Some Transwomen Are Getting Deadly Discount Surgery. How Can We Help Them Stop?

The New York City Health Department estimates that around 12,500 transgender people live in the city. And not all of them have the $70,000 or the medical insurance to get a safe, medically-approved gender reassignment surgery. So they go to “Pumpers” who illegally provide hormones and silicone injections in their apartments and hotel rooms for a much lower price.

The only problem? Sometimes these Pumpers inject loose silicon, cooking oil or industrial-grade silicone meant for vehicles into these women’s bodies. Often these injections help transwomen look feminine in the short term, but eventually result in disfiguring, calcified clumps that slide down the body that cause intense pain as well as severe illnesses like autoimmune and connective tissue disorders, pulmonary embolism and even death.

The New York Times ran a story about “The High Price of Looking Like a Woman,” but its focus on Pumpers excludes transmen and others who have successfully transitioned.

Nevertheless, it does acknowledge the suffering of transpeople of color disowned from their families who lack proper medical access. It also raises a bigger question: Amid the discussion about what treatments should be customary for trans inmates in custody, what trans-related medical treatments should be uniformly covered as a minimal starting point for medical, clinical, and insurance reform upon which we can build?

The Human Rights Campaign has assembled a great link list to inform LGBT people about trans-phobic medical myths such as “trans procedures are always expensive” and “trans procedures are cosmetic, not medical.” They also have a list of insurers who cover trans medicine. But if more local institutions had a starting point for administering trans medicine, its licensed practitioners might become more numerous and the costs might become more affordable overall.

Part of the answer has to do with visibility. Since trans people still face so much violence, societal disapproval, and exclusion from even the most basic forms of governmental recognition many remain invisible leaving communities ignorant of just how many trans friends and neighbors live in their own towns and just how many would benefit from good medicine and understanding, accepting people.