Saturday, October 8, 2011

As Nature Made Him by John Colapinto

This book tells the true and heartbreaking story of David Reimer. At the age of 8 months, he suffers a botched circumcision at the hands of apparently inept doctors, who then refer David's family to a sex specialist by the name of John Money. Dr. Money, to use the term lightly and loosely, recommended that David's parents have him physically reassigned as a female and then suggested that they raise him as such. Dr. Money firmly believed and convinced David's parents that if David was physically re-assigned as a girl and then raised as a girl, he would grow up firmly believing and feeling that he was a girl. So that's what they decided to do after consultation.

As the experiment progressed (because that is what it was essentially - this was the first time that this sort of thing had ever been attempted), Dr. Money reported that David was adjusting wonderfully to being a female, but this was less than accurate reporting to say the least.  David was depressed and acting out at school. He had to be held back at least once in school. As a result, it was decided that they would tell David that he was really born a male and, as a result, he ended up reverting to a male, taking hormones and  getting a mastectomy.

I found this book to be really very interesting and immensely readable. I found that there was a really nice balance between the oral history and individual perspectives of the family and person that was impacted.  Colapinto somehow managed to win the trust of David and his family and was able to empathetically and touchingly describe the angst and tragedy that this family underwent while at the same time describing the scientific theories, politics and sociological issues that were in play at the time that this "experiment" was occurring. It was a harrowing and aching tale to read about that was offensive on so many levels:  that Money thought that he could do this sort of experiment on a human child and that then, he completely lied about the results for purely selfish reasons, at the doctors who screwed up to begin with and then started backtracking to cover themselves, at society and doctors who think that they know everything about what our children are made of and demand that the physical body is what actually makes the person and only the physical. It was extraordinarily and thoroughly researched.

This was a really good book - one that should be read - and when you are done, make sure to read the Wiki entry for David - it will break your heart further. 

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