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The Silicone Wars

| Jan 9, 2012
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I’m happy to say much of my work is now available online at my website. More is going up all the time.

Copyright 2012 by Dallas Denny

The Silicone Wars

When I transitioned back in 1989 I moved to Atlanta. It didn’t take me long to learn about illicit silicone parties where transwomen would go to get injected with silicone.

Held in beauty shops after hours, private apartments, or the back rooms of bars, as many as 30 or 40 women would come to pumping parties for injections. The “doctor” (actually not a doctor at all, but an out-of-work RN) would fill large-bore syringes with silicone of questionable grade and inject it into their breasts, hips, lips, cheeks, chins, foreheads, buttocks, and other areas. As one of these women told me, “Hips, lips, and fingertips, darlin’!”

I was vaguely aware of silicone injections and knew the FDA had banned them, but the silicone problem in the trans community didn’t really come into focus for me until Margaux Schaefer brought me an ad and urged me to run it in the journal I had just started—Chrysalis Quarterly.

Margaux’ Dangerous Curves Ahead ad ran on the inside front cover of Chrysalis #2 or #3 (I’m not at home as I write this, so I’m unable to check) in 1991 and I sent it, along with a press release I prepared with her assistance to the mailing list of AEGIS—The American Educational Gender Information Service. The flyer warned of the dangers of injectable silicone and urged readers not to use it. (I was hardly the first transwoman to warn others about silicone. Lee Brewster was doing so in 1973, in her  Drag magazine.

Some months after I mailed the advisory I was accosted in a hotel hall at the very  first Southern Comfort conference by a gun-wielding transsexual hairdresser, warning me to back off on the advisory. “Michelle is a registered nurse. She knows what she’s doing. She uses only the best silicone and provides a critical service. You need to let this go,” she said menacingly.

I didn’t let it go. I continued and still continue to warn others of the dangerous and sometimes lethal effects of injected silicone and the criminals who administer it.

Several years later a friend from the Atlanta bar scene decided to educate me about the benefits of silicone. Over lunch, she told me her story. She had come to Atlanta from Alabama after having been kicked out of the house by her parents. With no money or prospects of a job, she soon found herself turning tricks. She was more attractive as a prostitute, she told me, after getting injected. “It made all the difference in the world,” she told me. It transformed my body immediately and made me more desirable.”

Probably without realizing she was providing a counter-argument, she also told me the story of her horribly misshapen chin. She had gotten injections so help her with Cher impersonations in her stage act but had unfortunately wound up looking more like the Wicked Witch of the West. Her cheeks were so big, she told me, because her boyfriend had struck her in the face and shifted the silicone on that side. She had gotten injections in both cheeks to even things out. Her breasts, she said, were hard as rocks, and she was beginning to regret having them pumped. And she told me the silicone in her lips made it painful to give blow jobs and caused her to drool.

Damage from loose silicone.

I understood and understand the horrible discrimination and economic pressures on young transwomen, and I certainly sympathized with my friend, but on the other hand, at $50 to $100 per injection (and these were early 1990 prices!), she had spent as much on silicone as she would have on cheek implants. And certainly she subscribed to the More Is Better school of thought. In her case, more was definitely not better. One look at her face had told me that.

Gender Education & Advocacy, Inc, AEGIS’ successor, was still releasing advisories about silicone in the last years of the 20th century.

 In 1993 a transgendered women came to Atlanta from her home in Virginia to get pumped. She received massive injections in her buttocks and expired several days later from respiratory problems. A transgendered woman from Florida was soon arrested and put on trial.

Deaths from silicone injections had been happening with depressing regularity since the 1950s, especially for transgendered women  (for data from medical journals, see my 1992 article Cheekbones From Hell, which is reproduced on my website here.

This time, however, a silicone-related death of a transperson was noticed by the media—and authorities. The judicial system went after the perpetrator—and I got a phone call from Dr. Mark Konopen of the Georgia State Medical Examiner’s Office, That led to me having talks with a physician from The Centers for Disease Control—and that in turn led to myself, Dr. Erin Swenson, Jan Roberts, an official from The Centers for Disease Control, and, I believe, Dr. Virginia Erhardt holding a workshop at Southern Comfort.

Largely as a result of Dr. Konopen’s vigilance, medical and legal authorities became aware of heavy use of silicone in the transgender community. From the 1990s on, deaths from silicone have been regularly reported in newspapers—and the police and prosecutors are arresting and charging the criminals who do the injections.

The silicone wars are far from over. Silicone injections remain unfortunately common in transgender, Asian, and Black populations. People continue to die—and for every death, there are hundreds of people who are forced to live with facial and body disfigurement and silicone-related chronic health problems.

References

Denny, D. (1992). Cheekbones from hell, or Injected silicone: Bad news. TV-TS Tapestry, 61, 46-48. Available here on my website.

Greer, R. (1993, 17 February). Silicone injection killed man, police say. Atlanta Journal-Constitution, B6.


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Category: Transgender Body & Soul, Transgender Opinion

Dallas Denny

About the Author ()

Much of Dallas' work is available on her website. Dallas Denny is a writer, activist, and educator. She holds a M.A. and was licensed to practice psychology for many years. She retired her license after relocating to Georgia. Dallas founded and was for eight years Executive Director of the American Educational Gender Education Service. She started the Atlanta Gender Explorations support group in 1990. She was part of the group that started the Southern Comfort conference and did programming for the conference. She has long been involved with Fantasia Fair, where she was Director for six years. Dallas was editor of the journal "Chrysalis" from 1990-1998 and "Transgender Tapestry" from 2000-2006. She has three published three books and many book chapters and journal and magazine articles. Dallas holds a number of honors, including IFGE’s Trinity and Virginia Prince Lifetime Achievement Awards and Real Life Experience’s Transgender Pioneer Award.

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