Aug 10, 2010

 
This picturesque southern Colorado town known for decades as the sex-change capital of the world -- thousands of gender-reassignment operations have been performed here -- is becoming a beacon for victims of female genital mutilation.

Dr. Marci Bowers has performed about two dozen reconstructive surgeries on mostly African born women victimized as children by the culturally driven practice of female circumcision. Bowers is believed to be one of the few U.S. doctors performing the operation.

Bowers, who underwent a gender reassignment operation in the 1990s at age 40, said she relates to what her mutilation patients describe as a loss of identity, of not feeling whole.

"It took me so long to get there in my own life. I know what the feeling is like, seeking my own identity," she said.

Massah, a patient who grew up in a village in Sierra Leone and now lives in Australia, said the surgery "is like giving us a second life. Actually it's starting to live."

Wearing a blue-and-white striped shirt, dark blue pants and sneakers to her pre-surgery exam, Massah asked that her full name not be used because she hasn't told most friends and even family that she was having the surgery, or that she was circumcised as a girl in Africa.

She paid a $1,700 hospital fee, plus lodging and travel expenses for the surgery last month.

"I will spend my whole life savings," she said, "even if it's for one minute of feeling complete."

The World Health Organization estimates 100 million to 140 million girls and women worldwide have been circumcised.
 

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