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
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.)
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