Dr. Marci Bowers delivered more than 2,000 babies in her time at Seattle’s Polyclinic and at Swedish — many while she was going through her own rebirth as a transgender woman.
“I transitioned in plain sight,” Bowers said recently. “It was surreal.”
In 1998, Bowers left Seattle to usher even more new lives into the world: She took over the practice of a doctor who specialized in gender reassignment surgery in the former mining town of Trinidad, Colorado.
The practice, the town and Bowers’ work there are at the center of a new book called “Going to Trinidad” by Colorado journalist and author Martin J. Smith. The book, which will be released Thursday, features two Seattle women, and offers a glimpse into an issue and a community that have been a steady part of the news cycle in recent weeks.
On March 31, President Joe Biden issued the first presidential proclamation of Transgender Visibility Day, an annual event dedicated to raising awareness of the discrimination faced by transgender people, and celebrating their contributions to society.
That same day, the Pentagon announced new regulations that reversed rules set by the Trump administration that effectively banned transgender people from serving in the military.
And on March 24, Dr. Rachel Levine became the highest ranking openly transgender official in U.S. history when she was confirmed as the nation’s assistant secretary of health.
“I think it’s a nice sound bite to say there has been all this progress,” Bowers said from her office in Burlingame, California, where she moved her OB-GYN practice from Trinidad in 2010. “But if you really drill down, we still have a long way to go.
“It’s great if you’re a left-leaning, progressive person,” she continued, “but in terms of accepting it as mainstream and part of diversity, that is still at the end of the rainbow.”
Trinidad seemed to be just that, though, for people seeking to have sex-reassignment surgery 40 years ago. The medical practice — the first such private practice in the country — was started by Dr. Stanley Biber in 1969.
In 2003, after operating on hundreds of patients, he turned the practice over to Bowers.
They had been introduced in 2000 by Marsha Botzer, the founder of the Ingersoll Gender Center, which she started in Seattle in 1977 as a resource for transgender and gender nonconforming people.
Botzer, who is transgender, still lives in Seattle. In the book, she told Smith of tucking business cards bearing the Ingersoll center’s phone number in the handful of library books about gender issues.
“There was no internet back then, no way to reach out,” she told Smith. “So that’s how people would find us.”
Botzer made more than 100 trips to Trinidad, Smith wrote, accompanying patients she met through Ingersoll to Colorado for their surgery. In the process, she became close to Biber, who performed more than 2,300 male-to-female genital reassignment surgeries and 1,000 female-to-male surgeries.
“I deeply appreciated his good work,” Botzer said in the book. “I saw his skill and passion in the operating room. He was superb.”
When she learned that Biber was looking for a protégé, Botzer brought Bowers to Trinidad to meet him. While Bowers watched a surgery, Biber handed her the scalpel to test her skill.
Bowers would eventually move to Trinidad, take over Biber’s practice and innovate his techniques.
But it also seemed to be a good time for Bowers to leave Seattle, where she had been the chairperson of the obstetrics and gynecology department at Swedish Medical Center and an OB-GYN at the Polyclinic.
She transitioned in 1998, and “it was a shocker,” Bower said.
“There were a lot of people who, when I came out, were really supportive and hoped that I would do well,” she said, adding that most of her patients stayed with her while she was transitioning. She remembered a starting point guard from Brigham Young University and his wife who had Bowers deliver two of their four children as a man, and two as a woman.
“The true, ideal kind of Christianity,” she called it.
It helped that she was transitioning from male to female and serving a female clientele.
But there were a lot of people — patients and colleagues — who “went the other way,” Bowers said.
“I ran into the dark side,” she said. “This conservative dark side that didn’t know what I am all about. They were looking to trip me up.”
Around the same time, she learned about Biber.
“I just read the tea leaves and said, ‘Well, this is my fate,’” Bowers said in an interview. “I really had no choice. I just had to go.”
Smith came across the story after moving to Colorado in 2016. He had a cousin who transitioned, and was always fascinated by what transgender people went through to be their true selves. Trinidad had given him a place to find answers through telling Biber and Bowers’ stories, but also those of some of their patients.
“I wanted to make those stories very human,” Smith said. “It makes it hard to caricature transgender men and women as guys in women’s dresses trying to get into girls lockers rooms.
“All the choices they had to make, all the torment they went through to come to this place, seeking relief. Nobody does that so they can get on the girls track team and beat everyone.”
The lesson of the book, he said, can be captured in one word: Acceptance. It spread through Trinidad quickly and permanently, after the well-respected Biber gathered citizens, clergy and town officials together, and told them that the people coming to their town needed help.
“He told them, ‘I can relieve their pain, it’s the right thing to do,’ and they accepted his word and trusted him.”
Patients came with their families and turned out to be good for business, staying in hotels, eating in restaurants. Some moved there outright and joined the community.
“For the most part, Trinidad accepted them as they were,” Smith said. “ And that’s a lesson.”
Bowers, whose family still lives in Seattle, is now president of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, and is a strong advocate for transgender rights.
Seattle may be progressive, she said, but the rest of the country falls far behind. It is difficult for transgender people to get jobs. Some 230 transgender women are murdered every year, most of them women of color.
“People need to hire trans people and they need to understand that the only thing we measure with two choices in nature is gender,” Bowers said. “And that is what is unnatural.
“We’re never going to get to that place of peace on Earth or harmony on the planet without realizing that everything is represented by diversity, including gender and gender identity.
“There is nothing to be afraid of.”