Synopses & Reviews
In 1967, after a twin baby boy suffered a botched circumcision, his family agreed to a radical treatment that would alter his gender. The case would become one of the most famous in modern medicine and a total failure. As Nature Made Him tells the extraordinary story of David Reimer, who, when finally informed of his medical history, made the decision to live as a male. A macabre tale of medical arrogance, it is first and foremost a human drama of one man's and one family's amazing survival in the face of terrible odds.
"Riveting, cleanly written, and brilliantly researched." Natalie Angier, New York Times Book Review
"Colapinto's storytelling, taut and emotive, never plays the grim tale for its sideshow qualities, nor claims the last word on nature versus nurture." Kirkus Reviews
"John Colapinto debunks Money's version of Brenda's childhood in his fascinating, exhaustively researched As Nature Made Him....The result is a detailed and riveting account." Seattle Post Intelligencer
"[A]n arresting and invaluable narrative of personal tragedy, scientific arrogance, and societal confusion over the source and significance of gender differences." Booklist
"Harrowing and enthralling, As Nature Made Him makes a convincing case that gender has less to do with the signals we send and receive from the world than with ineradicable messages encoded in every cell of our brains and bodies." Elle
About the Author
John Colapinto has written for Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, Esquire, Mademoiselle, Us Weekly, and Rolling Stone, where the landmark National Magazine Award-winning article that was the basis for As Nature Made Him first appeared. He is also the author of the novel About the Author. He lives in New York City with his wife and son.
Reading Group Guide
ABOUT THE BOOK
It is hard to believe that As Nature Made Him
isn't fiction. The story John Colapinto presents here is thick with human drama and fateful coincidences. There's a freak snowstorm in April, a freak medical accident that resulted in an infant losing his penis, and a seemingly villainous doctor angling to prove his own gender theories. Readers meet a young couple agonizing over their son's injury while struggling to mend their fractured family. Most importantly, there is the child who -- against all odds -- breaks through his tragic past to become a man whose courage will not soon be forgotten. That man is David Reimer -- baptized as Bruce. After losing his penis in a botched circumcision he was raised until the age of 14 as a girl named Brenda. The doctor is John Money -- the high profile sex researcher at Johns Hopkins Hospital who, when approached by Ron and Janet Reimer for a second opinion about their son's injury, rushed to their side with a controversial course of action.
For years, Dr. Money had been asserting that an individual's gender identity is determined not by the hormones that bath a developing fetus' brain and nervous system, but by socialization. David Reimer's tragedy presented him with the perfect opportunity to prove his theory. There were two reasons for this: David was born with intact male genitalia (as opposed to hermaphrodites), and he had a twin brother against whom Dr. Money could measure his development as a girl. At the time of Bruce's accident, phalloplasty (penile reconstruction) was not a viable medical option, nor was, to Ron and Janet, the prospect of raising a son with testicles, but no penis. And so the decision was made, Bruce became "Brenda."
For fourteen years David Reimer's family, along with Dr. Money and several other physicians, struggled to convince David that -- in body, mind, and soul -- he was girl. It is through the lens of this extraordinarily painful experience that John Colapinto tells two important stories. The first examines John Money, his motives, and the medical establishment that failed to confirm that the ethics surrounding David Reimer's treatment were sound. The second story is David Reimer's. It is a heartrending account of living with an unwanted sex role, of loneliness, of stigmatization, of soul-searching, and finally, of astounding courage. In the end, it is that story that should not be forgotten. As Nature Made Him should spur each reader to remember and accept who they are, and to challenge those individuals who might tell them otherwise.
Topics for Discussion
- The "nature versus nurture" issue is one of the most hotly debated topics today. Other than being of interest to the scientific and medical community, why is it so important to society at large? How could the outcome of this debate affect public policy?
- Before reading As Nature Made Him, did you have an opinion about the role of hormones in the formation of our gender identities? What was it? Did this book change your point of view? How and why?
- John Colapinto included explicit details not only about the actual circumcision, but also about "Brenda's" painful coming-of-age. What effect did this have on you? Do you think he could have included less detail without diluting the impact of the book?
- What narrative techniques did the author use that you found particularly effective in setting the tone of the book and in making the account powerful?
- How did you feel about John Colapinto's depiction of John Money and the medical community? Was it fair? Why or why not?
- Did reading As Nature Made Him change your opinion about sexual reassignment? Were you even aware of it as a medical issue before reading the book? If so, where had you read or heard about it?
- Consider the formation of your own sexual identity. Discuss what makes you feel like a man or a woman, and how society has played a role in building gender identity, both in general and in your own life.