Male-To-Female Reassignment Surgery Female
Bruce Jenner attends the 13th annual Michael Jordan Celebrity Invitational gala in Las Vegas in April. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images for Michael Jordan Celebrity Invitational)
In this excellent post, my colleague Steven Petrow advised that if you're wondering whether someone you know is transitioning from one gender to the other, it's best to "check your curiosity and hold your tongue." But we all have questions about a subject that is increasingly mainstream. Aside from the recent coverage of Bruce Jenner's apparent transition, Laverne Cox last year became the first trans person on the cover of Time magazine, and Amazon debuted “Transparent,” a show about a father who is transitioning.
[UPDATE: Bruce Jenner: ‘Call me Caitlyn’]
Here are answers to some of the questions surrounding this issue.
How many people are transgender?
The Williams Institute, a think tank at the UCLA School of Law dedicated to research on sexual orientation law and public policy, estimates that 700,000 Americans are transgender. But a good piece last year on fivethirtyeight.com noted that there are no national surveys. And if there were, there is no agreement on what "trangender" means.
How many people have sex reassignment surgery?
It's very difficult to know. The Encyclopedia of Surgery says that "the number of gender reassignment procedures conducted in the United States each year is estimated at between 100 and 500. The number worldwide is estimated to be two to five times larger." At least one other researcher says there are many more. Marci Bowers, a transgender obstetrician and gynecologist in Burlingame, Calif., who performs the surgeries, said in an interview that she does about 200 per year herself, about three quarters of them male to female.
Fred Ettner, a physician in Evanston, Ill., who works with people going through transition, estimated that only about 25 percent to 30 percent of transgender people have any kind of surgery.
How does one begin the process of changing one's sex?
Under the standards of care adopted by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), the first step usually is meeting with a mental health professional for a diagnosis and psychotherapy. A diagnosis of gender identity disorder or gender dysphoria and a letter of recommendation from the therapist allows a person to begin hormone therapy with a doctor. That is usually followed by a period of living publicly as a member of the opposite sex and, finally, surgery to alter the genitalia and other body parts.
What do hormones do?
Androgens are given to women to help them develop secondary male sex characteristics such as a beard and body hair. Estrogen and anti-androgens are given to men to help change their musculature, skin and fat distribution, all of which will make them appear more feminine. Body hair also diminishes.
But Ettner said the hormones' most important contribution is to reduce the dysphoria transgender people have been struggling with all their lives. After a month or two, their bodies and brains begin aligning.
"It's very obvious to the individuals," Ettner said, adding, "Their brain finally is getting this hormone. They feel differently. They behave differently.
"The first effect is the brain effect," he said.
What is the Real-Life Experience (also known as the Real-Life Test)
Surgeons who follow the WPATH standards of care (which some patients and experts consider too strict) usually require candidates for surgery to live for as long as a year in their preferred gender role. They must work or go to school; do volunteer work; change their first names and prove to the surgeon that people other than their therapists know they are successfully living this way.
What happens during surgery?
Male to female genital surgery is easier, less expensive and generally more successful than female to male surgery. That's one reason why fewer women choose to have surgery on their genitals, Bowers said. (Another is cost.)
In male to female surgery, the testicles and most of the penis are removed and the urethra is cut shorter. Some of the skin is used to fashion a largely functional vagina. A "neoclitoris" that allows sensation can be created from parts of the penis. Men retain their prostates.
In female to male surgery, the breasts, uterus and ovaries are removed (in two separate procedures). A "neophallus" can be constructed using tissue from the forearm or other parts of the body that allows sexual sensation, an expensive procedure. Extending the urethra to allow standing urination has proved to be perhaps the most difficult part of the process, Bowers said.
What other kinds of surgery are performed?
Jeffrey H. Spiegel discusses the tracheal shave cosmetic surgery procedure to reduce the size of an Adam's apple. (Jeffrey H. Spiegel)
Women wishing to live as men often have mastectomies. Men transitioning to women can have plastic surgery to "feminize" their appearance, including work on their eyes, noses, brows, chins and hairlines. They also can have their Adam's apple shaved down so it is less prominent.
Sounds expensive. Is it covered by insurance?
Bowers and Ettner said a woman who chooses the full range of surgical procedures available would spend $75,000 or more to transition to a male. Switching from male to female might cost in the $40,000 to $50,000 range. Some people have the work done in Thailand, which is well known for the surgery and where the cost is much lower.
Insurance is just beginning to cover some of the costs. Last year, Medicare lifted a 33-year ban on coverage for gender reassignment surgery, and the surgery was performed on 74-year-old Army veteran.
Do many people regret having the surgery?
Anecdotal accounts of regret abound, but overall it appears to be rare. Bowers said that only two of the 1,300 people she has operated on have wanted to go back to their old bodies.
But that doesn't mean that surgery is a miracle cure for the difficulties of gender dysphoria. People who make the transition often lose spouses, families, friends and jobs. They may find themselves completely alone if they relocate to start new lives. Johns Hopkins University, which in the 1960s was one of the first medical institutions to perform sex reassignment surgery, halted the practice when officials concluded that it was not helping the transgendered overall.
A 2o11 study of 324 Swedish transsexuals by the Karolinska Institute showed that "after sex reassignment, [they] have considerably higher risks for mortality, suicidal behaviour, and psychiatric morbidity than the general population. Our findings suggest that sex reassignment, although alleviating gender dysphoria, may not suffice as treatment for transsexualism, and should inspire improved psychiatric and somatic care after sex reassignment for this patient group."
The forgotten history of Bruce Jenner
Transgender etiquette 101
Transgender at 7: Tyler gets a legal name change
Sex reassignment surgery female to male includes a variety of surgical procedures for transgender people that alter female anatomical traits to provide physical traits more appropriate to the trans man's male identity and functioning.
Many trans men considering the option do not opt for genital reassignment surgery; more frequent surgical options include bilateral mastectomy (removal of the breasts) and chest contouring (providing a more typically male chest shape), and hysterectomy (the removal of internal sex organs).
Sex reassignment surgery is usually preceded by beginning hormone treatment with testosterone.
Many trans men seek bilateral mastectomy, also called "top surgery", the removal of the breasts and the shaping of a male contoured chest.
Trans men with moderate to large breasts usually require a formal bilateral mastectomy with grafting and reconstruction of the nipple-areola. This will result in two horizontal scars on the lower edge of the pectoralis muscle, but allows for easier resizing of the nipple and placement in a typically male position.
By some doctors, the surgery is done in two steps, first the contents of the breast are removed through either a cut inside the areola or around it, and then let the skin retract for about a year, where in a second surgery the excess skin is removed. This technique results in far less scarring, and the nipple-areola doesn't need to be removed and grafted. Completely removing and grafting often results in a loss of sensation of that area that may take months to over a year to return, or may never return at all; and in rare cases in the complete loss of this tissue. In these rare cases, a nipple can be reconstructed as it is for surgical candidates whose nipples are removed as part of treatment for breast cancer.
For trans men with smaller breasts, a peri-areolar or "keyhole" procedure may be done where the mastectomy is performed through an incision made around the areola. This avoids the larger scars of a traditional mastectomy, but the nipples may be larger and may not be in a perfectly male orientation on the chest wall. In addition, there is less denervation (damage to the nerves supplying the skin) of the chest wall with a peri-areolar mastectomy, and less time is required for sensation to return. See Male Chest Reconstruction.
Hysterectomy and bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy
Hysterectomy is the removal of the uterus. Bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy (BSO) is the removal of both ovaries and fallopian tubes. Hysterectomy without BSO in women is sometimes erroneously referred to as a 'partial hysterectomy' and is done to treat uterine disease while maintaining the female hormonal milieu until natural menopause occurs. A 'partial hysterectomy' is actually when the uterus is removed, but the cervix is left intact. If the cervix is removed, it is called a 'total hysterectomy.'
Some trans men desire to have a hysterectomy/BSO because of a discomfort with having internal female reproductive organs despite the fact that menses usually cease with hormonal therapy. Some undergo this as their only gender-identity confirming 'bottom surgery'.
For many trans men however, hysterectomy/BSO is done to decrease the risk of developing cervical, endometrial, and ovarian cancer. (Though like breast cancer, the risk does not become zero, but is drastically decreased.) It is unknown whether the risk of ovarian cancer is increased, decreased, or unchanged in transgender men. The risk will probably never be known since the overall population of transgender men is very small;[improper synthesis?] even within the population of transgender men on hormone therapy, many patients are at significantly decreased risk due to prior oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries). While the rates of endometrial and cervical cancer are overall higher than ovarian cancer, and these malignancies occur in younger people, it is still highly unlikely that this question will ever be definitively answered.[improper synthesis?]
Decreasing cancer risk is however, particularly important as trans men often feel uncomfortable seeking gynecologic care, and many do not have access to adequate and culturally sensitive treatment. Though ideally, even after hysterectomy/BSO, trans men should see a gynecologist for a check-up at least every three years. This is particularly the case for trans men who:
- retain their vagina (whether before or after further genital reconstruction,)
- have a strong family history or cancers of the breast, ovary, or uterus (endometrium,)
- have a personal history of gynecological cancer or significant dysplasia on a Pap smear.
One important consideration is that any trans man who develops vaginal bleeding after successfully ceasing menses on testosterone, must be evaluated by a gynecologist. This is equivalent to post-menopausal bleeding in a woman and may herald the development of a gynecologic cancer.
Further information: Metoidioplasty and Phalloplasty
Genital reconstructive procedures (GRT) use either the clitoris, which is enlarged by androgenic hormones (metoidioplasty), or rely on free tissue grafts from the arm, the thigh or stomach and an erectile prosthetic (phalloplasty). In either case, the urethra can be rerouted through the phallus to allow urination through the newly constructed penis. The labia majora are united to form a scrotum, where prosthetic testicles can be inserted.