Finding a Big Story in a Small Town

Veteran journalist Martin Smith ’78 Com knows that the best stories are often found in the unlikeliest places. The award-winning writer had no idea he’d chance upon a great one in the tiny, rural Colorado town he moved to in 2016, much less that it would become the subject of his 10th book, Going to Trinidad: A Doctor, a Colorado Town, and Stories from an Unlikely Gender Crossroads.

“Someone said ‘do you know the history of Trinidad, the sex change capital of the world?’” Smith says.

The more he learned, the more he became intrigued with the story of Dr. Stanley Biber, who from the late 1960s to the early 2000s performed hundreds of gender confirmation surgeries in the remote town of Trinidad, Colo. The story, Smith says, had a perfect arc. It had larger-than-life characters: Biber himself—a Jewish doctor working in a Catholic hospital and beloved by everyone in town—and his protégée, Marci Bowers. And it was timely: “We were in the middle of an administration that was rolling back the rights on an already marginalized and vulnerable people,” Smith says. “It felt urgent, compelling.”

An intrepid reporter, Smith spent time in Trinidad, interview-ing townspeople, tracking down Biber’s widow and son and many of the doctor’s former patients. He focused his book on two of them, Claudine Griggs and Walt Heyer, who experienced very different outcomes to gender confirmation surgery, so that he could tell the transgender story as completely as possible and “raise questions that I could then address with science.”

Smith—who has two transgender relatives—says he hopes the book will broaden the conversation on gender identity and challenge harmful caricatures of trans people. —SI