Monday, February 7, 2011
As Nature Made Him
As Nature Made Him is a biography about David Reimer, the very first boy that was surgically changed into a girl as an infant. This occurred in the mid-1960s when the nature versus nurture topic was in full swing. Reimer suffered from a botched circumcision that scarred him as well as his family. For months his parents couldn't decide what to do...every time they changed his diaper, they were brutally reminded of the flop procedure.
What Reimer's parents ended up doing was following the advice of John Money, an overly-confident psychologist that was an ardent supporter of the nurturist approach. He promised the Reimers that David...then called Brenda post-sexually reassigned surgery...would identify as a girl as long as they made this life-changing decision immediately.
Throughout David's childhood he (and his twin brother) knew something was amiss...even at age 4. Meanwhile, Money and the Reimers were grasping for any clue that David was developing mentally as a girl. For example, in one therapy session Money asks David what kind of animal he might want to be...David says a monkey...Money asks what kind of monkey...David was recorded as saying "grrl." With the poor quality of tapes and David's accent, Money believes that David had said "girl" and continued to consider this case a success. As an adult, David looks back at the therapy session and says that instead of "girl," he was saying "gorilla."
This book is an enlightening story about what effects different psychological theories, and even surgeries, can have on people. When I finished this book, I looked up more about David Reimer to see what had happened since this book was published in 2000. Sadly, David Reimer died four years after this book was published. His brother committed suicide in 2002 and after experiencing unemployment and an emotional separation from his wife, David committed suicide as well. I believe every bit of these tragedies could have been prevented if David's botched incident could have been handled differently at the time. But, the problem is, it's hard to know what the 'right' thing to do is at the time...and hindsight is always 20/20.
I really enjoyed learning about a lot of the different points of view in this debate...I'm just sad that it took messing with someone's life to bring the debate to where it is today. I was also interested to learn the vast number of different types of gender ambigious persons there are. It's really quite sad and I feel for those affected. I would definitely encourage people to read this book if this is a topic that interests you.