In the new documentary Born to Be, Brazilian filmmaker Tania Cypriano tells the story of Dr. Jess Ting, a pioneering plastic surgeon at Mount Sinai Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery in New York City. There, Ting works with transgender and non-binary people as they journey to complete their full transition by having gender-affirming surgery.
One of the transgender people featured in the film is Afro-Puerto Rican model and ballroom dancer Leiomy Maldonado, who is a current judge on the HBO Max reality show competition Legendary. Maldonado visits the center to undergo a vaginoplasty. During her consultation, she admits that she has “never felt comfortable enough with [her] body to love someone.”
“This has been my biggest accomplishment ever,” Maldonado says about her decision to fully transition. “I can’t express how happy I am–just to be able to look down and not see what I see before. I feel like I can finally look in the mirror.”
According to a 2015 study by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the TransLatin Coalition, 32% of transgender Latinx people reported having at least one negative experience related to being transgender. This includes being refused health care treatment, being verbally harassed, or being physically or sexually assaulted. The study also found that 45% of transgender Latinx people have experienced serious psychological distress in the prior month to taking the survey.
Born to Be also examines other issues with the type of surgery Ting performs, including a nationwide debate about whether health insurance companies should cover gender-affirming surgery. Since 2015, New York has required health insurance plans to include gender care in its coverage. Also, there just aren’t enough doctors to meet the demand of transgender people who want to fully transition.
“There isn’t a way for surgeons to learn,” Ting says in the film.
Now, however, Ting says his center has started the first transgender surgery fellowship training program in the United States.
“I’m very happy that now there is formal training in the field,” said surgical fellow Bella Avanessian, MD, in the film. “The patients have access to safe and effective surgery. I’m glad we’re moving in the right direction.”
Born to Be is currently streaming on VOD platforms.