Cover image for As nature made him : the boy who was raised as a girl
Title:
As nature made him : the boy who was raised as a girl
Author:
Colapinto, John, 1958-
Personal Author:
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : HarperCollins Publishers, 2000.
Physical Description:
xvii, 279 pages ; 25 cm
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780060192112
Format :
Book

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RC560.G45 C65 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
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RC560.G45 C65 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Biography
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Summary

Summary

In 1967, after a baby boy suffered a botched circumcision, his family agreed to a radical treatment. On the advice of a renowned expert in gender identity and sexual reassignment at Johns Hopkins Hospital, the boy was surgically altered to live as a girl. This landmark case, initially reported to be a complete success, seemed all the more remarkable since the child had been born an identical twin: his uninjured brother, raised as a boy, provided to the experiment the perfect matched control.

The so-called twins case would become one of the most famous in modern medicine and the social sciences; cited repeatedly over the past thirty years as living proof that our sense of being male or female is not inborn but primarily the result of how we are raised. A touchstone for the feminist movement, the case also set the precedent for sex reassignment as standard treatment for thousands of newborns with similarly injured, or irregular, genitals.

But the case was a failure from the outset. From the start the famous twin had, in fact, struggled against his imposed girlhood. Since age fourteen, when finally informed of his medical history, he made the decision to live as a male. John Colapinto tells this extraordinary story for the first time in As Nature Made Him. Writing with uncommon intelligence, insight, and compassion, he also sets the historical and medical context for the case, exposing the thirty-year-long scientific feud between Dr. John Money and his fellow sex researcher, Dr. Milton Diamond--a rivalry over the nature/nurture debate whose very bitterness finally brought the truth to light. A macabre tale of medical arrogance, As Nature Made Him is first and foremost a human drama of one man's-and one family's--amazing survival in the face of terrible odds. The human intimacy of the story is all the greater for the subject's courageous decision to step out from behind the pseudonym that has shrouded his identity for the past thirty years.


Reviews 4

Booklist Review

A young Canadian couple brought their eight-month-old, identical-twin boys to the hospital for routine circumcisions in 1965, but things went awry, and Bruce was left without a penis. The Thiessens had little hope that their son would live a normal life until they watched a television interview with Dr. John Money, a specialist in gender transformation at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Could Bruce, they wondered, be changed into a girl? The controversial Money, who believed that gender was a product of nurture rather than nature, persuaded the Thiessens to permit castration and to follow his instructions for transforming Bruce into Brenda. They did everything they were told, but nature asserted itself with a vengeance. There was nothing even remotely girlish about Brenda, and as she grew older, she vehemently objected to sessions with Money. Suffering severe trauma from masquerading as the opposite sex, Brenda refused to undergo any further operations. Money, meanwhile, suppressed the truth, writing triumphantly about his treatment in widely read books, which convinced doctors to treat hundreds of patients with the same destructive regime. Colapinto, a writer of striking lucidity and compassion, inspired the very private man who now proudly calls himself David to reveal the entire story of his horrendous ordeal in hopes of preventing others from suffering his fate. The result is an arresting and invaluable narrative of personal tragedy, scientific arrogance, and societal confusion over the source and significance of gender differences. David Thiessen emerges as a genuine hero who reminds us that we are far more than the sum of our reproductive parts. --Donna Seaman


Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

We've all heard the famous case of the boy raised as a girl after his circumcision was botched, supposedly a triumph for nurturists. Now he's an adult, living as a man with a family. Based on an award-winning Rolling Stone article, this book recounts the ordeal of "John/Joan," whose full identify will be revealed here. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


School Library Journal Review

YA-A sorrowful account of a healthy male baby who, after suffering from a botched circumcision, was surgically altered and raised as a girl. Beyond that, it is the story of a psychologist from Johns Hopkins who would not see that the transsexual "remedy" was a grievous error since that admission meant the loss of the fame, power, and acceptance gained from his theories on gender identity. The book is in actuality a reporting of the facts of the case: the medical diagnosis; the surgery; the results; and the terrible effects the gender switch had on Bruce Reimer (soon to be Brenda), her twin, and their parents. By adolescence, despite hormone treatments, Brenda's misery was so complete that a switch back to the gender of birth was inescapable. Thus was David born. The tragedy of this family was compounded by the details of the famous Dr. Money's refusal to accept the failure of this treatment. One is forced to wonder how many other children who are afflicted with genital anomalies, whether from physician error or from a congenital defect, have suffered due to the ongoing nature versus nurture debate of scientists. This is a compelling story that will educate teens about some serious physical, psychological, and scientific issues. Because of interviews on television recently, David Reimer's story may already be familiar to many of them.-Carol DeAngelo, Kings Park Library, Burke, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

As Nature Made Him The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl Chapter One A Game of Science Fiction The irony was that Ron and Janet Reimer's life together had begun with such special promise. That it would survive its trials is attributable perhaps in part to their shared heritage in an ethnic and religious background virtually defined by the hardiness of its people in the face of suffering. Both Ron Reimer and Janet Schultz were descended from families who were Mennonite, the Anabaptist sect founded in sixteenth-century Holland. Like the Amish, Ron's and Janet's Mennonite ancestors were pacifists who followed a simple, nonworldly life based directly on Christ's teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. During the Inquisition, Mennonites were tortured and slaughtered in the thousands, the survivors escaping to begin a three-hundred-year search for a country that would allow them to live as a culture and religion apart. The majority went to Russia and farmed, but in the late 1800s, large numbers began to migrate to the New World, some settling in Nebraska and Kansas. The densest concentrations, however, settled in Canada, where the federal government, eager to populate its empty western plains, offered to the Mennonites complete religious freedom, their own schools, and exemption from military service. The first Mennonites arrived in southern Manitoba in 1874. Within five years, over ten thousand had followed, transplanting entire Russian villages to the Canadian prairie. It was in this wave of immigrants that both Ron's and Janet's great-grandparents, who were Dutch Mennonites directly descended from the earliest followers of the sect, came to Manitoba. Their arrival coincided with that moment when the Canadian Pacific Railway reached Winnipeg, and transformed the once tiny and isolated fur-trapping settlement and Hudson's Bay trading post. Within three decades the settlement had become a major grain capital of the North American middle west. "All roads lead to Winnipeg," the Chicago Record Herald reported in 1911. "It is destined to become one of the greatest distributing commercial centers of the continent as well as a manufacturing community of great importance." Though the city failed to live up to those grand predictions, Winnipeg did grow rapidly in size, sophistication, and importance over the first half of the twentieth century, establishing the country's first national ballet company and symphony orchestra. Today its population is over 600,000, and the city's downtown core, built around the meandering curves of the Red River, boasts an impressive stand of modern high-rises to complement its fine Victorian buildings. The Mennonites on the surrounding prairies had long felt the lure of Winnipeg's affluence, and after World War II the more assimilated families began to move into the city to take jobs in manufacturing, trucking, and construction. Among them were Ron Reimer's parents, Peter and Helen, who in 1949 sold their farm in nearby Deloraine and moved to the Winnipeg neighborhood of St. Boniface, where Peter took a job in a slaughterhouse and Helen raised their four young children, of whom Ron was the eldest. Even as a small child, he was dutiful and hardworking, a boy whose combination of personal privacy and dogged industry often amazed his own mother. "He was always so shy and quiet," Helen Reimer recalls, "but he was also such a busy little boy. I had to think up ways to keep him out of trouble. I would show him how to cook. He always wanted to be doing something with food and cooking." It was a passion that would stay with Ron. As an adult he would eventually support his wife and two children by running his own business as the operator of a coffee truck, supplying sandwiches and other prepared foods to construction sites around Winnipeg. By 1957, when Ron was in his early teens, the music of Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, and Little Richard had reached Winnipeg. Cars, girls, beer, and rock 'n' roll music soon had strong claims on his attention. For Mennonites of Ron's parents' generation, the swift cultural changes of the late 1950s were threatening. Though not themselves especially devout, they had only a decade earlier moved from an almost exclusively Mennonite farm community where some of the day-to-day values and assumptions were still closer to those of nineteenth-century rural Russia than late-twentieth-century urban North America. In what would prove to be a kind of reverse migration, the Reimers were among many Mennonite families who, in an effort to resist the seismic cultural shifts taking place in the city, returned their families to their roots on the prairie. In 1959, Ron's father bought a farm some sixty miles from the city, near the town of Kleefeld, in Mennonite country, and moved his family there. Ron, fifteen years old at the time, hated the move. Kleefeld itself was little more than a ramshackle scattering of stores along a few hundred yards of gravel highway (grain store, post office, grocery), with nowhere for Ron to channel his formidable work ethic. He would pick two hundred pounds of saskatoons and sell them for twenty-five cents a pound -- grueling labor for little pay; nothing like the money he was able to make in the city. And his father insisted on taking even those paltry sums from Ron for upkeep of the old clapboard farmhouse on its patch of scrubby land. It was in this state of boredom, penury, and growing friction with his strict and authoritarian father that Ron, at seventeen, accepted the invitation of his friend Rudy Hildebrandt to visit Rudy's girlfriend in the nearby town of Steinbach. Rudy's girlfriend had a nice-looking roommate, a girl named Janet, whom Ron might like. Like Ron, Janet Schultz was raised in Winnipeg, the eldest child of Mennonite parents who had.... As Nature Made Him The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl . Copyright © by John Colapinto. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised As a Girl by John Colapinto All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.