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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.


The need for Post Transition Support

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about the suicide of Christine Daniels / Mike Penner (October 10, 1957 – November 27, 2009). To briefly summarize, Mike Penner was born a genetic male, and around the age of 48 transitioned to female (Christine) and wrote about her transition and life as a sportswriter for the L.A Times. Because of her high profile, there was a lot written about the story (NPR).  The transition included a painful divorce.  About a year later she started using her old name of Mike Penner in her/his byline signifying some return to the male gender, and then suicide. So we are left with a lot of questions about what went wrong.

The incident raises the question of aftercare for post-transition individuals.

My experience is that people come into therapy when they want to transition, and very often their focus is on physical and practical matters, such as hormones, Sexual Reassignment Surgery (SRS), voice, facial hair, etc.. People have been focused on ‘transitioning’ for so long in their own private thoughts and the process is so involved that very often the individual and perhaps their therapist are not as focused on what happens afterwords. The gender dysphoria has been such a problem in one’s life that ‘transitioning’ comes to be seen as the solution.

Many other problems emotional and otherwise are understandably not addressed because of the overwhelming nature of gender dysphoria, and so it can be something of a rude shock to find these issues emerge after transition.

There also can be some level of dissatisfaction with the outcome of transition, one’s presentation, and various maintenance functions that are needed to maintain the gender identity.

Relationships with family, co-workers and others may be challenging.  While the transgendered person has had a lot of time to think about their gender and transition, other people in their lives have had much less time.

For MTF (Male to Female) transitions, there’s the problem of suddenly experiencing sexism.  In addition one might be suddenly seen to the outside world as lesbian, if one’s sexual orientation is towards woman.  If someone has been living life from a place of male privilege, and never having been in a discriminated against group before, this can be a pretty big adjustment to make.

I can only imagine that Mike/Christine suffered from some of these problems.   What has your post-transition experience been like?  Did you seek any type of help specifically for post-transition issues?


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

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