To be honest, it’s nice to take a break from drawing genitals all the time. And as both a medical illustrator and guest lecturer to students in the medical and social sciences, I always include images (“a picture is worth 1,000 words”) and while I talk fast, there is never enough time to say all I want. To fix this, I’ve been creating simple cartoons influenced by the New Yorker ® to sum up my point and put a smile on a face or two.
Please feel free to download and use these cartoons. Just make sure you give me credit!
For comments, suggestions, and inquiries for illustrations or about guest speaking/video conferencing, please contact me using the form below.
25 different anatomical variations of the vulva
“Shhhhh! They are called “private” parts for a reason!”
Every plant, animal, and, needless to say, human has genitals so we shouldn’t be ashamed to talk about them, especially with youth who are often under- or misinformed about endless variations of sex anatomy and functioning. Despite the two “standard” versions of a penis and a vagina you see in textbooks, penises and vaginae (pl. of vagina) come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. From depictions of diminutive, symmetrical labia to scarless uncircumcised 7″ penises to perfectly hemispherical, small breasts and nipples to the absence or “decorative” application of pubic hair, narrowly defined images of sex anatomy serve to reinforce the gender and sex binaries. These limited representations have other real consequences as well, such as contributing to shame about one’s own anatomy, leading to painful physical exams by healthcare providers unaware of genital variation due to lack of exposure, and/or resulting in people seeking painful and expensive cosmetic surgeries for bodily perfection. As a medical illustrator that specializes in sex anatomy for mass education and social justice purposes, it is critical for me to visualize all varieties of genitalia to expand the understanding of natural bodily differences, represent the bodies of people (such as trans and intersex folks) who are erased from most medical education/imagery, and dismantle the scientifically disproved notion of two genders and sexes.
There are two sexes, right? WRONG! At birth, a doctor assigns an infant a sex (and therefore, a gender) based on the appearance of the genitals: a “protrusion” less than 3/8″ is considered a clitoris (and therefore the child is a “female”) while a “protrusion” greater than 1″ is labeled as a phallus/penis (child is assigned “male.) Those whose external “protrusion” falls between these limits or those who have other “non-typical” genital or gonadal anatomy and/or non-XX/XY chromosomes are branded as having a “Disorder of Sex Development” (DSD), though many in this biocommunity prefer the term intersex, though this term as an identity label is in flux. There are over 40 natural variations of sex found in humans that affect the genitals, gonads, and/or genetics of a person and more than two sexes are commonly found throughout the animal kingdom. With rare exception, these differences are not life-threatening. Despite this, parents of intersex children are often pressured by physicians to submit their child to genital “normalization” surgeries, which are often kept as a secret from the child. Progress is slowly being made around the world to end these unnecessary procedures though many are hesitant to abandon the sex binary.
Katja Tetzlaff* is a graduate from the Biomedical Visualization MS program from the University of Illinois at Chicago and graduated with a BS in Molecular Biology. Katja gives lectures about health-related issues pertaining to transgender, trans, and gender diverse patients beginning as part of their graduate Research Project, which entailed illustrating the physical changes a person undergoes through medical transitioning (hormones and/or surgery) incorporating these images into lecture materials for M3/third-year medical students during their OB/GYN rotation. In addition to lectures at the UIC’s medical school, Katja is also a guest lecturer about transgender bioethics as well as normativity in healthcare imagery and non binary bodies for Columbia College’s Human Sexuality and Gender & Women’s Studies classes.
Outside of their guest lectures and medical illustration career, Katja is an active medical activist and an LGBTQAI+ health educator with a focus on trans, gender diverse, and intersex topics. Currently, they work with healthcare professionals at institutions such as Ann & Robert Lurie Children’s Hospital to further patient, family, and physician education about non-binary health issues. Katja also works with non-profit groups, graduate student researchers, and health educators to create medical illustrations for the purposes of representing trans and intersex bodies in medical imagery, improving the understanding of queer health issues, and promoting medical education on behalf of gender, sex, and sexual minority communities.
*Katja’s pronouns are the gender neutral ‘they/them/theirs’
Top Surgery Types
Gender and sex “neutral” body typical figure anatomical diagram for skin surface assessment.
Medical transitioning, a term that replaces “sex change” and constitutes the hormonal and/or surgical processes undertaken by a person to adapt their body to one they identity with, is a very visual process. Hormones produce changes slowly over months and years while surgeries often confer immediate changes. While it is a medical topic and one that lends itself well to visual representation, few medical illustrations related to transitioning exist. To remedy this, my graduate project research focused on creating illustrations pertaining to transgender, trans, and gender diverse health, from medical transitioning to daily health concerns for this patient population. I personally use these illustrated guides in my lectures for M3/third-year medical students during their OB/GYN rotation at UIC while others use my images (with permission) for a variety of patient, family, and physician education needs. As trans patients often, but not always, rely on medical interventions such as hormone therapy and gender-affirming surgeries to align their physical body with their gender identity, it is essential that medical education prepare healthcare professionals to be both culturally and clinically competent. Furthermore, it is important for gender diverse people themselves to understand the changes that their bodies will undergo so they can make informed decisions and be advocates for their own health care needs.
I also draw things other than genitals…