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There's a moment in the film An Officer and a Gentleman which anyone who saw it in a theater can never forget.  Richard Gere is kickboxing with Louis Gossett and just when he gets the upper hand, Gossett kicks him in the groin...hard.  The reaction from the crowd at the showing I attended was uniform : every guy in the place crossed his legs and groaned, as if they'd been kicked themselves, while the women just oohed.  To the females, it looked like it probably hurt, but wasn't life threatening or anything.  For the men it was a moment of primordial dread.  Similarly, there's an episode of Cheers where Sam wrecks Diane's rare copy of The Sun Also Rises, because he's reading it in the bathtub when he gets to the part explaining the unusual nature of Jake's injury, and he's so shocked he drops the book like a hot potatoe.  Now, it may not be the case that our identity is inextricably bound up with our genitalia, and it may not even be true that the purely physical differences between men and women are what make them men and women.  But it is certainly true that healthy, normal, functional genitalia are something that men have a particularly strong attachment to and an almost absurd fear of losing.  So be warned, this book is like watching that scene in Officer and a Gentleman or reading that passage from The Sun Also Rises, over and over and over again.

In 1965, a young Canadian couple, Ron and Janet Reimer, gave birth to healthy twin boys.  When the babies were eight months old, the Reimers took them in to the hospital for routine circumcisions.  Through a series of mishaps, baby Bruce Reimer had his penis practically burned off by an electric cauterizing machine.  Bruce was left badly damaged and the Reimers were naturally quite concerned about how this deformity would affect him.  Watching television one night in 1967, they received new hope for the boy when they saw Dr. John Money, a Harvard Ph.D. working out of Johns Hopkins, describe the success he had been having with sex change operations, and the ease with which his patients were adjusting to their new genders.  Janet Reimer believed that it would be easier for Bruce to grow up in the more gentle world of girldom, while Ron was certain that Bruce would have unimaginable difficulty facing life as a man without a penis, so they contacted Dr. Money and unwittingly set in motion a process that would not only have a horrific impact on their child and their family, but which would put baby Bruce at the very center of the culture wars of the 1970s and 80s.

Unfortunately for all concerned, Dr. Money had been awaiting just such a case.  He was a behaviorist, whose theory it was that gender differences were almost entirely a function of culture, rather than of biology.  He believed, and argued that his transgendered patients showed, that nature could be overridden and that with the help of a little surgical adjustment and the subsequent adoption of a different gender role, humans could truly change their sex.  What he needed now was a set of identical twins, upon whom he could experiment, leaving one it's original sex, but altering the other, in the expectation that as one was raised a boy, the other raised a girl, it would be proven that the eventual behavioral differences between the two were entirely a function of the masculine or feminine environments they grew up in and the relative expectations that family and society imposed upon them.  The Reimer twins were exactly the guinea pigs he needed to test out this theory.  And so, Bruce was castrated, became Brenda and was raised as a girl.

However, Brenda was an extremely reluctant girl.  She didn't like dresses or dolls or any of the other things that a girl should.  She wanted to play with trucks, roughhouse with her brother, and shave like her father.  Despite these obvious manifestations of continuing masculine tendencies, Dr. Money repeatedly counseled the Reimers that they had to be unwavering in their child rearing, that they had to continue to treat Brenda like a girl, because she now was one.  All of this is painful enough to read about, but what is really infuriating is to read about the techniques that Money, a self described "missionary of sex", would use in his own annual sessions with the twins.  Part of his program of getting them acclimatized to their sex roles included having them act out sexual play with each other, and things just get stranger from there.  Sadly, the twins were too young to inform anyone of what he was doing and the Reimers, overawed by Money and unprepared for this kind of situation by their Mennonite upbringing in rural Canada, continued to go along with Money's suggestions (though they, thankfully, refused to copulate in front of the children, as he wished them to.)

Predictably, Brenda and the rest of the Reimers suffered from all kinds of emotional and behavioral problems, with Brenda's worst trouble coming in school, of course; Ron developing a drinking problem; and Janet battling depression.  Finally, at the urging of a therapist whom Brenda began seeing at age 13, the Reimers were convinced to explain to their son just what was going on.  They did so in March 1980 and David Reimer--he chose the new name as a way of recasting himself as the diminutive hero facing overwhelming odds--began life for the third time.

The process of rebuilding was predictably slow and pain-filled, with stops and starts along the way.  But finally, after having lived through experiences that would have crushed the spirit of a lesser man, David, for the first time in his life, prayed to God :

    You know, I've had such a terrible life. I'm not going to complain to You, because You must have
    some idea of why You're putting me through this. But I could be a good husband if I was given the
    chance: I think I could be a good father, if I was given a chance.

I don't know if you could say his prayers were answered, if anyone ever deserved such a beneficence, it's David Reimer, but he did in fact find a woman, who already had three kids, and they married.  That much of the story is sufficient for any one book, a truly amazing and uplifting tale of perseverance.  But there's much more, chiefly, the rest of the horrifying story of John Money.

You see, unbeknownst to David, he had become something of an icon in the world of psychiatry, behaviorism, feminism and the like.  For John Money had reported that baby Bruce's gender reassignment was a complete success and that Brenda had grown up as a happy,  well-adjusted girl.  The case was seized on, by people with their various political axes to grind, as proof that the psychological; traits and characteristics that we associate with gender are almost entirely social constructs, that they are not derived from biology.  Money held up Brenda as the example, which many doctors unfortunately followed, of how easy and reasonable gender reassignment was and how beneficial it could be to babies born with genital abnormalities.

It was not until Milton Diamond, a sex researcher who had worked on projects as early as the 50s which Money was aware of and which showed that there was indeed a strong biological component to gender differences, finally found him in the late 90s that David realized how his case was being misused.  Though justifiably jealous of his privacy, David allowed Diamond to write about the reality of the problems he had faced, which Diamond did, along with Keith Sigmundson in the March 1997 issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

John Colapinto first wrote about David in a prize winning story for Rolling Stone.  The relationship they established, and what seems to have been David's truly incredible willingness to share his story, in order that others might learn from it, led to this book length treatment.  If it told only the story of David and his courageous struggles, it would be more than worthwhile.  But it is the secondary story, of Money and of the political and ideological motives that drove him, and that drove his soulmates in the sexual liberation and women's movements, to deny biology and to try to remake human beings in an image they found more pleasing, that has broader implications for society.

Though Colapinto presents the case against Money in an admirably restrained fashion, it is nonetheless devastating.  What David was put through is a human tragedy which can not be minimized.  What Money did is not only criminal, it is also a perfect example of what happens when people warp science to try to fit their political ends and what happens when scientists begin to view themselves as gods and the rest of us as little more than clay to be molded into any image they can dream up.  From mutilation of babies to a young man punished as harshly as any of the Titans to a charismatic man blinded by hubris, this story nearly has the elements of an Ancient Greek drama.  But in this instance, Money lives on, collecting Federal grants, and preaching his gospel of sex.  It is we in the audience who are nearly driven mad.  Were it not for the triumphs of the story's heroes, David Reimer and Milton Diamond, the whole thing might be unbearable.


Grade: (A+)


John Colapinto Links:
    -ESSAY : The True Story of John/Joan (John Colapinto, The Rolling Stone, December 11, 1997)
    -ESSAY : How I Wrote  ABOUT THE AUTHOR (John Colapinto, SHOTS The Magazine for Crime & Mystery )
    -ESSAY : Heroin (John Colapinto, Rolling Stone, May 30, 1996)
    -ESSAY :   SOUNDGARDEN SPLIT (John Colapinto, Rolling Stone, May 29, 1997)
    -ESSAY : The Salvation of Dave Matthews : Depression, drinking and how his new album saved him (John Colapinto, Rolling Stone)
    -SYMPOSIUM : Mother Nature Strikes Back! John Colapinto, Christina Hoff Sommers, and Andrew Sullivan take on the long-held notion that sexual identity is a social construct. Tales of testosterone, sex-change, and quilting bees for boys? (Independent Women's Forum)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW : with John Colapinto & David Reimer (Fresh Air, 2/16/2000, NPR)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW :  John Colapinto, author of "As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl", on John Money's subversion of individual gender (Gender Talk, Program #247, February 28, 2000:)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW : Why This Boy Was Raised As A Girl (Oprah Archive)
    -DISCUSSION : Breakfast Table : Natalie Angier : Jonathan Weiner (Slate)
    -RESPONSE : Subject: Natural Inclinations Re: "The Breakfast Table: Natalie Angier and Jonathan Weiner" From: John Colapinto (Slate)
    -ESSAY : How Parents Raise Boys and Girls : He bounces trucks off walls. She plays with her tea set.: Do gender differences reflect only biology? (Adam Bryant and Erika Check,  Newsweek, 26 November 2000)
    -ESSAY : Minor infraction : A newspaper's case for breaking the law : The children and their father wanted their names used in the story; the law said no. Was there an ethical justifcation for using their names? (Sheldon MacNeil, FineLine: The Newsletter On Journalism Ethics)
    -ARTICLE : Sexual Identity Not Pliable After All, Report Says (NATALIE ANGIER, The New York Times,  March 14, 1997)
    -ARTICLE : Sex change victim recalls life as a girl  : His father told him he would have to grow breasts  (Financial Gazette)
    -ESSAY : The sex-switching saga of "Bruce-to-Brenda" (Hank Hyena, Salon)
    -ESSAY : Reevaluating Sex Reassignment : Evidence supports nature over nurture in establishing gender identity (Ricki Lewis, The Scientist)
    -ESSAY :  Boy, girl, boy again (John Leo , U.S. News & World Report, March 31, 1997)
    -ESSAY : A difficult choice (Keith Morrison, Dateline, MSNBC)
    -ESSAY : The secret revealed : A family moves forward (MSNBC)
    -TRANSCRIPT : The Boy Who Was Turned Into a Girl (BBC)
    -ESSAY : Saving the boys from the gender benders (Andrew Sullivan, The Sunday Times,  28 May 2000)
    -ESSAY : Making Men without Chests : De-sexing men - a key liberal project. (Jonah Goldberg, National Review)
    -ESSAY : Into the Hands of Babes (Melissa Hendricks, September 2000, Johns Hopkins Magazine)
    -ESSAY : Making the Cut (Martha Coventry, Ms)
    -ESSAY : The Medical Construction of Gender (Case Management of Intersexed Infants)
    -READING GROUP GUIDE : As Nature Made Him (Harper Collins)
    -ARCHIVES : "john colapinto" (Find Articles)
    -ARCHIVES : "john colapinto" (Mag Portal)
    -REVIEW : of As Nature Made Him (Natalie Angier, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of As Nature Made Him (Claudia Winkler, Weekly Standard)
    -REVIEW : of As Nature Made Him (Heather Looy, Books & Culture)
    -REVIEW : of As Nature Made Him (Graeme Hunter, Touchstone)
    -REVIEW :  of As Nature Made Him  (Andrew Grossman, Dartmouth Review)
    -REVIEW : of As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl by John Colapinto (Anthony Daniels, booksonline uk)
    -REVIEW : of As Nature Made Him ( Pam Rosenthal, Salon)
    -REVIEW : of As Nature Made Him ( ANOUK HOEDEMAN, Toronto Sun)
    -REVIEW : As Nature Made Him (Annette H. Lansford, M.D., American Academy of Pediatrics)
    -REVIEW : of As Nature Made Him (Trevor Klassen, FFWD Weekly)
    -REVIEW : of As Nature Made Him  (Lawrence Chua, PlanetOut)
    -REVIEW : of As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who was Raised as a Girl. By John Colapinto (The Journal of Sex Research, Walter O. Bockting)
    -REVIEW : of As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who was Raised as a Girl. By John Colapinto (The Journal of Sex Research, Kate Nicolai)
    -REVIEW : of As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised As a Girl.(Psychology Today,  Simon Levay)
    -REVIEW : of As Nature Made Him (Janet Burkitt, Seattle Times)
    -REVIEW : of As Nature Made Him (Josh Zelman, CNN)
    -REVIEW : of As Nature Made Him (Julia Hanna, Boston Phoenix)
    -REVIEW : of As Nature Made Him (Melissa Starker, Columbus Alive)
    -REVIEW : of As Nature Made Him (PENNY HUESTON, The Age)
    -REVIEW : of As Nature Made Him  (The Spike)
    -REVIEW : of As Nature Made Him (Elizabeth Wickes, Ralph Mag)
    -REVIEW : of As Nature Made Him  (Debbie Fraker, Southern Voice)
    -REVIEW : of As Nature Made Him (Nancy Sundstrom, Kalamazoo Express)
    -REVIEW : of As Nature Made Him (Michael W. Groth, Book Reporter)
    -REVIEW ESSAY : Capitalism and Alternatives -   'As Nature Made Him'---a double hoax (Barry Stoller, McSpotlight)
    -REVIEW : of About the Author by John Colapinto (Steven Bell, Scotland Online)
    -REVIEW : of 'About the Author' By John Colapinto (Daniel Akst, SF Chronicle)
    -AWARD : PRESS CLIPS : And the Winner Is . . . (CYNTHIA COTTS, Village Voice)
    -AWARD : Books for a Better Life Award

    -The New Zealand Edge : Heroes : John Money : Sensational Sexologist
    -ESSAY : The Science of Sex: (John Money,
    -CHAT TRANSCRIPT : Prime Time Replay :  Dr. John Money   on the Evolution of Sex and Gender (Omni Magazine)
    -Collection Abstracts: John Money Collection (The Kinsey Institute)
    -PROFIILE : DOCTOR OF SEXOLOGY  (Constance Holden, Psychology Today ; May 88)
    -John Money, Ph.D.  (
    -ESSAY : The Unravelling : In 1944, Janet Frame was in her final year at Dunedin Teachers' Training College and a boarder in the spartan house of her aunt, Isy Renwick. She was 19, shy, lonely and racked with self-doubt. Then her lively younger sister, Isabel, also a teachers' college student, arrived in Dunedin. (The Age, 11 September 2000)
    -ARCHIVES : "john money" (Find Articles)

    -Pacific Center for Sex and Society (Milton Diamond, Director)
    -ESSAY : Sex Reassignment at Birth: A Long Term Review and Clinical Implications (Milton Diamond, Ph.D. and H. Keith Sigmundson, M.D., Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, March, 1997)
    -ESSAY : Pediatric Ethics and the Surgical Assignment of Sex  (Kenneth Kipnis, Ph.D. & Milton Diamond, Ph.D., Journal of Clinical Ethics)
    -ESSAY : Surgical Treatment of Infants with Ambiguous Genitalia: Deficiencies in the Standard of Care and Informed Consent (Hazel Glenn Beh and Milton Diamond)
    -ARTICLE : Doctor warns about altering sex of infants : `You can't tell sex by looking at genitals,'  says Milton Diamond, `You have to look at the brain' (Helen Altonn, Honolulu Star-Bulletin)
    -ARTICLE : Milton Diamond Wins International Award for Sex Research
    -ESSAY : Diamond Gets Rough : The John/Joan Case: Another perspective by Milton Diamond, Ph.D (The Position)

    -Feminism and Its Effects on Current Family and Social Issues
    -Intersex Society of North America
    -Gender Psychology
    -The Journal of Sex Research
    -North American Task Force on Intersexuality
    -Sex or Gender Assignment
    -Psychology Today Online
    -ESSAY : History of Circumcision
    -ESSAY : Intersexual: Not Yin? Or Yang? Fine (Deborah Mitchell, CBS HealthWatch)
    -ESSAY : Gender Self-Reassignment in an XY Adolescent Female Born With  Ambiguous Genitalia (Pediatrics, July 01 2000, Philip A. Gruppuso)
    -ESSAY : a question of gender   (Discover, January 01 2000, Emily Nussbaum)
    -ESSAY : THE FIVE SEXES, REVISITED : The emerging recognition that people come in bewildering sexual varieties is testing medical values and social norms (The Sciences, July 01 2000, Anne Fausto-Sterling)
    -ESSAY : Transgendered' Student In Brockton Needs Help (Elizabeth Gilbert, Mass News)
    -ESSAY : The Sex That Dare Not Speak Its Name (Emily Nussbaum, Lingua Franca)
    -EXCERPT : Sex Roles : Biology v. Culture  from Chapter 3 of  Sex and Politics :  Sex Differences v. Dogma ( Walter R. Dolen)
    -ESSAY : Multi-Dimensionality of Gender (Carl W. Bushong, Ph.D., LMFT, LMHC , Healthy Place)
    -ESSAY : THE COUNTER-REVOLUTION :  MORTAL SINS : The sexual revolution was based on a lie. Judith Reisman has spent thirty years uncovering the truth. (National Review; May 19, 1997)
    -REVIEW : of "Circumcision" by David L. Gollaher : A physician argues the case against lopping it off. (Greg Villepique, Salon)
    -ESSAY : Let's Talk about Gender, Baby (Wendy Kaminer, American Prospect)
    -ESSAY : It's a girl - but she knows that already : How do babies learn about sex? Through a combination of nature and nurture (Sarah Brewer, 24/08/2001, Daily Telegraph)

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