Black market cosmeticians are preying on transwomen in New York, injecting them with huge quantities of liquid silicone to create a more feminine silhouette, sometimes with life threatening consequences, Laura Rena Murray reports in the New York Times. A young transwoman died in a Queens hospital this summer after receiving back alley silicone injections and the medical examiner is investigating her death.

No one knows how widespread the illegal pumping phenomenon is. One pumper estimates that there are about 50 pumpers operating in New York City. According to city statistics, about one in five transwomen in New York has had silicone injections. The same study estimates that there about 12,500 transgender people in New York, total.

Many of the pumpers use industrial grade silicone, sometimes diluted with adulterants like motor oil to make the product cheaper. When liquid silicone is injected directly into tissues it can stiffen and spread through the body casing pain, disfigurement, and sometimes lethal blood clots.

Murray does a great job explaining the pressures that motivate women to seek out this dangerous procedure and placing the "pumping" phenomenon in the larger context of discrimination and marginalization of transpeople, especially transgender youth.

One of the big factors that keeps "pumpers" in business is that neither Medicaid nor most private insurers cover procedures related to a gender transition.

Reading the story, you can help but wonder if Medicaid is already spending more to rescue people from complications of black market silicone injections that it would have spent by simply covering a few butt implants.

[Photo credit: A transgender woman receives a silicone injection at an unlicensed clinic in Brazil, by Michael Ende, Creative Commons.]