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Friday, October 02, 2009

Biography Review - As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised a Girl

Author: John Colapinto
Review date: Oct 2009

This is the heart-wrenching story of David Reimer who was born a boy, as well as an identical twin, in 1965. But after a botched circumcision at 8 months of age, he was raised as a girl at the suggestion of John Money, a psychologist at John Hopkins Medical Centre in Baltimore. Born Bruce Reimer, David was sexually reassigned as a girl after his penis was burned beyond surgical repair during a circumcision procedure. His parents, concerned for their son's future, met with John Money after seeing him interviewed on a news programme. John Money and his team persuaded them to have Bruce sexually reassigned, going on the theory that if he was raised as a girl from a young age, he would be none the wiser (the whole nature vs nurture debate).

The book documents not only what happened to David as a boy, but about his follow ups with John Money, who reported on David's case for years, referring to it as the "John/Joan Case". What's interesting, is that from John Money's reports, everything was going along as planned and David (who from the time he was reassigned was raised as "Brenda") was flourishing as a girl. But according to David, this was not the case. David recalls how he would naturally behave a as a boy: getting in to fights, preferring boys' toys and about his discomfort at wearing dresses and girl's clothing in general. Therefore, David's account in this book (written with John Colapinto) is one of so much confusion during his childhood.

In 1980, David's parents decided to tell him the truth about his gender reassignment, and he chose to live as a boy. Then, by 1997, David had undergone treatment to reverse the reassignment and eventually married and became a stepfather.

When I read the book (in 2000), his amazing story kept me turning the pages. I couldn't imagine how someone could go through something so difficult and I was amazed at his courage at being able to discuss it. The only issue I had with the book, was that there was quite a bit of medical terminology that my mind couldn't quite wrap itself around at the time (not my world!), but nonetheless, the story itself was so intriguing and unimaginable, that it was easy to keep turning the pages.

Unfortunately, in 2004 David Reimer committed suicide. He was 38 years old. His life had been an incredible roller coaster of emotions. He had a difficult relationship with his parents, his twin brother had committed suicide in 2002 (he developed schizophrenia after hearing about his brother's transition), he had faced unemployment and separation from his wife.

His story had quite an effect at the time it came out. According to a piece I read on Wikipedia, his case influenced "several medical practices and reputations, and even current understanding of the biology of gender".

It is a very moving story. I remember thinking at the time of reading it (and not yet a mother myself) how difficult it must have been for his parents back then. I think, in modern times, we have learnt to question health professionals, seek second opinions and not take everything a doctor says as gospel. But I know my parents, for example, come from a different way of thinking. They are more likely to take what has been said to them as the way it is, not question it etc, whereas I am completely different in that regard. I believe, after reading the book, his parents just didn't know what else to do, and put their faith in the health system and John Money, who was well respected at the time and considered a pioneer in his field.

This is not a feel good book, but at the time of its print, David had, at least, settled in to his life and therefore was relatively happy.

My rating out of 5:

1 comment:

...Mrs.P! said...

I read this book about 6 months ago, borrowed it from my mother-in-law and felt much the same way you did. It was a very sad story and I really did feel sorry for his parents. I hated John Money by the end of the book though! I had no idea that David commited sucide until I read your post and that makes me really sad now, esp after all he had gone through and that as you say, at the end of the book he seemed to have found some kind of hapiness.