Dr. Bowers knows firsthand what it's like to transition. Just 10 years ago, she was Dr. Mark Bowers, a successful doctor, husband and father of three. "From my own personal experience, the transition from male to female is difficult enough," Dr. Bowers says. "It's not easy to keep your family together and happy and adjusted."
Dr. Bowers says she questioned her gender at a young age. "I've had my first question or feelings at 4 or 5, but felt very ashamed of that and did my best throughout life to hide that inside." At age 19, Dr. Bowers says she ran away from college and tried to transition. "In 1978, there was no Internet. There were barely any newspaper articles," she says. "[There were] very few resources, clinics, doctors that knew about this kind of thing, and so I just tried to put it aside."
In medical school, Dr. Bowers says she decided to specialize in obstetrics and gynecology so that she could be a part of women's lives. "I thought that, that would satisfy the feelings that I had."
As years passed, the feelings only grew stronger. Dr. Bowers says she lived in denial for 40 years until she could no longer look in the mirror. Eleven years into his marriage, Dr. Mark Bowers told his wife he wanted to begin living as a woman. So why did Dr. Bowers get married in the first place? "You play the cards you're dealt," she says. "I thought that I could put it off and do other things, raise a family, get married, and that would be enough for me."
Eleven years after her admission, Dr. Bowers and her wife are still married.
Dr. Bowers says there's a difference between gender identity and sexual preference. "Gender is how you feel about yourself, male or female. And as we say, that's from the neck up. That's what you feel yourself inside to be. That's your soul," she says. "Sexual preference is sexual preference. It's who you're attracted to."
Gender identity and sexual preference aren't necessarily related, Dr. Bowers says. "Generally, if you consider yourself female, you're attracted to males, and vice versa…but not necessarily."
Dr. Bowers says she feels like people are often born in the wrong body. "When I interview patients coming in for surgery, better than 90 percent feel that they had cross-gender feelings from the very earliest of age—less than age 7," she says. "And that really suggests that it's something biological."
In order to have reassignment surgery, Dr. Bowers says patients must complete a series of steps. "You're required to go through psychotherapy to make sure there aren't other mental issues and it also plays a very important supportive role—but it's not a psychiatric illness, I don't believe," she says. "However, that psychiatric diagnosis is necessary in order for a person to get treatment. And then, of course, they have to go on hormones for a year and then live as their desired gender for a year before going on to surgery."
Oprah applauds Angelika, Jake and Dr. Bowers for being so open with their stories. "Not everybody watching here is going to believe it, relate to it or understand it, but at some point in your life, I'm sure, you will have to stand up and say who you are, in one form or another," Oprah says. "What you will want is for the people to accept whatever that is. So we thank you."
By doing shows about gender identity, Oprah says she hopes people will see how we're all more alike than we are different. "Soon, and I know that it is not going to happen in my lifetime, but I feel like all of us who are living in this lifetime have to do our part to create a greater understanding…where people accept you just for being who you are."
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