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.
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