Phalloplasty, or the surgery to construct a penis, has grown increasingly popular among transgender men — but it’s medically complicated. Jamie Lauren Keiles takes a closer look at the procedure while following the transition of Benjamin Simpson.
As Ben prepared for Stage 1 surgery, he told only his family and close friends. He knew that acceptance from some people in his life would hinge on every step going smoothly, and found himself acutely aware of a mandate to justify his desires. Though surgery today can construct a penis, it cannot reconcile millenniums of phallic anxiety: the tangled bond between penises and manhood; the supposedly inherent violence of the penis; the sense of the vagina as its wanting opposite; the feminist call to destroy gender essentialism. Even among trans men themselves, phalloplasty remains a highly scrutinized desire. It is easy to stand up for some vague and glittery right to gender self-determination; fighting for the penis is like rooting for the Yankees.