The transgender issue has exploded onto the public sphere in the last few years, sparking curiosity about the transformation process. Recent data suggests there may be more than a million people in the United States who identify as transgender, prompting some plastic surgeons to see a marked increase in the demand for gender reassignment surgery. Experts say for anyone considering ‘the change’, it’s important to know the issues and select well-qualified surgeons for transgender treatment.
He Said – She Said
Perhaps one of the most well-known transgender revelations was in the sports arena – when then Olympic icon, Bruce Jenner stunned the world and announced he identified as a woman. Jenner said he was beginning the transformation to become Caitlin Jenner. That change prompted an increasingly nationwide discussion about transgender, which had already percolated into plastic surgery quietly. “I think it’s an important and growing population of people,” says Dr. Christine Hamori, a board certified plastic surgeon in Boston.
Dr. Hamori says she treats patients who identify as transgender, noting the needs in that community can be very diverse and often require special attention. “Often times, they are embarrassed and it’s difficult to come to any office to request these procedures,” she shares.
For many people in this community, there can be the emotional backlash from years of hiding the identity, and then even more so when they eventually “come out”. Hamori says her door is open and, because she is a woman, transgender patients often feel more comfortable. “They feel less threatened and they know I won’t judge them, so they feel good coming to a woman for these procedures.”
It’s important to note that plastic surgeons and transgender treatment involve only aesthetic changes – namely the addition or removal of the breasts. Other more nuanced cosmetic changes – perhaps facial augmentations and/or body contouring to fit the desired gender aesthetic – may also come into play. When it comes to gender reassignment surgery as it pertains to the genitals, this is procedure for a different type of surgeon done at a different time.
There are some plastic surgeons who don’t treat patients in the transgender community, so finding a competent and qualified surgeon can be difficult and may require time and travel. Some experts say it’s important for a transgender patient to keep expectations in check. They need to be realistic about results.
“If I had a patient come in and wanted to go through transgender treatment, I would want them to go to one of those experts who do this all the time and are very good at it,” says Dr. Stephan Finical. Finical, a board certified plastic surgeon in Charlotte, North Carolina advises patients who come to him seeking reassignment to find the best in the field. He says a few names stand out on the list.
“People don’t understand, transgender the operation itself is very entailed and very demanding and has risks – these are not things that you want to go to someone who does a limited few, or one a year,” he explains. “You want to go to someone who knows what they are doing.”
Making The Switch
Each transgender surgery is very individualized – depending on what is requested or required. Experts say the most common procedure or those going from male to female is a breast augmentation. It may be among the routine procedures for plastic surgeons, but it requires more detail when performing the procedure for trans-women. Experts say feminizing the face is a particularly difficult part of transitioning from male to female. It requires a delicate touch to soften the lines using facelift, eye lid surgery, rhinoplasty and even fat removal.
The process is long and may require years for a full transformation. “This can really help with a positive body image,” says Dr. Shaun Parson, a board certified plastic surgeon in Arizona. Parson says a full transformation may require months or years, but he says every patient deserves a chance to be comfortable in their own skin. “We can help in that journey.”