Gender-confirmation surgeries—the name given to procedures that change the physical appearance and function of sexual characteristics—increased by 20 percent from 2015 to 2016 in the U.S., with more than 3,000 such operations performed last year. Rates are also increasing worldwide. Now, at least one surgeon is reporting a trend of regret.
Urologist Miroslav Djordjevic, who specializes in gender reassignment surgery, has seen an increase in “reversal” surgeries among transgender women who want their male genitalia back. In the past five years, Djordjevic performed seven reversals in his clinic in Belgrade, Serbia. The urologist explains to The Telegraph that those who want the reversal display high levels of depression, and in some instances, suicidal thoughts. Other researchers also report hearing about such regrets.
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“It can be a real disaster to hear these stories,” Djordjevic told The Telegraph.
Charles Kane, who identified as Sam Hashimi after male-to-female reassignment surgery, opted to become a man again after experiencing “hormonal regret.” In the BBC documentary One Life: Make Me a Man Again, Kane explained he originally wanted to become a woman after a nervous breakdown.
“When I was in the psychiatric hospital, there was a man on one side of me who thought he was King George and another guy on the other side who thought he was Jesus Christ. I decided I was Sam,” Kane said.
Postsurgery, Kane believed his female identity would never be liked or accepted as a real woman. He also blamed the influence of female hormones as responsible for making him seek the surgery. “I don’t think there’s anyone born transsexual. Areas of their human brain get altered by female hormones,” Kane told Nightline.
Kane’s insight may not be applicable to all transgender patients seeking reversal surgery. Djordjevic expresses concern about the psychiatric evaluation and counseling that take place prior to the gender reassignment surgery. He recalls patients telling him that when they inquired about the procedure at other clinics, they receive minimal information before being asked for proof that they could pay for the operation.
In Djordjevic’s practice, patients undergo a minimum of one to two years of psychiatric evaluation, accompanied by hormonal evaluation and therapy. Prior to the surgery, he asks patients for two professional letters of recommendation. After the procedure, he strives to remain in contact—he talks with 80 percent of his former patients, The Telegraph reports.
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A 2011 study found that after sex reassignment surgery, more than 300 Swedish transsexuals faced a higher risk for mortality, suicide ideation, and psychiatric issues compared to the rest of the population. The researchers concluded, “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.”
In male-to-female reassignment surgery, doctors will reshape the male genitals in the form of a vagina. The surgery also includes removing the testicles and an inversion of the penis. In female-to-male procedures, doctors remove the breasts, uterus and ovaries and extend the urethra so a transgender man can urinate standing up. Male-to-female reassignments are more common because they are considered less expensive and more successful.
Gender reassignment surgeries are expensive. Male-to-female procedures cost between $7,000 and $24,000, and the cost of female-to-male procedures can reach $50,000. The complications and the expense warrant extra care from doctors performing these reassignments. “Ethically, we have to help any person,” says Djordjevic, “in the best possible way.”
In 1952 a 27-year-old, former WWII-era GI from New York named George Jorgensen traveled to Denmark, and returned to the U.S. as Christine Jorgensen. Jorgensen, who had described herself as a woman trapped in a man's body, was one of the first to transition from the male to female gender through a process involving hormone therapy and surgical procedures [source: Hadjimatheou]. In time, she became a trailblazer in seeking those gender reassignment surgeries as these procedures, now known as gender realignment (reconstruction, affirmation or confirmation) surgeries, wouldn't begin in the U.S. until 1966 [source: Wexler].
Gender identity struggles usually begin in early childhood but descriptions of feeling like a man trapped inside a woman's body, or vice versa, have been identified in and reported by people of all ages. A person living with this an internal conflict may develop anxiety and depression, and go on to be diagnosed with gender dysphoria, formally known as gender identity disorder (GID). Gender dysphoria is a mental health condition that can arise when a person lives with ongoing feelings of being physically incongruous with his or her birth sex — and medical intervention may be beneficial. Identifying as transgender, itself, is considered by scientists to be, at least in part, biological and not a mental illness [source: HRF].
Being transgender also isn't about anatomy or sexual orientation; it's about internally identifying with a gender status — which could be masculine, feminine, agender or gender fluid — that is different than the one culturally assigned to you based upon your physical characteristics. While some people may never publicly acknowledge their transgender status, others may decide to live as their desired gender — and that could mean changing how they express their gender through transitioning.
Transitioning is often two-fold: a social transition, such as new clothing, a new name and new pronouns; and a medical transition, with treatments such as hormone therapy and surgical procedures. Depending on the needs and wants of each individual, transitioning may include both social and medical transitions; just one of the two; or for those who eschew gender completely, neither.