Although it’s been several years that I’ve been providing gender therapy for transgender folks, I’ve noticed a surge over the past few months of my transsexual* clients who are bringing up their very serious intention to have Gender Confirmation Surgery (GCS). My theory is that, as it becomes more of a reality that insurance companies will be covering the costs of the surgery, the idea of GCS moves from thoughts of, “Yeah, if I ever win the lottery!” to “I better start making some plans to do this!”
Known in the past, and still currently in some circles, as Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS), “bottom surgery,” or (I shudder to type it) “a sex change operation,” GCS is one of the most talked about, debated about, and joked about (and not in a funny way) aspects of transitioning. For those transgender persons who suffer from Gender Dysphoria to such an extent that they need medical treatment to help reduce the intensity of the symptoms, GCS is oftentimes seen as the “Holy Grail” of the process.
For those of you who aren’t transgender you might wonder why that is…
I want to pause as I recognize a hesitancy coming up in me as I write this post. I hate that I have to write about this, first of all, because I am anxious for our society to be at a point where there is no debate as to whether or not it is a medical necessity for someone who is transsexual to have GCS. It pains me to know that so many people don’t want to trust in the fact that many people who experience significant Gender Dysphoria need to have surgery to correct the “birth defect” of having the wrong genitalia. Wouldn’t you???
I had a dream a few months ago that I came out of a surgery and was accidentally given a penis. I know, what better dream could a gender therapist ask for? It gave me even just the slightest glimpse into the discomfort, disgust, and even terror that someone can feel when they do not have the anatomy of the gender they identify with.
You can do this visualization yourself. Look down, and imagine you have the genitalia you aren’t supposed to have. Imagine going through your day with it. Putting your underwear on with it there. Using the restroom with it. Being sexually intimate with it. Either no longer being child-bearing or suddenly being child-bearing. I haven’t even mentioned yet the hormones that come with the anatomy, and how they are flooding you with too much of the kind you aren’t supposed to have!
Something doesn’t quite feel right, huh?
Stay with me here, the exercise isn’t over yet. Can you imagine what it’d be like to be asked, often and by total strangers, whether or not you have a penis or vagina, because they assume by your appearance that you are “one of those people” and think it’s okay to get that personal with you?
And then, depending on your answer, they might decide you really aren’t the gender you say you are?
And then they take away certain rights and privileges from you, even though you are a citizen of the United States of America?
That when you turn on the news you hear very loud, angry, uninformed voices telling you that you cannot use the public restroom of your true gender because you have the “wrong parts” and are more than likely a sexual predator?
This is the reality of a person who is transgender.
I’ve sat with dozens of clients over hundreds of sessions who experience this disconnect between their gender identity and the body they were born in. This is real, people, trust me! This shouldn’t be up for public debate, subject to ridicule, or used as as grounds for discrimination. They need GCS, period, and it needs to be covered by insurance.
Let me be clear about the intention behind this blog post.
This isn’t meant for you to feel sorry for transsexuals. Most of my clients get it, that there is still a ways to go before everyone really does understand what it means to have this condition. These scenarios that I’ve asked you to think about are real and they do happen. But my clients try not to dwell on them too much, as they would much rather focus on the improvements that will come from the treatment.
My hope is that this and other similar discussions will, best case scenario, convince you to become an ally for these folks, and to help fight for their right to fair and equal health care. Middle case scenario is that you now have more understanding and compassion about this condition. Worst case scenario, you still don’t “get it,” but you trust that if enough people are having this experience that it probably is real, and that you pay no more mind to it and go about your business and let them go about theirs.
*In my past blog posts I’ve used “transgender” to describe those who are transitioning away from the gender they were assigned at birth. Although it can be used to describe those who medically transition, the more accurate term for this is “transsexual.”
I was inspired to write this post by an article I read today called Myths About Gender Confirmation Surgery by Brynn Tannehill. It goes through, point by point, all of the “issues” that people bring up against GCS and succintly explains why they are false. It is excellent, I strongly encourage you to read it and share it with your social networks.
Update, 12/20/13: I have received feedback from a few readers who did not like the use of the word “transsexual” and also the term “Gender Confirmation Surgery.” I always try to be respectful of my readers and their sensitivities, so I am curious to hear if there are other phrases/terms that would be preferable that I can use in the future… Thanks!