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Sex Machine

Dr. Stanley Biber has made 3,500 women--and 300 men.

Phillip Valdez: "As far as being a commissioner goes, he was straightforward and took interest in what was going on. He was real concerned about the jail [complex]. It took two or three times to get it passed on a referendum, and it finally passed. That was largely through his efforts. I have a lot of respect for him."

Mike Ossola, one of two county commissioners targeted by Biber for recall last January: "I have no respect for him. As a politician, he's not worth a dog. The recall? Ruthless. Low. Totally unnecessary. Just a few old-timers upset because it wasn't business as usual. It gave Trinidad a horrible image. It tore the town apart."

Jon Pompia: "I don't know that it tore the city apart, but it tore the two factions apart. It was intense and intriguing. A lot of people thought it might be kind of a personality thing."

Ossola: "It was a horrible time for me and my family."
Pompia: "Doc Biber's ads in the paper accused them of nepotism and for hiring family members and close associates. Improper firings. Fiscal malfeasance, not paying attention to the budget, that was another one. He started his ads with 'So the People May Know.' He was really good with them linguistically."

Ossola: "If I saw him downtown, I wouldn't talk to him."
Pompia: "The recall failed pretty miserably. Both commissioners retained their seats pretty easily. It's pretty much blown over now."

Biber: "If you do what you think is right, you make a few enemies, and the enemies remain with you for life. We stand by our information. Aw, who cares. It's just one of those things. That's just politics."

After decades at the top of his unexpected specialty, Dr. Biber's star is beginning to fade. Dr. Gordene MacKenzie, a University of New Mexico professor of transgender theory and author of Gender Nation, says: "During the past nine or ten years, the word of mouth has been not to go to Biber. That he has been screwing up more."

Some of Biber's former patients have complained that he's not always open to repairing mistakes, MacKenzie adds. In one case, he reportedly turned away an ailing woman who didn't have up-front money for the surgery.

"I wouldn't send anyone up there for surgery," MacKenzie says. "I know personally of too many cases that have come from Trinidad and have been botched. Basically he told them, 'It's your problem, and you correct it.' I know of at least five cases. There have been other surgeons who have had to pick up his errors."

Dr. Anne Lawrence, who operates a popular Web site, places Biber fifth on her recommendation list. Although he's legendary, performs "pretty nice work" and offers reasonable prices, "his age is starting to show," Lawrence writes. "I can testify to some major dissatisfaction among my informants."

Marsha Botzer, therapist and founder of the Ingersol Center in Seattle, cautions that anecdotal information, particularly on the Internet, should be taken with a grain of salt. While sometimes useful, such information is also subjective. Although Biber's patients may have legitimate reasons to complain, she says, more follow-up surveys must be completed before reliable comparisons can be made.

The Ingersol Center conducted its own survey and found a 97 percent approval rating among 400 of Biber's male-to-female patients. "He's one of those who have done a lot of the research necessary to make the surgeries as good as they can be," Botzer says. "In all those years, he's rendered good service. He has helped people get their lives in order."

Nancy Nangeroni, executive director of the International Foundation for Gender Education in Waltham, Massachusetts, says that while she would not choose Biber personally--"He has one way of doing things, it's too much of a cookie-cutter approach, and he has too much of a paternal approach"--she would not feel uncomfortable recommending him. "There are some things he's done that have been questionable," she adds. "He's made statements like, 'I've made these women.' But there have always been complications. There are very few surgeons who don't make mistakes, especially in something as complicated. I haven't heard of a surgeon yet who hasn't had problems. The kids who have had his surgery are very supportive. Is he turning out satisfied customers? For the most part, he is."

But when Biber retires, she adds, "there won't be a vacuum." Fifteen years ago, very few surgeons performed credible sex-change surgery in the United States; today, between ten and twenty do the operation. "There are, especially in the last five years, many surgeons who have stepped forward," Nangeroni says. "And a number of them were instructed by [Biber's] technique."

Botzer agrees. "We're in a different world," she says. "He has been gracious enough to train a new generation of surgeons. More younger surgeons are willing to make it part of their practice. There are more options. That wasn't the case twenty years ago."

When Biber finally retires, his legacy will probably remain intact. "He was, for many years, the most reliable and trustworthy practitioner in this country, especially at a time when others, like Johns Hopkins, were objecting to this practice," Nangeroni says.

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