The French gynaecologist who turned Casablanca into the sex change capital of the world

The work of ‘celebrity’ gender reassignment surgeon Dr Georges Burou, whose clients included the late, great Jan Morris, is still a defining debate of our age, writes Oliver Bennett

Thursday 26 November 2020 12:11 GMT
Burou is widely credited with pioneering gender reassignment surgery for trans women
Burou is widely credited with pioneering gender reassignment surgery for trans women (Getty)

Casablanca is an anomaly in Morocco. Much of it is commercial, urban and Europeanised, with art deco parades, shopping centres and parks laid out in the early 20th century. Despite the towering Hassan II Mosque, the crashing Atlantic coast and a certain raffish appeal, it lacks the tourist-trapping atmospherics of Marrakesh and Fez.

But the “white city” set one marker in history – as a key location in the history of gender reassignment surgery, or GRS. From the 1950s to the ’70s, Casablanca became the fabled destination of people wishing to transition from male to female, courtesy of glamorous gynaecologist Dr Georges Burou – including Jan Morris, who died last week and who at 45 years old in 1972 went to see Dr Burou for GRS. Her account, in the 1974 book Conundrum, is a classic in its field, and introduced Britain to the idea of what was then known bluntly as a “sex change”.

In an admittedly small field, Dr Burou was arguably the first celebrity of GRS. “Arguably” because Burou had competition from US army veteran Stanley Biber, who from the late 1960s onwards turned Trinidad, Colorado, into the nominative “sex change capital of the world”, performing four sex reassignment surgery, or SRS (as it was then known), operations a day, while another contender was Elmer Belt, until the late 1960s was said to be the first surgeon to perform SRS in the US.  

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in