New reality series Sex Change Hospital (WE tv Tuesdays, 11 pm/ET) follows patients — from retired grandfathers to construction workers, businessman and office managers — as they undergo surgery to transition from one gender to another. We caught up with Dr. Marci Bowers (formerly Mark Bowers), who has performed over 550 male-to-female sexual reassignment surgeries, to find out more about the life-changing operations at her clinic in Trinidad, Colo., the compelling docudrama and the social stigmas involved with transgender patients.
TVGuide.com: How did Trinidad, Colo., where the show is based, become the "sex change capital" of the world?
Dr. Marci Bowers: That goes back to the days of Dr. Stanley Biber, my mentor and predecessor. He actually had done his first sex reassignment on a male-to-female local patient back in 1969. At that time, many universities had an active gender reassignment program, but they gradually closed down shortly after some study was designed to show it didn't help people. But of course, the problem didn't go away, and there was a need for Dr. Biber to continue his work. I'm not sure who dubbed this little tiny mining town of 9,000 people the 'sex change capital,' but at one point, he had done more two thirds of all the world's sex reassignments. He did about 3,500 of the surgeries in his career.
TVGuide.com: How did you get involved in this type of surgery?
Bowers: I've been an OB-GYN for twenty-two years and did quite a bit of obstetrics and surgery. Through the course of things, I went through my own gender transition and befriended Dr. Biber, who he indicated they needed doctoring help in this area. He was in his 80's at the time, so he literally was hanging on to get someone in the practice to continue what he established. I gained expertise in male-to-female vaginoplasties, and our next milestone is 600 surgeries.
TVGuide.com: Having gone through your own gender reassignment, does it help to deal with your patients?
Bowers: It gives me a greater degree empathy. I know how important it is to align the body with the soul, so to speak. For me, it makes perfect sense. I know where they're at now, where they've been and where they're going.
TVGuide.com: When did you realize you were living in the wrong body?
Bowers: I knew my whole life. I actually tried to transition at age nineteen when I left college and hitchhiked to Southern California to try to restart my life. But back then, there weren't resources for people so I was lonely, scared and didn't know where to go or who to connect with. I thought I was the only person in the world like this.
TVGuide.com: What are the most common misconceptions about transgenders?
Bowers: A lingering misconception is that it's psychological or that they're crazy. But when you talk to people you learn it's they feel this way from their very earliest memories. It's not about parenting, or choice, and it's certainly not psychological. It's probably hard wired prenatally. Occasionally, you'll see us lumped in to this amputation fetish category. But that overwhelming sense of relief after surgery has nothing to do with amputation. If you look historically, the Bible has reference to eunuchs, which were probably early transsexuals. The castrated males were allowed to mingle with the women on intimate settings because they were no threat. It's been around forever, and it's in every culture.
TVGuide.com: What are you hoping people will get out of this show?
Bowers: These are interesting, normal, productive people who happen to be transgender. Their stories are real, and it really comes forward. They're just looking for acceptance and continuity between their spirits and their bodies.