Libido: Reviews: As Nature Made Him
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As Nature Made Him

By Marianna Beck

Just about anyone who has ever taken a college-level psychology class has read about the famous twins case -- possibly the lost famous case in modern medicine. It is a story that continues to have as many ramifications now as it did in 1967 when one of two normal identical baby boys suffered a botched circumcision and was surgically re-assigned as a girl.

The story of Bruce Reimer (renamed Brenda) is a harrowing account of social science run amuck. It’s not only a tragic overview of one person’s hellish early life but a sobering deconstruction of medical protocols and bad science as well. It is also the story of Dr. John Money, the world renowned sex researcher, who considered the Reimer family a perfect laboratory in which to test his theories on gender identity -- a term he is said to have coined.

The Reimer case fell into Money’s lap at a time when his Psychohormonal Research Unit at Johns Hopkins led the world in gender research and transsexual surgeries. Money’s theories supported the notion that gender was a neutral, if not malleable concept, a social construct that could, conceivably, be altered by environment. He firmly believed that Brenda Reimer could grow up to be a perfectly normal, healthy woman so long as she was conditioned to accept her "femaleness."

Brenda Reimer may have set a precedent for gender re-assignments world-wide but in reality, the experience proved to be a personal disaster. She never identified as a female and despite intensive therapy and rounds of hormone injections at puberty to change her body shape, she continued to feel male-identified. This nightmare of gender confusion and alienation was exacerbated by the fact that neither her parents nor Money nor any of the countless therapists who treated her ever explained what had actually happened.

But at age 14, Brenda’s parents told both her and her twin brother the truth and she reverted to her biological makeup almost immediately. Brenda renamed herself David and in the years following, went on to have lengthy reconstructive surgery. Currently, he is married, has adopted children and is living in Canada.

Writer Colapinto doesn’t end his story here but provides a thorough and chilling account of how Money largely ignored compelling evidence from Reimer’s parents, therapists and teachers that the gender re-assignment he had imposed was failing miserably. Colapinto further details the rivalry between Money and sex researcher, Dr. Milton Diamond, whose own studies had revealed quite the opposite of what Money held to be true about gender identity.

Perhaps most disheartening of all is that many of the same medical protocols that existed when David Reimer was re-assigned continue to be in place today. The good news is there are plenty of vocal adults who have come forward to speak up about their own incongruous gender re-assignments and challenge the hubris of a medical establishment that still insists on simple fixes.

For more information about intersex issues and gender identity, please read "In Amerika They Call Us Hermaphrodites."

As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl by John Colapinto (HarperCollins, 2000 ISBN: 0-06-019211-9. 279 pages, $26 hardcover)

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