The Background of SRS Surgery
While the history of SRS surgery dates back to the early 1930s, it vaulted into the public eye when World War II veteran George Jorgensen set out from New York to Denmark in 1952 at the age of 27, returning later as Christine Jorgensen. He had gone through one of the very first transitions from being a man to being a woman using both hormone therapy and surgery. Over time, Jorgensen would become a pioneer for others who felt like women trapped in the body of a man (and vice versa). While American doctors would not start performing these procedures until 1966, the course was set for people who identify with their gender to transition — even though the process is lengthy, it is worthwhile for those who have spent a lifetime suffering from gender dysphoria.
SRS surgery is the set of operations that help people overcome the sensation of living inside the body of the other gender — an experience known as gender dysphoria. Most people who experience struggles with gender identity start feeling them during early childhood, although these feelings have been reported and identified by people at all stages in life. In some cases, people living with gender dysphoria experience depression and anxiety. One area of progress for transgender persons is that scientists now identify transgender orientation as a biological phenomenon rather than a mental illness.
A transgender person doesn’t have issues with anatomy or sexual orientation. Instead, it’s about an intrinsic connection with a gender status that is different from the one that people assign to you on the basis of the way you look. Some people never acknowledge the act that they believe that they are transgender, and others decide to change so that they can live as the gender with which they identify. SRS surgery is one way for them to express their gender.
SRS surgery is just one part of the social transition, though. There are as many paths to successful gender transition as there are patients, but in many cases the transition takes on two different steps: the social phase, which includes a new name and new clothes, among other things; and the medical phase, which includes both hormone treatment and surgical operations. For some people, the transition includes only the social phase, while for others, it includes both. Some go without either sort of transition, choosing instead to abandon gender entirely.
According to the Williams Institute, about 0.3 percent of the American population identifies as transgender. Not all of these people want or go through SRS surgery. While estimates vary — and since private facilities do not have to publish their statistics — the exact number of SRS surgery procedures that take place each year is not known — the best guess is that anywhere between 100 and 500 surgical procedures take place in the United States annually for people seeking treatment for gender dysphoria. However, the United States is not the leader when it comes to countries where transgender surgery takes place. That title belongs to Thailand, where the regulations and costs associated with this type of surgery are much less significant.
SRS surgery takes place under the principles established by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), which set up Standards of Care for Gender Identity Disorders (SOC). Patients choose the type of surgical procedures on the basis of their comfort level — as well as their ability to finance the operations. The principal categories of SRS surgery involve facial reconstruction, the top (chest/breast area) and the bottom (genital area) of the body. Some procedures are more medically necessary to effect the hormonal changes necessary to help the patient escape gender dysphoria, while others have more of a cosmetic emphasis. Some patients draw more significance from outward appearance than rebuilding genitalia.
The first step toward SRS surgery involves treatment with a psychotherapist. If the treatment results in a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, then the patient moves toward hormone treatments designed to move the patient’s body toward the chemistry of the identified gender. After hormone treatment and a period of living as a member of the gender, if the patient qualifies, then it’s time to select specific surgical procedures. After the surgery takes place and the patient moves through recovery, it’s time to begin life the way the patient believed it should always have been as far as gender goes.