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Dr. Compassion

Dr. Compassion


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

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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