'Gender Confirmation Surgery': What's in a Name?

I'm a plastic surgeon based in the Chicago area, certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery, and an active member of several medical societies, including the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the American College of Surgeons, and the American Society for Reconstructive Microsurgery. I earned my medical degree from the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine and completed my residency in general surgery and plastic and reconstructive surgery at the University of Chicago Hospitals. I also completed a fellowship in reconstructive microsurgery at the University of Chicago, where I currently hold an associate teaching position.

For more than 11 years, I have performed gender confirmation surgery as part of my surgical practice. I call it "gender confirmation surgery" because I believe that out of the myriad labels I've heard for the procedure -- "sex reassignment surgery," "gender reassignment surgery," and "sex change operation," to name but a few -- none is as accurate when it comes to describing what is actually taking place as "gender confirmation surgery."

For me, most if not all the other names used for the procedure -- or, more accurately, the family of procedures -- suggest that a person is making a choice to switch genders. From the hundreds of discussions I've had with individuals over the years, nothing could be further from the truth. This is not about choice; it's about using surgery as one of the therapeutic tools to enable people to be comfortable with their gendered self.

Merriam-Webster's defines "confirmation" as follows: "confirming proof; corroboration; the process of supporting a statement by evidence." That said, if such surgery helps confirm the way a person feels he or she was meant to be, shouldn't the name reflect that truth?

Some people have asked me why I choose to perform gender confirmation surgery when I have a busy plastic surgery practice. Candidly, I think the very question, like the names commonly used for such surgery, is judgmental, or worse. If I can use my surgical skills and advanced microsurgical training to help people with an often lifelong struggle find peace of mind and comfort with their bodies, why wouldn't I? Whether it's a single-stage technique for vaginoplasty, breast augmentation, or facial feminization, or a similarly advanced microsurgical approach to phalloplasty or meatoidioplasty, or chest surgery, each surgical method is utilized and tailored to the individual needs of the patient.

So next time you hear someone speak about a "sex change," "sex reassignment operation," or some related moniker, you may want to consider encouraging the messenger to use a more accurate name for the procedure, like "gender confirmation surgery." Just a thought.

To learn more, visit University Plastic Surgery's page on gender confirmation surgery.

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