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As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl Paperback – Aug 8 2006

4.6 out of 5 stars 57 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; 1 edition (Aug. 8 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061120561
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061120565
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 1.9 x 20.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 440 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars 57 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #50,104 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

From Amazon

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Forget sugar, spice, snails and puppy dog tails: discussions of how little boys and little girls are made have become quite complicated over the past three decades, as scientists, feminists and social theorists debate the relative impact of "nature" and "nurture" on gender and sexual identity. Focusing on the real-life story behind sexologist Dr. John Money's famous sexual reassignment case of 1965, Colapinto, an award-winning journalist, has penned a gripping medical melodrama. After Bruce Thiessen, one of two identical male twins, lost his penis during a botched circumcision, he underwent surgery that made him anatomically female, later received estrogen injections and was raised as a girl under Money's supervision at the Psychohormonal Research Unit at Johns Hopkins. All of Money's reports of the case--which quickly appeared in textbooks as a prime example of environment trumping biology--portrayed Bruce (now Brenda) as a well-adjusted girl, although the reality was quite different. Angry, sullen and having always insisted that "she" was a boy, Brenda finally decided at age 15--after "she" finally learned of the surgery-to revert to her original sex and take the name David. Drawing on extensive interviews with the Thiessen family, "Brenda"'s therapists and friends, Colapinto has written a wrenching personal narrative and a scathing indictment of Money's methods and theories, including instances of what Colapinto and David Thiessen see as extraordinarily invasive behavior and sexual abuse in his examinations of "Brenda" and her twin brother. Although Colapinto runs into trouble when he tries to generalize about nature vs. nurture from this single case, his book is illuminating, frightening and moving. (Feb.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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By lawyeraau TOP 500 REVIEWER on July 19 2006
Format: Paperback
This is a wonderfully written book and a fascinating look into the debate of nature versus nurture in the area of gender assignment. Intelligent and insightful, the author draws a compassionate portrait of a family who, faced with a decision in the wake of a tragedy, relies upon the advice of a well-respected doctor, which reliance turned out to be misplaced. The book details the aftermath of the family's fateful decision and the impact it was to have on them all.

In August 1965, Canadians Janet and Ron Reimer gave birth to identical twin boys, whom they named Brian and Bruce. When they were about eight months old, they arranged to have them circumcised due to a medical condition that caused them pain during urination. Circumcision was to remedy the problem. Little did they know that the circumcision for Bruce would be botched, resulting in the loss of his penis.

A plastic surgeon with whom the Reimers had consulted in connection with the catastrophe that had struck Bruce had spoken to a sex researcher who had recommended that they raise Bruce as a girl. Doctors at the Mayo Clinic had suggested that they ought to get a second opinion with regards to that suggestion. The parents then consulted with a doctor affiliated with John Hopkins Hospital, Dr. John Money, a renowned doctor in the area of gender transformation, who had been the driving force behind the then controversial surgical gender re-assignment procedure for which the hospital was becoming known.

In 1967, the distraught parents met with Dr. Money and shortly after, Bruce became Brenda and clinical castration followed. Thus, their child, who genetically and anatomically had been born a boy, was for all extent and purposes now deemed to be a girl.
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In 1967, six month old twin boys simultaneously develop inflamation at tip of their foreskins. A physician says it's phimosis. (That's unlikely since almost all newborn boys have unretractable foreskins and only a few can retract by six years of age; some can't retract until late teens. Whatever it was cleared up in a few days without any treatment, for the twin who still had a penis.) Physician says they need circumcision, and schedules surgery which resuls in loss of entire penis of the twin chosen to go first. Circumcision was standard, "only solution" in Canada and US at the time; it still is in the US, but Canada has almost completely abandoned circumcision. Eighty percent of men worldwide are not circumcised. English speaking countries adopted it to "cure" masturbation early in 20th century, but now US is only English speaking culture to continue it. The rest of the world never did it, except for religious reasons (16% of world population is Muslim) and a few remote places where it's done as a tribal "marker." Many "medical" reasons have been suggested by US medicine, but none ever proven.
Colapinto performs service to humanity with this well written investigation into what happened to Bruce - Brenda - David Reimer, as modern medicine experimented on him to see if gender is genetic or learned. It is thorough and "academic" journalism, but an easy to read work that will make many readers unable to put it down. You'd have to be cold as ice not to begin to feel empathy for Reimer as you develop disgust and outrage toward John Money, Johns Hopkins University Hospital, and the entire medical industry in the US, and admiration for Mickey Diamond, the University of Hawaii biologist who exposed the web of deceit and lies surrounding the case.
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Format: Paperback
I was a research assistant in John Money's lab for five years, during the time when this subject was "lost to followup" -- in other words, not in contact with the lab. I think this gives me a few bits of perspective on this case, and on sex research in general, which I think the book could have used. (Or at least maybe some readers can :)
This book seems to want to scapegoat John Money as "the bad doctor" who ruined a boy. But John Money was a researcher in Baltimore, trying to deal with a case of a child living in Canada. He saw the child once a year, for an uncomfortable interview -- I find it peculiar that the book mentions the woman in the lab who did most of the work with children only once, for a single sentence. The book characterizes the parents as "bewildered and trusting" -- but they also appear to have been willing to lie, including to Dr. Money, to keep up their own appearance of success. I'm not sure by what sort of clairvoyant methods the authors would have expected Dr. Money to figure out how to have handled the case better.
In retrospect, it's easy to see several things that were badly wrong with the way the case went. A mass of scar tissue that spurts urine straight out of the belly is not a normal girl's genitalia -- but that is the fault of the surgeons, and perhaps of a sexist belief that "if it's not a penis, it must be okay for a girl". Little girls should not be forced to wear skirts in freezing weather. It's hard to be at all "unconventional" in a society that insists on strictly assigning individuals to roles. And a once-a-year visit to a faraway city is not adequate medical supervision for a child being raised on the cutting edge of medical technology.
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