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.
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.