Trapped in the wrong body: How gender reassignment surgery helped a Richmond couple

Trapped in the wrong body: How gender reassignment surgery helped a Richmond couple
Published: Oct. 27, 2017 at 2:26 AM EDT|Updated: Oct. 27, 2017 at 7:47 AM EDT
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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Most married couples go through huge changes throughout their lives together. For one Richmond couple, the changes go beyond the typical house, dog and kids.

Nic and Ryan may look like just two guys working out together at the gym, but these two are more than just work-out buddies. In fact, they're a married couple.

Gay marriage has been legal in Virginia for more than three years now, but this is no typical boy-meets-boy love story. When Ryan and Nic first met at their Chesterfield high school, both of these young men...were young women.

Nic has already undergone the first phase of gender reassignment surgery, and now Ryan is about to follow.

"Okay, here we go...these are just landmarks, they're no incisions, of course," said Richmond area plastic surgeon Dr. Neil Zemmel, as he marked the incision lines for Ryan's top gender reassignment surgery. For Ryan, this procedure means removing a part of his body that has made him self-conscious and uncomfortable since he was 12 years old.

"I immediately went from nothing to DD, and they were incredibly painful and I hated them, and I never bonded with them so to speak, so definitely a hate-hate relationship," said Ryan.

This procedure is not the same as a radical mastectomy, that so many cancer patients are forced to endure. Not all of the breast tissue is removed - it is reduced and moved to form a more masculine chest.

In recent years, Dr. Zemmel has seen an increase in the number of patients seeking this surgery, and many have a similar story.

"We hear from them that they were put in the wrong body at a very early age, and throughout their entire lives, wanted to live as males, wanted to feel like they were in a male body...and want a flat chest," said Dr. Zemmel.

Ryan is back at work, grooming dogs. The pain has been replaced by a mild ache, when he exerts himself too much, but the transformation isn't over.

Ryan is on hormone therapy, as is his partner. While neither is exactly where they want to be yet, both agree they have never been happier. For them, it is a level of confidence and self-esteem they never had as women.

"You walk in order to hide. You posture in order to hide. So, you are blocking what you don't like about yourself - in the way you carry yourself," said Nic. "For once, at least some of that is gone. You don't have to do that anymore."

"I don't have to put on a face for somebody," said Ryan. "I don't have to pretend to be somebody I'm not. I can just be myself, and its very freeing to not have to be an actor all the time."

Dr. Zemmel says a growing number of insurance companies are now covering this type of surgery.

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