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As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised…

As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl (P.S.) (edition 2006)

by John Colapinto

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Title:As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl (P.S.)
Authors:John Colapinto
Info:Harper Perennial (2006), Edition: 2, Paperback, 336 pages
Collections:To read

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As Nature Made Him by John Colapinto

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    My Lobotomy by Howard Dully (MyriadBooks)
    MyriadBooks: For adults searching to understand what was done to them as a child.

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This book will make you very angry; that a child could be so maltreated by an "expert," who clearly was in need of help himself, but who was so intent on proving a theory that he disregarded substantial evidence to the contrary. You'll be angry, too, with other professionals who were reluctant to challenge the "great" man even when their own evidence pointed in an opposite direction. But you'll be astonished and satisfied by the incredible fortitude of a young child who realized that something was wrong and in his own way stood up to the extraordinary pressure that was put on him.

David Reimer was the victim of numerous mistakes. The first was a botched circumcision that essentially fried his penis. Then he became subject to the attempts of a famous sex researcher to verify his theories about the nature of gender development. The result was a lot of pain for David and his family.

Colapinto got permission from the family to write this book, and all conversations, everything in quotes, is from transcripts or documents. All the scarier.

It all began when David (then called Bruce) and his identical twin brother Brian were diagnosed with a condition called phimosis that circumcision normally repaired. Bruce was operated on first, but a serious mistake in the voltage levels of the electrical surgical device was made and his genitalia burned beyond salvage. The medical staff suggested that Bruce be raised as a girl. This was at a time when feminist theory, supported by some psychologists, proposed that gender identity had nothing to do with biology: it was all a social construct. Eventually, the parents were referred to Dr. Money at Johns Hopkins University. Money was a world-renowned sex researcher who apparently suffered from a multitude of sex hang-ups himself. Money had staked his reputation on the belief that sexual identity was socially determined, and he had worked with numerous transsexuals. When Bruce's parents showed up with an identical twin who had no male genitalia, it was an obvious answer to his prayers, for now he could develop data from a twin study to validate Money's theories. Money and his colleagues at Johns Hopkins had performed numerous sex reassignment surgeries on hermaphrodite children, but no such operation had ever been attempted on a child born with normal genitalia and nervous system, a distinction that the parents, Ron and Janet, never grasped until years later. Money's conviction was the procedure would be successful; "I see no reason why it shouldn't work," he told them. The decision had to be made early, because, according to his theory, there was a gender identity gate at which point the child was locked into a male or female identity. Bruce became Brenda and was raised as a girl. There were problems from the start, but Money insisted he was right and continued to promote the case as an example of the correctness of his theory of psycho sexual neutrality at birth.

In the meantime, at the University of Kansas, a young researcher was studying the role of hormones on behavior, and in a paper published in the late fifties, he marshaled considerable evidence from biology, psychology, psychiatry, anthropology, and endocrinology to argue that gender identity is hardwired into the brain virtually from conception. Hermaphrodites had an inborn neurological capability to go both ways, a capability that genetically normal children would not share.

The researcher, Milton Diamond, was to become a thorn in Money's side as he marshaled considerable evidence of the role of prenatal hormones in determining gender identity. Money ( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
Colapinto tries not be sensationalistic. Meanwhile, I try to be sympathetic about the medical zeitgeist of 1967 and try not to mind that Dubrovnik is on the Adriatic, not the Aegean (77). Mostly I'm just horrified by circumcision. Maybe intersexuality was only beginning to be studied then but I thought circumcision had long since been debunked.
  ljhliesl | May 21, 2013 |
amazing true story of boy who was raised as a girl; very disturbing description of how unsubstantiated social science can influence the real world; Dr Money is Freudian with disturbing sexual history whose research affected thousands
  FKarr | Apr 8, 2013 |
In the late 1960s, the Reimers give birth to identical twin boys. When one is mutilated in a botched circumcision, they follow the advice of psychologist John Money to have the boy surgically castrated and raised as a girl. Money believes that people are sexually neutral at birth, that gender identity is entirely the product of environment, not biology. Identical twin boys give him the perfect opportunity to prove this theory. The "girl" rebels from the start, knowing something is wrong, but still the experiment continues, growing more disturbing over time. The psychologist even has the twins engaging in pretend sex play, nude, while he takes pictures.

This is not a novel. This actually happened. The whole thing is both highly disturbing and undeniably compelling. I was absolutely appalled at much of what went on under the guise of medicine, and at what lengths Money went to in order to confirm his cherished theories. The good news is that much of this led to changes in the field of sexual psychology, but that doesn't make it less infuriating to read about. Definitely recommended if you're at all interested in gender identity, but it's a bit hard to take at times. ( )
3 vote melydia | Oct 26, 2012 |
This compelling, disturbing, humane book forms a segment within a larger history of medical sexology stemming from Richard von Krafft Ebing and Sigmund Freud to Alfred Kinsey and Masters and Johnson to John Money and Richard Diamond. In brief, a surgical mishap turns into a titanic disaster because of theories of human sexuality and gender identity that have no empirical or scientific basis, but, rather, reflect the ego, the ambitions, and the self-delusion of the physician involved.
Bruce Reimer has, as an infant, a condition that makes it painful to urinate and so the doctors decide to give him a circumcision, which is a perfectly reasonable decision and routine procedure. However, in a freak accident, the circumcision is botched, and Bruce's penis destroyed. The Reimers are told that their son "must live a life apart," never get married and never expect the ordinary social comforts and connections as other people. This reaction gives an absolute primacy to the possession of the penis and the remainder of the book goes on to explore how misguided such views are. The parents are desperate and enlist the assistance of Dr. John Money after they see him on television. His proferred solution? Turn the botched boy into a normal girl, and rename Bruce Brenda. The surgeries must be done as soon as possible, and the hormone therapies begun on schedule--for Dr. Money's theory is that gender identity becomes "imprinted" around the age of 2 1/2 and becomes increasingly difficult to alter after that window of time. Brenda undergoes a surgery to remove her testicles, which eliminates permanently the chance for reproduction. However, although the Reimers do their best to raise what had been their boy as a girl, the experiment fails miserably, and Brenda behaves like an aggressive, self-assertive boy who is nonetheless a ridiculed outsider who is held back in school. Despite these facts, Dr. Money reports in his research that the "twins experiment" (Brenda has a brother) has been a great success that shows that gender identity is not biologically determined but, rather, socially constructed and malleable. Indeed, Dr. Money writes several notorious books on the basis of what he and other regard as his great success in this famous case. Among other things, Dr. Money lauds consensual incest (whatever that could possibly mean), parents walking around naked in front of their children, children's sexual role play in preparation for adulthood, and so forth, including sympathetic treatments of rather repugnant perversions. Throughout, however, Dr. Money remains an adamant and unwavering homophobe, who sees homosexuality, as he sees gender identity, as socially acquired as opposed to biologically imprinted and, therefore, natural. David is rescued by a woman psychiatrist with whom he creates an anti-Dr. Money group and upon the insistence of this noble psychiatrist, under whom "patients actually got well," the parents tell Brenda of his actual past. At this point, Brenda changes his name to David, stops taking hormone therapy, and, eventually, gets married and becomes a father to the children of his wife. Sigmund Freud had been the first to posit the primacy of the penis in constructing sexual and gender identity, and one cannot imagine a more devastating rebuke of his theories than this book, which reduces the Oedipus Complex into an idle theory proferred by someone who did not have the means to know what he was talking about and therefore relied on prejudice and inspired best guesses. It is refreshing to hear that the field of pediatric medicine has advanced greatly since the time that the events in this book took place, but it is also sad that David, following his brother Brian, committed suicide. ( )
2 vote corinneblackmer | Oct 9, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
As John Colapinto makes achingly clear in this riveting, cleanly written and brilliantly researched account of a world-famous case, Money's effort to prove the plasticity of human sexual identity by transforming Bruce into Brenda was a cataclysmic failure.
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I have entered on an enterprise which is without precedent, and will have no imitator. I propose to show my fellows a man as nature made him, and this man shall be myself.

--Rousseau Confessions
How could I not be glad to know my birth?

Sophocles, Oedipus Rex
The difficulty is to detach the framework of fact -- of absolute, undeniable fact -- from the embellishments of theorists and reporters. Then, having established ourselves on this sound basis, it is our duty to see what inferences may be drawn and what are the special points upon which the memory turns.

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
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On the morning of 27 June, 1997 I paid my first visit to David Reimer's home, a small, nondescript dwelling in a working-class neighborhood of Winnepeg, Manitoba.
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Book description
Eight–month old David Reimer, an identical twin, had his penis accidentally amputated during a botched circumcison attempt in Winnipeg, Canada. At the direction of the famous psychiatrist Dr. John Money of Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, this child’s parents were directed to re-assign David’s sex to a girl and given the suggestion to later make available to him vaginal surgery and hormone treatments to grow breasts. This experiment did not go as planned, but Dr. Money continued to defend his position and influence others in psychiatry to go along with his mistaken ideas about nature versus nurture. At age 14, “Brenda” Reiner decided to once again become a boy.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0060929596, Paperback)

Once you begin reading As Nature Made Him, a mesmerizing story of a medical tragedy and its traumatic results, you absolutely won't want to put it down. Following a botched circumcision, a family is convinced to raise their infant son, Bruce, as a girl. They rename the child Brenda and spend the next 14 years trying to transform him into a her. Brenda's childhood reads as one filled with anxiety and loneliness, and her fear and confusion are present on nearly every page concerning her early childhood. Much of her pain is caused by Dr. Money, who is presented as a villainous medical man attempting to coerce an unwilling child to submit to numerous unpleasant treatments.

Reading over interviews and reports of decisions made by this doctor, it's difficult to contain anger at the widespread results of his insistence that natural-born gender can be altered with little more than willpower and hormone treatments. The attempts of his parents, twin brother, and extended family to assist Brenda to be happily female are touching--the sense is overwhelmingly of a family wanting to do "right" while being terribly mislead as to what "right" is for her. As Brenda makes the decision to live life as a male (at age 14), she takes the name David and begins the process of reversing the effects of estrogen treatments. David's ultimately successful life--a solid marriage, honest and close family relationships, and his bravery in making his childhood public--bring an uplifting end to his story. Equally fascinating is the latest segment of the longtime nature/nurture controversy, and the interviews of various psychological researchers and practitioners form a larger framework around David's struggle to live as the gender he was meant to be. --Jill Lightner

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:46:56 -0400)

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The true story of a family who spends 14 years trying to raise their son as a girl after his botched circumcision.

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