Embracing gender identity in college is a challenge for all transgender students, but for those who undergo surgery as part of their transition, that process is even more complicated.
Many transgender people experience gender dysphoria, which is, according to the American Psychiatric Association, a conflict between their assigned or physical gender and the gender they identify with.
Trans people cope with dysphoria in different ways. Some dress in a way that aligns with their gender identity, some change their names and pronouns, some use the bathroom that aligns with their gender or any combination of the above.
Transmasculine people ‒ those on the male end of the gender spectrum ‒ often wear binders to flatten their chests.
Some trans people take medical interventions as a part of their transition ‒ undergoing hormone replacement therapy or surgery to change their physical characteristics to align with their gender identity.
Senior Tric Courtaway said transitioning and coping with dysphoria looks different for everyone. Some socially transition and medically transition as fully as they can or not at all.
“Folks can absolutely be trans without ever medically transitioning,” Courtaway said. “And many trans folks do or don't transition medically for a variety of different reasons.”
Courtaway is transgender-nonbinary, meaning they don’t identify as either a man or a woman and use they/them pronouns. While they don’t identify as a man, Courtaway said they feel dysphoria about traits that make them look like a woman.
“In my case, I feel uncomfortable about my chest area,” Courtaway said. “I feel sort of detached from it and also feel the social dysphoria aspect. In my mind, it's a hallmark trait that marks me as looking like a woman.”
Courtaway said one of the ways they counter their dysphoria is with clothing ‒ wearing looser, more masculine clothing and often wearing a binder.
“I absolutely feel more confident about my appearance when binding or otherwise dressing to make my chest look less conspicuous,” Courtaway said. “However, binders aren't always practical, and their use over long periods of time, even when done ‘safely,’ can cause gradual rib damage; it's not a safe long-term solution.”
Courtaway said socially transitioning (using their preferred name and pronouns) made them feel happier and more confident. They said the anxiety surrounding being perceived as a woman sapped a lot of energy, and considering the dangers of binding long-term, they considered top surgery.
Top surgery refers to any surgery on the breasts ‒ the augmentation or removal of breast tissue. Courtaway said they plan to undergo top surgery to remove their breast tissue in June.
“The way I see it, not only will top surgery help me feel more comfortable with my body and generally happier in that regard,” Courtaway said. “But it removes some of that dysphoria, leaving me just a little bit more energy to deal with other things.”
A big factor in choosing to medically transition is cost as insurance does not often cover hormone replacement therapy or gender affirmation surgeries. Courtaway said they have family help with costs, but not all students are so fortunate.
Sophomore Simon Hamilton started a crowdfunding page to help pay for his top surgery, which he had in January. While insurance did cover some of the costs, he had to pay 20 percent himself.
Hamilton’s GoFundMe page raised $570 to help with the costs, $400 of which came from members of Helping Everyone Regardless of Orientation in one evening.
“It was a huge help getting the funding from people,” Hamilton said. “I do not know exactly how much I owe yet as my bills still haven't come in from each place, but it helped make a big dent in how much I will owe in the end.”
The importance of medically transitioning depends on the individual. Courtaway said it was important to them, but not the most important aspect to their trans experience.
“For me, it's a good and important step, but arguably not as important as all the social transitioning I've done‒my name, my pronouns, my short blue hair, the way I dress,” Courtaway said. “I very intentionally code myself as queer, and that's a big part of me being who I am.”
Medical interventions as components of transitioning like hormones and surgeries are often a curiosity for cisgender (non-trans) people. Courtaway said they’re comfortable answering people’s questions, but only if they go about it in a respectful way.
“You should always keep in mind that any person, no matter how interesting and novel their experience, is, in fact, a human being and not a walking encyclopedia at your disposal,” Courtaway said.
Courtaway said there are numerous sources on the internet for people to satisfy their curiosity if they don’t have any trans friends who are willing to share their experiences. They also recommended curious students attend HERO’s open meetings the first Thursday of every month, which are a safe place to ask questions.
“If you go up to a person you know to be trans and just ask them personal information right off the bat, of course, they have room to be uncomfortable,” Courtaway said. “That said, I want people to learn. I feel it's in my best interest to help normalize and bring visibility to transgender experiences.”