Sunday, May 08, 2016
As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl
When Bruce was just a baby, he and his twin brother developed a medical condition. His parents were informed that both babies should undergo circumcision to treat the condition. Bruce was the first to be operated on. The doctor used a cautery instrument but something went horribly wrong. Baby Bruce's penis was badly burned. Over the course of mere days after the attempted circumcision, his penis dried up and crumbled away.
At the time this happened, a psychologist at John Hopkins had an enthusiastic following in the medical community. This psychologist, John Money, had a pet theory that was pretty much accepted as fact by the medical community. Money's theory was that sexual identity was not set in stone and could be manipulated by the child's environment in hermaphroditic children and male children who suffered loss of their male genitals, if the manipulation was begun at a very young age. The puzzling thing about the medical community's acceptance of this theory is that there was really no proof that it worked. So when poor, mangled Bruce entered into Money's view, Bruce and his twin brother Brian became the test case that would prove Money's claims.
Bruce's parents were not well educated. Neither of them graduated from high school. So when the medical establishment advised them to raise Bruce as a girl, they thought it was the best thing, the right thing to do. At that time, reconstruction of the penis was just not a good or practical option, as the results would be less than satisfactory and would require Bruce to undergo many surgeries.
So Bruce had his testicles removed and was renamed Brenda and dressed in girls' clothing and given girls' toys and raised to be a girl. The only problem: Bruce was not a girl despite the loss of his male genitalia. The result was an unhappy little misfit who didn't identify with his female counterparts and was excluded by his male counterparts.
Neither Bruce, now Brenda, or Brian remembered when Brenda used to be Bruce, as this all happened when they were less than one year old. After the sex reassignment took place, both kids were taken to be examined by John Money on a yearly basis. The purpose was to see how well Brenda was dealing with her new gender and to reinforce the idea that he was now a she. The two kids were put through a lot of very distressing interviews. It got so bad that eventually Brenda threatened to kill herself if she had to go see Money again. Her parents finally agreed to discontinue the visits. But their child's increasing misery and unhappiness was not enough to stop them from initiating the recommended hormone therapy. Eventually her parents told her the truth about herself at which point he rejected his female identity and started living as a male and called himself David.
I wish his story had a happy ending and it briefly did. He married a woman with three kids and they were happy together for a time. But sadness and sorrow were not long absent from his life. David's twin brother Brian had mental issues and died from a drug overdose. Then David's wife decided she wanted to end the marriage and David, unable to deal any longer with such a troubled and unhappy existence, killed himself. John Colapinto published a follow-up article after David's death here: http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/medical_examiner/2004/06/gender_gap.html
This is the sad story of a child tortured simply to prove a pet theory of a man who was too full of himself to see the damage he was inflicting on an innocent child and on that child's family. It made me very angry to read the way Bruce and his family were treated by John Money. Money's influence over Bruce's family and Bruce's doctors was ridiculous and the way no one questioned his pet theory is quite amazing and upsetting. Colapinto's book ends on a positive note, but, not long after the book came out, David chose to end his own life. It's is all very tragic.
For another review, see https://www.nytimes.com/books/00/02/20/reviews/000220.20angiert.html