Dr. Compassion

One surgeon's work has made residents of a small Colorado town experts on transsexualism

BY Lisa Neff

May 11 1999 12:00 AM ET

Each week two or
three people take the "road to Trinidad" to meet the
doctor of their dreams—Stanley Biber.

Biber is one of
the world's leading gender-reassignment surgeons. His
pioneering practice has drawn more than 4,000 people to the
town of Trinidad, Colo., to undergo
gender-reassignment surgery over the past 30 years.

Biber performed
his first reassignment surgery in 1969 after a social
worker, who brought her children to his office for checkups,
asked, "Can you do my surgery?" Says Biber: "I said,
'Sure, what do you want done?' She said, 'I'm a
transsexual.' I said, 'What is that?' "

Biber quickly
learned the definition of transsexual and, guided by
drawings supplied by a surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital,
performed his first reassignment surgery—a
penile-scrotal flap, or inversion of the organs.

In the three
decades since his first operation, Biber has performed 3,800
male-to-female procedures and 350 female-to-male operations
in Trinidad's 70-bed Mount San Rafael Hospital. "The
grapevine is so strong," he says.

Gender-reassignment surgery accounts for only about 20% of
Biber's practice, but the doctor who lacked a
knowledge of transsexualism in 1969 understands very
well the arduous journey his patients make.

"You develop a
lot of empathy for these patients," he says. "These
people have been in hiding all their life. They've been hit
on the head so many times before they come here."

Biber came to
Trinidad in 1954 to work at a United Mine Workers of
America clinic after serving as an Army surgeon in the
Korean War and at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs,
Colo. "I thought I'd be here for a year or two," he
recalls.

But Biber
remained, building his practice, raising a family of nine
children with his wife, and operating a cattle ranch. "I get
out in the open country and chase my little cows
around," says Biber, whose devotion to ranching is
equal to his passion for surgery.

As Biber's
reputation as a surgical pioneer has grown, so has the fame
of Trinidad. Situated on the front wall of the Rockies
about 200 miles south of Denver, Trinidad emerged as a
wild cattle town in 1842. Today, with a population of
about 9,000, Trinidad is still the Old West. Brochures
promote the town as "a pocket of peace, plentiful clean air,
and pure Western Americana."

But Trinidad also
is known as the "sex-change capital of the world."
Biber chuckles at this moniker as well as the nickname so
many of his patients adopt for themselves—"Biber
girls." "That doesn't emanate from us," he says of the
nicknames. He then asserts that Trinidad is not
ashamed of his work or its contemporary claim to fame.

"My people are so
sophisticated," Biber boasts of Trinidadians. "They're
all experts on transsexualism. They understand better than
anybody in the world because they live with these people.
The understanding came from exposure."

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