Coping with my man boob (comedian, uni student, christian)

I WAS WALKING in a friend’s house with my shirt off. It was early 2007 , less than a year after graduating high school. My friend pointed at my chest and said, “hey, you have a man boob.”

I stared at my swollen left pec. It was true. I screamed at the monstrosity that was part of my chest while he laughed.

Fair enough. I’d screamed like a  girl with a sore throat.

And once I’d seen the boob I couldn’t ignore it. It ached. It hurt.  I couldn’t mark a football without me clenching my teeth.

I began to hate boobs. Overrated, I say.

The condition is Gynecomastia. I went to the doctor to see what we could do about Bob. One boob. Get it? Doctors would hear about my symptoms and say, rather bored, “It’s quite common among men. Lift up your shirt.”  I would take a seat and remove my shirt. Then they’d see the boob and poke at it, disbelieved. “It is massive, isn’t it?”

It was normal size for a fat man. But it was attached to a young man who barely weighed 67 kilograms.

cropped boob

And the doctors hinted their accusations. “Sometimes cannabis causes this.”

I didn’t take pot. Why did everyone believe I was on the wacky-weed?

“Maybe alcohol.”

I didn’t drink back then.

“Do you have private health?”

Nope.

“Ooh boy. Well, we’ll put you on the waiting list.”

I’d been on the list about a year when I moved to Melbourne. When you’re a zealous Christian teenager and you aren’t cured through your doctor, then  you focus on prayer. I always walked to the front of the church every Sunday to have someone’s hand laid on my chest in the hopes that the fat would disappear somewhere. Their hands would burn – even tingle, I’m not bullshitting.

But burns did nothing. I used to mutter to myself at night KNOWING Bob would disappear the next morning because believing with no doubt in what God would do only made it so. Or so was my logic.

I was embarrassed to take my shirt off through my late teen years. I went swimming with my shirt on at parties and walk out with my hands wrapped around my chest.

I dreaded the pool parties. I went to the 18th of a girl I liked. It was Hawaiian theme which meant I couldn’t wear a jacket. After careful thought I wore my white shirt, kept a folded towel down the left side of my body, and pretended I had something better to do than swim.

Yes, a shirt wasn’t enough. In all seasons of humid Queensland weather I would wear baggy jackets or jumpers to uni to cover my man boob. I was scared thin material of a shirt couldn’t disguise it. I slouched. And when anyone touched me near the chest I flinched.

Dating in uni when you had a man boob? Sure, being 19 or 20 living two hours from your uni when you had no money was obstacle enough.

One time in Melbourne a strange woman was in the Order 614 kitchen (sort of like a soup kitchen for those who haven’t followed this blog). I walked into the kitchen as she was being asked to leave.

Before she passed me she stopped and stroked her hand down my chest.

She’d felt me up. And in doing so felt my boobie. She gaped at me. Served her right.  She strode out without another word while the others laughed. They did not understand the real situation.

In June 2009 the Order members went on a retreat for a few days. We were supposed to go on a bonding camp in February but the black Saturday bushfires burnt out our camping ground. So it was delayed to June.

The retreat followed one of the tougher times of the year. The Red Shield Appeal and the long hours that came with it was finished with. The retreat was one of the happiest times during the year for all of us.

retreat6

 

Except for MF. She missed out because she hit her head on the wooden cross kept in the church and needed stitches at the hospital.

That first night most of us went in the heated spa. It was a winter night in Geelong. The pool was freezing. But one of the idiots jumped in anyway. I can’t remember who.

Notice the shirt hasn't come off?
Notice the shirt hasn’t come off?

I stayed in the water a few minutes before crawling up the side and into the spa with the others.

When a gathering of young adults of mixed gender share a spa there is the urge for games such as truth or dare. Heated water seems to make us relax. It was a time we learnt more about each others sexual histories.

That’s when I took my shirt off and showed them my boob. It seems silly I could be embarrassed about it. Their reaction was not what I expected.

“Can I touch it?” one of the girls said. And when I let her, she laughed and said “wow, it’s so perky. I wish mine were like that.”

I was grateful for her risque compliment.

retreat7

It’s just one lump of flesh and somehow knowing my friends knew made the difference. They didn’t care. They never thought less of me. Coincidentally, this was the time I opened up more to them. Before that I kept closed about anything from the heart.

God didn’t heal my boob. It feels like blasphemy writing this. It sounds accusing. It’s not. It’s a fact with no religious ideologies seeking an explanation.

I suppose letting my friends know, the “it’s so perky”, played a big part in trivialising Bob the boob. I joined the world of stand-up comedy a year after I finished the Order. My fashion was still baggy jackets but at least I was in the spotlight. I stopped letting the boob interfere with my persona.

I suppose performing stand-up comedy was my way to become somebody else, my way of fighting a lack of confidence. I could influence a room of people with words and not by the shape of my body. After 100 gigs I forgot about my boob. My audience cared if I was funny.

Performing at the Loft, Gold Coast, in 2011.
Performing at the Loft, Gold Coast, in 2011.

In 2013 (five years after I first noticed) I received surgery in Bunbury Hospital, WA. The surgeon left a curved scar line under my nipple.

Bob was dead. It is strange how much this has changed me, but not necessarily in a good way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Making the closest group of friends I’ve ever had

I REMEMBER getting off the plane and landing at Tullamarine airport for the first time.  When I turned my phone on I already missed three phone calls from my new supervisor.

I took the escalator and on the way down I noticed a girl holding a piece of cardboard with my name on it. My first thought was “hello, she’s pretty.” The second thought was that she must have been one of my supervisors. But S- was actually one of the Order members. I don’t know why I thought she was older. I think it was because she was extroverted. She carried herself like one of those members of Greenpeace asking you to sign some forms in the street.

S- was talking to an elderly couple, asking them if they saw someone that matched my description. They hadn’t. I was off the escalator now and I introduced myself . Then we went to collect my bag, and waited outside for the supervisor, who parked in front of us in the Salvation Army van which was nicknamed Bertha.

We stayed at the Salvation Army training college, in Parkville. The building was opposite the park. The trees were lined across the road, the leaves turned orange and about to fall. I had never noticed autumn before. This place had a dying and ratty beauty in a ways Queensland could never be.

We lived on the eighth floor. I remember being amazed at how large an area we had. I’d expected some shoddy concrete lined refuge. The kitchen was well stocked with jams and breads and fruits. The rooms were spread out with en-suites. And the view! OMG, the view overlooked Melbourne CBD  would have set a room’s value at 50,000 alone just to see the skyscrapers.

Everyone else shared a room, but I was disappointed to learn that I was going to be on my own. It was for the best I think, because I am an introvert. I needed the isolation, it turned out, and without it I might have killed someone (not a far stretch of the imagination if you see the blog post’s last photograph).

The 11 Order members met each other that night at dinner. Back then age counted. I was only 19 at the time, and I felt like everyone else was older. However, we ranged from 18 to about 25 years. Halfway through the year, I learnt age had nothing to with maturity or necessarily guarantee a bond between someone your own age over someone a few years older. Unfortunately, when I left the Order, I discovered that many people still hadn’t learnt that lesson.

That first night we took a group photo in the hallway.

I'm the one in the centre far-back, my head hidden in the hood.

Throughout the year I would look at this picture and think, “wow, we looked so young. We didn’t know what we were in for.”

I ended up loving this group more than any other group of friends. We worked, lived, hung out together, with half of us sharing bedrooms. With the stress and long hours, we saw our worst sides. But after a while, the worst sides didn’t matter so much. We knew our friend’s weakness, and in a stressful situation, we worked around it.

carrying ourselves Order
If one of us fell, two others would carry that person even if we were grudging (which suited me just fine in this particular case).

We were a team.

I have never found a team like this before. I think for years after there was an emptiness, an attempt to chase after a social group that had as much meaning, but none came close.

Sometimes life was a party and we all got along fine.

 

Sunglasses party!
Sunglasses party!

Even when we worked hard sometimes we had time for a smile and a ridiculous photo.

IMG_0351

 

 

But then there were times where we just wanted to bury our Order friends alive in a beach somewhere.

G- and I at St Kilda Beach. It's my birthday!
G- and I at St Kilda Beach. It’s my birthday!

And  times we just wanted to kill each other.

Fun and games!