Transgenders regretting gender-affirmation surgery

By Thuy Quynh   August 19, 2023 | 03:56 am PT
Transgenders regretting gender-affirmation surgery
Many transgenders regret gender-affirmation surgery. Illustration photo by Pixabay
After undergoing multiple gender-affirmation surgeries to transition from a man to a woman, Duc still felt foreign in his new body.

Tran Duc, a 26-year-old Ho Chi Minh City local, has been drawn to pretty dresses and dolls ever since he was young. As he grew up, he clearly perceived his gender as female, even though his biological sex was male.

At 21, the desire to live true to himself inspired him to go to Thailand for surgery to transition from male to female.

After an arduous period of pain and recovery, Duc thought he would finally be able to be who he was meant to be, but he was disappointed with his new appearance and felt that "something wasn’t right."

"I have been waiting for the day I would look like a real woman, but everyone just saw me as a transgender," Duc says.

His face and voice was not as feminine as he wanted, so he had to put on heavy makeup every time he went out. He had to force himself to act more feminine to erase any traces of his masculinity, he adds.

In reality, Duc was having a tough time adjusting. Every day, it took him more than an hour to take care of his new body parts. Having to wear a bra became a constricting hassle for him.

Companies were hesitant to interview a transgender applicant, and potential love interests were reluctant to get to know him due to his appearance.

After many nights struggling and debating with himself, Duc finally decided to stop taking hormonal medication, cut his hair short, and wear masculine clothing. He donated all of the women’s clothing in his possession to a charity, and then underwent chest reconstruction surgery to detransition into a man.

Tu, 21, has also faced problems after undergoing surgery to transition from a female to male. After going through multiple procedures such as a mastectomy and hysterectomy, and having to take medication for the pain, Tu’s health grew unprecedentedly weak.

Due to internal hormonal changes from taking testosterone medication, Tu is frequently inflicted with urological and sweating issues, as well as mood swings and anxiety.

On top of that, since Tu’s current appearance does not match the photo on their citizen identification card, Tu has had difficulties with temporary residence registration, purchasing medical insurance, and applying for bank cards.

All of these predicaments have pushed Tu into a corner, so much so that Tu has contemplated many times on whether or not to detransition.

"I regret having done surgery without fully thinking about the consequences, but I don’t have the finances at the moment to begin the detransition surgery," Tu says.

Currently, according to estimations from the Ministry of Health, Vietnam has 480,000 transgender people. Though there is yet to be research about the rate of transgender people wanting to detransition in Vietnam, many experts have claimed that it is not a rare occurrence in the community.

Huynh Minh Thao, a Vietnamese LGBTQ+ rights activist and an acquaintance of Duc and Tu, reveals that in private community groups for transgender people on social media, 10 to 30% of users expressed their dissatisfaction with their appearance and life after surgery.

A number of people shared that they felt pressured to change their appearance, style, and may even be pushed into surgery by the expectations of the people around them, all without realizing the consequences of their actions.

After transitioning, some felt out of place in their bodies, even annoyed.

"There are many reasons why they may regret their decision," Thao says. "It can range from hardships in their workplace and love life, being abandoned by their families, and prejudice from society. All of these factors can lead them to become insecure about themselves."

Aside from that, without prior knowledge of what their life would be like without transitioning, many transgender people end up going through physical and psychological turmoil.

Medical professionals have commented that not all gender-affirmation surgeries guarantee a complete transformation, and with the high complication rate associated with it, many patients may be left with life-long symptoms.

The troubles do not end when the surgery is over. Transitioners then often have to use hormonal medication, usually for the rest of their lives, which affects both their physical body and mental health.

There are limited medical institutions that offer hormonal treatment plans in Vietnam. Even if transgender people are able to access services, they are more than likely to be met with prejudice from even the staff that provide them. This makes some patients anxious and unwilling to get professional help.

Instead, they turn to purchasing and administering the medication themselves, which can lead to overdosing and further complications.

All of these factors, from health issues to facing discrimination from the community, can push transgender people to the brink of depression. Some then long to go back to their original bodies.

Thao advised a person wanting to transition should take extensive steps to determine if they are ready mentally, and live a trial period as the gender they are transitioning to. There are many countries that consider this trial period as mandatory to determine if someone is a transgender person or not.

"Gender-affirmation surgery also depends on the needs, health, and financial capabilities of every individual," Thao says. "There is no need to rush into it if we’re not mentally and financially prepared."

Anyone considering transition surgery should consider all of the risks that can take place and devise a back-up plan in case their decision changes, he adds.

Nowadays, Duc has essentially returned to his original body. In his words, "I know exactly what I need and want."

*Names of characters have been changed.

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