HOUSTON VOICE • JANUARY 28, 2000
VOICES AND ECHOES
Self-love, and a little sag, help elude the booby trap
by MICHELE FORSTEN
I wasn't surprised when
my cousin called to inform
me that his 54-ycar-old sister's breasts were larger than they used to
be and nestled in her bikini top at a gravity-
What shocked me was when he added
that her 25-year-old daughter also had had
her breasts enlarged. 1 can better understand my middle-aged cousin's decision to
alter her breasts—to counter physical
signs of aging and provide an illusory
hedge against mortality—than 1 can her
When I was the daughter's age, back in
the late 70s, the only women who had their
breasts enlarged, or so it seemed to me,
were models and movie stars.
Being well-endowed in the mammary
department had its drawbacks in real life.
My full-breasted friends talked about
having back problems and being
harassed by men on the street who
thought their ample chests were an invitation for sleazy comments.
Glad to be an "A-Cupper," 1 didn't have
a desire to be more voluptuous, nor did any
of my flat-chested friends, for that matter.
But, then again, 1 hung around lesbians.
We accepted what we were given in the
mammary gland department—large or
small—and made the most of it. We knew
there wasn't a correlation between breast
mass and breast sensation; nipples got erect
whether they were the apex of gentle rises
or major mountains.
Things are different now, at least for
straight women. Peg it to the bull market or
the cooling of the controversy over the safety of silicone implants, today it's your average young straight woman and her mother
who are going under the knife.
During 1999, more than 120,000
American women, many in their teens and
early 20s, gave breast implants a try, according to a Netv York Times report.
It's not as though I don't do stuff to
improve my appearance, like pluck wayward eyebrow hairs. Still, this superficial
kowtowing to our society's vision of beauty, doesn't carry the possible repercussions
of breast "enhancement": painful scar tissue, the unnatural feel of the enlarged
breasts, loss of sexual sensation, infections,
the need for additional surgery, leaking silicone, to name a few.
Looking deeper into what was really bothering me about young women having breast
augmentation surgery, I realized mat the
courting of potential health problems and the
vanity of it all merely scratched the surface.
At the core was why women like my
cousin's daughter, with so much of life ahead
of them, would elect to "deform" their body
when other women, including my mother,
are radically and brutally scarred by breast
surgery they didn't want to have!
In 1972, my 42-year-old mother had a
mastectomy and opted not to have reconstructive surgery. Where the fullness and
smoothness of her breast once was, there
was flatness, broken by a long, thick angry
scar. The skin surrounding the scar was taut
and thin, with the outlines of her ribs visible. The plateau became a shallow concave
bowl near her armpit, where her lymph
nodes had been scooped out.
Four years later, she died from the cancer
that had metastasized. During the last days
of her life, I remember rubbing Alpha-Keri
lotion into the area where her breast had
been, feeling some compassion but also
revulsion in seeing her chest so ravaged by
the cancer war she was about to lose.
Trees have rings that reveal their age; I
have visible marks that tell the story of the
six surgeries (some to remove more than
one growth—all, so far, benign) that I've
undergone since 1970 when I was 16 years
old. Scars are etched around both of my
nipples and faded incisions line the surface
of other parts of my breasts.
In the late '80s, with several of these surgeries behind me and another looming, I
went for a second opinion. The doctor
asked, "Have you thought of having prophylactic mastectomies? You're at high risk.
Why take a chance?"
His flippancy about taking such a radical
step that was, at best, of questionable value,
horrified me. Why would I want to protect
myself from a disease I might never contract? It was like deciding to commit suidde
now because eventually I'm going to die.
Recently, my longtime breast doctor
commented that my breasts seemed less
dense and thus easier to examine. This was
the nice, medical way of saying that at the
age of 45, they have started to sag.
Instead of getting depressed and starting
to research plastic surgeons, 1 was elated by
the news. Breast exams will be easier and I'll
get more accurate mammogram readings.
I've lived long enough to understand
that happiness is much longer lasting if it is
achieved by developing self-love rather
than through my chest.
It will take a couple of decades for my
nipples to reach the vicinity of my belly button. If 1 live that long and still have my
breasts, 1 think I'll throw a big party to celebrate their reaching bottom.
And if I live into my 70s, in decent health,
and don't have one or both breasts, I'll celebrate being a crone, hopefully surrounded
by people I love.
Are there any other "gravity embracers" out there who might want to celebrate with me?
Micltelc Forsten is a college administrator living in Neiv York City. Her play, "Winning?"
was staged last summer by Hie Luna Sea
Women's Performance Project in San Francisco.
Why gays should defend the Boy Scouts9 ban
by RICHARD E SINCERE, JR
The US Supreme Court
has accepted an appeal from
the Boy Scouts of America in a New Jersey case
that made national headlines last summer.
In a unanimous decision, the New Jersey
Supreme Court ruled that the Boy Scouts
could not exclude James Dale, an assistant
scoutmaster, and other gay men and boys
from membership or employment. Dale is
being represented in the case by the
Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund.
The Garden State court rejected the Boy
Scouts' claim that such exclusion was
required by their moral code, and thus protected by the First Amendment.
Liberals abhor the Boy Scouts' policy
of discrimination. Conservatives tend
to believe that discrimination against
gay people is justified regardless of
Yet almost every commentator seems
to miss the point of why the New Jersey
decision is pernicious, and why it is
important that the U.S. Supreme Court
hear this case and, ultimately, rule in
favor of the Boy Scouts.
In a pluralistic society, there will never be
perfect agreement about questions of per
sonal morality, particularly sexual morality and intimate associations. There is
still not universal approval, for instance,
for religiously or racially mixed marriages, even though no legal impediment
to such unions exists.
So regardless of whether we approve of
the Boy Scouts' ban on gay members and
leaders, we should acknowledge their right
to act in ways they feel helps fulfill their aim
to teach certain values.
The problem with the New Jersey
court's ruling is that it tries to establish
the principle that the government can
define for a private organization what
that organization's beliefs are, and then
decide for that organization how it may
or may not act on those beliefs.
The New Jersey decision erodes the
liberties of everyone—gay or straight,
conservative or liberal, believers or non-
believers—who wishes to associate with
people who share certain values, beliefs,
or points of view.
It extends government power that
already dictates who we may (or may not)
employ, what wages we may accept from
an employer, which customers we may
choose for our products or sen-ices, and
whom we may marry.
The Boy Scouts of America is a private
organization that should be allowed to
set its own criteria for membership. Like
many of my friends and colleagues, I disagree with the Boy Scouts' policy that
excludes gays from membership and
This is why it is important to encourage
the efforts of those individuals and groups,
such as gay former Scouts, working to persuade the BSA to change its membership
Some argue that regulation of the Boy
Scouts is justified because the group
relies on taxpayers' money to subsidize
its activities. But the Boy Scouts' reliance
on government varies widely from place
to place, and in most cases uses predominantly "private" space.
More than 60 percent of Cub Scout packs
and Boy Scout troops are sponsored by
churches. Direct government sponsorship
of the Boy Scouts constitutes only a small
fraction of the BSA's activities.
The question of whether taxpayers may
or should subsidize the Boy Scouts is separate from whether the Boy Scouts have a
right to engage in expressive conduct protected by the First Amendment. If taxpayers
who are dissatisfied with the Boy Scouts'
policies wish to end their limited subsidies on a community-by-community
basis, that is their privilege as the ones
who hold the purse-strings.
We should also note that the New Jersey
Court's expansive definition of the Boy
Scouts as "a public accommodation" could
have detrimental effects on all citizens.
We should protect the private against the
intrusion of the "public." Is privacy to be
respected only in our homes? Where is the
limit at which we will be forced to associate
with those who disagree with us, or with
those we find disagreeable?
If we do not stand up for the principle of
freedom of association, soon we will see a
homogenized civil society, in which every
group looks like every other group, in
which robust debate cannot take place
because disagreement is forbidden.
Gay men and lesbians, who remain a
permanent minority in this country, cannot
afford this kind of assault on liberty and privacy. Although it may seem counterintuitive, we should support the Boy Scouts in
their fight for freedom of expression and
freedom of association.
Ricfmd Sincere is president of Gays and
Lesbians for Individual liberty and can be
reached through this publication