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Dr. Curtis Crane, Transgender Surgery Expert and Advocate for his Patients
Episode 917th April 2020 • The Alamo Hour • Justin Hill
00:00:00 01:06:01

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Dr. Curtis Crane is a fellowship trained reconstructive urologist, Board-certified plastic surgeon and one of the most sought after surgeons and experts in the area of gender confirmation surgeries. With offices in Austin and San Francisco, his wait-list is a testament to his skill. He joins The Alamo Hour to talk about his time in San Antonio and the misconceptions and misinformation surrounding his practice area.



Justin Hill: Hello and Bienvenidos, San Antonio. Welcome to the Alamo Hour, discussing the people, places and passion that make our city. My name is Justin Hill, a local attorney, a proud San Antonian, and keeper of chickens and bees. On the Alamo Hour, you'll get to hear from the people that make San Antonio great and unique and the best-kept secret in Texas. We're glad that you're here. All right. Welcome to this episode of the Alamo Hour. Today's guest is Dr. Curtis Crane of Crane Center in Austin and San Francisco, right?

Dr. Curtis Crane: Correct.

Justin: Dr. Crane is a board certified plastic surgeon, he's fellowship-trained in reconstructive urology, as well as transgender surgery. Did I get that correct?

Dr. Curtis: That seems absolutely, correct.

Justin: All right. He's one of the most sought after experts in the United States, and likely the world on issues regarding transgender surgery and transgender issues. He has a really robust practice in Austin. He's got a long wait list for people to get his services. How many doctors do you have working under you, Dr. Crane?

Dr. Curtis: Let's see, at this point, five and then October it'll be six.

Justin: Where are you all located in Austin?

Dr. Curtis: We're at 5656 Bee Cave Rd, right next to Bee Cave in 360.

Justin: Pretty far out there off Bee Cave?

Dr. Curtis: Yes, it's probably. I live downtown, it takes me a little less than 15 minutes to go from downtown to here. It's always reverse traffic from downtown out, so it's not too bad.

Justin: Not a lot of people have that, live downtown, drive out and then come back when you come back. It's good.

Dr. Curtis: Everyone should, it's a lot of fun.

Justin: It's good life. We got Dr. Crane on here today to talk about a few things, mostly it's fascinating what you do in the realms of transgender surgery. You and I met probably, I can think back by a few-- Probably seven years ago, eight years ago probably?

Dr. Curtis: I think it was like 2010, 2011.

Justin: Yes, it had to be. We met and became good friends. It's always been fascinating hanging out with you because you're real passionate about what you do, but you also do something that is very out of the norm for everybody.

Dr. Curtis: Well, thank you. Yes, it definitely keeps life interesting.

Justin: I'm sure. You have a San Antonio connection, our show is San Antonio based. You were here for three years?

Dr. Curtis: I was from '09 to '12.

Justin: All right. With all my guests, I do a top 10 list. I'm going to walk through, it's just a little color commentary on who you are and your relationship to our city. You've answered the first one, how long you lived here? Three years. From here you went off to San Francisco though, right?

Dr. Curtis: Let's see. Actually, I went to Europe for a fellowship and lived in Belgium, Amsterdam and Belgrade, Serbia. Then I moved to Alaska for three months, and then I moved to San Francisco.

Justin: That's right, you were in Alaska, I remember, that [chuckles] is a strange part of life. Okay. You were here for three years, the city has changed so much in the time that you've been here, but when you were here, what were your favorite spots in town? Bars, restaurants, whatever.

Dr. Curtis: Well, I'll tell you, I lived downtown at the Vistana and I lived in that tower at the top with two other guys, and my favorite place was our place and our parties. [chuckles] Were you at the party, when we had a bouncy house on the bottom floor and people were jumping off the balcony on the second floor inside to the bouncy house on the first floor?

Justin: I was a very early participant, and nobody was trying to paralyze themselves whenever I left, but funny story, I had a deposition of a surgeon here in town and somehow or another your name got brought up. He told me some story about how you walked him through a circumcision over the phone in Ecuador or something, it was some crazy story, but your life is surrounded by these stories since I've known you.

Then anyway, he goes on to tell me, he goes, "One time he invited me to his birthday party and he said, 'bring your kids, we're going to have a bouncy house'." He said, "I got over there," and long story short, he said it was very much not a kid friendly party and so he left. [laughs]

Dr. Curtis: Well, when the kids show up because I figure then they can be designated drivers, maybe depending on their age.

Justin: Okay. Well, I don't know how old his were, but it was funny. I don't think I've met a surgeon in town yet who has not at least known of you. So far all good stories, all stories also have a, and this one time, so you left an impression. Okay, Vistana was your favorite spot, I'm sure when you were here there were a few random spots you ran into once or twice and you thought, "Holy crap, this is really neat, I didn't know--" For me, the Japanese Tea Garden, the first time I went I thought, "How did I not know this existed?" Do you have any spots here in town you thought, "This is a really unique spot?" You've been all over the world.

Dr. Curtis: I love San Antonio. It's got so much charm and history and living right near the Alamo or what do you call it? The walk-

Justin: River Walk

Dr. Curtis: River walk, thank you, living right next to the Alamo and the River Walk. Me, you, I think George a few times, we used to go to this bar right down the street from the Vistana that was an old bank. You had to walk through this big bank-- no, there was a big bank vault door behind the bartenders

Justin: That was George's spot, Soho, right?

Dr. Curtis: Yes, it was Soho. I used to love that place. You go there and get a few Manhattans.

Justin: Martini bar is kind of their thing.

Dr. Curtis: Exactly.

Justin: Vistana now they've done this whole sort of River Walk 2.0, this lido creek build out, they spent a $1 billion. You probably saw this dirty crappy creek that had trash in it, well, now that's a whole River Walk expansion through the, I guess that would be the West side of downtown, it's beautiful. Where you were, is even nicer now than it was then.

Dr. Curtis: Well, I used to love it. I really miss it. It's a lot of fun and I'm really impressed with what San Antonio has done since then.

Justin: I'm wearing my Fiesta garb, for people that are wondering why the hell I look like this, because we would be in Fiesta right now, but COVID-19.

Dr. Curtis: I thought this attire was totally normal for you, I wasn't surprised at all. [chuckles]

Justin: Let's not pull the curtain back, I don't normally wear medals around, but maybe. What would be the correct term for your practice? How would you describe it?

Dr. Curtis: We are a surgical practice, dedicated to serving the transgender community. We perform, I think almost every surgery that a trans man or a woman, could want.

Justin: I heard in one of your videos I watched, you all don't really do elective plastic surgery, even though you're a board certified plastic surgeon. Is that fair to say?

Dr. Curtis: Yes, that's fair to say. In fact, I think the last time I did an elective general plastic surgery case was probably seven years ago.

Justin: That would have been in San Francisco then, right?

Dr. Curtis: Yes, that's right.

Justin: Next thing I wanted to ask you, what are the correct terms as we speak here, you and I talked about this a little bit on preproduction, I feel like this is one of those areas that the terminology has changed just significantly and quickly because partly the procedures have changed, and partly because the way people identify themselves have changed. Talk to me just generally, what are the terms, what are the procedures, not all of them, but just generally what are we going to be talking about here today?

Dr. Curtis: The procedures we perform?

Justin: Yes.

Dr. Curtis: I think we're most commonly known for phalloplasty, just because there's fewer people in the world that know how to do that, but phalloplasty is when you build a phallus. You've got a donor side of the forearm, the back or the thigh, then the phallus with the urethra, you can have sensation, you build a scrotum, this is for someone born with female genitalia.

Justin: Sure, and then you build them a penis.

Dr. Curtis: You build them a penis. It's like a 17 hour surgery. It's a microsurgery. Me and another microsurgeon get under an operating microscope and we sew tiny one, two millimeter blood vessels, nerves, arteries, veins together under an operating microscope using suture that you really can't even see unless you're under the microscope and we build a penis.

Justin: Phalloplasty is building a penis. I've heard you call something a vaginectomy?

Dr. Curtis: Ectomy is removable, like appendectomy you remove an appendix, so vaginectomy would be for a trans man that was born with a vagina and does not want that, so we do a vaginectomy and remove it, but then speaking to the trans female population, we do facial feminizing surgery, breast augmentation, vaginoplasty. Vaginoplasty as opposed to vaginectomy, vaginoplasty would be building a vagina.

We do for trans men, we also do chest masculinizing surgery, liposuction, so that if a trans man has a female body fat distribution, we can sculpt that into a masculinized body fat distribution. Women tend to have fat in their breasts, buttocks and thighs, men don't really have fat there, they more have, if they're obese they have a truncal obesity, it's in their trunk unless it's all in those areas.

We can sculpt, we perform chest masculinizing surgery, phalloplasty. I mentioned there's a cool procedure called metoidioplasty. It's made up, it's a Greek origin, meta means towards, oidio is male genitalia and plasty is plasty. It's towards male genitalia, metoidioplasty and that's basically releasing all the suspensory ligaments around the clitoris and making the clitoris as long as possible. Sometimes I can get it two, three inches long and then building the urethra underneath it. It ends up being a microphallus that the patient can stand to urinate through.

Justin: I saw that, you all did a question and answer recently on your Facebook page about that, and I had to look up the term. Not a term I've heard before. We're going to get into more of that. Got a few more questions. How many Burning Mans have you been to?

Dr. Curtis: Man, sore subject, it just got cancelled yesterday or two days ago, two days ago, I think. I was going to be this year and that would have been my second time back. I went the first time in 2013 and I've just been still busy, I haven't made it back since, but I always want to. It's such a great time, so many wonderful people, so much creativity and expression.

Justin: I remember your pictures. It looked very expressive. [laughs]

Dr. Curtis: You can do what you want.

Justin: I always like to tell people whenever I was younger, I grew up in the country. All the terrible things I did, I wore overalls backwards, I had a mullet. What terrible trends did you follow growing up?

Dr. Curtis: Oh, man, what terrible trends did I follow growing up? Man, compared to life now, my life as a kid was probably relatively boring. I wore parachute pants in grade school.

Justin: The MC Hammer.

Dr. Curtis: What's that?

Justin: The MC Hammer?

Dr. Curtis: No, parachute pants were before MC Hammer. This is mid-80s, where you wore these-- It was pants made out of like some kind of tent material it felt like, maybe it was waterproof.

Justin: [chuckles] I know what you're talking about.

Dr. Curtis: Back then it wasn't child abuse to leave your kid out in the rain, but this had zippers all over it. It felt like it was more Michael Jackson inspired. That was the thing. We wore parachute parents in grade school and then instead of playing-- I guess occasionally you get in a soccer game or a foursquare game out on the recess, but we would try to breakdance. [chuckles]

Justin: Did you carry a round cardboard?

Dr. Curtis: We had either a mat or one time there was cardboard. I grew up in the suburbs of Peoria, Illinois, not exactly known for its breakdancing, but we were trying to make it known. We were trying to put it on the map for breakdancing, and I never found out if we were successful. Is Peoria known for breakdancing?

Justin: Not last time I looked, but I don't know a single thing Peoria is known for.

Dr. Curtis: Me too. Maybe Richard Pryor.

Justin: Is he from there? [crosstalk]

Dr. Curtis: Yes, Jo Jo Dancer was filmed there.

Justin: I didn't know that. Was that before or after he set himself on fire?

Dr. Curtis: That was before, that was the down part of his career [crosstalk]

Justin: I would think so. When you set yourself on fire from freebasing cocaine, I hope that's not the up part of your career.

Dr. Curtis: I guess it depends how-

Justin: [chuckles] What your career is-

Dr. Curtis: [crosstalk] much of an influencer you are in these days.

Justin: There you go. What's the one thing you miss about living here?

Dr. Curtis: You.

Justin: Well, I was going to say me. I actually wrote down me. I was going to prompt you, but you beat me to it. I went between that questions--[crosstalk] What's that?

Dr. Curtis: I got that question right. What am I, one for five now?

Justin: Yes, one of eight. Were you student of the decade for University of Texas Health Science Center here, or was that your friends joking with you?

Dr. Curtis: No, I actually was. You've really done some background reasons.

Justin: I do my research and I saw on Facebook when that happened and I thought, "Is his friends just screwing with him or is that a real deal?"

Dr. Curtis: No, I got invited to their plastics graduation first in 2016. I was the speaker, the commencement speaker. I think that speech was famous for me finishing the graduation speech by saying, "Don't wait to wish upon a star, because by now that star is a million years old and dead just like your dreams," which I think is a nice thing to say too, right.

Justin: They had to know what they were doing inviting you to speak at a graduation, honestly. It's their fault. Whatever had happened, if you had taken your clothes off, it'd been their fault. Okay. What do you find to be the biggest misconception about what you do and the community of your patients?

Dr. Curtis: It's interesting, there's a lot of misconceptions. The most personal one is a friend is talking to someone else and says, "Oh, I know a transgender surgeon." They immediately assume that I'm transgender and obviously we're very supportive of the community. It's just that I'm not. I've had situations where someone meets me and they're like, "Wow, you really passed," and I'm like, "Yes, I was born male and I identify with male pronouns." Being a transgender surgeon, sometimes means that you are a transgender individual, but it doesn't have to.

Justin: Because there is a