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Patricia Kendall, Editor
Colorado State University Cooperative Extension

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Going to Trinidad

By Martin J. Smith

The fascinating story of “the sex-change capital of the world” and the surgeon who made it possible

For more than four decades, between 1969 and 2010, the remote former mining town of Trinidad, Colorado was the unlikely crossroads for approximately six thousand medical pilgrims who came looking for relief from the pain of gender dysphoria. The surgical skill and nonjudgmental compassion of surgeons Stanley Biber and his transgender protege Marci Bowers not only made the phrase “Going to Trinidad” a euphemism for gender confirmation surgery in the worldwide transgender community, but also turned the small outpost near the New Mexico border into what The New York Times once called “the sex-change capital of the world.”

The full story of that nearly forgotten chapter in gender and medical history has never been told—until now. Award-winning writer Martin J. Smith spent two years researching not only the stories of Trinidad, Biber, and Bowers, but also tracking the lives of many transgender men and women who sought their services. The result is “Going to Trinidad,” which focuses on the complicated pre- and post-surgery lives of two Biber patients—Claudine Griggs and Walt Heyer—who experienced very different outcomes. Through them, Smith takes readers deep into the often-mystifying world of gender, genitalia, and sexuality, and chronicles a fascinating segment of the human species that’s often misunderstood by those for whom gender remains a mostly binary male-or-female equation.

The stories of Trinidad’s surgeons and transgender pilgrims provide an important opportunity to better understand the millions of complex individuals whose personal struggle is complicated by today’s quicksand of cultural pressures and prejudices. More than six thousand transgender men and women left Trinidad hoping that hormone therapy and surgical relief was the right prescription for their pain. For most it was, but not for all, and their experiences offer important and timely insights for those struggling to understand this sometimes confounding human condition.