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].
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.
More Great Links
- American Medical Student Association (AMSA). "Transgender Health Resources." 2014. (April 20, 2015) http://www.amsa.org/AMSA/Homepage/About/Committees/GenderandSexuality/TransgenderHealthCare.aspx
- American Psychological Association (APA). "Definition of Terms: Sex, Gender, Gender Identity, Sexual Orientation." 2011. (July 1, 2015) http://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/resources/sexuality-definitions.pdf
- AP. "Medicare ban on sex reassignment surgery lifted." May 30, 2014. (April 20, 2015) http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/05/30/medicare-sex-reassignment/9789675/
- Belkin, Lisa. "Smoother Transitions." The New York Times. Sept. 4, 2008. (Aug. 1, 2011) http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/04/fashion/04WORK.html
- Crane, Curtis. "The Total Guide to Penile Implants For Transsexual Men." Transhealth. May 2, 2014. (April 20, 2015) http://www.trans-health.com/2013/penile-implants-guide/
- Donaldson James, Susan. "Trans Chaz Bono Eyes Risky Surgery to Construct Penis." ABC News. Jan. 6, 2012. (April 20, 2015) http://abcnews.go.com/Health/transgender-chaz-bono-seeks-penis-genital-surgery-risky/story?id=15299871Gates, Gary J. "How many people are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender?" April 2011. (July 29, 2015) http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/Gates-How-Many-People-LGBT-Apr-2011.pdf
- Glicksman, Eve. "Transgender today." Monitor on Psychology. Vol. 44, no. 4. Page 36. April 2013. (April 20, 2015) http://www.apa.org/monitor/2013/04/transgender.aspx
- Harrison, Laird. "Sex-Change Operations Mostly Successful." Medscape Medical News. May 20, 2013. (April 20, 2015) http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/804432
- HealthResearchFunding.org (HRF). "14 Unique Gender Identity Disorder Statistics." July 28, 2014. (April 20, 2015) http://healthresearchfunding.org/gender-identity-disorder-statistics/
- 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) http://www.ifge.org/302.85_Gender_Identity_Disorder_in_Adolescents_or_Adults
- Moskowitz, Clara. "High Suicide Risk, Prejudice Plague Transgender People." LiveScience. Nov. 18, 2010. (April 20, 2015) http://www.livescience.com/11208-high-suicide-risk-prejudice-plague-transgender-people.html
- Nguyen, Tuan A. "Male-To-Female Procedures." Lake Oswego Plastic Surgery. 2013. (April 20, 2015) http://www.lakeoswegoplasticsurgery.com/grs/grs_procedures_mtf.html
- Public Religion Research Institute. "Survey: Strong Majorities of Americans Favor Rights and Legal Protections for Transgender People." Nov. 3, 2011. (April 20, 2015) http://publicreligion.org/research/2011/11/american-attitudes-towards-transgender-people/#.VSmlgfnF9bw
- Steinmetz, Katy. "Board Rules That Medicare Can Cover Gender Reassignment Surgery." Time. (April 20, 2015) http://time.com/2800307/medicare-gender-reassignment/
- The Philadelphia Center for Transgender Surgery. "Phalloplasty: Frequently Asked Questions." (April 20, 2015) http://www.thetransgendercenter.com/index.php/surgical-procedures/phalloplasty-faqs.html
- U.S. Office of Personnel Management. "Guidance Regarding the Employment of Transgender Individuals in the Federal Workplace." 2015. (April 20, 2015) http://www.opm.gov/diversity/Transgender/Guidance.asp
- 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) http://transhealth.ucsf.edu/trans?page=protocol-hormones
- University of Miami - Miller School of Medicine, Department of Surgery, Plastic, Aesthetic and Reconstructive Surgery. "Transgender Reassignment." 2015. (April 20, 2015) http://surgery.med.miami.edu/plastic-and-reconstructive/transgender-reassignment-surgery
- University of Michigan Health System. "Gender Affirming Surgery." (April 20, 2015) http://www.uofmhealth.org/medical-services/gender-affirming-surgery
- 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) http://www.wpath.org/uploaded_files/140/files/Standards%20of%20Care,%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) http://www.wpath.org/site_page.cfm?pk_association_webpage_menu=1352&pk_association_webpage=3947