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05 February 2024

Bernard Norman Barwin (1939 - ) doctor serving trans persons

Barwin was raised in South Africa by parents of Russian and Lithuanian descent. He and his wife left in 1962 after the Sharpeville massacre:

“We were just so much opposed to the whole concept of apartheid. In fact the thing that made us finally leave was when Sharpeville happened. I was in university, and I saw literally hundreds of people lining up to fight against the blacks. I felt, ‘Gee: this is not a country I want to bring my children up in. Maybe I can make a better contribution from outside.” (quoted in Kennedy, 1993)

He completed his medical education at Queen’s University Belfast, where he also did a PhD in women’s medicine. He worked there in the Department of Physiology. The Barwins had four children, became involved with the Alliance Party which sought to unite Ulster’s Protestants and Catholics, and sheltered women from the Republic of Ireland who – those days – were not able to get fertility treatment at home. In 1969 he took over the fledgling fertility clinic. He initiated freezing of human sperm after working with veterinarians who had been doing it for cattle for some time.

However after a bomb went off near their children’s school, the Barwins decided to leave.

In 1973 the Barwins and their children emigrated to Canada, and he was hired by the Ottawa General Hospital to manage the High Risk Pregnancy Clinic and to co-direct its fertility clinic. He set up the hospital’s sperm bank (with donations by medical students), and the first sexual health clinics in Ottawa’s high schools. He was noted as a pro-choice advocate, and supportive to same-sex couples wanting children. Many heterosexual couples specifically thanked Dr Barwin in birth announcements in the Ottawa Citizen.

He was known for his experience in reconstructive surgery on children with incomplete genitals. In 1976 he was called to the hospital’s emergency ward to help with a desperate trans woman who had cut off her male genitals. After a long talk with her that persuaded him that she really was transsexual, he proceeded to construct a vagina for her using skin from the inner thigh. He did another five transgender operations over the next six years. He quickly became a go-to doctor noted for providing counselling, hormone therapy and gender surgery for trans persons. 

He was Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Ottawa. He was also one of the founding members of Fertility Self-Help Group, which later became the Infertility Awareness Association of Canada. He also founded Canadians for Choice and was President from 2004. He was on the board of the International Society for the Advancement of Contraception and the Bereaved Families of Ontario. He was a gynecology consultant at Ottawa’s Royal hospital and the Childrens’ Hospital of Eastern Ontario. He was the President of the Canadian Fertility Society, the Planned Parenthood Federation of Canada and Planned Parenthood Ottawa.  In addition he was active in the Canada-Israel Cultural Foundation.

The hiring had come with an understanding that, as is standard for immigrant physicians, he would, within three years, take and pass the gynecology certification exam administered by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. 

He presented a paper, “Vaginoplasty – A simple approach to vaginal agenesis” at the Proceedings of Symposium on the Human Vagina and Health Disease, Wayne State University, Oct 28-30, 1976.

Four years later he contributed a chapter, “The Surgical Treatment of Transexuality”, to Erwin Koranyi’s 1980 book Transsexuality in the Male.

Also that year, one of the trans women whom he operated on was in the news re being cut off welfare, but being a known transsexual was not able to find work either. In 1979 a letter from Dr Barwin had fixed the situation, but in 1980, the letter was rejected.

He did take the required Canadian exam, but failed – perhaps because he was too busy to prepare. This despite being voted the best clinical professor at the University of Ottawa medical school in 1976 and 1977. He was also FRCOG (Fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists) and FACOG (Fellow of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists). Lacking the required qualification, Barwin left Ottawa General Hospital in 1984 to set up his own clinic, but he no longer had gynecological privileges at area hospitals – not only was he no longer able to do vaginoplasties, he was not allowed to deliver babies either.

In 1995 a female couple sued Barwin in that their child had been born from the wrong sperm. They settled out of court.

In 1997 Barwin was named to the Order of Canada for having a "profound impact on both the biological and psycho-social aspects of women's reproductive health”.

A fitness enthusiast, Barwin ran in the Boston Marathon in 2000 – however there was no record of his passing through the multiple checkpoints, and he was officially disqualified. Again a year later in the National Capital Marathon in Ottawa he did not complete the second lap, but rejoined the race one kilometre before the finish. The full-page account of this in the Ottawa Citizen brought in letters supporting the doctor. “We should laud, not lash, Dr, Barwin”.

The GLBTQ Centre for Sexual and Gender Diversity at Carleton University was the organizer for 2008’s Trans Day of Remembrance (TDOR), and Dr Barwin was one of the speakers. The trans support group Gender Mosaic celebrated its 20th anniversary and gave out three plaques – one of which was to Dr Barwin for continued work with and support for the trans community. Carleton University, Ottawa, awarded Barwin a honorary degree of Doctor of Laws in 2009.

In 2010 two trans women filed suit against Ontario re non-funding of laser hair removal, voice therapy and breast augmentation. Dr Barwin provided an expert report letter supporting the plaintiffs, and attached a copy of his 1980 chapter in Erwin Koranyi’s book, Transsexuality in the Male

In 2013 Barwin admitted to professional misconduct re three clients inseminated with the wrong sperm. He agreed to permanently end his fertility practice – he was now 73. He also formally resigned his appointment to the Order of Canada. 

He closed his transgender practice in August 2014, and retired.

Two years later a paternity test confirmed that Barwin is the biological father of one of the children of one of his patients. The child’s DNA was used to link Barwin to 10 other cases. In 2016 a class action lawsuit was started that involved 150 of his former patients. Barwin’s medical licence was revoked in 2019. The class action resulted in 2021 with a settlement of $13.375 million.

Publications by Norman Barwin

  • B N Barwin. “Cervical Mucus Glucose Content in the Assessment of Ovulation”. Irish Journal of Medical Science, 140, 9, 1971. 
  • B N Barwin, D M Brennan & T A McCalden. “The Effect of Oestradiol-17- β and Progesterone on the Contractile Behaviour of Ureteric Muscle”. In Dublin Journal of Medical Science, 142, 1, 1973.
  • B N Barwin. “Intrauterine Insemination of Husband’s Semen”. Journal of Reproduction and Fertility, 36,1, 1974
  • B N Barwin. “Vaginoplasty – A simple approach to vaginal agenesis”. In Proceedings of Symposium on the Human Vagina and Health Disease, Wayne State University, Oct 28-30, 1976.
  • B Norman Barwin, Anthony Dempsey & Gilles D Hurteau. “Graphic Monitoring of Labour”. Obstetric and Gynecolic Survey, 32,7,1977.
  • B Norman Barwin, Sheena Tuttle & Elaine Jolly. “The Intrauterine Contraceptive Device”. Obstretrical & Gynecological Survey, 33,8, 1978.
  • Roberto Narbaitz, George Tolnai, Elaine Jolly, Norman Barwin, David McKay. “Ultrastructural Studies on Testicular Biopsies from Eighteen Cases of Hypospermatogenesis”. Fertility and Sterility, 30,6, 1978.
  • B Norman Barwin. “Psychological Factors: Counseling and Motivation of the Contraceptive Patient”. International Journal of Gynecology and Obstretrics, 16,6, 1979.
  • Norman B Barwin. “The Surgical Treatment of Transexuality”. In Erwin Koranyi. Transsexuality in the Male. Charles C Thomas Publisher, 1980.
  • B N Barwin & S Belisle (eds). Adolescent Gynecology and Sexuality. Masson, 1982. Papers presented a meeting of the Canadian Fertility Society.
  • B Norman Barwin. “Transmission of Ureaplasma urealyticum by artificial insemination by donor”. Fertility and Sterility, 41,2,1984.
  • M C Devlin & B N Barwin. “Barrier contraception”. Advances in Contraception, 5, 1989.
  • S L Douma, C Husband, M E O’Donnell, B N Barwin & A K Woodend. “Estrogen-related Mood Disorders: Reproductive Life Cycle Factors”. Advances in Nursing Science, 28, 4, 2005.

Other publications

  • Pauline O’Connor. “Welfare won’t buy sex change ‘excuses’ “. The Ottawa Journal, Jul 15, 1980.
  • Cathy Nobelman. “PMS: Local doctor helps women waging war with their bodies”. The Ottawa Citizen, August 16, 1991.
  • Janice Kennedy. “Doctor in Demand”. The Ottawa Citizen, Jan 25, 1993. Online.
  • Shelley Page. “Dr. B and the Women”. The Ottawa Citizen, April 1, 2001.
  • Glan McGregor. “Prominent MD caught cheating in marathons”. The Ottawa Citizen, Nov 16, 2002.
  • “We should laud, not lash, Dr. Barwin”. The Ottawa Citizen, Nov 20, 2002.
  • Rosie Dimanno. “Wrong-sperm doctor Barwin took shortcuts in career and races, too: DiManno”. Toronto Star, February 4, 2013. Online.
  • Bradley Turcotte. “Trans community supports Dr Barwin: Doctor who mixed up sperm an invaluable resource, trans Ottawans say”. Xtra, February 7, 2013. Online.
  • Brodeur v. Ontario (Minister of Health and Long-Term Care). 2010. Online.
  • Alison Motluk. “Fertility doctor used own DNA, suit claims”. The Globe and Mail, Nov 2, 2016.
  • Elizabeth Payne. “Timeline: A look at the story of Dr.Norman Barwin”. Ottawa Citizen, May 03, 2018. Online.
  • “$13.375 Million Settlement in Norman Barwin Class Action”. Nelligan Law, December 6th, 2021. Online.
  • Juanne Nancarrow Clarke. “Dr. Norman Barwin: The Story of Mixed-Up Sperm”. In When Medicine Goes Awry: Case Studies in Medically Caused Suffering and Death. University of Toronto Press 2022.



The Wikipedia article says not a single word about Barwin’s work with and for trans persons, and does not list his publications.

Shelley Page in her April 2001 article for the Ottawa Citizen says that she asked for Barwin’s CV. “When the 26 pages were printed, it included 30 chapters in books and 79 journal articles he had written, 181 lectures he’d delivered”. Such a list I was unable to find. Above I do list the ones that I found.


  1. Anonymous6/2/24 14:11

    "He was known for his experience in reconstructive surgery on children with incomplete genitals." is there a source for what this is referring too by any chance?

    1. The only sources re the early Dr Barwin in Ottawa are the articles in the Ottawa Citizen. The best is Shelley Pages' "Dr B and the Women".


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