By Ryan Leach
Dr. Swet Chaudhari has a unique medical practice in Pearland, just south of Houston. SunCoast Plastic Surgery is one of the few practices that offers gender-reaffirming services to both adult and teenage transgender patients. While the services he provides to those patients are not terribly different from his routine plastic-surgery procedures, the outcome helps to bring transgender adults and teens closer to aligning their outer appearance with who they truly are on the inside.
Dr. Chaudhari trained with a plastic surgeon at Galveston’s UT Medical Branch who had performed many surgeries for transgender individuals dating back as far as the 1980s. After seeing the positive impact these procedures had on those transgender patients, Chaudhari decided to eventually get more involved after he opened his own practice.
“It was actually [local transgender activist] Dee Dee Watters who first invited me to come to some of the health fairs she was organizing,” says Chaudhari. “That was what really got the ball rolling, and it’s where I met Ann Elder, an amazing mother and activist in the transgender community.”
Elder’s son Ben began to identify as male around the time that he was seven and entering first grade. He is 10 now, and about to enter the formidable years of puberty. This is a time of life that is challenging enough, even without the added stress of being transgender. Elder and her family have always tried to provide a supportive and loving environment for their son.
“Ben is adopted and was assigned [to be] a girl when he was born,” Elder explains. “Starting as early as age three, he was obstinate about not wanting to wear ‘girl’ clothes, and about the way he wanted to do his hair. Then around five, he insisted on being called ‘handsome’ instead of ‘pretty,’ and it was virtually impossible to get him to wear even a girl’s T-shirt. Then one day I was watching him play, and I noticed a pattern. He would go up to a group of girls and tell them that he was a teenage boy named Max or Jake (or some other typically macho name), and that he was the head of the pirates, or whatever. So I shared this with his pediatrician, and they recommended I take him to a psychologist at Texas Children’s Hospital for an evaluation. I made an appointment, and after a three-hour evaluation the doctor came out and told me that my child was gender-variant.”
“Gender variant” means that a person is behaving or expressing themselves in a way that does not match the gender norms of the gender they are perceived to be by society. In children, this can either be just a phase or an early indication that the child is transgender.
“The doctor recommended that we just go with it and see what happens, because there was no harm in changing hair or clothes at such a young age. If he was transgender then he will feel like he finally owns his own world, and we would do another evaluation,” explains Elder.
“So we went home and I took him to Target and he picked out all of the stuff he wanted, [including] a pair of camouflage briefs. When we went home, he went to his room and he changed and came out in these briefs and exclaimed, ‘Look, Mom, I’m here!’ And I had never seen him so happy. I realized that this whole time he was stifling himself. When our doctor did the revaluation, it was confirmed that Ben was transgender.”
Elder’s family legally changed Ben’s name and gender marker, and he has been living as Ben since the first grade. Now, as Ben approaches puberty, Elder’s family has a few other things to consider. This is where Dr. Chaudhari can assist.
Chaudhari’s procedures for transgender patients are limited to those done above the waist. This includes facial surgery (the feminization or masculinization of facial features), body contouring, tummy tucks, breast removal, and liposuction. While many of these procedures are relatively standard for any plastic surgeon, doctors operating on transgender patients need to be able to identify the proportions necessary to accurately capture the aesthetic that aligns with the patient’s gender identity.
“The key is finding a physician that understands how to successfully achieve the different ratios between masculine and feminine proportions,” Chaudhari explains.
Chaudhari’s practice also serves teenage transgender patients. Despite Houston’s size, there are very few plastic surgeons serving transgender adults, and even fewer serving teenagers. Many of his teenage patients have always lived as the gender that they identify as, but as they grow older and puberty occurs, they face new challenges that they must deal with in order to live authentically. His teenage male transgender patients face a special challenge when they start developing breasts at age 13.
“Many of my patients get to a point where they are no longer able to bind their breasts, and this can cause them to be distraught,” Chaudhari says. “Many of these patients have been on hormone therapy for years, and there is a real need for them to be able to address this issue through surgery. Once these obstacles are gone after successful surgical treatment, these patients are tremendously happy.”
Dr. Chauhari’s dedication to being an ally of the LGBTQ community has set his practice apart from many doctors who either serve transgender patients quietly or not at all. Although his practice currently only focuses on plastic surgery, he hopes to eventually expand into hormone therapy so that he can offer an even wider range of services. He recognizes that everyone deserves to receive the healthcare they need with dignity and respect. All patients—straight, gay, lesbian, queer, or transgender—are welcome at Dr. Chaudhari’s practice.
Ryan Leach is a community activist, lawyer, professor, writer, and humorist. You can email him at [email protected].