As you were growing up, how did you know you were a girl or a boy? Was it because you had a vagina or a penis? Or was it something more than your physiology? Some people feel that their minds and bodies don't quite match up. This feeling is commonly known as transsexualism -- a type of gender identity disorder. Transsexuals are dissatisfied with their sexual identity, body characteristics or gender role. They wish to live as the opposite gender and may transform their bodies through gender reassignment surgery -- a collection of procedures commonly known as a "sex change."
Gender identity struggles usually begin in early childhood but have been identified in people of all ages. A biologically born man who identifies as a woman is known as transwoman, or transsexual woman. A biologically born woman who identifies as a man is known as transman, or transsexual man. Labels like cross-dresser, transvestite, drag queen or drag king are not interchangeable with transsexual. However, transgender is used as a general, non-medical term to describe anyone with any type of gender identity issue.
It's estimated that one in 11,900 males and one in 30,400 females are transsexual adults [source: WPATH Standards of Care]. Lynn Conway, a professor emerita at the University of Michigan, estimates that one in 2,500 United States citizens has undergone male-to-female gender reassignment surgery [source: Advocate].
One of the most publicized American transsexuals was Christine Jorgensen, who traveled to Denmark in 1952 to undergo an early gender reassignment surgery. Genital reassignment surgery wasn't performed in the U.S. until 1966. Jorgensen later worked with Dr. Harry Benjamin, the physician who coined the term transsexual. Benjamin was one of the pioneering doctors to research and work with gender identity disorders, using the research of Magnus Hirschfeld, of the Institute for Sexual Science, and Alfred Kinsey, of the Kinsey Institute, as his springboard.
In 1966, Benjamin published "The Transsexual Phenomenon" and went on to establish the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association, Inc. (HBIGDA). Today HBIGDA is known as the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), and is an international organization devoted to furthering the understanding and treatment of gender identity disorders. WPATH established and still publishes the Standards of Care (SOC) for the treatment of gender identity disorders. It also publishes ethical guidelines for professionals caring for transsexual patients.
So what are the requirements for gender reassignment surgery? Are patients fertile and able to have sex? Go to the next page to find out what happens before a person changes genders.