What Is Gender Affirmation Surgery?

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on October 04, 2022
6 min read

Surgery to change the appearance of your body is a common choice for all kinds of people. There are many reasons that people might want to alter their appearance. For transgender or gender nonconforming people, making changes to their bodies is a way of affirming their identity.

A trans person can choose from multiple procedures to make their appearance match their self-identified gender identity. Doctors refer to this as gender "affirmation" surgery.

Trans people might decide to have surgery on their chest, genitals, or face. These surgeries are personal decisions, and each person makes their own choices about what is right for them.

Learn more about gender affirmation surgery and how it helps trans people.

Transgender is a word to describe people whose gender identity or gender expression doesn't match the sex they were assigned at birth. Typically, parents and doctors assume a baby's gender based on the appearance of their genitals. But some people grow up and realize that their sense of who they are isn't aligned with how their bodies look. These people are considered transgender.

Trans people may identify as a different gender than what they were assigned at birth. For example, a child assigned male at birth may identify as female. Nonbinary people don't identify as either male or female. They may refer to themselves as "nonbinary" or "genderqueer."

There are many options for trans and nonbinary people to change their appearance so that how they look reflects who they are inside. Many trans people use clothing, hairstyles, or makeup to present a particular look. Some use hormone therapy to refine their secondary sex characteristics. Some people choose surgery that can change their bodies and faces permanently.

Facial plastic surgery is popular and accessible for all kinds of people in the U.S. It is not uncommon to have a nose job or a facelift. Cosmetic surgery is great for improving self-esteem and making people feel more like themselves. Trans people can use plastic surgery to adjust the shape of their faces to better reflect their gender identity.

Facial feminization. A person with a masculine face can have surgeries to make their face and neck look more feminine. These can be done in one procedure or through multiple operations. They might ask for:

Facial masculinization. Someone with a feminine face can have surgery to make their face look more masculine. The doctor may do all the procedures at one time or plan multiple surgeries. Doctors usually offer:

  • Forehead lengthening
  • Jaw reshaping
  • Chin contouring
  • Cheek augmentation
  • Rhinoplasty
  • Adam's apple enhancement

Breast surgeries are very common in America. The shorthand for breast surgeries is "top surgery." All kinds of people have operations on their breasts, and there are a lot of doctors who can do them. The surgeries that trans people have to change their chests are very similar to typical breast enhancement or breast removal operations.

Transfeminine. When a trans person wants a more feminine bustline, that's called transfeminine top surgery. It involves placing breast implants in a person's chest. It's the same operation that a doctor might do to enlarge someone's breasts or for breast reconstruction.

Transmasculine. Transmasculine top surgery is when a person wants a more masculine chest shape. It is similar to a mastectomy. The doctor removes the breast tissue to flatten the whole chest. The doctor can also contour the skin and reposition the nipples to look more like a typical man's chest.

For people who want to change their genitals, some operations can do that. That is sometimes called bottom surgery. Those are complicated procedures that require doctors with a lot of experience with trans surgeries.

Transmasculine bottom surgery. Some transmasculine people want to remove their uterus and ovaries. They can choose to have a hysterectomy to do that. This reduces the level of female hormones in their bodies and stops their menstrual cycles.

If a person wants to change their external genitals, they can ask for surgery to alter the vaginal opening. A surgeon can also construct a penis for them. There are several techniques for doing this.

Metoidioplasty uses the clitoris and surrounding skin to create a phallus that can become erect and pass urine. A phalloplasty requires grafting skin from another part of the body into the genital region to create a phallus. People can also have surgery to make a scrotum with implants that mimic testicles.

Transfeminine bottom surgery. People who want to reduce the level of male hormones in their bodies may choose to have their testicles removed. This is called an orchiectomy and can be done as an outpatient operation.

Vaginoplasty is an operation to construct a vagina. Doctors use the tissue from the penis and invert it into a person's pelvic area. The follow-up after a vaginoplasty involves using dilators to prevent the new vaginal opening from closing back up.


Some medical insurance companies will cover some or most parts of your gender-affirming surgery. But many might have certain "exclusions" listed in the plan. They might use language like "services related to sex change" or "sex reassignment surgery." These limitations may vary by state. It's best to reach out to your insurance company by phone or email to confirm the coverage or exclusions.

If your company does cover some costs, they may need a few documents before they approve it.

This can include:

  • A gender dysphoria diagnosis in your health records. It's a term used to describe the feeling you have when the sex you're assigned at birth does not match with your gender identity. A doctor can provide a note if it's necessary.
  • A letter of support from a mental health professional such as a social worker, psychiatrist, or a therapist.

Gender affirmation surgery can be very expensive. It's best to check with your insurance company to see what type of coverage you have.

If you're planning to pay out-of-pocket, prices may vary depending on the various specialists involved in your case. This can include surgeons, primary care doctors, anesthesiologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and counselors. The procedure costs also vary, and the total bill will include a number of charges, including hospital stay, anesthesia, counseling sessions, medications, and the procedures you elect to have.

Whether you choose facial, top, or bottom or a combination of these procedures, the total bill after your hospital stay can cost anywhere from $5,400 for chin surgery to well over $100,000 for multiple procedures.


Your recovery time may vary. It will depend on the type of surgery you have. But swelling can last anywhere from 2 weeks for facial surgery to up to 4 months or more if you opted for bottom surgery.

Talk to your doctor about when you can get back to your normal day-to-day routine. But in the meantime, make sure to go to your regular follow-up appointments with your doctor. This will help them make sure you're healing well post-surgery.

Most trans and nonbinary people who get gender affirmation surgery report that it improves their overall quality of life. In fact, over 94% of people who opt for surgery say they are satisfied with the results.

Folks who have mental health support before surgery tend to do better, too. One study found that after gender affirmation surgery, a person's need for mental health treatment went down by 8%.

Not all trans and nonbinary people choose to have gender affirmation surgery, or they may only have some of the procedures available. If you are considering surgery, speak with your primary care doctor to discuss what operations might be best for you.