By Denise Mann
First things first: You don’t need a reality show to transition from male to female or female to male.
Esteemed plastic surgeons such as Kathy L. Rumer, DO, and Jeffrey Spiegel, MD, as well as therapists like David Baker-Hargrove, PhD, LMHC, have been treating transgendered patients for years, and suffice it to say most, if not all, of their patients did not hold off on discussing their plans until a deal was inked for a prime time interview and/or reality series. (Arguably, most transgender patients are not constantly hounded by the paparazzi, either, so they were likely able to do things according to their own internal time frame.)
I’m talking, of course, about former Olympic track and field athlete Bruce Jenner, 65, and his alleged plans to transition to life as a woman—possibly named Agnes. Jenner’s changing appearance in recent years has fueled talk of an impending transition. Jenner has been spotted with manicured nails, long hair, and evidence of gynecomastia, and made headlines for undergoing a laryngeal shave.
What started out as tabloid fodder has now reached something of a critical mass. The track star and Kardashian clan patriarch has reportedly taped a sit-down interview with TV news anchor Diane Sawyer, and has plans for a new reality show that will document the transition.
But if you don’t need a reality show, what do you need?
Guts … a whole lot of them. “The people who have the surgery and get involved in the transgender community and help promote awareness are the brave ones,” says Rumer, the director of Rumer Cosmetic Surgery LLC in Ardmore, Pa. “Some of these patients lose their family, their homes, and their jobs when they transition. The repercussions can be horrific, but they do what they need to do to be true to themselves.”
There are many brave folk out there, and plastic surgeons will start seeing even more of these patients thanks to the Golden Globe-winning Amazon TV series Transparent, actress and advocate Laverne Cox, advocate Chaz Bono—son of Sonny and Cher, not to mention the nameless, faceless others who are now living the lives they were meant to live. Insurers, too, are now largely covering the costs of the surgeries, which means that more individuals will have access to treatment.
But, Rumer cautions, surgeons can’t just take a weekend course to learn how to treat these patients. There is a big learning curve, both technically and psychosocially. For starters, “It’s very important to talk to them in the gender they are comfortable with and remember that this is about gender, not sex,” she says.
Jenner is playing by the only rules that he knows, and his very public journey may help promote awareness about transgender health issues.
“There is no right way to [transition], and the hope is that these individuals are able to come to a place where their presented self matches their internal sense of self,” says Jeffrey Spiegel, MD, chief of the Division of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at Boston University and an expert in facial feminization and masculinization procedures.
David Baker-Hargrove, PhD, LMHC, psychotherapist in Orlando, Fla, who specializes in transgender health issues, agrees.
“Hopefully, Bruce’s public journey will serve as a platform to help enlighten and educate people about the experience of being transgender and the importance of being true to yourself.”
(And yes, I will be watching Jenner’s sit-down with Diane Sawyer… Won’t you?)