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Hayley Anthony sparked the idea that allowed her doctor, Jess Ting, to come up with a new surgery that would give trans women a more “vagina-like” vagina.
Hayley Anthony always knew that she was female, but she didn’t begin transitioning until later in life. Then, in the autumn of 2015, after working with her therapist, she decided to go in for a vaginoplasty – a surgery to construct a vagina. She chose Dr Jess Ting, at Mount Sinai hospital to perform the surgery.
At this time, there were two types of surgeries available for this purpose. The first, which Hayley expected to undergo, involved slicing open the penis, removing most of the inside parts, and then folding the penile skin into the space between the urethra and the rectum, so that the outside of the penis now became the inside of the vagina. The other method involves using parts of a patient’s colon to construct a new vagina. Both methods had drawbacks.
While researching on Google about her upcoming surgery, Hayley came across a procedure that surgeons in India were performing on women with a rare disorder that causes the organ to develop abnormally or not at all. Hayley was smart enough to recognize that this could help her. She took this idea to Dr Ting.
“At first he was like, ‘What is this girl doing?…I have no medical training. I’m not a scientist. But then he looked at it and said, ‘Oh, there might be something here.’,” says Anthony. To build her vagina, Dr Ting sourced tissue from the peritoneum, a bag of loose tissue that encircles the inside of the abdomen and holds the intestines in place.
As this article points out, “a surgeon in New York City may have pioneered and performed Anthony’s procedure — but the idea to try it in the first place was all hers.”
Anthony could not be the first person to receive the surgery, but she did undergo it and the surgery was successful. Her vagina looks, feels and behaves like the vagina of cis women. It has secretions and gets wet when aroused. More importantly, it allows her a new kind of agency over her sexual life. She is now able to have good sex (with orgasms!) without using lube. “I know that I didn’t always have it, but the way it feels now, I just can’t imagine my body being any different,” Anthony says.
Hayley’s story is so inspiring that it was picked up by the TV series Grey’s Anatomy for a multi episode arc, featuring Candis Cayne who plays a doctor who is a trans woman, who invents this ground-breaking surgery.
For transgender people in the US, these are not the best of times. The transphobic policies of the Trump administration mean that they could lose their access to healthcare. Approximately one-fifth of transgender and non-binary individuals have been denied equal treatment when trying to access doctors or hospitals.
No two transgender people think of themselves or their bodies in the same way. Their gender is not dependent on their medical or social transition, and not all trans women seek vaginoplasty. But for those who do want the procedure, Hayley Anthony’s efforts have provided one more option.
The theme of International Women’s Day, 2019, which falls on March 8th, is “Think equal, build smart, innovate for change”. #IWD2019
With women still a minority in science, technology & related innovation, it’s time to shine a spotlight on female innovation champions! Enjoy our Women Innovators Around The World series, where we profile 19 inspiring women innovators, from 19 countries, whose work has a big social impact.
Want to know what other innovations women around the world have pioneered? Read about Ivy Huq Russell here.
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Vijayalakshmi Harish is a book blogger and writer. To paraphrase her librarian, she is a
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