This Day in Jewish History

Doctor Who Devoted His Career to Sex-change Surgery Dies

Stanley Biber, doctor, soldier, pianist, weight-lifter, rancher (and spy?) helped thousands of men turn into women.

On January 16, 2006, Dr. Stanley Biber, the Colorado surgeon who became the world’s most prominent address for sex-reassignment surgery, died, at the age of 82. Over a period of more than three decades, Biber performed an estimated 4,000 sex-change operations, the vast majority on men who felt they were destined to live as women.

Stanley Biber was born on May 4, 1923, in Des Moines, Iowa, where his father owned a furniture store and his mother was involved in social causes. Upon graduating high school at age 16 Biber went to Chicago, where he enrolled in yeshiva, with the intention of becoming a rabbi. (He also was a talented pianist who considered a professional concert career, as well as a championship weight-lifter.) His studies were interrupted by World War II, during which he did service with the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner to the CIA – in Alaska and Canada’s Northwest Territory, he once told an interviewer vaguely.

He switched gears following the war, attending college and then medical school at the University of Iowa. Biber's original goal was to become a psychiatrist, but he switched to surgery during a residency in a U.S. Army facility in the Panama Canal Zone.

During the Korean War, Biber led a surgical team in a MASH unit, before finishing off his army service at Fort Carson, Colorado.

How-to drawings: How to make a vagina

Once there, Biber never left Colorado. After working briefly at a United Mine Workers clinic in Trinidad, some 200 miles south of Denver, he opened up a private practice in the town, becoming its only surgeon. When a friend and colleague, a social worker who had referred children with hare-lips to him for surgery, asked him in 1969 if he would perform sex-change surgery on her, he admitted that he hadn’t heard of the procedure, although it had been nearly two decades since Christine Jorgensen had famously undergone sex reassignment in Denmark.

Biber made contact with a surgeon experienced in the procedure at Johns Hopkins Hospital, in Baltimore, who sent him how-to drawings to study before he entered the operating room. His friend was grateful with the outcome of her surgery but Biber wasn’t satisfied with the aesthetic results, and began an ongoing process of perfecting the procedure. His goal was to improve both the appearance of the crafted vagina, and of the subsequent sexual experience of the patient.

Biber was initially reluctant to tell Mount San Rafael Hospital, the Catholic institution where he worked, what he was up to, but when he did, he received its support, and went on to bring in significant income to the hospital through the sex-change operations he undertook there. He also went to lengths to educate his fellow Trinidadians about his work and about the condition that came to be called “gender dysphoria” that led people to request sex-reassignment surgery.

Biber also had time to become a cattle rancher, to serve as a county commissioner, and to have at least seven children from several marriages. He stopped doing the sex-change surgery in 2000, when, because of his age, his malpractice insurance became prohibitively high.

In January 2006, Stanley Biber developed pneumonia after leading a cattle drive from his ranch to market in Nebraska. He died a short time later, in Pueblo, Colorado, on January 16.

Twitter: @davidbeegreen

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