sensation again, as nerves grow about half an inch a year. Sometimes feeling never comes back at all.

Other times, like I’ve experienced, there is referred pain, where I feel the pain in the wrong spot from where it’s occurring. The real bastardly thing about this is there’s not much one can do about it. I can touch the area that hurts but it continues to hurt. I’ve thumped my chest like Tarzan, tried distraction by stimulating another nerve (read: pinching myself), taken pain medication like ibuprofen, but when it wants to make a visit, it’s there. Fortunately, this has become less frequent over time.

I wondered about the chip clip a couple of years ago, so I fumbled around in the kitchen drawer where such things exist, and tried it again. No problem! Not that there’s any usefulness to this as a skill as far as I could tell. It was just a change from my adolescent body, one among thousands, I supposed.

A few days ago I was holding baby Emile after I’d taken a shower. He had a full diaper and I needed to fix his situation for him, as he’s currently incapable of it. Clad in only my boxers and socks, I lifted him out of his crib and he threw a big relieved smile at me.

In one second he reached out and grabbed my right nipple and twisted.

My nerve has grown back and is now functioning.

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Categories: Family, ponderings


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