Shirtless Trans Man on a Beach Changes Stranger’s Life. “It is Super Important to See Our Marks.”

by Terrence Francois

My name is Terrence Francois. I’m from Brooklyn, New York, also known as Indigenous Land of the Lenape people.

So it’s 2021. We’re a year into the pandemic. The year prior, I had met my roommate whose 2021 birthday trip this is. She had wanted to go to Cartagena, Colombia with her homies, but she fell sick to COVID, unfortunately. So 2021 was an opportunity for her to redo her birthday trip.

I had gotten my gender-affirming surgery, my top surgery in 2019. At this point, it’s only two years since my surgery. So I’m high-key nervous and I’m high-key anxious and I was still in the process of, even though I had gotten my surgery complete, still feeling into my body in these new ways. So I was like, Holy shit, I’m going to be out on these streets with my shirt off. Will people comment?

I’m nervous as fuck, but I want to do it. It’s a week long stay in Cartagena and we do a lot of beautiful things. But in this particular day, we decided to do some exploration and learn about the history of Cartagena. This is a tour that all of us are taking along with people who we don’t know. We all get shuttled into a bus and we get to know a little bit more about Cartagena. 

We start off by going to this lake where we learn about how they create salt and how they get salt from the river. And then we go to a spot where there’s an inactive volcano and we do this really fun mud bath inside this inactive volcano. 

So the last place we go to is the beach. And this beach, they prepared meals for us and also, it’s empty. We would go during a non-touristy time, It’s April. I decide to go further ahead so I can get to the water first and spend some time with… with the water. And I take off my shirt and I just… There’s a lot of touching myself and just being like, You’re safe. You’re here. We here, son, we here and we said, we’re going to do this. 

My body looks real stunning, but it doesn’t fit the conventional “this is what a complete – this is what, like, a male body looks like.” And black folks, when they have surgery, have a lot of keloids more than other folks. And so I just have scarring. That’s a long way of saying I have scarring. I have a little pink nipple and I have a little brown nipple. I think it’s cute. I love my body.

So I’m out in these beach streets with myself, shirtless, drinking a little drink. My friends are out here. And one of the people on the bus, this young Colombian woman comes up to me and she’s like, “Hey, hola.” 

And she has a phone with her and she comes up to me, she’s like, “Hey, my partner’s on the phone and they’ve never seen a trans person. Can I introduce you?” And she continues to say they’re trans. 

I was like, “Holy shit.” I was like, “I don’t speak any Spanish.” 

And she’s like, “It is more than okay. They just want to see that you exist.” So she gives me the phone, they’re wearing this wide lapel collar blue shirt, button down shirt, light-skinned blonde hair, and it’s swooped like this. They have glasses. They smile at me and they’re like, “Hi.” And I’m like “What’s up, fam?” They just have the warmth of their energies, everything, and their attire is everything. 

“They just want to see that you exist.”

And they’re just cheesing. They’re like, “¿Como esta?” That’s I think all I got. And I was like, “I’m good. How are you?” And I think the partner may have translated a few words I said. 

They smiled and they were like, “This is what I want to do.” And I say that as if I knew exactly what they said, but I think it’s because of context I was given. And I do remember they asked, “Does it hurt? Do you regret it?” But not like “I am scared of regret.” It was more like, “Are you happy?” 

And I remember doing this, “Do it. I don’t know, I know it’s hard, but do it.” And they was like, “Yeah.” 

The continuation of her story, she was telling me that her partner wants to get gender-affirming care, but they’re really afraid of what the world’s going to say. But one, the affordability and having to go to the US for it, and they’re just afraid of it happening and it coming to realization, but they’ve never seen another person. Just to see me in it and be happy with myself and be shirtless, they’re like, “That’s what’s up.”

And then we took a photo together and we went about our way and our time and it was just beautiful. It was an April perfect day with fam in all different aspects. I felt really empowered following meeting them. When I see folks on the beach now with their scars, so many different patterns of healing on our chest, it is super important to see our marks. They’re beauty marks. 

I feel like if I hadn’t had that experience, I wouldn’t take my shirt off as confidently as I do now. And I wouldn’t be such a big advocate to my friends. I have friends who are older than me who just got top surgery. And when I say I’m out here just being like, “Let’s go. Take off that shirt when you’re in the house, friend.”

“But no one’s home. Who’s going to know that?” 

“Exactly. Get comfortable.” 

I’m out here coaching folks because they helped me feel seen. Homie in Cartegena on the phone helped me feel seen. And so I feel I’m paying it forward for sure, for sure. Paying it forward. It’s a game changer.

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