Dr. B and the Women
By T Cooper
At Bowers's office, which doubles as the Planned Parenthood outpost in town (a detailed poster by the phone on the wall reads managing a suspicious or offensive call), I meet Amy Chastity West, a painfully shy 23-year-old MTF who's traveled to Trinidad with her parents from rural upstate New York. Her GRS is scheduled for the next afternoon with Bowers. West, sultry, slim-hipped, heavily eyelined, and sporting beat-up combat boots, definitely does not fall into the camp Bowers has described as potential 'tragedies of transition.'
Bowers glides into the examination room dressed in a turquoise blouse, pink eyeglasses, and her requisite white doctor's coat. She sits on a short stool and threads her long legs around one another, West's chart resting on her thigh. Bowers is the consummate professional, with an impeccable bedside manner, asking all the right questions to ensure that West is physically and psychologically ready for surgery and that she and her folks know the attendant risks. West tells her visibly anxious parents to leave the room when Bowers asks to examine her genitals as part of the pre-surgical checkup. West says she'd like me to stay in the room for the examination -- perhaps because I'm trans or maybe because she figures it'll all be gone tomorrow anyway. Bowers and her intern, Allison, handle West's testicles and penis, assessing the raw materials they'll be working with the next day. 'You've got a lot of hair. What are you, French? Or Italian?' Bowers asks jocularly.
Later that day at the Morning After, I meet 69-year-old Erikka Elisabeth deBornac, who's finishing her recovery from surgery the week before. Almost immediately she asks if I want to see her 'results.' She invites me into her bedroom and proceeds to undress completely, lying on the bed and spreading her legs, one hand behind her head. It's a vagina all right. But there are the sizable pink 'V'-shaped incisions, with yellowish-green and reddish-purple bruising spreading across her thighs and up her abdomen. There is a swollen, painful-looking, stitch-encircled clitoris with a dark red and still somewhat bloody inner labia and entrance to the vaginal canal. After pulling up her compression underwear and long skirt, deBornac opens the top dresser drawer and produces her three specially shaped dilators -- pink, powder blue, and aqua-green.
DeBornac seems positively giddy about the new plumbing with which Dr. Bowers has equipped her. 'The first time I'd seen a vagina was my own, in the hospital,' she marvels. 'I've been married twice, but I always had sex in the dark.'
Later that night there's a small gathering at the Morning After -- nothing fancy, just a barbecue thrown by Cometto for Bowers, some of her patients and staff, and a smattering of friends from Trinidad. MTV's in town too, following another patient: 24-year-old Elle Stice, who's going to be the subject of the show True Life: I'm Changing My Gender. Stice's mother had died unexpectedly just weeks before, and she's accompanied by her stepfather, Gino. Despite a pall of sadness, there is also relief and elation on both of their parts about the surgery. Bowers is solicitous of the decidedly attractive Stice, and in the kitchen she jokingly suggests she consider going into adult entertainment because her surgery turned out so beautifully. 'I'm getting the Maserati of vaginas,' Stice deadpans later, 'now I just have to learn how to use it."
Stice is miked and the MTV producer totes her video camera from room to room, filming people talking and laughing at the party, Cometto guffawing as she pours ketchup on an open-faced veggie burger and hands it to somebody, Gino getting another scoop of Bower's legendary potato salad. One post-surgical MTF patient absconds to her room because she isn't out as trans to friends and family and doesn't want to risk being on camera or included in this story. Cometto fixes a plate and taps on her door to deliver it. "Can you say that again?" the producer asks somebody as she films around the table on the front porch. It was something about the quicksilver nature of gender, and the sun sinks behind a pink cloud.
After dinner I ask Bowers if she thinks the media circus around her and her practice is good or bad for trannies?
"Oh, totally, it's revolutionized the tolerance and acceptance," she answers without hesitation. "As they say in Hollywood, there's no such thing as bad publicity, and I think that's true of this. Each of these little programs has done a lot to normalize. I'm not sure it's ever going to be quite normalized in some people's minds, but at least there's some empathy for what we're all about."
In the meantime, the tranny parade through Trinidad keeps rolling, as Bower's profile continues to rise. And for Cometto, all that "normalization" can't come soon enough: "It don't matter where we go -- New York, Atlanta, Costa Rica -- somebody knows Marci. It's scary, and I'll tell you why," she says dead serious. "I watched a movie the other night about these men, these haters who just want to beat you up. I don't know what I would do if someone did that to Marci, you know, like a plot to get rid of the [GRS] doctor? I would go to prison, because I would take the rest of my life to find that person, and I would kill him."
T Cooper is a frequent contributor to Out and the author of Lipshitz Six, or Two Angry Blondes.