Nearly a year after reality TV and YouTube star Jazz Jennings revealed that she plans to undergo “bottom surgery,” the transgender activist has a big announcement to share with fans: She’s going to have the surgery later this month.
Jennings, 17, shared the news on her YouTube vlog on Monday. “I’m so looking forward to it. I’ve been looking forward to this my entire life,” she said. Jennings said that it’s important for her to share her journey with the public to help educate others about the process. “If I put out this information for people to see, they won’t need to ask any more questions.” She continued, “And also, it’s educational within the community as well. A lot of parents who have transgender kids are like, ‘What do I do? I don’t know much about this process.’ And seeing our show kind of helps them figure out what steps they could take to help their kids and what the journey might look like in the future.”
Jennings also said that she’s really excited about her “new genitalia,” adding, “like penis to vagina. That’s some serious s***, y’all. I can’t believe it. I’m going to have a vagina!”
The surgery that Jennings is referring to is part of gender confirmation surgery, a series of surgeries that transgender patients can have in order to align their physical appearance with their gender identity, physician Joshua Safer, executive director at the Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery at Mount Sinai, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. Other surgeries that transgender women may choose to undergo include facial feminization surgery and chest augmentation, he says.
It’s important to note that a person does not need to undergo surgery in order to be a particular gender. Many people successfully transition without surgery, and some have no desire to have surgery or can’t afford it, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
A vaginoplasty, which is the surgery that Jennings is referring to, is one of the most common surgeries that transgender women will undergo, if they choose to have a surgery, Safer says. A series of steps are recommended by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) before the procedure. To follow WPATH guidelines, patients must undergo several months of psychological therapy by two therapists and may also use hormone therapy to block the sex hormones naturally produced by their bodies and introduce new hormones of the gender with which they identify. They must also spend a year living as a female. Once the woman has met those requirements, she can get a note to take to her surgeon and schedule her surgery.
The surgery itself uses the penis that a transgender woman has, essentially turns it inside out, and crafts a vagina, Safer says. “The strategy is to maintain the blood flow and nerve endings so that there are still genitals that are going to work for intimate relations, including penetrative sexual intercourse,” he explains. The procedure creates an external appearance that to most people would look like someone who was born with those genitals.
After surgery, a patient should expect some post-op pain for about a week, Safer says. She’ll also need to use dilators — plastic devices that the patient puts in her vagina — to help expand her vagina and keep it expanded. “It has to be maintained like a pierced ear,” Safer says. Recovery is variable, but Safer says most women can expect that they’ll feel comfortable about three months after the surgery.
Given that this is major surgery, there are some risks. Those include potential for significant blood loss and infection, nerve damage, damage to the urethra, which can interfere with being able to urinate, and accidentally creating a hole in the rectum. “These are all incredibly low likelihood risks, but they do exist,” Safer says. Some women may also undergo a small revision surgery six to 12 months after the original surgery because they may heal in a way that’s hard to predict, he says.
And, of course, there is a huge benefit to transgender patients. “The biggest is that they have the genitals that actually align with their gender identity,” Safer says. “That’s fairly significant for their own sense of well-being.”
As Jennings has shown, it can take time for a patient to actually have the surgery once she’s decided on it. “One of the big issues now is that there is a relative shortage of surgeons who can do this in a high-quality way,” Safer says. “There’s a lot of waiting. If we could get to patients any faster, we would.”
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