National Geographic gives a behind-the-scenes look at gender confirmation surgery

Emmie and Caleb Smith. Via Screenshot, National Geographic.

National Geographic is exploring what it means to grow up transgender, with a documentary called Gender Revolution, which premiers Feb. 8. It also recently put a transgender girl, Avery Jackson, on the cover, believed to be the first time in the publication’s history.

In a nearly nine-minute clip recently published online, National Geographic follows Emmie Smith, 17, and her family as she prepares for, undergoes, and recovers from gender confirmation surgery. Smith came out as transgender to friends and family via a Facebook post a year and a half prior to getting the surgery, in August of last year.

National Geographic writes:

Though she hadn’t initially considered surgery, after a couple of months Emmie had grown frustrated by the tucking and taping required to fit into women’s clothes. That fall, her senior year of high school, she decided to do it.

But waking up after the operation, Emmie felt none of the immediate relief she’d expected. In the recovery room her earbuds played a soothing loop of Bon Iver and Simon and Garfunkel, but it didn’t drown out her disappointment and fear. In retrospect, she thought, hadn’t life before been OK?

It wasn’t until months later, when she was home and could walk and sit again, that Emmie knew she’d made the right choice. “If you’re not living freely that’s time wasted, and I felt my time was wasted pretending to be a boy,” she says. “It was the best decision in my life.”

She comes from a religious family, her mother, Reverend Kate Malin, preaches at a church in their Massachusetts town. A month after Emmie came out, Malin announced the news to the congregation.

“I feel broken much of the time,” she confessed. “I’ve wanted to run away, and I’ve prayed for this child that I would gladly die for, guilty for how much I miss the person I thought was Walker [Emmie’s former name] and everything I thought might be.”

The members of the church showed support right away. She also appears to have the support of her family.

Commenting on the notoriety that might come her way as a result of this media attention she had this to say:

It’s strange, she says, knowing that her future classmates may watch Johnson’s film and learn the most intimate details of her life. She’s hopeful that her participation will evolve the public’s understanding of gender reassignment surgery. “It’s not science fiction or mythology,” Emmie says. “It’s what happens to women just trying to be at peace with themselves and their bodies.”

Watch the video below.

Jeff Taylor

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