Title: As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised As a Girl
Author: John Colapinto
Genre: Nonfiction, Gender Studies, LGBTQQIA
Summary: The story of David Reimer, who lost his penis in a circumcision accident at eight months old. On the advice of Dr. John Money, an outspoken specialist in the study of gender and sexuality, Reimer was surgically castrated, given rudimentary female genitalia, and raised as a girl without ever being told that he had been born a boy. The results were disastrous.
Why did you get this book? I saw it on a table at the Coop and thought it looked really interesting.
Did you enjoy the book? I... this is one of those cases where "enjoy" is not a good word. I mean, it's a fantastic book. Thoroughly researched, well-written, not given to overt polemicism (although the writing clearly favors one point of view, it seems that this is not Colapinto's but Reimer's own point of view). And the story at the center of it is just heartbreaking. It's a story that makes it clear that you can't just assign someone a sex and then manipulate their gender to match; that gender's not strictly a cultural construct and does have some kind of biological basis. But the most gripping and tragic aspect of the story by far was the portrait of Dr. Money, a crusader for his own particular views on the malleability of gender at birth and -- far more dangerously -- for his own techniques on how gender identity can be shaped and molded throughout childhood. Many of the practices he employs are nothing more than sexual abuse under the guise of science, and regardless of his reasons for doing this stuff, the trauma sustained by the children under his "care" is awful. Basically I hate the motherfucker and he disgusts me and his hubris and lack of regard for scientific process is incredible and the last line of the book hits like a punch to the stomach. ::sigh:: Yes, it's a very good book. But my God, poor David Reimer.
Was the author new to you and would you read something by this author again? I'd never read anything by him before. I think he's written some fiction since. Not sure if I'd read that -- it would depend on the subject.
Are you keeping it or passing it on? Library book, but I'm going to keep it out for awhile now that I've finished -- I may want to reread parts of it.
Anything else? One thing I wondered about was what Colapinto thought of the issue of transgenderism; he confined himself largely to a study of the practice of surgically assigning a sex to intersex children at birth, as well as the practice of changing boys' genitalia into girls' when circumcision accidents result in the loss of a penis. Which makes sense given the topic of the book. To me, though, Reimer's story of feeling completely out of place in his body and of *knowing* he was a boy despite everything sounds very much like the stories of transpeople I know, and at a glance, it's not clear whether Colapinto regards the biological basis of gender as an argument against the existence of transgenderism. Dr. Money, in addition to his wacky crusading for surgical reassignment of intersexual infants and children, also was instrumental in founding the nation's first center for sexual reassignment for transpeople. Which is huge, and hugely important to the transgender movement. Colapinto tends to stay quiet on that subject; he mentions that one of Money's most vocal opponents thinks that transpeople are simply mentally disturbed and should be treated solely by talk therapy in order to feel comfortable in the "right" gender, but Colapinto himself doesn't espouse one viewpoint or the other. I tend to think the answer's somewhere in between, but I don't have all the answers, and they're not in this book. It is surprising and disconcerting, for someone like me who regards gender and sexuality as having at least some essential fluidity (more so for some people than others, but still), to see such a strong case made for biologically-based immutability of gender orientation. It raises for me those questions that are at the bottom of all of these discussions: what does it mean to be "male" or "female"? I know that I'm cisgender, but *how* do I know? What does it mean to me that I am a woman? It's more than playing with dolls or guns, more than wearing dresses or pants, but what is it? David Reimer played with guns and wanted to wear pants; he was a pugnacious little kid who, everyone around him agreed, carried himself "like a boy". But how is that different from being a tomboy? These are big questions to me, and they reminded me that I need to do more reading on the subject.
Scale of 1 to 10: 9