Gender-Confirmation Surgeries on the Rise in US

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The number of surgeries done to confirm a person's gender identity, also referred to as sex reassignment surgeries, has increased in recent years, according to the first report on the topic from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS).

In 2016, more than 3,200 gender-confirmation surgeries were performed in the U.S., according to the report. That's up 20 percent from the number performed in 2015, the ASPS said. The organization began collecting data on gender-confirmation surgeries in 2015.

Gender-confirmation surgeries include any type of surgery that people undergo to make their physical characteristics better align with their gender identity. This could include anything from facial and body contouring to genital reconstruction surgery, according to the ASPS.

It's important to note that the steps people may undergo to transition to the gender that aligns with their identity vary depending on the person, according to GLAAD. Not all transgender people choose to undergo surgery as part of their transition. (GLAAD is the group formerly known as the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.)

"There is no one-size-fits-all approach to gender confirmation," Dr. Loren Schechter, a board-certified plastic surgeon in Chicago who performs gender-confirmation surgeries, said in a statement from the ASPS. [10 Milestones in Gay Rights History]

The recent rise in surgeries may be related to better access to care for transgender patients, he said.

"In the past several years, the number of transgender patients I've seen has grown exponentially," Schechter said. "Access to care has allowed more people to explore their options, and more doctors understand the needs of transgender patients."

Until recently, private insurance companies treated transgender-related medical procedures as cosmetic, and specifically excluded these medical procedures from their coverage, according to GLAAD. But in 2016, the Department of Health and Human Services ruled that this practice was illegal, and insurance companies that receive federal funds are now required to cover services for transgender people if those services are covered for non-transgender people, according to the National Center for Transgender Equality.

Still, although this ruling improved access to health care for transgender people, insurances that do not receive federal funds could still discriminate and deny services for transgender people, according to GLAAD.

"For transgender people...surgical options are a corrective treatment, not cosmetic," Gearah Goldstein, a patient of Schechter's who underwent gender-confirmation surgery, said in the statement. "The types of surgeries someone has is very personal and private, and you wouldn't even know someone had surgery if you saw them walking down the street. It's not about how we're perceived by the public, but how we perceive ourselves," Goldstein said.

Schechter said he often works with other doctors to provide care for transgender patients. "It takes a team of experts across different disciplines working together to provide comprehensive care," Schechter said.

Original article on Live Science.

Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.