TRANSforming Gynecology

Performing gender-reaffirming surgery: Guidelines for the general ob.gyn.


 

According to the DSM-V, gender dysphoria in adolescents and adults “involves a difference between one’s experienced/expressed gender and assigned gender, and significant distress or problems functioning. It lasts at least 6 months,” and several other criteria must be met.1 Many patients with gender dysphoria also identify as transgender. A “transition” or “transitioning” is a process by which individuals come to inhabit their gender identity.2 A gender transition may take many forms, and only some people will choose to include medical assistance in their transition process. Although the scope of this article will not address these concerns, it should be noted that many people in the transgender and gender nonconforming community would object to the concepts of gender dysphoria and gender transition because they rely on a binary model of gender that may exclude individuals that see themselves as something other than “man or woman.”

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There are both medical and surgical options for medical assistance in a gender transition. This article will focus on the surgical care of patients assigned female at birth who are seeking masculinizing surgical therapy. Many writers will discuss “gender-affirming” surgery, but we will use the term “gender-reaffirming” surgery because transgender patients have already affirmed their own genders and do not require surgery to inhabit this affirmation. Surgical options might include bilateral mastectomy, hysterectomy, bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy (BSO), metoidioplasty (surgical formation of a neophallus with existing genital tissue), or phalloplasty. There currently is no single surgical subspecialty that encompasses training in all forms of gender-reaffirming surgical therapies. In some areas of the country, centers of excellence have given rise to multidisciplinary teams that combine the skill sets of surgical subspecialists to provide a streamlined approach to gender-reaffirming surgery. Because of the scarcity of these integrated centers, most patients seeking gender-reaffirming surgeries will need to find individual subspecialists whose surgical training focuses on one area of the body. For example, patients seeking all possible surgical options may need a breast surgeon to perform their mastectomy, an ob.gyn. to perform their hysterectomy and BSO, a urologist to perform their metoidioplasty, and a plastic surgeon to perform their phalloplasty. In these scenarios, a general ob.gyn. may be consulted to perform a gender-reaffirming hysterectomy with BSO.

There are many reasons why transgender men might desire hysterectomy/BSO as part of their transition. Removal of the uterus and cervix eliminates concerns surrounding menstruation, pregnancy, and cervical cancer screening, all of which may add to their experience of gender dysphoria. Furthermore, removal of the ovaries may simplify long-term hormonal therapy with testosterone by eliminating the need for estrogen suppression. Lastly, a hysterectomy/BSO is a lower-risk and more cost-effective masculinizing surgery, compared with metoidioplasty or phalloplasty.

While the technical aspect of performing a hysterectomy/BSO certainly is within the scope of training for a general ob.gyn., there are several nuances of which providers should be aware when planning gender-reaffirming surgery for a transgender man. During the preoperative planning phase, it is of utmost importance to provide an environment of safety so that the focus of the preop visit is not clouded by communication mishaps between office staff and the patient. These barriers can be avoided by implementing office intake forms that give patients the opportunity to inform the health care team of their chosen name and personal pronouns upon registration for the visit.

Dr. Andrea B. Joyner

Dr. Andrea B. Joyner

A pelvic exam is commonly performed by ob.gyns. to determine surgical approach for a hysterectomy/BSO. When approaching transgender male patients for preoperative pelvic exams, it is important to be mindful of the fact that this type of exam may trigger gender dysphoria. While pelvic exams should be handled in sensitive fashion regardless of a patient’s gender identity, a patient who is a transgender man may benefit from some added steps in discussing the pelvic exam. One approach is to acknowledge that these exams/discussions may be especially triggering of gender dysphoria, and ask if the patient would prefer certain words to be used or not used in reference to their anatomy. As with any patient, the provider should explain the purpose of the examination and offer opportunities for the patient to have some control in the exam such as by assisting with insertion of the speculum or designating a “safe word” that would signal the provider to stop or pause the exam. In some cases, patients may not be able to tolerate the pelvic exam while awake because of the degree of gender dysphoria that the exam would induce. Providers might consider noninvasive imaging studies to help with surgical planning if they find they need more information before scheduling the operation, or they may offer a staged procedure with exam under anesthesia prior to the definitive surgery.

In conclusion, performing a gender-reaffirming hysterectomy/BSO requires thoughtful preparation to ensure a safe surgical environment for this vulnerable population. Care should be taken to plan the operation with a culturally sensitive approach.

Dr. Joey Bahng

Dr. Joey Bahng

Dr. Joyner is an assistant professor at Emory University, and is the director of gynecologic services in the Gender Center at Grady Memorial Hospital, both in Atlanta. Dr. Joyner identifies as a cisgender female and uses she/hers/her as her personal pronouns. Dr. Joey Bahng is a PGY-1 resident physician in Emory University’s gynecology & obstetrics residency program. Dr. Bahng identifies as nonbinary and uses they/them/their as their personal pronouns. Dr. Joyner and Dr. Bahng reported no relevant financial disclosures.

References

1. American Psychiatric Association. What is Gender Dysphoria? https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/gender-dysphoria/what-is-gender-dysphoria

2. UCSF Transgender Care. Transition Roadmap. https://transcare.ucsf.edu/transition-roadmap

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