Transgender Reassignment Surgery—The History of Medical Procedures

While transgender reassignment surgery has only recently come to prominence in the media, these procedures have actually been around for many years. In fact, evidence exists that Ancient Greek and Roman physicians often performed simple “sex-change operations” (mainly consisting of castration). Some historians believe that the transgender Roman Emporer Elagabalus was a recipient of one of these rudimentary surgeries.

The first modern transgender reassignment surgery took place at Berlin’s Institute for Sexual Research in 1922, when a patient named Dora Richter underwent bilateral orchiectomy (removal of the testes). Several years later in 1931, Dora underwent penectomy and vaginoplasty. The procedure was quite successful, and the Institute went on to perform reassignment surgery for several other patients, including a famous painter named Lili Elbe. Lili is the subject of the award-winning 2015 film The Danish Girl.

A French surgeon named Georges Burou is credited with pioneering the penile inversion method of vaginoplasty in 1956. Burou managed a surgical clinic in Casablanca, Morocco, which at the time was considered the world’s preeminent destination for transgender reassignment surgery. In fact, the term “going to Casablanca” actually became a popular mid-century colloquialism for reassignment surgery.

In the US, the first transgender reassignment surgeries were performed in 1965 at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Stanford University and Trinidad Medical Center in Colorado were other institutions that offered the procedure. Trinidad was headed by Dr. Stanley Biber, a pioneer in transgender medicine who performed thousands of reassignment surgeries over the course of his career.

Though not a surgeon, Dr. Harry Benjamin became one of the first doctors to work with transgender patients in 1948. Dr. Benjamin, an endocrinologist, initiated the use of hormone therapy to treat gender dysphoria, and also advocated strongly for his patients at a time when transgender people were largely invisible in society.

Treatment options for transgender patients have evolved over the years, and innovations continue to be made. At the International Center for Transgender Care, our surgeons use the latest techniques when performing transman and transwoman surgeries. Contact us to discuss your options for transgender reassignment surgery and schedule a consultation.

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