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Dr. Marci Bowers on the transgender movement

CBS News asked noted figures in the arts, business and politics about their experience in today's civil rights movement, or about figures who inspired them in their activism.

Dr. Marci Bowers, gynecologist, pioneer in field of transgender surgery

What civil rights issue are you personally connected to?

Courtesy Dr. Marci Bowers

I feel like I am personally connected to two civil rights issues -- one being the transgender movement, [the other being] female genital mutilation (FGM).

I think that sexual expression is one of the basic human senses -- not just sight, sound, but also the sense of intimacy. Taking that away from someone is an injustice. Women are entitled to that just like men. On the gender front, gender identity is a core expression of who we are as individuals, and it's nothing to be afraid of. People have normal wishes, hopes, dreams, and allowing a person to be who they are helps them achieve those dreams.

The transgender movement, which I believe is the last wave of the human rights campaign around the world, has moved quickly and has caught hold with people. It echoes the waves that have been created by women's movements, racial equality, even religious equality, and gay rights. Transgender is, perhaps, the last front on sexuality and now we're at last at the end of the road, where we're exploring what is the concept of maleness and femaleness in terms of one's inner gender identity. I think it is a very important aspect of complete honesty within the human species. If we're honest with ourselves and each other, I think it finally gives us the opportunity to finally live freely and peacefully.

On my other major front, I work with women who have been genitally mutilated. We perform clitoral restoration so that women can regain sexual sensation. It is clear to me that the world has historically held a dismissive attitude towards women's sexuality. [In] fundamental religion, women have always been at the bottom of the pecking order, I guess: God, man, woman at the bottom. Many issues that are important to women, like sexuality, aren't given much credibility. So the issue of FGM comes up because it has been ignored really by much of the world. It has been dismissed as a sad cultural practice that was pathetic and nothing to get involved with, when there's actually a very functional and effective surgery. So getting involved with that, as the first person here in the Americas to do that, I feel very privileged.

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