Georges Burou was one of the first surgeons to complete gender reassignment surgery as a matter of routine. He was a gynaecologist from Algeria who had been struck off by the French Order of Physicians for performing illegal abortions, and set up a practice in Casablanca, Morocco, where he continued performing abortions. He used penile and scrotal skin to line the neovagina.
His first GRS was on the singer Coccinelle (Jacqueline Charlotte Dufresnoy) in 1958. She had sung and acted, as a woman, since 1953. She said later, “Dr Burou rectified the mistake nature had made and I became a real woman, on the inside as well as the outside. After the operation, the doctor just said, ‘Bonjour, Mademoiselle’, and I knew it had been a success.” After her legal name church, the Catholic Church married her to a man, Francis Bonnet, in 1960.
Burou’s ninth GRS patient was April Ashley, the first British person to have GRS, in 1960. He was said to have operated on the singer Amanda Lear, Salvador Dali’s muse, but she has always denied she is trans. Her birth date has been given as various dates between 1939 and 1950, and her place of birth given as Saigon, Hong Kong, Singapore or Switzerland. She posed naked for Playboy in the late 70s.
In 1974 Dr Burou told Paris Match, “I started this speciality almost by accident, because a pretty woman came to see me. In reality, it was a man, I only knew it afterwards, a sound engineer in Casablanca, 23 years old, dressed as a woman … with a lovely chest which he had obtained thanks to hormone injections.” What makes a man, I wonder.
April Ashley wrote that Dr Burou told her, “there was a 50-50 chance I would not come through”. I don’t believe her. There would be a fair case that death in surgery with such a risk would be murder, an intentional killing, or at least wickedly reckless. Eric Plemons however says the loss of blood was immense, and the surgery has only become safer since the 1980s. I wonder if Dr Burou performed alone, or had assistants and an anaesthetist. In 1952 there was surgery where the heart was stopped and restarted.
In February 1973, the disgrace of having been struck off did not prevent Dr Burou presenting to the Medical Congress of Transsexuality at Stanford University.
Dr Burou, a keen sailor, died in 1987 when his boat capsized in a storm.
I got much of this from Oliver Bennett in The Independent. However Bennett writes that “By the 1970s, Dr Burou had performed between 800 and 3,000 such operations, though the true numbers are difficult to measure in a semi-clandestine milieu. Those seeking GRS with him had to put in the groundwork, find out the location of the clinic and deal with the considerable logistics.” Wikipedia explains the divergent numbers: there were 800 vaginoplasties, and 3000 patients in total who may have had other surgery. Bennett tells a little of the history of GRS,
Jan Morris wrote that Burou did not bother too much with diagnosis. He said he did not ask his patients too many questions, but that he judged his patients had “a distinct feminine appearance or character”.