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Transgender doctor Marci Bowers speaks at UB

Doctor speaks on transgender surgery, medicine and gender identity

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Marci Bowers said that while growing up, she thought men were from Mars and women were from Venus.

“It turns out we’re just down the block from one another,” Bowers said.

Bowers, a transgender doctor who has specialized in transgender surgical procedures and medicine since 2003, spoke about different aspects of her practice on Monday night in the Student Union.

Bowers, who is the first transgender woman in North America to perform transgender surgery, also discussed gender identity and gender expression during her lecture. Over 100 people attended her presentation, including UB students, faculty and staff. The free presentation entitled “A Cultural War on Two Fronts,” was also open to non-UB students, including local doctors.

Bowers, who transitioned from male to female, opened up to the audience about the difficulties that came with being a transgender doctor.

“When I started in 2003, [being transgender] was very much thought of as a pathological condition,” she said. “You could get fired in any of the 50 states just for being transgender, there was no legal repercussion and the quality of the surgeries wasn’t that great.”

But the medical field has changed in multiple areas when it comes to supporting transgender patients.

Bowers said in 2003, only one Fortune 500 Company covered transgender medicine, but as of 2016, 90 percent of her patients are covered in 12 states, including New York.

She also talked about her experience outside of the U.S.

Bowers has helped establish clinics in Africa, which focus on restorative surgery for victims of genital mutilation.

Bowers’ medical practice is based out of California and said not every transgender patient has the same surgery.

Prior to performing any surgery, Bowers recommends a psychological evaluation to her patients. She said common transgender surgical procedures include tracheal shaving and genital reassignment surgery, and roughly 50 percent of transgender females require breast augmentation.

Bowers said she’s often asked whether she thinks Caitlyn Jenner has helped the transgender community.

She said although Jenner has done a lot to help the transgender community, Jenner is “standing on the shoulders” of those who paved the way for the community.

She said it’s “socially difficult” for transgender people to transition and live in their desired gender role. She said several of her patients struggled to find partners, were ostracized by families, bullied or harassed.

Bowers defined gender identity as someone’s physical being, whether they are a male or female. She said gender identity is defined as how people tell the world who and what they are.

She said it’s important when talking about gender and gender identity to understand that “99.7 percent of our chromosomes are the same [for] males and females.”

“Everything a man has a woman has and everything a woman has a man has,” Bowers said.

She said she did not realize how similar men and women were prior to attending to medical school.

She said she’s discovered that “embryologically,” men and women are made from the same tissue.

“The fact is that we use gender expression—you know how we wear our hair, how we dress to tell people what our gender identity is and generally that matches our genitalia, but sometimes it doesn’t,” she said.

Akshata Chaudhary, a junior biomedical sciences major, said she attended the event because she thought it would offer a “different and interesting experience.”

“I feel that the medical field is a very conservative field and to see different perspectives and to see the emergence of people of different backgrounds in the medical field, I think is really amazing,” Chaudhary said.

Other students in attendance were eager to hear Bowers speak.

“I love that trans issues are starting to be more popular and mainstream and I think that an event like this is more indicative of that so to me it’s really exciting,” said Dianne Gebauer, a non-UB student who attended the event.

Bowers said she’s often asked how many of her patients who undergo transgender surgery end up changing their minds.

She said it is “the dumbest question” she ever receives.

When consulting with her patients, she has found that most of them have contemplated transitioning since their childhood.

“Once [people] change their gender expression, once they change their role in society, that’s the change,” she said. “The surgery doesn’t really matter, the surgery’s down the road, the surgery’s just icing on the cake.”

Ashley Inkumsah is the co-senior news editor and can be reached at ashley.inkumsah@ubspectrum.com


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