gender reassignment process


Stages of Gender Reassignment

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gender reassignment process

The idea of getting stuck in the wrong body sounds like the premise for a movie in "Freaky Friday," a mother and a daughter swap bodies, and in "Big" and "13 Going on 30," teenagers experience life in an adult's body. These movies derive their humor from the ways in which the person's attitude and thoughts don't match their appearance. A teenager trapped in her mother's body, for example, revels in breaking curfew and playing air guitar, while a teenager trapped in an adult's body is astounded by the trappings of wealth that come with a full-time job. We laugh because the dialogue and actions are so contrary to what we'd expect from someone who is a mother, or from someone who is an employed adult.

But for some people, living as an incongruous gender is anything but a joke. A transgender person is someone who has a different gender identity than their birth sex would indicate. We interchange the words sex, sexuality and gender all the time, but they don't actually refer to the same thing. Sex refers to the parts we were born with; boys, we assume, have a penis, while girls come equipped with a vagina. Sexuality generally refers to sexual orientation , or who we're attracted to in a sexual and/or romantic sense. Gender expression refers to the behavior used to communicate gender in a given culture. Little girls in the U.S., for example, would be expected express their feminine gender by playing with dolls and wearing dresses, and little boys would be assumed to express their masculinity with penchants for roughhousing and monster trucks. Another term is g ender identity, the private sense or feeling of being either a man or woman, some combination of both or neither [source: American Psychological Association ].

Sometimes, a young boy may want to wear dresses and have tea parties, yet it's nothing more than a phase that eventually subsides. Other times, however, there is a longing to identify with another gender or no gender at all that becomes so intense that the person experiencing it can't function anymore. Transgender is an umbrella term for people who identify outside of the gender they were assigned at birth and for some gender reassignment surgeries are crucial to leading a healthy, happy life.

Gender Dysphoria: Diagnosis and Psychotherapy

Real-life experience, hormone replacement therapy, surgical options: transgender women, surgical options: transgender men, gender reassignment: regrets.

gender reassignment process

Transgender people may begin identifying with a different gender, rather than the one assigned at birth, in early childhood, which means they can't remember a time they didn't feel shame or distress about their bodies. For other people, that dissatisfaction with their biological sex begins later, perhaps around puberty or early adulthood, though it can occur later in life as well.

It's estimated that about 0.3 percent of the U.S. population self-identify as transgender, but not all who are transgender will choose to undergo a gender transition [source: Gates ]. Some may choose to affirm their new gender through physically transforming their bodies from the top down, while others may prefer to make only certain cosmetic changes, such as surgeries to soften facial features or hair removal procedures, for example.

Not all who identify with a gender different than their birth sex suffer from gender dysphoria or go on to seek surgery. Transgender people who do want gender reassignment surgery, however, must follow the standards of care for gender affirmation as defined by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH).

In 1980, when gender identity disorder (GID) was first recognized, it was considered a psychiatric disorder. In 2013, though, GID was, in part, reconsidered as biological in nature, and renamed gender dysphoria . It was reclassified as a medical condition in the American Psychological Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), a common language and standards protocol manual for the classification of mental disorders. With this classification, transgender people must be diagnosed prior to any treatment [source: International Foundation for Gender Education ].

Gender dysphoria is diagnosed when a person has a persistent desire to become a different gender. The desire may manifest itself as disgust for one's reproductive organs, hatred for the clothing and other outward signs of one's given gender, and/or a desire to act and be recognized as another gender. This desire must be continuously present for six months in order to be recognized as a disorder [source: WPATH].

In addition to receiving the diagnosis from a mental health professional, a person seeking reassignment must also take part in psychotherapy. The point of therapy isn't to ignite a change, begin a conversion or otherwise convince a transgender person that it's wrong to want to be of a different gender (or of no specific gender at all) . Rather, counseling is required to ensure that the person is realistic about the process of gender affirmation and understands the ramifications of not only going through with social and legal changes but with permanent options such as surgery. And because feeling incongruous with your body can be traumatizing and frustrating, the mental health professional will also work to identify any underlying issues such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse or borderline personality disorder.

The mental health professional can also help to guide the person seeking gender reassignment through the next step of the process: real-life experience.

gender reassignment process

WPATH requires transgender people desiring gender reassignment surgery to live full-time as the gender that they wish to be before pursuing any permanent options as part of their gender transition. This period is a known as real-life experience (RLE) .

It's during the RLE that the transgender person often chooses a new name appropriate for the desired gender, and begins the legal name-change process. That new name often comes with a set of newly appropriate pronouns, too; for example, when Chastity Bono, biologically born as Sonny and Cher's daughter in 1969, began her transition in 2008 she renamed herself as Chaz and instructed people to use "he" rather than "she" [source: Donaldson James ].

In addition to a new name and pronouns, during this time gender-affirming men and women are expected to also adopt the clothing of their desired gender while maintaining their employment, attending school or volunteering in the community. Trans women might begin undergoing cosmetic procedures to rid themselves of body hair; trans men might take voice coaching in attempt to speak in a lower pitch. The goal of real-life experience is to expose social issues that might arise if the individual were to continue gender reassignment. How, for example, will a boss react if a male employee comes to work as a female? What about family? Or your significant other? Sometimes, during RLE people realize that living as the other gender doesn't bring the happiness they thought it would, and they may not continue to transition. Other times, a social transition is enough, and gender reassignment surgery isn't pursued. And sometimes, this test run is the confirmation people need to pursue physical changes in order to fully become another gender.

In addition to the year-long real-life experience requirement before surgical options may be pursued, WPATH recommends hormonal therapy as a critical component to transitioning before surgery. Candidates for hormone therapy may choose to complete a year-long RLE and counseling or complete six months of a RLE or three-months of a RLE/three months of psychotherapy before moving ahead with hormone therapy.

Upon successfully completing a RLE by demonstrating stable mental health and a healthy lifestyle, the transitioning individual becomes eligible for genital reconstructive surgery — but it can't begin until a mental health professional submits a letter (or letters) of recommendation indicating that the individual is ready to move forward [source: WPATH].

gender reassignment process

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) , also called cross-sex hormones, is a way for transgender individuals to feel and look more like the gender they identify with, and so it's a major step in gender reassignment. In order to be eligible for hormone therapy, participants must be at least 18 years old (though sometimes, younger adolescents are allowed to take hormone blockers to prohibit their naturally occurring puberty) and demonstrate to a mental health professional that they have realistic expectations of what the hormones will and won't do to their bodies. A letter from that mental health professional is required, per the standards of care established by WPATH.

Hormone therapy is used to balance a person's gender identity with their body's endocrine system. Male-to-female candidates begin by taking testosterone-blocking agents (or anti-androgens ) along with female hormones such as estrogen and progesterone . This combination of hormones is designed to lead to breast growth, softer skin, less body hair and fewer erections. These hormones also change the body by redistributing body fat to areas where women tend to carry extra weight (such as around the hips) and by decreasing upper body strength. Female-to-male candidates begin taking testosterone , which will deepen the voice and may cause some hair loss or baldness. Testosterone will also cause the clitoris to enlarge and the person's sex drive to increase. Breasts may slightly shrink, while upper body strength will increase [source: WPATH].

It usually takes two continuous years of treatment to see the full results of hormone therapy. If a person were to stop taking the hormones, then some of these changes would reverse themselves. Hormone therapy is not without side effects — both men and women may experience an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, and they are also at risk for fertility problems. Some transgender people may choose to bank sperm or eggs if they wish to have children in the future.

Sometimes hormonal therapy is enough to make a person feel he or she belongs to the desired gender, so treatment stops here. Others may pursue surgical means as part of gender reassignment.

gender reassignment process

Surgical options are usually considered after at least two years of hormonal therapy, and require two letters of approval by therapists or physicians. These surgeries may or may not be covered by health insurance in the U.S. — often only those that are considered medically necessary to treat gender dysphoria are covered, and they can be expensive. Gender reassignment costs vary based on each person's needs and desires; expenses often range between $7,000 and $50,000 (in 2014), although costs may be much greater depending upon the type (gender reconstructive surgeries versus cosmetic procedures) and number of surgeries as well as where in the world they are performed [source: AP ].

Gender affirmation is done with an interdisciplinary team, which includes mental health professionals, endocrinologists, gynecologists, urologists and reconstructive cosmetic surgeons.

One of the first surgeries male-to-female candidates pursue is breast augmentation, if HRT doesn't enlarge their breasts to their satisfaction. Though breast augmentations are a common procedure for cisgender women (those who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth), care must be taken when operating on a biologically male body, as there are structural differences, like body size, that may affect the outcome.

The surgical options to change male genitalia include orchiectomy (removal of the testicles), penile inversion vaginoplasty (creation of a vagina from the penis), clitoroplasty (creation of a clitoris from the glans of the penis) and labiaplasty (creation of labia from the skin of the scrotum) [source: Nguyen ]. The new vagina, clitoris and labia are typically constructed from the existing penile tissue. Essentially, after the testicles and the inner tissue of the penis is removed and the urethra is shortened, the skin of the penis is turned inside out and fashioned into the external labia and the internal vagina. A clitoris is created from excess erectile tissue, while the glans ends up at the opposite end of the vagina; these two sensitive areas usually mean that orgasm is possible once gender reassignment is complete. Male-to-female gender reconstructive surgery typically takes about four or five hours [source: University of Michigan ]. The major complication from this surgery is collapse of the new vaginal cavity, so after surgery, patients may have to use dilating devices.

Trans women may also choose to undergo cosmetic surgeries to further enhance their femininity. Procedures commonly included with feminization are: blepharoplasty (eyelid surgery); cheek augmentation; chin augmentation; facelift; forehead and brow lift with brow bone reduction and hair line advance; liposuction; rhinoplasty; chondrolargynoplasty or tracheal shave (to reduce the appearance of the Adam's apple); and upper lip shortening [source: The Philadelphia Center for Transgender Surgery]. Trans women may pursue these surgeries with any cosmetic plastic surgeon, but as with breast augmentation, a doctor experienced with this unique situation is preferred. One last surgical option is voice modification surgery , which changes the pitch of the voice (alternatively, there is speech therapy and voice training, as well as training DVDs and audio recordings that promise the same thing).

gender reassignment process

Female-to-male surgeries are pursued less often than male-to-female surgeries, mostly because when compared to male-to-female surgeries, trans men have limited options; and, historically, successful surgical outcomes haven't been considered on par with those of trans women. Still, more than 80 percent of surgically trans men report having sexual intercourse with orgasm [source: Harrison ].

As with male-to-female transition, female-to-male candidates may begin with breast surgery, although for trans men this comes in the form of a mastectomy. This may be the only surgery that trans men undergo in their reassignment, if only because the genital surgeries available are still far from perfect. Forty percent of trans men who undergo genital reconstructive surgeries experience complications including problems with urinary function, infection and fistulas [sources: Harrison , WPATH].

Female-to-male genital reconstructive surgeries include hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) and salpingo-oophorectomy (removal of the fallopian tubes and ovaries). Patients may then elect to have a metoidioplasty , which is a surgical enlargement of the clitoris so that it can serve as a sort of penis, or, more commonly, a phalloplasty . A phalloplasty includes the creation of a neo-phallus, clitoral transposition, glansplasty and scrotoplasty with prosthetic testicles inserted to complete the appearance.

There are three types of penile implants, also called penile prostheses: The most popular is a three-piece inflatable implant, used in about 75 percent of patients. There are also two-piece inflatable penile implants, used only 15 percent of the time; and non-inflatable (including semi-rigid) implants, which are used in fewer than 10 percent of surgeries. Inflatable implants are expected to last about five to 10 years, while semi-rigid options typically have a lifespan of about 20 years (and fewer complications than inflatable types) [source: Crane ].

As with trans women, trans men may elect for cosmetic surgery that will make them appear more masculine, though the options are slightly more limited; liposuction to reduce fat in areas in which cisgender women i tend to carry it is one of the most commonly performed cosmetic procedures.

gender reassignment process

As surgical techniques improve, complication rates have fallen too. For instance, long-term complication risks for male-to-female reconstructive surgeries have fallen below 1 percent. Despite any complications, though, the overwhelming majority of people who've undergone surgical reconstruction report they're satisfied with the results [source: Jarolím ]. Other researchers have noted that people who complete their transition process show a marked improvement in mental health and a substantial decrease in substance abuse and depression. Compare these results to 2010 survey findings that revealed that 41 percent of transgender people in the U.S. attempted suicide, and you'll see that finally feeling comfortable in one's own skin can be an immensely positive experience [source: Moskowitz ].

It's difficult, though, to paint a complete picture of what life is like after people transition to a new gender, as many people move to a new place for a fresh start after their transition is complete. For that reason, many researchers, doctors and therapists have lost track of former patients. For some people, that fresh start is essential to living their new lives to the fullest, while others have found that staying in the same job, the same marriage or the same city is just as rewarding and fulfilling and vital to their sense of acceptance.

In many ways, the process of gender affirmation is ongoing. Even after the surgeries and therapies are complete, people will still have to deal with these discrimination issues. Transgender people are often at high risk for hate crimes. Regular follow-ups will be necessary to maintain both physical and mental health, and many people continue to struggle with self-acceptance and self-esteem after struggling with themselves for so long. Still, as more people learn about gender reassignment, it seems possible that that these issues of stigma and discrimination won't be so prevalent.

As many as 91 percent Americans are familiar with the term "transgender" and 76 percent can correctly define it; 89 percent agree that transgender people deserve the same rights, privileges and protections as those who are cisgender [source: Public Religion Research Institute ]. But that's not to say that everything becomes completely easy once a person transitions to his or her desired gender.

Depending upon where you live, non-discrimination laws may or may not cover transgender individuals, so it's completely possible to be fired from one's job or lose one's home due to gender expression. Some people have lost custody of their children after divorces and have been unable to get courts to recognize their parental rights. Historically, some marriages were challenged — consider, for example, what happens when a man who is married to a woman decides to become a woman; after the surgery, if the two people decide to remain married, it now appears to be a same-sex marriage, which is now legalized in the U.S. Some organizations and governments refuse to recognize a person's new gender unless genital reconstructive surgery has been performed, despite the fact that some people only pursue hormone therapy or breast surgery [sources: U.S. Office of Personnel Management , Glicksman ].

Lots More Information

Author's note: stages of gender reassignment.

It's interesting how our terminology changes throughout the years, isn't it? (And in some cases for the better.) What we used to call a sex change operation is now gender realignment surgery. Transsexual is now largely replaced with transgender. And with good reason, I think. Knowing that sex, sexuality and gender aren't interchangeable terms, updating "sex change" to "gender reassignment" or "gender affirmation" and "transsexual" to "transgender" moves the focus away from what sounds like something to do with sexual orientation to one that is a more accurate designation.

Related Articles

  • How Gender Identity Disorder Works
  • Is gender just a matter of choice?
  • What is transgender voice therapy?
  • How fluid is gender?
  • Why do girls wear pink and boys wear blue?

More Great Links

  • DSM-5: Gender Dysphoria
  • National Center for Transgender Equality
  • The Williams Institute
  • American Medical Student Association (AMSA). "Transgender Health Resources." 2014. (April 20, 2015)
  • American Psychological Association (APA). "Definition of Terms: Sex, Gender, Gender Identity, Sexual Orientation." 2011. (July 1, 2015)
  • AP. "Medicare ban on sex reassignment surgery lifted." May 30, 2014. (April 20, 2015)
  • Belkin, Lisa. "Smoother Transitions." The New York Times. Sept. 4, 2008. (Aug. 1, 2011)
  • Crane, Curtis. "The Total Guide to Penile Implants For Transsexual Men." Transhealth. May 2, 2014. (April 20, 2015)
  • Donaldson James, Susan. "Trans Chaz Bono Eyes Risky Surgery to Construct Penis." ABC News. Jan. 6, 2012. (April 20, 2015), Gary J. "How many people are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender?" April 2011. (July 29, 2015)
  • Glicksman, Eve. "Transgender today." Monitor on Psychology. Vol. 44, no. 4. Page 36. April 2013. (April 20, 2015)
  • Harrison, Laird. "Sex-Change Operations Mostly Successful." Medscape Medical News. May 20, 2013. (April 20, 2015)
  • (HRF). "14 Unique Gender Identity Disorder Statistics." July 28, 2014. (April 20, 2015)
  • International Foundation for Gender Education. "APA DSM-5 Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders: 302.85 Gender Identity Disorder in Adolescents or Adults." (April 20, 2015)
  • Moskowitz, Clara. "High Suicide Risk, Prejudice Plague Transgender People." LiveScience. Nov. 18, 2010. (April 20, 2015)
  • Nguyen, Tuan A. "Male-To-Female Procedures." Lake Oswego Plastic Surgery. 2013. (April 20, 2015)
  • Public Religion Research Institute. "Survey: Strong Majorities of Americans Favor Rights and Legal Protections for Transgender People." Nov. 3, 2011. (April 20, 2015)
  • Steinmetz, Katy. "Board Rules That Medicare Can Cover Gender Reassignment Surgery." Time. (April 20, 2015)
  • The Philadelphia Center for Transgender Surgery. "Phalloplasty: Frequently Asked Questions." (April 20, 2015)
  • U.S. Office of Personnel Management. "Guidance Regarding the Employment of Transgender Individuals in the Federal Workplace." 2015. (April 20, 2015)
  • University of California, San Francisco - Department of Family and Community Medicine, Center of Excellence for Transgender Health. "Primary Care Protocol for Transgender Patient Care." April 2011. (April 20, 2015)
  • University of Miami - Miller School of Medicine, Department of Surgery, Plastic, Aesthetic and Reconstructive Surgery. "Transgender Reassignment." 2015. (April 20, 2015)
  • University of Michigan Health System. "Gender Affirming Surgery." (April 20, 2015)
  • World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH). "Standards of Care for the Health of Transsexual, Transgender, and Gender Nonconforming People." Version 7. 2012. (April 20, 2015),%20V7%20Full%20Book.pdf
  • World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH). "WPATH Clarification on Medical Necessity of Treatment, Sex Reassignment, and Insurance Coverage for Transgender and Transsexual People Worldwide." 2015. (April 20, 2015)

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  • What do I need to know about transitioning?
  • Transgender and Nonbinary Identities
  • How do I know if I’m transgender?
  • What do I need to know about trans and nonbinary health care?
  • What do I need to know about sexual health as a trans or nonbinary person?
  • Coming out as trans and/or nonbinary.
  • What's transphobia, also called transmisia?
  • How can I support someone who's trans or nonbinary?
  • Transgender Identity Terms and Labels

Gender transition is different for each person. There aren’t any specific steps required for someone to transition — it’s all about what feels right for you. It’s sort of like a buffet, where you can try everything, a few things, or nothing at all. Also, you may not want or have access to some kinds of transition.

What does it mean to transition?

Transitioning is about making changes so that you can live in your gender identity . These changes can include changing your name or getting gender-affirming medical care . People often transition to reduce gender dysphoria and/or increase gender euphoria . 

How long does transitioning take?

Transitioning isn’t necessarily a straight line or direct route. Transitioning can be a long and ongoing process, or it can happen over a short period of time. You might try out different things as you learn what’s best for you.

The transition process is about becoming more fully yourself — in body, mind, and relationships. So, people sometimes call transitioning “congruence.”

How do I start  transitioning?

You can start by learning about the different areas of transition, or ways to affirm your gender : 

  • physical (medical and non-medical) 

Internal transition changes the way you see yourself.

You might try dressing differently when you’re by yourself, calling yourself by a different name only in your head, or practice using your voice differently. You might start to notice times that you feel gender dysphoria or gender euphoria. Other people might not know about or be able to see this kind of transition. 

Social transitioning may include things like:

  • coming out to your friends and family as transgender or nonbinary; 
  • asking people to use pronouns that feel right for you;
  • going by a different name;
  • dressing/grooming in ways that feel right for you when other people can see you; and 
  • using your voice differently when talking to other people.

Legal transition changes information about your gender in official records and government documents.

While the laws vary in different states, you might legally change your name and/or gender marker on formal records, like:

  • your driver’s license, state ID, or passport; 
  • your birth certificate;
  • your social security number;
  • your immigration documents, permanent resident card, or naturalization certificate;  
  • with your school or employer; and 
  • with your doctor or health insurance.  

Some kinds of legal transition require paperwork and can be expensive. Some can be free and pretty easy. It depends on where you live and what you want to change.

Learn how to change your name and/or gender marker on legal documents at the  National Center for Transgender Equality .

Physical transition is about changing your body, either temporarily or permanently, to line up with your gender identity.

Non-medical physical transition includes ways that you can temporarily change your body without a doctor’s help. They're often low-cost or free. They include:

  • chest binding , using clothing like binders or sports bras to flatten your chest; 
  • stuffing , using materials like a padded bra, padded underwear, or tissue paper to make your chest, hips, or butt look fuller;
  • tucking , hiding your penis and/or scrotum to make your groin flatter; and 
  • packing , using items like a packer, cup, or balled-up socks to give your groin a bulge.

All of these strategies are temporary. So, someone can do them regularly, for special occasions, just one time, or while they wait to access medical transition.

Medical physical transition — longer lasting ways to transition — include working with a nurse or doctor.

For trans men and some nonbinary people, medical transition may include any of the following:

  • gender-affirming hormone therapy : taking hormones to develop secondary sex characteristics such as a deeper voice, facial hair growth, muscle growth, redistribution of body fat away from hips and breasts, and not getting a period;
  • mastectomy, also called “ top surgery :” the removal of breasts and breast tissue;
  • voice training: working with a professional to learn to use your voice differently;
  • laryngoplasty: surgery that changes your vocal chords; 
  • hysterectomy : the removal of internal reproductive organs such as the ovaries and uterus;
  • phalloplasty : construction of a penis using skin from other parts of your body;
  • metoidioplasty : surgery that makes your clitoris longer and more flexible, like a penis;
  • scrotoplasty: surgery that creates a scrotum and testes;
  • vaginectomy or vulvectomy: surgery that removes your vagina and/or vulva — commonly combined with other genital surgeries; 
  • nullification: surgery that hides or removes all external genitals, like the clitoris or vulva, to create a smooth groin; and 
  • fertility preservation: saving eggs that can be used to have biological children in the future.

For trans women and some nonbinary people, medical transition may include any of the following:

  • gender-affirming hormone therapy: taking hormones to develop secondary sex characteristics such as breasts, redistribution of body fat toward hips and breasts, and less body hair;
  • breast augmentation: also called “ top surgery ” (aka implants);
  • laryngoplasty: surgery that changes your vocal cords; 
  • laser hair removal: removing hair from your face, neck, or other parts of your body;
  • tracheal shave: making your Adam’s apple smaller;
  • facial feminization surgery: surgeries that change the shape and/or size of parts of your face, like your nose, lips, cheeks, or jaw;
  • orchiectomy : removal of testes;
  • vaginoplasty : creation of a vagina, often by inverting the skin of the penis;
  • nullification: surgery that hides or removes all external genitals, creating a smooth groin; and 
  • fertility preservation: saving sperm that can be used to have biological children in the future.

Gender-affirming medical procedures vary in cost and availability. Some procedures might be covered by your insurance , and others might not be. This depends a lot on where you live and what kind of medical care you can access.

Do people transition in different ways, orders, and paces?

Yes. For example, you could transition socially without wanting any medical procedures. You could transition medically by doing one or only a few of the procedures listed above. You could change your name and gender marker on formal records. You might transition internally and not feel ready to or not want to transition in other ways.

Do all trans and nonbinary people transition?

No. Transitioning is not a requirement for being trans, nonbinary, or any gender identity. Not all trans people want the available medical procedures or other ways of transitioning.

Access to resources and support also shapes whether you transition. Medical procedures can be expensive, and not everyone has the money or health insurance coverage to afford them.

Transgender people who don’t transition at all, or don’t transition in certain ways, are just as real as those who do. Someone’s gender identity should always be respected.

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Taking Care of Ourselves & Each Other

Health & Well-Being

Gender Affirming Surgery Process and Information

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Many folx choose to pursue gender confirming surgery as a part of their gender journey. One does not have to identify along the gender binary (e.g. trans woman, trans man) or have taken hormones in order to pursue this step. 

The overall process typically involves:

Meeting with a qualified mental health care provider, which can be a CAPS or Weiland clinician, for an assessment and discussion about the process of preparing for surgery, plus to get a letter of support. This is likely to take more than one session. We suggest you request a clinician who is a gender specialist/Weiland clinician. To schedule an appointment, visit  VadenPatientPortal .

Determine your insurance coverage and  research surgeons  to decide which surgeon you would like to use (your CAPS/Weiland provider may be able to help you with this)

Obtain a medical referral to a surgeon, which can be done by your Vaden Medical provider once you have your letter of support. You will need one letter for top surgeries and two letters (from two different providers) for bottom surgeries. You can use the “preauthorization appointment” option in VadenPatient. 

Hold a consultation session with your surgeon.  Here is some information to guide your consultation . 

Schedule surgery date (make sure you’ve built in plenty time to recover).

The surgery/surgeries themselves, and follow-up medical and as-needed additional care.

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Preparation and Procedures Involved in Gender Affirmation Surgeries

If you or a loved one are considering gender affirmation surgery , you are probably wondering what steps you must go through before the surgery can be done. Let's look at what is required to be a candidate for these surgeries, the potential positive effects and side effects of hormonal therapy, and the types of surgeries that are available.

Gender affirmation surgery, also known as gender confirmation surgery, is performed to align or transition individuals with gender dysphoria to their true gender.

A transgender woman, man, or non-binary person may choose to undergo gender affirmation surgery.

The term "transexual" was previously used by the medical community to describe people who undergo gender affirmation surgery. The term is no longer accepted by many members of the trans community as it is often weaponized as a slur. While some trans people do identify as "transexual", it is best to use the term "transgender" to describe members of this community.


Transitioning may involve:

  • Social transitioning : going by different pronouns, changing one’s style, adopting a new name, etc., to affirm one’s gender
  • Medical transitioning : taking hormones and/or surgically removing or modifying genitals and reproductive organs

Transgender individuals do not need to undergo medical intervention to have valid identities.  

Reasons for Undergoing Surgery

Many transgender people experience a marked incongruence between their gender and their assigned sex at birth.   The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has identified this as gender dysphoria.

Gender dysphoria is the distress some trans people feel when their appearance does not reflect their gender. Dysphoria can be the cause of poor mental health or trigger mental illness in transgender people.

For these individuals, social transitioning, hormone therapy, and gender confirmation surgery permit their outside appearance to match their true gender.  

Steps Required Before Surgery

In addition to a comprehensive understanding of the procedures, hormones, and other risks involved in gender-affirming surgery, there are other steps that must be accomplished before surgery is performed. These steps are one way the medical community and insurance companies limit access to gender affirmative procedures.

Steps may include:

  • Mental health evaluation : A mental health evaluation is required to look for any mental health concerns that could influence an individual’s mental state, and to assess a person’s readiness to undergo the physical and emotional stresses of the transition.  
  • Clear and consistent documentation of gender dysphoria
  • A "real life" test :   The individual must take on the role of their gender in everyday activities, both socially and professionally (known as “real-life experience” or “real-life test”).

Firstly, not all transgender experience physical body dysphoria. The “real life” test is also very dangerous to execute, as trans people have to make themselves vulnerable in public to be considered for affirmative procedures. When a trans person does not pass (easily identified as their gender), they can be clocked (found out to be transgender), putting them at risk for violence and discrimination.

Requiring trans people to conduct a “real-life” test despite the ongoing violence out transgender people face is extremely dangerous, especially because some transgender people only want surgery to lower their risk of experiencing transphobic violence.

Hormone Therapy & Transitioning

Hormone therapy involves taking progesterone, estrogen, or testosterone. An individual has to have undergone hormone therapy for a year before having gender affirmation surgery.  

The purpose of hormone therapy is to change the physical appearance to reflect gender identity.

Effects of Testosterone

When a trans person begins taking testosterone , changes include both a reduction in assigned female sexual characteristics and an increase in assigned male sexual characteristics.

Bodily changes can include:

  • Beard and mustache growth  
  • Deepening of the voice
  • Enlargement of the clitoris  
  • Increased growth of body hair
  • Increased muscle mass and strength  
  • Increase in the number of red blood cells
  • Redistribution of fat from the breasts, hips, and thighs to the abdominal area  
  • Development of acne, similar to male puberty
  • Baldness or localized hair loss, especially at the temples and crown of the head  
  • Atrophy of the uterus and ovaries, resulting in an inability to have children

Behavioral changes include:

  • Aggression  
  • Increased sex drive

Effects of Estrogen

When a trans person begins taking estrogen , changes include both a reduction in assigned male sexual characteristics and an increase in assigned female characteristics.

Changes to the body can include:

  • Breast development  
  • Loss of erection
  • Shrinkage of testicles  
  • Decreased acne
  • Decreased facial and body hair
  • Decreased muscle mass and strength  
  • Softer and smoother skin
  • Slowing of balding
  • Redistribution of fat from abdomen to the hips, thighs, and buttocks  
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Mood swings  

When Are the Hormonal Therapy Effects Noticed?

The feminizing effects of estrogen and the masculinizing effects of testosterone may appear after the first couple of doses, although it may be several years before a person is satisfied with their transition.   This is especially true for breast development.

Timeline of Surgical Process

Surgery is delayed until at least one year after the start of hormone therapy and at least two years after a mental health evaluation. Once the surgical procedures begin, the amount of time until completion is variable depending on the number of procedures desired, recovery time, and more.

Transfeminine Surgeries

Transfeminine is an umbrella term inclusive of trans women and non-binary trans people who were assigned male at birth.

Most often, surgeries involved in gender affirmation surgery are broken down into those that occur above the belt (top surgery) and those below the belt (bottom surgery). Not everyone undergoes all of these surgeries, but procedures that may be considered for transfeminine individuals are listed below.

Top surgery includes:

  • Breast augmentation  
  • Facial feminization
  • Nose surgery: Rhinoplasty may be done to narrow the nose and refine the tip.
  • Eyebrows: A brow lift may be done to feminize the curvature and position of the eyebrows.  
  • Jaw surgery: The jaw bone may be shaved down.
  • Chin reduction: Chin reduction may be performed to soften the chin's angles.
  • Cheekbones: Cheekbones may be enhanced, often via collagen injections as well as other plastic surgery techniques.  
  • Lips: A lip lift may be done.
  • Alteration to hairline  
  • Male pattern hair removal
  • Reduction of Adam’s apple  
  • Voice change surgery

Bottom surgery includes:

  • Removal of the penis (penectomy) and scrotum (orchiectomy)  
  • Creation of a vagina and labia

Transmasculine Surgeries

Transmasculine is an umbrella term inclusive of trans men and non-binary trans people who were assigned female at birth.

Surgery for this group involves top surgery and bottom surgery as well.

Top surgery includes :

  • Subcutaneous mastectomy/breast reduction surgery.
  • Removal of the uterus and ovaries
  • Creation of a penis and scrotum either through metoidioplasty and/or phalloplasty

Complications and Side Effects

Surgery is not without potential risks and complications. Estrogen therapy has been associated with an elevated risk of blood clots ( deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary emboli ) for transfeminine people.   There is also the potential of increased risk of breast cancer (even without hormones, breast cancer may develop).

Testosterone use in transmasculine people has been associated with an increase in blood pressure, insulin resistance, and lipid abnormalities, though it's not certain exactly what role these changes play in the development of heart disease.  

With surgery, there are surgical risks such as bleeding and infection, as well as side effects of anesthesia . Those who are considering these treatments should have a careful discussion with their doctor about potential risks related to hormone therapy as well as the surgeries.  

Cost of Gender Confirmation Surgery

Surgery can be prohibitively expensive for many transgender individuals. Costs including counseling, hormones, electrolysis, and operations can amount to well over $100,000. Transfeminine procedures tend to be more expensive than transmasculine ones. Health insurance sometimes covers a portion of the expenses.

Quality of Life After Surgery

Quality of life appears to improve after gender-affirming surgery for all trans people who medically transition. One 2017 study found that surgical satisfaction ranged from 94% to 100%.  

Since there are many steps and sometimes uncomfortable surgeries involved, this number supports the benefits of surgery for those who feel it is their best choice.

A Word From Verywell

Gender affirmation surgery is a lengthy process that begins with counseling and a mental health evaluation to determine if a person can be diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

After this is complete, hormonal treatment is begun with testosterone for transmasculine individuals and estrogen for transfeminine people. Some of the physical and behavioral changes associated with hormonal treatment are listed above.

After hormone therapy has been continued for at least one year, a number of surgical procedures may be considered. These are broken down into "top" procedures and "bottom" procedures.

Surgery is costly, but precise estimates are difficult due to many variables. Finding a surgeon who focuses solely on gender confirmation surgery and has performed many of these procedures is a plus.   Speaking to a surgeon's past patients can be a helpful way to gain insight on the physician's practices as well.

For those who follow through with these preparation steps, hormone treatment, and surgeries, studies show quality of life appears to improve. Many people who undergo these procedures express satisfaction with their results.

Bizic MR, Jeftovic M, Pusica S, et al. Gender dysphoria: Bioethical aspects of medical treatment . Biomed Res Int . 2018;2018:9652305. doi:10.1155/2018/9652305

American Psychiatric Association. What is gender dysphoria? . 2016.

The World Professional Association for Transgender Health. Standards of care for the health of transsexual, transgender, and gender-nonconforming people . 2012.

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T'sjoen G, Arcelus J, Gooren L, Klink DT, Tangpricha V. Endocrinology of transgender medicine . Endocr Rev . 2019;40(1):97-117. doi:10.1210/er.2018-00011

Unger CA. Hormone therapy for transgender patients . Transl Androl Urol . 2016;5(6):877-884.  doi:10.21037/tau.2016.09.04

Seal LJ. A review of the physical and metabolic effects of cross-sex hormonal therapy in the treatment of gender dysphoria . Ann Clin Biochem . 2016;53(Pt 1):10-20.  doi:10.1177/0004563215587763

Schechter LS. Gender confirmation surgery: An update for the primary care provider . Transgend Health . 2016;1(1):32-40. doi:10.1089/trgh.2015.0006

Altman K. Facial feminization surgery: current state of the art . Int J Oral Maxillofac Surg . 2012;41(8):885-94.  doi:10.1016/j.ijom.2012.04.024

Therattil PJ, Hazim NY, Cohen WA, Keith JD. Esthetic reduction of the thyroid cartilage: A systematic review of chondrolaryngoplasty . JPRAS Open. 2019;22:27-32. doi:10.1016/j.jpra.2019.07.002

Top H, Balta S. Transsexual mastectomy: Selection of appropriate technique according to breast characteristics . Balkan Med J . 2017;34(2):147-155. doi:10.4274/balkanmedj.2016.0093

Chan W, Drummond A, Kelly M. Deep vein thrombosis in a transgender woman . CMAJ . 2017;189(13):E502-E504.  doi:10.1503/cmaj.160408

Streed CG, Harfouch O, Marvel F, Blumenthal RS, Martin SS, Mukherjee M. Cardiovascular disease among transgender adults receiving hormone therapy: A narrative review . Ann Intern Med . 2017;167(4):256-267. doi:10.7326/M17-0577

Hashemi L, Weinreb J, Weimer AK, Weiss RL. Transgender care in the primary care setting: A review of guidelines and literature . Fed Pract . 2018;35(7):30-37.

Van de grift TC, Elaut E, Cerwenka SC, Cohen-kettenis PT, Kreukels BPC. Surgical satisfaction, quality of life, and their association after gender-affirming aurgery: A follow-up atudy . J Sex Marital Ther . 2018;44(2):138-148. doi:10.1080/0092623X.2017.1326190

American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Gender confirmation surgeries .

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What Is Gender Affirmation Surgery?

gender reassignment process

A gender affirmation surgery allows individuals, such as those who identify as transgender or nonbinary , to change one or more of their sex characteristics. This type of procedure offers a person the opportunity to have features that align with their gender identity.

For example, this type of surgery may be a transgender surgery like a male-to-female or female-to-male surgery. Read on to learn more about what masculinizing, feminizing, and gender-nullification surgeries may involve, including potential risks and complications.

Why Is Gender Affirmation Surgery Performed?

A person may have gender affirmation surgery for different reasons. They may choose to have the surgery so their physical features and functional ability align more closely with their gender identity.

For example, one study found that 48,019 people underwent gender affirmation surgeries between 2016 and 2020. Most procedures were breast- and chest-related, while the remaining procedures concerned genital reconstruction or facial and cosmetic procedures.

In some cases, surgery may be medically necessary to treat dysphoria. Dysphoria refers to the distress that transgender people may experience when their gender identity doesn't match their sex assigned at birth. One study found that people with gender dysphoria who had gender affirmation surgeries experienced:

  • Decreased antidepressant use
  • Decreased anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation
  • Decreased alcohol and drug abuse

However, these surgeries are only performed if appropriate for a person's case. The appropriateness comes about as a result of consultations with mental health professionals and healthcare providers.

Transgender vs Nonbinary

Transgender and nonbinary people can get gender affirmation surgeries. However, there are some key ways that these gender identities differ.

Transgender is a term that refers to people who have gender identities that aren't the same as their assigned sex at birth. Identifying as nonbinary means that a person doesn't identify only as a man or a woman. A nonbinary individual may consider themselves to be:

  • Both a man and a woman
  • Neither a man nor a woman
  • An identity between or beyond a man or a woman

Hormone Therapy

Gender-affirming hormone therapy uses sex hormones and hormone blockers to help align the person's physical appearance with their gender identity. For example, some people may take masculinizing hormones.

"They start growing hair, their voice deepens, they get more muscle mass," Heidi Wittenberg, MD , medical director of the Gender Institute at Saint Francis Memorial Hospital in San Francisco and director of MoZaic Care Inc., which specializes in gender-related genital, urinary, and pelvic surgeries, told Health .

Types of hormone therapy include:

  • Masculinizing hormone therapy uses testosterone. This helps to suppress the menstrual cycle, grow facial and body hair, increase muscle mass, and promote other male secondary sex characteristics.
  • Feminizing hormone therapy includes estrogens and testosterone blockers. These medications promote breast growth, slow the growth of body and facial hair, increase body fat, shrink the testicles, and decrease erectile function.
  • Non-binary hormone therapy is typically tailored to the individual and may include female or male sex hormones and/or hormone blockers.

It can include oral or topical medications, injections, a patch you wear on your skin, or a drug implant. The therapy is also typically recommended before gender affirmation surgery unless hormone therapy is medically contraindicated or not desired by the individual.

Masculinizing Surgeries

Masculinizing surgeries can include top surgery, bottom surgery, or both. Common trans male surgeries include:

  • Chest masculinization (breast tissue removal and areola and nipple repositioning/reshaping)
  • Hysterectomy (uterus removal)
  • Metoidioplasty (lengthening the clitoris and possibly extending the urethra)
  • Oophorectomy (ovary removal)
  • Phalloplasty (surgery to create a penis )
  • Scrotoplasty (surgery to create a scrotum)

Top Surgery

Chest masculinization surgery, or top surgery, often involves removing breast tissue and reshaping the areola and nipple. There are two main types of chest masculinization surgeries:

  • Double-incision approach : Used to remove moderate to large amounts of breast tissue, this surgery involves two horizontal incisions below the breast to remove breast tissue and accentuate the contours of pectoral muscles. The nipples and areolas are removed and, in many cases, resized, reshaped, and replaced.
  • Short scar top surgery : For people with smaller breasts and firm skin, the procedure involves a small incision along the lower half of the areola to remove breast tissue. The nipple and areola may be resized before closing the incision.


Some trans men elect to do metoidioplasty, also called a meta, which involves lengthening the clitoris to create a small penis. Both a penis and a clitoris are made of the same type of tissue and experience similar sensations.

Before metoidioplasty, testosterone therapy may be used to enlarge the clitoris. The procedure can be completed in one surgery, which may also include:

  • Constructing a glans (head) to look more like a penis
  • Extending the urethra (the tube urine passes through), which allows the person to urinate while standing
  • Creating a scrotum (scrotoplasty) from labia majora tissue


Other trans men opt for phalloplasty to give them a phallic structure (penis) with sensation. Phalloplasty typically requires several procedures but results in a larger penis than metoidioplasty.

The first and most challenging step is to harvest tissue from another part of the body, often the forearm or back, along with an artery and vein or two, to create the phallus, Nicholas Kim, MD, assistant professor in the division of plastic and reconstructive surgery in the department of surgery at the University of Minnesota Medical School in Minneapolis, told Health .

Those structures are reconnected under an operative microscope using very fine sutures—"thinner than our hair," said Dr. Kim. That surgery alone can take six to eight hours, he added.

In a separate operation, called urethral reconstruction, the surgeons connect the urinary system to the new structure so that urine can pass through it, said Dr. Kim. Urethral reconstruction, however, has a high rate of complications, which include fistulas or strictures.

According to Dr. Kim, some trans men prefer to skip that step, especially if standing to urinate is not a priority. People who want to have penetrative sex will also need prosthesis implant surgery.

Hysterectomy and Oophorectomy

Masculinizing surgery often includes the removal of the uterus (hysterectomy) and ovaries (oophorectomy). People may want a hysterectomy to address their dysphoria, said Dr. Wittenberg, and it may be necessary if their gender-affirming surgery involves removing the vagina.

Many also opt for an oophorectomy to remove the ovaries, almond-shaped organs on either side of the uterus that contain eggs and produce female sex hormones. In this case, oocytes (eggs) can be extracted and stored for a future surrogate pregnancy, if desired. However, this is a highly personal decision, and some trans men choose to keep their uterus to preserve fertility.

Feminizing Surgeries

Surgeries are often used to feminize facial features, enhance breast size and shape, reduce the size of an Adam’s apple , and reconstruct genitals.  Feminizing surgeries can include: 

  • Breast augmentation
  • Facial feminization surgery
  • Penis removal (penectomy)
  • Scrotum removal (scrotectomy)
  • Testicle removal (orchiectomy)
  • Tracheal shave (chondrolaryngoplasty) to reduce an Adam's apple
  • Vaginoplasty
  • Voice feminization

Breast Augmentation

Top surgery, also known as breast augmentation or breast mammoplasty, is often used to increase breast size for a more feminine appearance. The procedure can involve placing breast implants, tissue expanders, or fat from other parts of the body under the chest tissue.

Breast augmentation can significantly improve gender dysphoria. Studies show most people who undergo top surgery are happier, more satisfied with their chest, and would undergo the surgery again.

Most surgeons recommend 12 months of feminizing hormone therapy before breast augmentation. Since hormone therapy itself can lead to breast tissue development, transgender women may or may not decide to have surgical breast augmentation.

Facial Feminization and Adam's Apple Removal

Facial feminization surgery (FFS) is a series of plastic surgery procedures that reshape the forehead, hairline, eyebrows, nose, cheeks, and jawline. Nonsurgical treatments like cosmetic fillers, botox, fat grafting, and liposuction may also be used to create a more feminine appearance.  

Some trans women opt for chondrolaryngoplasty, also known as a tracheal shave. The procedure reduces the size of the Adam's apple, an area of cartilage around the larynx (voice box) that tends to be larger in people assigned male at birth.

Vulvoplasty and Vaginoplasty

As for bottom surgery, there are various feminizing procedures from which to choose. Vulvoplasty (to create external genitalia without a vagina) or vaginoplasty (to create a vulva and vaginal canal) are two of the most common procedures.

Dr. Wittenberg noted that people might undergo six to 12 months of electrolysis or laser hair removal before surgery to remove pubic hair from the skin that will be used for the vaginal lining.

Surgeons have different techniques for creating a vaginal canal. A common one is a penile inversion, where the masculine structures are emptied and inverted into a created cavity, explained Dr. Kim. Vaginoplasty may be done in one or two stages, said Dr. Wittenberg, and the initial recovery is three months—but it will be a full year until people see results.

Surgical removal of the penis or penectomy is sometimes used in feminization treatment. This can be performed along with an orchiectomy and scrotectomy.

However, a total penectomy is not commonly used in feminizing surgeries . Instead, many people opt for penile-inversion surgery, a technique that hollows out the penis and repurposes the tissue to create a vagina during vaginoplasty.

Orchiectomy and Scrotectomy

An orchiectomy is a surgery to remove the testicles —male reproductive organs that produce sperm. Scrotectomy is surgery to remove the scrotum, that sac just below the penis that holds the testicles.

However, some people opt to retain the scrotum. Scrotum skin can be used in vulvoplasty or vaginoplasty, surgeries to construct a vulva or vagina.

Other Surgical Options

Some gender non-conforming people opt for other types of surgeries. This can include:

  • Gender nullification procedures
  • Penile preservation vaginoplasty
  • Vaginal preservation phalloplasty

Gender Nullification

People who are agender or asexual may opt for gender nullification, sometimes called nullo. This involves the removal of all sex organs. The external genitalia is removed, leaving an opening for urine to pass and creating a smooth transition from the abdomen to the groin.

Depending on the person's sex assigned at birth, nullification surgeries can include:

  • Breast tissue removal
  • Nipple and areola augmentation or removal

Penile Preservation Vaginoplasty

Some gender non-conforming people assigned male at birth want a vagina but also want to preserve their penis, said Dr. Wittenberg. Often, that involves taking skin from the lining of the abdomen to create a vagina with full depth.

Vaginal Preservation Phalloplasty

Alternatively, a patient assigned female at birth can undergo phalloplasty (surgery to create a penis) and retain the vaginal opening. Known as vaginal preservation phalloplasty, it is often used as a way to resolve gender dysphoria while retaining fertility.

The recovery time for a gender affirmation surgery will depend on the type of surgery performed. For example, healing for facial surgeries may last for weeks, while transmasculine bottom surgery healing may take months.

Your recovery process may also include additional treatments or therapies. Mental health support and pelvic floor physiotherapy are a few options that may be needed or desired during recovery.

Risks and Complications

The risk and complications of gender affirmation surgeries will vary depending on which surgeries you have. Common risks across procedures could include:

  • Anesthesia risks
  • Hematoma, which is bad bruising
  • Poor incision healing

Complications from these procedures may be:

  • Acute kidney injury
  • Blood transfusion
  • Deep vein thrombosis, which is blood clot formation
  • Pulmonary embolism, blood vessel blockage for vessels going to the lung
  • Rectovaginal fistula, which is a connection between two body parts—in this case, the rectum and vagina
  • Surgical site infection
  • Urethral stricture or stenosis, which is when the urethra narrows
  • Urinary tract infection (UTI)
  • Wound disruption

What To Consider

It's important to note that an individual does not need surgery to transition. If the person has surgery, it is usually only one part of the transition process.

There's also psychotherapy . People may find it helpful to work through the negative mental health effects of dysphoria. Typically, people seeking gender affirmation surgery must be evaluated by a qualified mental health professional to obtain a referral.

Some people may find that living in their preferred gender is all that's needed to ease their dysphoria. Doing so for one full year prior is a prerequisite for many surgeries.

All in all, the entire transition process—living as your identified gender, obtaining mental health referrals, getting insurance approvals, taking hormones, going through hair removal, and having various surgeries—can take years, healthcare providers explained.

A Quick Review

Whether you're in the process of transitioning or supporting someone who is, it's important to be informed about gender affirmation surgeries. Gender affirmation procedures often involve multiple surgeries, which can be masculinizing, feminizing, or gender-nullifying in nature.

It is a highly personalized process that looks different for each person and can often take several months or years. The procedures also vary regarding risks and complications, so consultations with healthcare providers and mental health professionals are essential before having these procedures.

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A decision to undertake gender reassignment is made when an individual feels that his or her gender at birth does not match their gender identity. This is called ‘gender dysphoria’ and is a recognised medical condition.

Gender reassignment refers to individuals, whether staff, who either:

  • Have undergone, intend to undergo or are currently undergoing gender reassignment (medical and surgical treatment to alter the body).
  • Do not intend to undergo medical treatment but wish to live permanently in a different gender from their gender at birth.

‘Transition’ refers to the process and/or the period of time during which gender reassignment occurs (with or without medical intervention).

Not all people who undertake gender reassignment decide to undergo medical or surgical treatment to alter the body. However, some do and this process may take several years. Additionally, there is a process by which a person can obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate , which changes their legal gender.

People who have undertaken gender reassignment are sometimes referred to as Transgender or Trans (see glossary ).

Transgender and sexual orientation

It should be noted that sexual orientation and transgender are not inter-related. It is incorrect to assume that someone who undertakes gender reassignment is lesbian or gay or that his or her sexual orientation will change after gender reassignment. However, historically the campaigns advocating equality for both transgender and lesbian, gay and bisexual communities have often been associated with each other. As a result, the University's staff and student support networks have established diversity networks that include both Sexual Orientation and Transgender groups.

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Gender Confirmation Surgery

The University of Michigan Health System offers procedures for surgical gender transition.  Working together, the surgical team of the Comprehensive Gender Services Program, which includes specialists in plastic surgery, urology and gynecology, bring expertise, experience and safety to procedures for our transgender patients.

Access to gender-related surgical procedures for patients is made through the University of Michigan Health System Comprehensive Gender Services Program .

The Comprehensive Gender Services Program adheres to the WPATH Standards of Care , including the requirement for a second-opinion prior to genital sex reassignment.

Available surgeries:

Male-to-Female:  Tracheal Shave  Breast Augmentation  Facial Feminization  Male-to-Female genital sex reassignment

Female-to-Male:  Hysterectomy, oophorectomy, vaginectomy Chest Reconstruction  Female-to-male genital sex reassignment

Sex Reassignment Surgeries (SRS)

At the University of Michigan Health System, we are dedicated to offering the safest proven surgical options for sex reassignment (SRS.)   Because sex reassignment surgery is just one step for transitioning people, the Comprehensive Gender Services Program has access to providers for mental health services, hormone therapy, pelvic floor physiotherapy, and speech therapy.  Surgical procedures are done by a team that includes, as appropriate, gynecologists, urologists, pelvic pain specialists and a reconstructive plastic surgeon. A multi-disciplinary team helps to best protect the health of the patient.

For patients receiving mental health and medical services within the University of Michigan Health System, the UMHS-CGSP will coordinate all care including surgical referrals.  For patients who have prepared for surgery elsewhere, the UMHS-CGSP will help organize the needed records, meet WPATH standards, and coordinate surgical referrals.  Surgical referrals are made through Sara Wiener the Comprehensive Gender Services Program Director.

Male-to-female sex reassignment surgery

At the University of Michigan, participants of the Comprehensive Gender Services Program who are ready for a male-to-female sex reassignment surgery will be offered a penile inversion vaginoplasty with a neurovascular neoclitoris.

During this procedure, a surgeon makes “like become like,” using parts of the original penis to create a sensate neo-vagina. The testicles are removed, a procedure called orchiectomy. The skin from the scrotum is used to make the labia. The erectile tissue of the penis is used to make the neoclitoris. The urethra is preserved and functional.

This procedure provides for aesthetic and functional female genitalia in one 4-5 hour operation.  The details of the procedure, the course of recovery, the expected outcomes, and the possible complications will be covered in detail during your surgical consultation. What to Expect: Vaginoplasty at Michigan Medicine .

Female-to-male sex reassignment

At the University of Michigan, participants of the Comprehensive Gender Services Program who are ready for a female-to-male sex reassignment surgery will be offered a phalloplasty, generally using the radial forearm flap method. 

This procedure, which can be done at the same time as a hysterectomy/vaginectomy, creates an aesthetically appropriate phallus and creates a urethera for standing urination.  Construction of a scrotum with testicular implants is done as a second stage.  The details of the procedure, the course of recovery, the expected outcomes, and the possible complications will be covered in detail during your surgical consultation.

Individuals who desire surgical procedures who have not been part of the Comprehensive Gender Services Program should contact the program office at (734) 998-2150 or email [email protected] . W e will assist you in obtaining what you need to qualify for surgery.

How Gender Reassignment Surgery Works (Infographic)

Infographics: How surgery can change the sex of an individual.

Bradley Manning, the U.S. Army private who was sentenced Aug. 21 to 35 years in a military prison for releasing highly sensitive U.S. military secrets, is seeking gender reassignment. Here’s how gender reassignment works:

Converting male anatomy to female anatomy requires removing the penis, reshaping genital tissue to appear more female and constructing a vagina.

An incision is made into the scrotum, and the flap of skin is pulled back. The testes are removed.

A shorter urethra is cut. The penis is removed, and the excess skin is used to create the labia and vagina.

People who have male-to-female gender-reassignment surgery retain a prostate. Following surgery, estrogen (a female hormone) will stimulate breast development, widen the hips, inhibit the growth of facial hair and slightly increase voice pitch.

Female-to-male surgery has achieved lesser success due to the difficulty of creating a functioning penis from the much smaller clitoral tissue available in the female genitals.

The uterus and the ovaries are removed. Genital reconstructive procedures (GRT) use either the clitoris, which is enlarged by hormones, or rely on free tissue grafts from the arm, the thigh or belly and an erectile prosthetic (phalloplasty).

Breasts need to be surgically altered if they are to look less feminine. This process involves removing breast tissue and excess skin, and reducing and properly positioning the nipples and areolae. Androgens (male hormones) will stimulate the development of facial and chest hair, and cause the voice to deepen.

Reliable statistics are extremely difficult to obtain. Many sexual-reassignment procedures are conducted in private facilities that are not subject to reporting requirements.

The cost for female-to-male reassignment can be more than $50,000. The cost for male-to-female reassignment can be $7,000 to $24,000.

Between 100 to 500 gender-reassignment procedures are conducted in the United States each year.

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Preparing for Gender Affirmation Surgery: Ask the Experts

Preparing for your gender affirmation surgery can be daunting. To help provide some guidance for those considering gender affirmation procedures, our team from the   Johns Hopkins Center for Transgender and Gender Expansive Health (JHCTGEH) answered some questions about what to expect before and after your surgery.

What kind of care should I expect as a transgender individual?

What kind of care should I expect as a transgender individual? Before beginning the process, we recommend reading the World Professional Association for Transgender Health Standards Of Care (SOC). The standards were created by international agreement among health care clinicians and in collaboration with the transgender community. These SOC integrate the latest scientific research on transgender health, as well as the lived experience of the transgender community members. This collaboration is crucial so that doctors can best meet the unique health care needs of transgender and gender-diverse people. It is usually a favorable sign if the hospital you choose for your gender affirmation surgery follows or references these standards in their transgender care practices.

Can I still have children after gender affirmation surgery?

Many transgender individuals choose to undergo fertility preservation before their gender affirmation surgery if having biological children is part of their long-term goals. Discuss all your options, such as sperm banking and egg freezing, with your doctor so that you can create the best plan for future family building. JHCTGEH has fertility specialists on staff to meet with you and develop a plan that meets your goals.

Are there other ways I need to prepare?

It is very important to prepare mentally for your surgery. If you haven’t already done so, talk to people who have undergone gender affirmation surgeries or read first-hand accounts. These conversations and articles may be helpful; however, keep in mind that not everything you read will apply to your situation. If you have questions about whether something applies to your individual care, it is always best to talk to your doctor.

You will also want to think about your recovery plan post-surgery. Do you have friends or family who can help care for you in the days after your surgery? Having a support system is vital to your continued health both right after surgery and long term. Most centers have specific discharge instructions that you will receive after surgery. Ask if you can receive a copy of these instructions in advance so you can familiarize yourself with the information.

An initial intake interview via phone with a clinical specialist.

This is your first point of contact with the clinical team, where you will review your medical history, discuss which procedures you’d like to learn more about, clarify what is required by your insurance company for surgery, and develop a plan for next steps. It will make your phone call more productive if you have these documents ready to discuss with the clinician:

  • Medications. Information about which prescriptions and over-the-counter medications you are currently taking.
  • Insurance. Call your insurance company and find out if your surgery is a “covered benefit" and what their requirements are for you to have surgery.
  • Medical Documents. Have at hand the name, address, and contact information for any clinician you see on a regular basis. This includes your primary care clinician, therapists or psychiatrists, and other health specialist you interact with such as a cardiologist or neurologist.

After the intake interview you will need to submit the following documents:

  • Pharmacy records and medical records documenting your hormone therapy, if applicable
  • Medical records from your primary physician.
  • Surgical readiness referral letters from mental health providers documenting their assessment and evaluation

An appointment with your surgeon. 

After your intake, and once you have all of your required documentation submitted you will be scheduled for a surgical consultation. These are in-person visits where you will get to meet the surgeon.  typically include: The specialty nurse and social worker will meet with you first to conduct an assessment of your medical health status and readiness for major surgical procedures. Discussion of your long-term gender affirmation goals and assessment of which procedures may be most appropriate to help you in your journey. Specific details about the procedures you and your surgeon identify, including the risks, benefits and what to expect after surgery.

A preoperative anesthesia and medical evaluation. 

Two to four weeks before your surgery, you may be asked to complete these evaluations at the hospital, which ensure that you are healthy enough for surgery.

What can I expect after gender affirming surgery?

When you’ve finished the surgical aspects of your gender affirmation, we encourage you to follow up with your primary care physician to make sure that they have the latest information about your health. Your doctor can create a custom plan for long-term care that best fits your needs. Depending on your specific surgery and which organs you continue to have, you may need to follow up with a urologist or gynecologist for routine cancer screening. JHCTGEH has primary care clinicians as well as an OB/GYN and urologists on staff.

Among other changes, you may consider updating your name and identification. This list of  resources for transgender and gender diverse individuals can help you in this process.

The Center for Transgender and Gender Expansive Health Team at Johns Hopkins

Embracing diversity and inclusion, the Center for Transgender and Gender Expansive Health provides affirming, objective, person-centered care to improve health and enhance wellness; educates interdisciplinary health care professionals to provide culturally competent, evidence-based care; informs the public on transgender health issues; and advances medical knowledge by conducting biomedical research.

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What does it mean for someone to have the protected characteristic of “gender reassignment” under the Equality Act 2010? The government, public bodies, many employers and even employment tribunals are often confused about this.

FAQs – gender reassignment

Having the protected characteristic of gender reassignment does not mean that someone’s sex has changed or give them the right to make other people pretend that it has. 

These FAQs cover the definition of the characteristic and who it covers – and what this means for employers and service providers. 

Download these gender reassignment FAQs as a PDF.

What is the protected characteristic of “gender reassignment”?

What does it mean to have this characteristic , who can have this characteristic , does having the protected characteristic of gender reassignment mean that a person must be treated as the opposite sex , does the equality act outlaw “misgendering”, is it harassment to “out” a person as transgender , can employers have policies which require people to refer to transgender people in particular situations in a particular way , what should employers and service providers do to avoid the risk of harassment claims , should schools have rules about “misgendering”.

The Equality Act 2010 at Section 7 defines the protected characteristic of “gender reassignment” as relating to a person who is: 

“proposing to undergo, is undergoing or has undergone a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of reassigning the person’s sex by changing physiological or other attributes of sex.”

The law refers to this as being “transsexual”. But the term more commonly used today is “transgender” or “trans”. This broadly relates to anyone at any stage of a personal process. For example:

  • A man tells his employer that he is considering “transitioning” and is seeing a therapist with the potential result of being referred for medical treatment.
  • A man identifies as a “transwoman” without having any surgery or treatment.
  • A woman identified as a “transman” for several years and took testosterone, but has now stopped and “detransitioned”.

The Equality Act protects people from direct and indirect discrimination, harassment or victimisation in situations that are covered by the Equality Act, such as in the workplace or when receiving goods or services.

Direct discrimination

Direct discrimination is when you are treated worse than another person or other people because:

  • you have a protected characteristic
  • someone thinks you have that protected characteristic (known as discrimination by perception)
  • you are connected to someone with that protected characteristic (known as discrimination by association).

For example: an employee tells their employer that they intend to transition. Their employer alters their role against their wishes to avoid them having contact with clients.

The comparator is a person who is materially similar in other aspects but does not have the protected characteristic (“is not trans”). 

Indirect discrimination

Indirect discrimination happens when a policy applies in the same way for everybody but disadvantages a group of people who share a protected characteristic, and you are disadvantaged as part of this group. This is unlawful unless the person or organisation applying the policy can show that there is a good reason for the policy. This is known as objective justification .

For example: an airport has a general policy of searching passengers according to their sex. Everyone travelling needs to follow the same security procedures and processes, but it makes transgender travellers feel uncomfortable. This could be indirect discrimination, so the airport reviews its policy and changes it so that any passenger may ask to be searched by a staff member of either sex and have a private search, out of view of other passengers. 

Harassment is unwanted behaviour connected with a protected characteristic that has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity or creating a degrading, humiliating, hostile, intimidating or offensive environment.

For example: a transgender person is having a drink in a pub with friends and is referred to by the bar staff as “it” and mocked for their appearance.


Victimisation is when you are treated badly because you have made a complaint of gender-reassignment discrimination under the Equality Act or are supporting someone who has made a complaint of gender-reassignment discrimination. For example:

For example: a person proposing to undergo gender reassignment is being harassed by a colleague at work. He makes a complaint about the way his colleague is treating him and is sacked.

The Equality Act also provides that if a person is absent from work because of gender-reassignment treatment, their employer cannot treat them worse than they would be treated if absent for illness or injury. 

Does a person have to be under medical supervision?

No. This was explicitly removed from the definition in 2010. Gender reassignment can be a personal process. 

Must they have a gender-recognition certificate or be in the process of applying for one?

No. The protected characteristic is defined without reference to the Gender Recognition Act.

Do they have to have made a firm decision to transition? 

No. Protection against discrimination and harassment attaches to a person who is proposing to undergo, is undergoing or has undergone a process (or part of a process).

During the passage of the Equality Act, the Solicitor General stated in Parliament: 

“Gender reassignment, as defined, is a personal process, so there is no question of having to do something medical, let alone surgical, to fit the definition. “Someone who was driven by a characteristic would be in the process of gender reassignment, however intermittently it manifested itself.  “At what point [proposing to undergo] amounts to ‘considering undergoing’ a gender reassignment is pretty unclear. However, proposing’ suggests a more definite decision point, at which the person’s protected characteristic would immediately come into being. There are lots of ways in which that can be manifested – for instance, by making their intention known. Even if they do not take a single further step, they will be protected straight away. Alternatively, a person might start to dress, or behave, like someone who is changing their gender or is living in an identity of the opposite sex. That too, would mean they were protected. If an employer is notified of that proposal, they will have a clear obligation not to discriminate against them.” 

In the case of Taylor v Jaguar Land Rover , a male employee told his employer that he was “gender fluid” and thought of himself as “part of a spectrum, transitioning from the male to the female gender identity”. He said to his line manager: “I have no plans for surgical transition.” He started wearing women’s clothing to work, asked to be referred to by a woman’s name and raised a question about which toilets he should use. The Employment Tribunal concluded that he was covered by the protected characteristic. 

Can children have the protected characteristic? 

Yes. In the case of AA, AK & Ors v NHS England , NHS England argued that children who are waiting for assessment by the Tavistock Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) do not have the protected characteristic as they have not yet reached the stage of proposing to transition. The Court of Appeal rejected this argument. It noted that the definition of “gender reassignment” does not require medical intervention and can include actions such as changing “one’s name and/or how one dresses or does one’s hair”.

The court concluded:

“There is no reason of principle why a child could not satisfy the definition in s.7 provided they have taken a settled decision to adopt some aspect of the identity of the other gender.”

It noted that the decision did not have to be permanent. 

Is “Gillick competence” relevant to the protected characteristic?

No. “Gillick competence” refers to the set of criteria that are used for establishing whether a child has the capacity to provide consent for medical treatment, based on whether they have sufficient understanding and intelligence to fully understand it.

Having the protected characteristic of gender reassignment (that is, being able to bring a claim for gender-reassignment discrimination) does not depend on having any diagnosis or medical treatment. Therefore Gillick competence is not relevant to the Equality Act criteria. 

No. There is nothing in the Equality Act which means that people with the protected characteristic of “gender reassignment” need to be treated in a particular way, or differently from people without the characteristic. 

Article 9 and 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights protect the fundamental human rights of freedom of speech and freedom of belief. 

In the case of Forstater v CGDE [2021] it was established that the belief that men are male and women are female, and that this cannot change and is important, is protected under Article 9 and in relation to belief discrimination in the Equality Act. 

This means that employers and service providers must not harass or discriminate against people because they recognise that “transwomen” are men and “transmen” are women. Employers and service providers cannot require people to believe that someone has changed sex, or impose a blanket constraint on expressing their belief. 

No. “Misgendering” is not defined or outlawed by the Equality Act. 

In general, people who object to “misgendering” mean any reference to a person who identifies as transgender by words that relate to their sex. This can include using the words woman, female, madam, lady, daughter, wife, mother, she, her and so on about someone who identifies as a “transman”, or man, male, sir, gentleman, son, husband, father, he, him and so on about someone who identifies as a “transwoman”. 

Any form of words may be harassment, but this depends on the circumstances and the purpose and effect of the behaviour. Harassment is unwanted conduct related to a relevant protected characteristic that has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for a person.   An employment tribunal would also consider:

  • that person’s perception
  • the other circumstances of the case
  • whether it is reasonable for the conduct to have that effect.

Tribunals have emphasised that when judging harassment context is everything, and warned against a culture of hypersensitivity to the perception of alleged victims.

Employment tribunal judgments

As Lord Justice Nicholas Underhill found in Dhellwal v Richmond Pharmacology [2009], a case decided under the Race Relations Act:

“What the tribunal is required to consider is whether, if the claimant has experienced those feelings or perceptions, it was reasonable for her to do so. Thus if, for example, the tribunal believes that the claimant was unreasonably prone to take offence, then, even if she did genuinely feel her dignity to have been violated, there will have been no harassment within the meaning of the section.”

In the Forstater case, the employment appeal tribunal said that it was not proportionate to “impose a requirement on the Claimant to refer to a trans woman as a woman to avoid harassment”. It said that:

“ Whilst the Claimant’s belief, and her expression of them by refusing to refer to a trans person by their preferred pronoun, or by refusing to accept that a person is of the acquired gender stated on a GRC, could amount to unlawful harassment in some circumstances, it would not always have that effect. In our judgment, it is not open to the Tribunal to impose in effect a blanket restriction on a person not to express those views irrespective of those circumstances.”

In the case of de Souza v Primark Stores [2017] , a transgender claimant who went by the name of Alexandra, but whose legal name was Alexander, was found to have been harassed by colleagues who made a point of using the male form of name when they knew he did not want them to, but not by being issued with a “new starter” badge that showed his legal name. 

In the case of Taylor v Jaguar Land Rover [2020] , a male claimant who wore women’s clothing  to work was judged to have been exposed to harassment by colleagues saying “What the hell is that?”, “So what’s going on? Are you going to have your bits chopped off?”, “Is this for Halloween?” and referring to the claimant as “it”. 

Not necessarily. 

A person can be “outed” as transgender in two different ways: 

  • Their sex is commonly known and recorded, but their transsexualism is not (for example a man who cross-dresses at the weekend and is considering transitioning is “outed” at work by someone who has seen them at a social event).
  • They are disappointed in the expectation of being treated as one sex when they are actually the other (for example a person who identifies as a “trans woman” is referred to as male by a woman in a changing room).

In Grant v HM Land Registry [2011] , which concerned the unwanted disclosure that an employee was gay, Lord Justice Elias found that this did not amount to harassment: 

“Furthermore, even if in fact the disclosure was unwanted, and the claimant was upset by it, the effect cannot amount to a violation of dignity, nor can it properly be described as creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. Tribunals must not cheapen the significance of these words. They are an important control to prevent trivial acts causing minor upsets being caught by the concept of harassment.”

The perception (or hope) of transgender people that they “pass” as the opposite sex is often not realistic. Their sex is not in fact hidden, but is politely ignored by some people in some situations. It is not reasonable for them to be offended by other people recognising their sex, particularly if they are seeking access to a single-sex service. Acknowledging someone’s sex, particularly where there is a good reason, is unlikely to be harassment. 

In the first-instance case of Chapman v Essex Police , a transgender police officer felt embarrassed and upset when a police control-room operator double-checked his identity over the radio because his male voice did not match the female name that the operator could see. The tribunal did not uphold a complaint of harassment, finding that the claimant was “too sensitive in the circumstances”.

Yes, but those policies must be proportionate. Employers cannot have blanket policies against “misgendering”, but can have specific policies concerning how staff should refer to transgender people in particular situations. Organisations should recognise that these policies constrain the expression of belief, and therefore they should seek to achieve their specific aims in the least intrusive way possible.

When determining whether an objection to a belief being expressed is justified, a court will undertake a balancing exercise. This test is set out in the case of Bank Mellat v HM Treasury :

  • Is the objective the organisation seeks to achieve sufficiently important to justify the limitation of the right in question?
  • Is the limitation rationally connected to that objective?
  • Is a less intrusive limitation possible that does not undermine the achievement of the objective in question?
  • Does the importance of the objective outweigh the severity of the limitation on the rights of the person concerned?

For example: 

  • A company provides a specialist dress service to transsexual and transvestites. The men who use the service expect to be called “she” and “her” and referred to as Madam. It is justified for the employer to train and require staff to use this language when serving customers. 
  • Staff at a full-service restaurant greet customers as “Sir” and “Madam” as they arrive. The restaurant’s policy is that staff should use the terms which appear most appropriate based on gendered appearance, and to defer to customer preference if one is expressed. This is justified by the aim of creating the service and ambience that the restaurant owners seek to provide. 
  • A public body assesses claimants for medical benefits, including individuals with mental-health conditions. It directs its staff to refer to claimants using the terms which the claimants prefer, including using opposite-sex pronouns when requested, in order to make them feel comfortable. However, it recognises that in recording medical information, assessors must be able to be accurate about claimants’ sex. This is justified by the aim of providing a service that is accessible and effective for vulnerable clients. 

The case of David Mackereth v AMP and DWP concerned a doctor who lost his job undertaking claimant health assessments for the Department for Work and Pensions because he refused to comply with its policy on using claimants’ preferred pronouns. The employer’s policy was found not to have amounted to unlawful harassment or discrimination against Dr Mackereth, in the particular circumstances of his job. However, the Employment Appeal Tribunal stated that “misgendering” would not necessarily be harassment: 

“Such behaviour may well provide grounds for a complaint of discrimination or harassment but, as the EAT in Forstater made clear, that will be a fact-specific question to be determined in light of all the circumstances of the particular case.”

Relevant considerations

In Higgs v Farmor’s School [2023] Mrs Justice Eady sets out the considerations that are likely to be relevant considering whether constraining the expression of a belief (“manifestation”)  in order to avoid harassment or discrimination is justified in the context of employment. These include:

  • the content of the manifestation
  • the tone used
  • the extent of the manifestation
  • the worker’s understanding of the likely audience
  • the extent and nature of the intrusion on the rights of others, and any consequential impact on the employer’s ability to run its business
  • whether the worker has made clear that the views expressed are personal, or whether they might be seen as representing the views of the employer, and whether that might present a reputational risk
  • whether there is a potential power imbalance given the nature of the worker’s position or role and that of those whose rights are intruded upon;
  • the nature of the employer’s business, in particular where there is a potential impact on vulnerable service users or clients
  • whether the limitation imposed is the least intrusive measure open to the employer.

Employers cannot force employees to believe that people can change sex, or prevent them expressing that lack of belief except in limited circumstances. So what should employers do to protect transgender people from harassment, and themselves from liability? 

They should have ordinary policies against bullying and harassment, including jokes, name-calling, humiliation, exclusion and singling people out for different treatment.

They should seek to avoid putting people in situations they will reasonably experience as hostile or humiliating.

Ambiguous rules put people in situations where it is reasonable to feel offended. For example, an employer provides “female” toilets, showers and changing rooms, but allows some male staff in because they identify as transgender. This creates a hostile environment: 

  • female staff are surprised, shocked, humiliated and upset to find themselves sharing with a colleague of the opposite sex
  • male staff members who want people to treat them as women may be challenged or face comments that are intended to intimidate, humiliate or degrade them.

This was the situation faced by the Sheffield Hospital Trust , which had a policy that transgender staff could use opposite-sex facilities. It had to deal with the fall-out when women complained about seeing a half-naked male in their changing room and the male staff member sued for harassment after being questioned about this.

Rather than putting these two groups of people together in a environment where both will reasonably feel harassed, employers should have clear rules about facilities that are single-sex, and also, where possible, provide a unisex alternative for anyone who needs it, including people who feel that they have “transitioned away from their sex” and therefore do not wish to use single-sex facilities shared with members of their own sex. The EHRC last year provided guidance on single-sex services which encouraged clear rules and policies.

It should be made clear to people who have the protected characteristic of “gender reassignment” that having this characteristic does not mean it is reasonable for them to expect others to believe or pretend to believe they have changed sex, or for them to be allowed to break (or expect to be an exception to) rules that aim to protect the dignity and privacy of others. 

If a person breaks a clear rule against entering a space provided for the opposite sex, it is not reasonable for them to feel offended when this is pointed out. 

No. It would not be lawful for schools to have a policy that forbids, punishes or denigrates pupils who use clear words about the sex of other people (such as pronouns, but also boy/girl, male/female and so on), nor to require pupils to refer to some classmates as if they were the opposite sex.

  • To do so constrains the freedom of speech of pupils in a way that is unjustified and discriminates against them on the basis of belief. 
  • It is inconsistent with schools’ safeguarding duty of care , and with their record-keeping responsibilities, for staff to misrepresent the sex of pupils in their records or in introducing them to their peers. 
  • In order to explain and enforce sex-based rules designed to keep children safe (such as who is allowed in which showers, toilets, dormitories or sports teams), schools must be able to use clear and unequivocal language. 
  • It is not reasonable to expect that a child at school, or transferring between schools, can avoid being “outed” as the sex that they are . 

We do not think that any policy which tells teachers or pupils to lie about the sex of pupils, constrains them from using clear sex-based language or treats them detrimentally if they do would pass the proportionality test. It is an unreasonable constraint on speech that is neither required nor justified in order to avoid discrimination on the basis of gender reassignment. 

Schools form part of a system that is regulated at a national level. In England that system is the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Education. It is the responsibility of the Secretary of State to make this legal situation clear across the English school system by issuing the long-awaited DfE guidance. 

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  • Gender reassignment discrimination

Published: 22 December 2021

Last updated: 23 February 2023

On this page

What the equality act says about gender reassignment discrimination, different types of gender reassignment discrimination, circumstances when being treated differently due to gender reassignment is lawful, pages in this guide.

  • Your rights under the Equality Act 2010
  • Age discrimination
  • Disability discrimination
  • Marriage and civil partnership discrimination
  • Pregnancy and maternity discrimination
  • Race discrimination
  • Religion or belief discrimination
  • Sex discrimination
  • Sexual orientation discrimination
  • Terms used in the Equality Act
  • Harassment and victimisation
  • Direct and indirect discrimination

What countries does this apply to?

On this page we have used plain English to help explain legal terms. This does not change the meaning of the law.

The Equality Act 2010 uses the term ‘transsexual’ for individuals who have the protected characteristic of gender reassignment. We recognise that some people consider this term outdated, so we have used the term ‘trans’ to refer to a person who has the protected characteristic of gender reassignment. However, we note that some people who identify as trans may not fall within the legal definition.

This page is subject to updates due to the evolving nature of some of the issues highlighted. 

This is when you are treated differently because you are trans in one of the  situations covered by the Equality Act . The treatment could be a one-off action or as a result of a rule or policy. It doesn’t have to be intentional to be unlawful.

There are some circumstances when being treated differently due to being trans is lawful. These are explained below.

The Equality Act 2010 says that you must not be discriminated against because of gender reassignment.

In the Equality Act, gender reassignment means proposing to undergo, undergoing or having undergone a process to reassign your sex.

To be protected from gender reassignment discrimination, you do not need to have undergone any medical treatment or surgery to change from your birth sex to your preferred gender.

You can be at any stage in the transition process, from proposing to reassign your sex, undergoing a process of reassignment, or having completed it. It does not matter whether or not you have applied for or obtained a Gender Recognition Certificate, which is the document that confirms the change of a person's legal sex. 

For example, a person who was born female and decides to spend the rest of their life as a man, and a person who was born male and has been living as a woman for some time and obtained a Gender Recognition Certificate, both have the protected characteristic of gender reassignment. 

There are four types of gender reassignment discrimination.

Direct discrimination

Direct discrimination happens when someone treats you worse than another person in a similar situation because you are trans.

You inform your employer that you intend to spend the rest of your life living as the opposite sex. If your employer alters your role against your wishes to avoid you having contact with clients, this would be direct gender reassignment discrimination.

The Equality Act says that you must not be directly discriminated against because:

  • you  have  the protected characteristic of gender reassignment. A wide range of people identify as trans. However, you are not protected under the Equality Act unless you have proposed, started or completed a process to change your sex.
  • someone  thinks   you   have  the protected characteristic of gender reassignment. For example, because you occasionally cross-dress or do not conform to gender stereotypes (this is known as discrimination by perception).
  • you are  connected   to  a person who has the protected characteristic of gender reassignment, or someone wrongly thought to have this protected characteristic (this is known as discrimination by association).

Absences from work

If you are absent from work because of your gender reassignment, your employer cannot treat you worse than you would be treated if you were absent:

  • due to an illness or injury.

Example –  

Your employer cannot pay you less than you would have received if you were off sick.

  • due to some other reason - however, in this case it is only discrimination if your employer is acting unreasonably.

If your employer would agree to a request for time off for someone to attend their child’s graduation ceremony, then it may be unreasonable to refuse you time off for part of a gender reassignment process. This would include, for example, time off for counselling.

Indirect discrimination

Indirect discrimination happens when an organisation has a particular policy or way of working that puts people with the protected characteristic of gender reassignment at a disadvantage. Sometimes indirect gender reassignment discrimination can be permitted if the organisation or employer is able to show that there is a good reason for the discrimination. This is known as  objective justification .

An employer has a practice of starting induction sessions for new staff with an ice-breaker designed to introduce everyone in the room to each other. Each worker is required to provide a picture of themselves as a toddler. One worker is a trans woman who does not wish her colleagues to know that she was brought up as a boy, so she does not bring her photo and is criticised by the employer in front of the group for not joining in. The same approach is taken for all new staff, but it puts people with the protected characteristic of gender reassignment at a particular disadvantage.  This would be unlawful indirect discrimination unless the employer could show that the practice was justified.

Harassment is when someone makes you feel humiliated, offended or degraded for reasons related to gender reassignment.

A person who has undergone male-to-female gender reassignment is having a drink in a pub with friends and the landlord keeps calling her ‘sir’ or ‘he’ when serving drinks, despite her complaining about it.

Harassment can never be justified. However, if an organisation or employer can show it did everything it could to prevent people who work for it from harassing you, you will not be able to make a claim for harassment against the organisation, only against the harasser.


Victimisation is when you are treated badly because you have made a complaint of gender reassignment discrimination under the Equality Act. It can also occur if you are supporting someone who has made a complaint of gender reassignment discrimination.

A person proposing to undergo gender reassignment is being harassed by a colleague at work. He makes a complaint about the way his colleague is treating him and is sacked.

A difference in treatment may sometimes be lawful. This will be the case where the circumstances fall under one of the exceptions in the Equality Act that allow organisations to provide different treatment or services on the basis of gender reassignment.

Examples –    

The organisers of a women’s triathlon event decide to exclude a trans woman with a Gender Recognition Certificate as they think her strength or stamina gives her an unfair advantage. However, the organisers would need to be able to show that this was necessary to make the event fair or safe for everyone.

A service provider provides single-sex services. The Equality Act allows a lawfully established separate or single-sex service provider to prevent, limit or modify people’s access on the basis of gender reassignment in some circumstances. However, limiting or modifying access to, or excluding a trans person from, the separate or single-sex service of the gender in which they present will be unlawful if you cannot show such action is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. This applies whether or not the person has a Gender Recognition Certificate.

Updated: 23 Feb 2023

  • Removed paragraph on language recommendations made by Women and Equalities Committee (WEC) in 2016
  • Removed the term ‘transsexual’ as per WEC 2016 recommendations
  • Added paragraph explaining use of plain English in the guidance
  • Removed a paragraph on intersex people not being explicitly protected from discrimination by the Equality Act

Page updates

22 December 2021

Last updated:

23 February 2023

Advice and support

If you think you might have been treated unfairly and want further advice, you can contact the  Equality Advisory and Support Service (EASS) .

The EASS is an independent advice service, not operated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

Phone: 0808 800 0082  

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  • Semin Plast Surg
  • v.25(3); 2011 Aug

Logo of sps

Aesthetic and Functional Genital and Perineal Surgery: Male

Sex reassignment surgery in the female-to-male transsexual, stan j. monstrey.

1 Department of Plastic Surgery, Ghent University Hospital, Gent, Belgium

Peter Ceulemans

Piet hoebeke.

2 Department of Urology, Ghent University Hospital, Gent, Belgium

In female-to-male transsexuals, the operative procedures are usually performed in different stages: first the subcutaneous mastectomy which is often combined with a hysterectomy-ovarectomy (endoscopically assisted). The next operative procedure consists of the genital transformation and includes a vaginectomy, a reconstruction of the horizontal part of the urethra, a scrotoplasty and a penile reconstruction usually with a radial forearm flap (or an alternative). After about one year, penile (erection) prosthesis and testicular prostheses can be implanted when sensation has returned to the tip of the penis. The authors provide a state-of-the-art overview of the different gender reassignment surgery procedures that can be performed in a female-to-male transsexual.

Transsexual patients have the absolute conviction of being born in the wrong body and this severe identity problem results in a lot of suffering from early childhood on. Although the exact etiology of transsexualism is still not fully understood, it is most probably a result of a combination of various biological and psychological factors. As to the treatment, it is universally agreed that the only real therapeutic option consists of “adjusting the body to the mind” (or gender reassignment) because trying to “adjust the mind to the body” with psychotherapy has been shown to alleviate the severe suffering of these patients. Gender reassignment usually consists of a diagnostic phase (mostly supported by a mental health professional), followed by hormonal therapy (through an endocrinologist), a real-life experience, and at the end the gender reassignment surgery itself.

As to the criteria of readiness and eligibility for these surgical interventions, it is universally recommended to adhere to the Standards of Care (SOC) of the WPATH (World Professional association of Transgender Health) 1 . It is usually advised to stop all hormonal therapy 2 to 3 weeks preoperatively.

The two major sex reassignment surgery (SRS) interventions in the female-to-male transsexual patients that will be addressed here are (1) the subcutaneous mastectomy (SCM), often combined with a hysterectomy/ ovariectomy; and (2) the actual genital transformation consisting of vaginectomy, reconstruction of the fixed part of the urethra (if isolated, metoidioplasty), scrotoplasty and phalloplasty. At a later stage, a testicular prostheses and/or erection prosthesis can be inserted.


General principles.

Because hormonal treatment has little influence on breast size, the first (and, arguably, most important) surgery performed in the female-to-male (FTM) transsexual is the creation of a male chest by means of a SCM. This procedure allows the patient to live more easily in the male role 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 and thereby facilitates the “real-life experience,” a prerequisite for genital surgery.

The goal of the SCM in a FTM transsexual patient is to create an aesthetically pleasing male chest, which includes removal of breast tissue and excess skin, reduction and proper positioning of the nipple and areola, obliteration of the inframammary fold, and minimization of chest-wall scars. 4 , 5 Many different techniques have been described to achieve these goals and most authors agree that skin excess , not breast volume, is the factor that should determine the appropriate SCM technique. 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 Recently, the importance of the skin elasticity has also been demonstrated and it is important to realize that in this patient population, poor skin quality can be exacerbated when the patient has engaged in years of “breast binding” (Fig. 1 ). 6

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(A,B) Result of long-term “breast binding.”

In the largest series to date, Monstrey et al 6 described an algorithm of five different techniques to perform an aesthetically satisfactory SCM (Fig. 2 ). Preoperative parameters to be evaluated include breast volume, degree of excess skin, nipple-areola complex (NAC) size and position, and skin elasticity.

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Algorithm for choosing appropriate subcutaneous mastectomy technique.

Regardless of the technique, it is extremely important to preserve all subcutaneous fat when dissecting the glandular tissue from the flaps. This ensures thick flaps that produce a pleasing contour. Liposuction is only occasionally indicated laterally, or to attain complete symmetry at the end of the procedure. Postoperatively, a circumferential elastic bandage is placed around the chest wall and maintained for a total of 4 to 6 weeks.

The semicircular technique (Fig. 3 ) is essentially the same procedure as that described by Webster in 1946 7 for gynecomastia. It is useful for individuals with smaller breasts and elastic skin. A sufficient amount of glandular tissue should be left in situ beneath the NAC to avoid a depression. The particular advantage of this technique is the small and well-concealed scar which is confined to (the lower half of) the nipple-areola complex. The major drawback is the small window through which to work, making excision of breast tissue and hemostasis more challenging.

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Semicircular technique. (A) Incisions and scar; (B) preoperative; (C) postoperative.

In cases of smaller breasts with large prominent nipples, the transareolar technique (Fig. 4 ) is used. This is similar to the procedure described by Pitanguy in 1966 8 and allows for subtotal resection and immediate reduction of the nipple. The resulting scar traverses the areola horizontally and passes around the upper aspect of the nipple.

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Transareolar technique. (A,B) Incisions and scar; (C) preoperative; (D) postoperative.

The concentric circular technique (Fig. 5 ) is similar to that described by Davidson in 1979. 9 It is used for breasts with a medium-sized skin envelope (B cup), or in the case of smaller breasts with poor skin elasticity. The resulting scar will be confined to the circumference of the areola. The concentric incision can be drawn as a circle or ellipse, enabling deepithelialization of a calculated amount of skin in the vertical or horizontal direction. 4 , 5 Access is gained via an incision in the inferior aspect of the outer circle leaving a wide pedicle for the NAC. A purse-string suture is placed and set to the desired areolar diameter (usually 25–30 mm). The advantage of this technique is that it allows for reduction and/or repositioning of the areola, where required, and for the removal of excess skin.

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Concentric circular technique. (A) incisions; (B) preoperative; (C) postoperative.

The extended concentric circular technique (Fig. 6 ) is similar to the concentric circular technique, but includes one or two additional triangular excisions of skin and subcutaneous tissue lateral and/ or medial. This technique is useful for correcting skin excess and wrinkling produced by large differences between the inner and outer circles. The resulting scars will be around the areola, with horizontal extensions onto the breast skin, depending on the degree of excess skin.

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Extended concentric circular technique. (A) Incisions and scar; (B) preoperative preoperative; (C) postoperative.

The free nipple graft technique (Fig. 7 ) has been proposed by several authors for patients with large and ptotic breasts. 2 , 3 , 10 , 11 , 12 It consists of harvesting the NAC as a full-thickness skin graft; amputating the breast; and grafting the NAC onto its new location on the chest wall. Our preference is to place the incision horizontally 1 to 2 cm above the inframammary fold, and then to move upwards laterally below the lateral border of the pectoralis major muscle. The placement of the NAC usually corresponds to the 4th or 5th intercostal space. Clinical judgment is most important, however, and we always sit the patient up intraoperatively to check final nipple position. The advantages of the free nipple graft technique are easy chest contouring, excellent exposure and more rapid resection of tissue, as well as nipple reduction, areola resizing, and repositioning. The disadvantages are the long residual scars, NAC pigmentary and sensory changes, and the possibility of incomplete graft take.

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Free nipple graft technique. (A) Incisions and scar; (B) preoperative; (C) postoperative.


Postoperative complications include hematoma (most frequent, despite drains and compression bandages), (partial) nipple necrosis, and abscess formation. This underscores the importance of achieving good hemostasis intraoperatively. Smaller hematomas and seromas can be evacuated through puncture, but for larger collections surgical evacuation is required.

Another not infrequent complication consists of skin slough of the NAC, which can be left to heal by conservative means. The exceptional cases of partial or total nipple necrosis may require a secondary nipple reconstruction. Even in the patients without complications, ~25% required an additional procedure to improve the aesthetic results. The likelihood of an additional aesthetic correction should be discussed with the patient in advance. 13 Tattoo of the areola may be performed for depigmentation.

The recommendations of the authors are summarized in their algorithm (Fig. 2 ), which clearly demonstrates that a larger skin envelope and a less elastic skin will require progressively a longer-incision technique. The FTM transsexual patients are rightfully becoming a patient population that is better informed and more demanding as to the aesthetic outcomes.

Finally, it is important to note that there have been reports of breast cancer after bilateral SCM in this population 14 , 15 , 16 because in most patients the preserved NAC and the always incomplete glandular resection leave behind tissue at risk of malignant transformation.


In performing a phalloplasty for a FTM transsexual, the surgeon should reconstruct an aesthetically appealing neophallus, with erogenous and tactile sensation, which enables the patient to void while standing and have sexual intercourse like a natural male, in a one-stage procedure. 17 , 18 The reconstructive procedure should also provide a normal scrotum, be predictably reproducible without functional loss in the donor area, and leave the patient with minimal scarring or disfigurement.

Despite the multitude of flaps that have been employed and described (often as Case Reports), the radial forearm is universally considered the gold standard in penile reconstruction. 17 , 19 , 20 , 21 , 22 , 23 , 24 , 25 , 26 , 27 , 28

In the largest series to date (almost 300 patients), Monstrey et al 29 recently described the technical aspects of radial forearm phalloplasty and the extent to which this technique, in their hands approximates the criteria for ideal penile reconstruction.

For the genitoperineal transformation (vaginectomy, urethral reconstruction, scrotoplasty, phalloplasty), two surgical teams operate at the same time with the patient first placed in a gynecological (lithotomy) position. In the perineal area, a urologist may perform a vaginectomy, and lengthen the urethra with mucosa between the minor labiae. The vaginectomy is a mucosal colpectomy in which the mucosal lining of the vaginal cavity is removed. After excision, a pelvic floor reconstruction is always performed to prevent possible diseases such as cystocele and rectocele. This reconstruction of the fixed part of the urethra is combined with a scrotal reconstruction by means of two transposition flaps of the greater labia resulting in a very natural looking bifid scrotum.

Simultaneously, the plastic surgeon dissects the free vascularized flap of the forearm. The creation of a phallus with a tube-in-a-tube technique is performed with the flap still attached to the forearm by its vascular pedicle (Fig. 8A ). This is commonly performed on the ulnar aspect of the skin island. A small skin flap and a skin graft are used to create a corona and simulate the glans of the penis (Fig. 8B ).

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(A–D) Phallic reconstruction with the radial forearm flap: creation of a tube (urethra) within a tube (penis).

Once the urethra is lengthened and the acceptor (recipient) vessels are dissected in the groin area, the patient is put into a supine position. The free flap can be transferred to the pubic area after the urethral anastomosis: the radial artery is microsurgically connected to the common femoral artery in an end-to-side fashion and the venous anastomosis is performed between the cephalic vein and the greater saphenous vein (Fig. 8C ). One forearm nerve is connected to the ilioinguinal nerve for protective sensation and the other nerve of the arm is anastomosed to one of the dorsal clitoral nerves for erogenous sensation. The clitoris is usually denuded and buried underneath the penis, thus keeping the possibility to be stimulated during sexual intercourse with the neophallus.

In the first 50 patients of this series, the defect on the forearm was covered with full-thickness skin grafts taken from the groin area. In subsequent patients, the defect was covered with split-thickness skin grafts harvested from the medial and anterior thigh (Fig. 8D ).

All patients received a suprapubic urinary diversion postoperatively.

The patients remain in bed during a one-week postoperative period, after which the transurethral catheter is removed. At that time, the suprapubic catheter was clamped, and voiding was begun. Effective voiding might not be observed for several days. Before removal of the suprapubic catheter, a cystography with voiding urethrography was performed.

The average hospital stay for the phalloplasty procedure was 2½ weeks.

Tattooing of the glans should be performed after a 2- to 3-month period, before sensation returns to the penis.

Implantation of the testicular prostheses should be performed after 6 months, but it is typically done in combination with the implantation of a penile erection prosthesis. Before these procedures are undertaken, sensation must be returned to the tip of the penis. This usually does not occur for at least a year.

The Ideal Goals of Penile Reconstruction in FTM Surgery

What can be achieved with this radial forearm flap technique as to the ideal requisites for penile reconstruction?


In 1993, Hage 20 stated that a complete penile reconstruction with erection prosthesis never can be performed in one single operation. Monstrey et al, 29 early in their series and to reduce the number of surgeries, performed a (sort of) all-in-one procedure that included a SCM and a complete genitoperineal transformation. However, later in their series they performed the SCM first most often in combination with a total hysterectomy and ovariectomy.

The reason for this change in protocol was that lengthy operations (>8 hours) resulted in considerable blood loss and increased operative risk. 30 Moreover, an aesthetic SCM is not to be considered as an easy operation and should not be performed “quickly” before the major phalloplasty operation.


Phallic construction has become predictable enough to refine its aesthetic goals, which includes the use of a technique that can be replicated with minimal complications. In this respect, the radial forearm flap has several advantages: the flap is thin and pliable allowing the construction of a normal sized, tube-within-a-tube penis; the flap is easy to dissect and is predictably well vascularized making it safe to perform an (aesthetic) glansplasty at the distal end of the flap. The final cosmetic outcome of a radial forearm phalloplasty is a subjective determination, but the ability of most patients to shower with other men or to go to the sauna is the usual cosmetic barometer (Fig. 9A-C ).

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(A–C) Late postoperative results of radial forearm phalloplasties.

The potential aesthetic drawbacks of the radial forearm flap are the need for a rigidity prosthesis and possibly some volume loss over time.


Of the various flaps used for penile reconstruction, the radial forearm flap has the greatest sensitivity. 1 Selvaggi and Monstrey et al. always connect one antebrachial nerve to the ilioinguinal nerve for protective sensation and the other forearm nerve with one dorsal clitoral nerve. The denuded clitoris was always placed directly below the phallic shaft. Later manipulation of the neophallus allows for stimulation of the still-innervated clitoris. After one year, all patients had regained tactile sensitivity in their penis, which is an absolute requirement for safe insertion of an erection prosthesis. 31

In a long-term follow-up study on postoperative sexual and physical health, more than 80% of the patients reported improvement in sexual satisfaction and greater ease in reaching orgasm (100% in practicing postoperative FTM transsexuals). 32


For biological males as well as for FTM transsexuals undergoing a phalloplasty, the ability to void while standing is a high priority. 33 Unfortunately, the reported incidences of urological complications, such as urethrocutaneous fistulas, stenoses, strictures, and hairy urethras are extremely high in all series of phalloplasties, as high as 80%. 34 For this reason, certain (well-intentioned) surgeons have even stopped reconstructing a complete neo-urethra. 35 , 36

In their series of radial forearm phalloplasties, Hoebeke and Monstrey still reported a urological complication rate of 41% (119/287), but the majority of these early fistulas closed spontaneously and ultimately all patients were able to void through the newly reconstructed penis. 37 Because it is unknown how the new urethra—a 16-cm skin tube—will affect bladder function in the long term, lifelong urologic follow-up was strongly recommended for all these patients.


Complications following phalloplasty include the general complications attendant to any surgical intervention such as minor wound healing problems in the groin area or a few patients with a (minor) pulmonary embolism despite adequate prevention (interrupting hormonal therapy, fractioned heparin subcutaneously, elastic stockings). A vaginectomy is usually considered a particularly difficult operation with a high risk of postoperative bleeding, but in their series no major bleedings were seen. 30 Two early patients displayed symptoms of nerve compression in the lower leg, but after reducing the length of the gynecological positioning to under 2 hours, this complication never occurred again. Apart from the urinary fistulas and/or stenoses, most complications of the radial forearm phalloplasty are related to the free tissue transfer. The total flap failure in their series was very low (<1%, 2/287) despite a somewhat higher anastomotic revision rate (12% or 34/287). About 7 (3%) of the patients demonstrated some degree of skin slough or partial flap necrosis. This was more often the case in smokers, in those who insisted on a large-sized penis requiring a larger flap, and also in patients having undergone anastomotic revision.

With smoking being a significant risk factor, under our current policy, we no longer operate on patients who fail to quit smoking one year prior to their surgery.


The major drawback of the radial forearm flap has always been the unattractive donor site scar on the forearm (Fig. 10 ). Selvaggi et al conducted a long-term follow-up study 38 of 125 radial forearm phalloplasties to assess the degree of functional loss and aesthetic impairment after harvesting such a large forearm flap. An increased donor site morbidity was expected, but the early and late complications did not differ from the rates reported in the literature for the smaller flaps as used in head and neck reconstruction. 38 No major or long-term problems (such as functional limitation, nerve injury, chronic pain/edema, or cold intolerance) were identified. Finally, with regard to the aesthetic outcome of the donor site, they found that the patients were very accepting of the donor site scar, viewing it as a worthwhile trade-off for the creation of a phallus (Fig. 10 ). 38 Suprafascial flap dissection, full thickness skin grafts, and the use of dermal substitutes may contribute to a better forearm scar.

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(A,B) Aspect of the donor site after a phalloplasty with a radial forearm flap.


For the FTM patient, the goal of creating natural-appearing genitals also applies to the scrotum. As the labia majora are the embryological counterpart of the scrotum, many previous scrotoplasty techniques left the hair-bearing labia majora in situ, with midline closure and prosthetic implant filling, or brought the scrotum in front of the legs using a V-Y plasty. These techniques were aesthetically unappealing and reminiscent of the female genitalia. Selvaggi in 2009 reported on a novel scrotoplasty technique, which combines a V-Y plasty with a 90-degree turning of the labial flaps resulting in an anterior transposition of labial skin (Fig. 11 ). The excellent aesthetic outcome of this male-looking (anteriorly located) scrotum, the functional advantage of fewer urological complications and the easier implantation of testicular prostheses make this the technique of choice. 39

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Reconstruction of a lateral looking scrotum with two transposition flaps: (A) before and (B) after implantation of testicular prostheses.


In a radial forearm phalloplasty, the insertion of erection prosthesis is required to engage in sexual intercourse. In the past, attempts have been made to use bone or cartilage, but no good long-term results are described. The rigid and semirigid prostheses seem to have a high perforation rate and therefore were never used in our patients. Hoebeke, in the largest series to date on erection prostheses after penile reconstruction, only used the hydraulic systems available for impotent men. A recent long-term follow-up study showed an explantation rate of 44% in 130 patients, mainly due to malpositioning, technical failure, or infection. Still, more than 80% of the patients were able to have normal sexual intercourse with penetration. 37 In another study, it was demonstrated that patients with an erection prosthesis were more able to attain their sexual expectations than those without prosthesis (Fig. 12 ). 32

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(A,B) Phalloplasty after implantation of an erection prosthesis.

A major concern regarding erectile prostheses is long-term follow-up. These devices were developed for impotent (older) men who have a shorter life expectancy and who are sexually less active than the mostly younger FTM patients.

Alternative Phalloplasty Techniques


A metoidioplasty uses the (hypertrophied) clitoris to reconstruct the microphallus in a way comparable to the correction of chordee and lengthening of a urethra in cases of severe hypospadias. Eichner 40 prefers to call this intervention “the clitoris penoid.” In metoidioplasty, the clitoral hood is lifted and the suspensory ligament of the clitoris is detached from the pubic bone, allowing the clitoris to extend out further. An embryonic urethral plate is divided from the underside of the clitoris to permit outward extension and a visible erection. Then the urethra is advanced to the tip of the new penis. The technique is very similar to the reconstruction of the horizontal part of the urethra in a normal phalloplasty procedure. During the same procedure, a scrotal reconstruction, with a transposition flap of the labia majora (as previously described) is performed combined with a vaginectomy.

FTM patients interested in this procedure should be informed preoperatively that voiding while standing cannot be guaranteed, and that sexual intercourse will not be possible (Fig. 13 ).

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Results of a metoidioplasty procedure.

The major advantage of metoidioplasty is the complete lack of scarring outside the genital area. Another advantage is that its cost is substantially lower than that of phalloplasty. Complications of this procedure also include urethral obstruction and/or urethral fistula.

It is always possible to perform a regular phalloplasty (e.g., with a radial forearm flap) at a later stage, and with substantially less risk of complications and operation time.


There have been several reports on penile reconstruction with the fibular flap based on the peroneal artery and the peroneal vein. 27 , 41 , 42 It consists of a piece of fibula that is vascularized by its periosteal blood supply and connected through perforating (septal) vessels to an overlying skin island at the lateral site of the lower leg. The advantage of the fibular flap is that it makes sexual intercourse possible without a penile prosthesis. The disadvantages are a pointed deformity to the distal part of the penis when the extra skin can glide around the end of fibular bone, and that a permanently erected phallus is impractical.

Many authors seem to agree that the fibular osteocutaneous flap is an optimal solution for penile reconstruction in a natal male. 42


Perforator flaps are considered the ultimate form of tissue transfer. Donor site morbidity is reduced to an absolute minimum, and the usually large vascular pedicles provide an additional range of motion or an easier vascular anastomosis. At present, the most promising perforator flap for penile reconstruction is the anterolateral thigh (ALT) flap. This flap is a skin flap based on a perforator from the descending branch of the lateral circumflex femoral artery, which is a branch from the femoral artery. It can be used both as a free flap 43 and as a pedicled flap 44 then avoiding the problems related to microsurgical free flap transfer. The problem related to this flap is the (usually) thick layer of subcutaneous fat making it difficult to reconstruct the urethra as a vascularized tube within a tube. This flap might be more indicated for phallic reconstruction in the so-called boys without a penis, like in cases of vesical exstrophy (Fig. 14 ). However, in the future, this flap may become an interesting alternative to the radial forearm flap, particularly as a pedicled flap. If a solution could be found for a well-vascularized urethra, use of the ALT flap could be an attractive alternative to the radial forearm phalloplasty. The donor site is less conspicuous, and secondary corrections at that site are easier to make. Other perforator flaps include the thoracodorsal perforator artery flap (TAP) and the deep inferior epigastric perforator artery flap (DIEP). The latter might be an especially good solution for FTM patients who have been pregnant in the past. Using the perforator flap as a pedicled flap can be very attractive, both financially and technically.

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Penile reconstruction with a pedicled anterolateral thigh flap. (A) Preoperative and (B) postoperative results.

The Importance of a Multidisciplinary Approach

Gender reassignment, particularly reassignment surgery, requires close cooperation between the different surgical specialties. In phalloplasty, the collaboration between the plastic surgeon, the urologist, and the gynecologist is essential. 45 The actual penile reconstruction is typically performed by the plastic and reconstructive surgeon, and the contribution of the gynecologist, who performs a hysterectomy and a BSO (preferably through a minimal endoscopic access in combination with SCM), should not be underestimated.

However, in the long term, the urologist's role may be the most important for patients who have undergone penile reconstruction, especially because the complication rate is rather high, particularly with regard to the number of urinary fistulas and urinary stenoses. The urologist also reconstructs the fixed part of the urethra. He or she is likely the best choice for implantation and follow-up of the penile and/or testicular prostheses. They must also address later sequelae, including stone formation. Moreover, the surgical complexity of adding an elongated conduit (skin-tube urethra) to a biological female bladder, and the long-term effects of evacuating urine through this skin tube, demand lifelong urological follow-up.

Therefore, professionals who unite to create a gender reassignment program should be aware of the necessity of a strong alliance between the plastic surgeon, the urologist, mental health professional and the gynecologist. In turn, the surgeons must commit to the extended care of this unique population, which, by definition, will protract well into the future.

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Where does Labour stand on trans rights?

Party plans to 'modernise and simplify' process of changing gender and vows to scrap guidance on teaching gender ideology in schools

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Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner take part in Pride Parade, London 2 July 2022

Labour has reaffirmed its commitment to "modernise, simplify and reform" the process of legally changing gender.

The party has said its plans will "remove indignities for trans people who deserve recognition and acceptance" but also provide "protections so you can't legally change your gender overnight".

In response, Tory leadership hopeful Kemi Badenoch, the women and equalities minister, said this would "unravel all the protections in the current system designed to protect women and girls" and create "loopholes for predators and bad-faith actors to infiltrate women-only spaces and put us at risk".

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What is Labour's position?

Under existing laws , transgender people wishing to have their new gender legally recognised must obtain a gender recognition certificate (GRC).

Labour plans to remove what it terms outdated elements of this process, including consent from a spouse if the person is married and the requirement to prove the applicant has lived as their preferred gender for two years. This will be replaced with a two-year "reflection" period after the application has been submitted. A panel of doctors and lawyers that currently approves GRCs will also be replaced by a single doctor specialising in gender issues, who will be able to provide a medical report supporting the gender change.

Plans to introduce a controversial self-ID law, which would remove the need for a medical diagnosis altogether, have been abandoned.

Has Labour's stance changed?

The proposals set out this week are "largely the same" as those outlined last year by Labour's national policy forum, said The Guardian . Nonetheless, said The Times , they are "likely to heighten concern among critics over Labour's approach to transgender issues".

Keir Starmer appeared to change his position on transgender rights during Thursday's BBC "Question Time" election special. Last year, the Labour leader said "99.9% of women" do not have a penis and in 2021 stated it was "not right" for Labour MP Rosie Duffield to say that "only women have a cervix". But on Thursday night he said he agreed with former Labour leader Tony Blair's position that "biologically, a woman is with a vagina and a man is with a penis".

In April, shadow cabinet member Louise Haigh suggested Labour should be a "safe space" for gender-critical but not transphobic opinions, amid fresh party tensions over gender in the wake of the Cass review .

Speaking on Times Radio this morning, the shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: "I think at times in pursuit of inclusion, we've ended up in a position where women have felt excluded, biological women have felt excluded." He added that he was "very optimistic" that Labour could find a way to address both the rights of biological women and trans women in the debate.

How do Labour compare to the Conservatives?

As part of its manifesto, the Conservatives have promised to rewrite the Equality Act so that it only offers protections on the basis of a person's biological sex.

At present, sex, along with race, disability and sexual orientation, is a protected characteristic and the act makes it illegal to discriminate against someone on those grounds. The Conservatives do not want the term "sex" to apply to those who have changed their legal sex, said Context , in order to "protect female-only spaces and competitiveness in sport".

In contrast, Labour has said it supports the Equality Act as it is, "including its exemptions that allow for the provision of single-sex spaces in certain circumstances", said the news site.

The two parties also differ on how children are taught about sex and gender in schools. 

Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson has suggested she would scrap planned Tory guidelines on "gender ideology" in schools. The guidance, which was set to come into effect in the coming months, says pupils should not be taught "that people can be born the wrong sex and that they can change their identity to the opposite sex or other categories such as 'non-binary'", said The Telegraph .

Responding to accusations that the wording had "drifted far too much into partisan and unnecessary language", Education Secretary Gillian Keegan warned a Labour government "would play politics with the lives of our children by ripping up guidance on gender-questioning children".

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What are Labour and the Conservative positions on transgender rights ahead of the 2024 general election?

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Labour has clarified its position on transgender rights as Wes Streeting says the party would “modernise and reform” gender laws if it comes into power on July 4.

The shadow health secretary has said Labour’s policy aims to allow transgender people to “live their lives with freedom, dignity and respect”. His comments come after all the major parties unveiled their manifestos over the past few weeks, outlining their visions for the country. Each covers transgender policy, with the issue becoming a major cultural talking point over the past few years.

For the latest updates ahead of the general election, follow The Independent’s live coverage

Under current UK legislation, the ability to change legal sex is enshrined in the 2004 Gender Recognition Act. This followed a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) which found that the previous inability to do so in the UK was a breach of certain human rights.

The 2010 Equality Act defines sex in binary terms as ‘a reference to a man or woman’ – but this can be changed. A trans person can change their legal sex by obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate, amending the sex category on their birth certification. However, they must also meet certain criteria to do so.

Simplifying the gender reassignment process

Labour has said it wants to “simplify” the process of changing gender in the UK. Speaking to The Times, shadow women and equalities secretary Anneliese Dodds said the party’s plans would see the system become “modernised”.

“This means stripping out the futile and dehumanising parts of the process for obtaining a gender recognition certificate, while retaining important safeguards.”

Current legislation requires someone to have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria, have been living with their affirmed gender for two years, and intend to live in that gender for the rest of their lives.

A panel will then consider the application, only if it is accompanied by two medical reports. At present, only 2 per cent of transgender people in the UK have a certificate.

Labour’s manifesto does not provide more detail on the measures, so it is likely it would undergo consultation should the party come into power after the July general election.

Changing the definition of sex

The Conservatives have taken a different approach to gender recognition law. The party has pledged to introduce new legislation which would change the definition of sex to mean ‘biological sex’, or sex at birth, should they secure another term in July.

The measure would allow single-sex services and spaces to legally bar transgender people without falling foul of discrimination law. Speaking in early June, women and equalities minister Kemi Badenoch said: “the protection of women and girls’ spaces is too important to allow the confusion to continue.”

“Whether it is rapists being housed in women’s prisons, or instances of men playing in women’s sports where they have an unfair advantage, it is clear that public authorities and regulatory bodies are confused about what the law says on sex and gender and when to act”.

The government’s proposed changes would also make gender recognition a reserved matter which only Westminster can legislate on. This comes after Scotland’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill was blocked by the UK government in 2023 for clashing with UK-wide legislation.

Implementing the Cass Review

Both parties have committed to implementing the recommendations of the Cass Review: a landmark report on gender identity services for children and young people in the UK. It was commissioned by NHS England in 2020 and published in April 2024 following an interim report in 2022.

At nearly 400 pages, the review is complex and far-reaching, with author Dr Hilary Cass making several recommendations. Following its publication, NHS England acted to implement policies that strongly discourage social gender transition before the age of 18, and withdraw puberty blockers from medical practice (although this step was already underway in England following the interim report).

The report was largely accepted by medical professionals in the UK as a positive step in gender-related care. It acknowledges the care required by gender dysphoric youth and recommends their expansion, including regional services and support up to age 25.

However, some groups have criticised the report for the possible consequences it could have. LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall UK has said it is “concerned” that some of the recommendations could lead to “children and young people being denied the care that they need.”

Meanwhile, Amnesty UK and Liberty warned that the review “is being weaponised by people who revel in spreading disinformation and myths about healthcare for trans young people.”

Teaching gender in schools

Looking to education, the Conservatives have vowed to ensure “the concept of gender identity” is not taught to children. It comes alongside the ban on sex education for under-9s.

To enforce this, the government says they will provide guidance for teachers that must be followed.

Labour has not committed to undo this measure if in power, as their education spokesperson Bridget Phillipson discussed the issue in May.

Speaking on BBC One, she said that the Conservatives’ proposals had “good and straightforward principles” in it, while other aspects drifted into unhelpful “partisan” language. Ms Phillipson implied the party would review the measures if in power, but it does not make an appearance in Labour’s manifesto.

  • Communities
  • Nation / World

Ohio judge temporarily blocks ban on gender-affirming care for transgender minors

gender reassignment process

A Franklin County judge on Tuesday temporarily blocked an impending law that would restrict medical care for transgender minors in Ohio.

The decision came weeks after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit challenging House Bill 68 on behalf of two transgender girls and their families. The measure prevents doctors from prescribing hormones, puberty blockers or gender reassignment surgery before patients turn 18.

Attorneys contend the law violates the state Constitution , which gives Ohioans the right to choose their health care.

"Today's ruling is a victory for transgender Ohioans and their families," said Harper Seldin, staff attorney for the ACLU. "Ohio's ban is an openly discriminatory breach of the rights of transgender youth and their parents alike and presents a real danger to the same young people it claims to protect."

House Bill 68 was set to take effect April 24 after House and Senate Republicans  voted to override  Gov. Mike DeWine's veto. Proponents of the bill contend it will protect children, but critics say decisions about transition care should be left to families and their medical providers.

The suit in Ohio mirrors efforts in other states to challenge laws that restrict gender-affirming care for minors. A federal judge struck down a  similar policy in Arkansas , arguing it violates the constitutional rights of transgender youth and their families. The state is appealing that decision.

“This is just the first page of the book,” Attorney General Dave Yost said Monday. “We will fight vigorously to defend this properly enacted statute, which protects our children from irrevocable adult decisions. I am confident that this law will be upheld.”

What does House Bill 68 do?

House Bill 68 allows Ohioans younger than 18 who already receiving hormones or puberty blockers to continue, as long as doctors determine stopping the prescription would cause harm. Critics say that's not enough to protect current patients because health care providers could be wary of legal consequences.

The legislation does not ban talk therapy, but it requires mental health providers to get permission from at least one parent or guardian to diagnose and treat gender dysphoria.

The bill also bans transgender girls and women from playing on female sports teams in high school and college. It doesn't specify how schools would verify an athlete's gender if it's called into question. Players and their families can sue if they believe they lost an opportunity because of a transgender athlete.

The lawsuit doesn't specifically challenge the athlete ban. But it argues that House Bill 68 flouts the constitution's single-subject rule, which requires legislation to address only one topic. House Republicans introduced separate bills on gender-affirming care and transgender athletes before  combining them into one .

In Tuesday's decision, Franklin County Judge Michael Holbrook indicated that the law could be tossed out because of a single-subject violation.

"It is not lost upon this Court that the General Assembly was unable to pass the (Saving Ohio Adolescents from Experimentation) portion of the Act separately, and it was only upon logrolling in the Saving Women’s Sports provisions that it was able to pass," Holbrook wrote.

Panel clears ban on gender reassignment surgery for minors

Tuesday's decision came one day after a legislative panel cleared the way for an administrative rule that will ban gender reassignment surgery for minors. Ohio health care providers say they do not perform that procedure on patients under 18.

The rule will take effect May 3.

The measure was among several that DeWine proposed to regulate gender-affirming care after he vetoed House Bill 68. In testimony for Monday's meeting, opponents argued that the rules overstep the administration's authority and conflict with federal law.

"The proposed administrative rule changes are based on biased definitions, ignore well-established best practices and restrict countless patients’ access to gender-affirming care," said Mallory Golski, civic engagement and advocacy manager for Kaleidoscope Youth Center.

DeWine's other proposals are still working their way through the rulemaking process. That includes a requirement for transgender minors to undergo at least six months of counseling before further treatment occurs. Another rule would require providers to report non-identifying data on gender dysphoria diagnoses and treatment.

Haley BeMiller is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.


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