Expats: Trip to Trinidad

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Photo by Arthur Russell Allen.

There are places we travel to that change us forever, but none quite like the town of Trinidad, Colorado; population: 9,096. About an hour and a half south of Denver and just a few miles shy of the New Mexican border, Trinidad came to be known as the “Sex Change Capital of The World” when Dr. Stanley Biber began performing genital procedures there in 1969. His practice was taken over in 2003 by Dr. Marci Bowers, the first transgender woman to perform the surgery. “Transitioning is like walking on lily pads,” she says, “You have to be careful with each step, or you’re going to sink.”

Born in California in 1958, Marci Bowers graduated from the University of Minnesota at the top of her class (and the entire student body) before running a successful ob-gyn practice in Seattle. She was voted one of America’s Best Physicians in 2002, just before moving her practice to Colorado. While living in Trinidad, she performed hundreds of vaginoplasties (where a vagina is created from a penis), many metoidioplasties (the opposite, for transgender men) and over 50 reversals of female genital mutilation. She has been called a pioneer and a “rock star” in the field of genital surgery, and has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, CSI, BBC, Discovery Fit & Health, the Sundance Channel and in the documentary, Trinidad. In 2010, she moved the practice to her hometown of San Mateo, California.

Of the 300 transpeople who travel to Trinidad annually for the procedure, a small community of expats have decided to stay, two of whom established a bed and breakfast and recovery house for post-op patients called Morning Glow. Two former patients of Bowers’ — Sabrina Marcus, who was fired from NASA when she began transitioning, and Dr. Laura Ellis, a family practitioner — opened Morning Glow (originally named “The Morning After Guest House”) along with Bowers’ partner, Carol Cometto, in 2008.

Ellis describes Morning Glow as a “transgender spiritual center” and a place where guests can recover in a safe, supportive space in the company of allies. They represent a new generation of transwomen who don’t have to couch the truth in euphemism the way some in the 70’s had to. Those clandestinely seeking the services of Dr. Biber would simply say that they were “taking a trip to Trinidad.”

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