“My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.”

—Audre Lorde

The Stonewall Riots ignited the conception of a revolution and imprinted a profound mark on our nation’s history. Blood, sweat and tears uphold the foundation of the inclusive structure we must continue building for our faculty, staff, trainees and patients. Although we are still faced with a mountainous voyage to trek, we have made remarkable progress.

Earlier this year, we were lucky to have Ervin Kocjancic, MD, a distinguished expert in reconstructive urology and gender affirmation surgery, join our team. In collaboration with multiple subspecialties at the University of Chicago Medicine, Dr. Kocjancic will continue growing our Gender Affirmation Program and spearhead an LGBTQ+ friendly urology clinic. As a department, we will remain persistent in cultivating a diverse community of surgical innovators and highlighting their impactful offerings to surgery.

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

—Nelson Mandela

Like many of our surgeons, Dr.Kocjancic possesses an inquisitive and challenge-seeking soul; thus, whatever triggers thinking within stimulates a ravenous thirst for knowledge. “You’re the nerdiest person I know,” is what his husband often tells him. Even as a child, he would skip sleep and allow his mind to wander various terrains, hoping to reap kernels of inspiration—of purpose—and become deeply connected to the earth. Both of his parents were educators; consequently, his passion for learning developed within his family’s scholastic ecosystem. He was a student of his dad, a musician, who would brazenly say, “This is too difficult for you. You’ll never be able to do it.” Dr. Kocjancic revealed this sticks with him to this day and stirs his arresting detestation for the smothering words, “I can’t.”

Dr. Kocjancic has become a dynamic force within Urology. He is keen on offering advanced reconstruction to patients no one else wants to operate on. When someone deems a patient inoperable, it takes him back to those words his dad spoke to him as a child. Dr. Kocjancic finds it extremely difficult to have a patient he can’t help and is always eager to make a way to do so.

This field of work provides patients with the opportunity to grasp happiness and finally be who they are, as they have spent many years feeling as though they are living in the wrong body. There’s a huge demand from patients to be operated on; the feeling of not knowing what’s next is frightening. Dr. Kocjancic has a strong urge to collaboratively disintegrate the towering systemic barriers and do something big for the community. He is working to establish connections with community organizations, like Howard Brown Health, to provide comprehensive care to patients—particularly homeless individuals, who are usually turned away due to inability to manage their postoperative care.

Dr. Kocjancic described music as the key to the deepest part of his soul, so the question he posed to us was fitting and allowed for a fascinating discovery. “Are you familiar with operas?” In opera, a prima donna is the leading female singer in the company, the person to whom the prime roles would be given and tasked with carrying heavy performances. “La mamma morta” is a classic soprano aria from Act III of the 1896 opera Andrea Chénier. It is sung by Maddalena di Coigny to Gérard about how her mother died protecting her during the harsh tumult of the French Revolution. One of the world’s most well-known prime donne, Maria Callas, produced a spellbinding performance of this piece. She emoted in a way that dramatically depicted the acceptance of death and realized phantasms of joy in the moment.

Unlike Maria Callas, trans health is not about being the prima donna of the opera; it is the full orchestra. This is such a multifaceted field with many intricacies, and they can be managed in a refined way if you have a team with which to unpack and address them. The trans health orchestra comprises a team of musicians with varying specialties who move as one and create spectacular works of art by giving patients the opportunity to live a complete life.

For Dr. Kocjancic, as for all of our feature subjects this year, the ability to lead a successful clinical practice is heavily influenced by his appreciation and admiration of culture and identity, as well as his ability to plug his life experience into his life’s work. Being part of the LGBTQ+ community produces a unique connection and special touch. He is equipped to bring academic and emotional intelligence into each interaction, anticipate the questions, and break the frosty surface; therefore, robust communication and understanding can occur reciprocally.

Within the elaborate field of LGBTQ+ urological care there exists a privacy to intimacy, in addition to the complexity of religion, ethnic background, sexual orientation, etc.; to that end, it’s very difficult as a patient to find someone who can lean in close and genuinely fathom a “nonstandard” journey. Dr. Kocjancic understands; his efforts to create deep, multidimensional and meaningful connections with his patients are boundless. We were joined by two of his loyal patients, Jen Learn and Tiegann Rogue, who deemed him a life-changer. We venerate the bravery, persistence and enthusiasm both patients project, and we were honored to spend time with them.

We consider Dr. Kocjancic a vibrant anomaly in this complex field, as he is not only well-versed in innovative urological care, but also on the front lines of an age-old movement for equity and inclusion, right beside his patients. His presence is truly a gift to this institution and embodies our department’s DEI mission and values in an unparalleled way.

This is Ervin Kocjancic, Behind the Mask.