Man Arrested For Allegedly Performing 'Back Alley' Surgery On A Trans Woman

The case raises questions about the access trans patients have to health care.

A Colorado man is facing felony assault charges after allegedly performing gender confirmation surgery on a transgender woman without a medical license. 

James Pennington, who has been identified as a pilot for ExpressJet Airlines, allegedly agreed to remove a trans woman’s testicles using an Army surgical kit in a May 17 procedure, local ABC affiliate KUSA-TV reports. The 57-year-old “used the scalpel and surgically disconnected and removed the victim’s 2 testicles and then sutured the opening back up,” according to the report.

After the 90-minute procedure was finished, Pennington told the alleged victim, who has been identified in media only as Jane Doe, and her wife to call 911 if complications developed. Doe’s wife called police after “a large amount of blood” began pouring out of the wound. 

Pennington was arrested without incident May 18 and is now being held without bond.  

In the days since Pennington’s arrest, the case has raised questions about the access that transgender patients have to adequate medical care. A 2015 survey found that nearly a quarter of trans people in the U.S. feared being mistreated by health care professionals and, as such, opted not to seek official care for regular ailments. On a related note, a 2011 Lambda Legal report found that 20 percent of trans people claimed to have been verbally abused, and 8 percent physically abused, by health care professionals. 

Doe appeared to cite those concerns in a lengthy, impassioned open letter she posted online Sunday. In the letter, which was referenced by KUSA-TV and other media outlets, Doe did not fault Pennington, but instead called herself “a victim of a society and healthcare system that focuses on trying to demonize transgender people and prevent us from getting the medical transition we need instead of trying to do what is best for us.”

“Arranging a back alley surgery was out of pure desperation due to a system that failed me. Do not paint me as a victim of naivety or obsession and do not paint Mr. Pennington as a monster,” Doe wrote. Noting that she would not be personally pressing charges against Pennington, she added, “Until this system is fixed and transgender people are encouraged and able to get the care we need, there will always be cases like me.” 

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