Trans Women and the Perils of Pumping: A Call for Safe and Accessible Healthcare

Drawing of different hips of women

The lack of accessible and affordable gender-affirming healthcare options poses a significant challenge for transgender women seeking to transition. High out-of-pocket costs associated with gender transition procedures can create immense financial barriers, leaving many trans women feeling desperate to find alternative ways to feel complete in their bodies. Furthermore, societal scrutiny and discrimination exacerbate the struggle for trans women to blend in and simply be themselves. In their desperation, some trans women turn to risky practices such as pumping, hoping to achieve a more feminine appearance. Unfortunately, these urgent decisions can often lead to severe medical complications, sometimes manifesting years later. In this blog post, we will discuss the dangers of pumping and the importance of seeking safe, professional healthcare options for trans women.


The Dangers of Pumping for Trans Women: An Overview

Pumping is a dangerous practice of injecting substances, often silicone, into the body to enhance features such as breasts, hips, and other areas. This practice is particularly prevalent among transgender women who seek to achieve a more feminine appearance without undergoing expensive medical procedures.

Witnessing the Impact of Pumping on Trans Women: Personal Experiences

In my work with the transgender community, I have witnessed the devastating effects of pumping firsthand. Many trans women have suffered from severe health issues and irreversible damage to their bodies as a result of this risky practice.

Disclaimer: Raising Awareness as a Non-Medical Professional

It is important to note that I am not a medical professional. However, I feel compelled to raise awareness about the dangers of pumping in the hope of encouraging trans women to seek professional help and consider safer alternatives.

Delving into the World of Pumping

Pumping Defined: What It Is and Why Trans Women Resort to It

Pumping involves injecting substances, most commonly silicone, into various parts of the body to create a more feminine figure. The goal is to achieve the desired body shape at a lower cost compared to traditional plastic surgery. However, this practice comes with a host of dangers and potential complications.

Reasons Trans Women Turn to Pumping

Many transgender women resort to pumping because they lack access to affordable and safe medical procedures. The desire to alleviate gender dysphoria and achieve a body that aligns with their gender identity leads some to take risks with their health and well-being.

Uncovering the Substances Used in Pumping

The most common substance used in pumping is liquid silicone. However, the silicone used in these underground procedures is often industrial-grade, similar to the material used for construction purposes. Additionally, the silicone may be mixed with other harmful substances like olive oil, paraffin wax, or even car transmission fluid, increasing the risk of complications.

The Perils of Pumping: Health Risks for Trans Women

Immediate Dangers: Short-Term Risks of Pumping

  • Infections and Scarring: The aftermath of pumping can lead to serious infections that may require hospitalization and result in permanent scarring.
  • Acute Silicone Syndrome: A life-threatening condition where silicone enters the bloodstream and travels to vital organs, causing respiratory issues, fever, confusion, and even death.
  • Counterfeit Dermal Fillers: The use of fraudulent or unapproved dermal fillers can cause severe complications, even when administered by unlicensed providers.

Lingering Consequences: Long-Term Risks of Pumping

  • Silicone Hardening and Migration: Injected silicone can harden and migrate from the original site, causing disfigurement and pain.
  • Chronic Pain and Disfigurement: Complications from pumping may lead to ongoing pain and significant disfigurement, often necessitating corrective surgeries or long-term treatments.
  • Irreversible Side Effects: Side effects can manifest years after injecting silicone, requiring multiple costly medical interventions with no guarantee of complete recovery.

The Disproportionate Risks for Trans Women of Color and Those in Poverty

Trans women of colour and those living in poverty face even greater risks when it comes to complications associated with pumping. These individuals often encounter multiple barriers that increase their vulnerability:

  • Limited Access to Healthcare Services: Trans women of colour and those in poverty may have limited access to healthcare services due to geographic, financial, and social factors. This makes it difficult for them to receive proper medical care and guidance for gender-affirming procedures.
  • Financial Constraints: The high costs of gender-affirming treatments and surgeries can be prohibitive for trans women living in poverty. As a result, they may resort to more affordable but unsafe methods like pumping to achieve their desired appearance.
  • Lack of Culturally Competent Care: Discrimination and bias within the healthcare system can make it challenging for trans women of colour to find providers who understand and respect their unique needs. This lack of culturally competent care may lead them to seek out alternatives, such as pumping, which can be performed by unlicensed practitioners with no medical oversight.
  • Unregulated Procedures: Due to limited options, trans women of colour and those in poverty may be more likely to turn to unregulated procedures. These risky methods, often performed in non-clinical settings like homes or hotels, can result in serious complications, infections, and irreversible damage.
  • Stigma and Discrimination: Trans women of colour and those in poverty often experience higher levels of stigma and discrimination, which may contribute to feelings of desperation and urgency to achieve their desired appearance. This pressure can push them to make dangerous decisions, like undergoing pumping, without fully understanding the risks involved.

Safety Tips to Protect Yourself from the Dangers of Pumping

To minimize the risks associated with pumping and other unregulated procedures, follow these safety tips from the FDA in the US:

  • Avoid unapproved fillers or liquid silicone: Never get any type of filler or liquid silicone injected for body contouring or enhancement, such as breast fillers, “butt fillers,” or fillers for spaces between your muscles. These products, including certain types of injectable silicone, can be dangerous and may cause serious injury or even death.
  • Don’t buy dermal fillers online: Never purchase dermal fillers on the Internet, as they might be counterfeit, contaminated, or harmful.
  • Steer clear of unlicensed providers and non-medical settings: Never receive injectable fillers from unlicensed providers or in non-medical settings like hotels or private homes.
  • Always work with a licensed healthcare provider: Ensure you work with a licensed healthcare provider who uses FDA-approved products for treatments. Check that the vials are properly labelled and sealed. If your healthcare provider offers a procedure using a dermal filler at a significantly lower price than similar procedures using FDA-approved dermal fillers, or if a product has labelling that looks unusual or different than usual, exercise caution.

Real-Life Accounts: The Human Side of Pumping

NPR’s Code Switch: Unveiling the Truth About Pumping in the Trans Community

A compelling story by NPR’s Code Switch highlights the experiences of transgender women who have undergone pumping. The article emphasizes the emotional and physical toll that pumping takes on the individuals who have engaged in this dangerous practice, as well as the challenges they face in accessing safe and affordable healthcare options.

Personal Testimonies: The Voices of Those Who Have Undergone Pumping

There are numerous heart-wrenching stories from transgender women who have suffered the consequences of pumping. Many of these individuals have experienced severe pain, infections, disfigurement, and even life-threatening complications as a result of their attempts to achieve a more feminine figure through unregulated and risky procedures.

Embracing Safe Practices: Professional Help and Alternatives for Trans Women

Consult Your Healthcare Provider: The First Step to Safe Transition

It is crucial for transgender individuals to consult with their primary healthcare provider before undergoing any body enhancement procedures. Medical professionals can provide guidance on safe and medically approved alternatives to pumping, helping trans women make informed decisions about their healthcare.

Medically Approved Procedures for Body Enhancement

There are a variety of safe and medically approved procedures available for body enhancement, including hormone therapy, breast augmentation, and other surgeries. These options, when performed by licensed professionals, can provide trans women with a safer and more effective means of achieving their desired appearance.

The Need for Culturally Competent Care for Trans Patients

It is essential for trans patients to have access to healthcare providers who are knowledgeable and understanding of the unique needs and challenges faced by the transgender community. Culturally competent care can help ensure that trans individuals receive the appropriate support and guidance they need to navigate their healthcare journey safely and effectively.

Conclusion: A Call for Change and Support for Trans Women

Raising Awareness: The Critical Importance of Understanding the Dangers of Pumping

Raising awareness about the dangers of pumping is vital in protecting the health and well-being of transgender women. By sharing information and resources, we can help individuals make more informed decisions and potentially prevent the devastating consequences of this dangerous practice.

Empowering Trans Women to Seek Help and Safe Options

It is crucial to encourage transgender women to seek professional help and support when considering body enhancement procedures. Access to safe and medically approved alternatives can significantly reduce the risks associated with pumping and other dangerous practices.

Advocating for Accessible, Safe, and Affordable Healthcare for the Transgender Community

Finally, we must advocate for improved access to safe, affordable, and culturally competent healthcare options for the transgender community. By promoting greater access to professional care, we can help ensure that trans women have the resources they need to achieve their desired appearance without resorting to dangerous and potentially life-threatening procedures.

Disclaimer: This blog shares general information only, not professional advice or recommendations. Consult healthcare providers for personal guidance. Decisions based on content are the reader's responsibility. Thank you.

Clayre runs a group practice of three queer and trans therapists, including youth therapist Audrey Wolfe, RCC, LGBT therapist Camber Giberson, RCC, CCC, and gender-affirming therapist Clayre Sessoms, RP, RCT, RCC, CCC, ATR-P. Work with us: book a session.