Gender affirmation surgery is an important procedure for many transgender people who wish to align their bodies with their gender identity. However, this procedure has been commonly referred to as a “sex change”. This term, although widely used, has now been rejected as it is neither accurate nor respectful. Both the medical and the LGBTQ+ communities have chosen to abandon it in favour of more appropriate and respectful terms. Below, we will explore the reasons behind this change and the importance of using inclusive and accurate language.

Why is it important not to use the term “sex change”?

Mainly because it is a misnomer. As society advances and becomes more aware of various subjects, it is essential to recognise and normalise personal, emotional or physical situations that were once marginalised or even considered crimes, such as homosexuality or divorce. 

Just as we have evolved as a society in our perception of these situations, it is important we do the same when talking about trans people. These are some of the reasons why it is incorrect to continue to refer to gender affirmation surgery as a “sex change”, and why it is important to use language that is respectful of everyone’s identity:

Biological inaccuracy

Sexual biology refers to the physical and physiological characteristics that determine a person’s sex. These characteristics include sex chromosomes (XX in females, XY in males, although XXX and XXY can also be found), primary sex characteristics (genitalia) and secondary sex characteristics (such as breast development or facial hair). Gender affirmation surgery changes primary sex characteristics, such as by creating a penis or a vagina, but does not change secondary sex characteristics or sex chromosomes. Therefore, calling this surgery a “sex change” is biologically inaccurate.

Perpetuation of stereotypes

Using the term can perpetuate harmful stereotypes and false beliefs about transgender people. It suggests that a person’s gender identity is simply a choice or a whim, when in fact it is based on a deep understanding of themselves and how they feel about their gender. This misperception contributes to the discrimination and stigma that transgender people may face in society.

Differentiating between gender identity and biological sex

It is crucial to distinguish between a person’s gender identity (how they feel and identify on the inside) and their biological sex (the physical characteristics they were born with). Gender affirmation surgery is a means for transgender people to align their bodies with their gender identity, but it does not change their gender identity per se. Calling it a “sex change” can lead to misunderstandings and confusion of these two fundamental dimensions of a person’s identity.

More appropriate terminology

The terms “gender affirmation surgery”, “gender confirmation surgery” or even “gender reassignment surgery” are preferable and more accurate. These terms emphasise that the surgery is intended to help transgender people who require this type of procedure to live in accordance with their gender identity. Furthermore, they recognise that a person’s gender identity is valid and that surgery is a medical resource for improving their well-being and quality of life.

The power of language is undeniable: it has the capacity to integrate and normalise, but also to marginalise and stigmatise. Therefore, using the right words is essential in any aspect of our lives, including when referring to trans people. Appropriate and respectful terminology provides accuracy, a supportive environment and understanding, promoting equal rights and respect for all gender identities and all people. Language matters and can make a difference in the lives of many transgender people.

At IM GENDER, we understand the importance of why it is not correct to say “sex change” and we are here to support you at every step of your gender affirmation surgery. Because words not only communicate, they also transform realities.

gender reassignment surgery

If you have any further questions about gender affirmation surgery, make an appointment with the IM GENDER team and we will inform you.