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‘As Nature Made Him: The boy who was raised as a Girl’ by John Colapinto

As Nature Made Him: The boy who was raised as a Girl.
HarperCollins Publishers, 2006, ISBN-10: 0061120561, ISBN-13: 978-0061120565)

A quick summary:

The book is the true account of a Canadian boy born in 1967 who lost his penis due to a terribly botched circumcision. The parents, under the advice of controversial Johns Hopkins Gender expert John Money (who believed that gender was learned rather than innate) decided to raise the boy as a girl. Brenda, (who was known in Money’s published accounts as “Joan”) grew up angry, depressed, confused and extremely uncomfortable as a girl. She did not know her true gender until her parents revealed it to her at 14 when her life was spiraling out of control. She then transitioned back to male (David) as a teenager, married and although much more comfortable as a man later committed suicide.

Money, for 30 years reported the case as a success despite Brenda’s clear uncomfortable and troubled adaption to the female gender and severe problems with school and friends. This in turn skewed the belief in academic circles about the nature vs. nurture debate.   Money was supposedly presenting hard evidence that gender could be learned from one’s environment and ignoring the results of his “experiment”. Hundreds of similar cases, of boys born with small or no penises, or intersexed conditions had their gender “decided” based on Money’s research.

Importance for those interested in transgender issues:

I think the importance of this book for those interested in transgendered conditions is that it allows the reader to really get a feel for the intensely uncomfortable feeling of living in the wrong gender.   People with little knowledge of gender issues can relate and identify with the boy who was forced to be raised as a girl.  The reader can feel the pain and outrage inherent in the situation.    As such, this might be an important book for transgendered individuals to recommend to friends and family when they are “coming out” as transgendered. It many be harder for family to understand “I feel like I’m in the wrong body” or “I think I should have been a woman” than the story presented in this book that says – here’s a child raised in the wrong gender– see how it doesn’t work?  It just seems easier for many people to grasp.

In addition it’s very well written and highlights other important issues as well, such as the issue of Money, a known and respected professional having gotten away with publishing false reports and engaging in reprehensible research methods with children. (Brenda at one point threatened to commit suicide if she were made to go back for more “follow-ups” with Money).

Find out about Psychotherapy when dealing with Gender variance in yourself or someone close to you.


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