Hann Peliowski: cinema studies student, U of T

I was diagnosed with breast cancer last year when I was 24 and I quit school for a year. Treatment was four months of being unable to feel at peace with my own body. I had the time to think about it and realized I’m genderqueer – I’m not a woman. I decided I didn’t want to feel uncomfortable in my body any more.

I don’t have nipples, just a reconstructed breast. They put in tissue expanders and they’re really uncomfortable and stiff. I’m supposed to have surgery again soon. I told my surgeon that I identify as genderqueer and that I want to have a flatter chest. I thought she’d be like, “What are you talking about? You just had this other surgery,” but she understood right away.

I came out of the closet as gay once, and then again when I had cancer, and now, being genderqueer, I have to do it again. It’s draining, having to explain everything – but coming out of any closet is like that.

Before, I didn’t hate my body but I felt a lot of pressure to perform femininity – to wear short skirts, show cleavage and have longer hair. Sometimes I would do things like cut my hair short and it would feel really nice. But because I’m gay, I also worried that by doing that, I would be stereotyped. I started getting tattoos around five years ago and that helped me feel more comfortable.

The whole narrative of breast cancer is centred around women – which is for a reason: one in eight women get breast cancer. But at the hospital, the information they gave me would be aimed at women in their 50s and 60s. Everything’s pink, and there are programs that will get you wigs or makeup. But that’s not what everyone wants or needs. My doctors would always assume I had a male partner, or that I was going to have kids. People need to know that breast cancer doesn’t only happen to women or older people.

I was really inspired by Ericka Hart, a sex educator and queer Black woman who also had breast cancer. She showed me that I could feel comfortable in my own skin, and that feeling escalated into all of this: coming out as genderqueer, and even doing this shoot. 

Right now, I’m still recovering. I’m still really tired. And I’m like, “When am I gonna be able to enjoy myself as I am?” But I’m starting to feel much more confident.

I may appear to have a female body, but that does not define my gender – and just because I’ll eventually have reduction surgery on my chest, it doesn’t means I don’t love my body right now. I just want to feel comfortable in my own skin. I want to have a good relationship with myself.


See last year’s Body Issue here.

Stay In The Know with Now Toronto

Be the first to know about new and exclusive content