Of course, gender dysmorphia isn't contagious. And Bono has lots of local fans rooting for him, among them Dr. Sherman Leis, an internationally known expert in gender reassignment surgery who met Bono last year at the Southern Comfort Conference, which focuses on the transgender community. That's how Leis wound up being featured in Bono's recent documentary, "Becoming Chaz," which aired earlier this year on OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network.
After Leis' speech at the conference, the two chatted.
"I did sort of a mini-consult with him there," Leis told me. "Unbeknownst to me, he was sitting in the audience listening to my lecture on female-to-male top and bottom surgery, female-to-male gender reassignment surgery. He had some people with him who were taping the entire lecture. After my talk, I met Chaz, who had some questions about some of the things that I spoke about."
I recently caught up with Leis at his office in a nondescript building just off Montgomery Avenue on a quiet Bala Cynwyd street. We talked about Bono's performance on "Dancing with the Stars" which has prompted Fox News contributor Keith Ablow and the American Family Association to advise parents to keep their children from watching.
"Why would they boycott? I think that's ridiculous. Anyone who can dance, who wants to dance . . . what difference does it make what their gender is or what it was? Everyone has to complain about something and has to get on a bandstand and moan and groan about things. To me, it's ridiculous.
"Let him have the life he wants to live. People should let other people alone. As long they're not hurting anyone, let them have a life that they want to live and concern themselves with their own problems in life."
Q. Does it make you feel good to know that you're helping people who feel they've been born the wrong sex?
A. Plastic surgery is all about helping people feel better about themselves. That's nowhere more true than in the field of transgender surgery. It's sort of the ultimate of reconstructive surgery and cosmetic surgery.
Q. Is that what attracted you to this speciality?
A. A psychiatrist in the area referred a patient to me more than 35 years ago who was a female-to-male transgender patient. And the young man came here and sat in that chair. I had no idea that he was a biologic female because he looked very masculine. He had short hair. He had a beard. He had hairy arms. He was strong and wiry. He had a voice like a man but, in fact, was born with the body of a female. [He] always felt as though he was a boy, and thought that he was just in the wrong body that it was some kind of mistake and asked if I could help with reassigning his genitals to be that of a normal male. I told him at that time that I had never done that procedure and that I would help him find someone who did.
He said he had already done research and that no one in the Philadelphia area does that surgery and he knows I have a good reputation as a surgeon and he knows that if I found out how to do the surgery, that I would do a good job. I asked him to give me a couple of weeks. I did some research . . .
When he came back I offered him a couple of different options of different types of operations . . . the operation was very successful. And I'm still in touch with that patient. That patient recently sent pictures of one of his daughters graduating college. He was engaged at the time and he got married shortly after the surgery. He's been married all these years. His wife had artificial insemination and had two healthy children who are now young adults. I spoke with him about three months ago. He still refers patients to me, other trans people that he knows . . . He told me he thinks of me every day because he's so happy with the normal life that he has and that I helped him have that life.
Q. Isn't there a thriving business in black market transgender surgeries? There was an incident earlier this year with a female British tourist who died after having her butt worked on in a local hotel.
A.A lot of trans people go to what they call pumping parties and they get pumped up with silicone by a "pumper" who usually has no medical training at all . . . who buys silicone in Home Depot or in Walmart or in a Target store sometimes in an ice pack or a freezer container or a caulking product. It's industrial-grade silicone and [they] put it in a big syringe that they get somewhere and they'll charge $400 or $500 or $600 an area and pump up cheeks, chins, lips, breasts, butts, hips. It's very dangerous because medical grade silicone, let alone industrial grade - not sterile silicone - is very inflammatory, especially when injected in large quantities and the body forms inflammatory tumors called granulomas, which can become painful enlarging masses, big lumps of tissue which can break through the skin and wind up as large ulcerating wounds that can get infected and drain and smell and people can die from it.
There was a girl by the name of Kelly here in Philadelphia, a trans girl who was a pumper, who went to Mexico last year to see a surgeon to remove some silicone tumors, painful lumps, and she died during surgery from a pulmonary embolism because pieces of silicone that got into one of her big veins or an artery and went to her lung and killed her . . . Kelly dies. Somebody else takes her place. A lot of people just don't care.
Q. Do you have a theory as to why transgenderism seems to be more prevalent these days? [I was thinking of Isis King, the first transgender woman to compete on "America's Next Top Model" and also transgender runway models such as Lea T.]
A. People think it's growing. I don't think it's really growing. I think more people are coming out of the closet. More trans people are identifying themselves now because it's becoming more accepted. Thanks in big part to the media. Transgender individuals don't have a choice. They didn't just wake up one day and say, 'I want to be a boy' or 'I want to be a girl.' They've struggled with this since they were young children.
Close to 100 percent of my patients, when I ask them how long they have felt different, almost everyone of them says, "As far back as I can remember." These children are born with a brain that's different from their bodies. And they believe from a very early time in their life that they are one gender, that happens to be opposite of the gender of their bodies. And they live very frustrating lives and often are discriminated against."