After moving to Granby five years ago, Martin Smith began hearing stories about Trinidad, the unlikely home to what the New York Times once called “the sex-change capital of the world.”
A veteran journalist and former senior editor of the Los Angeles Times Magazine, Smith had already written five novels and four nonfiction books. His writing process tends to focus on the news of the time, and his newest book, “Going to Trinidad,” was no different.
When he started the book in 2017, transgender people were at the forefront of the news. A number of policy decisions by the early Trump administration brought what Martin called “a direct assault on the civil rights of trans people.”
Beginning in 1969, surgeon Stanley Biber performed gender-confirming surgery in the southern Colorado town. “Going to Trinidad” became a common euphemism for gender confirmation surgery, with roughly 6,000 medical pilgrims seeking relief from gender dysphoria in this unlikely location for more than 40 years.
Biber, a Jewish surgeon, operated his practice at a Catholic hospital that was staffed by nuns up until 1995, making it an especially unlikely place for gender confirmation surgeries. Smith was immediately intrigued.
“For every one of the 6,000 medical pilgrims that came to Trinidad over that four decade period, the stakes were enormous,” he said. “In many cases, it was life or death.”
When Smith began his work on the book, there was pushback from some who felt that transgender stories should be told by transgender people. Smith explains that, being cisgender — meaning someone who is not transgender — he came from a place of genuine curiosity and openness, though he now recognizes it was also a place of ignorance.
He emphasized that he does not speak for the transgender community, approaching the material as a storyteller and journalist with no specific agenda.
“In doing that, I thought it might be a really good way to tell a story that would be accessible to people like me — cisgender males of a certain age, or females, who have never really thought much about gender,” Smith said.
The book focuses on four characters: Biber, his transgender protégé and successor Marci Bowers, and two of Biber’s patients — Claudine Griggs and Walt Heyer.
Smith explained that Griggs represents the vast majority of outcomes when it comes to gender-confirming surgery, people who are content with their decision and would do it again.
Alternatively, Heyer was never gender dysphoric, according to Smith, but instead battled mental illness. Heyer ended up reversing his decision to transition from male to female.
Today, Heyer is a “sex change regret advocate” with staunchly conservative views. Some have criticized Smith’s choice to include Heyer in book, but Smith stands by his decision.
“It helps in that story of Trinidad to have somebody who says out loud all the things that people who haven’t thought very much about gender think,” Smith said. “That’s the role I wanted him to play.”
The book is intended to be a conversation starter. Smith hopes people are open to learning about something they may not have ever really given much thought to.
“I’m grateful that people are willing to take a chance on a book they might not otherwise pick up and seem to be learning along with me that (transgender issues are) way more complicated than the fearmongers pretend it is,” Smith said.
“Going to Trinidad” is now on sale. Smith will be hosting two local events to promote his book including an on-stage conversation with Grand County Community of Writers leader Anna Szczepanski scheduled 4 p.m. May 22 at Polhamus Park.
Smith will also host a presentation on the book 5:30 p.m. July 9 at Cozens Ranch Museum for the Grand County Historical Association.
This content was originally published here.