Sex Reassignment Surgery: The Basics You Should Know

Stylish transgender man in modern living room
Patryce Bak / Getty Images

A sex change operation, properly known as sex reassignment surgery, is a procedure that changes the appearance of the body to the opposite sex. The body, including the genitals, are surgically transformed from male to female, or vice versa. The operation is performed on individuals who feel that they were born in the wrong body, meaning they have the body of a female but feel that they are truly meant to be male, or vice versa.

This is because "sex" refers to our biology—males have penises and women have vaginas—while "gender" refers to the roles that men and women tend to adopt. One can have the genitals of one sex but feel they have the gender of another: a biological male who feels much more like a female, despite the body not reflecting that gender. 

Sex reassignment surgery is becoming more common, and the public is also becoming more aware of the process, as more individuals elect to have this type of surgery. These procedures are very much an individual choice. An individual may elect to identify as one gender and never surgically alter their body to reflect that gender. Others may pursue significant amounts of surgery. The desire to transition to another sex and the way it is done is an extremely personal decision and is as unique as the individual making the decision. 

The need for sex reassignment surgery stems from the feeling that the physical body does not match the brain, and surgery is done to help make the patient's physical body match the way they feel.

In fact, multiple surgeries may be done, ranging from a mastectomy and a hysterectomy or females, and procedures that transform the genitals. For some, additional plastic surgeries may be done in order to enhance the transition. An individual who was born male and transitioned to a female may pursue a tracheal shave to minimize the appearance of the adam's apple, or electrolysis to prevent 5 o'clock shadow during the day.

Psychological testing is a component of the surgery, and patients must undergo rigorous testing to make sure they can tolerate the stresses of transforming from one sex to another. Most surgical centers require patients to live as the sex they will be changing to for no less than one year prior to surgery.

Continue Reading