Changing her body to match her gender

Freshman Dez Rivas plans to undergo surgery to alter her male physical appearance to fit her female identity.

Several trips to the doctor and weeks of shooting hip pain revealed a harsh reality: with surgery comes risk for some transgender people.

Dez Rivas, 20, endured the sharp pain in her infected hip after her body rejected a liposuction treatment. She wanted to add feminine curves without artificial implants.

Instead, she lost 75 percent of the fat moved in the procedure.

Meet more participants in our Transgender series:

“The pain is starting to going away progressively, but I was still in pain when I went back in August for work,” Dez said. “Even to this day I still get little pains where the scars are.”

Dez recovered, and though she couldn’t get the $5,500 she paid for the procedure, she started saving again. This time, she put away money for both surgery and school.

Moving from San Francisco, Calif., to Syracuse, Dez started as a freshman this fall studying marriage and family therapy and social work at SU. She said the distance from family helps her independent and determined nature. 

“Approval wasn’t really needed. It’s my life and I’m going to make my decisions,” she said. “I’m going to make sure I live my life the fullest of what I can do.”

That means researching doctors to schedule procedures that will place hip implants, lower her hairline, shave back her forehead bone, and augment her breasts, Dez said. Working at the SU dining halls 40 hours a week at minimum wage while taking classes, she knows changing her body will take patience.

Dez said she has friend support and does talk to family in California, but achieving her desired look will help her regain the personal confidence she had when she led a fit life before the first surgery.

And, the fear of another rejected surgery doesn’t stop her.

“For awhile I didn’t want to go through the procedures because I didn’t want to feel that pain again,” Dez said. “But the only way to be who I want to be is going through and continuing with the procedures.”

She plans to complete each change one-by-one as long her body can handle the medical alterations. While waiting, school and work will help get her to her goal of acting as an advocate for children in social work.

Watching her younger stepbrother grow up in an abusive environment, Dez wants to enter a career that helps children just like him. She said she didn’t experience abuse, but didn’t know how to stop it for her brother.

She said she appreciates that he accepts her realization that she’s transgender.

“Even to this day I still ask myself ,‘Why did I want to do this?’” Dez said. “Even I can’t give myself an answer. It’s just something I feel more confident in and I feel more like myself.”

Dez also wants to speak out for others like herself in the LGBT community. She said in high school she studied Harvey Milk, the first openly gay American politician, and knew she wanted to continue his work as an advocate.

For now, she will finish her education and work on achieving the body that reflects her gender identity.

The goal: progress.

“If you plan to stick to what you want to do and you want to be the person that you want to be, you just have to just find the determination and drive to accomplish your goals,” she said. “There are going to be hardships no matter what you do, but in the end I think it will all be worth it.”

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