Sex Machine

The surgical team gathers early one Saturday morning, not exactly hiding what they're doing, but not advertising it, either. The procedure is still in its experimental stages, and who knows how people will react.

Dr. Stanley Biber stands beside the operating table, white light shining down, the patient's chest rising and falling with each breath of anesthetic.

A few weeks before, Ann had come to him, sitting in the same chair as thousands of other patients and putting the question to him directly. She is a friend, a social worker who has brought him harelip and cleft palate cases from around Las Animas County. Ann is impressed with his work.

"Can you do my surgery?"
"Sure," Biber says. "There's not a surgery I can't do."
He has no humility. He's 46 years old and still a rising star.
"What kind of surgery is it?"
"I'm a transsexual," Ann says.
"A transsexual? What in hell's name is that?"

It's 1969. Most people don't know a transsexual from a transvestite, and Biber himself is a little sketchy. To him, this person sitting across his desk is a woman. Reddish hair. Medium build. Not bad-looking.

As it turns out, Ann is one of the first patients to receive hormone therapy from Dr. Harry Benjamin, the father of transsexual research. Ann has passed Benjamin's psychological criteria, lived as a woman for a year and is ready for the final step.

That afternoon, Biber calls New York and asks Benjamin's advice. He then contacts surgeons at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, where the early sex-change operations have been performed, and arranges for the hospital to send hand-drawn diagrams that detail transforming a man's genitals into a woman's. The technique is basic--crude, even--but similar to the procedure for prostate cancer.

"Okay," he says. "We can do it."
So Biber stands in the operating room of Trinidad's Mt. San Rafael Hospital on this Saturday morning. His team is ready. His patient is prepped. Biber selects a scalpel and steadies his hand.

Four sex-change operations per week. Nearly two hundred sex-change operations per year. Three thousand eight hundred sex-change operations a career. That was enough to earn him a spot on last week's Guinness World Records Primetime TV show. Enough to bring Geraldo Rivera to southern Colorado for an operating-room exclusive. Enough to transform the former mining town of Trinidad into the "Sex-Change Capital of the World." Dr. Stanley Biber has performed two-thirds of all sex-change operations in the world. Enough, in some circles, for him to be the best.

Pano Ortiz, owner of Pano's Bargain Books: "If anyone knows anatomy, it's him. He's neat and clean."

Charles Martinez, visitor at Pano's Bargain Books: "There are some ugly monsters coming out of there. Gawwd! Big manly types, growing hair and everything, just look like the dickens."

Jon Pompia, Trinidad Chronicle-News city editor: "I think he used to be a world-class power-lifter."

Dominic Verquer, San Rafael Hospital computer-systems director: "The first few times he rode, he had a good cow horse, and the horse went one way and the rider went somewhere else. If you know what I mean."

Marje Marty, former Biber neighbor: "He used to come up to my children, tweak their noses, give them a hug and joke around. It was the love he gave. You don't see that anymore, and that's too bad."

Pompia: "He might have been an Olympic hopeful."
Gene Lujan, former county commissioner and owner of El Rancho Club: "Retiring? I've heard that for years."

The word is out--again. It has floated around the town, made a few laps around the state and settled back on the fourth floor of the First National Bank building in downtown Trinidad, where Dr. Stanley Biber leans back in his chair, frowning.

The rumor, it seems, is premature--again. Although Biber has cut back his medical practice, reduced sex-change surgeries to twice weekly, talked about a replacement, recently celebrated his 75th birthday and spends afternoons on his ranch, the bespectacled, gregarious doctor is still very much "in."

On this muggy August afternoon, his office is buzzing. His phone rings, then rings again. His secretary scurries in with a message. His waiting room of lime-green vinyl-and-chrome chairs fills slowly with patients. His thirteen-year-old daughter, fresh from gymnastics class, fidgets in a nearby examination room, waiting for a ride home.

The rumor is just a rumor, as constant in this town as the wind and barely worth a response from the doctor, who, at the moment, seems more interested in the jar of jellybeans on his desk than in discussing retirement. He shuffles some papers, smiles at his daughter, checks the clock on the wall. "I thought you wanted to talk about transsexuals."

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Harrison Fletcher

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