When Caitlyn Jenner revealed herself to the world, people were stunned—not only by her bravery, but by her beauty. (When you draw comparisons to Jessica Lange, you're definitely in good company.) And there's one man who can take (at least some) credit for helping Jenner achieve the look she's wanted all these years: facial feminization specialist Dr. Harrison Lee.
Spurring other trans individuals to talk openly about their own experiences—and spurring hopes of a better and more accepting world for all—the impact of the reality star's transformation has really only begun to be felt. We caught up with the plastic surgeon who helped Jenner achieve the change that's ignited a movement.
How many patients have you helped to realize their true selves over the years?
"I've worked with tens of thousands of patients since I've been in practice. Female feminization surgery (FFS) is an incredibly niche market, but a lot broader than most people think. In the past 16 years I've performed a few hundred FFS surgeries on patients from around the globe."
How do you know what type of face to create?
"As a facial plastic surgeon I focus initially on understanding the patient's concept of beauty. Beauty is subjective. Everyone is unique and has a unique concept of beauty. Oftentimes, my patients tell me that they feel trapped in a face they cannot identify with in the mirror. My job is to create a reflection they can identify with."
How does FFS differ from traditional facial plastic surgery?
"It's not as different as one would think. The surgical techniques are quite similar; the desired results—beauty, youthfulness, sex appeal, etc.—are similar. But FFS encompasses more specialized procedures such as jaw contouring, chin contouring, and tracheal shaving."
What was your thought process going into Caitlyn Jenner's surgery?
"Knowing how high-profile this surgery was going to be, I was thinking about all the people who were on the fence about this type of surgery, and knowing that if Caitlyn's surgeries were successful, they would empower other transgender candidates to realize that they, too, can live the life they choose."
Did you have concerns about working on Caitlyn Jenner?
"Although I have worked with many celebrities, the impact of this surgery and knowing how it would affect the social landscape was an additional challenge that certainly did weigh on me."
What was your reaction to seeing Caitlyn's results for the first time?
"I was thrilled, but it wasn't until Caitlyn looked at herself in the mirror and smiled that I was truly satisfied. Only when my patients are happy am I happy. And yes, I am very happy."
Has the change in how we categorize gender identity affected your practice?
"When I first started performing FFS, the DSM-5, or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, classified gender identity disorder as a mental illness. In May of 2013, gender identity disorder (GID) received a new name: 'gender dysphoria.' The new classification brought about greater civil rights for gender dysphoria patients including the role of health insurance for surgery. Under the new DSM-5, insurance may pay for FFS with properly documented medical justification. To learn more about transgender rights, review the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) website."
Here's hoping Caitlyn's new look continues to inspire and encourage others to be their truest selves.