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As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl Paperback – February 20, 2001

4.6 out of 5 stars 285 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; 1 edition (February 20, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060929596
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060929596
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (285 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #519,830 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Wow. This book may change the way you see the world. It is captivating on several levels at once. First and most important, it is an engrossing real-life exploration of a basic question about our human natures, a question that has to be of fundamental interest to almost anyone: In our essential personalities and drives, are we the product of nature or nurture or some combination of them? The book goes a long way toward a definitive answer to that question in one central aspect of our beings (our sexual identity). Second, it is the utterly absorbing, painful, ultimately triumphant true story of a remarkable individual forced to grow up in a harrowing situation we can all barely imagine but have to wonder about. Third, it is a riveting suspense story, with genuine good guys and bad guys some of whom have had frightening power over people's lives. The book is fast-paced and beautifully written, with the kind of all-to-rare clarity and straightforwardness that can make the most complex matters seem simple by getting right to the heart of them with no nonsense. I read it in one sitting--something I never ever do. I'm going to read it again, there's so much in it.
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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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Format: Hardcover
A must read for everyone!
John Colapinto has done such a marvelous job in sharing David Reamer's compelling, courageous, and heartbreaking story. The facts are presented without condemnation, (even where they were fairly deserved), for the medical/psychological community involved in this boys life. They are equally presented with the upmost respect to the very hard choice these parents had to make and then live with.
As the reader, you are taken through the very difficult, unimaginable, journey of David's life. In painstaking detail, you are brought to understanding the decisions that were made, due to very misguided medical/psychological advice. The unthinkable...to take an obviously male child, injured in a freak accident, and raise him as a girl. I walked away with such compassion for David's parents and such respects for David Reamer himself. He has shown so much courage, to come forward now, sharing the details of his childhood. His perseverance has made him a champion of the human spirit! I wish I could meet this man, give him a loving hug, and tell him I wish I could have been his friend, when he needed one the most!
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Format: Hardcover
I first heard of this case three years ago, in an undergraduate sociology class. At this point in time, the case of the "John/Joan" baby raised as a girl was reported to be a total success. What a shock to learn the real truth behind this sordid story; the bewildered, trusting parents, the arrogance of the medical world, and the misery of the unfortunate victim of the incident, David. For me, the most fascinating part of the book was hearing in David's own words what the experience was like for him. However, for those interested in the nature/nurture issue, or gender research, this book also gives intriguing, detailed information about these topics.
I read this book mainly out of a morbid curiosity, but found myself touched by David's unique story. His confusion and attempts to fit into the female world were truly heartbreaking. I also felt empathy for his well-meaning parents. Whatever your reason for reading this book, you will not be dissapointed. Those interested in the scientific information also gain an understanding of the painful confusion that a sexually ambiguous individual feels. The readers who are mainly interested in the personal aspects of the story will also find themselves learning a great deal about the fascinating, age-old nature/nurture argument. I highly recommend this book!
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