Mahogany Phillips likes to describe herself as a "tall woman of statuesque stature," but as a transgender woman living in New York City, she says she used to fear for her life just walking down the street. "You're just trying to be yourself and go about your day, but you don't know if you're going to make it home, or if a stranger is going to see you and beat you up," she says.
Then, Phillips was able to have facial feminization surgery (FFS), which "made a huge shift and change in my life," she says. But she had to fight for this procedure, because initially Medicaid denied her, claiming it was just cosmetic, which "it most certainly was not; it's something keeping me safe," she says. Unfortunately, the idea that FFS is purely superficial is a common misconception.
For many patients like Phillips who choose to have FFS, the surgery can be "earth-shattering and life-altering," and a matter of safety, says Jess Ting, MD, director of surgery at the Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery at Mount Sinai. "No matter where you are, when your external appearance and physical characteristics may be different than the gender identity that you are living in, that will subject you to discrimination, hate, violence, bullying ridicule," Dr. Ting says.
FFS allows the people who choose it to have a physicality that's more consistent with the gender identity they're otherwise expressing, which is hardly a "shallow" ask. "After having this surgery, it allows me to be all of Mahogany and all that I was put on Earth to be," Phillips says. "It helped me develop my character and my identity, and each day I get stronger and stronger."
Ahead, Dr. Ting and Jeffrey Spiegel, MD, a plastic surgeon who specializes in FFS in Boston, break down why this type of healthcare is so important.
Gender and sexual orientation are both highly personal and constantly evolving. So, in honor of Transgender Awareness Week, we're talking about the importance of language and raising the voices of the LGBTQIA community. Welcome to Gender Nation, where gender is defined by the people who live it. Want to learn more? Check out our Gender Nation glossary.