Sex reassignment surgery for male-to-female involves reshaping the male genitals into a form with the appearance of, and, as far as possible, the function of female genitalia. Prior to any surgeries, patients usually undergo hormone replacement therapy (HRT), and, depending on the age at which HRT begins, facial hair removal. There are associated surgeries patients may elect to, including facial feminization surgery, breast augmentation, and various other procedures.
Lili Elbe was the first known recipient of male-to-female sex reassignment surgery, in Germany in 1930. She was the subject of four surgeries: one for orchiectomy, one to transplant an ovary, one for penectomy, and one for vaginoplasty and a uterus transplant. However, she died three months after her last operation.
Christine Jørgensen was likely the most famous recipient of sex reassignment surgery, having her surgery done in Denmark in late 1952 and being outed right afterwards. She was a strong advocate for the rights of transgender people.
Another famous person to undergo male-to-female sex reassignment surgery was Renée Richards. She transitioned and had surgery in the mid-1970s, and successfully fought to have transgender people recognized in their new sex.
The first male-to-female surgeries in the United States took place in 1966 at the Johns Hopkins University Medical Center. The first physician to perform sex reassignment surgery in the United States was the late Elmer Belt, who did so until the late 1960s.
In 2017, the United StatesDefense Health Agency for the first time approved payment for sex reassignment surgery for an active-duty U.S. military service member. The patient, an infantry soldier who identifies as a woman, had already begun a course of treatment for gender reassignment. The procedure, which the treating doctor deemed medically necessary, was performed on November 14 at a private hospital, since U.S. military hospitals lack the requisite surgical expertise.
Main article: Vaginoplasty
When changing anatomical sex from male to female, the testicles are removed, and the skin of foreskin and penis is usually inverted, as a flap preserving blood and nerve supplies (a technique pioneered by Sir Harold Gillies in 1951), to form a fully sensitive vagina (vaginoplasty). A clitoris fully supplied with nerve endings (innervated) can be formed from part of the glans of the penis. If the patient has been circumcised (removal of the foreskin), or if the surgeon's technique uses more skin in the formation of the labia minora, the pubic hairfollicles are removed from some of the scrotal tissue, which is then incorporated by the surgeon within the vagina. Other scrotal tissue forms the labia majora.
In extreme cases of shortage of skin, or when a vaginoplasty has failed, a vaginal lining can be created from skin grafts from the thighs or hips, or a section of colon may be grafted in (colovaginoplasty).
Surgeon's requirements, procedures, and recommendations vary enormously in the days before and after, and the months following, these procedures.
Plastic surgery, since it involves skin, is never an exact procedure, and cosmetic refining to the outer vulva is sometimes required. Some surgeons prefer to do most of the crafting of the outer vulva as a second surgery, when other tissues, blood and nerve supplies have recovered from the first surgery. This relatively minor surgery, which is usually performed only under local anaesthetic, is called labiaplasty.
The aesthetic, sensational, and functional results of vaginoplasty vary greatly. Surgeons vary considerably in their techniques and skills, patients' skin varies in elasticity and healing ability (which is affected by age, nutrition, physical activity and smoking), any previous surgery in the area can impact results, and surgery can be complicated by problems such as infections, blood loss, or nerve damage.
Supporters of colovaginoplasty state that this method is better than use of skin grafts for the reason that colon is already mucosal, whereas skin is not. Lubrication is needed when having sex and occasional douching is advised so that bacteria do not start to grow and give off odors.
Because of the risk of vaginal stenosis (the narrowing or loss of flexibility of the vagina), any current technique of vaginoplasty requires some long-term maintenance of volume (vaginal dilation), by the patient, using medical graduated dilators to keep the vagina open. Penile-vaginal penetration with a sexual partner is not an adequate method of performing dilation. Daily dilation of the vagina for six months in order to prevent stenosis is recommended among health professionals. Over time, dilation is required less often, but it may be required indefinitely in some cases.
Regular application of estrogen into the vagina , for which there are several standard products, may help, but this must be calculated into total estrogen dose. Some surgeons have techniques to ensure continued depth, but extended periods without dilation will still often result in reduced diameter (vaginal stenosis) to some degree, which would require stretching again, either gradually, or, in extreme cases, under anaesthetic.
With current procedures, trans women do not have ovaries or uteri. This means that they are unable to bear children or menstruate until a uterus transplant is performed, and that they will need to remain on hormone therapy after their surgery to maintain female hormonal status.
Other related procedures
Facial feminization surgery
Main article: Facial feminization surgery
Occasionally these basic procedures are complemented further with feminizing cosmetic surgeries or procedures that modify bone or cartilage structures, typically in the jaw, brow, forehead, nose and cheek areas. These are known as facial feminization surgery or FFS.
Breast augmentation is the enlargement of the breasts. Some trans women choose to undergo this procedure if hormone therapy does not yield satisfactory results. Usually, typical growth for trans women is one to two cup sizes below closely related females such as the mother or sisters. Estrogen is responsible for fat distribution to the breasts, hips and buttocks, while progesterone is responsible for developing the actual milk glands. Progesterone also rounds out the breast to an adult Tanner stage-5 shape and matures and darkens the areola.
Voice feminization surgery
See also: Voice therapy (trans) § Vocal surgeries
Some MTF individuals may elect to have voice surgery, altering the range or pitch of the person's vocal cords. However, this procedure carries the risk of impairing a trans woman's voice forever, as happened to transsexual economist and author Deirdre McCloskey. Because estrogens by themselves are not able to alter a person's voice range or pitch, some people proceed to seek treatment. Other options are available to people wishing to speak in a less masculine tone. Voice feminization lessons are available to train trans women to practice feminization of their speech.
Main article: Chondrolaryngoplasty
A tracheal shave procedure is also sometimes used to reduce the cartilage in the area of the throat and minimize the appearance of the Adam's apple, in order to conform to more feminine dimensions.
Because anatomically masculine hips and buttocks are generally smaller than those that are anatomically feminine, some MTF individuals will choose to undergo buttock augmentation. If, however, efficient hormone therapy is conducted before the patient is past puberty, the pelvis will broaden slightly, and even if the patient is past their teen years, a layer of subcutaneous fat will be distributed over the body rounding contours. Trans women usually end up with a waist to hip ratio of around 0.8, and if estrogen is administered at a young enough age "before the bone plates close", some trans women may achieve a waist to hip ratio of 0.7 or lower. The pubescent pelvis will broaden under estrogen therapy even if the skeleton is anatomically masculine.
- ^Wexler, Laura (2007). "Identity Crisis". Baltimore Style (January/February). Archived from the original on 2012-02-19. Retrieved 2009-10-12.
- ^Kube, Courtney (November 14, 2017). "Pentagon to pay for surgery for transgender soldier". NBC News.
- ^Lynne Carroll, Lauren Mizock (2017). Clinical Issues and Affirmative Treatment with Transgender Clients, An Issue of Psychiatric Clinics of North America, E-Book. Elsevier Health Sciences. p. 111. ISBN 0323510043. Retrieved January 8, 2018.
- ^ abAbbie E. Goldberg (2016). The SAGE Encyclopedia of LGBTQ Studies. Sage Publications. p. 1281. ISBN 1483371298. Retrieved January 8, 2018.
- ^Jerry J. Bigner, Joseph L. Wetchler (2012). Handbook of LGBT-Affirmative Couple and Family Therapy. Routledge. p. 307. ISBN 1136340327. Retrieved February 29, 2016.
- ^Arlene Istar Lev (2013). Transgender Emergence: Therapeutic Guidelines for Working with Gender-Variant People and Their Families. Routledge. p. 361. ISBN 113638488X. Retrieved February 29, 2016.
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Like many other surgery patients, Hayley Anthony has a daily physical therapy regimen. But unlike other post-ops, the 30-year-old marketing consultant is recovering from a procedure she helped invent. Five months ago, she became one of the first people in the world to have a piece of tissue incised from the cavity of her abdomen and turned into a vagina. A surgeon in New York City may have pioneered and performed Anthony’s procedure—but the idea to try it in the first place was all hers.
With only about a dozen doctors in the US who specialize in gender affirmation surgery, it’s nearly impossible to keep up with demand, let alone innovate new ways of doing things. But that’s what Jess Ting, director of surgery at the Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery at Mount Sinai, has been up to for the last two years. What started as a Google search on Anthony’s computer is now the most sought-after surgery Ting performs. In the last six months he’s given 22 trans women something that they weren’t sure they’d ever have—a vagina that looks and feels and secretes like the real thing.
Anthony had known her whole life that she was female, but she didn’t begin transitioning until about four years ago. Then, in the fall of 2015, after months of working with a therapist to better understand herself and her options, she accepted that she had to do whatever it took to have the right body for her mind. She scheduled a consultation with Ting and they made a date to make her a new vagina. Then she went home and down a deep internet hole. “I had gone into the process, eyes wide open, understanding all the compromises and willing to accept them,” Anthony says. The procedure she was mentally preparing for involved slicing open the penis, removing most of the inside parts, and then folding the penile skin into the space between the urethra and the rectum (kind of like turning a sock inside out). In what has become the standard surgery for a male to female bottom transition, the outside of the penis then becomes the inside of the vagina.
But a vaginal cavity made out of skin doesn’t do some things the inside of vagina should (like get wet when aroused) and does others it really shouldn’t (like grow hair, even after electrolysis). For trans women with genital dysphoria, it’s been the only real option for bottom surgery, and it’s been a pretty good one. But the procedure can still leave many disappointed.
During her research though, Anthony came across a paper describing the work of some doctors in India who were building vaginas a bit differently. They were performing surgeries on women with a rare disorder that causes the organ to develop abnormally or not at all. So they had to start from scratch, which requires a lot of material. They found a way to do that with tissue from the peritoneum, which is basically a bag of loose tissue that encircles the inside of your abdomen and holds your guts in place. She brought the paper into her next consultation and showed Ting. “At first he was like, ‘What is this girl doing?’” Anthony says, laughing. “I have no medical training. I’m not a scientist. But then he looked at it and said, ‘Oh, there might be something here.’”
Surgeons have tried before to harvest other parts of the body to make more vagina-like vaginas for trans women. About 10 years ago some doctors attempted the procedure with small portions of patients’ colons. That didn’t work out. “No one wants a vagina that smells like a stool,” says Ting.
No indeed. But alternatives remained elusive, and brainstorming them kept Ting up at night. “I kept thinking, there’s got to be something better,” he says. “But where were we going to find a large amount of pink, hairless, inner skin that secretes fluid?”
The peritoneum, it turns out. After Anthony first brought his attention to the Indian research, Ting started doing some research of his own. The peritoneum, he found out, regenerates naturally after just a couple days. He was even more intrigued. Then he shadowed a colleague at Mount Sinai who was a laproscopic surgeon, watching him remove gallbladders from a tiny incision in a patient’s abdomen. And he watched videos of surgeries that gave him a better look at the tissue to see how much of it he could harvest with the same technique. “It’s just like taking a tool you’re well acquainted with from a toolbox and using it in a new way,” he says.
Ting’s first patient went under the knife about six months ago. It wasn’t Anthony. Though she wanted to be the first, a change in insurance plan forced her to push out her surgery date to April of this year. But she’s glad she got in when she did. There are more than 100 people waiting for gender affirmation surgeries at Mount Sinai, and Ting is the only one doing them.
Though, that should soon change. In July, Mount Sinai launched the country’s first medical fellowship dedicated explicitly to transgender surgery. Ting will be training one fellow each year and he’s hopeful they’ll stay on staff once they’re done to help meet the city’s growing demand. Another important part of their job will be to follow up with these surgery patients over the next few years; while the new procedure is showing superior results so far, it will be important to monitor to see how it holds up long term.
Today, more and more transgender men and women are scrambling to schedule gender affirmation surgeries, scared that the Trump administration is sliding shut their recently opened window to accessible healthcare. In May, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price told a federal court that he’s reworking a provision in the Affordable Care Act that requires states to cover transgender care through their Medicaid programs. The rewrite is likely to free states to refuse coverage for hormones, counseling, and surgeries for transgender men and women. Not that they have to wait; Price said he’s declining to enforce the rule in the meantime.
Patients that live in left-leaning states that have passed their own protections for trans health care, like New York and California, will have a better chance of retaining access. About 70 percent of the transgender patients at Mount Sinai have insurance through the state’s Medicaid program. But many still have to fight to get the coverage they need. For those living in other parts of the country, the situation is even more dire. “There are few populations for whom if you started to play games with people’s access to health care it would be more detrimental.” says Anthony. “Trans people’s attachments to stable sources of income and legal protections are as precarious as they come. The progress we have made has been very limited, very contingent, and very easily lost.”
And while she’s afraid for how the current political climate (and the new administration) might erase protections for trans communities, she is grateful to finally be in a body that does all the things she wants it to. Like, have sex without needing lube. Good sex. Sex with orgasms. “I know that I didn’t always have it, but the way it feels now, I just can’t imagine my body being any different.”